HC Deb 14 April 1976 vol 909 cc1407-25

1.13 p.m.

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Bolton, West)

I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss today the serious problem of the loss of jobs in the textile industry. I raise this matter not only out of concern for the future of textiles but because of a recent development in my constituency, namely, the loss of 500 jobs at one company. This most recent development is the culmination of many problems over a long period and is a situation which will not improve unless the Government take more positive action, including the imposition of import controls, for which the industry and many hon. Members have been pressing for some time.

Bolton is one of the towns well known as an important textile area. Although its industrial base has diversified in recent years, textiles are still important, despite the fact that in recent years we have seen closure after closure. What 20 years ago was a labour force of nearly 20,000 has been reduced to just over 7,000. That is the background against which we now learn that there are to be another 500 redundancies in the textile industry in Bolton.

This is obviously a serious blow to the town and something that should make the Government think again about their attitude to this industry. These 500 redundancies stem from the proposed closure of one mill and a substantial cutback in production at another. The closure is particularly serious because this mill, Union Mill, is one that has occupied an important position in its sector of the industry and has received a considerable amount of investment over the past 10 years. This contradicts the myth sometimes perpetuated that the textile industry is completely out of date and without investment. Some mills similar to Union Mill have received a lot of investment and yet they are still facing closure.

Union Mill produces condenser yarns, which is admittedly a difficult part of the market, as its future prospects are not as good as those for other sectors. The position of this mill has been affected not just by market difficulties but by the serious rise in imports of this yarn over recent years and months. We are now seeing yarn coming into this country from Spain, for example, at prices with which British manufacturers cannot compete. They are prices that in no way reflect recent increases in the cost of raw materials.

The other jobs lost in Bolton are at a weaving mill. Again, the basic cause is competition from imports—competition that the company cannot meet. I hope that the Minister will not tell me today that the company should make a dumping application. Anyone who knows anything about the situation knows that the dumping procedure is woefully inadequate and that the whole burden of proof should be shifted, so that the importer should have to prove that the goods he is bringing into the country are not being dumped, rather than that the British manufacturer should have to do the impossible and obtain evidence from abroad.

The loss of 500 jobs is obviously serious at any time. It is especially serious at the moment, in view of the general level of unemployment in the country as a whole, and in the Northwest and in the textile industry in particular. In the past two years there has been almost a 10 per cent. loss of jobs in the textile and clothing industry. That is far higher than the average for manufacturing industries. In cotton spinning in particular there has been a 20 per cent. loss of jobs in two years. It is this situation about which we have to do something quickly. I mention these figures so that the Minister and the Government will realise just how serious the situation is. It is serious not just because of the loss of jobs but because of the loss of capacity in the industry.

When mills like Union Mill close we are not only losing jobs and throwing people out of work; we are also losing the ability to produce goods, which means that we shall become increasingly dependent on imports. There are two problems facing us. The first is the need for immdiate action to deal with the levels of imports. Although we have to admit that some action has been taken by the Government, it is by no means adequate to give protection to the industry. We have had controls on yarn from Spain and Portugal. These have been welcomed by many, although not all in the industry, but we have seen that piecemeal measures such as this are in no way adequate to meet the situation and to deal with the basic problems facing us.

An example of the ineffectiveness of piecemeal controls came to my attention today, when I received a letter about the problems of imports from Pakistan that are hitting a company which makes underwear in my constituency. At present, there are goods coming from Pakistan which carry no duty and for which no import licence is required. This means, to quote the letter, that as one door to the sale of import goods closes another one opens. We have seen action taken on goods coming from Hong Kong and Portugal, but now Pakistan has stepped in, and goods are coming in cheaply from there.

What we need, and must have, are stricter and reduced quotas, operating immediately. I do not think that the controls have to be across the board, though there are many sectors in all stages of production which need some protection, and the Government should get together with the industry to discuss and determine exactly what is required. It is possible for these controls to be temporary and to be phased out once the world situation improves and world demand picks up, but these controls and import curbs must be introduced now or we shall lose more jobs and more capacity, and in the long run this will be extremely serious for the industry. Although this is a short-term measure, it is essential if the industry is to have a viable future.

