HC Deb 02 December 1986 vol 106 cc869-90
Mr. Speaker

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister was good enough to deposit in the Library on 24 November full details of the bilateral agreements referred to in the Government's motion. As I have a keen interest in the matter, I spent some time ploughing through the documents. However, at an early stage I met the obstacle that the vital document, called, "Quantitative Limits Negotiated In Bilateral Agreements Under the GATT MFA" is entirely in French. For the past few days I have been struggling with expressions such as bouclés du genre éponge, les bas à varices, salopettes à bretelles, soutiens-gorge et bustiers—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not understand that either, but what is the point?

Mr. Wainwright

I submit that this fact made it almost impossible for me to prepare adequately for this debate. I must add that after the strenuous representations made by the admirable library to the Minister's office, only today, just after noon, an English translation arrived but it was too late for most of us.

Mr. Speaker

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point but I have no authority over such papers as they are matters for the Government. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be able to raise this matter in the debate.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Alan Clark)

I find myself in a very uncomfortable position. I learned of this alien document only at 7 o'clock this evening. On inquiry I learned that, as the Scrutiny Committee required ratification of this Community document before 8 December to enable us to participate in the textile committee's proceedings and to vote, it was thought courteous to hon. Members who might wish to make inquiries in the Library if at least a document were deposited there.

I can only say that I share the distaste, if not the indignation, of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright). I apologise profusely to him and to the House for this oversight.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it possible for the Minister to let us know before we start the debate what he is proposing to agree in the bilateral arrangements under the multi-fibre arrangement?

Mr. Speaker

I cannot do that, but I will now call the Minister to tell us.

10.16 pm
The Minister for Trade (Mr. Alan Clark)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 9809/86 on renewal of the Arrangement regarding international trade in textiles (MFA), and of the Community's bilateral textiles agreements and of the Department of Trade and Industry's unnumbered explanatory memorandum of 24th November 1986 on the provisional application of bilateral agreements on trade in textile products between the European Community and certain third countries; and welcomes the Government's achievement in the conclusion of a new Protocol extending the Multi-Fibre Arrangement for a further five-year period and the satisfactory negotiation of 26 new bilateral agreements under the arrangement. The motion before the House deals with the outcome of negotiations to renew the multi-fibre arrangement and the associated bilateral agreements. We debated the subject in May 1985, when the negotiations were still at a formative stage. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined the Government's approach. In February 1986, just before the Community agreed its negotiating mandate, we debated the matter again. I took careful account of the points made by hon. Members and I have throughout kept in close and detailed touch with industry and other interested parties.

The House can now view the outcome of the negotiations against the United Kingdom's objectives. The process of negotiation involved discussion first within the Community, then within the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and, finally, at a bilateral level with our supplier countries. In my view, the results of the negotiations largely meet United Kingdom needs and should be welcomed.

The House will know that there is a strong weight of pressure in favour of liberalising the trade regime for textiles. This comes from the developing countries whose exports are restricted by the MFA, and from exporters to those countries who believe that their access is limited thereby. There is also pressure from consumers who are affected by the higher prices that can result. In addition, the Third world lobby cogently argues that the developing countries should be allowed special and preferential access to Orgnaisation for Economic Co-operation and Development markets in general and the United Kingdom in particular.

I am sure that hon. Members will also recall the assessments that have been made of the high costs of such a regime on the economy as a whole. There is a school of economists who claim that protection for one sector has costs for others. I fear that in the light of these considerations the new arrangement that has been negotiated, and which I shall describe, may not go as far as those advocates would wish.

I shall begin with the new protocol renewing the multi-fibre arrangement which was concluded on 1 August. A copy is in the Library of the House. I apologise for the fact that the accompanying documents are not in English.

A feature of the new protocol is that it extends the arrangement for five years. This is a longer period than in previous renewals, and I know that the industry welcomes this. The protocol provides for special treatment for the least developed countries and I am sure that this attitude will be widely welcomed on both sides of the House. The United Kingdom had pressed for this. In addition, the protocol also states that all participants should contribute towards liberalisation of trade. This is a clear signal that we expect others to reduce their trade barriers to our exports. There is a provision that there should be no cuts from previous quota levels. Here it should be borne in mind that there were pressures in the United States in particular for such cuts.

A further new element of the protocol, which was included as a response to problems experienced particularly by the United States, is that restrictions may now be introduced on products of certain new fibres, such as ramie sweaters, where these are directly competitive with traditional MFA products, and are threatening market disruption. In most other respects the protocol essentially renews the arrangement for a further period with little change.

The bilateral agreements—within the terms of the protocol—were negotiated between May and November, and all our MFA low-cost suppliers have now initialled agreements. The detailed quota levels have been placed in the Library. The terms are in accordance with the mandate agreed by Community Ministers last March and also meet the United Kingdom objectives that I last described in the House in February.

The new agreements will provide continued effective protection for the sensitive sectors of the United Kingdom textile and clothing industry, while providing some elements of liberalisation. For the non-dominant suppliers in particular, access levels and growth rates have been increased. For the dominant suppliers, which supply over half of MFA imports, growth rates remain low. On the eight most sensitive products, growth rates for dominant countries are in some cases as low as 0.1 per cent., and almost all are less than 1 per cent.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

Could the Minister give some idea of overall growth rate so far as it will affect the United Kingdom market?

Mr. Clark

The hon. Gentleman will know that the total that we are discussing within which growth rates are taking place is only 8 per cent. of overall consumption. I do not think that is it comprehensible within that 8 per cent. to give an average overall figure. If the hon. Gentleman pays attention to what I am saying, he will find that the sectoral figures will emerge in the course of the debate. I repeat that all such figures have to be seen in the context of an overall band of only 8 per cent. of consumption.

To see what effect these changes will have on the market as a whole, one has to take into account the fact that almost 60 per cent. of consumption in value terms is supplied by domestic industry. Of total imports, 20 per cent. come from MFA suppliers, and that is only 8 per cent. of consumption. Of these, the majority are supplied by the dominant countries, whose growth rates remain low. The additional increases in access are therefore very marginal in terms of total United Kingdom consumption. Within this framework, the Community was mindful of the degree of openness of the supplier country's own market.

