I welcome my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to this debate. I should inform him at the outset that 5 million people in Lancashire will be listening critically, regardless of their politics, to this debate. I speak not only for myself, but for a number of my hon. Friends whose views I know and who may not be fortunate enough, Mr. Speaker, to catch your eye.
I will begin by briefly reviewing the past, by looking at the present and attempting to look into the future, because it is from the point of view of the future that the policy of my right hon. Friend may be somewhat lacking. There was some buoyancy in the industry of the North-West in 1950. In 1964, it was approaching the stage of near-bankruptcy. In 1967, there is alarm in Lancashire and the industry. These are the important facts to bear in mind.
I have never thought—and I do not think now—that the industry is structurally efficient. There are parts of it which are weak, although there are growing parts which are becoming more and more powerful, strong and efficient in terms of prosperity. The leaders on both sides of industry in the North-West have been permanently soured about the turning down of their case by Governments during the past 10 to 12 years. They are also somewhat sceptical of the efforts of the present Government during the last two or three years.
I say frankly and without reservation that the introduction of global and other quotas and involving certain understandings within the Commonwealth, coupled with the views expressed by the leaders on both sides of the industry, gave the industry the impression that a measure of stability could be expected. The industry gathered from this that it could look forward to the 'seventies with some degree of confidence because it was thought that there would be a reappraisal in the meantime and that something to look forward to would follow. Since July last, for a number of reasons—some national and some because the Board of Trade has been slow and lacking in diligence in dealing with the problem—there has been cause for grave anxiety.
I can think of no other major industry in the world—I stress "the world" and not just Britain—in which one article in three produced by that industry may be imported from abroad without some sort of barrier or test. That applies to all articles, whether they be shirts or anything else.
We can trace this effect to Ottawa. In 1967, the people of Lancashire are not prepared to allow the Ottawa Agreement of 1930 to govern the future of the textile industry. It is historically true that this is the only industry in which, resulting from Ottawa, the under-developed countries have decided to specialise, and it is the only industry—apart from the jute industry, which may be significant to the President of the Board of Trade—that has to put up with this unbearable chaotic competition from imports moving in like gushing water. No industry can sustain itself in such conditions.
There are great gaps within the present quota system. I have referred to Ottawa, and in that context I have to say that while I respect the 'thirties, I have a great regard for the Commonwealth. We in Lancashire feel that while we are prepared to encourage our underdeveloped Commonwealth countries, that is not to say that this trade in India, Pakistan—and Hong Kong, in particular—a viable part of our Commonwealth is to be developed to the extent of 33 per cent. of the trade of one industry in this country. That is "not on".
It is "not on" for another reason. When considering import arrangements into Britain, we must look also at how much the great America allows to be imported, and how much Germany and France permit to come in. They are all motivated to some extent by a wish to help the under-developed countries, but their imports of textiles show figures of 4 per cent., 5 per cent. and 6 per cent. of their home consumption. We take in about 33⅓ per cent. every year, sometimes with chaotic results for Lancashire.
I am not pleading for wounded soldiers who perhaps deserve to be wounded, but under this Government the industry, up to July last, had, in regard to their problems, been given certain global arrangements which gave room for development. In the meantime, other factors have supervened. First, we had the national position resulting from the Prime Minister's July statement. I am not expecting the Lancashire textile industry to be excluded from those considerations—it is entitled to take its share in that policy announced by my right hon. Friend.
But then we had the surcharge removed in November, and a fall in consumer demand, and the effect of all three together was to make Lancashire ask, "Where are we? Where do we go from here?" The Lancashire textile industry did not lose hope. It looked forward to the future with confidence and vigour, because it was getting more and more efficient. But what happened? To our dismay, we found that the word "global" did not have its normal meaning. A loophole was found, resulting in a cascade of imports—notably from Portugal, where they were nearly 300 per cent. greater than they were last August.
My colleagues and I alerted the Board of Trade to this state of things last September, and we increased the pressure. One could see the horse bolting from the stable, as it were, and going down the yard and out of sight. In the meantime, some of us, possibly because our patience was beginning to be exhausted, were appealing very strongly for action. The President of the Board of Trade will recall that my colleagues and I saw him two or three times, but in January, even when the flood was at its height, he felt that by means of discussions he could bring pressure to bear on the Portuguese Government to arrest that flow of imports.
Lancashire has still some weeks to put up with the back draught of this flow. In the meantime, I gather my right hon. Friend has been to Stockholm and has been arguing even more with the Portuguese Government about the abnormality and at whose expense it is going on. It is not denied that there is a two-price system in Portugal and that the Portuguese authorities, who have a managed society, are selling the same article to Sweden at a different price than to Britain. There is price discrimination here.
My hon. Friend has referred to Sweden. Is he aware that according to our information a large part of the newly-equipped textile industry in Portugal has been equipped by Swedish capital and supplied by Swedish bankers and financiers?
That is helpful to my argument. I have reason to know that some of the mills in Portugal have been modernised by Swedish money and some which has come from the City of London. I have here a report from Portugal by a friend of mine who has been over there for a fortnight and who is a top man in the textile industry.
I am not persuaded that this six months' cascade could not have been avoided. I regret that it has been allowed to develop and to take so many months before we could persuade the Ministry that this is not on. How do the German Government, the Swedish Government, the French Government, who are within the G.A.T.T., like us, and are part of Europe, put a barrier on excessive imports of this kind? They seem to work with greater diligence in their Boards of Trade than we do in Britain. All I ask is that our Board of Trade should think of Lancashire as well as Hong Kong.
I turn to a diagnosis of the present. Some few weeks ago the President of the Board of Trade got an Order approved in the House for the Textile Council, the old Cotton Board, to have some additional powers. I regret that the Textile Council was not discussed in principle in this House. I regret very much that some of the contributions some of us might have made towards strengthening it have not been implemented. Now I I am told that the Textile Council is to appoint an Imports Commission either with powers greater than the parent body—if anyone can understand that kind of reasoning—or with lesser powers than the parent body.
Let us look at the statement. If the Textile Council has powers greater than the body it will appoint, why appoint a body when it already has those powers? Or are we having, as Lancashire suspects—I say this frankly without reservation—merely a committee of the Textile Council with some high-sounding names? If that is a fact, on this side of the House 40 or 50 hon. Members from the North-West, whatever the President of the Board of Trade says later this evening, will have to reserve to themselves the right to take the kind of steps that will lie open to them to deal with that kind of thing in future.
The statement of the President of the Board of Trade last week, about the Textile Council Imports Commission, said that it was to keep a watch to analyse the type and source and price in respect of imports. An analysis of price is the one new function, practically the only new function, of this fancy Commission-to-be. It has to help anti-dumping, but can only say what information must be got to prove dumping. This is a triumph in words, but, in fact, it is little or nothing. It is to be a channel between the Board of Trade and the textile industry. What the deuce has the Cotton Board been doing all these years and what is to be done by the Textile Council Imports Commission-to-be?
The trouble has been that this industry, fortunately united in most things through the Textile Council and the Cotton Board, as it was, was united on labour relations and esprit de corps, but the tragedy is that the recommendations have been overlooked by successive Presidents of the Board of Trade. I accept the constitutional right of the President of the Board of Trade to decide such things as ultimate quotas and tariffs. He should realise that the Imports Commission must have teeth. It must be composed not only of people appointed by the Council, but also of independent opinion. I should like it to have access to the price structure of the import of goods at ports. I should like it to be staffed by the Council. Its reports should be made public so that its impartial advice to the President of the Board of Trade can be known to both sides of the House.
If my right hon. Friend thinks that what he said last Tuesday will give comfort to the 40 to 50 Lancashire constituencies, he misunderstands the position. They are prepared to accept the honouring of a cheque which was given in good faith, two or three years ago—given by my colleagues and, not least, by myself. If that cheque was filled in last Tuesday, we must honour it from assets in the bank. That amounts to giving this body the guts, the power and the teeth to do the job.
The industry rightly expects that its voice on the Imports Commission will be a fair voice, a sound voice, a detached voice, and one which can be properly appreciated by the President of the Board of Trade under whatever Government happen to be in power. It is a voice which should be respected. If my right hon. Friend cannot say that tonight, I, for one, shall be dismayed and shall have to reconsider my view as to how teeth can be injected into the Imports Commission.
It is fortunate for Lancashire and for the House that there are in the House many Members who have a lifetime of experience in the Lancashire textile industry, who know and understand it, and who care about it. The House has just listened with respect to one such Member, the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp). We have respect for the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the industry, for his concern about it, and for the courage with which he has not hesitated to criticise his own Government during recent months when he thought it necessary to do so in the interest of the industry.
I do not have such detailed or technical knowledge or experience, and do not claim it. Accordingly, I shall confine myself to the general rather than to the particular and technical. I shall do my best to adhere to the guidance which you, Mr. Speaker, have just given. The difficulty is not to know what to say, but to know what to leave out, because there is so much to be said about the industry. The difficulty about these long waits is that every half an hour one returns to the Library and adds another two hours to one's notes.
My first point, which I want to make as forcibly as I can following the hon. Gentleman, is that Lancashire is not begging for favours. Some people seem to think that civilisation ends at Watford and that we in Lancashire are a lot of Victorian fuddy-duddies who are living in the past and simply crying for help. They should come and look for themselves, if that is what they think. Of course, we are not all perfect. As the hon. Gentleman said, we have our weaknesses, but the rest of the country could learn something from Lancashire and not least in the matter of willingness to change and in the matter of industrial relations in a rapidly changing economy.
There are two basic considerations which form the background to this debate. The first is that the textile industry is still a great industry which has a contribution to make to the economy of this nation. The second is that, taken as a whole, the industry has fought, is fighting and will fight with vigour against difficulties, the like of which no other manufacturing industry in this country has ever seen—or could even imagine.
If any support were needed for the first proposition, it is to be found in one of the rare accurate statements in the great speech made by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Foreign Secretary, in Manchester on 19th July, 1963, when he said:
We still believe that the British cotton industry has an important contribution to make to the national economy".
Of course it has. It is unnecessary to take time in discussing that. I can here observe your injunction with ease, Mr. Speaker. It is sufficient to say, and it is no exaggeration to say, that ours is an industry which is vital to the nation, both in peace and in war.
As to the second proposition, if anyone doubts the difficulties, let him read any one of the debates in the House over the last 10 years. If anyone doubts the efforts made by the industry, let him look at the brief summary in an article written by Sir Frank Rostron, published in The Times on 10th March; or, better still, let him come to Lancashire and look for himself. We will show him, just as we will show the world, if everybody, including the Government, will just stop knocking us.
Since 1958, output has risen on average by 30 per cent. per head. This House and the nation should pay tribute to all concerned who have achieved that result. I am very happy to pay my tribute to the part played by the unions and operatives in achieving it. It could not have been done without their co-operation and readiness to accept change. Equally—and this is one of the nice things about the industry—the unions and operatives would, I know, pay tribute to the management, which has been prepared to lay out money and discuss these changes with the unions. The change which is going on is very expensive indeed.
As the hon. Member for Oldham, East said, we are not without our black sheep. There were some in the past who would not spend money on re-equipping. But it is not those about whom we are concerned. Most of those have been driven out. If there are any left, they will soon be driven out. What we are deeply concerned about is the fact that it is the highly efficient, modernised mill which is now being driven out.
We are not begging. We are not asking for favours. The industry is doing, and it is ready and willing to continue to do, its share. All that we want is for the Government to honour their pledges, to give us a fair crack of the whip, to wake up to the opportunities of the moment, and to wake up to the fact that if the industry is not given the chance to seize its opportunities, as it wants to do, permanent damage will be done to the industry to the loss of the nation.
There are those who think that the country owes Lancashire a special debt. In a debate in the House, one speaker put it thus:
I have always believed that there is one special reason why we should care about the troubles of Lancashire, and that is the exceptional sacrifice that the Lancashire cotton industry made, both in wartime to release labour for the war effort, and in the years after the war when the industry was rapidly expanding, and, incidentally, taking on a large number of displaced persons from abroad to get immediate exports. At those moments, the country was in need and Lancashire loyally came to its assistance. We should not forget that today."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1958: Vol. 590, c. 986.]
I hope that the President of the Board of Trade recognises those words, because they were his. We do not dissent from those views. We shall be happy to see
the right hon. Gentleman embrace the opportunity he now has to give effect to the noble sentiments he then expressed so freely. But our case is not based on sympathy.
Nor are we alarmist or exaggerating our difficulties. On 28th June, 1962, the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said:
The cotton industry is not walking about with a chip upon its shoulder, as I have seen suggested. It has been caught up in the march of history. Realising that, the Government accepted a special responsibility for the future of the industry, and if they go back on that now there will be great indignation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th June, 1962; Vol. 661, c. 1376.]
The right hon. Gentleman was speaking of my Government. But how prophetic of today his words have proved to be!
The Labour Government accepted a special responsibility for the industry, and the industry feels very strongly that they have gone back on it. Let there be no doubt that there is great indignation in all sections of the industry, and in all parts—among management, men and unions alike. If anyone doubts that let him get from someone who was present an account of the meeting of delegates of the unions at Manchester at the end of February. I am credibly informed that it was only because of the respect held for the hon. Member for Oldham, East that he was able to placate some of the fury with his references to the Government's intention to set up a commission. We can only guess from what he has said his, and their disappointment, at what has transpired.
The indignation felt in all parts of the industry is directed at the Government, because the Government have failed in two ways to discharge the responsibility they accepted. First, they have failed to implement what they said they would do. Secondly, during the past seven or eight months they have delivered the industry a series of kicks in the teeth, to which I shall refer later.
In the result, the Government have produced an acute, a grave, crisis of confidence, the importance of which cannot be over-estimated. Whatever else Ministers on the Front Bench may feel tonight, I beg them not to underestimate it. It was expressed in very moderate
terms in Tattersall's Trade Review for last month, in these words:
Few recent periods in the industry have witnessed such a sustained lack of confidence as in the opening weeks of the current year.
Since then the position has got much worse, and my postbag contains much more lurid descriptions. I venture to think that hon. Members on both sides have had similar experience.
That is disastrous, because the Government's main job is to engender confidence, and that is what we look for from them. We shall do the rest. Instead of doing that, they have destroyed confidence, and destroyed it at a vital stage in the reorganisation and re-equipment of the industry.
Now the industry is asking itself three questions. Do the Government and the Board of Trade really understand our problem? Do they really care about them? And even if the answer to both those questions is "Yes", are they either competent or willing to do anything about them? We doubt whether they understand, because we find it difficult to believe that anyone who does understand the problems could do what has been done. For the same reason, we find it difficult to believe that the Government care. We doubt their competence and willingness for a number of reasons.
I know that many back benchers opposite do understand and care. Our concern, however, is whether the Government and the Board of Trade care. Do they understand the fundamental changes that are taking place? Do they understand that we are engaged in something much bigger than a mere contraction to a viable size? Are they aware of the technological advances—break-through would not be an exaggeration, in many cases—which have taken place over the last five years or so, and which are completely changing the face of the industry? Do they realise how rapidly it is changing to a capital intensive from a labour-intensive industry?
Do the Government understand what an upheaval all this entails for the operatives and what an expenditure it entails for the managements? Do they realise how far the industry has got along that road? Do they realise how important it is to the country that the transition should be completed and completed quickly? Do they understand that it is the one chance for the industry to make itself more competitive? Do they appreciate that it is some of the people who are taking the lead in that most important transition—with some of the most modern and recently equipped mills—who are now being driven out of the industry?
There is nothing in recent events to give us any confidence that either the Board of Trade or the Government do understand these facts. And further, do they understand that while such restriction on imports as there is achieves some purpose, it does not guarantee to the home producer any given quantity or even any fixed proportion of the home market? The way it works in practice is that the importers are guaranteed their quotas and the home producers are simply left with the balance of demand, whatever it may be, with the result that, when the total demand falls, it is always the home producers who "carry the can".
We are tired of being told that these quotas are adequate protection. Surely we have learnt by experience that, while they give very good protection to importers, they are not nearly so good for us.
