I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) initiated this debate and my right hon. Friend has asked me to say how grateful he is to her for the interest she has taken and also to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) and one or two other hon. Members for the interest they have taken in it and for the time they gave up yesterday in bringing to him the valuable deputation which discussed this matter.
Before I come to the immediate steps which we are taking—and I regret that I cannot announce anything very concrete today—I should like to refer to some of the more general issues. The point has been made that there is an advantage to our balance of payments in encouraging the use of rayon so as to reduce the amount of cotton which we have to import. This is true. One of various calculations made shows that each one million lb. weight of rayon substituted for natural fibres saves £250,000, largely in dollars.
Rayon uses imported materials, but the cost of these is much less per lb. weight of rayon than is the cost of importing cotton or wool. It has also been argued, and was today by the hon. Lady and by my hon. and gallant Friend, that rayon is cheaper than either cotton or wool, and that an admixture of rayon will reduce the price of a textile material. This is probably true in general, but, as the House will be aware, prices will depend partly on the proportion of rayon used and partly on the current prices of the various fibres. All Departments of the Government are, of course, well aware of those two factors. I will see that the points that the hon. Lady made at the end of her speech are brought to the notice of my right hon. Friend.
I should like to say a few words about the size of Service orders. By now most of the cotton and wool cloth required for the re-armament programme has been ordered. The percentage of rayon in cotton-rayon mixture would vary but the average would not be more than 30 to 40 per cent. and in wool-rayon mixture it would be less. One pound of rayon might produce about five yards of pure rayon fabric and therefore one million pounds of rayon might be used in about 15 million yards of rayon-cotton mixture. Even if orders could be placed on this scale they would provide only a small direct help to the industry which has a potential output of 440 million lb. weight a year.
As I understand, however, the argument for increasing the quantity of rayon in clothing and materials ordered for the Services does not rest on the direct impact which that might have upon the rayon industry, and particularly upon employment in the rayon industry. I am glad that the hon. Lady appreciates that we are all aware of the unemployment situation in that industry and that we are anxious to give as prompt help as we can.
The argument rather is—and I agree with it—that an increase in the amount of rayon used in Service orders would have a psychological effect upon the industry and upon possible consumers of rayon. I should add here—as the hon. Lady explained—that the substitution of rayon for cotton or wool will have little or no adverse effect on employment in Lancashire and Yorkshire in particular. Rayon is spun and woven on the same machines as natural fibres.
In the past comparatively little rayon has been used by the Services. Its use has been virtually confined to men's summer vests, to a number of items of women's underwear, stockings, ties, lanyards and ribbon, to linings and to parachutes. I understand that the mess dress of the W.R.N.S. has contained rayon. In 1951–52 the expenditure by the Ministry of Supply on rayon mixture clothing was £16,500, only part of which was for rayon itself. So far, orders for 1952–53 have been on much the same scale and represent one-fiftieth of 1 per cent. of the expenditure on clothing and textiles generally.
There has been discussion from time to time about the use of rayon in parachutes and it might help the House if I gave a few facts. Eighteen months ago, following satisfactory trials, the first production order was placed for a number of light-weight escape type parachutes to be used in jet aircraft. There has been some difficulty in the manufacture of this fine and light-weight fabric, but progress has been made recently and it is likely that there will be further orders. Nearly 10,000 flare parachutes made of the same type of light-weight yarn have been ordered.
Paratroopers' parachutes are still made of nylon. Supply dropping parachutes have been made mainly of nylon in the past, though there has been a small order for some rayon parachutes of one type. It would be of advantage to the national economy if more rayon could be used and less nylon. Experiments are to take place with a rayon yarn for supply dropping parachutes. These trials will take some months——