§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Eric Forth)
The unprecedented job growth achieved under this Government is testimony to the success of their policies, which have allowed industry and workers to adapt to changing circumstances and seize new opportunities. It would be counterproductive to try to bolster uncompetitive sectors.
§ Mr. Vaz
Nothing that the Minister has said will give comfort to those who work in the footwear and textile industries. Is he aware that since 1979, 197,000 jobs have been lost in those two industries—2.5 jobs for every hour that the Government have existed? Will he, please, as a matter of urgency, in consultation with the Department of Trade and Industry, set up a task force to look at the specific problems of the footwear and textile industries in order to save them from devastation? If he continues to fiddle, by the end of the decade there simply will not be a British footwear and textile industry left.
§ Mr. Forth
Of course, we are conscious of the problems in those industries, but it is worth stressing that both, in their different ways and in certain sectors, are successful. I am rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman should try to give the impression that we can magic away any problems with a wand, or even with a task force. Apart from anything else, he must realise that about 38 per cent. of imported footwear comes from the EC, and he and his party, with their belief in all that is good in the EC, must realise that no measures that even they would want to take could possibly do anything about that. I hope that the hon.
281 Gentleman will recognise that unemployment in his constituency, at 4.4 per cent., is lower than that for the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Marlow
May I say that we in Northampton are proud that we produce the best footwear in the world and have one of the lowest levels of unemployment in the country? Is not that something to do with the fact that we do not whinge, we are proud of ourselves and we get on with the job?
§ Mr. Forth
I am delighted to join the hon. Gentleman in recognising the achievements in his part of the world. He is entitled to be proud and to bring to the attention of the House the fact that people in Northern Ireland are working very hard to built up those key sectors, and to demonstrate their capacity to be competitive and productive. We can all share the hon. Gentleman's pleasure and pride in that.