The hon. Member for Oldham, East referred to the loopholes in the existing arrangements. Do the Government even yet not realise the immense disruptive effect of a flood of low-cost imports coming in over a short period? It might not be quite so bad if they were even spread over the year. Do the Government realise that every one of these floods coming in over a short period drives people out of business? They cannot keep going in face of such floods. The operatives will not stay in an industry where they are always subject to being put on short time; and it is the best ones who tend to leave because they feel that there is not much of a future and not much reason for staying in the industry. The better and more expensively equipped the mill may be, the less it can afford to stay open unless it is actually working all the time. Do the Government not realise that, every time one of these mills closes, it is a permanent loss to the industry and to the productive capacity of the country making us even more dependent on imports in the future?
Those are just a few of the questions which spring to mind and prompt us to doubt whether the Government understand our problems. We doubt it, and that is one of the major reasons for the dramatic loss of confidence over the past seven or eight months.
Recently, we had a visit from the Minister of State to Manchester. I must tell him that my information is that it did little, if anything, to allay the doubts or fears. Further, last week, we had a statement from the President of the Board of Trade, and I must tell him frankly that large sections of the industry are, at any rate as yet, not persuaded that that was anything more than a lot of hot air.
However, the cause of our doubts goes much deeper than those two single instances. It springs from a comparison of the words and deeds of the Government over a period of years, and I want to take up a little time in looking at them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hope that no one in the House under-estimates the importance of this subject and thinks that it is something which should be treated lightly or rushed through.
There are still those in the House who will recall the little maestro's "Plan for Cotton". We were lectured on it frequently, and told that it would solve all the problems; as soon as Labour returned to power, it would swing into action with this plan. The theme was repeated over and over. Powerful speeches were made in support of it by some of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues who are now in his Cabinet.
May I just refer to two of them? In the debate on 28th June, 1962 the right hon. Lady who is now Minister of Transport, and whom I am happy to see on the Government Front Bench tonight, had this to say:
It is crying for the moon for us to say to Lancashire. 'Reorganise your structure by 'verticalisation'. Emergency action is needed, and the emergency action that I call for is for the Government without delay to set up a Government-sponsored import commission with the duty of supervising all the import trading in cotton textiles. It will then release those controlled imports, including generous levels of imports from the Asian countries, on to the home market at prices which take account of the needs and the costs of production both at home and of our imported textiles, and at prices which do not have a disruptive effect on the industry." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th June, 1962; Vol. 661, c. 1466.]
On 1st July, 1963, the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Housing and Local Government said:
The fourth necessity, I am certain, is for the kind of cotton import commission which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition suggested in the Wilson plan five years ago—a commission which will regulate the flow of cotton imports and determine import prices. That is the only form of machinery which will stop the merchants who are at present sabotaging the Lancashire textile industry from continuing to destroy it for their own miserable private profits."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 141.]
That was stirring stuff; those were fine words. No doubt many hon. Gentlemen on the back benches who were here then believed in those statements. No doubt hundreds of thousands of voters in Lancashire believed the assurances which they had had from these important members of the party opposite that such firm and positive action would be taken. Where, one might ask, has all that resolution gone? Gone with the wind, if it was ever anything more than wind.
Then we had the right hon. Gentleman, now the Foreign Secretary, making his great speech at Manchester on 19th July, 1963. Quite often doubts have been expressed about the precise words that he used, and I shall therefore confine myself to the Transport House news release of what he said. He called for four things:
First, we must ensure that other advanced countries take their share of low cost textile imports",
and in his closing address at the Cotton Board conference in October, 1965, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will recall that he used even stronger words and said in substance:
It is intolerable that we should have to take this large proportion when others take such a small proportion.
Fine words, but we are still waiting for the action to follow them.
The Foreign Secretary also said:
A Cotton Council must be established to advise, supervise, and where necesary regulate imports of cotton goods into the United Kingdom.
Again, fine words, and we are still waiting for the action. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:
Thirdly, there is a need for a greater measure of planning in the industry.
Never has the industry found it more difficult to plan ahead than in the conditions created by this Government.
Those were the pledges, and now let us look at the performance against which those pledges must be measured. The hon. Member for Oldham, East has referred to the global quotas which turned out not to be global quotas. What we have discovered is that there are many loopholes in them. They make no provision for the spreading of the timing of the flow of imports, and nothing has as yet been achieved in persuading other countries to take a greater share of the load of imports.
That is the negative side, the failure of the Government to do the things which they said they were going to do.
On the positive side, what I referred to earlier as the kicks in the teeth delivered to the industry, may I just mention three effects of the squeeze. First, it was intended to produce, and did produce, a contraction in the size of the home market. Who carries the can there? It is the home producer in this as in every other instance. Secondly, the idea was to create a climate of economy which increased even further the tendency to buy the low cost imports at the expense of the home producer's product. Thirdly, the high rates of interest made it not only virtually impossible to go on with the re-equipping and reorganising which so many people wanted to do, and had started, but made it even more difficult for them to keep their mills open when there was no work for them to do. Then, as the hon. Gentleman said, on top of all that they removed the surcharge.
Anybody in the industry could have told the Board of Trade and the Government what the combined effect of all those things would be, and yet they were done without any steps being taken to safeguard the industry from the consequences. The importers are all right because they have their quotas giving them their guaranteed proportion of the home market. The burden fell, and fell heavily, as always, on the home producer.
We believe that those are the principal factors which have caused—
On a point of order. I draw attention to the fact that for some minutes there has not been anybody on the Treasury Bench taking notes on this debate. I hope that at no time during this debate will that bench be empty of the responsible Minister who should take note of everything that is said during the debate.
I am, nevertheless, obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his comments.
These are the main reasons for the dramatic loss of confidence during the last seven or eight months. They were foreseeable, but nothing was done: hence the fury in the industry.
The hon. Member for Oldham, East has said sufficiently forcibly everything which needs to be said about the Commission. We hope that it will achieve something and will do all we can to that end, but we must make two swingeing criticisms. First, if it is of any use why was it not appointed last July, when these dire consequences of the Government's measures could have been foreseen? Secondly, it must have some teeth. The hon. Member for Oldham, East pointed out that the right hon. Gentleman's first proposal adds nothing to what is being done.
On the hon. Member's proposal about advising on anti-dumping applications, I am reminded of the comments of the right hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) in the debate to which I referred, where he said
Lastly, I suggest that we must tighten up the anti-dumping machinery …
It is absurd that the industry should have to prove that dumping exists, that it is disrupting the industry and that it will be to the national interest to stop the dumping before it is possible to get the President of the Board of Trade to act. The responsibility for acting must be accepted fairly and squarely by the right hon. Gentleman."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 141.]
This should not be fobbed off on a Commission, but dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman's experts. I agreed then with the words I quoted, and I agree with them now.
Thirdly, the Commission is supposed to advise on tariffs and import controls. If there are some that can be used, why have they not already been used? Why should they have to be discussed by a Commission? What bothers us most is that there is no reference to the power to regulate held out as the carrot for so long. When Australia senses trouble it closes the ports and inquires afterwards. When Norway was in trouble with Portugal, it immediately appointed an international jurist to sort it out.
No wonder the industry is not convinced that the Commission will do any good. One cynical view is that it is just another channel for the right hon. Gentleman's rejection of advice. But is this cynicism to be wondered at when we compare the Government's performance with their previous pontifications and pledges? First, the apparently firm proposals of the maestro in 1955, then the slightly watered down version of Manchester, 11th July, 1963, and now the Commission, watered down so much that it is impossible to detect the slightest hint of whisky in the water.
Is it any wonder that there is a lack of confidence and seething indignation? We shall, no doubt, be told that Portugal has been dealt with and that everything will be fine soon; that de-stocking will soon start to be reversed and things will get better. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not try to fob us off with that sort of honey.
Lancashire is in no mood to be patted on the head by teacher and told to go away and be quiet because everything will be fine soon. We need positive action, and quickly, or very serious and permanent damage will be done to the industry—and, as a result, the nation will suffer. On 30th June, 1958, the right hon. Gentleman wound up a debate on the textile industry for the then Opposition and said:
This debate has certainly shown three things very clearly. First. Lancashire's whole economic life is threatened by the present volume of textile imports. Secondly, everyone with knowledge of Lancashire's problem believes that something energetic and urgent ought to he done. Thirdly, no one who is off the Front Bench … is satisfied with what the Government are doing".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1958; Vol. 590, c. 989.]
I commend those sentiments to the right hon. Gentleman for his serious perusal, now that he is President of the Board of Trade. Whether or not those remarks were true or not then, they are surely true now. Lancashire is tired of words. Give us action, action which will
match the action which Lancashire itself has taken, is taking and will take. Give us action or clear out. That is the message that Lancashire sends to the Government tonight.
I am glad to have this opportunity to voice the views of Cheshire, although I assure hon. Members that my remarks will not be as boring or as long as those of the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival). My hon. Friends will have been amazed at the arrogance of the hon. and learned Gentleman in coming here tonight when we have no recollection of his having taken part in a debate on this subject when the Tory Administration assisted in the death throes of the industry.
No. Sit down. I am not giving way.
I find it difficult to speak with moderation about the repeated crises which have occurred in the textile industry and the way in which the industry has been treated by successive Governments. Today, the industry is really angry, because it expected so much more from a Labour Government. The textile industry is still of great importance in my constituency, although we have a more diversified industrial structure than we had before the war.
The contraction of the industry has not taken place without causing human problems and misery. Fortunately, the published figures show unemployment as being less severe than in some parts of the country, but one must consider how this has been brought about. Many married women have been lost to the industry and there has been much migration to other parts of the country. Although we have a large overspill population, the present population is about the same as it was in 1951. These facts give some indication of what has been happening.
After the war we were begging people to return to the industry. Hon. Members will remember the slogan, "Britain's bread hangs on Lancashire's thread". Then a flood of cheap imports started coming in. Before the war we had been used to recessions as we lost much of our overseas trade because many other countries were developing their textile industries. The position was to be different, but it was not. We started to lose our home market. We had crisis after crisis and after each one we started off again on a lower level.
I have always maintained that to kill our own industry is not the sensible way to help other countries. We have borne the burden long enough. If our policy is to help other countries, it is time we found other ways of doing it, and relieved the textile industry of some of the load. Limitation of imports from India, Pakistan and Hong Kong only seems to have opened the floodgates to imports from other countries. They need not scour the world to find an outlet for their exports. It is a case of, "Send the stuff to Britain, where they do not mind killing their own industry."
It is no help if Ministers make sympathetic noises when they are repeatedly told by their advisers that this is not possible and that is not possible. If international agreements mean the ruin of our own industry, there is something wrong with the international agreements and we should either repudiate them or give notice that they must be renegotiated.
We are told that as members of E.F.T.A. we cannot do anything about Portuguese sheeting imports, but I am informed that Norway and Sweden have no such difficulty. What I find annoying about the situation is that if there is any reduction of Portuguese imports, it will not be by effective Government action, but by the kindness of the Portuguese.
If, at one time, there was criticism of complacency in the industry, that is not now the case. It is highly efficient and the best are equal to any. We can compete on equal terms with any other industry, anywhere in the world. It is no good saying that there is the same difference between American wages and ours as between ours and those of the Portuguese. Even if it were true, the conditions are not the same. America has a large home market and is not subject to a comparable flood of cheap imports.
Unless something is done, sheeting will go the way that other sections of the industry have gone. Everyone in the
industry is convinced that dumping is taking place. Is anything done? No. We are told that there must be material injury to the industry as a whole, so one section after another can be and is being lopped off.
Somewhere in the Board of Trade there is a comparison of United Kingdom sheeting processes, prepared by Ashton Brothers, a firm in my constituency, to support the Lancashire case against Portuguese imports.
That is a quotation from a letter I sent to the Board of Trade on 21st February, enclosing a letter from the managing director. In the reply I received on 10th March, the only reference to the whole letter was, "I was interested to read his further comments." That information is somewhere in the pigeonholes of the Board of Trade.
I am also awaiting a reply to the letter I sent after the debate on the Textile Council Order. In that debate, I quoted a statement that when a delegation visited the Board of Trade about Portuguese sheeting they were told that if they could not manufacture sheeting in competition with Portugual they had better stop manufacturing it.
At the request of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade, I sent the Department a letter containing the statement. Since then, silence. Perhaps it is one of those cases where an official has told the Minister that he need not feel like replying. I think that the Minister of State will be able to inform the President of the Board of Trade of the relevance of that reference.
The position is so serious that the Government must either be honest and say, "We have written you off", or they must take some effective action to help. What has happened so far? We have a global quota which is far too high; it is not giving the industry a chance. We are now to have an Import Commission, with no effective powers. I cannot see that the position is very different from what it was before, and the industry is certainly not satisfied.
When the problem of Indian imports was to the fore, a well-known Member of this House said:
If a settlement of the problem of Indian imports cannot be reached by negotiations between representatives of the industries of the two countries, a Government Imports
Commission should be set up to be responsible for all imports of cotton yarns and piece goods.
I should like to stress the last few words:
… a Government Imports Commission should be set up to be responsible for all imports of cotton yarns and piece goods.
In 1963, another well-known Member of the House said:
A Cotton Commission must be established to advise, supervise and, where necessary, regulate imports of cotton goods into the United Kingdom.
They are both Members of influence in the present Government. Why the change in view? Ours has not changed.
We need, and have a right to expect, effective help from the Government. We are no longer content to be the worst-treated industry in the world. We can no longer submit to the distortion of the industry by the present flood of imports. We expect Government action to deal with dumping even against a section of the industry. We want an Import Commission which has power to act, power to put the interests of our own industry first. We want another look at international agreements which may be working to our disadvantage. If these things are not done, God help us, because nothing can save the industry from further closures. And if that happens, we had better join the fashion and demand Home Rule for the North-West, and start a North-West National Party.
I am sure that both sides of the House are extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) for having initiated this debate.
It is quite scandalous that a subject of this importance should have to be debated on this Bill, and at this time of night. We are debating it in these circumstances for the sole reason that the Government, through the Leader of the House, have flatly and completely refused to allocate any Government time at all to debate this extremely important topic. I only wish that after the debate we could test opinion in the Division Lobbies. It might be a good thing for the Prime Minister that we cannot, because I am quite certain that he would again have a little local licensing difficulty. But we are having the debate, and we must be grateful for the opportunity of expressing our views.
For about 50 years now the Lancashire textile industry has been contracting, but men who have spent a lifetime in the industry will say, one after another, that never in their experience has there been a time like the present, when confidence has been so completely undermined, and when the industry has a very real and genuine feeling that unless something effective is done, and done soon, we may as well face the fact that Lancashire will, in future, not have a textile industry that one can call an industry at all.
If one casts one's mind back a few years one will remember the difficulties that we had in 1959 and in the early 1960s. One recollects the great reorganisation scheme that was initiated by the Conservative Government with the assistance of Government funds. One will recollect that at that time a quota was brought in on Commonwealth imports, and that at a later stage a degree of categorisation was introduced.
I would like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the manner in which the Lancashire textile industry used that modernisation scheme. It did an enormous job in re-equipment and modernisation. Many people hoped at that time that it would get the industry righted; that it would get it organised and properly equipped, and that when that had been done it would have been able to compete on equal terms with all comers.
Unfortunately, that has not happened. During the past year we have seen no fewer than 70 textile mills close down. Some of them might well have been due for closure, but many of them were modern mills, equipped under the 1959 scheme, selling branded goods through their own trade outlets. When that type of mill closes down and pays off its workpeople, then it is high time that the President of the Board of Trade inquired closely into what is happening.
One of the bitterest criticisms I would wish to make against the Government in this issue is that for over a year now these mills have been closing and absolutely nothing whatsoever has been done to try to give the industry support uitil the other day, when we had the right hon. Gentleman's statement, a statement that has spread even greater disillusion in Lancashire than we had before.
I think that the word "disillusion" is particularly apposite to the present circumstances. No one can accuse the Conservatives of having made wild promises with regard to the textile industry; we were too well aware of the difficulties to do that. But that does not stop the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends making promises, and it is because those promises were made before the 1964 and 1966 elections that there is this bitterness and deep disillusion in Lancashire today.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport alluded to a speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary. I can show it to the House in its original form. It was issued from Transport House and at the top of it there were the words "Cotton and its Future, a reprint of the speech by the right hon. George Brown, M.P., Deputy Leader of the Labour Party at Manchester on July 19, 1963." This was in the period running up to the election, just in time to attract all those votes that it was meant to attract.
