HC Deb 03 July 1991 vol 194 cc315-6
18. Mr. Vaz

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a further statement on Government assistance to the footwear and textile industries.

Mr. Sainsbury

Companies in the footwear and textile industries are eligible for, and have received, assistance under a range of Government schemes.

Mr. Vaz

Does the Minister realise that his answer will give no comfort to those who run our textile and footwear industries, or to those who work in them? Is he aware of the huge job losses that have occurred in those two industries in the past six months, and that cities such as Leicester—and, indeed, the rest of the east midlands—have been badly hit by the recession? Is the Minister aware that many of those job losses are directly due to Government policies—high interest rates, and Government failure to provide the same kind of assistance as is provided by other Governments to their textile and footwear industries? When will the hon. Gentleman get off his hands and start doing something legitimate to protect the interests of those two vital British industries?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am aware of the job losses to which the hon. Gentleman refers and those are, of course, always a matter for regret. The textile industry, like other industries, has been suffering from recession, but the hon. Gentleman will also be aware that some job losses are attributable to investment in the industry, which is increasing the productivity and competitiveness of the industry and, indeed, has contributed to a successful export record. Exports of textiles and clothing increased by 12 per cent. to £4.6 billion worth in 1990. The industry deserves congratulation on that performance.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) will take that hat off I shall call him.

Mr. John Browne

Does my hon. Friend accept that the best assistance that he could give to the footwear and textile industry would be to ensure that customers, especially big notorious late paying customers, pay their bills on time? Rather than castigating the banks for not piling up more imprudent debt for British industry, would he not be better advised to call on companies to pay their bills to the footwear and textile industries more promptly?

Mr. Sainsbury

I hope that all purchasers in British industry, whether large or small, follow good practice and pay their suppliers at least in accordance with the contract conditions.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Minister tell us what representations he is making to the European Community to ensure that unfair subsidies such as those given to the textile industry in the Prato region of Italy are brought to an end? The problem has lasted for several years. The Government and the EC seem unwilling to tackle those unfair subsidies in other EC countries. The British textile industry is prepared to compete with any country on equal terms, but that is simply not happening. The situation is extremely unfair and is leading directly to job losses in cities such as Bradford, which I represent, where 14,000 jobs are still directly dependent on the textile industry.

Mr. Sainsbury

I share the hon. Gentleman's view that the British textile industry is well able to compete on that celebrated level playing field. We energetically pursue any allegations of unfair trading practices through the European Community and we are happy to listen to and follow up any submissions from the industry on those grounds. We also hope that, as a result of a successful outcome of the Uruguay round, there will be stricter rules and disciplines in which the textile industry and, indeed, all industries will have to operate.