HC Deb 14 July 1980 vol 988 cc1034-7
7. Mr. Woolmer

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what discussions he intends to have with both sides of the textile industry regarding the future of the multifibre arrangement.

15. Mr. Jim Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will meet the leaders of the textile trades unions to discuss the problems of the industry, in relation to cheap imports.

Mr. Knott

My hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and I are in the process of taking the views of all interested parties on the arrangements to succeed the present MFA. We have already held discussions on a number of occasions with trade associations and trade unions, and further meetings are scheduled.

Mr. Woolmer

I recognise that the position of the wool textile and carpet industries in West Yorkshire is so serious that more urgent action is required. Is the right hon. Gentleman able to give an assurance to the wool textile industry in West Yorkshire that it will be much more adequately protected by the new MFA? Will he ensure, specifically, that wool textile products are included in the most sensitive product sector that commands the greatest protection?

Mr. Nott

I should like to be able to help the hon. Gentleman, hut the negotiations within the Community and on the GATT have not yet really begun. Therefore, I am not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he wants. As soon as we can get into further detailed discussion on this subject I shall be able to give more information to the House.

Mr. Marshall

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a mounting crisis in the textile industry and that literally thousands of jobs are being lost each week? His statement on the Government's intention to renew the MFA is welcome, but the industry can be saved only if there is a fundamental change in the Government's economic policy, a policy which has led to high interest rates and a high value of the pound. That policy must be changed if the industry is to be saved.

Mr. Nott

I recognise that there are grave problems in the textile industry. The only hope for the industry, as for any other industry in the long term, is for Conservative economic policies to succeed.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the new arrangements that are to succeed the present MFA, and the bilaterals that will doubtless go with it, it is essential to have a growth recession clause so that imports into Britain increase only if demand in Britain is increasing?

Mr. Nott

The existing MFA was a negotiated settlement between the importing and exporting countries. It was not imposed by the EEC on other countries. I recognise that the restraint arrangements under the MFA may have been sufficient when demand was expanding, but at a time like the present, when there is a recession, my hon. Friend's concern is justified. We shall obviously discuss whether there should be a recession clause in MFA III. That will be a central matter for negotiation, and I take my hon. Friend's comments to heart.

Mr. Barry Jones

Has the right hon. Gentleman read the 1980 Courtaulds' report, in which Mr. Hogg says that it is unwise of the Government to continue a total policy of laissez-faire towards the industry when our competitors are heavily subsidised? Does he know that many of my constituents' jobs are at risk because of Government policy?

Mr. Nott

If Mr. Hogg really did say that, he is grossly misinformed about the position in the textile industry. There is a greater network of restraints for the textile industry than for almost any other industry, with the possible exception of agriculture. I cannot believe that Mr. Hogg took such an extreme view.

Mr. Trippier

Does my right hon. Friend accept that if he does not give a commitment to fight for a strengthened MFA the British textile industry will deteriorate still further? Does he accept that if the industry continues to face the present pressures there may not be an industry left for which to negotiate an MFA? Does he expect consumers to continue to pay the fairly cheap price that they now pay for textiles when there is no home-based British industry with which to compete?

Mr. Nott

I cannot accept the exaggerated nature of some of my hon. Friend's statements. The British textile industry exports about £2½ billion worth of goods to world markets. In spite of its great difficulties it remains a successful industry—

Mr. Barry Jones


Mr. Nott

—and it will continue to be so. It would not be able to export £2½ billion worth of goods around the world if parts of the industry were still not extremely successful. We shall do our utmost for the industry when the negotiations begin. That is our job. One day the House debates the Brandt report, and the next day it debates the problems of the British textile industry. Someone somewhere has to find a balance between the two issues.

Mr. Cryer

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, in spite of all the exports, the industry had a deficit of £700 million on the import and export of textile goods in 1979, and that in West Yorkshire we are losing about 500 jobs a week? There are calls from both sides of the House for the Government to take some action to deal with the evasion of the MFA. What are the Government going to do about that between now and the negotiation of the new MFA, so that we have an industry left for which to negotiate? That call has been expressed strongly from both sides of the House. What more does it take to tell the Minister the position?

Mr. Nott

The hon. Gentleman's figures are approximately correct. The Government continuously attempt to speed up the procedures through the EEC. Since we became the Government about 23 new quotas and other restraint arrangements have been entered into. We continuously do our best to monitor and strengthen the protection of the textile industry through the existing MFA. The suggestion that that is not taking place is inaccurate.