HC Deb 13 March 1957 vol 566 cc1261-8

9.35 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. F. J. Erroll)

I beg to move, That the Draft Cotton Industry Development Council (Amendment No. 3) Order. 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd February, be approved.

Hon. Members

Where is the President of the Board of Trade?

Mr. Erroll

I am deputising for him tonight. This matter, important though it is, is comparatively a minor one.

As the House will know, the Cotton Board may, with the approval of the Board of Trade, raise from a levy imposed on the cotton industry, a sum rising to a maximum of £450,000. By this Order we are seeking to increase the maximum of the annual levy to a figure of £525,000. This increase is required to enable the Cotton Board to meet additional costs arising from undertaking a sales promotion campaign in this country for United Kingdom manufactured cotton goods.

The Board of Trade has consulted the appropriate organisations in the industry, as we are required to do under the terms of the Act, and the proposal to increase the levy is, I am glad to say, supported by more than 95 per cent. of the industry itself. What I think will be of particular interest to the House is that although the textile trade unions are not required to make levy payments to the Cotton Board they have, nevertheless, decided that they would like to make a voluntary contribution of £10,000 from their own funds towards the cost of this campaign.

The Order also makes a minor amendment relating to the basis for calculating the levy imposed on persons carrying on the activity of converting cotton fabrics. The amendment has been suggested by the trade associations themselves, and, naturally, has their full approval. I am sure that hon. Members will welcome the initiative shown by the industry in promoting this campaign to advertise to the spending public the merits of home-produced cotton goods, and accordingly I commend it to the House.

9.38 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Thornton (Farnworth)

I welcome this Order and I hope it will have the full approval of the House. The Cotton Board is without doubt the most successful of the development councils which have been established in British industry. I think a large measure of its success has been due to the efforts, wise counsel and guidance of Sir Raymond Streat, who, I am sure we are all sorry to note, has intimated his intention to retire from this important post.

As one who has been associated with Sir Raymond's work for a great number of years in Manchester and London and overseas, and as one who has spent a whole lifetime in this industry, I should like to pay a personal tribute to the excellent work given to the Cotton Board by Sir Raymond Streat. His diplomatic skill, his tact and his rather remarkable knowledge of this industry have been of profound help to the cotton textile industry during the difficult time it has gone through in the last twenty years or so.

This Order, as the Parliamentary Secretary indicated, will permit the Cotton Board to carry on its good work and to extend its activities within the framework of the Cotton Industry Development Council Order of 1948. If the present Government and their Conservative predecessors had taken more notice of the Board, I feel quite sure that this industry of Lancashire would not have had the same social and industrial problems to cope with as it has at the present time.

The Cotton Board's activities are wide in range and important in their function. The Board plays a substantial part in the research activities of the industry and, apart from the Government grant to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, it is the main contributory agent to the maintenance of the Shirley Institute. Anyone who has had experience of the Shirley Institute must agree that it is a really fine research association. It is probably the best industrial cooperative research association in this country, and it is without question the finest cotton textile research association in the world.

The Cotton Board studies export trade problems and it has engaged in overseas sales campaigns with fairly considerable success. It makes a continuing study of the problems of raw cotton supplies, prices and cover arrangements. It also engages in coping with problems of increasing productivity and it plays an active part in training personnel, drawn both from management and the trade unions, in work study techniques. It has also a statistical department which is probably the best statistical department of any textile industry anywhere.

As has been indicated, the chief purpose of the increased levy is to enable the Cotton Board to undertake a campaign of sales promotion in the United Kingdom. The present need is that the merits of cotton goods should be brought more forcibly to the notice of the public by a well-planned advertising campaign. The cotton trade unions—and this is something almost unique in British industry—have voluntarily contributed £10,000 from their own funds in help to this campaign.

National advertising campaigns have been conducted and are being conducted in a wide range of consumer goods industries, including woollen textiles, linen textiles and textiles made from manmade fibres. This has led to a distortion in the pattern of spending, to the disadvantage of our old-established cotton textile industry and also to the disadvantage of textiles in general.

Figures show that world average consumption per head of the main groups of textiles, that is, cotton, wool and rayon, rose by 16 per cent. between 1938 and 1954, but that consumption per head of these main groups of textiles in the United Kingdom between 1938 and 1954 increased by only 1 per cent. That indicates some distortion of spending capacity. In 1954, only 53 per cent. of these main textiles, cotton wool and rayon, consumed in the United Kingdom was cotton, whereas in North America the percentage represented by cotton was 74 per cent. and in Western Europe 57 per cent. There again is an indication that, in this distortion of the pattern of spending, cotton in the United Kingdom has come off very badly indeed.

The reason why the percentage is so high in the United States of America is not only because it is a great raw cotton producing country, but also because it has engaged in a highly successful sales promotion campaign on the North American continent, and that has added to the consumption of cotton textiles and has not operated to the disadvantage of rayon, wool and other textiles.

Whilst I welcome unreservedly the Order, I submit that it is not a substitute for Government policy for the industry. Neither is it a panacea for the difficulties under which the industry is labouring as regards duty-free imports of cotton fabrics from Commonwealth countries, a disadvantage which no other industry in Britain has to contend with on anything like the same scale. Neither is it a substitute for a policy of the redistribution of industry. However, I welcome the Order, and hope that it will receive the unanimous approval of the House.

9.47 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I do not wish to detain the House at this late hour for more than a moment. I join with the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) in the tribute he paid to Sir Raymond Streat, who has been for seventeen years Chairman of the Cotton Board. I also want to pay from this side of the House the same tribute as the hon. Gentleman paid to the wonderful services given by Sir Raymond Streat to the cotton industry during the past seventeen difficult years. I am sure it will be the wish of everybody in this House that his services will not be lost to the textile industry, or to the economy of this country in general, because his services have been of a very high character and it is largely as a result of his efforts that the relations between management and labour in our great textile cotton industry are so good. I warmly welcome the fact that the trade unions have voluntarily contributed £10,000 towards the success of this campaign.

Finally, I want to put a point to the cotton industry itself. It seems to me that in the promotion of a campaign of this kind in the present day, when we have television, and so on, where our textile industry perhaps falls down is that it does not create sufficiently the cult of the personality. Anyone who watches television realises how rapidly people become names. The success of France as the creator of fashions is largely because the French have a genius for making Christian Dior, for instance, an international name as the creator of new fashions.

I believe that, in connection with this promotion campaign, the Cotton Board would be well advised to consider whether it does not keep its advertising and promotion too much to the textile itself rather than bringing in the creator of that textile and building up a personality cult, which I am certain would appeal to women far more than stating that one fabric is better than another.

If that angle is borne in mind in the campaign. I am sure it will be a great success. I only hope that at some future date the Cotton Board can extend its activities beyond a campaign intended to increase sales in this country to having a similar levy for increasing sales overseas. If the Lancashire textile industry is to remain at its present size, let alone expand, there is no doubt that the overseas market is just as important as the one in this country. With those few remarks I commend the Order warmly to the House.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. J. A. Leavey (Heywood and Royton)

In adding my support to this Order, I should like first to be associated with what has been said about Sir Raymond Streat by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Glover) and the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton). I endorse what has been said. Although I have not had the privilege of knowing him personally on the same basis as the two hon. Members, I know the great value of his contribution to the industry.

It is well known here and, I think, in industry generally that for the last two or three years in Lancashire the cotton textile industry has been facing especial difficulties. We have had intense competition from the Asian producers, including India, and we have seen a change in the pattern of industry which inevitably has brought its own problems. In consequence, as the House knows, we have felt a great waning in confidence within the industry, a matter which has been referred to repeatedly in the House but to which perhaps full recognition has not been given throughout the country.

By this sales promotion campaign I believe that we are seeing one sign, and an important sign, of returning confidence. We are by no means over our troubles, but I believe that it is sig- nificant, particularly for the reason that this is self-help. This is help which is coming from within the industry. It is not a case of the industry saying to the community as a whole or to the Government, as we have been saying and as I hope we shall continue to say, "We require certain help." This is a specific case in which the industry is saying, "Give us sanction to raise a further £75,000, because we wish to finance a sales promotion campaign."

It is a form of investment and I think that it has an added value for the reason that the trade unions in the industry have said, "We want to be in on this and to make a substantial contribution amounting, in this case, to £10,000." We all want to say nothing which will be misunderstood, but this action at this particular moment puts the spotlight on the cotton industry as one in which there is a relationship between the employers and the trade unions which at least is a good guide to the relationship in other industries. It is something which will be cited to advantage over a wide field, far beyond the confines of the county.

I realise that the detailed ways in which this money is to be spent will be the cause of many disagreements and arguments. I think that is inescapable. Some will say that the results being achieved in advertising are not what they ought to be and that the money should be spent in other ways or that more emphasis should be put on this or on that. I do not think that that will be a serious ground for criticism and I think that over the two-and-a-half years for which the campaign is planned we shall see real advantages and developments. I hope that, together with other developments which are taking place, it will definitely establish that this suggestion that there is a lie-down-and-die feeling in the Lancashire cotton trade is quite false.

I should certainly welcome the Order for that reason alone but, as I have said, there are other real advantages, and it is with sincerity that I welcome this development and wish the campaign real and marked success.

9.55 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

This is an instance where the Government are wisely following and reinforcing the policy of the Labour Government towards this industry. There is no one in the House who wishes to oppose the proposal of the Government that we should help the industry in this way to help itself.

As one who has had the pleasure of working with Sir Raymond Streat both in peace-time and in war-time, from the early months of 1941 onwards, I should like to pay my tribute to the work of the Cotton Board and of Sir Raymond himself. As has been said, it is possible that the existence of the Board and the work of Sir Raymond has helped towards better relations in the industry, among other things. I remember how Sir Raymond had what was perhaps for him an unwelcome task in 1941–42 of drastically and rapidly cutting down the labour force and production in the industry. He carried out what was then a vitally important task from the national point of view with fidelity and enthusiasm.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton), who has a much greater knowledge of the industry, I hope the Government, while doing this piece of good work in the interests of cotton exports, will not regard this as a substitute for other efforts to give help and guidance to the industry. I think it is possible that in addition to the prob- lem of the duty-free imports, about which we have heard, the development—we do not yet know what it is to be—of the European Common Market and free trade area, may give rise to further and acute problems for the industry. We should all like to be sure that it will have the sympathy and help of the Government in every practicable way in dealing with those problems; and in particular we hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not think that this action is any substitute for the policy to which my hon. Friend referred of assisting in the introduction of new enterprises and new industries to those parts of Lancashire—which we must always remember, though closely related, is not identical with the cotton industry—and which may have suffered a reduction in employment.

To solve this problem we have to follow a policy of assisting the cotton industry in this and other ways, and, at the same time, seeing that in an area where that may not be effective, steps are taken, with the assistance of the Central Government, to ensure that alternative production and employment is available.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Draft Cotton Industry Development Council (Amendment No. 3) Order, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd February, be approved.