It was these promises made to Lancashire close to the two elections that gave Labour many of the seats that they at present hold. I believe there is a moral responsibility resting on the shoulders of the right hon. Gentleman to see that the promises made at that time are now fulfilled.
My hon. and learned Friend has mentioned already the four points that were laid out by the Foreign Secretary, and I would point out that the heading on that particular part of the speech was, "Urgent Requirements". These requirements were urgent in 1963, yet no action whatsoever has been taken up till the other day, and even that is nothing more than window-dressing.
There is the question of action under the G.A.T.T. to ensure that other countries take a greater share of imports. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, when he was negotiating under the G.A.T.T., got some slight amelioration of this matter, but I have never heard of any further approach being made under the G.A.T.T. If any further approach has been made, I have not heard of any results flowing from it. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman will tell us exactly what result he has had in getting other members of the G.A.T.T. to take a larger share of the exports from developing countries.
There was an absolutely categorical promise in this speech in regard to the Imports Commission. It was that it was especially to
advise, supervise, and, where necessary regulate, imports".
It was a specific promise of specific powers resting in the hands of the Commission. That, of course, appealed to the industry. It appealed to all Lancashire people connected with the industry and they took it to be a solemn promise. It was that promise which the right hon. Gentleman purported the other day to fulfil when he produced this scheme to the House for a sub-committee of the Textile Council with no powers any greater than those exercised by the old Cotton Board.
When the right hon. Gentleman made the announcement, I asked what his attitude was to import quotas. I asked him not to close his mind to a reduction of these quotas if he was so advised by the Commission. The answer he gave the House was that all those quotas are fixed right up to the 1970s and no alteration can be made. If so, what is the use of setting up this Commission? It is nothing more than window-dressing.
There are three things which the industry would wish the Commission to be able to do. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he wishes to fulfil the election promises, to consider most seriously giving the Commission these powers. It would not be impossible for him to do so, but if he gives less, or gives nothing more, a very heavy moral responsibility will rest on his shoulders. The first power he must give the Commission is power to scrutinise consignments at the ports and power to hold up those consignments while considering whether their price is a fair price.
The right hon. Gentleman must also give the Commission power to issue licences on a quarterly and not an annual basis so that imports may be rationalised and even over the 12 months. So long as we leave the quota on an annual basis we are bound to get disruption of trade. Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman must give it power to hold up consignments which purport to come from one country, but are known, in fact, to come from another. Give the Commission these powers and it would be a Commission with a reasonable hope of success. If the Government refuse to do so, then Lancashire will take it that that Commission is nothing more than eye-wash.
We all know how difficult the question of Portugal is. We know that the right hon. Gentleman has been striving to get a voluntary agreement, but he has refused to tell us what that voluntary agreement is. I cannot understand why he will not tell us. When the Conservative Government got a voluntary agreement with Portugal, they told the House what that agreement was. I understand that other E.F.T.A. countries have been able to come to agreements with Portugal. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman is being so coy. If he does not tell us what it is I can only assume that the agreement is a peripheral one and not worth much.
Apart from the question of a voluntary agreement, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has considered the question of action under the E.F.T.A. agreement? Under Article 5, when imports into one E.F.T.A. country escalate rapidly, certain specific powers are given to the importing country to protect their own industry where that industry is adversely affected.
There is also Article 20, which deals with unfair trade. People who know about Portugal's trade know that wage rates there are about one-sixth of the wage rates in this country. They know perfectly well that the conditions under which labour works would not be accepted here for a minute. Have we inquired into child labour? What are the conditions of child labour in Portugal? What about safety precautions? Are we assured that they are at the same level as in this country. These are vitally important questions if we are to go into the Common Market. Unless we can establish fair trade we will be up against the sort of problems that the Lancashire textile industry is up against at the present time. Has the President of the Board of Trade inquired closely into these matters?
We can argue about textiles and about what should be done and what powers should be given, but let us not forget that every time a mill closes there is a human problem. Every time the question of unemployment is raised the Government of the day say that the figure for unemployment is so much and that there is no real cause for worry. Every time the Treasury Bench forgets that a high proportion of the women who are employed in the textile mills are not registered, and not registered, very often, on the advice of their unions. That means only one thing: the official unemployment figures are not a real indication of the hardships that are occurring.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look closely at this and try to get some figures that will indicate what the closure of the mills means in terms of human hardship for women workers and elderly people. If a man is put out of a mill at 60 he is unlikely to get any more work.
There is a degree of bitterness and disillusionment in Lancashire such as I have never known, and I went through the 1961 and 1962 business on the Government side of the House. The disillusionment then was nothing to what it is today. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman to give us an assurance tonight that he will take action to ensure that the Government's pledges are fulfilled.
This industry, over the last half-century, has suffered more trials and tribulations, more insecurity, more self-sacrifice and suffering, than probably any other large-scale British industry. It has gone through very trying times, both in the days of the mass unemployment of the 1920s and 1930s and in the days of relatively full employment in the postwar years. It has shown remarkable resilience. I do not think any other industry could have been so resilient in such disadvantageous circumstances.
I, like other hon. Members, no doubt, have spent all my working life in the industry or in close association with it. My experience goes back to the closing months of the First World War. It was then said that Lancashire produced for the home market in the two hours be- fore breakfast and for the markets of the four corners of the world in the remaining eight hours of the day. I have seen the industry change from being the world's greatest exporter of cotton textiles to the world's greatest importer of cotton textiles.
Much of our present difficulty stems from this transformation. I went through the period of the contraction and unemployment of the 1920s. We lost the great China market and the even greater Indian market. I went through the even greater sufferings of the 1930s, when we faced cut-throat Japanese competition in the overseas markets, where the Japanese earned foreign currency at any cost to pay for their war preparations. Then we had the wartime concentration of the industry.
I remind the Government of the particular responsibility they have for the industry. During the post-war period the Labour Government built the industry up to a level which it was not reasonable to expect it to sustain. During the war, before I was a Member of the House, I served on the Post-War Problems Committee of the Cotton Board. The assessment then made was that in the post-war period the industry would be able to sustain only about 200,000 people. In the event—I am not complaining about this; I think that it was necessary in the economic circumstances which confronted us in the post-war period—the industry was rebuilt to a level of 350,000 workers. It was from that level that the decline has set in. The textile workers made an enormous contribution to Britain's economic survival in the postwar years and the Labour Government, who used them for that purpose, have a particular responsibility towards them today.
What are the causes of this slump? I agree with the hon. Baronet the Member for Clitheroe (Sir Frank Pearson) that primarily, but not wholly, they stem from the July measures—the high Bank Rate, the ending of the 10 per cent. import surcharge, and the ending of the E.F.T.A. duties. All these factors combined in the late autumn and caused a slump which went deeper and came faster than any I have known. It was accelerated by the pent-up flood of imports which came in late last year and early this year.
The position was ably dealt with by a correspondent in The Times on 20th February last, who wrote:
The plain fact is that the total volume of permitted imports has been pitched so high that in a period of recession the burden becomes too much for the industry to bear. In their present mood the unions will demand proof of the Government's good faith".
Hence the lack of confidence and the anger among the operatives of Lancashire against a flood of low-priced cotton imports.
About 60 mills have closed during the last 12 months and the staggering total of 1,000 have closed in Lancashire and the textile area of Cheshire since 1951—that is, 1,000 in 16 years. It is against this background that the industry has shown a remarkable resilience in a period of rapid contraction. I agree without hesitation that while more than half of these closures are due to rationalisation and concentration making for more efficient units, and the expansion of multiple shift working, I also agree with the hon. Baronet the Member for Clitheroe and my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) when they say that the most disturbing feature is that modern standards have been operating in some of these mills, along with the shift system.
This represents a tragic waste of capital resources, to say nothing about the skilled manpower. The latest closure is in the spinning section of Dunlop Textiles, a subsidiary of the Dunlop Rubber Company. I have been in close contact with that mill for 38 years, and I can tell the House that this was a modern plant, operating three shifts on mass production, selling competitively in the open market. Yet it has been decided that it is not profitable to continue spinning in present conditions in Lancashire. This is really disturbing, for if this spinning unit cannot survive which can?
I ask the Minister seriously to ponder this, for we are having a number of closures of mills which are modern and efficient by any standards. Some have been re-equipped under the Act of 1959, which aimed at a compact, streamlined, and efficient cotton industry in Lancashire. In one specific case, if the circumstances were not so tragic, they would be Gilbertian. It is anticipated that the likely purchaser of the modern machinery will be the United States, because cotton spinning mills in the States have now discovered, a few years late, that this system, operated in Lancashire, on a limited range of Counts, is the most efficient known at the present time.
Until recently, it could be alleged, and with truth, that the industry from the point of view of organisation and equipment, was somewhat obsolete. Yet that is no longer true. We have International Viyella, Courtaulds, Ashton Brothers Holdings, English Sewing Cotton, and others, organised on what are known as vertical lines to produce from the raw cotton to the finished product.
But some very strange things are happening. The industry is being forced back on to a horizontally organised structure. There are still many individual weaving units. They cannot compete against the low-priced imports. They buy low-priced imported yarn. This compels the vertical firm to close down, or to put on short-time its spinning department, and to buy imported low-priced cotton yarn in an attempt to compete. Even then, some of them do not succeed. Sometimes the finished cloth is imported and finished made-up material is packaged and sold under their own brand name so that they may keep in business. This is a chaotic situation which cannot be tolerated.
I come to three points on current Government policy. The global quota received a qualified welcome from the industry last year. The industry pointed out—and events have, I think, proved it to be correct—that the global overall quota was pitched at least 10 per cent. too high. But the industry admitted and recognised that for the first time a ceiling on low-cost imports was established.
Page 24 of the Annual Report for the year ending 5th April this year of the British Cotton Spinners and Doublers Association states:
The arrangements outlined above"—
that is, the quota arrangements—
represent an advance on previous import control arrangements, particularly since any new low cost supplying country would have to participate in the global quota".
I do not think we should under-estimate the importance of that arrangement made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.
I come to the Cotton Imports Committee. There can be no doubt that the industry is convinced that it is inadequate and that the powers and functions of a Cotton Imports Commission as indicated by the Foreign Secretary went much further than the proposals put forward by the President of the Board of Trade. When the present Foreign Secretary spoke in Manchester in July, 1963, he spoke with the full authority of the Labour Party.
My third point is on Government orders. The industry and the operatives believe that the Government are being too partial and are swinging towards placing more orders for cheaper imported textiles. I agree that, with the global quota, a different situation arises. In so far as the Government and public authorities enter into the purchasing of these cheaper imported textiles, they are not adding to the total which is imported. But if all buyers, including the Government and public bodies, go first to the low priced imports, then, in effect, the Lancashire industry will be the residual legatee. At least one efficient mill of which I know has closed primarily because it ceased to get any Government contracts, although it had a long record, going back 50 or 60 years, of fulfilling Government contracts for drills for the Armed Forces.
I urge the Government to reconsider their policies. Whatever the difficulties, I hope that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will look again at the global quota. Is it not too high, since 30 per cent. of our home market is supplied by low-priced imports, whereas only from 3 to 7 per cent. are taken by other advanced countries, as was indicated earlier in the debate? The 30 per cent. level causes great price disruption and often makes production unprofitable in our industry. With the lower level, the other advanced countries, such as the United States, France, Italy and Germany avoid serious price disruption.
The point about the global quota, also, is that if it is fixed at the time of a boom the 30 per cent. becomes nearer 50 per cent. if there is a recession. That is half the trouble from which the industry is now suffering.
I take the point. When a recession comes its full weight falls on the restricted capacity of the industry, and that goes first. The higher the level of imports becomes, the deeper the recession and perhaps the longer it is likely to last.
Secondly, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the proposed Imports Commission will be used as an effective machine for dealing promptly with price disruption and quota evasion? Let us face it—other countries do it somehow. A way can be devised for us to do what they do.
And perhaps do it better, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) says.
Will the Government give an assurance that, in the main, Government contracts for cotton textiles will stipulate that they shall be spun, woven and finished in the United Kingdom? I do not say that all Government purchases should necessarily be from our own source; a case can be made out for a small proportion to be of imported cheaper fabrics.
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) about Portuguese imports, on 14th March, is not to be taken too literally? He said:
I have every reason to expect that imports from Portugal during the coming year will be at a lower level than they have been in recent months."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 238.]
What does he mean by "recent months"? If we take the four months, September to January, the imports from Portugal work out at a rate of 54 million square yards per year, as against 32 million for last year. Therefore, my right hon. Friend's hopes could be fulfilled on Portuguese imports in 1967 running at a rate of 50 per cent. higher than the high level of last year. I hope that he will clear up that point.
Will the Government also give serious consideration to the imposition of import duties on Commonwealth cotton textiles? I know that that is rather sacrilege, but let us appreciate that if or when we enter the European Economic Community we shall have to face up to that problem. Why not face up to it now? It could be argued that that would be damaging to the developing countries, particularly Hong Kong, India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan face great problems. But surely we could refund as grants in aid what was raised by the duties imposed upon these imports. Such duties would contribute to solving the problem of serious price disruption.
Why should we have the position where Canada, whose per capita income is probably approaching double our own, is able to send cotton textiles to Britain free of duty whereas our cotton textile exports to Canada attract duty? This is grossly unfair and it should be ended, particularly since, for years, we have had a very serious adverse balance of trade with Canada. For several years, Canadian exports to Britain have been more than double our exports to Canada.
And there is a lot of substitution. We import from Canada about 39 million square yards and Canada imports from Hong Kong and India an amount equal to about three-quarters or two-thirds of this total. There is a very serious risk of substitution and many people believe that it is taking place.
I urge the Government to oblige the Board of Trade to take some reasonable risk. I am sure that there would be but little repercussion. Textile industries throughout the world are astonished at the way our industry is being run down. Governments throughout the world are aware of the extent to which the Lancashire cotton textile industry has been sacrificed in the national economic interest—although whether it works out that way I am doubtful. There is a strong and angry feeling in Lancashire that the Board of Trade, since 1951, has written off this industry. The history of the last 15 years, and of the last 2½ years especially, does not disprove this belief. If other advanced countries, such as the United States, West Germany, France and Italy, had run down their cotton textile industries in the interests of the national economy, and if they had replaced them by science and technology based industries, we would have had to accept the position as inevitable change in the pattern of industry in an inevitably changing world. But that has not happened. They have, on the contrary, sustained in the national interest their cotton textile industries.
If we could show that, by running down our cotton textile industry—as other industrial nations have not done—we had a tremendous vitality in the rest of our industrial economy, it could be justified on that ground. But we cannot justify it on that ground, because our economic rate of growth has been inferior to that of the United States, France, Germany and Italy in the period to which I am referring.
On many occasions during the last 14 years I have addressed the House on the problems of this once very great industry with which my life has been so closely interwoven, an industry which, with coal, was the foundation of Britain's industrial and commercial greatness. Notwithstanding the emotional stress I feel, I have always tried to speak, whether now or from the Opposition back benches or the Opposition Front Bench, with moderation and restraint—too much so in the opinion of the people I represent.
Tonight, I speak with more than usual suppressed emotion. What is at stake is a breach of faith by a party and a Government for which I have worked all my adult life. To me, the real test of their sincerity and honour towards this industry and its fine stoic workers will be the effectiveness of the Imports Commission. If the President of the Board of Trade accepts and implements the reasonable recommendations of the Commission, the honour of the Government and the party in Lancashire can be retrieved. But if he uses the Commission merely as the old Cotton Board Imports Committee under another name, I shall not hesitate to expose the Government for being guilty of an attempted unpardonable deception, of which I shall have no part.
Every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate has referred to the serious situation in the textile industry. As the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) has said, the disillusion and suspicion which is rife in Lancashire results from the slick promises which were given to the industry and which the Government now find that they are unable to meet.
