HC Deb 01 December 1980 vol 995 cc3-5
2. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Trade, in view of the difficulties of the United Kingdom textile industry arising from unfair foreign competition; if he will bring forward proposals for changes in his Department's policy; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Nott

The textile industry's current problems stem primarily from the depressed state of the market, but my Department will continue to press the Community for firm and appropriate action against unfair competition wherever this can be proven.

Mr. Jones

How much longer must this battered, giant industry endure the dangerous surrender by the Government of our home market to American man-made fibre imports which enjoy energy subsidies? Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that the Government carry considerable responsibility for Courtauld's 20,000 redundancies, its loss of profitability and its 9,000 job losses in the man-made fibre division, many hundreds of which occurred in my constituency? Will the Minister use the multi-fibre arrangement to stop American sharp practice? Can we have action and not laissez-faire?

Mr. Nott

I saw some interesting comments by the chairman of Courtaulds in the Sunday newspapers yesterday. I have no reason to believe that he was wrongly reported. The chairman said that he was relaxed about the upturn when it comes because by definition we have been taking out of the group what is not viable in the long run. He also commented: Therefore, I do not think we have destroyed any part of the group's long-term earning power — on the contrary we have enhanced it. That is what the chairman of Courtaulds said at the weekend. In regard to American man-made fibres, we applied, through the Community, for a quota on fibres. We are now considering whether we should go to the Community and ask for an extension of those quotas. We shall make an announcement in due course.

Mr. Viggers

Does my right hon. Friend agree that as a trading nation it would be short-sighted and stupid for us to try to prevent fair competition because we, too, need to export? Will he sharply distinguish this from unfair practices, for instance that which came to light during a recent visit to Taiwan when a parliamentary delegation was shown round the largest textile factory and found that half the textiles in the despatch department were labelled "Made in Huddersfield", "Made in Britain" and "100 per cent. English worsted"?

Mr. Nott

I agree with my hon. Friend that this kind of counterfeiting is to be deplored. It is totally contrary o our law. Under the Trade Descriptions Act, if any such articles circulate within this country, this would constitute a criminal offence. The problem is that if such articles circulate in third countries we have no easy and ready means of dealing with the problem. We make representations to any country that either counterfeits our products or sells them in third countries. If such articles are sold here, it is contrary to the Trade Descriptions Act and we have all the legal powers we need to deal with the matter.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this year over 7,500 wool textile jobs have been lost in West Yorkshire alone? How many jobs have to be lost and how many mills have to close before the Government change their policy? Or are the Government intending to wait until the textile industry has declined to such an extent that it can no longer be saved?

Mr. Nott

I am wholly in accord with the hon. Lady in expressing my great regret at the decline of employment in the wool textile industry. It is a very unhappy circumstance. It arises almost wholly through the current recession. I am doing my best to safeguard the interests of the wool textile industry with regard to other matters before us now. The hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) has referred to the problem of fibres. I remind the hon. Lady that the decline of employment in the textile industry is nothing new. While her Government were in office 150,000 people left the textile and clothing industries. I fear that parts of the textile industry have been in decline for a long time.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Does my right hon. Friend accept that even those of us who consider that the adoption of import controls would be a suicidal policy for a nation as dependent on exports as Britain would nevertheless like to see the Government pursuing the most active steps within the EEC to ensure that there is not disorderly disruption in our textile industry due to unfair competition?

Mr. Nott

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We have introduced 40 new quotas in textiles under the multi-fibre arrangement, since coming to office. Since then we nave extended substantially the range of protection for the textile industry. I can assure my hon. Friend that whenever we find examples of unfair trading we shall pursue them as vigorously as possible through the Community.

Mr. John Smith

The right hon. Gentleman implied that he thought there was some benefit to be obtained from Courtaulds' predicament. I remind him that about 25,000 people who were employees of Courtaulds have lost their jobs. Is this not an example of something for which he was criticised by his right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) when he asked what happened to people who lost their jobs when businesses fail.

The right hon. Gentleman told the House in a previous answer that he was proud to have been a member of that former Prime Minister's Administration. Does he agree with the present Prime Minister's criticism of that Administration?

Mr. Nott

I said that it was a privilege—I would say a considerable privilege—to have served in the Treasury while my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was Prime Minister. That is what I said. I repeat it.

I did not say anything about Courtaulds. I merely said hat I had noticed some remarks made by the chairman of Courtaulds over the weekend in which he said that he believed that Courtaulds would be fitter and more viable for the upturn when it did come along.