Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Commerce – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1959.
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the necessity of maintaining an increasing employment in the textile machine-making industry, he will limit the payment of re-equipment subsidy to machinery manufactured in the United Kingdom.
I would refer the hon. Member to the Answer which my hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) on 5th May.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is very great concern in the textile machine-making industry about the diminution of export orders and the contraction of output? Although one realises that rules must have exceptions, surely he is prepared to tell the House that his regulations will provide that priority will be given to home purchases where purchases are made with a Government subsidy?
Last year, we exported £40 million worth of textile machinery and I understand that the export order books of the industry are in a fairly good state. I do not think that I can do what the hon. Gentleman asks, because the essence of this proposal is that the industry should be made competitive. We must, therefore, allow the industry to buy the machines which it thinks most useful.
asked the President of the Board of Trade to what extent cotton textile firms, which have wholly closed down for a temporary period prior to the appointed day, will be enabled to qualify for assistance by a partial re-opening.
The precise terms of eligibility for compensation will be laid down in the detailed schemes to be prepared by the proposed agency after consulting the section concerned. The object is, however, to remove excess capacity irrespective of whether a firm is actually in production at the time.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some considerable time has passed since he threw out his vague proposals to the House and that no one in Lancashire professes to understand them? Judging from the Answer which he has given to the House he clearly does not understand them himself. Surely we should have some indication as soon as possible about what his proposals are.
I hope to publish a White Paper quite shortly, but I think that the lion. Gentleman would agree that these schemes need to be worked out with both sides of industry. What the Government had to do first was to give the broad indication of what extent the help from the Exchequer would be. Now that we have done that, detailed work on the schemes can go forward.
Will not the right hon. Gentleman give us a more specific answer about the date on which the White Paper is likely to be available? Surely he agrees with my hon. Friend that at the moment there is a great deal of dubiety about what this scheme is and what it amounts to. While no doubt there are negotiations to take place in the industry itself, they should have started a long time ago. A lot of Government money is now involved.
I hope that the White Paper will be published next Thursday. I think that it must be clear to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that until the Government had decided and announced the scale of their assistance it was not possible to work out the detailed schemes.
asked the President of the Board of Trade to what extent, in the course of his discussions with the employers about the reorganisation of the cotton textile industry, proposals were considered for payment of subsidy to firms that carried on business instead of to those closing down.
If the hon. Member is asking whether we considered subsidising the industry at its present size instead of compensating firms who eliminate capacity, the answer is "No, Sir".
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have never suggested anything of the kind. What I am suggesting is that it is better to subsidise production than to subsidise contraction. This has always been the fatal error of Government policy, that they allow contraction to take place and then pay compensation for the contraction instead of encouraging and maintaining production. Why does not he do something like I have suggested?
The Cotton Board undertook a study of the surplus capacity which had to be eliminated. There are representatives of the trade unions on the Board. It is an agreed estimate of the surplus capacity on which the schemes are now being worked out. If we did not eliminate surplus capacity. we should have continuing trouble.
asked the President of the Board of Trade to what extent the recently announced proposals on the future of the cotton industry will apply to Scottish manufacturers of cotton products or cotton mixtures.
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, under the Cotton Industry Reorganisation Scheme, he will ensure that compensation for loss of office or employment for the workers in the industry will be not less favourable than that recently made to officers of the Regular Army under the Government's scheme of compensation for displaced Army officers.
As I made clear in my statement of 23rd April, the terms of this compensation are a matter for the employers to settle directly with the trade unions concerned.
Yes, but whilst appreciating that, is the Minister aware that the settlement for the displaced Army officers was a fair and reasonable one, and that if such a settlement could be adopted for these displaced textile workers, I am sure that both the trade unionists and the workers in the industry would be pleased? Could he not recommend that they try to adopt as a means of settlement the same financial agreement as was adopted for the ex-Army officers?
I cannot accept that there is a parallel between the two— [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—but I hope and believe that the settlement for the cotton operatives will be fair and reasonable.
But is there not a parallel between the two? Both these classes of persons are displaced through no fault of their own.
An industrial settlement is something which the trade unions must look at with the employers in the usual way. Let us see what they put up to us.
Not at all, but public service and industrial service are different. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why? "] It may well be that the cotton industry wishes to introduce various conditions which would not have applied to the Army.