HC Deb 26 February 1982 vol 18 cc1101-14

11 am

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Peter Rees)


Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs that has arisen. It is a convention of this House that when the Government make a statement the Opposition are given a copy of it half an hour beforehand so that they can study it and give a considered response to the Minister. I freely acknowledge that from time to time the half hour is contracted and may be only 20 or 25 minutes, but we have always taken an understanding view. Today the Opposition's Front Bench spokesman was handed a copy of the Minister's statement one minute before 11 o'clock. In the best interests of the House, that situation cannot be tolerated.

I know, Mr. Speaker, that you cannot protect us under Standing Orders because a convention of the House is something that is accepted and honoured as far as possible but is not a right enshrined in the Standing Orders. However, the Government have put the Opposition in an intolerable position, and I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to find some way of relieving us in the future from such difficulties.

This is no light statement. The multi-fibre arrangement is of vital interest to tens of thousands of workers in the textile industry. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, would you consider the position in which my hon. Friend has been placed and possibly initiate some sort of action, perhaps through the usual channels, to remedy the position?

It is not easy on a Friday to find a way of intervening in the Government's business. Therefore, may I also draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the winding-up speech in the debate on Welsh affairs last night? A most unfortunate reference was made by the Secretary of State for Wales to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones). It is reported in c. 1072 of today's Hansard. I hope that the Government will find an early opportunity of restoring fully the damage done to my right hon. Friend's reputation.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call anyone else on the original point of order, may I first deal with the latter point, because I was in the Chair at 10 o'clock last night. There was a rather loud conversation between two right hon. Members. The conversation was not addressed to the whole House. However, it was rather a loud conversation.

The House knows that it is absolutely our of order to make any suggestion that any right hon. or hon. Member has had too much to drink. That was the clear implication. I have no doubt that the conversation was private. No point of order was raised with me, or I would at once have risen. However, I am sure that an opportunity will be taken to put the matter right. I believe that that ought to be done, since the remark is now in Hansard.

Mr. Peter Rees

Further to the first point of order, Mr. Speaker. I deeply apologise to the House that the convention was not observed to the full on today's statement on the multi-fibre arrangement. The circumstances, which I hope the House will understand, are that the discussions were not concluded until very late last night. It was considered better to make a statement today because of the concern that I know is felt in the House about these matters rather than wait until Monday. I appreciate that these are highly technical matters and I should have preferred that Opposition spokesmen were fully in possession of the details in advance.

I offer my apologies. I hope that the House will feel that there is ample opportunity to do justice to the subject, if not completely today, at least in the questions that will be put to my Department on Monday. There is at least one question which, subject to the Chair's direction, might give rise to some supplementary questions to enlarge upon matters which any hon. Member believes that I have not dealt with satisfactorily in the statement today.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Opposition have appreciated that the Government have made statements from time to time on the multi-fibre arrangement. It is clear from today's exchanges that there has been a regrettable lapse in the provision of information to the Opposition Front Bench.

I have one point to make for your consideration and possible influential help, Mr. Speaker. The MFA is complicated and highly technical. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman speaks on behalf of the Labour Party, but Back Benchers also have to deal with the technical complexities. Textile workers in our constituencies are much concerned about the matter and we must deal with the arrangements.

It is not good enough to issue copies of statements so late and to only a few right hon. and hon. Members on the Front Bench. On technical matters such as this the Government should issue copies more widely so that other hon. Members can grasp the information and ask more probing questions.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). What he said in this instance applies to all statements by the Government No harm would be done to the Government if they allowed hon. Members who are interested in a statement to receive a copy half an hour before it is made. As a result hon. Members' questions would be more informed and probing. I cannot see that that would be bad for the Government or the country.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that what has been said by the hon. Members for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) and by the Opposition Chief Whip will have been noted with care by the Government Front Bench. There has obviously been a slip-up this morning about a convention. It is not a rule, but a very strong convention, which both parties, whenever they have the privilege of sitting on the Government Benches, normally observe.

Mr. Peter Rees

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the special Foreign Affairs Council to discuss textiles which took place in Brussels yesterday.

