HL Deb 04 March 1980 vol 406 cc139-42

2.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are fully informed of the decision by the Tootal group of Companies reported in The Times of 27th February to close four textile mills in already hard pressed Lancashire towns, while expanding production in Northern Ireland and Belper;and what is the anticipated net result on employment.


My Lords, I am aware of Tootal's plans to re-equip their factory at Lisnaskea and to close down four mills in Lancashire. The Government are of course concerned at the effect of this on those who will lose their jobs, but decisions of this kind are a matter for the commercial judgment of the company concerned.

It is not practicable to estimate the net result on employment in the towns affected by the closures. There are 1,330 people employed at these four mills. It is not possible to estimate how many will find alternative employment. Tootal state that efforts are being made, and will continue, to find alternative employment in the group, wherever practicable.


My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that I am not in any way criticising Tootal or its 100 associated companies all over the world? They have announced this matter in a civilised manner and have held consultations. They are up against problems which we know are there. There are no buildings in Lancashire, but they have got a building in Northern Ireland. However, the noble Viscount attributes one of the reasons to the high cost of energy. The Government might think that over. Unless something is done under the multi-fibre agreement, their problems will increase. Does not the noble Viscount realise that this great industry, with its immensely excellent record of labour relations—they used to hold meetings with the trade union representatives, and annual dinners and soon—and which rarely had a strike at all, has lost 70,000 workers in the last 10 years and that there are not many hopes that it can survive?


My Lords, if I may take the noble Lord's statements as being supplementaries, Yes, we do know that labour relations in the textile industry are, on the whole, very good indeed and that productivity is high. The industry does, however, need—and recognises this need—to adjust to change all the time. The MFA does afford a major measure of protection and the Government are in no doubt that orderly marketing arrangements must continue after the end of the present MFA. I do not think that the cost of energy is a major point in the company's decision.


My Lords, is the noble Viscount the Minister aware that in one particular factory in Lancashire, at Oswaldtwistle near Blackburn, where they employ roughly 500 employees, it is a question not just of the employees being made redundant but of the spin-off in the whole area? Therefore, may I ask the Minister what steps the Government are taking about that?


My Lords, one realises of course that there are fallout effects on dependent industries as the result of any loss of jobs. The unemployment picture in Bolton is at the moment almost exactly on the national average figures and, in the areas concerned of all these four mills, is unlikely to deviate far from the national average after these closures.


My Lords, will the noble Viscount bear in mind that, so long as firm after firm—and a tragically large number have closed during the past year—are closing down due to unfair competition and in many cases the failure of the EEC to implement the safeguards and to take action against the breaches of the various international agreements, it is hardly likely that the industry can have the confidence required to pour out millions of pounds in new capital investment? Can the Government see that more prompt action is taken against breaches of the agreement, which form one of the biggest complaints in the industry?


My Lords, the Government are determined to do everything within their power to provide a fair trading opportunity within our commitment to, and interest in, helping to maintain a relatively open world trading system. That is essential for our export interests.


My Lords, can the noble Viscount do as was done on a previous occasion;namely, have a review of the Government purchasing of uniforms and clothing and so on for various Government employees, of whom there are still immense numbers, and see how far he can ensure that orders are given to firms in the United Kingdom?


My Lords, the Government have been looking, and will continue to look, at the question of Government purchasing in the context of giving British industry a fair trading opportunity.