HC Deb 03 July 1985 vol 82 cc314-6
2. Mr. Freeman

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has to assist the development of the footwear manufacturing industry.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. David Trippier)

My department has a wide range of schemes currently available to assist the development of industry, including the footwear manufacturing industry.

Mr. Freeman

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way for the Government to help the footwear industry is to encourage the introduction of new technology, especially microelectronic process control technology, which will safeguard, rather than lose, jobs?

Mr. Trippier

Yes. In addition to the substantial grant which the Department of Trade and Industry gives the industry's research association, which last year was in excess of £500,000, officials in my Department are engaged in negotiations with representatives from the industry on the use of advanced techniques in the manufacture of footwear.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is the Minister worried about the influence of the British Shoe Corporation on the British footwear market?

Mr. Trippier

There is a retail commitment, with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar and to which we refer from time to time. I appreciate that there have been discussions about this matter in the all-party footwear committee. If the hon. Gentleman would like to draw my attention to any specific matter, I shall consider it seriously.

Mr. Fry

In the context of the future of the footwear industry, has my hon. Friend seen early-day motion 834, which asks the Government to act on the danger of the United States Government imposing quotas on exports of footwear to that country? Will my hon. Friend be kind enough to make a statement?

Mr. Trippier

I have seen that early-day motion, which has been signed by colleagues with constituency interests in footwear, and I agree with the thrust of it. With our full backing, the Community has registered the strongest possible representation to the United States Administration that, if exports from the EC to the United States are to be curtailed, that would be unjustified and oblige the Community to take advantage of its powers under the general agreement on tariffs and trade to be compensated fully for injury caused to our exporters. It would not be understood in this House if the Americans introduced such a protectionist measure, because it would not sit easily with their professed belief in free trade.

Mr. John Smith

In the event of the Americans not matching their actions to their beliefs and quotas being applied, will the Government ensure that such quotas are applied country by country, or on an EEC basis, whereupon the Government will put pressure on Brussels to ensure that there is a country by country allocation of those quotas, as the British Footwear Manufacturers Federation has asked the Government to do?

Mr. Trippier

I should not like to go down that path, for the simple reason that, at this stage, only the International Trade Commission is making representations to the American Administration. The ITC is not part of the American Government. Indeed, the American Administration has a good record on resisting the overtures of organisations, such as the ITC, with regard to the introduction of protectionist measures. I do not know whether we shall get anywhere near what the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests. I hope that the record to which I have referred remains good.

Mr. Powley

If the position to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) referred came about, and vast quantities of cheap shoes were being dumped on the English market to the detriment of our footwear industry, following early-day motion 834, would my hon. Friend be prepared to consider appropriate measures to protect our industry?

Mr. Trippier

It would be a case of retaliatory action, and we are nowhere near that at the moment. As I said in reply to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), I do not think we should be led down that path at this stage. The United States Administration have always resisted protectionist measures. Obviously it is our profound hope, as it is the hope of the European Community, that they will resist them again.