HC Deb 17 December 1979 vol 976 cc26-8
29. Mr. Arthur Davidson

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the progress of negotiations on the multi-fibre arrangement.

42. Mr. Les Huckfield

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will make a statement on the renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement.

Mr. Parkinson

As I have made clear in previous statements, the Government recognise that there will be a need for a continuing orderly marketing arrangement in textiles after the present MFA has expired.

The present agreement came into effect at the beginning of 1978 for a period of four years, and no such negotiations are currently in progress. But the management of the MFA is a matter for continuing discussion between the United Kingdom, the European Commission, and other member States.

Mr. Davidson

Surely the Minister is aware that continuing discussions are of no help to the Lancashire textile industry. Is he aware that one reason why that industry is being crippled is that countries which have agreed to limit their exports have already exceeded their quotas? Will he take firm and immediate action to help the Lancashire textile industry?

Mr. Parkinson

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the MFA was negotiated by his own Government. We have taken action on a number of occasions to strengthen that agreement. We have negotiated new agreements with Cyprus and Malta. We have instituted a safeguard action against Turkey. We have used the so-called basket extractor mechanism 11 times. We monitor the agreement extremely carefully. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is making much too sweeping a condemnation of it.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Will my hon. Friend consider initiating negotiations for the 1982 agreement? These things take a long time to get going. Could not he begin it on New Year's Day?

Mr. Parkinson

I note what my hon. and learned Friend says. Preliminary discussions have started, and obviously they will gain momentum, but the agreement still has over two years to run. We recognise the importance of what he says.

Mr. Sheerman

Is the Minister aware that many people in the textile industry have been very depressed ever since he wound up the debate on the textile industry, as they fear that they are being allowed to die a slow death? Whereas the steel industry has had its throat cut by the Government, the textile industry is being allowed to bleed to death slowly and there is no will on the Government Benches to save it.

Mr. Parkinson

May I say to the hon. Gentleman: good question, wrong Minister. I opened the debate; I did not close it. Perhaps he should address his Question to the Minister who closed it. The multi-fibre arrangement covers 28 countries. We have agreements with eight other countries. We have a huge range of quotas and they are monitored extremely carefully. The hon. Gentleman does not help the industry by spreading the rumour—and giving substance to it—that there is no help or protection available. There is a massive machinery of protection, and it is being used.

Mr. Hal Miller

Does my hon. Friend agree that the representations made this afternoon on behalf of the Lancashire textile industry call for a review of the operation of the MFA, and that this view is very much shared by certain countries exporting to this country which have also suffered as a result of the MFA?

Mr. Parkinson

I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. John Smith

Will the Minister take the opportunity today, which he did not take when he opened the debate on the textile industry, to make it clear that the Government are committed to a renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement? All that we have had from the Minister are words about an orderly marketing arrangement. I remind him that the previous Government committed themselves, and that the Council of Ministers has committed itself. So long as the Government shilly-shally we shall not get the new MFA and our partners will not believe that we mean business.

Mr. Parkinson

The right hon. Gentleman may have forgotten what the MFA is. It is an orderly marketing arrangement, and I have already said that there will be a successor to it. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman's problem is.