Textile Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st July 1963.

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Photo of Mr Fred Blackburn Mr Fred Blackburn , Stalybridge and Hyde 12:00 am, 1st July 1963

I wish to congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) first upon his luck in the Ballot and secondly upon his choice of subject. I am in general agreement with what he said. He will not have very much longer to wait to learn the details of the Labour Party programme. I think that most hon. Members who represent constituencies concerned with the textile industry would be in general agreement with what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I wish I could feel as convinced that, were there a vote, they would all be found in the same Lobby.

It is about 12 months since we had the last debate on the cotton industry and I think it very important that we should again be considering the industry. What has happened in those 12 months? As everyone knows, there have been further closures. Unfortunately some have occurred in my constituency. When these mills are closed we get no help from the Board of Trade for the provisions of new industries for our areas. The President of the Board of Trade excuses himself on the ground that the level of unemployment is not as high there as in some other parts of the country; but the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone that the present figures for unemployment do not reflect the true position because so many women in the textile industry were not insured in their own right. They have been lost to the industry, and we know that there has been a great depopulation of some of our areas. Surely it is not in the interests of the country that our areas should be depopulated and our people go to other parts of the country which are already over-crowded.

During the last debate the position was described as a crisis of confidence. Is there any greater confidence in the industry today? I am afraid that the answer to that question is definitely"No". There is no other cotton industry in the world which has to face such difficulties as ours, nor is there any other large British industry which has to face competition on the same scale as that faced by the cotton industry. Other Governments are prepared to help their textile industries much more effectively than our Government are.

Our Government have been pumping money into the industry, on the one hand, and undermining the industry, on the other, by allowing still larger and larger imports. At present, as the hon. Member for Darwen said, the level of imports is about 35 per cent. of home consumption. When we compare that with the figures for other countries we see what a great burden our industry carries. In 1959 it was 23 per cent. of home consumption. That was the figure for imports which we pressed upon the President of the Board of Trade in last year's debate and which he rejected.

On the question of pumping money into the industry, I want to make one quotation from an article by Andrew Alexander which appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 24th May. He said this about the Government's reorganisation scheme: In brief, the whole aid scheme would have been fine for an industry which was assured of a good future, but very short of capital reserves. But, in fact, the position in Lancashire was exactly the reverse of this—though the industry could scarcely be blamed for thinking at the time that the Government meant to look after its investment of public money in the cotton trade. We all agree that it is vastly important that a country such as ours should help the underdeveloped countries. That is a concept with which we all agree. We are all anxious to play our part. I should now like to pose a question which I put in last year's debate: who decided that the best way to help underdeveloped countries was by killing our own industry? The more development takes place here the more we are in a position to help underdeveloped countries.

I am very eager to develop Commonwealth trade, but surely that trade must follow a sensible pattern. To ruin our own industry does not seem to me to fall within that description. Would it not have been more sensible for the main outlet for cheap Asian textiles to be to the poorer countries with a lower standard of living? That is not happening. They are sent to England. The attitude is—"We can get there without any difficulty. There is a free market there." The Board of Trade should be looking after us a little better than it is.

As a corollary of our receiving such large quantities of duty-free imports, have we not the right to expect fair trading practices from those who enter our market? The hon. and learned Member for Darwen mentioned certain of these matters. India places a duty on exports of raw cotton, gives an incentive for exports of cotton goods, and places a duty on imports. Pakistan has a duty on raw cotton exports. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of Ireland providing a back-door entry for still more cheap textiles. Providing that 25 per cent. of value is added to them, as they are made up in the Republic they can enter Britain on Commonwealth preference terms.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Canada. Can the Government confirm or deny the position with regard to Canada? I understand that Canada produces certain cloth at 1s. 10d. a yard, and, as such, it would not normally be competitive with the British product. Hong Kong is producing the same cloth at 1s. 5¾d. a yard. A Canadian company therefore imports Hong Kong cloth which it sells to its own customers at 1s. 10d. a yard but sends its own cloth to Britain to sell at just over 1s. 5¾d. a yard. That is the information we have. It is very important that the President of the Board of Trade should either confirm or deny it.

If we cannot make better agreements with India, Pakistan and Hong Kong because of the Ottawa Agreements, what will be the position with all the new emerging self-governing countries of the Commonwealth? Surely they will have exactly the same rights to come into our market. That would be the final nail in the coffin. It is no good the President of the Board of Trade saying that he has put a ring round Lancashire or round the cotton industry. Whatever ring he has put there is invisible. Mention has already been made of two new entrants into the British market—Malaya and Yugoslavia.

The Government were willing to throw over the Commonwealth in order to crawl into the Common Market, but they are not willing—this seems strange to me—to take effective action to save our own industry.