Looking at the position today, with the closing recently of several well-equipped modern mills, the really serious matter is that it should happen at a time during the five-year period when the global quota was brought in to give to the industry a period of stability, and at the end of which the industry was supposed to be streamlined and capable of competing.
No one can say that the industry has not taken advantage of the reorganisation scheme. The amount of capital invested in the industry has gone up tremendously. Productivity in the industry, with a smaller labour force, has increased by something like a third over recent years. Despite that, still there are closures of well-equipped modern mills. The real danger is that the effect will be that investment which has been coming into cotton recently will dry up, and the modernisation of the remaining mills will not take place.
It is easy to pinpoint the causes of the trouble. One is that, as a country, we are still taking far too great a share of low-priced imports from the developing countries. On top of that, we are now taking substantial imports from Portugal, unaffected by quota and completely duty-free.
It would be foolish to pretend that there is any simple answer to the problems of the industry. I accept that we have a duty to the developing countries to see that, as a fully developed industrial country, we take a fair share of the imports of those countries. But if, as the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) said at the beginning of the debate, one remembers that we are taking something like a third of the country's consumption of textile goods in imports from those countries, whereas the penetration of those goods into the countries of the European Economic Community is something in the region of 4½ per cent., it can hardly be said that those countries are taking their fair share of imports from developing countries.
Of course, there is bitterness when the present First Secretary puts the first of his points to Lancashire about the need to encourage other countries to take a greater share of the imports of developing countries, and we find that nothing has been done.
On top of that there is the problem of Portugal. The real problem of the textile industry is that, faced as it is with the general drying up of trade which has followed upon the Government's July measures, and faced with the removal of the 10 per cent. surcharge, it is finding a flood of imports coming into this country at a time when the market as a whole is contracting. The only offer of assistance that we have had from the Government is the recently appointed Import Commission, a miserable mouse if ever there was one, allegedly as a means of honouring the pledge given in 1963 by the now Foreign Secretary as a means of regulating imports.
I go further than saying that the Commission is a miserable mouse. What worries me is that in many ways if it is not to have the teeth which are required it could be a danger to the industry, because it could give the impression that something was being done, when, in fact, nothing was being done at all.
As many hon. Members want to speak, I propose to suggest four things which could be done to assist the industry. First, we should give the new Commission more powers, and powers—and I say no more than this—other than those referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir Frank Pearson).
Secondly, we should review the existing licensing system so as to change over from annual licences to quarterly licences. This would spread out the imports into this country. This point, too,—though I do not think this has been mentioned during this debate—was made by the now Foreign Secretary during his speech in Manchester in 1963 when he talked about the timing of imports.
Thirdly, the Government should carry out the pledge to encourage other countries to take a greater share of the exports of developing countries. Fourthly, and most important of all, there should be an attempt to tackle the problem of Portugal, and it is on this last point that I would like to say a few words.
The problem of Portugal is that we are covered in our trade with her by the Stockholm Convention as being an E.F.T.A. country, but I remind the House that the second object of this Convention is said to be to ensure that trade between member States takes place in conditions of fair competition. I ask the Government seriously to consider whether that is happening with Portugal today. Are we trading with her in conditions of fair competition when the wage rates paid in that country are about one-sixth of what they are in this country?
Are the Government right in saying that there is nothing that they can do to tackle the problem of Imports from Portugal? We understand that Norway has done it. I understand, and I ask the Government whether it is true, that Norway has done it on the recommendation of an international jurist. Is it a fact that four months ago the opinion of an international jurist was sent to the Foreign Office, setting out ways in which the powers of the Stockholm Convention could be enforced in respect of our trade with Portugal?
I suggest that there are two matters—I do not claim that they are necessarily right—which could be looked at. I am referring to Articles 20 and 31 of the Convention. As I understand, Article 20 allows a country which is a member of E.F.T.A. to impose quantitative restrictions for a period of up to 18 months where increased imports from another member State have led to an appreciable rise in unemployment. Surely it is worth at least looking at the powers under Article 20 to see whether they can be enforced.
Article 31 says:
If any Member State considers that any benefit conferred upon it by this Convention … is being or may be frustrated and if no satisfactory settlement is reached between the Member States concerned,
then it may refer the matter to the Council.
One of the Convention's objects is fair competition in trade. It is at least arguable that Portugal is frustrating that object by reliance on child labour and some lack of safety regulations over machinery. Norway has somehow come to an agreement with Portugal over the import of cloth; the Board of Trade must know whether this is so. Surely the Board of Trade can discover whether some similar arrangement is possible for us.
The causes are easy to highlight, but the answers difficult to find. Although there is no cotton mill in my constituency, many of the workers in the industry live there. Most of the industrial life of the North-West depends upon the bouyancy of the industry. If Lancashire is to survive, and the necessary re-equipment of the industry is to go on, the Government must find more adequate means than hitherto of assisting Lancashire.
There is no need for me to review all the causes and possible remedies of the present state of the Lancashire textile industry, because there is no controversy about them. I offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) not only for raising the subject, but for the way in which he did so. He outlined them all, and all have been repeated with variations by every speaker.
My hon. Friend was speaking for both sides of the industry and both sides of the House. I do not speak, as did the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), on the basis that there are no cotton workers in my constituency, but from another point of view—in my constituency there are virtually no other workers, and there have not been during the 31 years that I have represented them. In our last debate on this subject, I pointed out that the rate of unemployment in Nelson and Colne was 50 per cent. above the national percentage. I was then reassured when I was reminded that, although it was rising much faster than unemployment throughout the country, it had still not yet reached the national average.
That is no longer true. Obviously, it could not have remained true for very long; that is, if it had continued to rise so much faster than the national rate. It has long ceased to be true. The rate of unemployment in Nelson and Colne today is 3·5 per cent. or 3·7 per cent. It is not yet double the national average, but it is rapidly getting there. I am told that when the Easter holidays come along 10 mills in Nelson will close their doors for a whole week and that, when the holidays are over, a number of other mills will close, if not for a whole week then for part of the time.
There is a difference between the speeches made on either side of the House on this subject, although hon. Gentlemen opposite have been saying very much the same as my hon. Friends. The difference has been that hon. Gentlemen opposite were saying it in a different spirit. We are, naturally, grateful in Lancashire for all the support we can get and we are grateful to hon. Gentlemen opposite for taking part in this debate and for supporting Lancashire's case. However, naturally enough, they have done it—and I am not complaining about this—with a certain amount of pleasure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame".] I am not saying that hon. Gentlemen opposite are taking pleasure in the state of the industry. I would not accuse any of them of that. It is, however, natural for an hon. Member of the Opposition not to be displeased if he can find a sound and justifiable cause for attacking the Government he is opposing. It is natural, proper, quite legitimate and I am not in the least complaining about it.
But it is not in that spirit that my hon. Friends and I criticise the Government. The people for whom I am speaking are not opponents of the Government. They say, "This is our Labour Government. This is the party to which we have given a lifetime of service, so that it might win the battle. We do not like to feel that we are being let down by the Government who, we thought, would be the salvation of not merely Lancashire, but of the country and, in a sense, of the world." These people do not rejoice and they are not merely activated by selfish interests of their own labour, wages and future, although these are, naturally, very much present in their minds.
There is another consideration. These people are beginning to feel that they have wasted their lives—that perhaps they were not on the right side, after all. They are beginning to feel that the labour, devotion and sincerity which they have put into building up the Labour movement and securing a Labour Government in this country has been, for them, wasted labour, wasted effort and wasted devotion. They do not like to feel this way, but they feel that they cannot begin again. They will not vote for the Tories. They see no hope in the Opposition.
What is rapidly developing is that they see no hope any way, and no hope in anybody and it is that of which we complain. I see my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government in his place. I am told, and I hope that it is not true, and that my right hon. Friend will take the earliest possible opportunity to deny it, that Manchester City Council is adjusting its Standing Orders to allow for the purchase of all-British-made goods to help Lancashire's cotton industry and that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has asked them to rescind this, to allow other sources of supply to tender.
I do not believe it. I would almost say that if my right hon. Friend stood up and told me it was true that I would not believe it, but it is being said. Is it true or not? What is the attitude of the Government to purchases of cotton goods by themselves and local authorities? Do they really not care whether these goods are Lancashire goods or Hong Kong goods, or Indonesian goods? If there are these modest rules by local authorities to try to help home industries by buying their products at moments of suffering, is it the Government's attitude that they should be urged not to do that?
I quote from a notice claimed to have been put up in a warehouse in Manchester. I understand that the name is Bell Brothers. I am told that a notice recently appeared there headed "Overseas Aid to Indonesia" and that it said:
The British Government wishes to purchase 2¾ million yards cotton grey cloth"—
and it gives the measurements. It goes on:
Hong Kong or any other imported grey cloth will be considered along with Lancashire production.
Then, as an inducement to prefer the other products to Lancashire products, there is a note:
Imported Cloth quote 13d. per yard. Cheapest Lancashire quote, 18d. per yard".
I am not saying that the Government are responsible for any such notice, but I would like to know their policy. Are they, in the near future, proposing to buy 2¾ million yards of grey cloth, and if so, do they really not care where it comes from at a moment when the Lancashire textile trade is in the situation it is, when mills have been closing for months in every part of the Lancashire textile industry, and are still closing, and when the rate of unemployment is higher than for the nation as a whole? Is it now Government policy to discourage the purchase of Lancashire goods when they are going to buy goods anyway?
I should like some assurance about this. This has nothing to do with the long-term reconstruction of the industry. This is a question of whether the Government care about the people in Lancashire at all. Have they written off the people as well as the industry? If they have, what is our remedy? Are we to try to engineer some kind of technological cataclysm whereby the whole of Lancashire can be transported lock, stock and barrel to somewhere east of Suez, so that the Government will aid its people?
I do not want to be unnecessarily bitter. I have represented my constituency for a long time. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government was brought up in it. His father, Arthur Greenwood, represented it long before I had ever heard of it, and was one of the major architects of the success of the Labour movement in this country. How does my right hon. Friend think that people in Nelson and Colne react to a situation of this kind, where there is no one on either side of the House who can hold out to them any comfort or reassurance, or any proof that the Government care anything about their fortunes or are prepared to do anything to help them?
I agree with those who say that the textile industry in Lancashire is not finished, that it could have a great future, but many of those in it cannot wait for the great future. They are hungry now. I beg the Government, if they retain anything of the spirit by which they became a Government in the first place, if they still owe any obligation to the promises and pledges they gave, knowing what the difficulties were, to make a drastic and fundamental review of their whole policy for the textile industry in Lancashire.
I am very grateful for this opportunity to congratulate my constituent, the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), on the manner in which he introduced this subject. I am sure that he and the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) made the kind of speeches that can be made only by people whose knowledge of the subject is derived from a very close personal contact with the industry, and who have the ability actually to feel its problems themselves. The House, is, I am sure, grateful to them both for the way in which they spoke.
I am not personally involved in the textile industry, but I have lived the whole of my life in Greater Manchester, and have, therefore spent it with people who have been involved in or who are dependent on this industry at one level or another. I have practised in cotton towns and I have worked in hospitals in cotton districts and, and this is not irrelevant, I have spent more years than I care to remember playing cricket in the Lancashire League.
I mention that because hon. Members who represent cotton towns will know how close is the connection between these towns, the textile industry and their own cricket teams. I mention it because in recent years I have noticed without any doubt a return of the type of mood and atmosphere in those towns which I noticed when, as a boy, I watched their teams play cricket. This seems a very sad thing. I have also had the opportunity of noticing in my friends, my patients and my constituents the very clear signs of ebbing confidence and rising disillusionment, which is the mood that has been referred to by so many hon. Friends.
I will take only a few moments, because I realise that time is short tonight, but I would emphasise my view—and I am sure it is also the view of most hon. Members involved in this discussion—that this is a subject in which time is not on our side.
This matter is urgent. It is extremely urgent that confidence should be restored. I would accept that the industry itself must accept some of the blame for the situation in which it now is, because going back into the past we had an industry which was under the control of people who I believe were motivated more by greed than by feelings of social or public interest. But in saying that, I readily accept that this has changed and that both sides of this industry are anxious to move forward, anxious to work in new ways and to become forward looking in every way.
But the industry needs help. It needs help, encouragement and time, and I believe that with that help, that encouragement and that time, we could have the best textile industry in the world, although I emphasise that it would have to be the best. Unless we have the time, and unless the necessary steps are taken, it may well be that we will finish up without a textile industry at all.
As has been said already, the Portuguese are already capturing the sheetings market, and there seems to be no reason why, bit by bit, they should not gradually capture the whole industry unless the right steps are taken now.
What should be done? In my view, one thing would be to speed up our entry into the European Economic Community, because I believe that this is likely to provide the kind of support which the industry needs. It is true that there may be some wait before that happy event. Therefore, although I would not wish to labour the point of tariff and quota restrictions which has been developed by many hon. Members, we must take certain steps now and, in particular, with regard to restrictions on Portuguese textiles.
I would like to make another point so far as the Portuguese situation is concerned. I would have thought there was a case for us to ask—it might have no immediate result, but it would do no harm—the International Labour Organisation to inquire into the conditions in Portugal about which we hear so much. Whether that would bear fruit, I do not know, but I believe it is worth doing.
More than one Ministry is involved in this, and I am very glad to see that the Government Front Bench has been occupied by Ministers who are concerned and who can do much to help the situation. The Minister of Transport can do much, and many of us regret that more has not been done earlier more perhaps to counteract the effect of an unbalanced road system—with the M6 running up the centre of Lancashire—bleeding the areas of the cotton trade. Had steps been taken rapidly to supply the necessary communications and transport, assistance could have been given at an earlier stage to some of these areas.
I would like to see the Ministry of Technology combining in partnership with the industry in building research factories, or, at any rate, a research factory, in which one could use fully automated machinery under practical production conditions. If we are looking forward to a new type of textile industry we ought to be planning for it. This is just one of the steps which the Government could now be taking in order to provide the kind of encouragement which the industry so badly needs.
Clearly, this future industry, if it is to have a future at all, will require not operatives, but technicians. That would mean an extension in training facilities, and indeed, in retraining facilities. I am aware that there are retraining centres, but I would have thought that more could be done and that it is a matter of urgency to provide the necessary encouragement to establish further retraining centres now.
I believe that there is a case for making East Lancashire a development area and thereby enabling it to benefit from the various help which would accrue. We have heard from hon. Members that some of the mills which have closed have been very modern, but I have seen some, and I am sure other hon. Members have seen some, which are very antiquated. Efforts have been made to install new plant and to work in new ways under extremely difficult circumstances. If the East Lancashire area were made a development area it might be possible to supply purpose-built factories on extremely modern lines which could inject a little enthusiasm, faith and hope into an industry which desperately needs all three.
Somewhere, I think, during the first half hour or so of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival), there was a reference to the need for confidence. I agree entirely. It is absolutely essential that confidence should be restored. If capital and talent are to be attracted back to the industry, or kept within it, confidence must be restored at once, but confidence will not be restored by talk; what we need is action. I very much hope that we shall hear from the Government Front Bench a catalogue of the various actions which the Government will take here and now.
It must be a very long time since the House has seen such a demonstration of all-party bitterness as has been seen tonight. That is the great significance of this debate. I am only sorry that the Prime Minister is not here himself to witness it. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will see to it that the feeling in the House at present is conveyed to the Prime Minister without delay.
The Lancashire textile industry has a very long history of boom and slump. I was interested in what the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) cam about not knowing where to attribute blame. He thought that some of it was due to those in the industry because of their greed.
We should not live in the past, but it is worthy of comment that, because they had so many slumps, when they had a boom they felt that they should recoup their losses. The main point is not so much the history of boom and slump as that, when manufacturing sources have been multiplying throughout the world, it has been obvious to the most casual observer that this industry had to become a great deal smaller.
We all remember that a few years ago the Government of the day were pressed to say how small the industry should ultimately be so that it could organise itself on an efficient basis to create an industry which would offer some security which, up to then, its employees had not known. I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) said about the demands which the Government made on the industry during the immediate post-war years. By heavens, do not we from Lancashire know that! Do we not remember the Ministry of Labour of those days acting as recruiting agents for the industry and plastering every cotton town with notices saying "England's bread hangs on Lancashire's thread"?
