HC Deb 06 November 1968 vol 772 cc860-2
2. Mr. Arthur Davidson

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement about the cotton textile industry, and in particular the economic and trade prospects for the industry in Lancashire in the coming year.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

Production of yarn and cloth has risen by 7½ per cent. and 5½ per cent., respectively, compared with the third quarter of last year. Order books have also lengthened considerably, to an average of 23 weeks production in the case of spinners and 17 weeks in the case of weavers. While it is dangerous to prophesy in a trade which is subject to cyclical fluctuation, nevertheless, given the state of order books and the improved competitiveness of the industry as a result of devaluation, the outlook looks encouraging.

Mr. Davidson

My right hon. Friend's words are very encouraging, particularly in view of the gloomy forecasts which were made in many quarters, but does he not agree that he could give further encouragement to Lancashire by considering the import quotas again?

Mr. Crosland

I certainly think that the general position is a great deal more encouraging than it was this time last year, for example, when many very gloomy forecasts were being made. As to any further Government action or further Government policy decisions, I have said again and again, and I must stick to this, that I do not propose to take any new policy decisions affecting the industry until I have had the result of the productivity study, which I still hope to have by the end of the year.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

When will the Textile Council report on its productivity study, because the absence of this report has been a reason for postponing decisions for a long time? Does the President of the Board of Trade realise that time is beginning to run out in the matter of quota arrangements for imports? When does he propose to start renegotiating these quotas, because he will be up against the buffers of time quite soon?

Mr. Crosland

I am well aware of the timetable as regards quotas. We have not run out of time yet, but it is right that we should watch the timetable very carefully. I shall not take any decision on that until the Textile Council Productivity Study has been completed; and that, I hope, will be by the end of the year.

Mr. Blackburn

Does my right hon. Friend realise that we have been holding up decisions for a long time because we have been waiting for these reports? Can he give us an indication of when we shall get both the Hunt Report and the Textile Council's Report, and then perhaps some decision will be taken?

Mr. Crosland

I hope to have the Textile Council's Report by the end of the year. I believe that we are expecting the Hunt Report in the very early part of next year.

Mr. Mapp

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that mergers are inevitable in face of whatever kind of report he gets? In these circumstances, will he encourage the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation to look into some of the possibilities: in Lancashire, without the aid of its Chairman, for reasons which both sides of the House will know, namely, that he has a major interest in the textile industry? That should not neutralise the efforts of the I.R.C. to look into the possibilities there are.

Mr. Crosland

The Chairman of the I.R.C. has made a considerable contribution to mergers in the textile industry, as my hon. Friend knows. On the more general question of the I.R.C., I agree with my hon. Friend that we certainly have not seen the last of mergers in this industry. We shall see more of them, but I would not like to call in the aid of the I.R.C. until I see what the productivity study says, although it is one of of a number of possible courses of action after we have that study.