Textile Council (Dissolution)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th December 1971.

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Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury 12:00 am, 14th December 1971

I beg to move, That the Textile Council (Dissolution) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 16th November, be approved. It would be easier if I were to deal with the order briefly and, with the leave of the House, reply to any questions raised in debate. I hope that the House will excuse me, therefore, if I confine myself initially to the dissolution of the council.

I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it would be appropriate to discuss at the same time the second Motion, That the Textile Council Committee (Discharge) Order 1971, a draft of which was laid before this House on 16th November, be approved. It deals with the dissolution of the Textile Committee. Although it is a separate order, it would be appropriate for both orders to be discussed together.

The council was set up in 1948 under the Industrial Organisation and Development Act, 1947, and originally named the Cotton Board. It has had, therefore, a history of 24 years of distinguished service. I am sure that the House will bear with me if I mention one or two of the salient features of the council's history.

In 1959 the council was concerned with the reorganisation of the cotton industry, through the medium of the committee which is the subject of the second order. It would be appropriate to say that that major reorganisation of the industry, entailing the scrapping of machinery and compensation for redundant workers in the industry, was carried through with great success and great expedition. It is right to pay tribute to Lord Rochdale, who was chairman at that time, and Sir Anthony Burney, who was the executive, the person who put the scheme into effect at that time.

A sum of £38.9 million was spent on the reorganisation of the cotton industry, of which the Government of the time contributed £24.7 million. It did not, I fear, come up to the full expectation and did not go as far as the council had hoped in reorganising the industry. But I feel that undoubtedly the verdict of history will be that this was a successful operation in adaptation, for which the council should be given full credit.

In 1967 it brought into its ambit the man-made fibres and extended its title to be that of the Textile Council. From 1966 to 1969 the council was concerned with a major inquiry into the productivity and efficiency of the textile industry. All who have read the report which it produced will agree that it was a most comprehensive, penetrating and full document, which earned the commendation of all concerned with the cotton textile industry.

Sir Frank Rostron was then Chairman. He was succeeded by Sir James Steel in 1968. The Director-General is Mr. T. D. F. Powell. I should also pay tribute to Mrs. C. M. Miles, who was the independent member of the council who did a great deal of work preparing the report and was responsible for drafting a considerable amount of it. That document was the basis of the reorganisation of the industry which has been taking place, and it led to the suggestion that the tariff should be imposed upon cotton imports from the Commonwealth, a suggestion which was accepted by the Government of the day and confirmed by this Government.

It is now thought appropriate by the council and the vast majority of people in the industry that it should give way to the British Textile Confederation, which will be a wider body embracing further sections of the industry. It is the council itself that has suggested that it should be wound up. The industry believes that it is not suited to present needs, and wishes to have a body covering a wider spread of the industry. This is particularly appropriate now that there are three large firms in the industry which cover a third of production, and the Government approved the suggestion by the council that it should give way to the wider body.

This is a suitable occasion to pay tribute to the council's achievements. I do not believe that it is very controversial that it should now end. During the council's time there have been excellent labour relations in the industry and a commendable common approach to the industry's problems by management and unions sitting together on it. It has, through its handling of the reorganisation by the committee, carried through a major act of restructuring. The comprehensive study leading to the tariff was one of the best studies of that sort into an industry.

I should say a word about the method of dissolution of the council. The plan is that it should cease normal operations on 29th February next year. That is not a common date in our calendar, but it is the date by which the council believes that it can complete its business. My Department will continue to wind up any loose ends of business which remain after that date.

It is expected that there will be a surplus of about £150,000 of the council's revenue at the time of winding up, and it has provisionally allocated about £53,000 for its productivity centre, which will be run by a new company to be formed. In addition, £20,000 is to be provided for the British Textile Employers Association, which will enable it to carry on the useful statistical services performed by the council; £11,000 for the British Textile Confederation; and £5,000 for the Cotton and Allied Trades Joint Federation. It has also made provision for £135,000 to be made available to the Shirley Research Institution, with the possible addition of up to £50,000 later if funds permit.

I think that the House will agree that those arrangements are satisfactory and will welcome the new British Textile Confederation. The Department looks forward to happy, congenial and close relationships with that new body, representing as it will the wider industrial grouping which is now thought desirable. It is commendable that this new organisation can launch itself as an independent body and without a statutory basis. I hope that it will achieve all that has been achieved by the Textile Council, and even more.

I am sure that the House would like me to take this opportunity of paying tribute to those who have worked in the old Textile Council and made it the success it has been, and saying that, although we look forward to an equally successful future, we are not slow to recognise what has been a successful experiment in industrial reorganisation.