I am glad to be able to tell the House that the Council agreed that the Community should sign the extended multi-fibre arrangement which was adopted by the GATT Textile Committee in Geneva on 22 December last. The Council also authorised the Commission to start negotiations immediately on new MFA bilateral agreements with supplying countries. These should come into effect on 1 January 1983 when the current agreements expire.

These negotiations will take place within a framework of revised global ceilings for imports of the eight most sensitive textile and clothing products—the so-called group I products. These new ceilings will apply to all imports from low-cost sources both from our MFA partners and from the Community's preferential suppliers and will include all outward processed trade. The ceilings represent a firm commitment by the Community to regulate imports in these highly sensitive categories. They take account of planned cutbacks in imports which will be the subject of negotiations with the Community's dominant suppliers together with other technical adjustments aimed at reducing the total liability of the Community. The rate of growth which will be allowed on these quotas will be very small. For the United Kingdom the overall annual growth rate in this especially sensitive area will be roughly 1 per cent.

Furthermore, the Council agreed that annual growth rates for the less sensitive products outside group I should also be kept very low. In view of recent trends in consumption they will in general be lower than those negotiated with supplying countries under MFA 2.

Considerable concern has been expressed to me by hon. Members and by representatives of the industry about the possibility of the proposed new anti-surge mechanism which is designed to prevent too rapid a take-up of under-utilised quotas being nullified by an exceptional surge of imports under the quotas in the course of 1982.

I am glad to tell the House that at the insistence of the United Kingdom the Council agreed on special measures to counteract this possibility. First, rapid anti-dumping or countervailing action will be taken in appropriate cases. Secondly, in particularly serious cases, action will be taken as a matter of urgency under the general review clauses in the existing bilateral agreements so as to reach a solution related to quantities. Those are major innovations and will, I hope, help to reassure the House about this potentially difficult problem.

The Council also considered the treatment to be given to outward processed goods. Industrial requirements in this sector vary widely within the community. I am glad that, after considerable discussion, our colleagues in the Community were able to meet our requirements on this difficult point. I confirm that we shall be under no obligation to open special quotas for additional outward processed goods, which is in accordance with the wishes of the United Kingdom industry with which we have kept in close touch throughout the negotiations. The only exception will be any such trade offered to the dominant suppliers as compensation for the cutbacks in their normal trade which I mentioned earlier.

The stage is set for the Commission to begin its bilateral negotiations which will determine the precise quotas for each country and each product. The mandate given to the Commission is a tough one, including points established at earlier Councils, which have been reported to the House—for example, reduced flexibility in the use of some quotas, a commitment to consult under the general review clauses in the event of recession, together with the cutbacks on the dominant suppliers and the anti-surge mechanism which I have already mentioned. All that is in addition to the generally more restrictive global ceilings and growth rates agreed yesterday.

The Commission is to report back to the Council in the autumn on progress made. Until then, we cannot be certain precisely what quotas will emerge. However, the Council decided yesterday that in the absence of the satisfactory renewal, in good time, of the bilateral agreements, the Community would notify its withdrawal from the multifibre arrangement by the end of this year.

As I think I have made clear, yesterday was not the end of the story. We shall be monitoring progress in the negotiations very carefully to ensure that the special interests of the United Kingdom industry are kept fully in mind by the Commission. If the Commission fulfils its mandate—I have every confidence it will—I think that there can be no doubt that the new MFA bilateral agreements will, by any definition, be significantly tougher than those currently in force, and the already high degree of protection afforded to the United Kingdom industry will be substantially enhanced, thus enabling the industry to continue the process of restructuring and modernisation upon which it is already embarked.

Mr. K. J. Woolmer (Batley and Morley)

Will the Minister accept that the manner in which the statement has had to be made is thoroughly unsatisfactory to the Opposition? The House will appreciate that my questions and observations can be only an instant view rather than the considered view that the House would normally expect. Will the Minister assure the House at once that the Government will make some amends by ensuring that a full debate will take place on this matter, which is important for more than 600,000 workers in this country? They would expect nothing less than a full debate on what could be the determination of their jobs and their future.

