HC Deb 01 May 1952 vol 499 cc1638-43
18. Mr. H. Hynd

asked the President of the Board of Trade what proportion of the £25,000,000 of Government advance contracts will be placed with firms in Accrington, Rishton, Oswaldtwistle, Church and Clayton-le-Moors, respectively.

30. Mr. Harold Davies

asked the President of the Board of Trade the total value of Government contracts given to factories in the Leek constituency, Staffordshire.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

While I am, naturally, willing to listen to any representations which hon. Members wish to make on the subject of the placing of these orders, I do not consider it would be in anybody's interest to depart from our usual practice of not saying publicly where individual contracts have been placed.

Mr. Hynd

Will the President give an assurance that the places mentioned in my Question will have a fair share of those orders, in view of the fact that they are suffering severely at present and constitute the most important constituency in this country?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I appreciate the wholly worthy motives which prompted the hon. Gentleman to put down the Question, but I think hon. Members generally will agree that, if we tried to divide these contracts up over the Floor of the House of Commons, it would be rather a difficult job.

Mr. Davies

While agreeing with the policy of the right hon. Gentleman, will he assure me that my constituency will be considered justly in connection with tenders for the type of contracts with which it can deal?

Mr. Thorneycroft

All areas will be considered justly in this matter.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

In the past we have understood that these contracts were placed by the Ministry of Supply, in consultation with the Board of Trade. Are we to take it from the right hon. Gentleman's answer that he is now accepting responsibility for the placing of the contracts?

Mr. Thorneycroft

No, Sir. I am in consultation with my right hon. Friend upon this matter.

Mr. Frederick Lee

From inquiries we have made in Questions, we understand that there is in aggregate £200 million worth of contracts to be placed within the re-armament orders and that, up to now, £80 million of them have been placed. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether a programme has yet been drawn up for the placing of the remaining £120 million?

Mr. Thorneycroft

This Question referred to the placing of £25 million in a rather limited number of constituencies, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to go wider perhaps he will put down a Question?

Mr. G. R. Strauss

To avoid confusion in the future, can we take it as definite that the responsibility for placing these contracts, and all other contracts, still remains firmly with the Ministry of Supply, both in regard to quantity and the areas in which the contracts are placed?

Mr. Thorneycroft

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to ask a Question about the placing of contracts generally no doubt he will put it down, but it is quite plain that it is the Ministry of Supply which places these armament contracts.

20. Mr. W. R. D. Perkins

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether in view of the fact that many west of England cloth mills are on short time, he will consider allocating to this area a proportion of the contracts he is about to place on behalf of the Service Departments.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

The area will certainly be considered, but unemployment is below the national average.

Mr. Perkins

Could my right hon. Friend receive a representative deputation of all the interests concerned, led by myself?

Mr. Thorneycroft

Perhaps my hon. Friend will see me about that afterwards.

29. Mr. Douglas Jay

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will consider scheduling as development areas under the Distribution of Industry Acts, some of the districts worst hit by the present textile depression.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I shall certainly consider, in the light of the criteria given in paragraph 86 of the White Paper on Distribution of Industry, 1948, whether it would be appropriate to schedule any of the districts which are affected by the present recession in the textile industries.

Mr. Jay

Will the President bear in mind that the original Distribution of Industry Act had this sort of possibility very much in view in providing for the scheduling of extra districts and consider giving to areas like Nelson treatment similar to what has been successfully given to Merthyr, Clydeside and Jarrow in the last few years?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I agree that the distribution of industry policy and Act did contemplate the scheduling of new areas, but great caution was always exercised by the Government of the right hon. Gentleman in expanding this and if it were expanded too wide it would defeat the whole policy of the Act. I am having an investigation made to see if there is a particular area which might be identifiable for this special purpose.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

With what interested organisations is the right hon. Gentleman discussing this problem?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I shall discuss it, among others, with the North-East Lancashire Planning Organisation.

Mr. Richard Fort

In view of the urgent need to get new industries into East Lancashire, and the pressure there at present, when can my right hon. Friend undertake to report to us the result of the consideration of this proposal?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am already taking all the steps in my power to encourage and steer new industries into these areas.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Since my right hon. Friend mentioned part of my constituency, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the difficulties of unemployment in Nelson today, which is far in excess of the level of unemployment that used to be held sufficient to identify a Development Area and that during a number of years alternative industries to cotton have been actively discouraged from going to the constituency? Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that in those circumstances the time has now come for a change in the direction indicated in my right hon. Friend's Question?

Mr. Thorneycroft

As I have already said, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort), I am not waiting for any detailed consideration before adopting as a policy the encouragement of industries to go to these areas.

33. Mr. Fitzroy Maclean

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will consider instituting a Lancashire textile week on the lines of the National Savings Week, for the purpose of encouraging sales of Lancashire textiles.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

While I have every sympathy with the current situation in the Lancashire textile industry, I doubt whether my hon. Friend's suggestion would be practicable.

36. Mr. Robson Brown

asked the President of the Board of Trade if, in view of the grave position of the textile industry, he will consider calling in Manchester a special conference of representatives of all sections at all levels in the industry, including the leaders of the unions, so that there may be full and frank expression of all points of view and a representative committee appointed, not only to make recommendations to deal with the present emergency but also to give full consideration to the long-term problems of this industry.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

While thanking my hon. Friend for putting forward this proposal, I think that the purpose which he has in mind will be served by the arrangements which I have put in train. I am in consultation with both the management and labour sides of the industry through the Cotton Board, and I am arranging a further meeting with them at an early date to continue my discussions of both the short and long-term problems of the industry.

Mr. Brown

While thanking the Minister for his reply, may I ask him to bear in mind that the Cotton Board does not represent completely and absolutely all sections of the industry? Having regard to the grave and serious situation in which the textile industry finds itself, would he set up, on the lines set out in the Question, a comprehensive council which would be able to represent to the Government, and in international negotiations, the views of the industry fully and effectively?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I think the Cotton Board does represent a very great cross-section of the industry. I can assure my hon. Friend, however, that I do not limit my consultations to any one person or any one body. I am open to consult any person in Lancashire.

Mr. F. A. Burden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that prices of textiles and clothing are now at such a level that it is unlikely that they will be lower for some considerable time? Will he do all he can with the trade to convey the idea to the public and stimulate demand from them by encouraging them to buy at the lower prices?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am always very shy about speculating about price movements, but I agree that there are very good bargains to be had in the shops and I wish people would buy them.

37. Mr. Robson Brown

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will, in his negotiations with the textile industry, impress upon all concerned that full and effective use should be made of modern plant, machinery and methods, in order to strengthen public confidence and sympathy.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

In my discussions with leaders of the textile industries, I have emphasised, and will continue to emphasise, the need, which I am sure is well recognised, for these industries to make themselves as fully competitive as possible by the use of the most up-to-date methods and equipment and by any other ways open to them.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Is it not a fact that during the last six or seven years large quantities of plant and machinery which should have gone to these industries at home have gone to their competitors abroad?

Commander C. E. M. Donaldson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in 1946–51 £200 million worth of textile machinery was exported from this country as compared with £40 million worth during the comparative period before the war? Does he not agree that this has, in turn, conduced to unemployment in this country?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I agree that we have a large and useful trade in the export of textile machinery as well as of other types of machinery, but, at the same time, many mills in Lancashire have not been backward in equipping themselves with up-to-date machinery. We have mills there as efficient as any others in the world.

Mr. I. Mikardo

Is it not a fact that if we had not sold this textile machinery abroad those importing the machinery would merely have got it from America, Switzerland or elsewhere, and that we should merely have been worse off as a result?