HC Deb 17 July 1972 vol 841 cc8-11
8. Mr. Luce

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will seek to ensure that the interests of consumers and consumer organisations in the United Kingdom are appropriately represented on the Economic and Social Committee of the European Economic Community; if he will make a statement on the steps he is taking for that purpose.

Mr. John Davies

I accept that consumers' interests have a good claim to representation. This is being taken into account in the consideration now being given to the task of finding suitable United Kingdom members for the Committee.

Mr. Luce

I am grateful for that encouraging reply. Since it is vital for the consumer to be adequately represented at the formative stage of directives and regulations in the Common Market, and since the present procedures are totally inadequate, should we not make certain that we have the strongest possible consumer representation amongst the 24 nominees to the Economic and Social Committee of the EEC?

Mr. Davies

I can give that assurance to my hon Friend, and he no doubt welcomed, as I did, the recent announcement by the Commission about the strengthening of its support on consumer matters.

Mr. Benn

Would the Government's picture not be more credible if they took a greater interest in consumer protection in the United Kingdom and showed some readiness to renegotiate the common agricultural policy, which will give a further lift to prices in 1973 and seriously affect the rate of inflation?

Mr. Davies

The right hon. Gentleman's question might lead us very far from the original Question, and I will not pursue it. However, I must point out that the Government's record on consumer protection is very satisfactory.

31. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has recently received from textile interests concerning the European Economic Community negotiations; and what replies he has sent.

Mr. John Davies

Recent representations from the textile industry have covered a wide variety of issues, including our negotiations with the European Economic Community. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade told the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Joel Barnett) on 5th June, my Department will keep the industry and the House informed at appropriate times.—[Vol. 838, c. 2#3.]

Mr. Meacher

Is the Secretary of State aware that the estimate quoted by his right hon. Friend of 3,000 to 5,000 redundancies following the proposed ending of quotas on cotton textiles is regarded by both employers and unions alike in Lancashire as complacently conservative? In view of the special plight of the textile industry if Britain enters the EEC, will the Secretary of State at least commit himself to invoking Article 135 to give special protection to the industry, at least during the transitional period?

Mr. Davies

As I recall it, the figures quoted by my right hon. Friend were not of his devising. They were figures put to him on an advisory basis by those concerned with the industry, so they cannot be brushed aside very easily. The provisions of Article 135 exist in order to cater for a profound disruption of an industry. Undoubtedly the Government would not hesitate in such an event to have recourse to them. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is so. However, the negotiations currently in hand with the Community on these and a wide variety of matters affecting the industry should not be prejudged at this stage. I am hopeful of a satisfactory result.

Mr. Redmond

Whilst accepting that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) always gets his facts and figures wrong in any question, is my right hon. Friend aware that the Textile Industry Support Campaign seems to be very alarmed over the situation regarding the Common Market and is not entirely supported by the whole industry? Is there anything that can be done to dissuade the Textile Industry Support Campaign from quoting rather wild figures of possible unemployment, which I do not think will come about?

Mr. Davies

My hon. Friend is right. The figures quoted by the Textile Industry Support Campaign seem to be grossly exaggerated. I am not unhopeful of the current discussions. So much remains yet to be clarified, both in relation to the position of cotton yarn and other matters which have been raised today. But it would be wrong to prejudge this issue at this stage.

Mr. Joel Barnett

Many people in Lancashire will not be as satisfied with the right hon. Gentleman's bland assurances as was the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton). The people of Lancashire can see that if cotton yarn is imported without quotas they will find themselves—although there may be arguments about the numbers—without jobs. If the right hon. Gentleman wants evidence of numbers in terms of what is happening in Europe, regardless of the precise evidence, he will find that the evidence is clearly there, in the amount of Europe's imports of cotton yarn, despite the fact that there is nominally a non-quota system. Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance now that from 1st January next year he will invoke Article 135 which, as he said, is there for him to use?

Mr. Davies

Whether the figures are those which have been put to me by the hon. Member who tabled the Question or those supplied by the Textile Industry Support Campaign, the numbers are still very much a matter of concern. There is a big problem here. The main reassurance the industry has is the fact that the Government did not hesitate to act forcefully on this subject last year when they were faced with similar problems.

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