Orders of the Day — FINANCE (No. 2) BILL

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th June 1956.

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Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde 12:00 am, 11th June 1956

I am sure that all on this side of the Committee will agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield) when he says he would like to see something more being done for the textile industry. Unfortunately, on this particular Amendment, all we can do is to try to alter the investment allowance.

The fact that the President of the Board of Trade is not here this afternoon is indicative of the attitude of the Government towards the cotton industry. If the right hon. Gentleman is very busy, he has two other Ministers in that Department, and neither of them is here. Having said that, I am not sure that we should complain about their absence because, whenever they have been present, we have never been able to extract any concession from them, and, unfortunately, I did not find the Economic Secretary a more helpful substitute this afternoon.

The hon. Gentleman said that the cotton industry was the most vocal of the less prosperous industries. Of course, the Government could quite easily alter that; if only they would grant a concession in one way or another, then perhaps the industry would be less vocal. The trouble up to the present has been, I think, that the industry has not been sufficiently vocal—at least, not sufficiently vocal to persuade a Conservative Government to take any action.

The Economic Secretary said that if the Government wanted to help, he nevertheless wondered whether this would be the right way to do it. We do not mind. If he is willing to find a better way of helping the industry, and has some other suggestions to put forward, we shall welcome them. We are not limiting the help to the cotton industry by what is contained in this Amendment.

Finally, the Economic Secretary said —and I tried to write down his words, though I do not know that I have them down correctly—that if this Amendment were granted it would put a breach in the tempo of the restriction of capital investment. I am not quite clear how one can put a breach in a tempo, but I think we understand what he means. Personally, I believe that the restriction of capital investment is the very last action which any Government should take, even in the event of an economic crisis, because we thereby jeopardise the whole of our future. We are well behind in capital investment compared with our competitors, compared with the United States of America, with Russia, and, now, compared with Western Germany. We cannot afford to fall behind in this matter of capital investment.

In the Economic Surveys for 1953 and 1954, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer complained that there was not sufficient capital investment being put in private industry. He had no complaints about the nationalised industries, but there was not sufficient capital investment in private industry. In 1955, there had been some improvement. Immediately there is some improvement, the Government say that they must stop it. The argument which the Lord Privy Seal used was that his policy had been too successful. In fact, it had been so successful that we were still behind our competitors in the matter of capital industry

The criticism has frequently been made that the cotton industry has not, in the past, ploughed back sufficiently. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) answered that criticism to some extent. We admit that there is a number of firms which certainly have not reinvested sufficient capital, and I think the criticism was true in the inter-war years that not sufficient money was being ploughed back into the industry. But what happened? When the war came, there was the contraction of the industry. Then, in 1945, there was re-equipment. We tried to draw people into the industry. The cotton industry was then very important for the export trade.

When we had got people back into the industry, we had a Conservative Government, and, though I do not blame the Conservative Government for the recession which took place, I do blame them for not having taken any action to help to meet it. We are still suffering from that situation, and the encouragement to re-equip so that we can face our competitors on a more nearly equal footing being withdrawn.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) spoke about shuttleless loom, which was something which was to come. It is, in fact, something which has come already in Western Germany, and is being used in factories there. We in this country are falling behind. We are facing severe competition, as everyone knows, from India, from Hong Kong, and from Japan. It is, therefore, vitally important we should be re-equipping and keeping up to date. using the latest possible machinery in our mills.

I would not be in order, Sir Rhys, if I were to recount all the difficulties which cotton industry faces today and I am quite certain that, if I were to try to do you would call me to order. All I cotton will say is that the Government will not help the industry-though we have been trying to persuade them to do so for several years-and that their policy now is to prevent the industry from helping itself.

The criticism has been made of the cotton industry that the workers were not prepared to work a shift system as is done in other countries. Those who know anything about the cotton industry will remember that, some time ago, the unions in the weaving section agreed to go on to the three-shift system. There was already a two-shift system being worked by a good many firms in the industry.

Sir Rhys, you are looking at me rather severely, but I do not think I shall prove to be out of order. There was one stipulation about the three-shift system, namely, that it should be in re-equipped mills. The point I am trying to make is that if this incentive to re-equip is removed, and the mills are not given the newest machinery, then the willingness of the unions to go on to the three-shift system will no longer be there. As has been said, this Amendment will not, by any means, solve the problems of the cotton industry. No one expected that it would; but it would be a little help, and it would have a certain psychological effect, as has been said. It might, I think, be helpful if the Chancellor of the Exchequer were now to take part in our debate and make a somewhat more encouraging speech than the one we had from the Economic Secretary.