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Cotton Import Committee (Report)

Volume 499: debated on Tuesday 22 April 1952

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

54. Mr. F. J. ERROLL,—To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will now make an announcement about the Government's intentions with regard to the recommendations contained in the Hopkins Committee Report.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to answer Question No. 54.

The Report of the Cotton Import Committee, which my noble Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and I set up, has been laid before Parliament, and is now available in the Vote Office.

The Committee, whose terms of reference were to consider how, in the current foreign exchange position, cotton could best be supplied to the United Kingdom cotton industry, included representatives of the cotton industry, the cotton merchants, the trade unions, the Cotton Board, and the Raw Cotton Commission, under the Chairmanship of the right hon. Sir Richard Hopkins. I am glad to say its Report is unanimous. I am sure that the House would wish me to express our gratitude to the Chairman and members for the work they have done.

The main feature of the Report is the recommendation that each year spinners will be given an option to buy their cotton on their own account, using merchants as they wish. The Raw Cotton Commission will continue to supply those who choose to buy from it. The Report recommends that the spinner shall make his choice annually of how he wishes to buy all his cotton in each of the main types. So long as the import of particular growths, for example U.S. cotton, has to be restricted for currency reasons, each spinner who chooses to buy these growths on his own account will be entitled to import a share calculated on the same basis as will apply to the Raw Cotton Commission. Entitlements shall be transferable, so that spinners can thereby obtain the cotton best adapted to their particular requirements.

It is recommended that the Raw Cotton Commission shall provide appropriate futures cover arrangements for those spinners who do their own buying and for the merchants who serve them. The Report also recommends the setting up of a Panel to advise on the administration of the scheme.

Her Majesty's Government accept the recommendations in the Report. Arrangements are being made to put them into effect as soon as possible, so that they may operate during the forthcoming buying season.

Is the President aware that these steps to freedom will be greeted with great satisfaction by all concerned, and can he say if any legislation will be necessary to give effect to these proposals?

No legislation will be required to give effect to these proposals, as action can be taken by administrative steps under the existing law.

I should like to join with the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating the Committee on the speed with which it discharged its task, for this is a most technical and complicated problem, and I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to reserve their judgment on the merits of the proposals until they have had a further opportunity to consider them.

In the meantime, perhaps I may put three questions to the right hon. Gentleman for clarification of the issues which are involved. The first concerns the extent to which the scheme involves the reopening of the Liverpool Cotton Exchange, and whether the Exchange will be able to deal in futures; secondly, whether any additional dollar expenditure will be involved; and, finally, whether the trade unions will be represented on the panel which is to be set up to advise on the administration of the scheme?

On the question of futures, the arrangements suggested, which are, as the hon. Gentleman says, somewhat complex, are set out fully in the Report, and provide that the Raw Cotton Commission should provide the futures cover. With regard to dollar expenditure, no additional dollar expenditure will be involved under the proposals in the Report, but those spinners or merchants who opt to buy American types on their own will, of course, get a dollar allocation for the purpose. With regard to the third point, I have not yet discussed in full with my noble Friend the constitution of the advisory panel, but I should certainly think that the trade unions, which have made a most valuable contribution in these discussions, will be represented.

On a point of order. May I ask whether a copy of this reply has been supplied to the Opposition Front Bench and not afforded to the hon. Gentleman who asked this Question, because it would appear to me that the three questions asked by the hon. Gentleman opposite could not have been prepared in advance unless a copy of the answer had been supplied to him in advance. [Interruption.] I am raising an issue on behalf of the whole of private Members of this House. I do not think the hon. Gentleman opposite could have asked those questions unless he had had the answer supplied to him in advance.

In reply to my hon. Friend, I extended what I think is the normal courtesy; that is, I supplied a copy of the answer both to my hon. Friend who asked the Question and the hon. Gentleman opposite.

Further to that point of order. After many years in this House, I have never yet been given an advanced copy of an answer to a Question. [Interruption.] I do wish hon. Members opposite would restrain themselves. I say that I have never been given the answer to a Question before it was asked, and, therefore, I want to know why the hon. Member for Altrincham (Mr. Erroll) and the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) were given the answer before this Question was asked, and without knowing that it would not be reached in the ordinary way?

Is it not obvious to the whole House that this is not the Question of the hon. Member for Altrincham (Mr. Erroll) but that of the President of the Board of Trade, and that all that the hon. Member for Altrincham did was to sign it?

May I correct the erroneous impression given by the hon. Member? I have been repeatedly putting down Questions of my own composition to the Minister.