HC Deb 30 March 2000 vol 347 cc483-4
5. Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

What assessment he has made of the future of the textile industry in the east midlands. [115664]

The Minister for Competitiveness (Mr. Alan Johnson)

The textile industry in the east midlands faces strong competitive pressures which, regrettably, have led to a number of closures and job losses. However, there remain many companies which, with the Department's help, are responding to the competitive challenges through investment in new technologies and design.

Mr. Coaker

Is my hon. Friend aware that tens of thousands of jobs nationally and many thousands in the east midlands have been lost? If all those jobs had been lost in one day and from one plant, the furore would have been far greater. I urge my hon. Friend to do all that he can to ensure that a positive message goes out about the future of the textile industry in the east midlands. Will he do everything possible, in the various trade talks that he attends, to continue the Government's work to find new markets for the textile industry?

Mr. Johnson

My hon. Friend takes a close interest in these matters and I commend him on his work on behalf of the textile industry. There are outstanding textile companies in the UK which compete on quality alone in a difficult competitive world. We have set up a textile and clothing strategy group, which has produced 25 recommendations that we are considering carefully. We will, of course, do all that we can to make the British textile and clothing industry as competitive as possible in difficult world conditions.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Given that between September 1998 and September 1999 no fewer than 36,000 textile and clothing workers lost their jobs and that the projection is for a further 100,000 job losses in the next four years, why does not the hon. Gentleman understand that to burden businesses with £30 billion of extra taxes and regulations in this Parliament represents a death sentence for small textile businesses throughout the east midlands?

Mr. Johnson

I had not realised that Buckingham had moved to the east midlands. The problems in the textile industry did not start on 1 May 1997. There are difficult problems, but in the textile and clothing strategy group, on which I sit with right hon. and hon. Friends, the question of the additional costs to which the hon. Gentleman refers has not arisen. The problems relate not to various employment relations Acts, but to the difficult world market in which our companies are trying hard to compete.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the main reasons for textile company closures, including the recent closure at Shirebrook in my constituency, is that Marks and Spencer and other big stores have changed their purchasing policy and are moving away from British goods to plants outside the United Kingdom where there is cheap labour and all the rest of it? However, another reason is that many textile manufacturers, not content with their factories in Britain, are setting up plants in Morocco, the far east and various other places. They are the same people who employ the British textile workers, who are mainly women, and they are throwing them out of work because of the money they make overseas. That is the reason—it has little to do with anything else.

Mr. Johnson

My hon. Friend as always makes an important point. In the east midlands, we are working through the enterprise grant fund to assist SMEs in the textile and clothing industry to compete in difficult circumstances. Marks and Spencer's decision did not help our cause at all.

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