HC Deb 27 March 1956 vol 550 cc1953-4
24. Mr. Jay

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware of the serious effect on the Lancashire cotton industry of the recently-announced policy of the United States Government that increased quantities of United States cotton will be sold abroad at special prices; and what representations Her Majesty's Government have made to the United States Government on the subject.

Mr. Low

For some time the Lancashire cotton industry has been suffering from the uncertainty caused by the existence of large stocks of surplus cotton in the United States, and the doubts about the plans for their disposal. The United States Government have not yet announced the terms of sale for the substantial quantities of surplus cotton which they intend to sell at competitive prices for delivery after July, 1956. It is therefore not yet possible to estimate the full effect of their decision.

Her Majesty's Government attach importance to the United States Government's assurance that it is their intention to effect sales in an orderly manner so as to avoid disrupting world market prices. Every opportunity has been taken to make our views known to the United States Government, and we shall continue to watch the situation.

Mr. Jay

At a time when Government policy has deliberately created depression in the engineering industry, is it not very serious to have this increasing sign of depression in the cotton industry, too? Can the Minister say what has been the result of these representations to the United States?

Mr. Low

There is no depression in large parts of the engineering industry, and I do not accept what the right hon. Gentleman said. Our representations, including representations by an industrial mission which was prompted by us, have been continuous and pressing, and I have no doubt that they have had some effect on the views of the United States Government.

Lieut.-Colonel Schofield

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the release of these surplus stocks of American cotton must ultimately result in a lower world price of cotton which in turn should make it more difficult for the Indian Government to continue its policy of directly subsidising the price of cotton to Indian spinners, thus enabling Indian mill owners to flood this country with cheap cotton goods? Would he not agree that that, at least, would be to the advantage of Lancashire?

Mr. Low

It is certainly true that an artificially high world price for cotton increases the gap between the price at which the Lancashire industry is able to get its raw material and that at which the Indian industry gets its raw material. To that extent a reduction in the artificially high world price of cotton will help the Lancashire industry, but there are, of course, other considerations, which I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend knows.