During the years from 1947 to 1949 I went with my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) round most of the displaced persons camps in Europe to try to recruit displaced persons for work in our textile industry. We were trying to cajole into coming back people who had left the cotton industry. They were probably those who had gone into the Services and into other work after the war because they found it more profitable. We were trying to get them back into the industry and we were fairly successful. What a tragedy and irony it is that the men we got back at about 30 or 35 years of age are now, 20 years later, being thrown out of the industry at a time when they will find it increasingly difficult to get other suitable work.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) when he says that the industry is not yet to be written off. I do not think it is, either, and nor did the Tory Administration, when they allocated £30 million to encourage reinvestment and to encourage the industry to put itself in such a state of efficiency as to meet all-covers in competition. Since then many millions of pounds have been poured into the industry. There has been a great deal of investment and revolution in the industry, not only of capitalisation, but among the workers. The humblest worker has accepted changed conditions to two and three shifts. I would like to know in what other industry such revolutionary changes have taken place without the loss of a single day in disputes.
What an irony it is now that, in spite of this confidence, the industry has taken a severe battering in the last 12 months or so. People were beginning to despair until that bright day in July, 1963, when my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke in Manchester. I know that there is a rule against tedious repetition. This might be repetition, but it is not tedious. I have promised to be brief and I will tend to speak in headlines if I can in view of the number of hon. Members who want to speak after me. Most of what I have to say is based on what the Foreign Secretary said.
My right hon. Friend said:
… a Cotton Commission must be established to advise, supervise,"—
and this is where the bite comes—
and, where necessary, regulate imports of cotton goods into the U.K.
I have never known a single speech made by a politician bring about such enthusiasm in industrial Lancashire and to rebuild so instantaneously the confidence the industry once knew. Now we are told that the Government can give no powers to an outside body.
I want somebody to tell me why that promise was made. This was not a brick-dropping exercise by the Foreign Secretary. If it was, it should have been corrected. Nobody has claimed that he was misquoted. He was not misquoted, because not only did Transport House like that speech of the Foreign Secretary, but it showed how much it liked it when it had it printed, published and circulated in every cotton constituency during the 1964 General Election. It was regarded as a winner in cotton towns. I may sound rather 1945-ish and rather naive, but I happen to be one of those people, and I am sure that there are many of us, who believe that if a pledge is made during an election campaign it should be carried out.
Last Thursday, I had a Question down to the Prime Minister on this subject. I was astonished when he said that the Government implemented their pledges on 1st January of last year. If we have changed from a timorous Tory policy on textiles to a dynamic Labour policy, the transition has been so smooth that we in Lancashire have never noticed it. This will have a very big effect politically in Lancashire. We are not speaking purely from the political point of view tonight. We are talking about bread and butter. Despite the fact that the Prime Minister gave the assurance that a new policy has been in operation since January of last year, what is troubling those in Lancashire is that mills are continuing to close and that people, particularly the middle-aged, find it very difficult to obtain other suitable work in the vicinity.
Statistics in Whitehall can mean a very great deal of misery and unhappiness in Wigan. It is all right talking in terms of percentages, but when we are talking in terms of somebody losing the job in which he is trained and skilled, and to which he has given his life, and losing it at an age when he will find difficulty in getting other work, it is a very serious problem.
The Government say that they cannot give power to an outside body. If that is so, I accept the fact and write off the Foreign Secretary's speech, its publication and its circulation as merely regrettable. I accept that the Government cannot give powers to an outside body. Everybody knows that the President of the Board of Trade does not sit at his desk pouring over figures, looking at statistics, working out global quotas. He has advisers. I see no reason why he should not co-opt on to his advisory panel, say, three people from the Imports Commission, so called, so that they can be there when the decision is made, so that they can personally advise, so that they know what inhibitions there are in the Minister's mind if their own suggestions cannot be followed. I believe that such an arrangement would satisfy the industry and would enable the Government, even at this late hour, to redeem their promise and thereby redeem themselves in the eyes of Lancashire cotton people.
Mr. Speaker, I shall do my best to follow your advice. It is a privilege for me to speak in this debate, because I have heard so many speeches which I would have given much to have made. I hope that it does not sound presumptuous of me to say that, should the time come when I have to attack my own side, and if I can make speeches of the calibre and courage to which we have listened from hon. Members opposite tonight, I shall be very proud.
I intervene, first, because my constituency is a Lancashire one. Although it may not be affected so directly as those of other hon. Members, it will be affected, because when the cotton industry is pricked the Fylde bleeds. My constituency has 8·3 per cent. unemployed. Any increase in that figure would be almost intolerable.
My second reason for speaking is that I was born and brought up in East Lancashire; my grandfather was a cotton weaver and in the 'thirties I had personal experience of what closures meant. It is something I have never forgotten and something I shall never forget for the rest of my life. I consequently feel very strongly about the measures being taken to deal with the present situation. It would be presumptuous of me to castigate the Government, especially when that has been done already, and not only by hon. Members on this side. Therefore, I will try to make a practical contribution.
It is to ask the Minister of State to look at the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). Action must be taken quickly, and as a lawyer, I would say that it must be legal action. When I saw the delegation last week I was impressed by the fact that those people thought something could be done along the lines we have heard tonight. They said that Norway had done something, and had taken legal advice and, if Norway has not, and there is some reason for that, then this House should be told. The Government should tell us why it is believed that this cannot be done. The Government has a duty to let us know what is the position. If this mission has to be advisory then, as a lawyer, I would say that I think the difficulty is a lack of real evidence.
I was most impressed by the remarks of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), when he spoke about Portuguese exports to Sweden which are going out at a different price from those of this country. If such a fact can be established—and it should be established or otherwise by the Government, rather than by the industry—then there could be some way of getting legal action to protect Lancashire.
I do not want to detain the the House, but I should like to explain that the "managed" Portuguese economy—and I say "managed" advisedly—has a two-price system. There is one, which might be the normal one and which is based on costing, and this applies to Western Europe, excluding Britain; but because of our Commonwealth preference system and Commonwealth arrangements they put a cost-minus price on imports to Britain so that they can be competitive with the Commonwealth imports which come here without any duty.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
If I may return to what I was saying, I think that it is information which has to be fed to the Government. The industry can provide some information on which the President of the Board of Trade can act, but what about our consular offices abroad? I should have thought that this sort of service is what we pay for. I plead with the Minister of State to bear these things in mind. That is one of the few positive contributions I can make in adding my voice to those who are asking the Government for something to be done for Lancashire.
I will honour to the letter the injunction which you, Mr. Speaker, gave us some hours ago by being brief and keeping strictly in order.
I most strongly support what was said so eloquently a few minutes ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Boardman), because if anything "sticks in the crop" of Lancashire people more than anything else it is when pledges which have been given are broken. For those of us who have worked in Lancashire for a long time, we feel—and hon. Members on the other side of the House have made their contributions along these lines—that a point of honour, given so far as Lancashire industry is concerned, is at stake. Since all the facts have been laid bare, all that I wish to do is to convey to the House as truthfully as I can the feelings of my constituents and those of people in neighbouring towns where anxieties which are rampant must be allayed.
Like other hon. Members who have sat here for several hours, I attended the conference in Manchester about three weeks ago which was organised by the cotton trade unions. A very large number of delegates filed into Manchester from all parts of the county. Rarely in my career as an active politician and trade unionist have I seen such righteous anger and indignation as was displayed in the speeches made at that conference. I had the extreme embarrassment, the mortification, of sitting for some hours on the platform with my hon. Friends and listening to the delegates who came to the rostrum one after another seething with anger, indignation and bewilderment. They read the horoscope of my right hon. Friends the President of the Board of Trade and the Prime Minister in very dramatic words. I thought that the Press was very kind to us in that it did not report more of the speeches.
These things concern us deeply. We know that the country is going through a revolutionary phase of reorganisation of industry, and that times change and we must change with them. Nobody has shown greater willingness or greater toleration than the Lancashire textile workers in adapting themselves to the changing world in which their bread and butter is involved. They have accepted the three-shift system, and all kinds of redeployment. Practices which were regarded as restrictive have been swept away by agreement. There has never been a strike in the industry. They have accepted the very unpalatable measures to promote the greater level of efficiency which all the statistics prove they have achieved.
We say to my right hon. Friend—and we cannot say it too often—that we do not accept the puny measures which he announced last Tuesday as any solution to the flood of unfair competition coming to these shores through the ports without any effective control. It is solemnly stated in debate that it is technically difficult to set up the machinery required for policing an operation of this kind so that we may have a proper record of what is coming into this country.
I am astonished that people who have been to our great historic universities can have the impudence to tell people like me, who have not been to university, that this cannot be done. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade that it is not the business of the industry to make policing arrangements to discover what is happening concerning the international flow of goods into this country. It is the duty of the Government to provide the policing apparatus for seeing what is going on in international trade.
It is not the Cotton Board's duty to have a new name attached to one of its committees and be called a commission instead of a sub-committee of the Textile Council. It is the duty of the President of the Board of Trade to create the machinery which will, day by day, week by week, check on the amount of international trade entering our ports.
I do not want to be unfair to my right hon. Friend. But I am angry, and he knows that many of us are angry and are trying to restrain our anger. But it is no use telling me that this is difficult, that commercial intelligence cannot be funnelled through to the point of control in the Board of Trade daily, and hourly if necessary. There are about 30,000 betting shops—which I have always opposed—linked by the telephones owned by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General. By the "blower" system, every bookmaker in every little tin-pot back-street betting office receives intelligence of what is going on on the courses. Without it he could not work his business.
Why can we not have sense brought into this matter? If the facilities of the modern world do that for bookmakers, how much more important it is to do it for the honest, decent, working-class people of Lancashire, who only ask to earn a living. I do not want to develop the point too far, because the points that can be raised in the debate have already been very fairly raised.
I assure my right hon. Friend whose painful duty it will be to reply, that unless he does so with a far more convincing story than any he has told me in the past few weeks I cannot return to my constituency and defend what he is doing. I should have to be as forthright and honest with my constituents as I always try to be in the House, even with my right hon. and hon. Friends when I think that they are in the wrong.
I make no apology for perhaps imparting passion into my speech, because I sat 13 years on the other side of the House and often had the similar duty of chastising Tory Ministers about their neglect of the industry. They have nothing to boast about in the industry's history.
We have had a very good debate and I know that one or two of my hon. Friends want to say something. [An HON. MEMBER: "If we get a chance."] It is all right; I have been very brief. I have not been eight minutes yet, which is very good.
This is a serious issue which affects the livelihood of people in Lancashire, who are bewildered by the Government's failure to take the action that they thought that they would take when they elected a Labour Government two years ago. I plead with my right hon. Friend to think again about what should and can be done to arrest the constant decline that goes on ever more rapidly in the textile industry.
I, too, shall try to be brief, because I know how much other hon. Members wish to speak.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) referred to a difference of tone in the speeches from the two sides of the House. I think that that difference arises from the fact that on this side we feel only anger that pledges have been given which have not been fulfilled. It is easy to understand that for hon. Members opposite that must be mixed with dismay at feeling that they supported policies to which they can no longer feel they were justified in giving their support. There is no doubt that pledges were given before 1964 that an imports control commission would be set up.
The President of the Board of Trade is in grave danger of breaking the pledge he gave to the Cotton Board in October, 1965, if he does not act immediately. I believe that it is shuffling off responsibility which lies with him and the Government to set up an advisory committee at this stage.
In the debate on the establishment of the new Textile Council, on 13th December, I mentioned that, in my view, the Government now had all the advice from that new body which it needed to control the industry's affairs. I direct the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the comment of his right hon. Friend the Minister of State in winding up that discussion, when he said:
The idea of an Imports Commission has been overtaken by events, because the Board of Trade has power to carry out all the duties which would have been given to an Imports Commission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1966; Vol. 738, c. 391.]
What is wanted is not further advice, but an acceptance of responsibility and action on the part of the Board of Trade. In that debate, I asked the Government whether they could give information on the mill closures that had taken place in 1966. Again, the Minister of State said that he had not the information available, but that the Board of Trade was in touch with the Cotton Board. Since then, a great deal more information has become available.
In 1966, there were just under 60 mill closures. I believe that we are justified in asking the right hon. Gentleman, in his, I am sure, genuine wish to reassure the industry, whether he would give us a forecast of what is to be the developing trend of the industry in 1967. How many more closures does his Department expect to take place? In Lancashire for, I think, the first time, the question now being asked is not how many more closures there will be in 1967, but how many mills will be open and operating by the end of the year. Districts which previously counted the textile industry as one of their main providers of employment are finding it difficult to locate a textile mill that is working.
One point which has not perhaps received great attention in the debate is that it is the task of the Government to ease the path of change for the nation generally and particularly for an industry when it is in a phase of rapid contraction. One of the causes of resentment in Lancashire today is that the textile industry had acepted, albeit perhaps belatedly and reluctantly, the need for change and contraction and that change and contraction were taking place at a rapid rate prior to the measures of 20th July. There had been a substantial inflow of capital into the industry—something which was much needed and which had taken a considerable time to bring about. On of the most damaging effects of the present situation is that it could, I believe, well check and perhaps halt permanently the inflow of new capital into the industry. That would be a disaster for Lancashire and for Government generally, because it would damage the effectiveness of assistance given by Government for the needed changes in the economy.
Of course, we accept that, where more productive machinery is being installed and greater shift working is being brought into operation, there will be closures when the total market is static, but the point that those of us who have spent our lives in Lancashire wish to drive home—because it is a point which the Government find it difficult to realise—is that whether change is tolerable for the textile industry depends almost entirely on the marginal level of imports.
It is the marginal variations in imports which are decisive for this industry because of its trading structure. If the right hon. Gentleman, in an attempt—recognised at the time—to give the industry stability until 1970 has miscalculated, no one, least of all we in this House, will think any less of him if he will recognise it and endeavour to secure some further easement of the import position for Lancashire. If he is to succeed in restoring confidence in the industry, he must make a forecast of what the level of imports for 1967 will be as a proportion of the total home demand.
The right hon. Gentleman should say how many closures there will be in the weaving industry and in the spinning industry. Perhaps most important of all, in view of the trend of the past 12 months when it has been estimated that about 14,000 people have left the industry, it is vital that he should give a forecast of the number of people who will be in employment at the end of this year so that we can be sure that the flow of people out of the industry will be arrested.
If the right hon. Gentleman can give that assurance and commit himself with conviction to the fact that it will not continue at the same rate for a further 10 months, he will have succeeded in restoring a reasonable measure of confidence to the industry.
I wish that I could convey to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade the feelings of sorrow and anger which were expressed at a Manchester meeting of cotton workers which I attended about three weeks ago. It was a closely packed meeting, with a large proportion of men and women aged between 50 and 60 present. Many of them thought, perhaps rightly, that they might never be employed again in the cotton industry. Some of the single ladies of that age were crying, because they believed that the end of employment in the industry was the same as cuting off 10 years of their lives.
I cannot say that I have much experience of the cotton industry, or of its workers, but I was surprised at that meeting to find out how good those workers were. It occurred to me that they were suffering from their own virtue, from their strike-free record, the way that they have faced with resignation depression and recession, and have endured rationalisation. Different workers in similar circumstances would have raised the roof. Instead of being able to shake hands with them at the end of the meeting, we should have required a police escort from the building.
Their demands were typically modest. One rather ageing worker said, "We do not say that the world owes the Lancashire cotton industry a living." He was wrong. If there is any industry to which the world owes a living, it is the Lancashire cotton industry. One does not have to know the industry first-hand to know that it was Lancashire which first led the world to a decent living. A pioneer in the Industrial Revolution, it showed the world how to control the forces of nature in such a way that, for the first time, a break-through was achieved, to the benefit of all mankind.
Lancashire adopted a typically liberal attitude when one under-developed country after another tried to become industrialised. It was always cotton which was started on first, and it was always Lancashire which helped with experience. It was this country which helped by allowing in imports to an extent which no other country allowed. Even today, we allow in ten times the volume and value of cotton imports that other countries in similar positions permit. One has only to think of Germany, and indeed many other continental countries.