Special treatment was provided in line with the protocol for the least developed countries; the agreement with Bangladesh contains no quota restrictions. Approximately one quarter of the existing quotas, either for the Community as a whole or for certain member states, which had been consistently under-utilised, were not renewed. But in any case, if the need arose, it would be possible to introduce restraints, provided that imports rose above certain specified levels and were threatening market disruption.

A degree of liberalisation has been provided for children's clothes: in the case of the quotas on certain products, suppliers can bring in a specified proportion in the form of children's clothes at a special rate—for example, Singapore can send five children's garments for every three units of quota up to a limit of 5 per cent. of the total quotas on T-shirts and trousers.

The Community's approach was regarded as positive and constructive by the developing countries, as it provided a movement towards a more liberal regime. At the same time, we have kept tight controls where they are most needed by our industry. The industry had reservations but it gave the Protocol a cautious welcome and I believe that when it has studied the detailed content of the bilaterals it will decide that these too, given the mandate, are satisfactory from its standpoint. We have of course kept in close and detailed touch with the industry throughout. I have had a number of meetings with the unions and I hope that the House will feel able to recognise that we have negotiated effective protection for the most sensitive sectors.

Mr. Bowen Wells

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He seems to be suggesting that the industry does not know what he is proposing in the bilateral arrangements, or, at least, has not had a chance to reply to his proposals on the bilateral arrangements. Is that detail known to the industry and if so, is its reaction to what he is proposing positive or negative?

Mr. Clark

There have been consultations with the industry at every stage.

Mr. Wells

Yes, but does the industry know the bilateral arrangements?

Mr. Clark

Yes, of course it does. My hon. Friend may be able to develop his thoughts if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He will then be able to cite what authority he has for his arguments.

As regards the longer term, the Community has stated that the final aim is the return of textiles to GATT rules. However, I must assure the House that no commitment has been given that all special restrictions on textile and clothing trade will come to an end in 1991. The Community has made it clear that that is a matter that will have to be negotiated in the GATT round.

Of course, in that round all the major derogations and exemptions from the basic rules of the GATT will be on the table for negotiation—in particular, the exemption from GATT disciplines enjoyed by some of the highly advanced developing countries which are among the major MFA suppliers. I should mention that, while those countries maintain barriers which restrict a wide range of the United Kingdom's goods and services, not least among them are barriers which restrict imports of textile and clothing products and it is our aim to bring those to an end.

The result of the MFA negotiations represents a good example of the European Community in negotiating as a bloc. It fully meets the interests of the United Kingdom, taken as a balance of consumers and producers, and I invite the House to endorse the motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

10.28 pm
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

I beg to move, to leave out from "countries" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: but regrets the failure to negotiate within the Arrangement a new article on social development and working conditions or to secure reciprocal access to the markets of the supplying countries, and records its concern at the continuing absence of an industrial strategy to reverse the high level of job losses and closures in the British textile industry. The Minister said that the industry had given a cautious welcome to the protocol and the 26 associated bilateral arrangements. It would be fair to say that the abiding emotion of the industry is one of relief that it has a continuation of the MFA in any form. It is fair to say—I appreciate that this goes back beyond the Minister's time—that at one point at the turn of the year the industry was in some doubt whether the Government were in favour of a continuation of the MFA.

Tonight we see a situation full of paradoxes. The Government, who have been most dogmatic in their statements of rhetorical support for free trade, are represented at the Dispatch Box by a Minister who is one of the most formidable opponents of free trade and who is particularly eloquent when he addresses the House in the vernacular rather than any alien tongue.

The Minister, in the name of a Government who are committed to free trade, is recommending a model of planned trade which regulates the trade between Governments and imports to and exports from their respective countries. I must state straight away that, in principle, that form of collective bargaining is congenial to the Opposition, and we hope that the Government can be persuaded to extend that interventionist approach right across the trade balance that threatens to become severely imbalanced.

It is not possible for us to share the Minister's satisfaction with the state in which the protocol leaves the industry. The textile industry is a clear example of the damage caused to our manufacturing base by the policies pursued by this Administration in their earliest phase. Between 1979 and 1982, output fell by 25 per cent., investment halved and 750,000 jobs were lost—one in three of all the jobs that existed in 1979. That dramatic retreat on the part of the industry demonstrates that an exchange rate policy would be of far greater significance and importance to the industry than anything that can be secured through the MFA or similar trade negotiations.

It is true that since 1982 the industry has shown substantial recovery—entirely through its own efforts—but none of the indicators are back anywhere near the 1979 level. Profits may have rallied, but jobs continue to dribble away. In the first half of this year, 4,000 jobs were lost within the industry. Only last week, Pringle placed half of its work force on short-time working. I understand that this week Lyle and Scott has followed that lead. Those companies are operating at the upper end of the market. I understand that the pressure that is affecting them is the sharp drop in the numbers of American tourists visiting Britain during the summer and their failure to purchase high quality textiles. Pringle and Lyle and Scott are the latest casualties of the raid on Libya that the Prime Minister found it inconceivable to prevent.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Loughborough)


Mr. Cook

No. The loss of Pringle's sales is attributable to the decrease in the numbers of American tourists coming to Britain. If the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) would like to attribute that decline to any factor other than President Reagan's attempt to make the world safer from terrorism, I would be interested to hear from him.

Mr. Dorrell

I would attribute it to Gaddafi's activities.

Mr. Cook

On the contrary, Mr. Gaddafi has not been particularly active in retaliation. I understood that that was why the American tourists were staying away.

There are no grounds for complacency in the light of the recent export-import figures. Imports have risen in eight of the last nine months and exports have gone down in five of those nine months. That presents a sombre and challenging background against which we must judge MFA 4.

I start with a point of agreement. I welcome the fact that MFA 4 removes the poorest countries from the quota restrictions—most notably Bangladesh. I note that Bangladesh is still within the scope of the grimly named "basket extractor systems"—a term for which I in no way blame the Minister. I hope that will not trigger off a repetition, as we witnessed last year, of quotas being invoked against Bangladesh.

It is necessary to recognise that there is something anomalous about Bangladesh receiving special treatment because of its poverty, whereas India and Pakistan, in the same sub-continent with standards of living not much above those in Bangladesh, are capped by quotas. I appreciate that there were severe problems in negotiating the bilateral arrangement with India because, understandably, India sought a large rise in quotas. However, if we are serious about using the MFA to help the poorest at the expense of the more successful nations of the Third world, such an increase must be conceded to the other countries in the Indian sub-continent, preferably at the expense of the dominant countries.

