HC Deb 27 January 2000 vol 343 cc573-5
13. Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

How many textile and clothing factories there are in (a) the north-east and (b) the east midlands; and if he will make a statement on the organisations which exist to promote economic development in each of those regions. [105761]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Caborn)

There are 360 textile and clothing companies in the north-east and 3,106 textile and clothing companies in the east midlands. There are many separate organisations whose task it is to promote economic development in those regions, the most notable of which are the regional development agencies—One North East and the East Midlands development agency.

Mr. Tredinnick

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the textile and clothing strategy group has recently recommended that Government assistance beyond objective 2 area status be given to some companies in the east midlands? Secondly, does he not feel that now that there is an action plan for the north-east textiles industry, which was set up by his Department in December, something should be done on similar lines in the east midlands, given that that is where most of the companies are?

Mr. Caborn

That has been under active discussion between the Government offices and the newly formed regional development agencies, and it is to be welcomed.

Going over the boundaries of the assisted areas would be very difficult, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and would break the European Union rules on dispersal of structural funds money. However, he could have discussions with the regional development agencies on how they can assist the continued development of this important sector. I believe that they are trying to develop a cluster around the textiles and clothing industry in the east midlands, bringing in academia and other strands of financial support. A positive attitude has been taken in the region, which the Department welcomes.

Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

May I congratulate the Government on their efforts in setting up a taskforce to look at the textile industry in the north-east of England? It is an excellent initiative. There is no future in protectionism, although some of us are concerned that the top management of companies such as Marks and Spencer appear to have callously sacrificed the jobs of British textile workers in an effort to save their own—which may well not work out for them.

Will my hon. Friend be willing to meet Members of Parliament from the north-east to see whether we can make progress on the action plan and taskforce? We want to take up the Government's policies to promote small businesses, assist them with taxation and get new products, design and technology into our industry to give it a long-term future.

Mr. Caborn

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. However, the new design and development will not be carried out in Departments—I can assure him of that: it will be done in the regions. The taskforce is operating in the north-east, with all the partners involved in a very creative way, and will deal with some of the questions raised by my hon. Friend.

Yes, I will meet the Members of Parliament and, indeed, any of the partners in the taskforce, but the solutions to the problems will be found in the regions—in that partnership—rather than in Whitehall.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I support the request made to the Government by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick). Does the Minister agree that textiles and clothing are industries of strategic importance to the United Kingdom; that they remain substantial employers; and that they are frequently undermined by unfair competition? Is it not important that the existing systems for dealing with unfair competition should act more quickly than they currently do?

Mr. Caborn

The hon. Gentleman makes a justifiable point. Several of the procedures for reacting to what he describes as unfair competition need to be questioned. That is one of the matters that we are taking up with the World Trade Organisation, and I am taking it up in the European Union in other ways. The hon. Gentleman is right. There should be a review of our responses to such claims and allegations. Information technology could be used much more effectively than has been the case hitherto. I accept the hon. Gentleman's comments.

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough)

Areas such as Leicestershire have not secured objective 2 status or assisted area status, but still have a large number of textile jobs. What practical measures will my hon. Friend take to work with the regional development agency? Will he also take a lead in the Government to ensure that those jobs are retained? A large number of jobs in the east midlands—especially in Leicestershire—still depend on the textile sector. We are keen that they should be retained.

Mr. Caborn

My hon. Friend is aware that a taskforce is operating in his area, as I have just pointed out. The taskforce is considering matters such as education, trade policy, export and industrial sponsorship. Such partnerships consider opportunities, nationally and internationally, in a changing world.

Many people realise that liberalisation of the global economy is taking place. We have to keep ahead of the game by retraining the work force, developing design and ensuring that academic institutions, as well as further education institutions, play a role in ensuring that we have the design skills and the skilled labour that are necessary to keep ahead in an extremely competitive market. The way forward lies in the partnerships between the regional development agencies, the Government offices and the partners in the regions.

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