The next year will be critical for the industry, because unless there is a return of confidence it will not have a viable future. We have seen a fall in investment over the past year, and unless the industry can be assured that the Government will play their part in ensuring its survival the outlook will be very grim.

What is needed? I think that to deal with the long-term position the Government and the industry must get together and reach the kind of planning agreement situation about which we have been talking for other industries. Part of the agreement will have to be for the industry to invest more and for the Government to recognise that the industry requires assurances that there will be a limit to the amount of imports allowed into this country, particularly in times of recession, such as now.

The timing is right for the Government to start thinking along these lines now, because later this year negotiations will have to start for a renewal of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement. Before then it is important that the Government give a commitment that they will seek a ceiling on the levels of imports, especially in times of depression, and that some form of regulator will be introduced, because without it there will be no possibility of breaking the cycle that we have seen so often, with the industry being left much smaller after each recession. Only if we start talking about this now and taking action along these lines now shall we retain a viable industry.

I remind the Minister that although we are talking about percentages of unemployment and the total number of jobs lost in this industry, we are in the end talking about human problems and the many family difficulties that are emerging in the North-West because of this situation. We are seeing many men and women in their forties and fifties thrown out of work. Sometimes two people in the same family are affected in this way.

We are also seeing a great depression in the industry and, indeed, something that could almost be called despair. I heard yesterday of a weaver who started work in a mill on a part-time basis at the age of 14, during the First World War. She reminded me that after the war workers in the industry took two wage cuts so that the industry could compete with imports. Since then the workers have tolerated a great deal. They have co-operated with rationalisation and with the rundown of the industry. Indeed, it could be said that they have co-operated too much. Now their loyalty to the industry and the Government is being stretched and it is time that they got their position recognised. It is time the Government acknowledged that this is air extremely important industry—one that the country cannot afford to see depressed in the way that is happening now, and one which must have some security in the future.

Many workers in the textile industry cannot understand why the car industry gets so much help and textiles appear to get so little. What we need from the Government is a clear statement of how they see the future of this industry, because without that, and without some assurance that the Government wish to see a textile industry survive in this country, the job situation and employment prospects will be severe and grim.

When I was fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in the debate on the Gracious Speech last year I said that there must be an early introduction of selective import controls to help the textile industry before it was too late. That was last November. We have now seen that it is too late for 500 people in my constituency. I hope that the Government will now not just think about this problem—not just think about the possibility of introducing import controls at some time in the future—but will wake up to the fact that they have to introduce import controls if the industry is to be protected, and will do it sooner rather than later. Unless that action is taken soon we shall not save the jobs remaining in the industry and we shall not see it survive as a viable unit.

It is now up to the Government to take action. It is up to them to give confidence to the industry. It is up to them to work out the industry's future, in conjunction with the management and the work force. There has been a great deal of co-operation between both sides of the industry about the future. The only people who do not seem to be persuaded of the necessity of a policy of this kind are the Government. I hope that with the experience that I have outlined, and the knowledge of the serious blow that Bolton and the textile industry have suffered, the Government will reconsider their position and take immediate action to give the industry the confidence that is needed to ensure that it can survive, that its jobs will remain, and that it has a future in this country.

1.27 p.m.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

Many of my constituents work, or used to work, in the mills to which the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) referred, and they and I are grateful to her for raising this subject today.

All of us, and particularly spokesmen for the Government, have over the last two years or more urged that the industrial base of this country be broadened and that its size be restored to something of what it used to be. But words do not serve to prevent the narrowing and erosion of our industrial base, and nothing seems to be done to prevent it from happening.

The textile industry is a classic example of where words are one thing but deeds are another. I do not wish to make a party point here because successive Governments have indulged in this double talk, and successive Governments have been not so much themselves to blame as that they, or at least one Department of them, have been in the grip of a bureaucracy that does not understand the textile industry and in a sense finds it a nuisance.

