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Pottery And Earthenware Industry

Volume 345: debated on Thursday 6 April 1939

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2.59 p.m.

I desire to raise a question affecting an important industry in this country, which has not received from the country and the House the attention which it ought to have received. Let me make it quite clear that I never expected a representative of the Board of Trade to be present this afternoon. All that I desire to do is to place on record some facts and to back up those facts with some observations, and to appeal to the President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary for Overseas Trade, and the Department of the Board of Trade during the Recess, and in the first few days after the Recess, to give attention to the facts that I have put forward, and the appeal that I make. I propose to put down a number of questions later in order that action may be taken upon the question that I am raising to-day.

When the President of the Board of Trade was dealing with the position of the cotton industry, the "Manchester Guardian" made use of the following statement.
"At this stage it is not much use arguing first principles. The important thing is to get some sort of rational organisation in the cotton industry, and—the Government and the industry being what they are—the Bill offers the only practicable way of getting it while there is an industry left to organise."
It is with that statement in view that I desire to raise the question of the position of an industry for which I have a certain amount of responsibility, because I represent in this House the area in which it is situated. I wish to deal with the pottery and earthenware industry. From time to time the position of the cotton industry has been dealt with, the mining industry, transport and other industries, but the industry for which I am speaking has not received the attention of the Board of Trade and the House that it ought to have done. There are employed in that industry in the country approximately 75,000 workpeople, of whom 67,000 are employed in North Staffordshire alone. Seventy-five per cent. of the total output of the pottery industry is produced in one concentrated industrial area in North Staffordshire. The condition of this industry is very important for the economic life of that area, for the shopkeepers, the municipalities and the whole of the people living in the area. It is with that in view that I raise the queston to-day.

Research and invention have been devoted in this country to improving the position of this industry. Very highly skilled people have been drawn into the industry, and the municipalities have spent a great amount of money in playing their part in encouraging the workpeople to develop their minds so far as art is concerned. The factories have been and are being modernised, and we have now reached the stage of perfection in the production of our products that they are a delight to all who see them. The principal municipality in this area is that of Stoke-on-Trent, and the municipality and the Pottery Committee of the Council for Art and Industry have played their part in improving the products and providing educational facilities for art and research. That is the background of the question that I am bringing before the House.

I want to deal very briefly with the changed conditions of world trade. We cannot afford to carry on in this country in the same way we have done from 1830 to 1930. We are living in a completely changed world, as a result of the economic developments that have taken place and new social forces are gathering strength arising out of these economic developments. Since 1934 a new alignment of forces, both political and economic, have been brought about, as a result of these changes, and there will be very serious consequences to this country unless we take adequate steps to deal with the effect of these forces on industry. So far as this country is concerned we have no aggressive intentions, but we have been forced to embark on a huge expenditure on our armed Forces in order to equip ourselves to defend this country in the event of an international emergency. I contend that we should apply the same policy to the economic condition of the industries of this country if we are to hold our own in the future.

It must be remembered, also, that this country is a relatively small island, with a huge population, dependent on its export trade, and which has built up, after years and years of development, a relatively high standard of living. While not reaching so high a standard as some of us hope may yet be reached, it is, nevertheless, a higher standard than that which obtains in many other parts of the world. Therefore, those who represent industrial centres want the Government to take action in order to safeguard our standard of living, and, if possible, to improve upon it, in order that we may further develop the social services of the country. We are all involved in this and it is most important that, just as we have dealt with other industries, we should also endeavour to deal with those which have not yet received much attention. In the Explanatory Memorandum to the Cotton Industry Bill it was stated:
"It is proposed to set up a Cotton Industry Board, with certain powers and functions for securing the better organisation of the industry, a Representative Advisory Council of the industry to advise the Cotton Industry Board, and an independent Cotton Industry Advisory Committee to advise and assist the Board of Trade in matters relating to the industry.…
Clause 20 provides for a contribution from the Exchequer towards the expenses incurred by the Board under this head, for five years beginning with 1940."
My purpose in calling attention to that is to point out that if it is right to apply that principle to the cotton industry it is equally right to apply it to other exporting industries of this country, and, therefore, I want to ask the President of the Board of Trade why, if the principle is correct, leave other industries alone until they get into the state in which the mining industry is and in which the cotton industry is. Has not the time arrived when the principle of that Bill, if it is correct, should be applied to other industries in order that they may be safeguarded and improved upon wherever possible. In the pottery industry we have suffered from price-cutting for years and years. It has had a serious effect on manufactures and a very deadening effect on the workpeople. We have been struggling as individual units against most highly organised competition, which in many cases receives a State subsidy, with which individual units cannot compete. I have in mind two individual firms who have been seriously affected by long hours and low wages and, therefore, we are bound to be concerned about the position.