Unfortunately, although these other countries were quick to learn from Lancashire's skill and experience, they did not learn the other lesson which she taught the world, to combine to give the workers in the industry good conditions, and so many under-developed countries failed to learn this side of the lesson that Lancashire today is suffering greatly, in the most unfair way possible, because of the low wages which these newer, under-developed countries are paying. The unfairness of this competitive position was established in about 1920, when the International Labour Organisation was founded, and it seems strange to me that we should still be in this position so many years later.
Lancashire has suffered from cheap labour in Japan and many other countries, including Formosa and Korea, and more recently Portugal. This is most galling to Lancashire, because whereas Portugal gets the benefits of E.F.T.A. membership she has few of the disadvantages, for we know that while she is trading as an E.F.T.A. country we are treating her is an underdeveloped country. While she has the advantage of no duty on textile exports to the United Kingdom, our goods are not exempt from duty in Portugal.
There are many other disadvantages which we suffer in competition with Portugal. Some of these have been mentioned. Portugese wages are the lowest in Europe, and the wages of textile workers in Portugal are the lowest in that country, apart from the wages of agricultural workers. We know too, despite what has been said, that a kind of dumping is being undertaken by the Portuguese Government, and that the new textile factories built there get certain tax concessions, and that the workers receive tax allowances. We also know that cheap cotton is coming from Mozambique, where it is produced under near slave labour conditions.
I think, as has been suggested by some hon. Members this evening, that we could follow the example of Norway and Sweden and do much to prevent this ever-increasing flood of imports from Portugal and ensure that the competitive conditions are fair, but if necessary we should go further. If we cannot get this, we should recommend that Portugal is not a fit and proper member of E.F.T.A. She will contaminate us industrially, as much as she has contaminated us politically. She is a member of E.F.T.A., not because she resembles any country in E.F.T.A.; she is there merely by an historic accident.
in the interests of Lancashire, may I suggest that it is that kind of statement which may well make it more difficult for the President of the Board of Trade to secure the reduction in imports which we are seeking? If one has an ally, it is better to regard him as such rather than to indulge in abuse. I believe that the hon. Gentleman should consider the political implications of what he is saying.
I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's statement. I am saying it in this debate because I have never heard it said before in this Chamber, and it is time that it was said.
Portugal is in E.F.T.A. on the strength—
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I am learning every day.
Portugal is in E.F.T.A. because we were partners in the slave trade about 150 years ago. This is a weak foundation, particularly if our conditions are to be dragged down to the Portuguese level because of unfair competition. This could, if unchecked, mean the end of the Lancashire industry. If my right hon. Friend cannot secure other concessions, I would urge him even to go this far.
Many remedies have been suggested, but for lack of time I will mention only two. What is required is a willingness to see that Lancashire gets the right treatment. The Government should ensure that Government contracts go to the industry and it should be made easier for manufacturers to get credit to restock. The Government have helped many industries by means of low-interest loans, including the shipbuilding industry, and this has sometimes been shown by the keeping of stocks at pitheads.
Cannot cotton manufacturers be helped in the same way? I appeal to him to remember Lancashire's importance, not only to the country but to the Labour movement. Although there are only 120,000 people in the industry—which is shameful—cotton is more important than it seems to Lancashire, which was born and bred on cotton; all Lancashire has a great affection for the commodity. If we ignore Lancashire, we commit political suicide. However, my appeal is not prompted by fear, but because Lancashire requires justice as much as our intellectual help.
Despite what you said a little time ago, Mr. Speaker, I make no apology for intervening. I come from an old Lancashire family of working people in Rochdale and the proudest moment of my life came when I was made President of the Lancastrian Association. I therefore feel a duty to intervene in this debate.
I understand the anger which has been expressed constructively and responsibly by hon. Members opposite about the blatant breach of Government pledges to the textile industry in a speech by the present Foreign Secretary in 1963, and in speeches in the House and elsewhere by the Ministers of Housing and Local Government and Transport. There is anger on both sides of the House at this blatant betrayal of the industry, which was given a definite pledge which has not been honoured.
The issue is even more important than the breaking of a pledge. The textile industry was over-built after the war by the then Labour Government, although I do not criticise that Administration for taking that action. It is tragic to think now that at that time this industry was able to export when our engineering and other industries had not recreated themselves after the war. The textile industry was, therefore, organised on a labour basis rather than on a production basis, with three times the labour it has today. There is no doubt that it was over-expanded.
After then, under Conservative Governments, the international pattern changed and, from being an exporting nation after the war, we became an importing nation. The problems of the textile industry were spreading like measles through a family. The Govern-meld of the day were slow, perhaps rightly, to respond, since they said, "This industry must battle its way through these problems in this new and changing modern era."
In the late 'fifties we had a new cotton reorganisation scheme and the then Government put £30 million in the "kitty". I recall that when the negotiations about that £30 million were at a very tricky stage—tricky because the then Conservative Government faced a considerable division of opinion over the issue—I, as the Chairman of the Conservative Party in the North-West of England, informed the Prime Minister that unless a scheme of that sort was introduced, he could no longer rely on my support in the House of Commons.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite who have tonight spoken sincerely and passionately about this matter should, I suggest, take the sort of action which I felt it my duty to take, because something must be done to make certain that the new Commission is given teeth so that it can bring succour to the industry. In the short-term, that is the only way in which hon. Gentlemen opposite can bring pressure to bear on the Government.
Being a believer in efficiency in industry, I suggest that both Front Benches must answer this question: do we in Britain want a textile industry? We have tried global quotas and other measures, but on every occasion when these schemes have been tried another country, outside the agreement, develops its industry, produces textiles more cheaply and floods our market. If we begin to hold Portugal, in two years' time another country—Uganda, Malawi, or someone else—will appear on the scene. We must accept that in a world of growing technology the textile industry, in a modern society, given the freedom we have given to importers, will be constantly under threat.
I rejoice in the fact that during the 'fifties the contraction of the textile industry in Lancashire was balanced all the time by the growth of the engineering and other more science-based industries. However, the textile industry has had to absorb a great deal of hardship as a result of its contraction. The Government must, therefore, face up to the fact that the textile industry as it exists today, employing only 120,000 people, is already producing goods in a far more efficient way than it did before the reorganisation of the 'fifties. Although it has efficient mills, efficient grouping, verticalisation, and so on, it is facing a contracting market in this country.
We have had this argument on the Floor of the House before, but I think that a nation of our size, which deliberately allows the textile industry to contract very much more, would be a very foolish nation. Do we know what sort of situation we will find in the years to come?
If we have an industry that is still capable, not of exporting, but of providing a balance of between two-thirds and three-quarters of the home market, it is not a very large industry. It may, therefore, be necessary that we keep a textile industry for the safety and wellbeing of the nation in future.
The Government could take a deliberate decision to allow the industry to run down until it disappears altogether. One could make a powerful argument for this action, but it would not be an argument which the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Joel Barnett) or myself, with our knowledge of the textile industry, would be likely to put forward.
The Government are, therefore, in this dilemma. Let them say quite categorically that during their period of office they will maintain a textile industry able to produce two-thirds of the offtake for the home market. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider these points which have not been made tonight, despite the length of the debate. There is not only a shocking lack of confidence in the industry at the moment, which is bound to lead to the fact that there will be no capital to continue modernisation, but unless one gets very rapidly a far greater certainty of prosperity for the industry, there is not a careers master in a school or a university tutor, or anybody else, who will recommend to school leavers that they should go into the textile industry.
The right hon. Gentleman could well find himself, in four or five years' time, with Courtaulds, Viyella, Carrington and Dewhurst, modern groups which he wants, organised efficiently, but because nobody is coming into the industry, faced with getting no qualified men although they are much more scientifically based—and the word is much—than they were 10 or 15 years ago. This crisis of confidence will have to be solved very quickly if we are to get replacement of those now drifting out of the industry.
It is not a great encouragement to a girl, even though she knows the industry is more scientifically based, and although she has got two O-levels at school, if she knows that her mother, who tries to induce her to go into the textile industry, was made redundant at the age of 45 in 1967. This is not an encouragement to someone to go into the industry with the feeling that there is a prosperous future.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that if he is not to be faced with a rebellion throughout Lancashire—and I believe that this broken pledge goes further than a party broken pledge and involves the whole of Parliament—if he is not able to give a much clearer view of what the Imports Commission will do, and give a categorical assurance that he, as the responsible Minister, will accept its recommendation for action for immediate implementation; if he cannot give an assurance about how Norway has acted over Portuguese imports; and about home purchases by Government Departments during the recession, I am sure that a great many of his colleagues who have spoken so eloquently for the industry will only be in the House until the Dissolution, when the electorate have an opportunity of telling the Government what they think.
I give an assurance, Mr. Speaker, that I shall be brief, first, in deference to your wish and, secondly, because many of my quotations have already been used—though perhaps not with the clarity with which I would have used them—and figures I would dearly have liked to have quoted have also been given.
I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Boardman) speak in somewhat disparaging terms abut statistics, because it seems to me that during recent weeks, and tonight as well, we have been talking a great deal in the cold language of statistics—about global quotas, the niceties of import figures and the arithmetical detailing of prices in so many escudos per kilo. No doubt these are very important figures and do a great deal to explain Government policy, but in my submission we are dealing with more important facts than that.
In this debate we are dealing with the people of Lancashire, and, in particular, with the people of North-East Lancashire, and even more particularly for me, with the people in my constituency. We are dealing with what has happened to them during the last few months.
Much reference has been made on both sides to the present atmosphere in Lancashire, and I do not think it has been exaggerated. It is fair to say that at the moment there is an atmosphere of disenchantment, and utter disbelief that this sort of thing could happen to them under a Labour Government. For the effects on Lancashire—and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will agree with me—cannot be measured purely by the closure of mills and by neatly setting off closures and unemployment against the benefits of redundancy pay and increased wage-related benefits. The people of Lancashire and the textile industry are not prepared to be a figure in a book-keeping entry. The industry is too important for that.
If we think in those terms we ignore the basic nature of the people of Lancashire. The Lancashire people, if I may indulge in a very brief panegyric, are not emotional people, but modest people. So if we find them speaking in the emotional terms to which they have been resorting recently—terms which are alien to their nature—we have to take them seriously.
I can only say that this week I went over four mills in my constituency. The reception that I got in those mills was vastly different from the reception I got when I visited similar mills and spoke to similar people during the election, and I think it is fair that that should be brought home to my right hon. Friend.
Now may I explode one or two myths at this stage. I do not think it right to say that everybody in Lancashire thinks that the Labour Government have done nothing. They do not think that at all. Even an executive in a mill I visited over the weekend expressed great regard for what my right hon. Friend has done in bringing in global quotas.
It is not fair to suggest that the textile industry has not responded to pleas for its reorganisation and modernisation. One of the constituents in one of the mills I visited this weekend was a member of Higham's, one of the great names in textiles. This mill is to close for four days over Easter. It will be called, to use a delicate phrase, a long Easter holiday, but we all know what it means. This mill has never had a stoppage this century. It even survived a flood. It would be a very sad testimony to my right hon. Friend to say that this mill could survive a flood, but could not survive the policies of the President of the Board of Trade.
I visited another mill, Stanhill Mill, in Oswaldtwistle, and there could be no more Lancashire-sounding name than Oswaldtwistle. And in this mill, which has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in modernisation, and where working conditions are perfection, those in charge say that they cannot possibly compete under the escalating level of Portuguese imports. There is nothing they can do to make themselves more efficient, yet they will be unable to compete if the level of these imports continues.
I want to put one or two questions to the President of the Board of Trade and I hope that he answers them concisely and firmly, because Lancashire people ask simple questions and like to have simple answers in firm language.
First, how does he expect us in Lancashire to compete with Portuguese wage levels? I am told that a textile worker there gets one-sixth of the wage of a textile worker in the United Kingdom. A skilled mechanic in Portugal gets paid £5 a week. I want to know from the President of the Board of Trade whether these figures are correct, and if they are, he expects us to compete with them.
Secondly, I would like to ask him whether it is true that we can expect sharp increases in exports from Portugal of doubled yarns and made-up items to this country in 1967, and if it is true, what he intends to do about it?
Thirdly, I would like to ask him about the export subsidy received by Portuguese exporters. Does this offend the E.F.T.A. or G.A.T.T. agreements, or does it not? How long need we wait before a proper study is carried out either by E.F.T.A. or by some other body of non-tariff barriers to trade in E.F.T.A., including existing rebate and subsidy arrangements?
Fourthly, why are yarn prices in Scandinavian markets higher than in the United Kingdom? It has been suggested that this is so. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will assure us that it is not, but if it is true, what does he intend to do about it?
The Stockholm Convention says that one of its objects is to
secure that trade between member states takes place in conditions of fair competition.
How can my right hon. Friend say that this is fair competition?
I said that I would be brief and I intend to be brief. I finish on this note. A great deal has been said during recent months about conscience in this House and a state of mind, apparently, which is particularly prevalent among hon. Members on these benches who entered the House in 1966. So far, my voting record has been impeccably loyal, almost indecently loyal. I am not issuing a warning, but my conscience begins and ends in Lancashire. If some of the pledges which were firmly made during the General Election are not carried out by the President of the Board of Trade and the Government, I for one would have no great difficulty in not exercising my conscience if it came to a vote.
I endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) about what the President of the Board of Trade has been doing to fortify the cotton industry at home against undue encroachment by imports from overseas. It is not true, as was suggested earlier from the benches opposite, that the Government have done just nothing about it. I was in the Government when my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade was doing a great deal about it and I hope that I gave him effective support in what he was trying to do.
There is no doubt that the global quota he succeeded in getting did help tremendously to stave off the rather dismal situation we face now. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House understand what the basic problem about the cotton industry and home-produced textiles is. We are trying to find a tolerance among the interests of the home industry, the interests of the Commonwealth and the interests of world trade. That is where we are trying to strike a balance.
In 1959, the then Government undertook an expensive reorganisation and re-equipment scheme of the industry with considerable public money rather than imposing restrictions upon imports from the Commonwealth and other oversea countries which might disrupt the economic advance of Commonwealth countries or make difficulties in the liberalisation of trade. That was their choice; public money to compensate people for going out of the industry rather than imposing import restrictions to keep them in business. Great hopes were built on the Cotton Reorganisation Scheme, but those of us who were concerned at the time will remember the warning given in the Fourth Report of the Estimates Committee for the 1961–62 Session. We had a debate on 28th June, 1962 on that Report.
In paragraph 26, that Report said:
The purpose behind the Cotton Industry Act, 1959, is clear enough. It was intended so to promote the modernisation and efficiency of the industry as to render it competitive both in the home and in the export markets. To this end large sums of money have been voted by Parliament, and Your Committee are satisfied that the expenditure has been applied in the manner intended by Parliament. It is no part of the duty of Your Committee to comment upon the policy which underlies the Act. Nevertheless they feel bound to record their conviction that, failing a speedy and satisfactory solution to the related problems of imports, marketing, and the fuller use of plant and machinery, much of the expenditure incurred will have been to no purpose.
That was the warning which we debated on 28th June, 1962, and the then President of the Board of Trade expressed the confident hope that the reorganisation scheme would provide a basis for a stable industry which could look forward to increasing prosperity. The then President of the Board of Trade announced on 6th June, 1962, a quota scheme which was presumably tailored to the prospect of a smaller industry with increased productivity. The two things together were the basis for a prosperous industry.
What has gone wrong? Why are we in this position again? Cotton debates are always depressing. This one is sombre. I would like the President of the Board of Trade to attempt a candid diagnosis of the present position. What are all these imports which are flowing in? Why is the disruption in the home market occurring now? I wonder whether the explanation is that quotas were tolerable so long as we were maintaining a high level of home demand, but that when home demand fell, under the impact of the deflationary measures taken for economic reasons, the imports flowed in because many people, affected by the standstill on incomes, went for the cheaper articles rather than buy articles manufactured at home.
Is this the explanation? The President of the Board of Trade shakes his head. What is it, then? It is very difficult to pinpoint the precise problem now. I think that it was probably that the proportion of total demand allocated to imports was acceptable while the level of home demand was high, but it became disproportionate when the level of home demand fell.