From time to time we are told that we are to get action on this vexed question of import quotas. This is not action such as a 20 per cent. cut "across the board" because, although I supported that, I realise that that is what is called "unrealistic". But we have been told that the quotas, at least on some selected lines, will be reduced. That at any rate has been the impression that has been given. But the outcome is never a reduction in any of these imports. The answer is always "The amount by which these quotas would have been increased has been slightly cut. The quotas will still be increased but not by as much as you might otherwise have thought."

So far that seems to have been the only result of all the international agreements, the Multi-Fibre Arrangement, the EEC agreements and all the other manifold agreements dealing with the international textile trade, concerning the victim in the United Kingdom. The only reduction is in anticipated enlargement of the quotas. There is no absolute cut at all. It is for an absolute reduction that I join the hon. Member for Bolton, West in asking the Government to look at the matter seriously and urgently again, if this particular industrial base is not to be eroded beyond repair.

This is a difficult problem but it is an entirely comprehensible problem. The trouble with the textile industry is well known. It is not that it is not efficient. It is not that it has bad designers. It is simply the question of imports. Everyone knows that. Everyone knows that what the industry is asking for is not Government money—which comes as a nice surprise these days—but a reasonable standard of protection against imports which, if not technically dumped, are not priced in a fair way in relation to fair competition. No one who knows anything about the industry can doubt that.

When the industry was lectured, as it was, in a didactic tone by a distinguished civil servant at Harrogate the other day, about how it must invest more and go in for new designs, and generally pull up its socks, that was adding insult to injury. Everyone knows that ever since the 1959 Act it has been those parts of the industry that have invested most and that have pushed out the boat concerning new enterprises that are the first to be clobbered, because their capital costs are higher than the old-fashioned weaving shed with perhaps eight old Lancashire looms. It is those that really try to do their duty by modernising and introducing new designs, which is all very expensive, that are often the first to go. They are the first to go because their capital expenses are too much and they have over-traded.

Therefore, may we have less didacticism to the industry and may we have a little help, or, rather, a lot of help, in ensuring that the general level of imports goes down next year and not up? Only the Government can achieve that.

I am afraid that the Minister of State who is at present on the Government Front Bench is not to blame. It is not his Department. It is the Secretary of State for Trade. We have a new Secretary of State for Trade, and I hope that the message will go from the hon. Gentleman to the new Secretary of State, loud and clear, that whatever the Secretary of State for Industry may wish and whatever his civil servants may wish, it is only the Department of the Secretary of State for Trade that can take us out of our trouble.

1.34 p.m.

Mr. Mike Noble (Rossendale)

I first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) on again taking an opportunity to raise in this Chamber the problems of the textile industry. I think that on the days before every recess since the General Election of October 1974 we have managed a debate or secured some kind of action from the Government, albeit too little, to assist the textile industry.

I welcome the presence in the Chamber of my hon. Friends the Members for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) and for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers), both of whom have been very prominent in the campaign waged in the Chamber to secure assistance for the industry. I also welcome the presence of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry, and I trust that he will report those comments that we make that are more appropriate for other Departments to his right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Trade, the Secretary of State for Employment and, indeed, the Prime Minister—who in answer to a Question only yesterday said that he was very much aware of the problems of the textile industry. May I, through my hon. Friend the Minister of State, assure all my right hon. Friends that they will continue to be aware, and become increasingly aware, of these problems, until we get the kind of action that we are seeking.

I must also comment on the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). Certainly the stance that he has taken on behalf of the textile industry is welcomed on the Government side of the House, but it is in grave contrast to the official point of view of the Conservative Party, which is totally committed against import controls. We welcome the hon. and learned Gentleman's support on that matter.

I wish to deal with two points that have been covered, in part, by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West—the difficulties caused by imports, and the case for Government intervention in the industry.

My hon. Friend dealt very adequately with the statistics of the present situation and the effect on the industry of continuing rising levels of imports, and particularly the effect on employment. We must accept that the Government have taken some action. We have secured some restrictions on imports of Greek and Turkish yarns, and on yarn from Spain and Portugal. What is perhaps more important is that the Govenment have finalised a whole range of agreements through the Multi-Fibre Arrangement, which control the import of textiles from the vast majority of sources.

The fact is, however, that the MFA is similar to a dam. It has been built with great ingenuity, skill and patience, but, unfortunately, the level of the dam is about 3 ft. below the level of the water. Imports continue to come in. We need some marginal improvement there. In conversation with a leading trade unionist in the industry only this morning, I was assured that a marginal improvement under the MFA could have a significant effect on the industy.

Then there is concern about what will happen after 1977 when the present arrangements expire. What are the weaknesses of the MFA? First, we must face the fact that the wrong base year was concluded in the negotiations. Restrictions are based on 1974, which was the year of the highest level of imports. If one starts restricting from the peak of a mountain, there will be very little effect from such an arrangement. I suggest that we should be putting pressure on the EEC to deal with this question of the base year. It is quite ridiculous that Britain, which among all the members of the Common Market is the most affected by imports, should not be allowed to have a bigger say in the question of which year is selected.

The other weakness is that the MFA allows, through the burden-sharing arrangement, a ½ per cent. growth factor in imports. That would be fine if the Minister could give an assurance today that the economy would grow by, say, 3 per cent. or 4 per cent., so that given a ½ per cent. growth in imports, at least the domestic industry would be increasing its share of the market. But as long as we have the present deflationary attitude on the part of the Government, we shall not secure a bigger share, and the ½ per cent. growth factor continues to be a stick with which the industry is beaten. The burden-sharing arrangement means that future burdens may be shared but past burdens borne by our industry continue to remain a very depressing factor on textiles. We shall have to adopt a very firm stance in negotiations in the post-1977 situation if the industry is to be rescued at all.

With regard to dumping, I welcome the fact that the Department of Trade now seems to be operating very swiftly on applications. I note that with leather-coated fabrics this has been the case. I hope that it will continue.

There are other points that need to be made. We still need a more effective policy on marks of origin. It is insufficient to have a mark of origin that says "Made in the United Kingdom" when perhaps the buttons have been sewn on a shirt here and the rest of the shirt has been made up elsewhere, or when the cloth was made elsewhere. We need some kind of mark that will indicate clearly what processes have been carried out in this country so that the vast number of people who wish to buy British can be assured that they are buying an entirely British-made commodity.

We need to be thinking very carefully at this stage about attaching some kind of labour code to the GATT. I come back to the point I made in the debate on international trade. It is quite futile to talk about fair competition when workers in this country have collective bargaining and social security benefits and the industry is competing with overseas industries in which the workers have none of those benefits. As Socialists, we should be concerned not simply with fair trade as understood in GATT—which, in my opinion, is in urgent need of being updated—but with a definition of fair trade which spreads the benefits of trade with the Third World back to workers in this country and not to the multinationals in Japan and the United States.

Before turning to the problems which are more related to the Department of Industry, may I make two other points? We must recognise that the Government's decision to press for a more effective public purchasing policy in relation to British textiles is beginning to show effects. The Lancashire County Council recently turned down a tender for uniforms and accepted a slightly higher tender for uniforms which were made in this country. We are having some effect on the Department of Health and Social Security, and I congratulate the Government on that aspect of policy, but we need to put far more pressure on private retail outlets in this country to make sure that they buy British, and the way to do this is to have an effective origin marking system.

I now turn to problems which are more appropriate to the Department of Industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West mentioned the heavy concentration of the cotton textile industry in the North-West and the social effects of a rundown in that industry. By and large, production is concentrated in the "big four"—Courtaulds, Tootalls, Carrington Viyella and Coates Paton. This fact has enormous significance for regional policy.

If we accept that in Nelson and Colne 40 per cent. of employment is in the textile industry and that in my constituency 51 per cent. is in textiles and footwear, we can see the dangers of allowing a rundown in either of these industries in terms of employment and the social side effects. Where there are whole families working in an individual mill, which is the case with Tootalls in Bolton, the income effects of redundancy do not compare with the effects in other parts of the country.

There is the further important effect of an ageing labour force. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones) said that when an industry closes, older workers are cast into an industrial graveyard—a graphic description but true. The employment alternatives are restricted. Given this situation, the Government need to look carefully at the new tools of industrial and economic policy which were fashioned last year through the Industry Act. The Government should be looking at the textile industry as one place where a planning agreement should be made because by this means some of the gaps which appear in industry could be plugged; but even more important, by such a means those parts of the industry which remain could be given some degree of confidence to continue.

I should like to know what plans the Department of Industry has to extend the planning agreement system in the textile industry. Last October, on the day when the Labour Party Conference ended, I addressed a meeting of the Textile Institute in Blackburn, consisting mainly of people in middle management. I talked to them about our new industrial policy and expressed my view on how it should be extended towards the textile industry. They completely endorsed the need for Government intervention in this way.

May I comment on the agreement which has been waged for 18 months, and in some cases for much longer? This campaign, which started in the first week after the October election, has had some marginal success. We have achieved the restrictions that I have mentioned. Certainly the textile industry has been driven to the forefront of the affairs of the Department of Trade, as was stated recently by the Under-Secretary. I assure the Minister that this campaign will continue. I assure him that the fact that we have a new Secretary of State at the Department and that we had to persuade him to our way of thinking does not dismay us at all and that we shall continue to bloody his shins, as we did his predecessor's until we achieve some success.

1.45 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Industry (Mr. Gerald Kaufman)

My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) referred to the remarkable way in which all my hon. Friends who sit for North-Western constituencies involved in the problems of the textile, clothing and footwear industries have made their presence felt ever since they were elected.

As my hon. Friend has pointed out, the presence in the Chamber today not only of himself but of my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor), Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) and Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) shows that the eve of Easter is not an occasion which will in any way prevent them from pressing their campaign. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West, in an extremely lucid and effective speech, showed that her constituents could not hope for a better spokesman on behalf of their interests than they have in her. My hon. Friend knows me too well to think that I would ever criticise her, but I admit that I felt a certain disappointment at the fact that she did not feel able to acknowledge a little more generously the actions mat the Government have taken to assist the textile industry in the past 18 months. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale made up for that.

As a Lancashire Member, I can understand the concern which hon. Members have expressed about the loss of jobs in the textile industry. I think they are quite right to speak out, regardless of the fact that their party is in power, because they know very well that while it is open to them to criticise their own Government, as they never fail to do, they can hope for more from the present Government than they could from our predecessors—and, indeed, a great deal more has been done.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West referred to the substantial aid that the Government have given to the motor car industry. I am not grumbling at her for doing so, but I would point out that the Chrysler rescue was conditional upon declaring redundant one-third of the work force. I do not know that anybody would be happy if Government assistance were made available—except in the extreme circumstances in which we assisted Chrysler—with that kind of condition attached.

Mr. George Rodgers (Chorley) rose

Mr. Kaufman

I do not think I ought to give way. I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern in this matter and the wonderful job that he has done, but I am under a time limit and I had better respond to what my hon. Friends have said.

I assure my hon. Friends that the concern they have expressed, and which I know they will continue to express until they get action that fully satisfies them, is shared and will continue to be shared by the Government. I know they will agree that no Government have done more, both in terms of our industrial policy and in the extensive protection that we have given the industry. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary suggested, in his recent speech to the annual luncheon of the British Textile Confederation, that the agreements negotiated under the GATT Multi-Fibre Arrangement and the actions we took under the EEC's agreements with its associated States have given the industry, as a whole, greater protection than it has ever had before. Listening to some critics of the Government—though the criticism has not been as vocal as in some other circles—one gained the impression that there was no protection at all for the industry against low-cost imports. My hon. Friends certainly know that that is not so.

The Lancashire industry has the continuation of its restraints on imports of cotton yarn from its traditional suppliers and from Turkey or Greece. Through our action last December it now has restraints on imports of cotton yarn and man-made fibre cloth from Portugal and cotton yarn from Spain. In addition under the agreements concluded under the GATT Multi-Fibre Arrangement, we have extended the existing restraints on woven cotton and polyester-fabric and garments to other countries which have emerged as suppliers to the United Kingdom market.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West referred with some concern to the damage that she feared might eventuate from imports from Pakistan. I assure her that imports of knitwear require an import licence, and duty must also be paid under the United Kingdom tariff. My right hon. Friends the former Secretary of State for Trade and the new Secretary of State for Trade will note what has been said by all my hon. Friends and will realise the seriousness of their threats.

My right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Trade announced on 10th March restraints on the import of woollen suits from the Eastern bloc. The Government have also taken effective action against the famous, or infamous, £4.80 suits, none of which, to our knowledge, has been imported. It is perhaps appropriate to refer here to the comments made by my hon. Friends about the dumping of suits and dumping generally. My right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Trade are most anxious to make effective use of the anti-dumping legislation. In this they have my Department's full support and backing. Dumping is an emotional and complex subject and I shall do what my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale asked and ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade is made aware of the criticisms that have been made.

To return to imports, we have ensured that under the multi-fibre bilateral agreements there is a wide coverage, in terms of both products and countries, on imports of knitwear. Under these same agreements clothing has had the coverage of its existing restraints widened substantially to include all fibres.

These MFA restraints cover imports from India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macao, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and Brazil. Restraints were imposed on Taiwan. But these restraints are not all. Negotiations for further restraints under the MFA have begun with Colombia, Mexico, Yugoslavia and Romania, and are planned with Egypt, Thailand and possible other Eastern bloc countries.

All these restraints are of importance not only to the individual sectors but to the industry as a whole, and to other supplying industries like the textile machinery industry, part of which is, I believe, located in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West. Because of the increasing interdependence of sectors in the industry, a restraint or, for example, knitwear helps the knitters and their yarn suppliers in Lancashire and the man-made fibre industry.

I emphasise to the the House that the coverage of import restraints for the industry as a whole has never been so extensive. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech, we are prepared to consider further selective import controls where they are justified. Indeed, in the EEC we are at present negotiating with Portugal on restraints on other textile imports. Furthermore, as a result of surveillance licensing, which we instituted last April and extended in September to made-ups, we are now negotiating in Brussels restraints on two further products from two Far Eastern suppliers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale was critical of the value of all these restraints because their levels are too high. Certainly, if the Multi-Fibre Arrangement had been negotiated in 1975 the minimum growth rate might well have been lower than 6 per cent. But 1975 was the year of a major recession in the textile cycle whose effects were compounded by general recession and inflation throughout the developed countries. I am confident that, once demand recovers, these restraints will bite and, indeed, we have been told already of orders switched to British manufacturers because of them. I hope that the industry will take full advantage of the restraints. I regret to say that some hon. Members have complained of difficulties in getting some yarns and fabrics from the United Kingdom industry.

My hon. Friends referred—though not over-critically—to the Government's decision to refuse the industry's request to cut imports across the board to a level of 20 per cent. below that of 1974. The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) also referred to that. This was done only after the most careful consideration. Whether hon. Members like it or not, the United Kingdom is a major trading nation—and our balance of payments position demands that we encourage growth in trade. An import cut would inevitably have touched off retaliation, to the loss not only of the textile industry's own exports of £1,093 million in 1975 but to other industries' exports, too. Moreover, in 1975 the country as a whole actually increased its share of world trade at a time when world trade was shrinking.

