asked the President of the Board of Trade how many mills in the Burnley area have closed down or are weaving out in the last two years; if he is aware that the closing of these mills has resulted in a large increase in the volume of imports from India and the Far East as Lancashire exports have declined; and what action he proposes to take to assist the Lancashire cotton trade.
Eight weaving mills in Burnley itself announced their intention of closing down during the last two years, but I am not aware of any evidence that this has been a cause of increased imports. I am in touch with the leaders of the industry about its problems including imports of Asian cloth.
Is not it clear from the steady rise of imports and the phenomenal drop of exports that there appears to be a definite policy of contraction of the Lancashire cotton industry in the interests of foreign manufacturers? Is not that so serious and important as to be a subject worthy of investigation by the right hon. Gentleman's Department?
Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to a very alarming report from the appropriate officer of the North-East Lancashire Development Area in which attention is drawn to the rapidly reducing population, extending over a long period, in the whole of this area, particularly since 1952, which is the very year in which the Government made it a Development Area? Will he bear in mind that, what with the credit squeeze on the one hand and the European Free Trade Area on the other, the cotton trade is being subjected to increasing pressure and restriction? If the Government will not do anything to save the cotton industry, will they at least take some other industries into the area?
I have not seen the report, but I am grateful to the hon. Member for referring to it. I will look at it. What we have to study is the level of unemployment in all the industries in Lancashire.