Does the Minister recognise that many aspects of his statement, and of its omissions, will continue to cause great concern in the textile and clothing industries? As those industries have lost 120,000 jobs under MFA 1 and 200,000 jobs under MFA 2, will the Minister accept the vital importance of negotiating an MFA 3 that stems that huge job loss? Does the Minister accept that by basing future growth of low-cost imports on existing quotas instead of the actual level of imports, there can still be an increase of imports over the next four and a half years of at least 22 per cent., causing a further substantial loss of British jobs? That will not be taken account of, or limited, by the measures that he has announced.

Does the Minister recognise the grave doubts that exist about the proposed anti-surge mechanism? Will he ensure that group II and III products are covered, so that products such as men's and boys' jackets and bed linen are included, because the potential import growth there is 100 per cent. or more? Will the hon. and learned Gentleman spell out what compensation would be offered to countries affected by anti-surge action?

Exactly what has been agreed on cutbacks to dominant suppliers? Details were lacking from the hon. and learned Gentleman's statement. As expansion of outward processing by the United Kingdom or our partners in Europe poses a serious threat to our imports and exports through free circulation, will the Minister spell out his assessment on the effect on this country of outward processing and what safeguards will be available to us because of its impact on us through our EEC partners?

Does the Minister accept that most attention has been given to group I products? As they account for only 50 per cent. of low-cost imports, may I turn his attention to the group II and III products? What average growth rate of imports will be permitted? It will not be satisfactory to the House, the industry or the trade unions to be told that the rate will be lower than last time, when it was an average of 5 per cent. That will be totally inadequate to deal with the problems of the industry with products such as suits, jackets, dresses, skirts and dozens of others.

Will the Minister assure us that he will consult the trade unions and industries concerned before reaching a view in the autumn on the acceptability of the bilateral negotiations? Will he start consultations with those parties immediately to discuss alternative plans in the event of the need to withdraw from the MFA? If plans are not drawn up the House will not be aware of the alternative to withdrawal

The statement is full of words such as "tough" and "firm", but when the small print is read the industry will still have grave reservations. I hope that the Minister will assure us that we shall have a full debate so that those reservations can be discussed.

Mr. Rees

The question of a full debate is one for the usual channels, but the House will recognise that we have made full and regular reports on the progress of the negotiations. I reported in November and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade reported in December. There was also a debate in July and the House cannot claim that we have withheld any information or been backward in reporting the course of the negotiations.

I do not want to go over ground that was covered earlier, but it was because of our anxiety to give the House a report at the earliest opportunity that a full copy of my statement was not given to the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer). I can only repeat my apologies. I hope that the House will recognise that it was because of my anxiety to give it a full report at the earliest opportunity that we are here this morning when negotiations were only concluded in Brussels late last night. Subject to the direction of the Chair, the matter could perhaps be ventilated again during Question Time on Monday.

The Government are acutely aware that jobs have been lost in the industry. I have repeated many times during debates in the Council that about 150,000 jobs have been shed in Britain over the past 18 months. I am entitled to say that, when the full bilateral agreements have been negotiated, they will be found to be an infinitely tougher MFA than the preceding one.

In response to the hon. Member for Batley and Morley's request for further information and a debate, I should emphasise that it will not be possible to judge the detail of the quotas, which will be of paramount importance for the industry and those who work in it, until all the bilateral negotiations have been concluded.

The Commission is enjoined to report back to the Council in the autumn, when we shall be able to see whether the quotas negotiated in the bilaterals are reconcilable with the global ceilings and the broad principles set for the Commission as a framework for the negotiations.

The hon. Member for Batley and Morley asked a number of questions, including what compensation would be paid in the event of the anti-surge mechanism being invoked. We did not consider it wise precisely to lay down what compensation should be awarded. The countries affected would then see precisely what kind of a trade-off there was. That must be a matter of negotiation, which is the most practical approach.

Cutbacks for dominant suppliers will be 10 per cent. on average.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the consequences of outward processing. As I said in my statement, it will be only as possible compensation in the bilaterals arid not as a consequence of the anti-surge mechanism. It will arise only in the bilateral agreements with the dominant suppliers, where we might take some outward processing as compensation for the cutbacks. In no other case are we accepting an additional outward processing quota. That is not to say that, as part of the quotas as a whole, some part might not be taken up as outward processing, but there will be no additional outward processing over and above the quotas negotiated. That is a different position from that requested by several of our European partners.