That leads me to the area of the debate where we would cast a slightly jaundiced eye over the protocol that the Minister has recommended to the House. The trade pressure from the MFA countries comes from not the poorest countries, but the dominant countries.

Mr. Dorrell

From Europe.

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. Imports from European countries have been increasing at double the rate of imports from MFA countries. I would welcome a robust approach from the hon. Gentleman towards imports from Europe.

The greatest pressure on the textile market in Britain comes from the four dominant countries in the MFA. They account for half the quotas and imports from the MFA in jerseys, shirts and trousers. I accept that the protocol is a fairly faithful replication of the mandate. However, the Minister will be aware that in relation to the dominant countries, the industry feels that the quota increases are too liberal—with a small, not a capital, "1". Any multi-fibre arrangement negotiated with the Liberal party would undoubtedly have oscillating quotas, depending on who was speaking on its behalf.

Last time the House debated the matter the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) spoke on behalf of the alliance and prompted a speech from the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), who I presume was speaking in his Back Bench capacity, in which he said that it was a pity his party had not chosen someone to speak for it who knew something about textiles. I understand that today we are to be treated to a speech from the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright). Clearly, the dispute in the previous debate will be resolved by ensuring that neither party to it takes part today. We look forward to the hon. Gentleman's speech to find out whether tonight the Liberal party is in favour of or against the MFA and whether it favours the MFA being extended or choked off at the end of the five years.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

So do I.

Mr. Cook

We share the hon. Gentleman's suspense.

We regard the quotas of the dominant countries as too liberal. Tory Members will be aware that the industry stated that any increases in quotas should be confined to growth and consumption in the United Kingdom market—about 1 per cent. per annum. The quotas in the bilateral arrangements provide for increases two, three or four times the growth in the domestic market. I appreciate that that represents a relatively marginal increase in their slice of the domestic market. Nevertheless, arithmetically, the conclusion is inescapable. It means that domestic producers have to accept a steady reduction of their market share within the United Kingdom and the Common Market. [Interruption.] As the hon. Member for Loughborough will be aware, the whole point of the quotas is to cap the competitive edge which these countries have because of their lower costs. That is why we describe them as the low-cost countries contained within the MFA. The industry is certainly making rapid progress towards greater competitiveness and it has increased productivity by 40 per cent. since 1980. Nevertheless, those increases in quotas are likely to be taken up and will represent a diminishing share of the industry's domestic market.

It is not simply a matter of quotas. There is great anxiety in the industry about the loosening of the restrictions on the supplying nations which keep them to the quotas. The extent to which the quotas are malleable is demonstrated by the remarkable surge in imports from the MFA dominants earlier this year. In the first eight months of this year imports to the Community from Taiwan increased by 42 per cent., from South Korea by 38 per cent. and from Hong Kong by 34 per cent. Those increases took place within the regime of the previous MFA.

The new arrangement provides new exceptions to the quotas which contain the capacity for even greater surges of imports. There is particular anxiety about the interstate transfers for which there is provision in the bilaterals and which could result in a 16 per cent. increase in certain quotas over five years. The Minister must accept that the industry will expect him to maintain a close watch on certain developments and a willingness to intervene should it turn out that interstate transfers are being abused and becoming a means of circumventing quota restrictions.

I now come to the other side of the coin. If we accept that it was inevitable, and even desirable, that during negotiations there would be an increase in quotas, it would have been reasonable for us to expect something in return from the supplying countries for those increases in quota. Despite the Minister's brave words, the protocol shows that we have got nothing in return.

The most obvious thing we might have hoped to get in return was that the supplying nations would prise open a slice of their textile market as we opened the door to our domestic textile market. Instead, protectionism among the 26 members of the MFA is stark. There are one or two honourable exceptions, because Hong Kong and Singapore operate open markets. The extent to which we can supply textile exports to those countries demonstrates what can be done in an open trading situation.

Hong Kong and Singapore export per head of population £9.50 worth of textiles to Britain. Per head of population they import £7 worth of textiles from Britain. That is an imbalance in their favour, but it is a perfectly reasonable one. However, if we look at South Korea, Taiwan and the other members of the dominant four, and include Brazil, we find that those countries export textiles to Britain at the rate of £4.80 per head of their population. In return, they import from Britain textiles to the value of 6p per head. It is impossible to defend that balance as being a result of the differential trade advantages of the two nations. Patently, above all else, that differential represents protectionism. The tariffs with which they surround themselves are astronomical. Brazil has a textile tariff which exceeds 100 per cent. Such a tariff is there not to regulate but to prohibit trade.

The Minister took pride in presenting to the House 26 bilateral agreements which, on the whole, provide for greater access to the British market. I understand that only one of the bilaterals provides for greater access to the market of the supplying country. That is South Korea, which has agreed to reduce its tariffs, but has in the meantime introduced, as a balancing act, deposits on textiles coming into the country.

So far, the points I have made are common to both management and work force. It is fair to say that my next point is pressed more by the unions than by management, but it is also endorsed by the World Development Movement, whose support for the multi-fibre arrangement cannot always be taken for granted. Both the unions and the World Development Movement agree on the need for a social clause in the MFA. Only last Friday the European trade union committee on textiles at its meeting in Luxembourg carried a resolution calling for an article on social development in the MFA which would oblige supplying nations to observe International Labour Organisation standards on working conditions. We find that request entirely reasonable.

If we accept that those countries should have a growing share of our market, we have a reasonable entitlement to ask that they ensure that that growth is passed on to their work force. In the past year, while MFA 4 has been under negotiation, the people of Britain were deeply moved by press reports about child labour in the textile factories in Thailand. It would be entirely wrong if we were knowingly to sanction that type of employment practice by deliberately setting a quota for imports of products from those factories.

Sadly, this area represents another missed opportunity. I am advised by the European trade union committee on textiles that in two weeks of negotiations in Geneva by the 26 bilaterals, exactly 30 minutes was devoted to a perfunctory attempt to get the supplying nations to accept a social clause. I regret that there is no social clause in the protocol. I hope that we will see an extension of MFA 4 into MFA 5, and that when the negotiations start again greater priority will be attached to the social clause than we have seen this time round.

