Cotton and Textile Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th March 1962.

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Photo of Mr Niall Macpherson Mr Niall Macpherson , Dumfriesshire 12:00 am, 16th March 1962

I apologise to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) for not allowing him to speak, but time is getting on and I have short enough time to deal with the rather gloomy picture painted by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. D. Jones). The hon. Gentleman spoke about a crisis of confidence, but it was precisely to try to restore confidence and to increase efficiency that the Cotton Reorganisation Schemes were designed to enable the industry to compete with other countries. The essential background to that scheme was that we in this country have Commonwealth free entry. We have an obligation to accept goods from Commonwealth countries which they send to us as a means of increasing their standard of living. Secondly, as a nation we depend for our livelihood on exports and we depend to a greater extent on them than ever before. That being so, we are bound to try to remove obstacles to trade. We cannot expect to export unless we are willing to import.

The aim of the Cotton Reorganisation Schemes made under the 1959 Act was to encourage the industry to modernise itself by a programme of scrapping and replacement. Some firms had already started that process and were inclined to criticise the Schemes as helping the laggards rather than the more enterprising firms. The scrapping scheme for spinning, doubling and weaving ran for a year and ended on 31st March, 1960. Nearly half of the total installed capacity in spindles was scrapped and two-fifths of the looms at an estimated cost to the Exchequer of £10·6 million. Practically all the labour displaced which desired re-employment had no difficulty in finding new jobs, admittedly not always in the same place.

The Scrapping Scheme for finishing ended last December having run for nearly 18 months. The installed capacity eliminated was about one-fifth and the cost to the Exchequer is likely to be £1·2 million. The Government assistance took the form of payments of two-thirds of the compensation payable for machinery scrapped under the Schemes.

The other side of the Government assistance was designed to encourage those in the industry to plan to re-equip or modernise their mills. The expenditure occurred in the purchase and installation of machinery or equipment is eligible to the amount of one-quarter of the cost provided that application is made by 8th July, 1962, and the installation or modernisation is completed by 8th July, 1964. The House may be interested to know that so far 697 applications have been received covering expenditure to the extent of £40·3 million and involving an Exchequer grant of approximately £10·1 million. That admittedly is below expectations. No doubt the reason why better results have not been obtained so far is the admitted lack of confidence.

Is that lack of confidence justified? This is what we are discussing. It is true that the labour force has declined. During 1961 the industry lost 20,000 workers which represents nearly 10 per cent. of the labour force. But scrapping and modernisation was bound to result in a decline in the labour force. The trade unions accepted that in making itself more efficient the industry would have a decline in its labour force. The important thing from the point of view of labour is that there does not seem to have been much difficulty in absorbing those who left the industry into other jobs although I say again not always in the same place. It may well be that labour is attracted to other industries—