HC Deb 10 March 1953 vol 512 cc1247-56

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House no now adjourn."—[Mr. Kaberry.]

10.0 p.m.

Mr. William Paling (Dewsbury)

A Question was asked in the House recently by the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) with reference to the quality of wool. The hon. Lady asked the President of the Board of Trade: whether he is aware of the extent to which the structural strength of wool cloths is debased by the inclusion of large percentages of remanufactured shoddy; and whether he will introduce legislation to ensure that the presence of shoddy shall be made notifiable to the public, in view of the increasing use of re-manufactured fibres in the wool industry, to the detriment of the consumer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1953; Vol. 511, c. 580.] I represent an area where an abundance of shoddy is made, and I must take this opportunity to defend the industry against these charges. What is the shoddy industry? It is the reclaiming of woollen waste from rags and suits of clothing, Army, Air Force, Navy and police uniforms, ladies' woollens of various kinds and cast-offs of a great variety. These materials are processed in up-to-date mills. The point I wish to emphasise is that these rags are sorted quality by quality, which means much, not only to the shoddy industry, but to the woollen industry as well.

The name "shoddy" sounds psychologically wrong. Shoddy was invented about 140 years ago when the name was always used as a noun. Today, we use the word as an adjective more than a noun and very often it is used in connection with the industry in that way. This industry deals with recovered and remanufactured wool fibres and there is nothing wrong with that.

The recovery of wool in this way means a lot to this country. It is a valuable aid to the national economy because the large proportion of used wool which is recovered and remanufactured results in a great saving. The production and use of shoddy is equivalent to a great export trade, because we are saving the importation of wool and the currency which would be expended upon it. If this can be done and is done without detriment to the cloth, it would be folly to take any steps which might result in discrediting or discouraging this very useful section of the British industry.

The world production of wool is far below the quantity required for the population of the world if we use nothing but virgin wool. Therefore, in this country and in other countries it is necessary to use these sources of supply given by the shoddy industry. If shoddy were not used, many people in this and other countries would be dressed in a far worse manner than at present, If we had to use virgin wool many thousands of families would be unable to afford a reasonable suit, coat, or dress.

The use of recovered fibres enables us to conserve foreign currency, helps the employment of British workers and means a large range of goods at reasonable prices. Shoddy is to the wool industry what scrap is to the steel industry and I do not think anyone would say that the steel industry is debased by using scrap. If we took quality for quality and used virgin wool for the manufacture of articles as against virgin wool plus a certain amount of shoddy, prices would at least double on most commodities such as suitings and coatings. The very fact of using shoddy with wool enables us to maintain a reasonably priced range of the goods which people require every day.

It is interesting to note the remarks of the President of the Shoddy and Mungo Manufacturers' Association at their annual meeting a fortnight ago. He considered that it was important to note that the productive capacity of the industry acted as a definite economic brake on the wool market, that the world could not he clothed without mungo and shoddy and that the skill of the users of these raw materials in the woollen trade conferred both a benefit and boon on the consuming public of the world.

Those words are very true and very important. In this country there is tremendous value in the amount of rags collected each year. If it were not for the waste trades all that valuable material would be thrown away. If it were collected it would find a ready market overseas and we could have imports to this country of ranges of clothing with which we could not possibly compete in price if we had to rely solely on virgin wool for our manufacture. Collecting rags does not sound a very nice phrase, but if hon. Members went into one of the mills and saw the type of stuff collected and how it is graded from high-class down to the lowest, which is used for flocks, and so on, they would appreciate the value of this industry.

We also get clippings from tailors and dressmakers and hosiery waste from hosiery manufacturers, and so on, which is almost the equivalent of virgin wool. The reclamation and reproduction of this wool is of the utmost importance to the industry from the point of view of an availability in quantity, of the variety of quality and last but not least of price.

In fact, it is stated, and I think it can be proved beyond all doubt, that some shoddy products are better than some products manufactured from pure wool, because there is in shoddy a number of grades of quality just as there are qualities in the wool trade. Some of the better quality articles of shoddy manufacture are capable of much better wear and are also more attractive than many of the articles that can be produced from some qualities of pure wool.

The question which was raised in this matter was the suggestion that anything that contained shoddy should be labelled. We have to remember, however, that if labelling were introduced, it would have to be enforced, and we must remember a very vital point in this connection. There are no means today of detecting recovered fibre in the mixture of virgin wool and recovered wool. Therefore, that point in itself cuts right across the argument about shoddy debasing wool, because there is no debasing of quality.

