I am glad to support the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) in what I think is the very strong case which she has represented to the House. In so doing, I should like to thank the Minister of Supply and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who will reply, for the interest they have taken in this matter, which has been raised mainly through the activities of the hon. Lady in recent days.
There is no doubt that the situation in the rayon industry is acute. In my own constituency of Macclesfield, which was known throughout the world as a great silk producing town, we now produce more rayon than silk, but at present we have very serious unemployment in that borough, which we think is just as badly off, in proportion, as are other places in Lancashire.
It seems to me that the Ministry of Supply could speed up the tests, not only in the Post Office, but by the Prison Commissioners, who have made considerable use of rayon. Exhaustive tests have been made, and I should have thought that the benefit of these tests could have been used in assessing the value of this fibre. Spinning machinery is going to be used in Lancashire, and it will continue to be used. That is important. We have also heard that in America specifications are issued to the Forces for rayon for parachutes used for dropping equipment, not human beings. Could the Minister see that we accept the American specifications? It may not be easy, perhaps, but the possibility could be looked into.
Then there is the case of khaki shirting, a tender for which has already been issued, where the specification is 60 per cent. wool and 40 per cent. cotton. The mixture of 60 per cent, wool and 40 per cent. rayon is considerably stronger and cheaper, and the firms who are making this fabric have given it exhaustive tests. They are very knowledgeable people and know their business, and I would ask my hon. Friend to take note of their tests and to get particulars of them as quickly as possible.
The same can be said with regard to socks. They are much cheaper with the rayon blend, and tests in this respect have now been taking place for two years. All hon. Members know that socks do not last very long. A soldier, I believe, is issued with four pairs of socks a year. Could not a complete quarter's supply be made in the rayon mixture? That would be a great help in trying out wool and rayon socks in one large sample.
As regards blankets, the 45 per cent. rayon blend is 6s. 4d. a lb. whereas the 100 per cent. wool is 7s. 2d. a lb., and I am told that the shrinkage of the blend blanket is 17 per cent. as against 26 per cent, for the all-wool. I realise that the rayon industry as a comparatively new industry and that in the past it may, perhaps, have over-stated its case. But I am confident from the discussions we have had with the industrialists that they are only anxious to put forward fibres which they know and can trust to carry out the work for which they recommend them. It will ease the balance of payments position of this country because home products will be used, and it will bring the emphasis on the smaller textile companies which are not all in Lancashire.
I should like to say again that I have the greatest sympathy with the Lancashire problem, but nevertheless there are small towns throughout the country which are equally hard hit, though the distress is not so concentrated. If the Government can give some assistance in that direction, they will assist the morale of the people running the businesses and that of the workers, and may well encourage civilian buyers to place orders. I am confident that the Government and my hon. Friend, who has taken a great interest in the suggestions I have put to him, will do their utmost to see that rayon is used in greater quantities than before.