HC Deb 10 November 1977 vol 938 cc846-8
1. Mr. Noble

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the Government's progress in dealing with the problems of the textile industry.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I fully appreciate the concern about the future of the textile industry. The Government are providing a great deal of practical help to the textile industry by limiting low-cost imports, by providing financial assistance to encourage modernisation, and by payment of temporary employment subsidy. We shall continue to keep the position under close review.

Mr. Noble

Will my right hon. Friend accept that, thanks to the tough stance taken by the Government, continued in the EEC through the renegotiation of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement, textile workers in the North-West can look forward, for the first time since 1952, with some hope in the stability of the industry? However will my right hon. Friend turn his mind to the short-term crisis faced by the industry betwen the renegotiation and the implementation of the MFA? In particular, will he consult his colleagues about a continuation of the temporary employment subsidy beyond the present termination date, the development of a proper strategy for public purchasing, and the use of National Enterprise Board funds in the industry in the North-West?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said about the long-term stand of the Government on textile imports. I agree that it offers some hope of stability, provided the European Economic Community maintains the stance that it has begun in its bilateral negotiations.

I take note of what my hon. Friend said about public purchasing. There is a standing instruction to Departments in respect of that. The temporary employment subsidy is of great value because more than 40,000 workers are now being supported in the textile industry. Their jobs are being protected by the TES, as well as the jobs of nearly 40,000 workers in the clothing industry. Certainly that subsidy could not be phased out without great damage to the industry. Whatever happens, therefore, that assistance will go on in some form or other.

Finally, I say to my hon. Friend that I hope that he will aquaint his constituents, indeed workers in both Lancashire and Yorkshire, with the Opposition view as expressed by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) on Tuesday, namely, that rescues and subsidies do great harm. Everybody should know the Opposition view. It would mean that 80,000 jobs would go when they abolished the subsidy.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does the Prime Minister agree that the best way for the textile industry to survive is for it to face fair competition? Supporting the point made by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble), is it not wrong that successive Governments, including the right hon. Gentleman's Government, have allowed the import penetration from Third World and other underdeveloped countries to undermine one of the most strategically important industries of this country? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance to the House that his Government will maintain a robust attitude in renegotiation of the MFA?

The Prime Minister

Thanks in large part to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, the EEC has said that it will not renew the Multi-Fibre Arrangement in December unless the results of the negotiations are satisfactory. We shall certainly do our best to ensure that that is so. I think that the Community is being tougher in some respects, and this seems to be of value in the long term.

Although the hon. Gentleman mentioned the Third World, I want to draw a distinction between some of the developing countries in the Third World and others, which I shall not name for the moment, which are taking advantage of the situation.

Mr. Ford

Will my right hon. Friend note that people in the Yorkshire trade take careful note of statements from wherever they come? Will he make representations at a very high level to the United States Government requesting them to remove the unfair ad valorem tax on imported woollen cloth?

The Prime Minister

It would be preferable if that were put as a Question to my right hon. Friend, but the matter has been the subject of discussion with the United States. I have personally drawn attention to it, and I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what my hon. Friend has said.

Forward to