In addition to that we are finding increasingly throughout the world that more and more trade restrictions and the effect of subsidies on the cost of production, is having a serious effect on the industry for which I am speaking. Millions of pounds have been voted by this House to back up industry in this country in various ways, and I ask: Has not the time arrived when the Board of Trade should more and more take the initiative to organise industry into industrial units, in order to get scientific State intervention in connection with the export industries of this country? A few days ago, the President of the Board of Trade stated that the Government were going to make grants to the shipping industry. These included £2,750,000 a year for five years for tramp shipping, £500,000 a year for the encouragement of shipbuilding, £10,000,000for loan purposes, and £2,000,000 for the purchase of old vessels. I am not speaking critically of this, because I think that owing to the serious situation we are in and the stage of development at which we have arrived, it is necessary that something of this character should be done. What I am pointing out is that these subsidies, grants and loans have to be borne, to a certain extent, by the industry for which I am speaking, and it is not right to give treatment of this character to certain industries while industries of the sort for which I am speaking have to struggle on as small units.

One reason I raise this matter is that I saw a statement in the "Manchester Guardian" on 2nd April that Germany was preparing to allocate some £40,000,000 for the promotion of Germany's foreign trade. Germany has taken over the Sudetenland. The Sudeten-landers are very fine people, having some fine craftsmen in the industry with which I am concerned. About 12 months ago, I had the honour of taking a few of these people round the House, and they spoke in glowing terms of our procedure and of our ways of life in this country. The productive capacity of the industry in the Sudetenland is very great, and I have seen that Germany is taking a bigger proportion of the clay and minerals which this industry needs. They are going to use them in the Sudetenland. 'Therefore, hon. Members will realise why some of us are very much concerned about the growth of State subsidies to industries of this sort, and the proposal to spend £40,000,000 in giving a fillip to Germany's export trade.

I would point out that the pottery industry in this country has received no financial assistance. I do not ask for such assistance, but I do ask that facilities shall be granted for them to have the same facilities as other industries in regard to the fixing of an economic level of prices in order that the economic position of the industry may be improved. I want to place a few facts on record in order that they may be examined. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) will give me a little support if he thinks this case is being built up on correct principles, in order that we may be associated in this appeal to the Board of Trade. I have in my possession statement made by representative people in the industry. First of all, Colonel Howson, of the firm of Messrs. George Howson and Sons, in addressing a meeting of the Pottery Managers' Association on the position of the pottery and earthenware industry, said that, while the pottery industry was one of the oldest skilled trades, the sanitary pottery section had become important only with the development and improvement of sanitation and the efforts for better health, comfort and well-being of the community. He went on to say that the sanitary earthenware trade was going through a rather quiet time at the moment owing to the European troubles which had upset the export trade. They were also faced with tariff barriers which, in some cases, seemed to be insurmountable.