I echo the words of the Minister, that the textile industry is a major industry. It remains important, despite the assault that it had to withstand because of the policies of this Government in their earlier years in office. It is important in terms of jobs, because it has more employees than the vehicle, aerospace and shipbuilding industries added together. The jobs are located in regions that have been particularly susceptible to the recent recession, and those jobs are especially important in the fight against unemployment.

The textile industry is important to the economy. Its output is greater than the output of the high technology and telecommunications industries added together. It is the third largest sector of manufacturing industry. It is outstripped by only two other sectors. It is a great and significant industry.

MFA 4 offers a breathing space to the industry. I am confident that the industry will use that breathing space to follow through the progress that it has made in the last three years. The industry would be helped in that task if the Government were now to follow up their intervention in overseas trade by intervention at home. It would help the industry to plan an industrial strategy for this sector, with, as its objective, dare I suggest, a return to the target figures—not the employment figures—of 1979. I suspect that that broader task which still awaits us during the next five years will have to await the Government that comes into office after the next general election.

10.45 pm
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

After the speech of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) it is difficult to know exactly where he stands on MFA 4. I believe unequivocally that this is an arrangement with which the textile industry can live. It provides a much better deal than at one time seemed possible. My hon. Friend the Minister for Trade deserves our thanks and congratulations for standing up for the interests of the United Kingdom during the complicated negotiations in Geneva.

Our textile industry does not demand permanent protection. The lifting of some quotas as part of the agreement has been accepted without fuss. The objective must, above all, be fair trade. If possible, it should be free trade, but it must be fair trade. We cannot open our markets fully while other countries are still prepared to use all the means that are available to them to protect their home markets. I think, for example, of South Korea. It gave every indication this summer of liberalisation, but when it came to the point it found new ways of preventing our exporters from gaining access to their customers. If high tariffs and quotas need to be relaxed, some countries are quite prepared to utilise restrictive licensing and distribution systems, as well as import deposits and bans, as a recent report of the National Economic Development Office clearly showed.

In the multi-fibre arrangement we recognised that account should be taken, when fixing quotas, of the needs of the very poor countries—Bangladesh has already been mentioned—in building up their domestic industries. It was also right that we should give due credit to those countries—for example, Hong Kong—whose markets are genuinely open to our goods. I am afraid that it is often the fast-developing countries like Taiwan and Brazil, which have significant populations and money to spend on British high quality goods, that discriminate blatantly against us. Tariffs of up to 100 per cent. are not just unfair, they destroy jobs in places like the West Riding and in other areas where such jobs are at a premium.

Over the years the multi-fibre arrangement has not restricted change. Indeed, MFA 3 permitted an annual growth rate in imports of up to 6 per cent.—nearly four times the growth rate of clothing sales during the period to which it applied. It is not in our interest to hold back international free trade. Indeed, this country depends upon it for its prosperity. However, we must not allow ourselves to be kidded that the situation that we should like to see already exists. Despite the fact that President Reagan held firm against a surge of protectionism in the United States, there remains the possibility of new measures in the future, with all the dangers that these present—that goods could be diverted towards our markets.

The new MFA will last for five years. That in itself will provide stability, which can only be good. We should use that time to try to persuade those with less open markets than our own to engage in play fair. At the end of the day, we must be prepared to be tough with countries like Korea. At the end of the day, too, we cannot give a commitment, as the west Yorkshire end of the Liberal party would like us to do, that MFA 4 represents the end of the road for these arrangements. To do so would invite our competitors to string out their excuses for the delays in becoming more open to our goods, up to the point where they would no longer need to make any excuses. One should not play one's cards when there is no need to do so, and when others are keeping theirs close to their chest.

In the mean time, it is a pity that some people are so wedded to the idea of gloom and doom in the textile industry that they react to almost any news with condemnation. Mr. Alex Smith, chairman of the TUC textile committee, was wrong to react so bleakly to the signing of the agreement. The people to whom I talk in the textile industry tend not be optimists at the best of times, but their realistic assessment was that what was signed in Geneva was acceptable, bearing in mind that many people wanted to see an end to such arrangements.

The textile industry has pulled itself up by its bootstraps, by its own efforts. Let us admit that some of the criticisms that were made a few years ago of our marketing and fashion skills were justified, but now our goods do not just have a good reputation in quality terms, they are much more fashionable and can compete with the best from Italy and other countries.

If one visits textile departments such as those at Huddersfield polytechnic, one comes across enthusiastic people who can transmit that enthusiasm to the young people considering a career in the industry. It is their future about which we should be concerned, and the new MFA will help to ensure that the textile industry is still around and able to offer a career in years to come.

10.51 pm
Mr. Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley)

As to the documents that were provided in the Library for the debate, I accept the apologies that the Minister was good enough to give freely. He is aware, as I am, that it would not have required superhuman labour to put an English translation in the Library in the latter part of last week.

The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who opened for the Labour segment of the Opposition, seemed positively jealous of the amount of talent in the international trade in textiles that the Liberal party is able to deploy. The fact that on previous occasions such colleagues as my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has led for us does not mean that every time we debate these matters he is sent in to bat number one. As it is now rather more than 20 years since I was elected for the traditional textile and Socialist seat of Colne Valley, I do not feel particularly modest, although always nervous, in addressing the House.

As the House knows, the concept and system of the MFA was devised first to provide some traditional shelter, and every MFA document down the years has stressed the temporary nature of the system for our important and varied textile industry, so that it could re-equip, regroup and adjust itself to contemporary world conditions. It also aimed, to quote the 1974 MFA, which was typical, to achieve the expansion of trade, the reduction of barriers to such trade, and the progressive liberalisation of world trade in textile products". I am glad to acknowledge freely that MFA 4, which the alliance has always recognised was necessary and timely, and on which we have had admirable tuition always from my hon. Friend from across the Pennines, the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), embodies to a substantial, if not a perfect, extent, the concept of liberalisation of world trade in textiles. It is more relaxed in any of its provisions than its predecessors, and we in the alliance welcome this.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that a policy document was launched by the Liberal party on 30 July entitled Liberals launch strategy for Textile and Clothing Industry"? I believe that the report was launched by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and that it urges that the next multi-fibre arrangement renewal be the last and states: The British textile and clothing industries deserve better". Would the hon. Gentleman confirm that that remains Liberal party policy or is he enunciating a new policy on behalf of the alliance tonight?

