HC Deb 25 November 1987 vol 123 cc251-2
10. Mr. Waller

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what recent representations he has received about the impact of United States protectionist measures on the British textile industry.

Mr. Alan Clark

My colleagues and I have received a number of representations about the United States Textile and Apparel Trade Bill currently before Congress. The Government have repeatedly made clear their concern about this proposed Bill, and the European Community has warned that it will respond to any restrictive United States measures in accordance with its rights under the GATT.

Mr. Waller

If the American Trade Bill is enacted, would it not heighten international trade tensions and undermine the whole progress of the GATT and multilateral negotiations? Will my hon. Friend therefore emphasise the fact that if the measure is passed the Government and the European Community as a whole will not hesitate to act with firmness to ensure that the diversion of trade does not harm our industry?

Mr. Clark

Yes, my hon. Friend is right. This would be an acutely damaging measure if passed. We and the European Commission have repeatedly made our views clear on that. My right hon. and learned Friend and I saw the United States trade representative Clayton Yeutter only last week and repeated our concerns to him.

Mr. Sheerman

Will the Minister and his colleagues start to speak out on this issue rather than whisper in dark corners? This has been a very important issue for the textile industry for a long time and we hear too little from Ministers protecting our textile industry.

Mr. Clark

I have heard the House of Commons called a number of things in recent weeks, but a "dark corner" has not been one of them. The negotiations would have to be conducted by the European Commission. At present the Bill has not been passed by Congress and we are lobbying very strongly in Washington to ensure that it will not be passed. It is a matter of judgment whether national agitation at this time would be likely to inflame or moderate Congressional attitudes.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will my hon. Friend accept that protectionism measures implemented by the United States of America would be particularly damaging to the textile and allied industries, many of which are located not only in inner-city areas but in other areas where there are currently economic problems? Such a measure would reduce investment in those industries and have a direct impact on employment in those areas. Will he therefore take this matter—as hon. Members on both sides of the House are urging — very seriously and ensure that the diversion of trade which could result will not have an unfair impact on this country?

Mr. Clark

I am glad of the opportunity that my hon. Friend gives me to repeat the very serious concern with which we view this prospect. As my hon. Friend is a powerful advocate in this area, he knows only too well that the multi-fibre arrangement provides a skeletal structure, which allows us to safeguard our industries. Essentially, the defence must be mounted through the GATT by the European Commission. The Commission is minded to do that in the strongest possible manner.

Mr. Haynes

By the way, happy birthday, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Minister aware that I recognise the work that he put in during the last renegotiation of the multi-fibre arrangement? However, will he now get stuck into the Yanks and stop the American imports, in the interests of the British textile industry, especially in my constituency?

Mr. Clark

The problem with protectionist measures is that they are directed against our exports. I appreciate the tribute paid to me by the hon. Gentleman, but if he has a particular problem with imports from the United States I will see what I can do if he draws it to my attention.