HC Deb 16 March 1967 vol 743 cc705-8
Q2. Mr. Boardman

asked the Prime Minister by what date he expects to implement his plans and undertakings given to textile employers and trade union representatives concerning low-priced textile imports.

The Prime Minister

The Government have fully implemented the plans for the regulation of cotton textile imports referred to by my hon. Friend. Restrictions on the quantities and types of cotton textiles imported from a very large number of countries became effective on 1st January last year. The formation of the Textile Council Imports Commission announced this week by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will enable a watch to be kept on the operation of these restrictions.

Mr. Boardman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when the Foreign Secretary addressed a meeting of textile manufacturers and trade unionists in Manchester, he established enormous confidence in the industry and in the ability of the Labour Government to look after the interests of the industry? Is the Prime Minister aware that nothing that the Government have so far done has satisfied this industry? Will he now, when confidence in the industry and in this Government in this respect is rapidly declining, implement the policy?

The Prime Minister

The Imports Commission announced by my right hon. Friend will undertake all, and indeed more than all, of the advisory functions which my right hon. Friend had in mind in his speech at Manchester. The task of regulating imports is necessarily a function of Government, and I have referred to the action taken by the Government for the first time to regulate these imports.

Mr. Barber

Will the Prime Minister tell the House what will be executive powers of the new Commission?

The Prime Minister

This was dealt with by the President of the Board of Trade on Tuesday. It will advise the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I remember in the years of the deep textile depression—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—from 1957 onwards the Conservative Government did nothing at all about regulation. The executive power must remain with the Government, and this Government have not only taken powers but are using them.

Mr. Robert Howarth

Will my right hon. Friend instruct the Defence and Education Departments to buy British textiles goods at all times?

The Prime Minister

There is a general rule in all Government purchasing to give priority, where possible, to production from within this country, but there cannot be an absolute rule on this—where one does not get value for money this cannot be done.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Would the Prime Minister ask the President of the Board of Trade to disclose the details of the arrangement which he alleges he has come to with the Portuguese Government, because until we know what it is about, what the details are, and what it amounts to, we cannot judge whether it has achieved any more than this rather feeble Commission of the Textile Council about which he boasts so much?

The Prime Minister

I am not aware of the arrangements made with the Portuguese Government about disclosing the details of the agreement. I will certainly take up that point with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that Lancashire is only too well aware of how successive Governments have neglected the cotton textile industry for the greater part of this century? Will he also bear in mind that while the appointment of the Commission announced by the President of the Board of Trade the other day is a necessary, if belated, first step, its success will be judged only in accordance with the extent to which it is able to reduce cotton imports from countries like Portugal with which Lancashire cannot be expected to compete?

The Prime Minister

I cannot agree with my hon. Friend that it is a first step. The first step was the announcement made more than a year ago by my right hon. Friend to introduce the quota system to replace the voluntary quota system. That was a first and most effective step. I know that my hon. Friend recognises the difficulties about Portugal. This was the policy of the previous Government, and it is the policy of the present Government. The removal of tariffs as part of the E.F.T.A. agreement has intensified Portuguese competition.

Mr. Heath

Did not the Prime Minister contradict himself in his last remark? He said that nothing had been done by any previous Government. The Conservative Government negotiated the limitations on textile imports from India, Pakistan and Hong Kong and the voluntary limitations on imports from Portugal and other countries. The problem, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, has always been to prevent the agreements being avoided by other countries. Action was taken. The real problem surely is to get a balance between the textile industry of Lancashire and the textile industries of the developing countries which the Government are pledged to help just as much as we were.

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. On the first part, I answered a Question just now about Government regulation of imports by import restrictions. I sat through all the debates when we were on the benches opposite. After very many months of pressing by the then Opposition—[Interruption.] Certainly. I can remember the debates which we had at the beginning of March, 1957, and my own plan for cotton—action on voluntary regulation for which we had been pressing was not taken for at least 12 months afterwards.