Mr. Wainwright

I shall come to that. I have never been accused in the House of holding back Liberal policy. Indeed, I am proud to proclaim it. It is odd that the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) should leap in so quickly to try to pinch my peroration from me. I shall come to the admirable document which was promulgated by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil in the name of our party. We are especially glad not only that the Government have had the wisdom to commission an admirable, scholarly and impartial analysis of the position of the textile trade from Professor Silberston of Imperial college, but that they have paid great heed to his findings in their attitude to the MFA through the European Community. I shall remind the House of a key passage in Professor Silberston's admirable report: Taking all considerations into account, the benefits to the economy as a whole of relaxing the MFA would appear to outweigh the costs. Once the necessary adjustments have been made, the economy as a whole should benefit, although considerable problems would certainly arise for the textile and clothing industries. Because the "Government have failed to provide for the inevitable problems of some parts of the textile, and to a lesser extent the clothing, industries, we cannot join in the smug self-satisfaction of the Government motion. Professor Silberston was frank and correct in claiming that the economy overall would benefit from what we now have as a relaxed MFA but there will be some serious problems for some parts of the textile and clothing industry. The Government should have taken that on board as well.

There are some more welcome parts of the new MFA. We thoroughly approve of the exemption from any quota limit whatever, of such poor countries as Bangladesh, Guatemala, Uruguay, Haiti, Mexico and Colombia. It is certainly a step forward to have such an impressive list of countries which are now to be allowed to send their exports to the Community and other parts of the western world without any hindrance. We hope that one result of that will be to check the notable decline of the developing countries' share of imports of textiles into this country. As hon. Members will know, that has fallen in recent years from 34.5 per cent. of our United Kingdom imports of textile and clothing in 1976 to a mere 27.5 per cent. in 1984. That is not much of a tribute to liberalisation of expansion of international textile trade and not much contribution to getting the appalling weight of debt off the shoulders of the extremely poor and deprived countries.

I would like to welcome the disappearance on new year's day, as a result of MFA 4 and the bilaterals accompanying it, of an iniquitous restriction which the Government placed on the import of shirts from Bangladesh—of all poverty-strickeen and heavily unemployed countries—as recently as July 1985. To have got rid of that is to have got rid of a serious blot on Britain's reputation as a good neighbour in world trade.

In contradistinction to the Labour amendment, I point out with satisfaction that those suppliers with notably open home markets—I refer to such countries as Hong Kong and Singapore—have had their virtue rewarded in the MFA by being permitted higher growth rates than those of closed economies such as South Korea, Taiwan, and so on. These countries suffer under MFA 4 as a result of their narrow, selfish and protectionist policies, so they should suffer as a result. I am surprised that the Labour amendment implies that that is not happening.

With some regret, I now refer to the amendment from the Labour segment of the Opposition. I find it intolerable that countries that are burdened down with debt to Western moneylenders—countries that in the last 12 months, have sent more money back to the West than it has lent them, countries whose blood we and other rich countries are sucking—should be lectured in the Labour amendment about the necessity for them to establish social development and good working conditions. Of course they should. We all want good working conditions throughout the world. It is not the place of moneylenders, who are contributing to the depths of depression of these countries, to tell them how to organise their social frameworks or their working conditions.

Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)


Mr. Wainwright

I shall not give way. I have given way generously, and it took an enormously long time. I hope the hon. Gentleman will catch the eye of the Chair.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Will my hon. Friend give way for a second?

Mr. Wainwright

To my hon. Friend, of course.

Mr. Smith

I ask my hon. Friend to advance a theory about why Labour Members will not press their amendment to a vote tonight. Is it because they do not agree with it, or because of the point my hon. Friend has just made, or because only six of them are attending the debate?

Mr. Wainwright

My hon. Friend is as percipient as always. I am grateful to him for assisting my argument. There is an element of moan and groan in the Labour amendment. Why do not hon. Gentlemen listen to the increasingly robust attitude of some of the more go-ahead textile producers in this country? For example, Viyella proudly proclaims and makes no secret of the fact that it is willing to take on any country in providing value for money in the form of the textiles that it produces so well. Only last week, I was glad to hear the great firm of Dawson International, which is not by any means wholly occupied in the quality end of the trade—it has some very run-of-the-mill cloth producers in its group—say that it, too, was prepared to take on any of the low-cost producers and out-perform them in their line of goods. That kind of robust attitude will stand up to the depressing influence of the Government's economic policies.

The situation would be much more bearable for some of our textile companies if the Government were to expand the economy and bring down their record rates of real interest, which are the enemy of companies that invest in modern textile plants, except for those companies with cash mountains. Of course things would be better if the Government were more robust in their anti-dumping policies. We in the alliance parties have still not given up hope of the Minister. He has a more robust attitude against dumping than his predecessors did. We still want to see the fruits of his labour. I make no secret of the fact in concluding—

Mr. Robin Cook

The hon. Gentleman seemed to be about to conclude. Before he finishes his remarks, I press him on the question that was put to him earlier. It appears that he takes the view that the British textile industry is moving to a position in which it can take on all comers. Before the hon. Gentleman lapses into French so that we cannot follow the latest twists in Liberal party policy, will he make it clear whether the Liberal party would favour an extension of the MFA when MFA 4 expires?

Mr. Wainwright

I am immensely flattered by the zest with which Labour Members pursue Liberal policy. How wise they are to pay such close attention to it. The very next line in my notes contains the warning about which my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil has often spoken. The industry should be given a fair warning and reasonable time to prepare. The alliance believes that MFA 4 should have been explicitly announced as the last one. After all, it is lasting for five years, a year longer than the previous one. We have no quarrel with that, but we believe that, in the interests of ordinary trade planning, it is necessary that the industry should be given a warning.

I am astonished at the recklessness of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller), who seemed to think that there was no need to sound a warning to the industry, that the Government could reserve their position and, if they decided to have no MFA in 1991, that the industry could take it on the chin. We do not believe that. We believe that the industry should be given time to plan. I remind the House that by 1991 the industry will have had 17 years of well-deserved shelter from the full blast of world competition. That is surely enough, and it has proved to be enough, for the robust and enterprising companies to become prepared to play their part fully in the open market.

I must admit that I represent an area in which the wool textile industry has been receiving purely nominal benefit in recent years from the MFA. It is now so fully occupied that I have received virtually no representations from my constituency about the new MFA either way. I acknowledge that that is something of a privilege. The alliance is well aware that sections of the textile trade will find adjustment much more difficult. We are glad that they now have five full years in which to prepare to take their place as the self-reliant industries that I am sure they wish to be.

11.7 pm

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

I do not want to follow too closely the remarks of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), because his statements cannot stand up to close scrutiny. How can one even contemplate doing away with the MFA or saying beforehand, as the alliance apparently does, that this will be the last one, when world competitors would send to this country goods made by child labour? Until there is competition on equal ground, as the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said, with an arrangement incorporating a social clause specifying the conditions under which these goods are to be made—at least imposing a minimum standard—no British firm, however modern its technology and machinery, will be able to compete. Britain needs to be protected by a strong multi-fibre arrangement for as far ahead as we can imagine.

This is a critical industry. It is very localised. I think that in the east midlands 20 per cent. of the 500,000 or so people in the textile and clothing industry are working. During my recent visits, especially in Leicester, I have been continually asked by management and people on the shop floor to stress whenever I get the chance the need for some form of regulation brought about by the MFA if the industry is to continue. We do not want it obliterated by cheap imports. It has modernised tremendously, at great cost, and often, regrettably, using very superior and expensive Italian and German machines—these days, unfortunately, British machines are rarely used. Even so, a firm in Leicester recently had to shut down five or six of its most modern Italian machines, costing more than £150,000 each, because they could not be operated economically. For the time being, they have been put in mothballs.

The industry is very important to the east midlands. Production and output in textiles and clothing has improved steadily, but is still well below the level of the late 1970s. In 1979, the output indicator was 117.9 but today it is only 104. Although some ground has been made up since the depression in the intervening eight years, there is still no certainty that the present position will be maintained without constant and regular monitoring of our competitors' imports. That is why I particularly welcome this MFA.

However, I would have welcomed a social clause, as that would have been a sensible step. In the period leading up to the termination of this MFA and the next regime—for orderly world marketing there will have to be some form of regime for the foreseeable future—I hope that the Government will prepare to take big steps towards encouraging supplier countries to enter into some sort of social clause relating to the conditions of their employees.

I had thought that my hon. Friend the Minister would mention BRITE, or basic research into industrial technology for Europe. That is of critical importance to our textile and clothing industry. Basically, BRITE is funded by no less than £392 million of EEC money, covering the same period to the end of, I believe, 1991 as MFA 4 covers. That huge sum of money is available for research into all the modern applications that are so necessary if our industry is to stay abreast of events.

My hon. Friend the Minister, who is so diligent in these matters, will be familiar with BRITE. I hope that he will give an assurance that British companies get their share of that money. There has already been co-operation between a French firm and three Portuguese companies, which are spending a lot of that money on putting robots into the production line for Portuguese textiles. Other firms are combining. There is an application with robotic connections involving two firms in Belgium. They are working hard on trying to modernise their production techniques. A lot of money is also available for specific schemes in relation to introducing modern computer technology and improving existing computer technology in the production of textiles and clothing.

I hope, therefore, that in welcoming MFA 4, my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on BRITE. It is vital to the nation that we should get our share of the European money available.

11.15 pm
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

First, I declare my interest as a member of the Transport and General Workers Union, which represents many textile workers. This brief debate takes place against a backdrop of massive job losses in the textile and clothing industry during the Government's lifetime. There have been widespread closures and major reorganisation. If that is appreciated, it helps to dispel the allegations that are made by many that the multi-fibre arrangement is unduly protectionist. It puts into perspective the hesitant calls that have been made by some sections of the alliance that the MFA should cease at the end of this agreement.

I join the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir. J. Farr), who expressed regret that there is no social clause within the arrangement. It is my information that the debate on a social clause took all of 30 minutes in the recent discussions. That is regrettable, because there is mounting concern, certainly within the trade unions which represent textile and clothing workers, that there should be a concerted effort to try to improve the wages and conditions of those who work in the textile industry in the developing and least developed countries.

A document was published by the TUC in 1985 entitled "A Fair Balance in textile and clothing trade", a passage of which reads: in some instances the benefits of industrialisation are not passed on to the workers in textiles and clothing. This judgment is supported by the appallingly low wages earned by workers in many supplier countries…there is increasing evidence that the supplier countries are competing amongst themselves to attract foreign investment by suppressing pay. The widespread appearance of free trade zones in these countries over the last five to ten years, in which companies receive considerable tax concessions from host countries and in which workers are frequently denied employment rights laid down in ILO Conventions on Minimum Labour Standards, is a worrying phenomenon Indeed it is. We in the Labour party are extremely anxious to ensure that in future we receive in the United Kingdom an increasing share of textiles that are produced by the least well-off countries. That is a central part of our policy towards the textile industry.

Mr. Stuart Holland

Does my hon. Friend not agree that the official Liberal spokesman on these matters, the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), in claiming that the Labour party wishes to reduce imports from the heavily indebted countries, referred to Singapore and Hong Kong, which are not third world countries with heavy debts? It is precisely by planning a shift in import trade towards the least developed countries that the objectives of which my hon. Friend is talking can be fulfilled, and not by the out-dated Manchester laissez-faire approach.

Mr. Madden

That is right. The more that we debate the difficulties of the industry, the more we come to see that most difficulties cannot be overcome by leaving the industry to the mercies of the free market. We must look increasingly towards the advantages and merits of planning. That is what the debate is all about and that is—

Mr. Wainwright

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. A mere glance at the record in the Official Report, when it is published, will showed that I never cited Singapore or Hong Kong as countries burdened by debt. That was not part of my argument. I was referring to countries such as Bangladesh and Guatemala.

Mr. Stuart Holland

I am glad to get a retraction from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Wainwright

I was correcting the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has the floor.

Mr. Madden

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to intervene in the debate between my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) and the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright).

Mr. Robin Cook

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Madden

No. I must work towards a conclusion.

I understand that the Governments of America and Sweden permit official observers from the trade unions representing textile and clothing workers to be present at negotiations. It would be a welcome advance if the British Government, in future negotiations that are of central interest to those who rely on these industries for their livelihoods, were to permit their trade unions to attend the talks as official observers.

What is the Government's policy towards the textile and clothing industry? We are so often treated to dollops of bland complacency served up by Ministers as an excuse for a coherent policy. In the closing minutes that are available, will the Minister tell us the Government's policy towards that important industry? It remains a major employer and exporter and a vital industrial activity within some of the most hard-pressed areas of Britain.

If low pay guarantees jobs and job security, my area and many others where the textile industry has been operating for many years, paying below the average, should have below-average unemployment. The reverse, of course, is the truth. West Yorkshire and Bradford have unemployment that is way above the average. That exposes the myth, peddled by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and others, that low pay creates jobs and job security. We have only to look at the prevalence of low pay within the British textile and clothing industries to dispel that notion completely.

What is the Minister doing to assist the British textile and clothing industry to take full advantage, for instance, of resources that are available from the EEC? What is he doing for those areas of Britain which are looking at ways of securing help from the EEC to expand their textile and clothing activities?

What is the Minister doing to improve training? I recently talked to the management of a firm in Bradford which is proposing to move from Bradford to Doncaster because it claimed that it cannot recruit the skilled machinists in Bradford. That is astonishing.

I have talked within the past few days to another textile employer in Leicester who also complained that he cannot secure skilled workers in his firm. What are the Government doing to ensure that adequate training takes place to enable such firms to find the skilled work force that they require to expand in areas which are suffering from appallingly high rates of unemployment?

What is being done further to improve design? References have rightly been made tonight to the improving design capability of the British textile and clothing industry. But we all know that further advance must be made. What are the Government doing to enable local authorities to open design shops where our products can be shown not only to the British market but to those who seek to sell abroad?

Finally, I again ask the Minister to tell us what co-operation there is between the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Employment and other Departments which are charged with regional assistance and development, combating unemployment and trying to help industrialists and manufacturers not only to stay in business but to expand? What co-ordinated policy-making is taking place and what assistance is being given on the ground?

The industry, because of its importance, is anxious to obtain information on the Government's objectives. There is grave concern about the GATT rules and rumours circulating within the industry that the British textile and clothing industry will be sacrificed for concessions for financial services and agriculture.

Mr. Alan Clark

Not true.

Mr. Madden

The industry is demanding clear and precise information about the Government's objectives for the British textile and clothing industry. They are looking for coherent and co-ordinated policies and for positive assistance. It is prepared to help itself, but it wants to be able to do that within a framework where the Government are taking a lead and are giving leadership.

The British textile industry has suffered much in the past and looks forward with some guarded optimism to the future. It is looking to the Minister, his Department and the Government to give it clear information. The closing stages of the debate will give the Minister an opportunity to give us some idea of the future of the British textile and clothing industry.

11.25 pm
Mr. Geoff Lawler (Bradford, North)

I do not know the textile industry managers, directors or workers to whom the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has been speaking. They are certainly not those to whom I have been speaking, who tell me that they want the Government off their backs and are proud of the fact that in recent years they have proved they can manage their own affairs.

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

Is it not a fact that the Opposition want the return of training levies, when they are the last thing the textile trade wants? Most companies know how to do in-house and group training.

Mr. Lawler

My hon. Friend is right. The last thing the trade wants is a further financial imposition when companies are participating fully, for example, in the YTS and other schemes to great effect and have developed close links with colleges and schools to ensure that the shortage of skilled labour in the industry is overcome.

The industry cannot be accused of shielding behind the MFA to protect its inefficiencies. What was once an industry synonymous with empty mills, large-scale redundancies and perhaps not perfect designs, slow deliveries and less than speedy initiatives in developing export markets is now an industry that is synonymous with developing the use of new technology, production and training techniques and, above all, successfully breaking into new markets and achieving record export earnings last year.

It cannot be said that the MFA curtails exports, for the reverse has been the case. Under the MFA, imports have grown by 16.5 per cent. in a market that has increased by only 2.5 per cent. Investment in the British industry last year increased by 12 per cent., output was increased and productivity achieved a 40 per cent. increase, whereas the rest of manufacturing industry averaged only 28 per cent. It is wrong to describe it as a sunset industry. It is not only surviving, but leading the way in a manner which other sectors of British industry would do well to follow.

But restricting the industry's growth is a denial to it of access to many foreign markets. The new protocol will be most welcome if it leads to markets being opened up. There are too many countries where the British textile industry cannot get a look-in. I applaud the moves in the protocol to reward countries that open their doors to our industry by allowing them more generous access to our market. However, I hope that that move will not be diluted by rewarding countries that do not deserve such a reward.

We have allowed South Korea a 3.4 per cent. increase in its quota for sweaters. That means that in 1987 that country will be allowed 3.4 per cent. increase on 11,500,000 sweaters, which will be an awful lot more sweaters coming into this country. South Korea will be allowed a 2 per cent. increase in its wool cloth quota. In other words, its industry will be allowed to export 155 tonnes of the material to Britain.

In response, South Korea has made promises to liberalise its market to British textile goods from 1 July. The industry in Britain is still holding its breath, waiting for the issue of those licences. The one concession for our industry announced so far by South Korea means that 24,000 sq m of wool cloth will be allowed into that country in the six months July to December of this year. That compares with a massive 600,000 sq m of wool cloth that will come into Britain from South Korea next year as a result of the recently negotiated bilateral agreement. Our cloth exports to South Korea will be subject to a 60 per cent. tariff, while cloth entering Britain will be subject to a 13 per cent. tariff. There is nothing in prospect for the British industry from the agreement with South Korea, at least until 1 January 1988. I hope that the Commission, with backing from the Government, will consider threatening—and, if necessary, carrying out those threats—the renegotiation of bilateral agreements if the other countries do not honour the promises that they have made.

The same applies to Brazil. There is an EC quota of 13,000 wool tops. The total production in Brazil is only 14,000 wool tops, yet our access to Brazil is effectively closed. If anything got in, it would be subject to a tariff of 105 per cent. Yet we allowed Brazil a 19.5 per cent. increase in its exports to Britain. There is inequality, and it must be remedied if British industry is to have a fair chance.

Even modest increases in allowing access to our overseas markets could mean a significant difference to the prospects of the British industry. If Korea allowed an average of £1 a head more for domestic consumption of British textile goods, if the same was allowed in Taiwan, and if in Brazil only 50p per head was allowed, it would mean a massive 4,500 jobs in Britain. That is a measure of how much the industry could benefit from the genuine liberalisation of world trade.

Perhaps the greatest danger round the corner is the newly elected Democratic majority in the United States Senate. That majority was elected on a platform of protectionism, which would not only cause great damage to British industry but would set off a new, escalating trend of protectionism throughout the developed world. If that happens—I sincerely hope that it does not—the Commission must be ready to respond and to renegotiate bilateral agreements if our partners in those agreements increase their protectionist measures.

The wool textile industry still employs about 14,000 people in Bradford. It can compete on price, quality, delivery and design. I hope that the new multi-fibre arrangement will be used positively and constructively by the Government, through the Commission, to ensure that the long-term objective, with which none of us would disagree, of liberalising trade is achieved through bilateral agreements. But, if necessary, they must be renegotiated to bring pressure on the parties to honour their promises and to allow British textiles into those markets. The industry will expand, if only it is given the chance.

11.33 pm
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

I welcome the Minister's success in obtaining this MFA 4. I do so with some reservations, but I recognise his difficulties. The employers in the industry will give the arrangement a fairly warm welcome, but the Minister will wish to examine closely the small print in the arrangement, which in this case relates to the bilateral agreements. They may already have had the opportunity to consider the arrangement, but they will have to study it closely and see how it works in practice before they finally decide to accept it.

I wish to comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright). I almost said my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, because he was a neighbour of mine for many years until the boundary commissioners, unkindly, separated us by moving us both. He accused the Labour party of telling moneylenders that they should accept a social clause. He said that it was wrong for us to expect moneylenders to do that and that we were wrong to lecture them. But he lectured them, because he spoke about the need to help developing and recently wealthy countries.

It is easy for those who are comfortably off and have comfortable jobs to demand further sacrifices, not from the employers but from the workers. Those workers are low paid and have difficulty in finding alternative employment because this important industry is localised, as my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said.

In my constituency, the only employer of any importance until recently was connected with the textile industry. Those employed in that industry who lost their jobs found it difficult to find alternative employment.

We cannot rely on the modest improvement in the industry's economic position over the last few years. I attended a press conference at Maple mill, Oldham, in January when Courtaulds announced a substantial investment programme of £4.5 million for some of the mills in the Oldham area. I welcomed that, because it meant that at least there would be a continuation of some employment in the industry. But at the end of that investment programme, fewer jobs will exist. The workers will not receive help from the modest improvement in output. Modernisation which leads to improvement also results in fewer jobs. I support the call by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) for the Government to examine that aspect of the agreement.

If we are to liberalise trading—I do not disagree with that, because it is the proper course—we must consider the consequences for those workers who rely on textiles for their employment. The Government must consider how they can encourage new employment in the areas which are losing out.

If we are to sustain the industry we must consider the two things which advantage those who export to Britain. One advantage has been dealt with already—the protection which some countries give their industry. The other advantage is the lower wages and poor conditions which apply to workers in some other countries. A social clause is necessary. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind, even though he has been unsuccessful so far.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

My hon. Friend mentions two matters. Will he accept that a third matter is important? I refer to labelling. This is important to the textile industry because names similar to English names are often used. If the country of origin does not feature on labels, further problems will be caused.

Mr. Lamond

I completely agree. I once had the good fortune to come up in the draw for private Members' Bills and I tried to introduce a Bill about that matter because of its importance. Of course, my Bill was lost.

The Minister should not think that the protocol will wipe the slate clean, and that now that he has an MFA 4, he can go back to sleep over the matter of textiles. The problem will still exist and many more problems may develop as the bilateral agreements become clear. I welcome the Minister's success. He has held his job for somewhat longer than some of his predecessors, but he should not rest on his laurels. We will be back to see him about the matter in the light of developments.

11.40 pm
Mr. Alan Clark

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply. I do not know how to interpret the reference by the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) to the length of time that I have spent in this job. I shall not pursue that point now.

This has been a useful and constructive debate. I listened carefully to the points that were raised and I am sorry that I do not have longer to answer all of them. In common with the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton, I feel that the subject will remain with us and perhaps we shall have the opportunity to discuss it at greater length on another occasion.

The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) raised the question of reciprocation, a point taken up by many other hon. Members. The element of reciprocation at present has been essentially passive. We have been liberalising in the direction of those countries that allow better access to our imports, and we have been trying to restrict the level of liberalisation of those countries that have resisted them. Of course, a far more positive and active level of reciprocation is what I hope will be achieved, and that is what we shall insist on in the GATT negotiations where we would seek positive reduction at every level of tarrif barriers against our imports. The House will note that this agreement lasts for five years and that should bring it substantially over the period of the GATT negotiations so that our team in the GATT is not faced with the prospect of the arrangement falling off the edge half way through them. It will have cover throughout and in that context I hope that we shall be able to negotiate a significant level of reciprocation.

The level of support that the Government give to the textile industry is a matter that I should like to dwell upon, but I shall have to omit the details. The support is extensive and I am satisfied that it covers aspects of design, fashion colleges and universities. I should like to consider the point made by hon. Members from both sides of the House.

I am aware of the concern that has been expressed under the broad heading of the so-called social clause. The clause would mean the sanction of further restrictions on trade if social and working conditions were not improved. That begs many questions: to what standard would they be improved? How would it be enforced and monitored? It can be argued that social and working conditions are more likely to be improved by allowing a country to sell its goods than by preventing it from doing that. However, I must state that I have noted the concern that has been expressed. I do not reject that possibility out of hand. Anxiety has—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business).

Question, That the amendment be made, put and negatived.

Main question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 9809/86 on renewal of the Arrangement regarding international trade in textiles (MFA), and of the Community's bilateral textile agreements and of the Department of Trade and Industry's unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum of 24th November 1986 on the provisional application of bilateral agreements on trade in textile products between the European Community and certain third countries; and welcomes the Government's achievement in the conclusion of a new Protocol extending the Multi-Fibre Arrangement for a further five-year period and the satisfactory negotiation of 26 new bilateral agreements under the Arrangement.