HL Deb 12 May 1998 vol 589 cc937-9
Lord Pearson of Rannoch

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to persuade the European Commission to lift its provisional anti-dumping duty on imports of cotton greycloth from countries outside the European Union.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury)

My Lords, we agree with the opposition expressed by the British textile industry to the imposition by the European Commission of provisional anti-dumping duties in this case. Along with a majority of member states, we made it clear to the Commission that we opposed such duties. Despite this, the Commission proceeded with the imposition of provisional duties. Although legally entitled to do this, we regard the decision as unfortunate. The provisional duties will stand for no more than six months. If the Commission were to propose definitive duties, it would be for the Council of Ministers, acting by simple majority, to determine the issue. For our part, we shall continue to make every possible effort to ensure that definitive duties are not imposed.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that marginally encouraging reply when one considers that some 2.5 million European jobs depend in some way on these imports, perhaps 0.5 million of which are in the United Kingdom. Can the Minister confirm that the Council of Ministers had agreed with its advisory committee that these duties should not have been reimposed and that under EC law that should have been the end of the matter? Can he also confirm that even though no new circumstances had arisen, the Commission agreed to reimpose the duties last month but only after intense and improper pressure from M. Chirac?

Lord Simon of Highbury

My Lords, it is not correct to say that the Commission has no legal right to impose a provisional duty. That has been the position since anti-dumping legislation was first implemented in the European Community in 1968. The Commission has a right to impose provisional duties. The UK agreed to that on accession to the Community in 1973 and when the relevant Council regulation was revised in 1979, 1988, 1994 and 1996. The issue is that these are provisional duties. The legal position will be clarified during the investigations; it will then be for the Council of Ministers either to agree definitive duties or not.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is it not the case that there are 5,000 French jobs involved in this matter which is why the French are particularly keen that the duties should be imposed? However, there are many more jobs which are adversely affected by those duties. Is it not true that the rest of Europe has caved in to the French position? I have no complaint about the French. They are only batting on their own wicket. But should we not try to play some decent cricket or even la boule instead of allowing the parlez-vous to get away with it?

Lord Simon of Highbury

My Lords, we could debate the numbers. The noble Earl refers to 5,000 French jobs. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, says that there are 2.5 million jobs at risk. That means that there is even more gearing than the noble Earl thinks. This is a provisional position. Investigations are taking place. There will be a very good reason to turn over the provisional duties so that they are not made definitive if a majority of the Ministers believe that the French are behaving improperly. Let us wait until October, until the investigations are over. If it is improper, as the noble Earl suggests, the decision will be turned over.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that unlike the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, I do have a quarrel with the French because they are not behaving in what is termed in polite circles a communautaire manner? I sincerely hope that my noble friend will take that into account. If it is shown that the European Commission has acted outwith its powers, will my noble friend promise me that the British Government, if nobody else, will take the Commission to court to clarify the position and to safeguard the many jobs, including British jobs, which are involved?

Lord Simon of Highbury

My Lords, I have made it clear already that this is not an illegal imposition of duties. The Commission is acting within its right to impose provisional duties if it has grounds to believe that pricing is illegal. I agree that if the French are found to be in a minority when the matter is put to the Council of Ministers in October, as it is obliged to be after the six months provisional duties period has run out, the decision will be turned over and not become definitive. I should say that on our unofficial current count, *-five countries are supporting the provisional duties.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a danger that this sort of Question descends into Europhobia and that we should have a more serious look at the importance to the British textile industry of the issues raised? Does the Minister agree, first, that our textile industry is dependent on the added value of finished goods? It is extremely important therefore that the textile industry has a worldwide free market in greycloth, and that is the policy which the British Government have so far pursued. More particularly, will the Minister agree that there is a serious danger in this case? Jobs are being lost in the textile areas of the country. In addition, producers of greycloth, particularly in Turkey, are developing significant added value capability and are using the opportunity of the manufacture of greycloth and its high price to stop the textile added value which manufacturers in this country can obtain. Will the Minister agree that it is not a question of bashing the French or Europe but a question of confirming the Government's commitment on this issue?

Lord Simon of Highbury

My Lords, I can confirm to the noble Lord that we quite agree that value added on this imported material is extremely important to the British industry. We have that in mind in continuously expressing our opinion that this is an improper imposition. In October, when we come to vote, we shall say the same thing and hope to have a majority. We quite agree that our industry is very good at adding value.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, although the Minister is correct about the imposition of these duties, which would provisionally be for six months, does he accept that the problem here is their improper re-imposition for another six months?

Lord Simon of Highbury

My Lords, that may well be so, but we have not yet finished the first six months or had the Council's vote on the matter.

Lord Renton

My Lords, cannot the Council of Ministers deal with the matter before the present six-month period has expired?

Lord Simon of Highbury

My Lords, I do not think that the investigations will be completed before the six months have expired.

Back to