HC Deb 02 November 2000 vol 355 cc822-4
4. Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough)

What progress he has made on the implementation of the clothing and textiles strategy. [133890]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Caborn)

There is a general consensus that the Government have made much progress on the implementation of those elements of the strategy picked up in the 12-point plan that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), announced to coincide with the launch of the working party's full strategy document. About 50 recommendations are in the report and the rest are being dealt with by a special unit in the DTI.

Mr. Reed

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response and—before I start my moan—I wish to say that it is a welcome document and one for which we have waited 20 years. However, will he recognise the frustration and anger felt by textile workers—particularly those in Shepshed in my constituency where nearly 800 jobs were lost over the summer—at the fact that only £15 million is attached to the strategy when the 6,000 farmers in Leicestershire are entitled to £30 million a year from the set-aside programme to sit on their hands doing nothing? Will he take the message that we cannot wait any longer for the implementation of the strategy throughout the country—and especially in the east midlands—and that extra resources are required to make things happen on the ground?

Mr. Caborn

I understand the frustration that my hon. Friend feels. The problem is managing change, and 20 years ago we should have set in train a strategy to manage change in the industry so that it could move up the value-added chain to where the worthwhile jobs and the real wealth creation are. The Government want to assist the industry and we have sat down with it to evaluate its problems. We are addressing the issues of improving skills and developing the supply chain to help to ensure that this country exports much more effectively. Unfortunately, that does not happen overnight, but we will work with the industry to manage the change effectively. However, I understand my hon. Friend's frustration.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Does the Minister accept that any successful textile strategy for the future depends on stable global export markets? Does he acknowledge that the cashmere industry in south-east Scotland still faces a threat of penal United States tariff sanctions in the margins of the on-going banana war? Will his Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office continue—I acknowledge the good work that Ministers have done so far—their efforts to try to bring an early end to the constant uncertainty and threat that hangs over the cashmere industry in Scotland?

Mr. Caborn

I congratulate the industry to which the hon. Gentleman refers. It has increased its sales to the United States from £18 million to £21 million, and that is why it is important to the people who work in the industry that the list on the carousel is not used. In fact, the carousel is a symptom and not a cause. The cause of the problem is the banana war and we are trying to resolve it by exerting strong pressure on the European Commission and the Americans to encourage them to come to an agreement. We would then dispense with the whole carousel. The hon. Gentleman knows that, when cashmere was listed on the carousel, we made strong representations, and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made them directly. To some extent we were successful, but the listing is a symptom. We must deal with the cause of the problem.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley)

In my constituency those mill owners who have asked the DTI for help have been very impressed with the quality and speed with which they have received it. Unfortunately, the vast majority of mill owners tell me that that they have never received help from any Government and that they do not believe that any Government are interested in them. How will my right hon. Friend make sure that the textile strategy is understood by mill owners and that they use the strategy that is available to them to help them to export their goods and to ensure that the industry grows?

Mr. Caborn

My hon. Friend knows that the national strategy was developed genuinely within the industry. Therefore, employers are involved. I hope that those who are on the committee developing the strategy represent the whole manufacturing sector in the textile industry. I hope that dialogue is taking place, but if increased communication is necessary in parts of the industry, my hon. Friend can write to me and I will try to address the issues.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Does the Minister agree that manufacturing and retailing consultancy-based projects have not worked? We should direct more resources towards design and technology to achieve the added value to which he referred. Will he have a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the possibility of increasing initial allowances so that companies can reinvest in equipment? One machine normally costs about £100,000 and that is a serious problem. In Hinckley in my constituency, companies are considering investing in new equipment, but they think that more should be done to help them to write off that investment in the first couple of years.

Mr. Caborn

All tax issues are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, and I have no doubt that his remarks will be passed on to my right hon. Friend. The hon. Gentleman is right about training. There must be retraining if we are to increase the value-added element. In that context, the cashmere industry is a model. It has brought in new designers and it is developing the skills base, which has increased the real value-added element in that sector of the industry.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire)

Does the Minister recall that the Secretary of State responded to a similarly planted question in June in an equally optimistic manner? To the uninformed, this could almost be a success story. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not come clean and tell the House and the country that since the Government have been in power, more people in the textile industry have lost their jobs than the numbers of those employed in the shipping industry? We discover from the Library and the Textile Institute that 30,000 jobs were lost last year, which is equivalent to 10 per cent. of those employed in the industry. This year, job losses run at more than 17,000 to the end of July. [HON. MEMBERS: "Question!"] Labour Members may not like hearing the truth. When will the Government accept that their handling of the exchange rate, their burdens on business and their stealth taxes are costing jobs in the textile industry, and that there is no other reason for those job losses?

Mr. Caborn

That question shows the shallowness of Opposition Members' thinking. We are trying to restructure the industry, given the legacy of the previous Administration. For the first time for 20 years, we have brought the industry together to examine structural weaknesses. The neglect of the Conservative Administration has led to the redundancies. The industry has welcomed the Government's approach of new thinking, a move into the 21st century and providing real stability for the first time in a long time.