HC Deb 01 February 1982 vol 17 cc3-4
2. Mr. Michael Morris

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the French Government's proposal to restrict the import of British shoes into France.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Peter Rees)

The Government are much concerned at reports of possible measures designed to restrict imports of footwear and certain other products, both from countries of the Community and elsewhere. At the meeting of the Council, which I attended in Brussels last Tuesday, I expressed such concern, as did representatives of many other Community Governments. The European Commission is considering the proposals of the French Government, which have been disclosed to it, to see how far they may be in conflict with Community law.

Mr. Morris

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that his clear stance is greatly welcomed by footwear manufacturers? If the matter arises again will he tell the French that they are traditional markets for exports of more than £5 million, and that British manufacturers have invested millions of pounds in distribution in those markets?

Mr. Rees

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. We are aware not only of the current difficulties of the footwear industry but of its creditable export record. We shall keep a close eye on markets in France and elsewhere.

Mr. Hoyle

Does the Minister agree that if the French get away with their attitude towards the footwear industry, we could make the same case for our textile, car and electronics industries, which are being badly damaged by imports from the Common Market? Should we not adopt the same attitude as the French?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman is premature in assuming that all reports in the press are necessarily accurate. As I said earlier, the matter is before the Commission, which is being pressed to examine the proposals closely. Indeed, the French have been pressed to disclose exactly what they have in mind. Until the Commission reports, we should not take too gloomy a view.

Mr. Marlow

Since the French have been lavishing money and protection on their footwear industry, since the Italians have introduced import deposits against British exports of footwear to Italy, which has a massive balance of trade surplus with Britain in footwear, since last year the British taxpayer had to plough £500 million net into the Community, and since we have to buy European food at several times the world market price, will my hon. and learned Friend tell workers and their families in the footwear industry in Northampton what benefit they are getting from the present monstrosity of the Common Market?

Mr. Rees

My hon. Friend is aware that the import deposit scheme, which the Government certainly regret, expires in a few months' time. He should await the Commission's report on the proposals, when those are known, to determine whether any of them conflict with the fundamental principles of the Community, which point to free trade in the internal market for British exports. It would be premature to draw the rather gloomy and slightly prejudiced conclusions of my hon. Friend.