HC Deb 03 December 1959 vol 614 cc1356-7
15. Mr. McKay

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer his estimate of the total sum of money to be paid by the Exchequer to the cotton industry under the Cotton Industry Act, 1959; and whether he will give a similar grant to the National Coal Board who are having to undertake similar reorganisation in the face of economic difficulties.

Mr. Barber

Given a favourable response from the industry, the cost might be of the order of £30 million over five years. As for the second part of the Question, I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the Answer he received from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power on 30th November.

Mr. McKay

Can the Minister explain the difference in the attitude which he has shown, for example, to the cotton industry and the attitude which is shown to the National Coal Board? Is not the mining industry as important to the country as a whole as the cotton industry or any other industry? Why not give the mining industry some help instead of penalising it to the extent of £32 million a year, which is equal to 3s. a ton?

Mi. Barber

The two cases are not comparable. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Perhaps I can explain. The grants to the cotton firms are intended as a stimulus to induce them to undertake the necessary investment, three-quarters of which they have to finance themselves at higher interest rates than those at which the National Coal Board borrows from the Exchequer. The Coal Board, on the other hand, is in a different position. It looks to the Exchequer for all its capital requirements.

Mr. Peyton

Will my hon. Friend make it clear to hon. Members opposite that the Coal Board has had most favoured treatment? In fact, it has been favoured to the point of being pampered. Will my hon. Friend urge upon the Coal Board, through his right hon. Friend, that one of the best ways for the Board to help itself is to diminish its large stocks?

Mr. Barber

The question of stocks, as I believe my hon. Friend knows, is one of the most important matters before the Coal Board at present.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the figure of £30 million which he quoted was the figure estimated at the time that the Cotton Industry Bill was going through Parliament; that subsequent events have shown that the expenditure is likely to be considerably more, probably more than double; and that of that sum the great bulk is not paid for re-equipment, as he implied in his answer, but is paid for compensation for the closing of mills and the destruction of machinery, which would seem to many of us to be strictly analogous to the closing of pits?

Mr. Barber

The payments under the Cotton Industry Act are, in the first place, to assist in removing excess capacity in the cotton industry and, in the second place, grants to encourage re-equipment in firms. With regard to removing excess capacity, the cost will be £11 million, not including anything provided for finishers, because that point is not yet settled, as the hon. Gentleman is aware. As to the second aspect, we consider that, together with the £11 million which I have mentioned, the total cost will be £30 million. We have looked into this matter again in the light of the Question and, as far as I know, it is not necessary to give a different answer.