HC Deb 12 January 1981 vol 996 cc740-2
11. Mr. Woolmer

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make special assistance available to the textile industries and the areas of the United Kingdom significantly affected by the sharp reduction in employment in those industries.

15. Mr. Edward Lyons

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what steps he now proposes to take to assist the textile industry.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The textile industry already receives substantial financial aid under the Industry Act and the temporary short time working compensation scheme, and is assisted by the import controls operated under the multi-fibre arrangement. In addition, we have obtained Community agreement to open discussions with the United States Administration about possible solutions to the problems of imports of American textiles. The Department has no plans to introduce any other forms of assistance.

Mr. Woolmer

Does the Minister recognise that the textile industry, of all the manufacturing industries, has suffered perhaps the largest decline in this country? In my constituency, the town of Batley has a male unemployment rate of 20 per cent. Will the Minister inform the House which of the textile sector working party recommendations he is examining? Secondly, will he say which of the schemes of other EEC countries to assist the textile industry he is studying with a view to introducing it in this country?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman has asked several questions and several sub-questions. The proposals put to my right hon. Friend covered every possible alternative. My right hon. Friend has replied. We are examining various proposals made by certain Governments of Common Market countries regarding their textile industries. I can assure the House that we shall be vigilant on this point. On the general level of support for the textile industry, I remind the hon. Gentleman that up to March 1980 support amounted to £35 million in grants of one sort or another. In addition, expenditure in relation to the wool textile industry, about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned, was £21 million up to 30 November 1980.

Mr. Lyons

Is the Minister aware that the retiring chairman of the Wool Industry Research Association, Mr. Roy Stroud, a leading Yorkshire textile industrialist and a Conservative, says that no Government have done more damage to the textile industry than the present Government and that their policies are incomprehensible? In those circumstances, and in view of the enormous upsurge in unemployment in West Yorkshire and in the textile industry, will the Minister persuade his right hon. Friend to reconsider a review of measures to help the textile industry in the present economic climate?

Mr. Baker

I believe that the announcement made by the Minister for Trade before Christmas is of considerable significance. The negotiations with the United States and the Commission on the American system of under-costing its chemical feedstock have considerable significance for the British textile industry. I refute the argument that the Government are to blame for the decline of the textile industry. The decline is due to many complicated factors. We operate a measure of support through import controls for this industry. There are about 400 quotas operating over 40 countries. The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot say that this is an industry of which we have washed our hands and that we are standing idly by watching it decline.

Sir Charles Fletcher-Cooke

Will not my hon. Friend agree that the objective of the textile industry, unlike many other industries, is not grants and subsidies so much as fair trading? Will he not agree that the threat does not come from the Third world. As he says, that has been taken care of by the Government very successfully. The threat comes from the United States. Will my hon. Friend give an underaking that the moment the new Administration in the United States are in the saddle, he and his colleagues will pursue the matter of this unfair competition with the utmost vigour?

Mr. Baker

Yes, indeed. I am very willing to give that undertaking. We expect to have a report by February.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that all future forms of assistance to the textile industry should be protected, especially as regards the public purse in so far as the public purse makes the contribution? In the light of the revelation that Messrs. Courtaulds have exported to the United States, to Messrs. Milliken and Co.of South Carolina, 428 Sulzer weaving machines, does not the Minister believe that it is incumbent upon the Government to intervene and put a moratorium on exports of all second-hand textile machinery where those exports stem from a loss of jobs in the United Kingdom particularly in the assisted areas?

Mr. Baker

I saw the article in the business section of The Sunday Times yesterday with which the remarks of the hon. Gentleman are clearly associated. I should like to spell out the position on grants. Regional development grants are paid subject to conditions which require that grant-aided assets are used on qualifying premises for a minimum of four years from the date they are provided. If an asset is disposed of, or ceases to be used within this period, the Department can reclaim all the grant. In practice, it would normally recover only a proportion, allowing credit for the period of eligible use. My Department is in contact with the company over this question.

Dr. Mawhinney

Is my hon. Friend aware that in order to help the textile industry we imposed import controls against Indonesian textiles and that as a consequence the Indonesian Government retaliated? Is he aware that as a result an engineering firm in my constituency has lost orders worth millions of pounds? Does my hon. Friend accept that engineering firms in my constituency cannot afford to be penalised in order to help the textile industry?

Mr. Baker

I accept that there are import controls on a wide range of textiles, particularly from Third world countries. That is well known. We have made clear that when the MFA runs out at the end of this year we shall negotiate a strong successor. Deep in my bones I do not believe that the future for Britain lies in a closed economy.