HC Deb 12 June 1958 vol 589 cc396-400
30. Sir J. Barlow

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is satisfied that the cotton industry is taking every advantage of science and technology, with a view to maintaining the home market and development abroad: and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

I know that a great deal has been done in the cotton industry to take advantage of developments in science and technology, and of course I am aware of the outstanding work and international reputation of the British Cotton Industry Research Association. It is common knowledge that as in other industries all firms are not equally advanced in this respect.

31. Sir J. Barlow

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many spinning mills and weaving sheds in the United Kingdom have closed in each of the last five years; and to what extent he anticipates there will be further closures during the present year.

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the cotton industry. The number of spinning, doubling and weaving units in Great Britain which informed the Ministry of Labour of their intention to close down in each of the years in question was as follows: 1954, 15; 1955, 90; 1956, 96; 1957, 60; and 1958—to end of May—46. I do not think it would be right for me to try to forecast what further closures may occur this year. Such a forecast might well be wrong and misleading.

Sir J. Barlow

Is my hon. Friend aware of the very deep concern in Lancashire at the diminution of the industry and the closure of these mills? What action does he propose to take to prevent further closures?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

My hon. Friend has asked me to prophesy the number of closures which will take place, but I am hesitant to venture a prophecy because it would be affected by a number of factors, including, for example, the steps which have been taken by the weaving section of the industry with the purpose of buying up redundant mills. As to the steps being taken, my hon. Friend knows as well as I do that the industries of this and other Commonwealth countries are in touch with each other and we all hope that negotiations will eventually result in agreement.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the solution lies not in buying up redundant mills but in action by the Government? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is now four years since the Cotton Board, as a matter of urgency, raised this matter with the Government and that the Board asked for urgent action from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) as early as March, 1955? Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House of a single action which has been taken by the Government to help the cotton industry in those four years?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have tried to promote negotiations between the countries most closely concerned in this matter.

Mr. J. T. Price

Will the hon. Gentleman say more specifically, in view of the deplorable history of the Lancashire industry during recent years, at what stage the Government will intervene to prevent the complete destruction of the trade of Lancashire? To what point must the industry contract before any steps are taken to prevent the continuation of unfair competition from countries which are employing labour under what are in effect slave conditions, with which this country should never be expected to compete on equal terms? Will he give some assurance that Lancashire's interests will be seriously considered in the coming months before there is a complete collapse of the whole industry?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

I can assure the hon. Member that we are constantly aware of the anxieties of Lancashire in this matter. The conditions in other countries to which the hon. Member referred are not at this stage matter for me.

Mr. S. Silverman

Is the hon. Member aware that there is a close relationship between the figures he gave of the closing of mills and the figures of imported sweated labour cotton goods from Hong Kong? Is he aware that in seven years the amount has risen from 20 million yards in the first of the seven years to 100 million yards last year? Is the hon. Member aware that, since the cotton trade now depends principally upon domestic consumption and not so much on exports as it did, it is impossible to keep the cotton industry alive against competition of this kind?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

That raises issues rather wider than those in the original Question.

Mr. Green

Can my hon. Friend confirm that imports for the home market of foreign cloth from China and Japan have been drastically curtailed and kept down ever since 1951? Will he further confirm that his Department is seriously interested in seeking a real agreement on the imports of cloth from under-developed Commonwealth countries whose interests the Opposition so assiduously seek to promote when it does not affect them? Will he also confirm that his Department has a real interest—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]—I am asking a question—in the maintenance of the social life of the Lancashire cotton towns and especially the small villages there?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

It is quite correct, as my hon. Friend says, that imports from China and Japan are on quota. The only unrestricted imports are from Commonwealth countries and Her Majesty's Government's policy remains the same.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that clear and concrete proposals were put forward for dealing with this matter, without quotas, from this side of the House in the last debate on cotton, on 9th March, 1955? Is he further aware that if the Government had adopted the proposals then put forward by this side and the cotton unions, probably 100 or 150 of the mills that have closed since that date would not have closed?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

I have read the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for the cotton industry and I am still not quite certain whether or not he proposes to stop the imports.

Mr. Wilson

What is the hon. Member's proposal.

Mr. Jay

Are not labour conditions in Hong Kong a direct responsibility of Her Majesty's Government? Would not it be in the interests both of Hong Kong and Lancashire that they should be more civilised?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

Any question of labour conditions in Hong Kong is a matter for the Colonial Secretary.