HC Deb 22 February 1955 vol 537 cc1048-9
20. Mrs. Castle

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has considered the proposals put to his Department by representatives of cotton employers and trade unions on 15th February on the problems created in Lancashire by the import of Indian cloth; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I have very carefully considered the report which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State made to me about the meetings in Manchester on 15th February. I am now awaiting the specific suggestions which I have invited the Cotton Board to make to me upon this topic.

Mrs. Castle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, when the Minister of State met the master cotton spinners and the textile workers in Manchester last week, they passed a resolution expressing complete dissatisfaction with the Government's activity in this matter? Can he tell the House what there is to stop him from getting in touch with the Indian Government now to see if some voluntary arrangement cannot be made to limit this disastrous flood of unfairly competitive imports?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I think it would be better to await the visit of the Cotton Board, which represents all sections of the industry, including the trade unions, to me to make any specific proposals which it thinks appropriate.

Mr. H. Wilson

Will the right hon. Gentleman suggest to the Indian Government that they might take the export duty off tea and put it on cotton piece-goods instead?

Sir A. Colegate

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, when considering this problem, the possible repercussions on our large and growing exports to America which are below the cost of production in America?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I certainly shall bear in mind in all these matters—I hope we all shall—the important effects upon our whole commercial policy of precipitate action in a field of this sort.

Lieut.-Colonel Schofield

Will not my right hon. Friend agree that the main reason for the cheapness of the Indian cotton exports is the concealed subsidy which is granted by the Indian Government to the Indian mill owners, and that if the subsidy were removed Lancashire would be able to cope with the Indian competition? Is he aware that all that Lancashire is asking is to be able to compete on level terms?

Mr. Thorneycroft

This is a complex field, and I hope that hon. Members will be a little careful even about bandying terms like "concealed subsidy" when they are considering the prices of raw materials supplied to industry.