HC Deb 09 July 1973 vol 859 cc1008-10
14. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many British shoe manufacturers have closed down each year since 1970; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Anthony Grant

I regret that the information is not available because no separate records are kept of closures in the footwear industry. There has been some rationalisation and changes of ownership. Production in the footwear industry is currently running at a high level.

Mrs. Short

Is the Minister aware that I have a list of 15 firms which went out of business last year involving approximately 3,000 redundancies? That is a matter of very great concern, especially as many of the smaller firms which have been made over or which have gone bankrupt catered for the rather unusual sizes which are required and which the shoe chains do not bother with. Clearly this is a matter for the consumer as well.

Is the Minister aware that, due to competition from Common Market countries, the British shoe trade is certainly facing a great deal of difficulty? Is he aware that the French shoe manufacturers, for example, are shortly opening a London office which will make further onslaughts on the British shoe trade? What will he do about it?

Mr. Grant

As regards the rundown in the industry, it is true that employment in the industry has been diminishing since 1966—a substanial amount was lost during the period of the previous administration—but this has mostly been due to rationalisation. [Interruption.] Most of the people who have been made redundant have found alternative employment or it has been a case of natural wastage. Production in the shoe industry so far this year is running well ahead of the level of 1970 and import growth has eased considerably. In our discussions with the industry it was made clear to us that the industry welcomed our entry into Europe, which has been a great advantage to it.

Mrs. Short

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Did I mishear the Minister? Did he say that he had no figures and could not give them? It seems that he is comparing the present situation with what happened when the previous administration were in office? Has he the figures or has he not?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Dr. Stuttaford

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is another danger facing the shoe industry? In my constituency there may be short-time working if nothing is done about shortage of PVC. Is my hon. Friend aware that that shortage is being exploited and exacerbated by the manufacturers who are gambling on yet another commodity market?

Mr. Grant

I accept what my hon. Friend says. There are certain difficulties about shortages in that respect which affect the whole of industry and not only the footwear industry. That is a separate matter which the Government are considering carefully.

Mr. Greville hauler

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in cities such as Leicester, which depend greatly on the shoe industry, the words "rationalisation" and "natural wastage" mean nothing to the people who are thrown out of work through closures? What is he prepared to do to make more and not fewer jobs in these industries?

Mr. Grant

I should have thought that the evidence shows quite clearly that in Leicester there has been a substantial fall in the unemployment figures. In fact, the figures are well below the national average. Further, there has been a great increase in the number of vacancies in Leicester.