It might be necessary to alter the import quota to take account of the fall in home demand so that the proportion of imports to home production might be maintained at the previous level. Whatever the explanation, I hope that we will hear it. Is it that the industry is failing to match the requirements of modern conditions? Is it the workers who are at fault. At least let us say that there has been no liner train trouble in the textile industry. No Minister has had to come to the House to be congratulated for a triumph over restrictive practices and stubborn trade union attitudes. There has been none of that in the textile industry. The Minister of Transport who represents a textile constituency must have been conscious of these facts when she was dealing with the liner train problem. The workers have been flexible. They have done what the industry has demanded of them. There have been no stoppages or demarcation disputes.
Lancashire has exported more textile workers and managers than any country in the world. Indeed, the competition we have faced from overseas has been generated by personnel who have gone out from Lancashire. In the Bombay cotton textile industry I met managers, workers and supervisors who had all come from Lancashire. I suggest that it is not the workers. They can do anything required of them.
Is it the management? I could not be quite so confident about that. Are the manufacturers trying to sell what they make instead of making what will sell? Is this encroachment which we are now facing due to price? Is it due to design? What is it? I have looked at some cloth imported from Portugal and have compared it with similar cloth made in my own constituency at Todmorden. I thought that I could tell the difference between the two. I thought that I could feel the higher quality in the home-produced article. I therefore judged that people were not buying Portuguese cloth for quality. Therefore, they were presumably buying it for price. Is this it? If it is price, we must consider whether the price at which much of this cloth can be imported into this country is one upon which the home industry can compete on reasonable terms. Is it fair competition?
One thing I hope of this Commission is that we shall get an adequate diagnosis and, what is more, that we shall know what it is. The whole country is entitled to know more about the plight of the textile industry. They hear enough about it at different times. We ought to know a good deal more of its real difficulties.
I do not think that this is an occasion for party political reproach. This is an occasion when we should be joining in mutual sorrow at the disappointment of mutual hopes, because we all hoped for a better future for the textile industry after the reorganisation scheme.
In conclusion, I ask my right hon. Friend also to be candid about the powers he has. When we say that the Commission should have teeth, let us be clear what we mean. This is perhaps where it was unwise to have used the word "regulate" in the document which has been so frequently quoted—the Labour Party statement of July, 1963—without fully understanding the implications of that word, certainly in the minds of those in the industry. Those in the industry believed that "regulate" meant control, possibly prohibition, but, certainly, a discipline which would be meaningful in the context of this problem.
We all know, however, that measures of that kind cannot easily be used within the framework of our international obligations and of our duty to our Commonwealth friends. So if we do not mean a word we should not use it. We ought to understand its possible meaning to others and the disappointment which will follow failure to implement what appeared to be a pledge.
But we have these difficulties. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will be quite frank about them. The Government have got to use the teeth, because, after all, it is a Government matter. If there are to be breaches of international obligations, if there are to be import quotas where import quotas are already subject to agreement between Governments, it is only the Government who can deal with that sort of problem. I do not think that any Commission can be allowed to usurp or to utilise the powers of the government when it is obviously important that Governments themselves should do their own business.
I think that the two things I have mentioned are important: what is the diagnosis of the President of the Board of Trade, and what power has he to deal with the situation? How does he propose to use what power he may have? We do not want any beating about the bush. We have sat here long enough to have an answer and we should have it, frankly and fully, from the President of the Board of Trade. We want no "flannelling". Let us have it straight. Let us hear what it is that the Government proposes and let us be told something we can tell our constituents. Let us have something for them which is badly lacking at the present time.
It has been difficult not to exaggerate the situation as it is at present, but I am sorry that there has been exaggeration. I am sorry because we have a strong enough case without any exaggeration at all. My fear is that that exaggeration may do positive harm to the textile industry. I myself said some strong things in the debate on 13th December and I do not retract one word, for the people of Lancashire have been too decent and they have had a very raw deal.
I do not want to go back over all that has been said. The debate started with a very fine speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp). The people of Lancashire want action. They do not want vague promises. They know about imports from various parts of the world, but now they do not want the final death blow from the Portuguese textile industry. They know of factors which have been operating against them; the destocking, the ending of the surcharge, the fact that the E.F.T.A. duties came off on 1st January, are some of the immediate causes; but this is all far too superficial to claim that these are the sole causes.
The Lancashire textile industry is subject to factors which do not apply in other industries. It is a contracting industry, and has been for a long time now. In other industries, managements can plan for the end of a period of contraction so that they can get on with expansion once again; but in the textile industry there appears to be too many who are ready to accept the situation by actually speeding up the contraction to an extent which would appear to amount almost to an acquiescence in the complete liquidation of the industry.
I would put in that category the speech by the Chairman of Viyella, not long ago, in which there was the implied suggestion that the workers in the industry should get out. No doubt, many will. About 10 per cent. of the working population of Littleborough in my constituency, who were recently given notice by Viyella, feel that there has been a total disregard of their interests and they may even take the hint and having got out never return. That would cause only more trouble. Viyella, in the not distant future might then well find itself desperately short of labour. Then, we should hear such things as the workers not being prepared to work the shift system, and that sort of thing.
It is not fair to expect the workers to disrupt their day to day lives when they do not know from one day to the next what their future is to be. They must be told that this is not the death blow. The workers in this industry, and all connected with it, are united about what they want to hear tonight. They want to know what the remedy is. The least they are entitled to is an assurance from the President of the Board of Trade that he feels, as many of us feel, that there is a future for the industry. I should like to have that assurance from him.
The Government deserve some congratulation, together with the Textile Council, the employers and the trade unions, for starting to look at the problem of productivity. But it is utter folly to consider increasing productivity, on the one hand, and, on the other, allowing an enormous influx of imports. The global quota has been referred to. It was reluctantly accepted by the industry. But since then we have had superimposed the enormous increase in imports from Portugal. We are entitled to ask the Government what further action they propose.
Last week, we had the announcement of the Imports Commission. Some hon. Members asked that it should have real powers. I urge that, too. I should be interested to know what the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) has to say on this. What sort of real powers does he seek? Since when have the Opposition been converted to giving powers to the Imports Commission, or to any commission at all? While I accept that some hon. Members opposite have a sincere regard for the industry, there is a great danger of feeling that the Opposition Front Bench is not so sincere when it says that it wants the Commission to have real powers. If that is so, the Opposition should tell us what sort of real powers and Imports Commission they would have.
The hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) made a very lengthy speech, but there was not one constructive suggestion in it. However, some constructive points were made by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Sir Frank Pearson). He at least suggested some of the powers he would like to see the Commission have. I agree that some of the powers which he suggested would be very useful, but I do not think they went far enough.
It can be argued that if the imports are low enough, we do not need an Imports Commission. On the other hand, if the imports are too high, the Commission is of no use. But it is not just the level of imports which is the problem. Price disruption is one of the most serious factors affecting the industry. I accept that the level of imports must be fixed by the Government. We cannot give that task to the Imports Commission. But, as I have said, I want the Commission to have real powers. The word "regulate", used by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, has been much quoted. I do not understand how imports can possibly be regulated unless the Commission has power to buy and stock. How else can we have real control and regulation of imports?
The President of the Board of Trade, in reply to questions by myself and other hon. Members on his recent statement, said that he could not give powers which must remain with the Board of Trade. I do not see why. We have all sorts of bodies to which powers are given. I do not understand what sort of argument that is supposed to be. On the other hand, the Opposition and the mill owners should tell us whether they favour the idea of this sort of Imports Commission. After all, we know that they are importers of foreign textiles. Do they really want this sort of Commission? My understanding is that they do not.
If we had the sort of thing which I suggest, it would be said that there would be difficulties under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. I recently read the Agreement again and I saw nothing wrong with the general idea of having an Imports Commission along the lines I have suggested. Everything would depend on how the Commission worked. When one thinks of how the G.A.T.T. is stretched by other countries one cannot help feeling that we are a little naive in working to every dot and comma. Others are laughing their heads off while our constituents are unemployed.
That brings me to the immediate problem. Unless something is done very quickly many more mills will close in the next few weeks, before we get an opportunity to get on with expansion once again. Many mills all over Lancashire have been keeping workers going, some on short time. They have been doing it by building up substantial stocks. It has been done by some very fine managements, which are concerned and want to keep their workers on the books. But they now face a serious situation; their stocks are so high that they cannot go on any longer and they are not able to get the finance to increase the value of those stocks.
If my right hon. Friend can tonight give an assurance, as I think that he can, that there is a future for the industry and that it is likely to get out of the period of recession in the very near future, and if he gives a further assurance that he will inform the banks that they should give additional assistance for stocking, I believe that many mills that would otherwise close down would be able to keep going over the short period until we overcome the recession.
I do not want to say any more, because it is late and this has been a long debate. The people of Lancashire have some wonderful qualities. They have been used to giving a good day's work for a not particularly high day's pay, and do not deserve to be let down now. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us that he will not let them down.
Although I do not represent what is known as a "cotton constituency" and represent what has always been known as a "mining constituency", I have more cotton textile factories in my constituency than mines, though not as many people work in them as are employed in the mines and travel out of the "Wigan Union" back into my constituency.
Cotton is always of great interest to Lancashire Members. The number of Members from both sides of the House who have spoken tonight is an indication of the growing concern we all feel about the fate of this great textile industry. It is only right and proper that we have taken this opportunity of discussing the situation.
Mention has been made in the debate of the recessions and partial booms the industry has experienced over the years, which have resulted in the industry always sarting back on a lower plane after a recession. We well know the capacity of the industry to withstand that kind of body blow, but the industry cannot stand mutilation.
I do not want to repeat all that has been said. The debate was well started by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), and the position was further clarified in an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn). The problem of the Lancashire and Cheshire textile industry is whether it can survive as a viable force if the country must absorb the record percentage of imports that we are told are landing, amounting to about 33 per cent. of the market.
I believe—and I am sure that most hon. Members take the same view—that what we are discussing is the way to remedy this situation. We are suffering, in the first place, from having to open the door to foreign imports. Although it has not been mentioned as much as the case of Portugal in the debate, we have this historical commitment to the Commonwealth. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said, surely the best way to demonstrate that we want to help these developing countries is not by destroying our own textile industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) said that what we are demonstrating is some kind of North-West Lancashire-Cheshire nationalism. I do not say that we would stand in opposition to the party we are all proud to represent, but, certainly, we would remind the Government that we have a duty to protect the Lancashire textile industry.
Lancashire is only asking—and let us not be euphemistic about it—for what all the other major industries have, a great measure of protection. It is the Government's job to provide it. In his statesmanlike speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) had to say that what we want is protection, that we need a commission with teeth. We all echo that view.
The attitude of the workers has also been mentioned and it is important to reiterate it. The textile workers have a first-class record of trying to be productive. When they have been asked to increase productivity, they have done so. They have disrupted their social life in the process, because they have not always worked on the shifts they are now working. But the industry has been capitalised to such an extent that it is logical to work two and three shifts in order to get full value, and that is what they are doing. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby said, there has been no "liner train" dispute in the textile industry. They have got on with the job.
It is no good beating about the bush and deciding the technical meaning of words like "regulate". The promise made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was bandied about in Lancashire. All Labour candidates in Lancashire got it. This was the statement that was to provide the solution to the industry's problems. I believe that we have reneged on it. One of my hon. Friends said that he was surprised that we had, but what surprises me more is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister seemed to indicate that he thought the Government had honoured the pledge. I think that he has everyone fooled if he thinks that is the case.
I want the pledge to be honoured. I attended that meeting in Manchester three weeks ago. There is no question but that there was seething indignation there. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East had to make the most diplomatic speech of his life—and I have heard him make a few. It was a very good speech. But he and I and the others present realised that what we really need is a commission with teeth to give the protection for the industry that we are seeking.
My right hon. Friend the President has waited a long time to reply, and I do not want to prolong his wait. In concluding my remarks, I put to him these two questions. First, what level of unemployment has there to be before a district is scheduled a developed district? I asked that question earlier in relation to the "Wigan Union", which is the name that we give to the constituencies immediately surrounding Wigan, my own included.
When a mill closes, in some ways it is like closing a pit. It is equally sad. It never comes back. Many of the people thrown out of work as a result are in the over-40 age group, and prospects are not good in an area which has the sort of unemployment level that there is. What stops such an area being scheduled? If the cotton industry has gone and is not likely to come back, it is our duty to provide something else.
Secondly, when we are debating the decline of a great industry, should we not ask ourselves which other country would permit imports from foreign countries to destroy one of its basic industries? I think that none would. No other country would be as foolish and as openhanded as we have been.
I hope that tonight my right hon. Friend will be able to give me some satisfaction, at least on the first of my questions.
Tonight's debate has brought to light a great deal of information about the present situation in Lancashire, and I have been kept fully informed of the facts, not merely by the Textile Council, but by hon. Members, including my right hon. Friends the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Minister of Transport. I understand the anxieties which are felt in the industry today.
All that I have heard confirms the rightness of the Government's decision two years ago to work for a global quota on imports of textiles from the low-cost countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) agreed with that at the beginning of the debate. By the beginning of 1966, a year ago, the Government had carried out their pledge to establish this global quota, after a full year of very difficult negotiations. It is actually the most comprehensive protection against imports which the cotton industry has ever had, and it is far more drastic than any other British manufacturing industry enjoys.
Whereas up till 1966 only 17 countries were covered by import quotas for textiles into this country, the total now covered is 89. The global quota covers 67 which are both inside and outside the Commonwealth, and another 12 countries, including the Soviet Union, are covered by bilateral quotas.
As the House knows, the global quota will be effective to the end of 1970 and gives the industry a five-year breathing space, from the beginning of 1966, to carry out the sweeping technical changes which everyone knows must be made if the industry is to meet the much fiercer competition which is likely after 1970. The quota is designed to prevent imports from the 89 countries increasing as a percentage of United Kingdom consumption during this period, and that is the pledge which we gave to the industry.
Several of my hon. Friends have said that there is no other country which would tolerate this level of imports as a percentage of consumption. Of course, our percentage is very high, but since Norway has been mentioned in this debate I might perhaps mention that, as against our one-third of imports as a proportion of consumption, the proportion in Scandinavia as a whole is about 50 per cent. and in Norway is as high as 60 per cent., so we are not unique.
I think that I am entitled to ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that Norway does not have a significant historic textile industry. She is bound to take imports because she does not manufacture the stuff to any degree at all.
It is not as much as ours, but I am pointing out that we are not the country with the highest level of all as a percentage of home consumption.
Nevertheless, though in any short period of falling home consumption the pressure of imports may temporarily increase under this system, and this is clearly so, the opposite is bound to happen when consumption is rising faster than the average. Textile imports from all countries outside the Commonwealth and E.F.T.A. must, in addition, bear import duty before they are sold in the British market.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) asked for a candid diagnosis of the present situation following the working of the import quota, and how it was that these imports were flowing in. The short answer, in the sense in which my right hon. Friend used the expression, is that they are not flowing in. Imports have fallen, and not risen, during the past year, and I shall give him a candid diagnosis as I see it, which I think we ought to have.
A study of the facts and figures shows that the difficulties of the industry in recent months has been due, together with changes in taste and technology which are going on all the time, to de-stocking in the distributive trades, and not to imports. The fact is that imports from all sources, including imports for processing and re-export, did not rise in the second half of 1966 compared with the second half of 1965. They were actually lower. As I think most people will remember, the early months of 1966 were affected by imports from India and Hong Kong which increased temporarily because we refused to allow a carry over of the 1965 quota.
I think that I had better go on with the story to get it clear.
As a result, extra exports from India and Hong Kong in the last few months of 1965 arrived in the first few weeks of 1966. We refused this carry-over, as hon. Members will remember, at the request of the industry, and, therefore, the import figures for 1966 as a whole are consequently misleading.
However, the figures for the second half of the year are representative. They show the effect of the global quota beginning to work, and they are as follows: in the second half of 1966, total imports of cotton cloth were actually 42 million square yards, or 15 per cent., lower at 247 million square yards compared with 289 million square yards in the second half of 1965. This decline in imports was much greater than the decline in the home production of cloth in the period, which was only 9·7 per cent. down over the same period.