As regards contact with trade unions and employers, in the brief period that I have held this position I have received many such delegations. I have been to north-east Lancashire. I hope very much to go to Yorkshire. My door is always open. We have encouraged consultation. We shall be delighted to continue the process when the bilaterals have been concluded.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that basing the 1983 quotas on the quotas already established for 1982 and not on recent actual imports to this country undermines any possibility of relating the future growth of low-cost imports to the expected annual growth in United Kingdom domestic demand? Did the Council of Ministers agree growth rates for products outside the sensitive ones covered in group I? If not, how can the negotiations be allowed to proceed? If the Government claim that future growth rates will be lower than under MFA 2, is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the talk of future growth rates is absolutely academic, especially if the growth is to be measured from the unacceptably high base proposed for 1983 quotas? Does he agree that what really matters is the starting point from which growth is to be, allowed under MFA 3?

Mr. Rees

I recognise the industry's concern that the new quotas should have started from the 1980 actual imports rather than the 1982 quotas. It was the position that the United Kingdom Government would have preferred and the one that I stated clearly at the outset of negotiations. However, as our debates in the Council proceeded, it became apparent that we could not command sufficient support for me to stand on that. Naturally, it was a matter of regret. We should have preferred to start from the 1980 actual imports.

I remind the House that had we started from the 1979 actual imports we might have got a slightly different figure. The industry would naturally wish to pick the actual level of imports in the year which showed the lowest possible figures. As I said, if we are to juggle with figures, it might be helpful also to look at 1979. Unfortunately, we could not establish the position in Brussels. On the best advice, we realised that it would not have been negotiable in the Geneva negotiations. I have to make the point again and again that this is a process of international negotiation. It is not possible for the United Kingdom unilaterally to impose its own solution.

I know my hon. Friend's deep concern for the textile industry. I hope that he will recognise mine, too. I hope that it will be some consolation to him to know that the growth rates in the sensitive products in group I will be well below those under the previous MFA. For the United Kingdom they will be about 1 per cent. They will not be far in advance of that for the less sensitive products in groups II and III.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Minister confirm that, by basing the level of imports on the 1982 quotas, a growth rate of 1 per cent. in sensitive areas means an effective potential growth of 23 per cent., which in turn means a potential loss of many thousands of jobs in the textile industry?

Can the hon. and learned Gentleman enlarge on his comments on the anti-surge mechanism and in particular his claim that rapid anti-dumping action will be taken? He will appreciate that the Commission has been lethargic about anti-dumping action and that it has depended on the industry providing information, which is often difficult to get, on which to base a case. Can he assure the House that the United Kingdom Government have sufficient weight of representation to make sure that action is speedy and effective?

Could the Minister also say more about the compensation concerned with outward processing being negotiated during the bilaterals? It is a particularly sensitive area, and the industry will be anxious until it knows how much is involved. I realise that the precise details are for negotiation.

The Minister says that progress will have to be made on the bilaterals by the autumn; otherwise, we should withdraw from the MFA. Will he give us regular reports on the negotiations and tell us in good time what alternatives there are to withdrawal from the MFA, so that the House has the information before the situation is upon us?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman suggests 23 per cent. as the possible growth figure. That is a little speculative. I should not underwrite the figure. The hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer) suggested 22 per cent., which shows a difference between them. If the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) puts down a question, I shall see whether we can give a figure, but he is taking the worst possible case and a hypothetical situation. It does not give full weight to the likely growth rate of 1 per cent. for the United Kingdom in sensitive products, nor to the operation of the anti-surge mechanism.

The hon. Gentleman says that the anti-dumping procedures have not always worked as expeditiously as we should have liked. I referred to that issue in the context of 1982. It has been pointed out that if the anti-surge mechanism does not come into operation until 1983, and operates by reference to imports in the preceding year, there will be a temptation for low-cost importers to flood the United Kingdom markets in 1982.

That issue was identified by the Government and by employers and employees in the textile industry. There was a considerable debate on it yesterday in Brussels. To meet the United Kingdom's legitimate anxieties, it was agreed that if there was a flood of imports it could be checked partly by reference to the anti-dumping mechanism, but by other methods too. The anti-dumping mechanism will be only one weapon that could be invoked to ensure that there will not be a flood of imports which would weaken the impact of the anti-surge mechanism in later years.