It is no comfort, but I must tell the House that other textile industries in Europe suffered equally if not worse than our own industry in terms of both employment and profits. From the latest EEC figures available to us, namely, for the period 1971 to 1974, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland all lost more employees than did the United Kingdom.

In terms of output, the index of industrial production snowed a greater fall for the OECD European countries than for the United Kingdom. Output in the United States and Japan also fell more than it did in the United Kingdom. Despite the losses made, for example, by our man-made fibre producers, greater losses were made in Holland, France and Italy.

I quote those figures not out of complacency and not because I like to think that workers in other countries are being damaged, but so that my hon. Friends can see the serious problems—to which they will rightly continue to draw attention—in that context and in proportion. Hard-pressed as was the United Kingdom industry, it did not suffer as badly as did other European countries which similarly did not resort to import cuts.

When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State met the British Textile Confederation earlier this month, he was encouraged by its view that there were now signs that the upturn both in the world economy and in textiles had begun. The United States textile industry has moved back to over 90 per cent. capacity working in three months. There are signs that West Germany and Japan are also on the move.

Within our own industry there is some evidence of marginal improvement. In Lancashire the daily rate of yarn and woven cloth production in January showed an improvement over the third and fourth quarters of 1975. Although there was a slight fallback in February, I understand that the industry is more encouraged by the present level of orders and deliveries. In February 1976 in Lancashire spinning, the Yorkshire wool industry, the hosiery industry and the carpet industry there was a small increase in employment leading to a marginal increase for textiles as a whole. Clothing unemployment has fallen marginally. Overtime working increased in most sectors in February 1976.

I am not saying that the end of what I know has been a long and harrowing road is in sight, but I think that we may have turned the corner. There is, therefore, before us the prospect of export-led growth. I am glad to note that, with the exception of wool, all our exports, from man-made fibres to clothing, increased in January and February this year by comparison with last year. The percentage increases ranged from 5 per cent. to 30 per cent. I very much welcome this increase, but it does not make me feel complacent. Indeed, one of the most dangerous times for employment is the beginning of the upturn when the cash flow problems of firms can be at their most acute. We recognise this problem and, as the House will be aware, the banks and finance houses have been asked to ensure that any expansion of their business is directed to the needs of manufacturing industry.

Our industrial policies have tried to strengthen the industry and to contain the loss of jobs. In the short term, of cardinal importance is the temporary employment subsidy. Since this imaginative policy was announced, there have been 527 applications by industries for the subsidy. Of these applications, 174 were from firms in the textile and clothing industries—by far the largest take-up of all industries of the scheme. Obviously I welcome their use of the scheme which will enable them both to keep their employees and the capacity necessary to take advantage of the upturn when it comes.

We have also strongly supported investment by the industry to modernise and extend its capacity. To my knowledge, no viable textile firm has yet said to us that it cannot go ahead with an investment programme because we have refused it assistance. Indeed, I must say frankly that I am disappointed at the small response the industry has made to my right hon. Friend's very foresighted accelerated projects scheme.

Despite the constraints on public expenditure, we have felt it vital to increase the amount of Government assistance available under this scheme for investment in planned projects which industry has had to shelve or postpone. This scheme now applies to investment or modernisation projects with a capital cost normally, though not invariably, exceeding £500,000. So it ought to be of considerable attraction to the textile industry. Even if investment now in the textile industry may not be an instant addition to total employment in the industry, it remains vital in order to assure continued employment.

I assure the House that the Government are concerned about the loss of jobs in the textile industry. In the short term, we have taken action through the temporary employment subsidy and through an extensive network of import controls to reduce as much as possible the impact of the world-wide trade recession on the industry. We remain ready to introduce further import restraints where these are justifiable. In the medium term, we intend through the industrial strategy to reverse the country's industrial decline.

We have made a start, and the response from the industry has been encouraging. Its highly successful conference last week on the future for British textiles confirms everyone's readiness to play his full part in this vital work. I assure my hon. Friends that, with their continued and unrelenting pressure, the Government will play their part, too.