HC Deb 16 October 1991 vol 196 cc308-9
13. Mr. Gareth Wardell

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has recently received from the textile and clothing industry.

Mr. Sainsbury

My right hon. Friend has received representations on a number of issues from representatives of the textile industries.

Mr. Wardell

The recent survey of the clothing and textiles industry by the Apparel, Knitting and Textiles Alliance shows that more than 500 jobs a week are being lost in the industry and that output is more than 10 per cent. lower this year than last. In the light of that, what hope can the Minister offer for the future of British manufacturing industry in general, when skills are being destroyed on this sort of scale?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am sure that the whole House shares the hon. Gentleman's regret at lay-offs, but he will be aware from his knowledge of the industry of the great strides that it has made in improving its productivity. He will also be aware that the improvement in productivity often means that one operative can do the work that used to be done by a large number of operatives. I hope that he will also be aware of the industry's success in exporting no less than £4.6 billion worth of textiles and clothing last year. That is a tribute to the industry's success in improving its productivity and international competitive-ness.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I am actively involved in promoting the textile and clothing industry and have benefited from some of the quality and expertise of that industry. Does my hon. Friend accept that the industry faces very unfair competition? In the last few months alone 4,000 jobs have been lost in the north-west and 25 mills and factories have closed. Does he accept that the present anti-dumping procedures in the European Community are inadequate and that by the time that Brussels decides that action can be taken the damage is done? Will he do something about that?

Mr. Sainsbury

I hope that, like my hon. Friend, we all support the British textile and clothing industry in our purchases. I agree with my hon. Friend about the slowness on occasions of the anti-dumping procedure. That is one of the matters that we are addressing in the current Uruguay round of GATT. I am optimistic that the current negotiations will achieve a much more effective disputes procedure and a more transparent and quicker anti-dumping procedure.

Mr. Henderson

When the Secretary of State addresses the Department of Trade and Industry textile conference in Manchester next week will he be urged by the Minister to apologise to the thousands of companies that have gone out of business in the industry in the past year and to the 35,000 workers who have lost their jobs in the industry in the same period because of the failure of Government economic policy and the bad news that that means for many of the textile communities in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the east midlands? Does the Minister agree that his failure undermines the sterling work to promote and talk up British products during the London fashion week which is now taking place?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am delighted to hear at least one Opposition Front-Bench spokesman refer to praise and talking up of British industry. It would be a relief to us all if the achievements and successes of British industry, including the textile industry, were occasionally acknowledged and if we could hear from Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen some praise instead of some denigration of the achievements of British Industry.

Mr. Waller

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as Britain generally plays by the rules, it would be in our interests for European Community competition rules in relation to textiles and clothing to be more rigorously enforced? Is it not quite unacceptable that the Spanish and Italian Governments continue to subsidise their textile and clothing industries while some Belgian companies have not yet repaid the illegal state aid that they received from the Belgian Government, despite the fact that they are required to do so by the European Commission?

Mr. Sainsbury

My hon. Friend will know that we are making progress on the important matters to which he refers. However, some issues, including continuing improper subsidies and the Belgian case to which he refers, are a matter of concern to the Government. We hope to make progress on those in the near future. We have made much progress on reducing subsidies and on creating a more open, level playing field for the textile industry and for other industries.

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