Orders of the Day — Unemployment and Economic Conditions.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd March 1938.

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Photo of Mr Wilfrid Burke Mr Wilfrid Burke , Burnley 12:00 am, 23rd March 1938

The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows as well as I do what the solution is. He knows that at the present time we are asking the cotton trade employers to give us a minimum wage of only 30s. a week—a terribly low wage. That is the solution, and the hon. and gallant Member knows that we have not got it yet. The Minister says he does not like us to go over these trade figures with a microscope. Believe me, there is no need to use a microscope in looking at the problems of Lancashire; the facts stand out for everyone to see. In 1920 or thereabouts, there were 600,000 persons engaged in the cotton industry. Now there are 400,000. That means that the industry has lost, because it cannot maintain them, at least one-third of the people who were engaged in it a few years ago, and, unless people are going to be blind and deaf to all that that means in the way of human misery, the problems do not call for any microscope; they are there for anyone to see.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is present, I would like to say a word about another aspect of the cotton industry. As he knows, if the industry is to improve, it will have to improve by expanding its export trade. In a steady flow of exports lies the solution of its problems. Recently Lancashire has suffered a very severe blow as the result of economic conditions in another part of the world. Whatever else Lancashire can do, she can never afford to be isolationist; her problems are linked up with problems all over the world. Just recently, on the top of the fact that our trade has slumped tremendously from year to year, the economic crisis on the west coast of Africa has robbed us of what had become one of our best markets. A year ago we were sending 17,000,000 square yards of cloth per month to the Gold Coast. In one year, that 17,000,000 square yards has dropped to 3,000,000 square yards. Out of 160,000,000 square yards, 17,000,000 square yards was a fairly decent proportion. I believe, in fact, that this had become the next largest market after India. But 3,000,000 square yards out of 160,000,000 square yards is negligible. The world's attention has been drawn to the fact that cocoa is being burned on the west coast of Africa. As far as Lancashire is concerned, that means more and more idle looms. Burning cocoa on the west coast of Africa has left the natives there without money to buy the cloth that Lancashire men would be employed in making. I know the Government have sent a Commission out to inquire into the matter, but the Commission will not report until July. I urge the Government to take some immediate action if our second largest market is to be saved to us at all.

In the same 12 months that has seen this drop in our exports, the number of persons unemployed has risen in Burnley from 3,417 to 6,593—that is in the cotton weaving section alone. I wonder how the hon. and gallant Member for Accrington likes this. You say that this problem is only temporary. It is not a temporary problem in Burnley. There are in Burnley 1,652 cotton weavers who have not done any work for 12 months or more. It may be a long period beyond the 12 months for some of them; but, for at least 12 months, the whole of them have done no work. That hard core of unemployment in the cotton trade is something that the Minister ought to have told us about. Instead, he gave us a mass of figures and percentages and a lot of words, behind which, I suggest, he hid a lot of ignorance.

All over the world, there is grave concern about our overseas trade. Whatever the Government's policy you cannot have an isolationist policy for Lancashire. I suggest that what is necessary to restore the position of Lancashire, is a better deal for Lancashire goods in the markets of the world. We in this country are the world's best customers, and we ought to be able to use that as a lever to get better bargains in our negotiations. The risks of exporters are greater, perhaps, than ever before in the history of export trade in this country, and Government assistance and protection will, perhaps, be necessary to gain for Lancashire that standard of reciprocity to which we are entitled. I suggest that in any treaty negotiations, political or commercial, that the Government are entering into, the first principle should be that of mutual support, whether with Empire countries or others. Lancashire asks for help, because she has done something to help herself. We have done all we can in attracting other industries. The hon. and gallant Member for Accrington tells us that 2,000 factories have come to Lancashire. I do not know where they are or where he gets the figures. I have been at some pains to get the figures out of the Government's own statement.