HC Deb 04 May 1964 vol 694 cc1050-60

10.2 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. David Price)

I beg to move, That the Cotton Industry Development Council (Amendment No. 5) Order, 1964, a draft of which was laid before this House on 25th March, be approved. This draft Order further amends the Cotton Industry Development Council Order, 1948.

The House will be aware that the Cotton Board was established by this Order as a Development Council under the Industrial Organisation and Development Act, 1947, which enables it to finance its activities by statutory levy. For a number of years it has carried out important and valuable activities on behalf of the cotton industry—the improvement of design, productivity, research, exports—and has played a major part in negotiations with Commonwealth countries over the limitation of exports of low-cost textiles to Britain.

The Cotton Board was entrusted with the administration of the Government's schemes for the reorganisation and re-equipment of the industry under the Cotton Industry Act, 1959. It has recently been designated, under the Industrial Training Act of 1964, as the appropriate body to act as a training board for the cotton industry.

Since its inception, users of man-made fibres as well as cotton in the Lancashire textile industry have been formally covered by the scope of the Cotton Board, but until 1961 no levy was paid in respect of man-made fibre activities nor were the more important functions of the Cotton Board carried out in relation to them. In 1961, however, as a result of the fusion of the separate research associations for cotton and rayon into the Cotton, Silk and Man-Made Fibres Research Association (the Shirley Institute) man-made fibre activities were included within the scope of the Cotton Board so far as the promotion of research was concerned and appropriate financial arrangements made to this end.

This move reflected the increasine tendency for the cotton and man-made fibre activities of the Lancashire industry to become intermingled. Most firms now process man-made fibre as well as cotton in varying proportions. This development has also been reflected by the merger of the separate trade associations in the industry which had previously represented cotton and manmade fibre interests.

The Government therefore feel that the time has now come to complete the process begun in 1961 by bringing manmade fibre activities under the scope of the Cotton Board pari passu with cotton activities. This is the main purpose of the present Order.

The opportunity is also being taken to include within the scope of the Cotton Board certain activities in relation to silk which are analogous to the activities covered by the Board in relation to man-made fibres and cotton. Nearly all firms which process silk also process, to a much greater extent, manmade fibres and the change is being carried out at the request of the organisations representing the firms concerned.

As required by the Act, the representative organisations and trade unions concerned have been consulted and have consented to the changes proposed in the Order.

To avoid misunderstanding, it should be explained that there has been no change in the textile processes which are covered by the Order. They remain—as they have always been—spinning, doubling, weaving, finishing and converting. There is no question of extending these to include such processes as knitting, garment making, etc. Thus, firms not already within the scope of the Cotton Board will not be brought within it apart from a few marginal cases where silk is concerned.

The necessary amendments are contained in Schedule I of the draft Order (pages 2–4). Schedule II (pages 4–16) sets out, for the convenience of all concerned, a fully amended version of the principal Order.

The amendments will not in themselves affect the total amount of levy raised at present from the whole industry, but there will be some adjustments in the actual payments for individual firms in accordance with their proportionate usage of cotton, manmade fibres and silk. For most firms there will be little change, but for those firms which process substantially more man-made fibres than cotton the increase in levy payments will be greater. The firms predominantly using man-made fibres will, of course, be able as a result of this draft Order to make full use of all the services of the Cotton Board in the same way as the firms which predominantly process cotton.

The upper limit on levies which may be raised under the Order remains fixed at £525,000 per annum as laid down in a previous amendment. There is also no change in the constitutional functions of the Cotton Board as they already exist.

The amendment requires an affirmative Resolution of both Houses. This Resolution has already been passed in another place.

10.6 p.m.

Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)

We accept this change as another logical step in the rationalisation of this industry. We also accept the change in Cotton Board functions. Although the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade was at pains to say that the Board's functions had not changed, they have changed in a few particulars, namely, the productivity aspect, training and also design. This is quite an historic occasion, because for the first time man- made fibres have been accepted as of as much importance as the elements in the cotton industry.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary why he has not changed the name of the Board. Why carry on with the name of this Board as the Cotton Board when the circumstances are changing so rapidly? The so-called cotton industry is using more and more man-made fibres. A third of its activities are now concerned with man-made fibres, and that is increasing all the time. If it were not for the man-made fibres supplied to the cotton industry the industry would be in a very parlous state. This shows the success of modern fibres, but it also reflects the decline of the cotton industry as a purely cotton industry. Much of it is due to the import of cheap cotton textiles from overseas.

