HC Deb 27 October 1955 vol 545 cc373-4
45. Mr. H. Hynd

asked the Prime Minister whether the speech by the President of the Board of Trade at Harrogate on 14th October represents the policy of the Government with regard to the cotton textile industry.

The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Hynd

Is the Prime Minister aware of the large number of cotton mills that have been closed down already this year, and the serious situation caused by free import, particularly of Indian cloth? Does he not know that the President of the Board of Trade, answering other Questions today, has persistently refused to do anything for this industry, and will the right hon. Gentleman bear that in mind when he is reconsidering his Government?

The Prime Minister

I am conscious of the problem that hon. Members of the House all know in questions of Commonwealth imports into this country in respect of cotton textile goods. On the other hand, I am very conscious of the very real value which this country and the cotton industry get from the maintenance of Imperial Preference. To give the House just one figure, Lancashire exported last year something like £50 million worth of cotton piece goods under preferential rates to various countries of the Commonwealth, and we retained in this country about £8 million worth of Commonwealth cotton piece goods. That is only one figure. Others could be given in the argument—of course they could, I admit that at once. But I would still say that on balance, and I would hope that all sections of the House, whatever they feel about the difficulties of the industry would agree, the maintenance of Imperial Preference has been and is of direct benefit to the cotton textile industry.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

The right hon. Gentleman says that the speech of the President of the Board of Trade represents a policy for the cotton industry, but is he aware that, in the course of that speech, the Minister said that it was not his job to have a policy for the cotton industry? If that is really a job for the Government, would not the Prime Minister agree that they ought to have some policy for providing alternative employment for the areas which are going to be derelict if this lack of policy continues?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is being a little too clever. The Question was framed not by him or me, but by the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), who referred to "the policy." My contribution is to say, "Yes, Sir."

Mr. Hynd

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I wish to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter.