HC Deb 05 April 1955 vol 539 cc985-9
28. Lieut.-Colonel Schofield

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is now in a position to make a statement regarding the Prime Minister's meeting with representatives of the cotton industry on 24th March.

29. Mrs. Castle

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is now in a position to make a statement of Government policy with regard to the cotton industry.

30. Mr. H. Hynd

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is now in a position to announce the Government's plans for dealing with present difficulties of the Lancashire cotton industry.

31. Sir J. Barlow

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make a statement concerning the action to be taken by Her Majesty's Government as a result of the Prime Minister's interview with representatives of the cotton trade from Lancashire.

32. Mr. Philip Bell

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is now in a position to indicate the extent to which the Government can assist the cotton industry in the export and the home markets, respectively.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)

As the Prime Minister indicated in his reply to Questions on 29th March, far-reaching issues of policy are involved in this matter. They affect other Governments as well as ourselves and we must weigh them fully before reaching a final decision. We are giving close study to the whole subject in all its implications, but we have reached the conclusion, with regret, that it will not be practicable to announce a decision before the House adjourns for the Easter Recess.

Lieut.-Colonel Schofield

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that one of the worst things which operates against trade is uncertainty, and that the longer the statement is deferred the greater the uncertainty and the greater the hold-up of business which is sorely needed, and needed quickly, if further short-time working and unemployment is to be avoided?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I would certainly agree that it is desirable to make a statement on this matter as soon as possible. My hon. and gallant Friend will realise that very wide issues of policy are involved, and many other industries besides cotton.

Mr. Hynd

Is this another broken Government promise? The Prime Minister gave a pledge—certainly he led the House to understand—that a definite statement of Government policy was to be made before the Easter Recess. Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Saturday's "Manchester Guardian," which states that 81 mills will have extended holidays at Easter, and does he realise the urgency of this position?

Mr. Thorneycroft

All that my right hon. Friend said was that he hoped that a statement would be possible, as indeed we all did, but in fact it has proved, on examination, that a statement is not possible before we rise for Easter.

Brigadier Peto

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a similar statement is much needed in respect of the glove industry?

Mr. H. Wilson

Eight months having elapsed before the Prime Minister met the industry, and a further month since, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to tell us now that the Government are still not in a position to deal with this rapidly worsening situation? Are we to take it from this that the only policy the Government have in mind for the Lancashire cotton industry is that, as we all hope, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should abolish Purchase Tax on textiles?

Mr. Thorneycroft

We were not considering here the situation of last July but some specific proposals from the Cotton Board, put forward in some detail only on 24th March last. The right hon. Member will not expect me to comment on the merits of those proposals, but they are certainly proposals which deserve consideration, and that they are getting at present.

Mrs. Castle

Is the President of the Board of Trade aware that Lancashire will be scandalised by the heartlessness of the Government? Is he aware that about 20,000 workers in Lancashire—3,000 in Blackburn alone—will be laid off for extended holidays this Easter, and that in addition we have the shadow hanging over our heads of the loss of £10 million of export trade to Australia? Is not it time that the Government did something?

Mr. Thomeyeroft

I think that Lancashire would expect this problem to get the anxious and serious consideration which it is receiving.

Mr. Assheton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although naturally there is anxiety in Lancashire to learn what the Government propose to do about the cotton industry, most hon. Members of the House are aware that, in circumstances of this sort, when it is possible that the term of this Ministry is coming to an end, it would be constitutionally quite improper for the Government to announce an important decision.

Mr. S. Silverman

Would the right hon. Gentleman, for the information of all of us, care to answer the question put to him by his right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton)? Are we to assume that the reason the pledge by the Prime Minister to make a statement before Easter is unfulfilled and unfulfillable is that we have no Prime Minister; and will be ensure, in that case, that the difficulties are overcome to enable a statement to be made?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The answer to the first part of the question is that my right hon. Friend gave no such pledge. In answer to the second part, it is not for me to comment on the term of this or any other Ministry.

Captain Orr

Will the President of the Board of Trade bear in mind that cotton is not the only textile industry which is in a bad position; and, if something is in the mind of the Chancellor in connection with the Budget, will he remember the prior and more important claim of the Ulster linen industry?

Mr. Wilson

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House a month ago expressed the deepest concern about these problems of Lancashire, and is the right hon. Gentleman seriously trying to tell us that until the Cotton Board came to see the Prime Minister the Government had not an idea in their heads about how to deal with the situation, and that they waited nine months to consider what action should be taken?

Mr. Thorneycroft

No, Sir. What I said was that when the Cotton Board came it put some serious and considered propositions in front of the Government, as one would expect; and the Board would expect—and I think the House would, too—that the proposals should get full consideration before a statement is made.