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Textile Industry (Government Orders)

Volume 499: debated on Thursday 24 April 1952

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31.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many workers in the textile industry he estimates will be provided with employment, and for how long a time, as a result of the placing of additional orders on Government account for goods worth some £20 million or £25 million; and what steps are being taken, by these or other means, to alleviate unemployment and short-time working among textile workers in Braintree and Bocking, Essex.

I cannot give a more precise indication than one on the lines given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill on 7th April last, namely, that £20 million spent on textiles might provide employment for 20,000–30,000 people for a year.

As regards the second part of the Question, I think it unlikely that any of these orders will be placed in Braintree and Bocking because the latest figures showed unemployment there to be below the national average, because the area has reasonable opportunities for alternative employment and because I think it in the national interest to concentrate these additional orders in the worst affected areas.

While fully appreciating that point and realising that in my constituency the workers concerned are very few compared with Lancashire, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if, nevertheless, he is not aware that unemployment, even for a few thousands or a few hundreds, means just as much to the men and their families? Will he take note of the fact that that was why I inserted the words "other means" in my Question?

I do not belittle the point made by the hon. Member, but unemployment there is below the national average and below what it was in that district in March, 1950.

Is it not a fact that during the war certain types of armament factories were moved to textile areas and to textile factories and, if that was done, is it not possible to do it again to relieve unemployment?

That matter raises a separate issue, but it has been under discussion.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that however welcome as temporary alleviation these orders based on armaments may be, they provide no sort of long-term or permanent remedy for the crisis now prevailing in the textile industry? Will he do something to persuade his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary not to discourage merchant adventurers from going anywhere in the world where they can find new markets for these goods?