HC Deb 17 December 1979 vol 976 cc20-4
23. Mr. Edward Lyons

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will raise at the next meeting of the European Council of Trade Ministers the problems caused for the carpet manufacturing industry by the cheap fuel policy for synthetic fibre production operated by the United States Government.

30. Mr. Trippier

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will press for effective action arising from the Council of Minister's decision on 20 November relating to United States textile imports into the United Kingdom before the next meeting of the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Parkinson

My right hon. Friend and I have been pressing hard for urgent action on this problem, and the Foreign Affairs Council on 18 December will receive a report on the Commission's consultations with the United States about EEC imports of synthetic textiles, including the carpet sector.

I will be attending the Council, and will ensure that our interests are taken into account in the discussions on the action to be taken.

Mr. Lyons

When the Minister attends the Council will he bear in mind the explosive nature of the increase in imports of United States carpets this year and the heavy redundancies in the carpet manufacturing industry in the United Kingdom, especially in West Yorkshire, as well as the poor prognosis for the industry in 1980? Will he bear in mind that when British manufacturers want to buy this cheap fibre, which is available in the United States because of the two-tier policy of the United States Government, somehow they do not find it easy to obtain it? Is not the result that American carpets have an enormous price advantage, which is grossly unfair? Will the Minister consider raising the tariff on United States carpets of this kind, or banning them altogether?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That question was unreasonably long.

Mr. Parkinson

As my right hon. Friend and I recognise the important nature of this serious problem, we have been leading the campaign within the EEC to get action taken. It was as a result of pressure from us that the article 23 consultations were started. We shall continue the pressure to make sure that the industry receives the help that we believe it needs.

Mr. Trippier

Is my hon. Friend aware that the situation in the textile industry in North-East Lancashire is so serious, with mills closing down and others threatened with closure, that unless he takes effective and courageous action immediately the situation will deteriorate still further?

Mr. Parkinson

The most important words that my hon. Friend used were "effective action". We wish to see effective action taken as quickly as possible. That is why we have been keeping up the pressure within the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Is the Minister aware that imports from the United States are not merely of carpets, and that they affect not merely the carpet industry but the whole textile industry? Will he take action to help the Lancashire industry in this respect.

Mr. Parkinson

We are aware that synthetic fibres—not just tufted carpets but the whole range of products—are affected by the unfairness of the American dual pricing system for energy, and that has been the subject of the discussions and the pressure.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Does the Minister realise that if OPEC puts up the price of oil still further the dual energy pricing system in the United States that he mentioned will add a greater burden to the problems of the carpet and textile industries? Is not the problem much more urgent than perhaps he suggests in his answer?

Mr. Parkinson

I regard this as an extremely urgent problem. It is one for which we have had to fight very hard within the Council of Ministers. More and more members are beginning to see the rightness of our case.

Mr. Waller

Is my hon. Friend aware that, because of the system operated by the United States Government, American tufted carpets can be imported into Britain at prices which, in many cases, are lower than those at which British manufacturers can produce them? Is he also aware that, because of the extremely efficient distribution system in this country, our market is wide open? Will he take urgent action to bring about joint action to resolve this serious problem?

Mr. Parkinson

I hope that what I said in answer to earlier questions demonstrates that we agree with my hon. Friend's diagnosis of the problem. I hope that we have his support in the action that we are taking.

Mr. John Smith

Is the Minister aware that this problem is reaching a catastrophic level, and that the likelihood is that the Council of Ministers will dilly-dally over this for several months? Is he aware that during the GATT multilateral trade negotiations the Council of Ministers, at the insistence of the previous Government, undertook to take the appropriate measures under GATT without delay? That was said on 3 April this year. Will the Minister undertake that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—who has so far not answered any questions today on this or any other matter—will make a statement to the House, after the Council of Ministers meeting, on what the Council of Ministers decides? May I further urge the Government to give urgent consideration to imposing interim protection? As I read Council regulation 926/79, is it not open to the British Government, operating within the terms of the European Community, to take interim action to stop the flood of imports from the United States, which the Opposition call on the Government to do urgently?

Mr. Parkinson

If I may say so, I had not noticed the right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) leaping to his feet this afternoon. That was his first question. The Government recognise the urgency of the problem and are determined to take effective action. Tub thumping of the kind the right hon. Gentleman favours will not help. We believe that we are making progress. We do not expect months to pass without action. We expect to see action taken quickly. We shall press the matter and report back to the House on the Council of Ministers meeting.

Mr. Emery

Does my hon. Friend realise that the carpet factories in Lancashire and Yorkshire and the Axminster factories, which set the trend in certain types of carpet in this country, are being undercut by unfair competition? Will he consider the practice of the Americans who, in dealing with dumping, always seem to be able to act much faster than ourselves? Will he look at the reasons why they do that? Does he realise that we want effective action, of course, but that we want it quickly?

Mr. Parkinson

One of the reasons why it is not perhaps as easy for us as it is for the Americans is that the Commission has the ultimate authority, and we have to act within the Commission. We have to take the rest of our partners with us. Unilateral action is likely to be ineffective and not deal with the problem. The essence of this is to get effective action taken. We believe that effective action is best taken on a Community-wide basis.

Mr. Woolmer

Does the Minister agree that the question is not about the urgency of the problem, on which the House is agreed, but about the urgency of action? Does he further agree that if action is not taken urgently there will be no textile and carpet industries left to protect?

Mr. Parkinson

Yes, Sir.