For instance, let us take the Government contracts for clothing for the Army and the Air Force, the police and Civil Defence forces. In this clothing, shoddy plays a most important part, and one manufacturer has sent me samples of the quality goods he manufactures. One of these samples is for Civil Defence clothing according to Government standards—waterproofed, strong, useful and warm—and it would make an overcoat that almost anyone would be proud to wear in a sort of winter we have been having. Yet, there is over 80 per cent. shoddy in that particular cloth, which is a really beautiful piece of stuff. There are also the overcoats made for the Air Force and Army, as well as the suitings for these Forces.

It is just as well to know that these cloths have to be supplied to a standard specification, but yet the Government do not ask for labels on the rolls of cloth indicating that they contain a proportion of shoddy. Are these cloths debased by the use of shoddy? Are their wearing qualities impaired in that way? I venture to say that, if there were any debasing of these cloths, or if they were of poor quality, the Army and Air Force authorities would immediately cease to have that type of stuff made up for their requirements. Today, we find that there are great orders for it, and the Royal Navy, Army and the Royal Air Force are better dressed today than they have ever been, thanks very much to the shoddy industry and the contribution which it has made.

Therefore, I say that this whole argument about debasing cloth and the necessity for labelling is sheer nonsense. Cloths with well-known names that are known throughout the country contain shoddy. We have also to think of public demand. First of all, the public want durability, then good appearance, and, last but not least, something easy on the pocket. Manufacturers today have to meet that kind of public demand and make clothes in the ranges which the public want. The British housewife is very difficult to satisfy, in that she does not want something that is to last for years, but something that is attractive and suitable for the time, but, as fashion changes, she wants to be able to change both in style and material.

The shoddy industry plays an important part and is the mainspring in helping to meet the demand in shade values, style, design and appearance. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry. South is not present because I am sure that she would be attracted by some of the coatings I have in my hand, which contain quite a large proportion of shoddy. I have a number of samples from the trade which I hope to have the opportunity of placing in the Library for the benefit of Members.

The public demands attractive clothes of good quality, and it gets them. The manufacturer who tried to cut out something that was not in conformity with the general standards of the trade would be sunk, because the retailer, the costumier and the tailor would not go to him again for goods. Whoever says that the use of shoddy has a debasing effect and that, by its use, the consumer is being "twisted," shows a lamentable ignorance of the relation of remanufactured wool to the wool and textile industry.

10.16 p.m.

Dr. A. D. D. Broughton (Batley and Morley)

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling), first, on his success in being able to raise this important subject in the House, and, secondly, on his interesting and erudite speech to which we have just listened. I wish also to thank him for his generous consideration in allowing me an opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

The five towns of England where fluorishes the important industry of turning old woollen cloth into new are, in order of size, Dewsbury, Batley, Morley, Ossett and Heckmondwike. Three towns, including Dewsbury, which is the largest, lie within the constituency of my hon. Friend. The boroughs of Batley and Morley form the constituency which I have the honour to represent.

The staple trade of this thickly populated area of the West Riding of Yorkshire is of vital importance to my constituents and, indeed, to the nation. The annual raw wool clip of the world is not nearly sufficient to meet the annual demand for woollen cloth, and if wool were not recovered from old cloth there would be a serious shortage of warm garments. We should be cold and shabby.

It was in 1815, the year in which we defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, that the problem of providing enough woollen cloth for human needs was solved. Benjamin Law of Batley invented a most ingenious process whereby wool was reclaimed from old cloth to be used again in the manufacture of new material. Since then thousands of tons of old suits and other woollen garments have provided wool for mixing with the new clip to produce millions of yards of excellent cloth.

These discarded garments, some of which have been little worn, are carefully sorted; buttons and the like are removed, and the cloth is then disintegrated into its component fibres. The resultant material is called shoddy. In the process of remanufacture—which is very complicated and includes spinning, weaving, scouring and pressing—shoddy is usually mixed with new wool, and all traces of grit, dust and grease are removed.

The cloth thus made is perfectly clean, very serviceable, good in appearance and reasonable in price. Taking those four considerations into account, namely, cleanliness, durability, appearance and price, much of the best English cloth contains recovered wool. The hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), in her Question to the President of the Board of Trade on 12th February last, asked: whether he is aware of the extent to which the structural strength of wool cloths is debased by the inclusion of large percentages of remanufactured shoddy. "Structural strength debased" were her words, and they are resented in my constituency where it is well recognised that in some cases good shoddy strengthens poor wool.

