HC Deb 23 June 1955 vol 542 cc1471-3
2. Mr. Hale

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has now completed his discussions and inquiries with regard to the Lancashire cotton industry; and what steps his Department has taken.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I have nothing to add to my reply to the hon. Member on 13th June, which referred him to the comprehensive statement by the Prime Minister in the House on 3rd May.

Mr. Hale

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this cynicism on the part of Her Majesty's Government immediately after a General Election in which many promises were made is shocking to Lancashire, and he is sitting idly watching a growing tragedy in Lancashire's main industry and apparently has no intention of doing anything about it, but wants to repudiate all the promises made by his supporters during the General Election?

Mr. Thorneycroft

There is nothing cynical at all in referring the hon. Gentleman to the statement by the Prime Minister on 3rd May, which was, in fact, just before the General Election started.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is it not a fact that since 31st May the President himself has initiated the idea of discussions about imports with the trade unions? If so, would it not have been possible for him to mention that in his answer? Will he inform the House whether, when he has heard the representations of the Cotton Board about the export trade, he intends to pay any more regard to its advice than his right hon. Friend did in the case of imports?

Mr. Thorneycroft

It is true to say that on all these subjects, as the right hon. Gentleman has rightly pointed out, I am in constant touch with the Cotton Board. On the question of exports, I have invited the Cotton Board specifically to come and talk to me about some of the problems in the various export markets. I am also making representations to the United States of America on the subject of its subsidy policy.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there are two aspects to this matter? One is the immediate problem concerning imports and that kind of thing, and the other is the long-term problem and the long-term policy for the cotton industry in Lancashire, for which we have been waiting a very long time. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that I had the opportunity of making a speech about this matter in the debate on the Address and when the Leader of the House replied to the debate he paid me the compliment of saying that he had taken a careful note of what had been said. However, the Government have so far lamentably failed to address their minds to the long-term problem, or so, at least, everybody in Lancashire believes.

Mr. Thorneycroft

The hon. Gentleman's remarks seem to be more in the nature of an assertion than a question.

11. Mr. Holt

asked the President of the Board of Trade, in view of his refusal to give tariff protection to the Lancashire cotton trade, whether he will take steps to reduce the protection given to other United Kingdom industries in order that the Lancashire cotton trade's costs may be reduced.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Procedures already exist whereby manufacturers or any other interests concerned can apply for the lowering of protective tariffs.

Mr. Holt

Does not my right hon. Friend feel that he has a duty to take some positive action himself? Is he not aware that the Lancashire cotton industry has no protection against its chief competitor in this country, and only about half the tariff protection against European competitors selling in this country which our other major industries have? Further, does he not agree that protection to other industries only puts up the cost to the cotton industry, and is it not time, in equity, that he did something?

Mr. Thorneycroft

If anybody thinks a tariff ought to come down, procedure exists for an application to be made to that effect. I have not had an application from Lancashire for a tariff to come down.