HL Deb 25 March 1947 vol 146 cc794-8

7.0 p.m.

LORD BARNBY asked His Majesty's Government, if, following reply given on December 4, 1946, they are now able to state if it is their intention to arrange publication forthwith for the benefit of the Industry as a whole, the monthly stock of wool tops, and how soon they expect to be able to supplement this with similar figures on top production and consumption?

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this question reverts to a reply given to a question put in this House on December 4 last year, which at that time, while indefinite, gave hope that early action might be expected. I must ask the indulgence of your Lordships if, in putting this question, I give a little explanation to show you what lies behind it. The noble Lord who was good enough to deal with the question which I put earlier this afternoon, quite unintentionally, I am sure, gave a reply which showed that information had not been supplied to him by the Department concerned which would have enabled him to give a full and satisfactory reply. The information for which the question asked must have been available to the Department, I think. If the reverse were the case it would suggest that a commercial organization which is responsible to the Board of Trade in this matter is not carrying out its duties in a way which, in the commercial sense, is usual. That would be disquieting. But I feel certain that that is not the case, and, in the circumstances, I hope that the noble Lord will convey my remarks to the President of the Board of Trade and, that he will, perhaps, urge him to give an early reply or to make some authoritative statement with regard to the matter. It is a matter which is of vital importance to a very large number of people in the Dominions as well as in this country.

In raising this matter, I wish to emphasize that factual guidance as regards stocks is now essential. This reply to which I have referred might give rise to disquieting feelings. The worsted industry, which makes so substantial a contribution to our exports, is dependent on supplies of these tops, without which the spinning and manufacturing of cloth cannot proceed. Uncertainty at any time is disadvantageous. Under present conditions, ignorance as to present stocks is an added cause of perplexity and doubt. There is reason to believe that these figures are within the knowledge of the Board of Trade. In any case, if some records have recently lapsed, figures on production and consumption plus exports should present no difficulty in the way of the rapid preparation of the essential figures. Anticipating the reply I may get, and in view of the answer given me last time, I feel sure that the noble Lord will not hesitate to press that these should be prepared.

Before I put my question, I feel compelled to make a reference to the general wool situation, to explain the additional matter on which I am asking for information, and to which I have already drawn the attention of the Board of Trade. The situation arising internally out of Board of Trade control regulations seems to me to be chaotic. In saying that, I am not actuated by any objection, in principle, to controls. I believe that, at the present moment, some degree of regulation is both essential and timely. But the point I wish to make is that bureaucratic methods work too slowly in an industry geared largely for exports yet reacting swiftly and sensitively to movements in raw material markets open to world operations. The present practice, whereby export prices, applied to fully or semi-manufactured products, are recommended to bear the cost of heavy subsidy to the utility programme at home is, in effect, driving up world wool prices (and this is a point which I wish particularly to stress) against the utility programme, to the disadvantage of the domestic consumer. It means that United Kingdom wool users are being held in a strait-jacket of Governmental regulation on prices. They have had to stand by and let necessary wool supplies pass on auction to other countries—wool supplies which should have been secured to supply future clothing requirements of the United Kingdom population, at prices substantially less than the higher price now being paid. Now, large production has been lost by the stoppage, and this has contributed very much to the need of these figures being published. It seems to me to be essential that if this industry is to avoid the very serious situation to which I have drawn attention, there shall be allocated to wool-combing, which is a process steam-using section of industry, allocations of coal, for a period at least, which will cover their requirements. And let that action be swift, otherwise lost production may soon be perilous to the succeeding sections of the industry, dependent on wool tops, which will be brought to a partial standstill. That in turn will affect the garment industry in which a large labour force is employed.

I would presume, with your Lordships' permission, to give one additional note of warning, and that is with regard to Canada. So far as Canada is concerned encouragement has been given for her industry to be geared largely to supplies of semi-manufactured materials from this country for clothing her population. At the present moment we have placed a complete embargo on exports of semi-manufactures to Canada. The result of this, may well be that Canada's machinery will be brought into a dangerous position, if not to a standstill, with a very adverse effect on employment. I submit that in view of the extremely generous treatment which Canada has extended to us in the matter of food supplies it would be dangerous to disregard this matter.

It is of vital importance, I suggest, to keep the wool-combing section of the industry employed, and so to prevent further deterioration of the position. That is the feeling which has stimulated me to put clown this question. To summarize, urge that there should be early action to publish the statistics of stocks of wool tops, and as soon as possible, also, of production and consumption. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to assure me that that is going to be done. In addition I would ask that he should convey to my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade the recommendations that there should be an early recasting or the utility price structure and that there should be an allocation forthwith, for a period at least, of coal supplies to this small section of the wool textile industry. With that explanation, I beg to put the question standing in my name.


My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord will be a little bit disappointed because there are no recent figures of wool stocks. They are not available. My right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade hopes shortly to bring up to date the figures which were published in the Board of Trade Journal on May 18, 1946, showing the production and consumption. The noble Lord has raised a number of points with regard to the correlation of home prices of wool crops as used in the utility trade and the prices for export products, and in regard to the position as between this country and Canada. I can assure the noble Lord that these matters are very well known to my right honourable friend and they are under constant consideration. That, I am afraid, is as far as I can go, but I will bring to the attention of my right honourable friend the observations which have been made on the subjects of these figures, and in due course the figures relating to the production consumption will be published.

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