The hon. Lady asked for legislation in view of the increasing use of remanufactured fibres in the wool industry, to the detriment of the consumer. "Detriment" was another unfortunate word that she chose to use. If evidence is required of the hard-wearing quality of cloth containing shoddy, many examples can be given, such as Army overcoats, Post Office and British Railways uniforms.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade for the reply he gave to the hon. Lady. Correctly he stated: Both recovered and virgin wools vary greatly in quality. He went on to say: I cannot accept the implication in the Question that the inclusion of the former"— that is shoddy— in wool cloth necessarily debases its structural strength."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1953; Vol. 511, c. 580.] Some of the most durable English cloth is woven with a worsted warp and a weft containing shoddy. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not fail to reaffirm the opinion of his right hon. Friend and will not miss this opportunity of paying a tribute to the work of thousands of people in those five towns which I mentioned. Their work is of tremendous importance to the nation. It is they who rescue scarce, valuable wool from destruction and waste and re-convert it into much needed, excellent English cloth.

10.22 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Henry Strauss)

I have not much time in which to reply, but I make no complaint whatever of that because the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling) and the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) have very excellently said most of the things which I wished to say. The hon. Member for Dewsbury quite rightly said that some of this confusion has arisen perhaps because of the dual use of this word "shoddy."

In the Oxford English Dictionary the primary use given to this word is the technical meaning in the wool trade, which has been used by the two hon. Members. It is only in its transferred and figurative sense that it is used as "a worthless material made to look like what is of superior quality." I noticed an interesting quotation from the Encyclopaedia Britannica of as long ago as 1911, which stated: Upon the whole the 'cheap and nasty' idea usually associated with the term 'shoddy' is quite a mistake. Some most excellent cloths are produced. As has been said, this is, of course, a perfectly legitimate and useful industry, recovered wool being a traditional raw material of the textile industry. The shoddy manufacturing community of the West Riding is the most maligned section of the wool textile industry. I shall use the term "recovered wool" instead of "shoddy" in the remainder of my few remarks.

The hon. Members who have spoken are quite right in saying that the addition of recovered wool confers desirable qualities. Felting properties might be mentioned. It is quite true that contracts for the supply of greatcoats, for example, may specify that a definite proportion of recovered wool shall be employed. It is true also that some recovered wool, for example clippings obtained in the making up of knitted garments, may command higher prices than the coarser qualities of virgin wool. A distinction between virgin and recovered wool affords no guide to the quality of the cloth. But I want to confirm and underline a point which was very effectively made by the hon. Member for Dewsbury—because this very much concerns the Board of Trade and the national interest—namely, the amount of imports saved by the use of recovered wool. From a waste material we get a valuable raw material for a great industry.

I am glad the hon. Member mentioned Ossett. Perhaps I may remind the House of the Latin motto in the Ossett coat of arms—"Inutile utile ex arte"—the useless made useful by skill. What does this mean in terms of money? One million lb. of recovered wool saves 1.6 million lb. of imported raw wool. This, in 1952, would have cost on an average £400,000. Since 73 million lb. of recovered wool were consumed in the United Kingdom in 1952, the amount saved on the imports of raw wool was no less than £29 million. That shows the very significant contribution which is made by this industry.

Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)

There is another factor to be considered. If this recovered wool were not used the impact on the price of raw wool to take its place would be terrific.

Mr. Strauss

I quite agree with that point, on which the hon. Member speaks with the authority of experience.

The amount of recovered wool used has varied at different times in accordance with some of the considerations that will occur to everyone, but at the present moment the proportion of recovered wool to total consumption is probably about 15 per cent., which is roughly the same proportion as in the United States, though in France it is, I believe, a good deal higher.

Those who have heard the contributions to this short debate can have no doubt that this is a useful industry. The attacks—if I may so call them—on the use of recovered wool are based on a complete misunderstanding of the facts. Those who make these mistaken statements may have been led away by the other uses of the word "shoddy," but I hope that this debate may at least help to ensure that in future this industry will not be maligned in this way.

Mr. John Edwards (Brighouse and Spenborough)

I rise only to thank the Parliamentary Secretary not only for the way in which he has confirmed the statements made by my hon. Friends, but also for his own contribution to the defence of a very important industry. It is most satisfactory to find ourselves in agreement on this matter, and I am sure that the people in the constituencies of my two hon. Friends—and, if I may say so with all due modesty, in my own constituency—will be immensely heartened by this discussion.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Ten o'Clock.