It is always open to a country to take up its quotas for direct trade with outward processing, but I was endeavouring to establish clearly in Brussels—it is now clearly recorded as part of the framework for subsequent bilateral negotiations—that there would be no quotas for the United Kingdom for outward processing over and above the normal trade quotas with the exception of the dominants. The dominant suppliers will be cut back by an average of 10 per cent. a year over the full period. It was thought right to offer them some compensation, but that is for negotiation and will certainly not be in excess of the full amount of their cutbacks.

Being international agreements, the bilaterals will be available to the House as they emerge, one hopes, in the course of the summer. It would be a little premature to plan for a failure of the bilaterals and a withdrawal from the MFA, but it is a subject to which considerable thought must be given. I naturally hope that, after the considerable time, effort and thought spent on the negotiations, the bilaterals will be successfully concluded in due time within the framework set down and finally concluded last night in Brussels.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call the four hon. Members who have been rising.

Sir Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

Will my hon. and learned Friend accept from me, if not from others, congratulations on his strenuous and successful efforts to produce for the future better security for the textile workers than has been achieved in the recent past? Will he accept that we are particularly pleased that he has made the conclusion of successful bilateral agreements a condition for the further negotiations on the multi-fibre arrangement? Is he aware that that is absolutely essential?

Will my hon. and learned Friend say a little more about the dates? He said that if it looked as though the bilaterals would not be successfully concluded in September, we should have to consider an immediate withdrawal from our otherwise complete signature of the protocol. Can we have some sort of deadline for this? As he knows better than anyone else, the negotiations are apt to drag on. There ought to be some deadline by which we can judge that the satisfactory arrangements for which we all hope in the bilaterals will not be achieved, so that we—not just Europe—having made that judgment, can withdraw altogether from the negotiating position.

Mr. Rees

I am most grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his kind opening remarks. I know that he has deep knowledge of and concern for the textile industry, representing the constituency that he does.

It is implicit in my hon. and learned Friend's question—it is a point that I have stressed before—that it will be impossible to judge the ultimate success of this multi-fibre arrangement until the bilaterals have been concluded. It is only in the bilaterals that the precise quotas, the actual figures—the matters which naturally concern the employers and the employees in the industry more than any rather generalised principles or theories—can be established. None the less, it was necessary to try to establish a broad framework within which the bilaterals should be concluded. That is why so much time and effort have been devoted to the negotiation, not only in Geneva but in Luxembourg and Brussels.

With regard to dates, the Commission has been asked to report back by the end of September on the course of the bilaterals, and there is a very firm deadline. If the bilaterals do not measure up to the framework of principal matters being negotiated and constructed, notice must be given by the last day of 1982 by the Community as a whole of withdrawal from the protocol negotiated in Geneva.

Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that some of us have grave concern because of the areas that we represent? Does he appreciate that over the last few years there has been a job loss of about 30 per cent. in the clothing industry? That was stated in the Chamber last year and has not been questioned.

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman appreciate that about 2,000 jobs per month were being lost in the textile industry in Britain? He may recollect that a group of parliamentarians reported to the House that they had been to Taiwan only to find that cloths produced in textile mills there had, woven into the edge of the cloth, "100 per cent. British" and "Made in Huddersfield". That was pure counterfeiting. The firms in Taiwan were able to export those materials to Britain, and the import duties that we imposed were about 10 per cent. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that he will look into that matter. If our textile industries export materials, they pay duties of about 90 per cent. We talk about fair competition. I hope that the Minister will look at that example of totally unfair competition.

We can export cloth to Hong Kong, and suits are produced from that material and exported back to us at a lower price than that at which our own industry can produce them.

These factors justify the demands from the Opposition Benches for a full and extensive debate. I hope that the Minister will consider it.

Mr. Rees

Of course we are concerned with counterfeiting. We have heard of bad cases such as the one to which the hon. Gentleman, who has a deep knowledge of these matters, has referred. It is a continuing problem. It does not arise specifically in the context of the multifibre arrangement. It is something that any Government must be vigilant about.