Perhaps I might give my hon. Friend one other fact.
I have so far spoken about cloth. Total imports of yarn in the second half were 7·3 per cent. lower than in the second half of 1965.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will clarify his statement. It is my impression that the imports which have been coming in and used within the country have been somewhat as they were before, but when he includes in his figure the cloth which is coming in for re-export there is obviously a very misleading result to his argument.
I am coming to that stage of the story.
Imports of yarn, cloth and made-up goods from the 89 restricted countries were also lower in 1966 than the 196264 average. Imports of yarn, for instance, were 22,536,000 lbs. in 1966, compared with an average for 1962–64 of 24,497,000. Imports of cloth and made-up goods were also markedly smaller in the same period. As a proportion of United Kingdom consumption, imports of cotton textiles from the restricted countries also fell from 31·7 per cent. in 1964 to 29 per cent. in 1966. Therefore, the general picture is of a fall and not a rise in imports, as some have thought who have not studied the figures.
That does not apply to every month, and could not do so. In December, 1966, and January, 1967, imports were temporarily heavier because of the ending of the surcharge on 30th November and the E.F.T.A. duties on 31st December. That increase is bound to be temporary from the quota-restricted countries because they are limited for the year as a whole. The interesting point is that for the whole four months ended 31st January, 1965, which included the two post-surcharge months, total imports of cloth from the restricted countries were nearly 10 per cent. lower than in the same four months a year earlier. Portugal, of course, is not restricted by the global quota, which is why we have had special consultations with the Portuguese Government. I will come to that later.
What, then, has been the real cause of the industry's anxieties over the last few months? Naturally, the Government's economic measures of last July, which have, incidentally, effectively brought the balance of payments under control, have had some effect on home demand for textiles, as on other things, but the effect has been quite small. The drop in clothing sales at home between the first and second halves of 1966 was only 3 per cent. Therefore, since consumption is only slightly down, and both imports and home output are substantially down, there must have been a decline in stocks, probably mainly in the hands of the larger distributors.
I agree that stocks have risen at the production end, but I am advised by more than one expert in the trade that this distributive destocking was due less to the higher interest rates than to pessimistic estimates of consumer demand this spring and summer, which may well prove to have been exaggerated. I suspect that, in some cases, it has been greatly overdone. When the destocking movement is over we shall have to wait for the restocking to begin the demand on manufacturers for the most popular types. Actual restocking is then likely to pick up more quickly.
Since the quota also sets a limit on imports from all the 89 countries, home manufacturers are bound to feel the benefit of this higher demand. It should not be assumed, therefore, that the recent difficulties of the industry, in the acute form of the last few months, will necessarily continue much longer.
There are some other reasons for seeing an improvement coming from various directions. To give one, fortunately the Soviet purchasing authorities, following the visit of Mr. Kosygin, have placed some large orders for textiles in this country in the last few weeks. We very much welcome these orders, which come at a favourable moment. In addition, the motor industry is already recovering, and this will help to expand the demand for textiles.
Would the right hon. Gentleman ask his officials to look into this matter again? I am reliably informed that, from the sheeting point of view, if we do not produce or import another yard of sheeting we have enough stock in this country to last for the next nine months.
Not as I am advised. I am advised by those who have felt the effects of it and are in contact with the trade that it is mainly due to forward estimates of demand.
So far as there has been a problem of imports during recent months, it has, therefore, been largely concentrated on Portugal. In Portugal's case, the ending of the surcharge and the E.F.T.A. tariff in January of this year coincided with acute difficulty and credit shortage in Portugal's own new textile industry—I am not sure that this has been generally realised—and exports to the United Kingdom consequently rose for all these reasons.
I did, in fact, warn Dr. d'Oliveria, the Portugese Economic Minister, well in advance, as long ago as last October, that a disruptive flow of imports would create great difficulties for us, because, apart from the internal situation here, it would be regarded as unfair internationally by the other quota restricted countries. As the House knows, I have been in communication with Dr. d'Oliveira over the months since then, culminating in a thorough discussion in Stockholm early this month.
As a result of this, as I have said, and I repeat, I cannot say more than that I have every reason to think that the heavy imports from Portugal of the last few months will be exceptional and that, over the present year as a whole, they will be at a substantially lower rate than they have recently been. Incidentally, hon. Members have not mentioned tonight that we ourselves are also exporting to Portugal more than £2 million worth of textiles a year.
Not by any means, although we could not hope to export woollen textiles to Portugal if we did not take some textiles in return.
In any case, in view of what has been said tonight, I wonder whether hon. Members realise that we export far more textiles to the rest of E.F.T.A. than the rest of E.F.T.A. exports to us? In 1966, we exported £53 million worth of textiles to the rest of E.F.T.A. and took only £17 million worth of textiles in return. This is another fact which one must bear in mind. Nevertheless, and in spite of that, I am also anxious to make full use of our anti-dumping powers, where-ever real dumping can be proved. This is one way to meet the charges of price disruption.
Real dumping is defined in our legislation, carried by the Government of the party opposite, as selling here at prices lower than those charged in the home market of the exporting country and causing material injury to our own industry. The industry does not, of course, mean for this purpose the entire textile industry, but those producing the product in question. Our anti-dumping powers naturally apply—and I think that there is misunderstanding about this—to imports from E.F.T.A., the Commonwealth and any other country.
I have, therefore, asked the new Textile Council and other organisations in the industry, as well as our commercial posts abroad, to co-operate actively with the Board of Trade to provide evidence to enable us to introduce anti-dumping duties. If any Member in the House, or any hon. Member not here tonight, can provide us with evidence I shall be extremely grateful, but mere assertion is not enough to justify legislative action.
We are already following up a good deal of the information supplied to us and I am hopeful that the new Textile Imports Commission will be able to assist actively in this, also.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether, in his understanding with Portugal, specific arrangements have been made to give some form of protection to the sheeting industry?
I can assure the hon. Member that in my conversations with the Portuguese Government sheeting was not overlooked.
The Government have also, in addition to what I have said about anti-dumping legislation, now carried out their pledge both to reorganise the Cotton Board and to set up an Imports Commission that is part of it. I would have been glad, frankly, to have done both earlier, and to cover a wider area of the textile industry, including wool in the Textile Council, but we have to get agreement from the main sections of the trade and have neither the power nor the wish to exert compulsion, so we have had to go at the rate at which agreement can be reached.
I have heard it asserted, even in the House, that the Labour Party promised before the last election to set up a body to take over the buying of textile imports. No such promise—
No such promise to set up a commission to buy textile imports was made, either in the speech by the Foreign Secretary or in the election manifesto at either election.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) that those who overstate this case destroy other people's sympathy for it; and I advise hon. Members not to do that. What my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary actually said on this subject in 1963 in Manchester was that a Labour Government would set up a Commission, and I quote:
which could be a new and separate organisation, or possibly a development of the existing Cotton Board".
That is precisely what we have done. No statement was ever made that a buying commission would be set up. Since then, we have been pressed by the industry to set up an Imports Commission and I say to those who have depreciated the value of this Commission that if they do that they are in conflict with prevailing opinion on both sides.
I will just finish.
I entirely share the view of the Textile Council that a Commission could do great work in collecting and supplying information about possible dumping, about price levels and about possible evasion of the regulations and subsidisation that may occur.
Since the Board of Trade is doing the regulation of imports it is clearly not necessary for the Commission to do it. Several speakers this evening have said that it is a job of Government to carry out the policing part of the operation, and that they should not try to push it on to someone else. I quite agree that this is a job of the Government, since we have the global quota, and as the Government are using their regulating powers to carry it out it is not necessary for anyone else to do it at the same time.
This Commission will have power to do all those things I have enumerated and, in addition, to make any recommendations it likes to the Board of Trade. It will, therefore, have the authority it needs, short of, as I said, the legal power to control imports—a power which must necessarily remain in the hands of the Board of Trade because, quite apart from anything else, that power has been conferred on the Board of Trade by Parliament, and no one but Parliament has the power to confer it on anyone else.
But the right hon. Gentleman is missing the point of speech after speech. Will the Board of Trade exercise the powers itself if the Commission makes a recommendation, or will it ignore the recommendation?
Once again, I was just coming to that point. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is an important point.
I was saying that I have no power to divest myself of this authority and confer it on the Commission or anyone else, but that since the Government are carrying it out there is also no need to because, apart from the legal position, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby said, the actual import control is clearly, in any event, a matter of Government policy. As several hon. Members have said, the Government are, in effect, policing the whole policy.
The pledge I can certainly give is that I and the Board of Trade will consider very seriously any recommendations or advice we receive from the Commission and the Council—and, indeed, any information—before I take decisions on the use of the powers that Parliament has conferred on me and my Department. I can also very readily give the assurance for which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East asked, that I shall always treat their views with the greatest respect.
The assurance I have given is general; that I shall certainly, before taking any decisions, seriously consider any recommendations or suggestions which the Commission likes to make.
The Government have also—and this is another point which, very naturally, was raised by various hon. Members—as part of our general policy for the cotton industry, been steadily pressing the other great industrial countries to import a fairer share of their textile consumption. If the Scandinavian countries have a good record in this respect, it is quite true that other great industrial countries have a very much worse record than they have. I have taken the opportunity at every international meeting to press this, and progress is gradually—one might say, painfully—being made. It is not something in which we can make a dramatic leap forward. The best opportunity now is the Kennedy Round, and it is our firm objective here to ensure that the major advanced countries modify their present import barriers against textile imports from the less advanced countries. I am not at all without hope that something may occur there, but in view of the United Kingdom's present large imports, compared with so many of those other countries, we certainly do not propose ourselves making any further concessions in the Kennedy Round on cotton textile imports.
So much for the international trading aspects of this matter. Meanwhile, in Lancashire itself, despite the destocking movement, which, as I have said, is, I believe, likely to be temporary, and despite some alarmist statements made about unemployment, I think that we should recognise that even at the winter peak in February, and at a time when the end of the surcharge has coincided with the worst of this recession, unemployment in the North-West Region as a whole in February was only 2.5 per cent., or slightly less than the national average.
Indeed, in the cotton belt itself, which might have been expected to be worst affected, it was only 2.6 per cent., or exactly the same as the national average. Even in the most heavily concentrated cotton towns, even in February, it was only, in a very few cases, over 3 per cent.
I think that this absence of serious unemployment in Lancashire, even in midwinter, is extremely creditable and is due to the fact that Lancashire has been outstandingly successful in bringing in new and diversified industry and employment as the cotton labour force has contracted. I think that most people recognise this, and it is going on now.
Certainly, as we all know, a number of individual mills have closed; but in most cases—I do not say all—this has been part of rationalisation schemes designed to concentrate output on the most efficient units. It is the more encouraging, I think, to learn that in a large number of cases the old or fairly old mills—we hear about closures, but we do not always hear this—are being taken over by new and expanding industries which will bring more diversified work and life to the cotton towns.
I have been inquiring into the use of these old mills, and at my request I have been given by Viyella, which has been mentioned this evening, some striking evidence of the extent to which these mills are being rapidly bought for use by industries often new to the area. In some cases recently it has only been a matter of a week or two after the announcement of a closure when they have been taken over by new industries.
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He may be interested to know that only a few hours ago, before this debate began, I was talking to the Chairman of the Viyella International Corporation in this Palace. He could not wait for the debate to start, because he had other appointments.
That may have been the experience of his corporation in finding new occupations for the mills, having closed them, but if my right hon. Friend will get in touch with the Director of the Lancashire Industrial Development Corporation—of which, incidentally, I am a member—in Manchester, Mr. Allen, he will find quite a different story—that of the almost impossible task of finding uses for many of the old mills that are littering the countryside and ought to be pulled down. So it is really a wrong-headed picture that my right hon. Friend is giving on this. The Viyella experience is certainly not the experience of many other sectors of the industry.
The interesting thing is that when a large number of these old mills are found to be usable they are being taken over by other interests. Of course, I am in touch with the association mentioned by my hon. Friend.
It is the experience of Vyella that the labour force tends to be higher after the change-over to new industry. Over the last four years or so Vyella has released 5½ million square feet of space and almost all of this has been taken for productive use by other firms often employing more people than before. I could give a list of six or 10 mills taken over. For instance, the Wensley Fold Mill, at Blackburn, was taken in September, 1966, by the Black Corporation, the Astley Bridge Mill, at Bolton, in April, 1966, by Henry Wigfall, and Lever Bridge, also at Bolton, by Lorival Ltd. Imperial Tobacco, British Insulated Cables and many well-known firms have taken mills at Preston, Leigh and Wigan and in other areas and a number of negotiations are going on. If we had more time I could give a long list.
This is not merely a changeover to non-textile industries, but also a modernisation of the textile industry itself. It is converting mills at Burnley and Chorley to more modern textile processes, including warp knitting. I agree with those who say that the industry has a great future. We would be foolish to be too depressed about it. Let us not forget that many modern re-equipped mills are working on three shifts with greater efficiency and lower costs than the older mills a few years ago. This is one reason why we can take a reasonably optimistic view about the future of the industry.
As to new work being brought in, it is clearly in the interests of Lancashire's future that this diversification should take place and continue. The Board of Trade, in its industrial development certificate policy, will assist the development of new industries in Lancashire wherever there are major releases of labour from the cotton trade. We must not forget, however, that only a few months ago there were intense labour shortages in many of these areas and some of the lowest unemployment percentages ever recorded in our history.
When one looks rather further ahead of the future of the industry it becomes clear that a great deal of further technical advances and rationalisation has to be achieved if the industry is to face the fiercer competition we must expect after the global quota comes to an end in 1970. This is the view of the most progressive and constructive minds in the industry. That is why I warmly welcome the productivity survey now being conducted by the Textile Council which is likely to be even more vital for the industry's future than the advice it gives us on imports.
Changes in demand and changes of technique are moving rapidly, for instance, towards the new fibres and towards warp knitting. Unless Lancashire keeps pace with them it is bound to be left behind, whatever we do about imports or anything else. We can congratulate ourselves and the industry that big advances in output per man with three-shift working, with notable help from the trade unions, have increased in recent years. Otherwise, the industry would have contracted very much faster than it has. We should pay tribute to the co-operation which both unions and management have shown in contributing to this achievement. Nevertheless, we are not complacent as well as not being unduly pessimistic. I hope that we shall not be either. In spite of the increased success in recent years, the figures of productivity in the United Kingdom industry, compared with their competitors show that we have a long way to go.
I will quote a few figures which we ought to face. If we ignore wages and comparative wages levels altogether and consider yarn production per spindle as measured by kilograms per year, the figure for 1964, the latest year for which we have the G.A.T.T. figures, was 43·5 in the United Kingdom, compared with 53 in Italy, 63 in France, 65 in Japan, 71 in Belgium, 68 in Austria and 86 in Portugal—So it is not just a matter of wage levels in Portugal—and 126 in the United States. If we consider cloth production per loom the comparison is rather more favourable to the United Kingdom. The figure was 2,100 here, which is better than Portugal or Japan, but worse than France or Austria and slightly less than half that of Belgium and of the United States.
We must not avert our eyes from these facts, either. If our productivity is lower than that of other countries it is bound to encourage imports and hamper exports.
They have protected markets and we to a great extent have a protected market, also. It is not the only element in determining productivity, as the hon. Member knows quite well.
It is essential, if we are to make the industry prosperous, both in periods of recession such as in the last few months, and periods of boom such as 1965 to 1966, for all concerned to press on even more rapidly with the conversion of the industry into a multi-fibre, multi-process industry that is more economical in manpower than it is already. This has to be done if textile manufacturing in this country is to become really efficient and survive after the present five years breathing space, as I believe it can.
We have many advantages, so let us not be too depressed or pessimistic. We have bigger units in the industry with bigger resources. We have the reorganised Textile Council and the Imports Commission as promised, and the protection of the comprehensive quota system for several years ahead. I hope, therefore, that the best possible use will now be made by the industry of the time left to make itself viable. My Department will do everything possible to see that it is.