HC Deb 10 June 1992 vol 209 cc300-2
14. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what information he has concerning the total value of exports by the textile and clothing industries in the first quarter of 1992.

Mr. Leigh

They were £1.2 billion.

Mr. Winterton

Although I am sure that the whole House will congratulate the textile and clothing industry on its record exports in the first three months of this year, does my hon. Friend accept that imports were also up, at a record £2.1 billion, that this important sector of our economy is finding it difficult to export to countries in Asia and to the United States of America, which erected substantial barriers against us, and that overall we are, sadly, dangerously exporting our manufacturing base? What steps will my hon. Friend take to stand up for British industry and help the regeneration of our manufacturing base?

Mr. Leigh

As my hon. Friend is the Member of Parliament for manufacturing, we always welcome his positive, helpful statements on these occasions. No doubt he will have noted that since the early 1980s manufacturing output is up by a quarter, productivity by a half and exports by three quarters. He himself has pointed out that exports are up by a record 9 per cent. in the first quarter. Imports have declined by 1 per cent. in the past year. The key point is that the textile industry has successfully restructured, as my hon. Friend knows, into higher-valued lines which ensure that we are competitive on world markets. My hon. Friend and others and I must work together to ensure that we have a successful GATT round as we phase out multi-fibre arrangements and unfair subsidies.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Minister confirm that a successful GATT round with adequate arrangements for the textile and clothing industry, which employs 450,000 people in this country, including 12,000 directly in Bradford, does not mean an efficient, well-organised, high-investment industry asking for special treatment or favours but one that is simply asking for fair competition, an end to dumping, and the prevention of outward processing and the many other abuses that it has had to face from other countries? Will the Minister assure us that he will not allow the Government to let down the textile and clothing industry and cause further losses in a manufacturing industry which is vital for our nation?

Mr. Leigh

That was an excellent question and I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman said. He is right that the textile industry is vital and successful, as we have seen in the increase in the value of exports. The challenge now is to ensure that we have a successful GATT round. I have no doubt that when my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade takes over the presidency of the trade part of the Community in July he will ensure a successful conclusion to the GATT round. I can assure the House that the Government are absolutely committed to a successful and competitive textile industry. Our textile industry now has nothing to fear from international competition because we are so competitive in the higher-valued brands. We shall ensure that MFAs are phased out fairly and properly.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Notwithstanding the excellent export performance of the textile industry, particularly carpet manufacturers, does my hon. Friend recognise that further progress in Europe depends on stopping national Governments giving illegal subsidies to various parts of their textile industries? For instance, five years on, £5 million has still not been repaid to the Belgium Government by Beaulieu, the world's biggest carpet manufacturer, and the Italian Government are still paying significant subsidies to textile machinery companies in Italy which are pricing British firms out of jobs.

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The whole purpose of the GATT round and our negotiations with the EC is to prevent unfair subsidies.

Mr. Henderson

Since the Minister took over his new responsibilities, representatives of the textile and clothing industry will have made representations to him pointing out that that industry, perhaps more than any other, has been savaged by the current recession, with the loss of 70,000 jobs and perhaps many more job losses to come. Will the Minister accept, under his new boss, the responsibility that the Department of Trade and Industry and now the Board of Trade have to help companies to stop the job loss and to restructure their business? If the Minister accepts that responsibility, what measures does he propose?

Mr. Leigh

That is precisely what companies are doing. They are restructuring their business because they realise that output in western countries has had to decline over a long period as a result of increased competition from low-value areas. Unfortunately, that restructuring involves a loss of labour because it involves new machinery. I do not know what the Labour party's policy on these matters is. Clearly, it has no policy except to make vague generalisations about throwing money at the problem—a policy which has failed in the past and would fail again.

Mr. Tredinnick

Is my hon. Friend aware that the restructuring to which hon. Members have referred has come about largely because of the protection that the multi-fibre arrangement has given to companies, enabling them to make changes and to plan for the future? Does he agree that an equivalent of the multi-fibre arrangement must be included in the GATT talks if we are to ensure the successful continuation of the industry?

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I can, indeed, give that assurance. Although the MFA will be phased out over a 10-year period, as the GATT round proceeds, there will be more than adequate safeguards for our own industry. That is absolutely essential, and there will be no weakening of our resolve on the matter.