We must accept that the industry, which has previously been referred to as the cotton industry, is now inextricably bound up with the man-made fibres industry. My memory goes back to the time when Courtaulds began to try to influence Lancashire to buy rayon and use it along with cotton. A lifelong friend of mine was appointed manager of the Arrow Mill and had to do this job for Courtaulds in Lancashire. The difficulties were immense because of prejudice against the new fibres. He even had to go to the length of parcelling up rayon in bales exactly like cotton bales coming from America and had to wrap them in the same kind of hessian in which cotton is delivered before some of those engaged in the Lancashire trade would accept them. We have come a long way since then. There has been at times a struggle for dominance on an organisational basis between elements in the cotton industry and those in the rayon section which in the past has perhaps hindered the integration which we see tonight. It became so acute at one time that Courtaulds set up a Man-Made Fibres Research Institute at Heald Green, and to influence the members of the Cotton Board to use more rayon they allowed them to have the benefit, free, of the research done there.

The Cotton Industry Act, 1959, if it did nothing else, sparked off a whole series of amalgamations. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the numerous trade associations have been concentrated into one or two. The concentration of the industry has gone on, productivity has gone up, amalgamations have taken place on a terrific scale. Large firms with their own research establishments have been going further and further towards the retail trade through a vertical organisation.

At one time we had the Federation of Cotton Spinners, the Yarn Association, and many associations of different sections, rayon spinners, rayon weavers and cotton weavers. They were so numerous that it was about time that this rationalisation took place and they came together and recognised their interdependence. In 1961, when the two research associations came together, the levy on the users of rayon was 11 per cent. The total amount which was apportioned to the combined institutions of cotton and rayon was £245,000, of which £45,000 came from the levy on the rayon users.

The rayon producers who, in my view, have always had their eye on the wellbeing of the industry, partly, of course, for their own ends, have since 1961 contributed £79,000 to the Shirley Institute on the basis of £30,000 as a basic rate plus one-fifth of the levy. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us whether Shirley Institute will be able to look forward to this £79,000 in future years. I hope that it will.

I am sure that the rayon producers would not need much persuading to carry on, if it has already been decided that this should lapse, because I am certain that they have the public interest at heart. I had many experiences at the Board of Trade during the Korean War when there were many shortages of one kind and another and Courtaulds, who could very well have put up their prices and exacerbated the price position caused by the Korean War, decided to keep their prices constant. I have a personal admiration for the way in which that firm helped the then Labour Government through their difficulties in the textile sector.

This process of inter-dependence is going on elsewhere; in the wool trade, too. At one time manufacturers in Batley, Morley and Dewsbury, used the waste from all over the world to make first-class fabrics, put together with the skill and craft people possessed in those towns. Now the situation has radically changed; because of the interdependence of one trade on another.

Whereas in the old days it was possible for a merchant to be able to guarantee the fibre content of his commodities, that is no longer possible because hardly anybody in the trade knows the content of the waste, rags or fibres in this trade. That in itself points to what comes next because this interdependence stretches over the wool, silk and cotton industries. I hope that the next Government will in two years' time come forward, when the quinquennial review of the functions of the Cotton Board take place, with some new ideas. It may be an admirable opportunity for the recasting of our whole attitude towards these industries.

Many problems will arise as a result of this Order because large organisations will carry on with their own research. It will be necessary to apply our minds to the situation of the research associations which serve the separate industries. It may happen that there will be a reallocation of their present duties; but to pursue that would be out of order and we can discuss it at a more appropriate time.

Are the Government thinking in terms of a change in the status or name of the Cotton Board? Can the people responsible look forward with confidence to the man made fibres' producers carrying on with their £79,000 subscription to the Shirley Institute, and what thought is being given to the changes which must inevitably come about with the interdependence of each section of industry on another?

10.19 p.m.

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

The few hon. Members present tonight will be obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) for making some choice comments on this Order. At this hour subjects like this are apt to go through on the nod, but any hon. Member who represents the industrial North could never see a document referring to the textile industry pass without feeling somewhat emotional about it. I do not intend to delay the House because I understand that the Order is an agreed measure between the various sections of the trade, the manufacturing side, trade unions and other associations.

I recall that some years ago, in, I think, 1959—when the Measure for the reorganisation of the cotton industry was before the House—my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne and I incurred some disfavour by being critical about its provisions. Tonight, I do not wish to repeat that performance, because this is not the occasion to do so, but I think it is an appropriate occasion to say that we welcome the further steps taken to rationalise the sections of the industry which are working in a common endeavour to produce high-grade textile materials.

Whether the name "Cotton Board" is now appropriate to the changed circumstances and to the raw materials now in use is a difficult question to answer. My difficulty is this. When my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne discusses the question whether "Cotton Board" is the appropriate name, since about one-third of the raw materials in use are now synthetic fibres, one has to accept the difficulty that the use of the term "Textile Board" would cut across wool textiles which are not used in this connection. I will, therefore, leave this matter to the experts.