The hon. Gentleman may be reassured to know that additional customs officers have been recruited to deal precisely with that problem. If the hon. Gentleman knows of any cases and can bring them to my attention, I shall see that they are followed up in the most rigorous manner possible.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

The Select Committee on Industry and Trade has recently finished a report on the multi-fibre arrangement. My hon. and learned Friend gave able evidence to the Committee. Will he agree that the report should be necessary reading for everyone with a constituency textile vote? During questioning by the Committee, my hon. and learned Friend was frank and open. When I questioned him about the British Crown colony of Hong Kong, he confirmed that he would protect the textile industry of Hong Kong by his endeavours. Will he give me a brief statement on how he has been able to push the textile industry of Hong Kong, bearing in mind that Hong Kong imports a great deal of finished cloth from the United Kingdom?

Mr. Rees

It would be presumptuous of me to recommend to the House or to any hon. Member the reading of the Select Committee's reports. I have read and re-read them. If a personal view is in order, I would agree that the recent report is a powerful document and not one that I would be disposed to ignore.

I have said in the Chamber and in our debates in Brussels that Hong Kong deserves special attention, not only because of its political ties with Britain but because it is an entirely open market. That distinguishes it from, for example, the three other dominant suppliers.

I do not think that it is for me to push the textile industry of Hong Kong. Hong Kong has a remarkably flexible group of entrepreneurs. I will not say that they are well able to take care of themselves, but it is not for me to push their products. I spent a whole morning with them in Hong Kong before Christmas, endeavouring to reassure them that the United Kingdom, having its constitutional responsibility for Hong Kong, had stressed its position in our debates in Brussels. I should like to think that they were reasonably reassured by what I told them.

Although there will be a cut in the quotas for Hong Kong, I had it recorded that in negotiating that position and negotiating the compensation for them, account should be taken of the fact that it is, of all the dominant countries, the only one with an entirely open market for both British and Community products.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)

I appreciate that the Minister—like all Ministers in all Governments—must try to strike a balance between the consumer and the producer of textiles in Britain. I congratulate him on the tough stand that he has taken in the negotiations, although I must express, together with hon. Members on each side of the House, disappointment that he was unable to achieve the level of actual imports as the basis for increases in the future.

Will the Minister bear in mind the fact that a very good and sensible test of acceptability in negotiations is the extent to which the agreements allow low-cost imports to Britain to rise above the recent actual levels of trade, and the relationship between that increase and the expected 1 per cent. annual growth in domestic demand? The Minister will find that the 23 per cent. mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) will not be far wrong if the worst comes to the worst.

Mr. Rees

I am grateful for the Hon. Gentleman's kind opening words. I know of his deep concern and interest in the problem. I hope that he will accept it from me that the United Kingdom's opening position—which we maintained until it became apparent that we were more or less isolated—was that the quotas of the new MFA should start from 1980 actual levels. However, it was a matter of negotiation and it became apparent, to my regret, that our position was not sustainable.

Whether the figure of 23 per cent. is absolutely accurate or not—I take the general thrust of what the hon. Member for Keighley said—I hope that it is a little gloomy, unless of course the expansion of demand in the home market is such that there will be scope not only for that amount of imports but for considerably increased production in the domestic mills. The hon. Gentleman should take into account not only the low growth rates that have been negotiated but the fact that under-used quotas may in certain circumstances be suppressed—as was reported to the House before Christmas—and also the new anti-surge mechanism that I hope will prevent the sudden disruptive surges for which even the best organised business cannot reasonably plan.

I hope that a fair balance has been struck. The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to refer to the difficulties of reconciling the interests of consumers and producers, but there are two other dimensions to the problem. There are the expectations of the Third world, with which I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members are concerned, and the interests of our exporting industries. The House will recall that, on other occasions when the United Kingdom has been thought to have adopted too rigorous a position, our exporting industries in the developing world have been prejudiced. Anybody concerned with such negotiations must be sensitive to that sort of dimension to the problem as well as to the interests of the textile industry.

Mr. Woolmer

I remind the Minister that he did not deal with the problem of group H or III, which the House will know cover about 100 products, including suits, jackets, dresses and shirts. They are significant employers and industries. Will the Minister be more specific and recognise that the previous average growth rate of 5 per cent. is far beyond what it is possible to accept in the next MFA? Will he give the House rather more information about his thinking in that direction? How far below the previous figure will we go? Will it be nearer to 1 per cent. than to 5 per cent?

