HC Deb 15 December 1975 vol 902 cc952-5
14. Mr. Madden

asked the Secretary of State for Trade how many requests he has received since 1st January 1975 for the introduction of selective import controls on textiles.

Mr. Deakins

About 265. Of these, about 225 have been requests for general controls on textiles and clothing imports, while about 40 have related to particular products.

Mr. Madden

Does my hon. Friend accept that that reply shows the extensive agreement within the textile industry that import controls would be helpful and useful to the industry? Does he further accept that there is great anxiety in the industry and eagerness for a reply to two questions? First, when will the Government act on import controls for textiles? Second, when they act, will those controls be wide ranging and effective?

Mr. Deakins

All of us in the Government are impressed with the joint approach of the textile industry, as with that of other sensitive industries, in the matter of safeguarding employment. We are well aware of the anxiety, But I remind my hon. Friend and those who think as he does that we already have a considerable number of import controls on textiles, which were detailed the last time that my hon. Friend asked a similar question, on 3rd November. As for the other questions, may I, with respect, ask my hon. Friend to await the statement which I know he and the whole House are expecting later this week?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

The Secretary of State earlier mentioned the 33 per cent. import penetration of the British car industry. Is the Minister aware that the textile industry has been penetrated to the extent of 60 per cent.? Will he hurry up in coming forward with an announcement of quantitative controls? Will he, further, consider a long-term regulator for the British textile industry? Such a regulation is urgently required.

Mr. Deakins

The multi-fibre arrangement under GATT, which the Community is negotiating on our behalf with a number of lciw-cost suppliers, is the real long-term regulator, because it involves the concept of burden sharing. As the House will know, this country has borne more than its fair share of textile and clothing imports from low-cost countries, and that burden will be gradually shared out between us and the other members of the Community. As for imports generally, and import penetration, in most textile sectors imports have been falling this year and, in the main, so has import penetration. However, imports of woollen and worsted yarns and fabrics and of man-made fibre cloth have risen. It is a mixed picture. In clothing, import penetration in knitwear and hosiery has risen, but the figure in other types of made-up clothing has remained fairly steady.

Mr. Richard Wainwright

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is no valid meaning in the term "the textile industry," since it consists of many separate and distinct industries, and that there is a danger of damaging the export prospects of certain textile industries by generalising on the basis of others?

Mr. Deakins

That is certainly a consideration that the Government and my Department have very much in mind.

Mr. Skinner

Why does my hon. Friend not refrain from answering all the questions which these other countries throw up arising out of our desire to protect the jobs of British workers? As my hon. Friend was an anti-Common Market campaigner, like me, what does he think of the argument that although we have to suffer wide-scale import controls on nearly all our basic foodstuffs we are running away from the question in terms of textiles and all the other things that involve his Department?

Mr. Deakins

I agree with my hon. Friend about the need to protect the jobs of British workers. Where I think he and I, and perhaps other hon. Members, would differ slightly is on the question whether import controls, whether general or selective, would, on balance, protect more jobs than they would lose. On the few occasions so far on which we have applied special import controls—I could quote a couple of examples, if my hon. Friend would like them—we have lost as many jobs as we have gained, and we have lost them in areas that should be developing British industry for the future rather than in industries which are at present contracting.

Mr. Higgins

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that what is urgently required is faster and more effective action against dumping, and that there is considerable dissatisfaction with the help that his Department gives to those who are seeking to establish the facts in a specific case? Second, referring to the unsatisfactory answer that his right hon. Friend gave to Question No. 2, will the Minister, lest there should be any doubt about it, again confirm that on import controls the Government will take no action that will be contrary in any way to our international agreements?

Mr. Deakins

On the second part of that question, I think that my right hon. Friend gave a perfectly satisfactory answer. As for import controls generally, and the concern that has been expressed, we have met the CBI to discuss these matters and the anti-dumping measures that we can take to help. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I think that we have satisfied the representatives of British industry—the industrialists in particular—that the anti-dumping measures that we are taking and the attitude that we are adopting in the Department of Trade are different from what they were in previous decades, and that we are now acting as speedily as is possible under the terms of the GATT Anti-Dumping Code and our own legislation of 1969.

Back to