He also pointed out that foreign competition was serious because it was the easiest-made and most profitable articles that were turned out by the foreigners who were very cunning in the marketing of their wares. Indications of foreign origin on articles were very often placed where they could not readily be seen. He added that many people would be surprised to know the large amount of foreign ware that was sold even in the Potteries. Mr. Tom Simpson, chairman of the National Pottery Council recently addressed representatives of the industry on selling prices and wages in the industry. He said that the pottery manufacturers had resorted to cut-throat competition which had serious effects upon the industry. He went on to say—and I wish that the OFFICIAL REPORT would put this in black type, in order that the Board of Trade may take note of it because it is the core of the question— that the prosperity and welfare of the industry did not lie in voluntary agreements alone, but in the establishment of agreements which would be legal and binding. I contend that the Board of Trade ought to take the initiative in organising the industry so that these agreements will be made legal and binding. Finally he said that all industries should bear their fair share of the country's burden. If an industry could not do it then the necessary machinery should be put into operation to ensure that that industry would be run on a sound basis, for the good of all employed in it and the nation as a whole.

Those are respresentative opinions which I want to put on record in order that the Board of Trade may see that I am not raising this question as an individual. The figures of Empire imports are very interesting. I find that in 1937 Canada imported £712,083 worth of china and earthenware from Great Britain and £151,371 worth from foreign sources. South Africa imported from Britain £177,119 worth and from foreign sources £139,446 worth. Foreign competition is not only affecting the market in this country but is making serious inroads in our Dominions and Colonies. I find that Great Britain, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand together bought a total of £2,039,278 worth of British goods and imported £1,588,923 from foreign sources. That applies only to five countries in the Empire—while the total unemployed in the industry in this country in February, 1938, was 18.8 per cent. and in 1939, 27.7 per cent. Had there been time, I should have got more facts put upon record, but I propose to send these statements on to the Board of Trade in order that they may be examined there. I will content myself by putting on record that the ratio of imports to the total home consumption in 1933 was 7.85 per cent., whereas in 1937 it was 25.76 per cent. These figures are indicative of the trend of trade in the pottery industry.

When the Cotton Bill was going through the House, Members on both sides were concerned about the parasitical position in many cases of the merchants. I have in my hand a circular sent out by merchants in Manchester which makes use of the following phrase:
"These beautiful examples of native workmanship are offered at a price within the reach of most people, only because the cost of living in India is so low and the native is content with very little remuneration."
Here is another one, sent out by merchants:
"Large supplies (of sanitary ware) are coming through weekly from the Continent, and to eliminate any delay in the delivery of your order, we strongly advise you to let us have your specification at your earliest opportunity."
We cannot afford any longer to tolerate this kind of thing in this country. If we are to hold our own against the fierce competition which we have to face from industries organised with State backing and State control in many cases, we cannot afford to go on in that way. The pottery industry has also been affected by the serious manipulations in many cases of the departmental stores. The manufacturers, after pooling their accumulated experience, in most cases can earn only 6 per cent. on their capital, whereas we find in the departmental stores 20, 30, and 40 per cent. and bonus shares being paid out year after year, just for handing this material over the counter. The people who are responsible for making the material, the manufacturers of it, average only 6 per cent. on their capital. and our people are not getting out of the industry what they should, with the result that we are getting into a very serious position.

As a result of the good feeling in the industry, the trade unions have negotiated reforms such as holidays with pay, and the Home Office is more and more paying attention to the industry in order to prevent the development of silicosis, which has had such a serious effect upon our people during the last 100 years. As a result of the action taken by the Home Office, this disease is more and more being eliminated. The point that I wish to make is that the Board of Trade will have to pay attention to the industry if it is to be served with that attention which the Home Office is devoting to those industrial diseases from which we have suffered for so long.

In conclusion, I would appeal for some constructive action to be taken, and I would suggest, first of all, that the President of the Board of Trade should instruct a number of his advisers, particularly those whose duty it is to be familiar with this section of industry, to examine the state of the industry, and that then he should meet representatives of the industry, with a view to calling a conference of the whole of the industry, in order that it can be organised on a basis of co-operation, to eliminate internal competition, to equip itself to be able to hold its own in foreign competition, to improve output, and at the same time to play its part in improving the economic position of the country as a whole. Although I did not expect a representative of the Board of Trade to be present to-day—I want to make that clear—I expect them to examine the statement I have made and to consider what can be done, and, if possible, take action on the lines I have set out.