Secondly, does the Minister recognise that outward processing threatens our export markets to Europe and is also a potential threat because of the free circulation of outward processed products being imported from other EEC producers, who will increase their outward processing? How does he believe that that will affect Britain? What will be the additional possible amount of outward processed imports as a result of compensating the dominant suppliers, who after all are the dominant suppliers by definition?

Thirdly, is the Minister willing to start consultations now with the trade unions and employers about an alternative approach if we withdraw in the autumn? The position will be untenable and totally unsatisfactory if we threaten to withdraw in the autumn but there are no alternative proposals. Neither those with whom we are negotiating nor our Ministers and trade unions will be satisfied if they are caught in the autumn and told that there is no credible alternative.

Finally, will the Minister reconsider whether he, as the Minister intimately concerned with the negotiations, agrees that the House is entitled to a full debate on the matter? Since the previous debate 12 months ago, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost. I recognise that that is not the fault of the Minister, but the position is grossly unsatisfactory and outside the House it will be seen as such. I press him, because I know that he is intimately concerned with the industry, to tell the House that he at least is prepared to give his support to a full debate. Nothing less will satisfy the industries.

Mr. Rees

I prefer not to commit myself to a precise figure on groups H and III, in case my mathematics is incorrect. As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, there was a great mass of debate yesterday and the threads must be drawn together. As I said, it was partly the difficulty of drawing those threads together that prevented me from giving a copy of my statement to the hon. Gentleman earlier. He will realise the complexity of the matter and should realise that, if one arrives back late at night after a full day's negotiation that was preceded by negotiations in what is known as the article 113 committee and Coreper, it is sometimes difficult to sort out the approprate facts to give to the House. However, I shall endeavour to write to him about that, in the hope that I will set his mind at rest.

It has not been found in practice that there has been much seepage of outward processing from other EEC countries. That may not be a total reassurance to the hon. Gentleman but beyond that he will be aware of the impact of article 115 and he will see what can be done to toughen the operation of that article if it should become apparent that there is a massive seepage of outward processing from, for example, Germany, which is concerned with the matter and which has its own links with Central Europe and Yugoslavia, However, I shall bear that point in mind.

As to the dominant suppliers, the cuts during the period of the MFA will average 10 per cent. Compensation will certainly not exceed that amount, but it is subject to negotiation. I cannot say precisely what will be negotiated with each dominant supplier but a clear ceiling was set by the Council yesterday.

I recognise the force of what the hon. Gentleman says about plans for an alternative regime should the Community, against my hope and expectation, be obliged to withdraw from the MFA. However, it would be a little premature to start full-scale consultations on that now. It is rather early to anticipate failure. I hope that, from everyone's point of view, practical and successful bilateral negotiations will be concluded. If there is to be withdrawal, notice must be given by the end of this year, so there will be plenty of time, if the Commission reports that it cannot achieve a conclusion of bilaterals within the framework, to consider the question then.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that, in the brief time that I have been in my present position, my door has alway been open to those on both sides of industry and to hon. Members who represent constituencies especially affected for discussions on the implication of what has been achieved and the objectives that we should set.

The question of a full debate is a matter for the usual channels. My view may be canvassed, but whether my hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary will take much account of it I do not know. However, a debate would probably not be meaningful now, because practical men on both sides of industry will be concerned about the actual quotas which can be extracted only from the bilateral negotiations. It is better to wait until we can appreciate it in the round so that the House can judge whether adequate protection has been achieved for the industry, as I hope—within the broad principles laid down—it will be. However, I must say to the House——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are now taking the time of a Private Member's Bill. I shall allow the Minister to finish his sentence.

Mr. Rees

The last debate was in July 1981 and this is the third statement that has been made on this issue.

Mr. Speaker

I sympathise with the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant). I know that he wishes to attend a memorial service for one of our former colleagues. I am sorry that this exchange has gone on for so long.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister said that he would send a personal letter to the Opposition Front Bench spokesman on this subject—the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer). Would it be appropriate, Mr. Speaker, for you to rule that that letter might be sent to all hon. Members present this morning or, appropriately, put in the Library?

Mr. Speaker

Those remarks have been heard.