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 John Bidgood Mr John Bidgood , Bury and Radcliffe 12:00 am, 1st July 1963

Not very much new can be said in a debate of this kind. Hon. Members who are interested in Lancashire's problems have from time to time reiterated the various points that have been made this evening. I do not think it possible for my right hon. Friend to query the terms of the Motion, for no fair-minded person can quarrel with the way in which it is worded.

There is no doubt that the Lancashire cotton industry has taken a terrific hiding during the last ten years. We know that the taxpayer has poured vast sums of money into the industry—yet we are still going through that same difficult period that we have been going through for a decade, namely, a crisis of confidence that seems to have got worse instead of better. Although the industry has been streamlined, company results now coming out are showing very little improvement. From what one can see, there is little hope that conditions will be better next year.

One of the basic reasons for the difficulties confronting the industry is the question of cheap Asian imports. The first thing the Government must do is to settle without delay the future level of quotas from India, Pakistan and Hong Kong and not leave it, as has been suggested, to the industry to negotiate its own agreements. A clear decision devolves on the Government to take the initiative in this matter and I am sure that the industry would agree that any revision of the quotas must be in a downward direction.

We have heard this afternoon—and I support this—that the next quotas must be categorised. This is one of the principal complaints that the industry is now making. We have also heard that there must be no carry-over of quotas in any future arrangements. I feel it only fair to say that if, as has happened over the last two years, importers of cheap Asian goods have found it necessary to carry over their quotas, trade must have been very bad indeed in this country, if only because the Asian producers were not able to sell their full quotas here.

One-third of the consumption of cotton textiles in this country is imported. I am sure from what I have heard that the industry is united in the view that the Government must do something to come to its rescue. I do not believe that it should be left to the industry to provide my right hon. Friend with examples of dumping. There must be within his Department facilities to enable him to come to a conclusion on the evidence available as to whether or not goods are being dumped here at give-away prices.

We are told that the domestic price of cotton textiles in India is 30 per cent. above the price at which they are sold in the United Kingdom. While hon. Members and those engaged in the industry may or may not have conclusive evidence to bring before my right hon. Friend, I am fairly certain that in his Department there must be conclusive proof as to whether or not dumping of this sort is taking place.

The cotton industry has altered its character very much in the last few years. Whereas it used to be a labour-intensive industry it is now a capital-intensive one. There are some efficient firms in which the capital expenditure per employee is as much as £8,000, which is higher than that in the motor trade. On the other hand, looking at the other side of the coin, productivity and prices in the cotton industry are not as good as they should be. We need not seek far for the reasons. They are, first, because the industry is horizontal instead of vertical and, secondly, because of the difficulty—shall we say antipathy?—of going over to the three-shift system which operates in the Asian countries and also among our European competitors.

The position is not helped by the attitude of the trade unions, which are asking for large premiums on shift-working and on working new machinery. Whereas it is possible to try to draw up a balance sheet as to which side of industry may or may not be wrong, the fact remains that the industry itself, both employers and employees, is united in thinking that the Government must do something, and very quickly. The industry is certain, as must be every reasonable hon. Member, that Commonwealth countries should not be allowed to push up tariffs against British textiles with impunity.

There is much the Government and industry can do in this connection but, as I said, the first thing that the Government must do is to restore the confidence of the Lancashire textile industry in itself. One of the criticisms against the Government is that their attitude to Lancashire textiles is not crystal clear. What is crystal clear is the attitude of Lancashire towards the Government. All the Motion seeks to do is to give the industry an opportunity to operate under the same advantages as the cotton industries of other countries, and the United States and Canada have been quoted as examples. I could quote countless other examples.

It is a great credit to this House of Commons that on this absorbing subject so many hon. Members, regardless of party affiliations, have sensitive and sensible views about what should be done. We have a clear conscience over the Lancashire textile industry—and by"clear conscience" I do not mean the conscience of the Government but the conscience of individual hon. Members, who feel that something must be done, and without delay, to try to retrieve the injustices under which this industry is labouring. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Motion.