asked the President of the Board of Trade what explanation can be offered for the situation in the cotton trade; whether he is aware that the average earnings of the spinning section of the industry for 1918 represented over 40 per cent. on the capital invested and represented millions in excess of any earnings obtained either by coal owners or any other trade in the country; that the retail prices of cotton goods to the public has advanced in the lowest cases 80 per cent. and in some goods as much as 300 per cent. on pre-war prices; that the spinning companies now propose to close down for eighteen days in order to keep up the selling price of yarn and thereby hold the community to ransom and commit the identical offence for which the miners were threatened with the powers of the State; whether, in order to support this hold-up, it is proposed to quarter the operatives on the Government's unemployed fund; and what action he proposes to take?
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I think the hon. and gallant Member has altogether mistaken the nature and object of the stoppage in the American section of the cotton spinning industry. There is already a serious amount of unemployment in the cotton trade, with sporadic stoppages of mills,2402W owing to the lack of demand. And I understand that the main object of the forthcoming organised stoppage, which has been jointly agreed to by the employers and operatives concerned, is to obviate the need for such sporadic stoppages, and a further discharge of workpeople. I do not think that this action can properly be described as an attempt to hold the community to ransom. The price of yarns has already fallen greatly since the Armistice, and it is doubtful if the present level of prices in the American section leaves any margin for profit. At present there is a disposition on the part of buyers to wait for the possibility of a further fall in prices, but it is to be hoped that before long the view will prevail that nothing is likely to be gained from further delay.