HC Deb 18 June 1953 vol 516 cc1158-60
13. Sir W. Smithers

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he has considered details which have been sent to him about the continuance of the activities of the Raw Cotton Commission; and when he proposes to close down that Commission.

16. Mr. Horobin

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is now in a position to make a statement about the Report of the Cotton Import (Review) Committee.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

The Report of the Committee which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Materials and I set up has been laid before Parliament and is now available in the Vote Office.

I am glad to say that this Report is unanimous. The main feature of the Report is the recommendation that operations during the 1953–54 buying season should continue broadly on the same basis as at present, namely, that the spinners should choose whether or not to buy their cotton for the whole season directly or from the Raw Cotton Commission and that the Raw Cotton Commission should continue to provide cover both for those who do their own buying and those who buy from the Commission.

Her Majesty's Government accept the Committee's recommendations for the 1953-54 buying season, and I understand that the Raw Cotton Commission is prepared to implement them in so far as they call for action by the Commission.

The question of what arrangements will be appropriate and possible after the 1953–54 buying season will be the subject of early discussions with the trade interests concerned. But Her Majesty's Government accept, in principle, the unanimous view of the Committee that it is intrinsically undesirable that cover for private trade should be provided at the risk of public funds.

Sir W. Smithers

While thanking the President of the Board of Trade for a small step in the right direction, may I ask whether he can assure the House that it is his policy to remove all forms of control, not only from the cotton industry but all industries, as soon as possible, so that they may increase exports at world competitive prices, and especially invisible exports, upon which our future prosperity depends?

Mr. Thorneycroft

Since I have been at the Board of Trade I have, in fact, removed all price controls and virtually every manufacturing control that there was when I got there, with great savings of money, staff and frustration.

Mr. Horobin

While thanking the President of the Board of Trade for his skilful handling of this difficult situation, may I ask whether he can assure us that whatever happens to the trading activities of the Raw Cotton Commission, unless and until the industry is enabled to conduct its own cover scheme, cover in some form will continue to be given by the Government?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I think I have given the traders a sufficient guarantee in that I have said that during the forthcoming buying season the cover will be continued as at present, but the Committee's Report—and the Committee had on it trade unionists and representatives of all sections of the industry—showed that they were unanimously agreed that it was intrinsically wrong to continue to cover private trade from public funds. As a statement of principle I think that ought to be accepted.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the statement he has just referred to from the Committee's Report, will be widely welcomed in all parts of the House and that it is widely felt that it would be very dangerous to run the risk of spending a lot of public money for private cover? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance to the House that in the discussions which are to take place in an attempt to find private means of providing the cover there will be no question of granting authority for the use of United States capital, with the risk that would involve for our dollar situation?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The question of cover schemes alternative to those provided by the Raw Cotton Commission is, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, an extremely complicated one, and while I shall bear in mind the point which he has raised I think I should be unwise to plunge into it at this stage, before I have opened negotiations with the various interests concerned.