We understand that this Order, which has been described by the Parliamentary Secretary in such excellent terms, limits the functions of the industry to those historic functions which have formed the basis of the Cotton Board for a long time—weaving, doubling, warping, winding, reeling, spinning, and so on. I am wondering whether this is the right occasion to mention that, as a Lancashire man—and my hon Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne is even better informed than I am on these matters—I know that a great deal of textile material is now being made by knitting processes, by all kinds of ingenious machines which no longer rely on the flying shuttle. I wonder how long it will be before those new processes which are an integral part of the modern textile industry are brought within the functions of the Board.

The textile industry has had to endure many vicissitudes during the last two decades, when 130,000 workers were thrown out of employment by the truncation and closing down of large sections of the industry for causes which I cannot discuss tonight. In this period, when great changes have taken place, people have said that Lancashire is inefficient and does not look after its industry well enough to compete with the rest of the world.

Such an assertion is not true. One only has to look at Schedule 2 in the Order to see the recital of 21 functions of the Cotton Board, which are not equalled or exceeded by any other industry in the country. The Schedule refers to promoting or undertaking research, and here I should like to pay my modest tribute to the splendid work done by the Shirley Institute, in spite of the handicaps from which it has suffered through inadequate income.

The Schedule also refers to Promoting the training of persons engaged or proposing engagements in the industry. Her Majesty's Government have recently promoted the Industrial Training Act, and the cotton industry was excluded from its provisions because it had its own provisions built into the legislation which we are discussing tonight. The Schedule refers to measures for securing safer and better working conditions for those engaged in the industry, and Promoting or undertaking research into the incidence, prevention and cure of industrial diseases…promoting the improvement of accounting and costing practice… The Schedule is a most eloquent recital of the steps that have been taken by our native industry in Lancashire to provide a sensible and progressive groundwork for a progressive industry.

In giving my modest support to this Order, I only hope that this step forward to bring greater cohesion into the organisation of the industry will be matched by greater success and prosperity in the coming years than it has endured under some of the hammer blows which it has suffered in the years during which I have been in the House.

10.25 p.m.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I am rather more interested in the next Order than directly concerned with this one. As I have in my constituency no fewer than four Courtauld establishments and as British Celanese is just over the border in Wrexham, I am impelled to say how glad I am that man-made fibres have at last come of age and have been recognised in this way.

I warmly support what my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under- Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) said about Courtaulds, because it is a firm of which all of us who are connected with it, directly or indirectly, are very proud. I have had some opportunity of seeing some of the research work which it does at its own establishment in Coventry. Would I be right in thinking that much of the work that will be coming under the Shirley Institute will be not so much for the production of man-made fibres as for their use in conjunction with other fibres? In other words, if the work is done successfully, as we hope, we shall have even better markets for our North Wales products in Lancashire than we have had hitherto.

If my interpretation of the Order is correct, I am quite sure that I can join the congratulations of North Wales to those of other hon. Members who are present for this new enterprise.

10.26 p.m.

Mr. D. Price

The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) is quite right. The use of the man-made fibres which are being brought in now will be in the traditional Lancashire processes. The actual production of the raw material is outwith the Cotton Board, in the same way as the raw cotton does not come within the scope of the Order.

I agree with the good wishes expressed by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) towards the industry and with all that he said about what it has been doing. He was anxious to know whether the Cotton Board should bring in more processes. He mentioned knitting. These are interesting thoughts. In this work we like to go at the pace at which the industry itself wants to go. On the other hand, the review comes up in two years' time, which seems the appropriate moment, when the industry has digested this little one which we are doing now.

The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) has a far greater knowledge of the industry, being a little older than myself, if I may say so respectfully, than I could ever hope to have, and I always listen to him with interest. The amount of the grant going to the Shirley Institute is not changed under the Order. He will recall that previous to the Order the £45,000 came from the man-made side and £200,000 from the Board to the Institute. This remains stable within the quinquennium, but that is due for renewal in 1965, and 1964 is not too early for everyone in the industry to start thinking about it and for all of us to look forward. [Interruption.] It was the £45,000 figure I have been given coming from the manmade fibre side. This is being integrated into the total revenue going to the Shirley Institute.

The main effect—in fact, the only real effect—of the Order is that it will alter a little the balance of the levy payment by individual firms in the cotton industry. The only people to pay a little more will be those firms that have had a heavy usage of man-made fibres. Those who have had a lower usage and have been principally in traditional cotton, will probably pay a little less.

Mr. Rhodes

This is quite different The £45,000 is under the levy.

Mr. Price


Mr. Rhodes

The total amount will now be equally distributed over the whole industry. Up to the present the man-made fibre products have subscribed an additional £79,000 over the top of the £245,000. I am asking whether the new arrangements disturb that old arrangement.

Mr. Price

I am not aware of any change. I thought that the hon. Member was talking about the man-made fibres within the cotton industry.

It is evident that the Order accords with the needs of Lancashire and I hope that when the review takes place further progress will be made on the lines which hon. Members opposite have suggested.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Cotton Industry Development Council (Amendment No. 5) Order, 1964, a draft of which was laid before this House on 25th March, be approved.