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Textile Industry

Volume 884: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1975

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13.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he has had any recent talks with employers or trade unionists from the textile industry.

My right hon. Friend met Mr. Fred Dyson, Secretary of the National Association of Unions in the Textile Trade, on 14th November and discussed some of the problems facing the industry.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the textile industry is facing its worst crisis for 30 years, that over 50,000 people have been on short-time working of one form or another since Christmas, that more than five mills have been closed in the past two months and that many of the difficulties the industry is facing are caused by our membership of the Common Market? Will my hon. Friend discuss with his colleagues the possibility of obtaining some concessions—if we are not to leave the Common Market—so that the textile industry in this country is not killed off?

I appreciate the concern inside the textile industry. The figures I have, for November, show that 18,200 operatives in textiles were on short time. This is about 4·2 per cent of all the operatives in the industry. The import matters raised by my hon. Friend are the concern of the Department of Industry. I am sure that Ministers in that Department will study my hon. Friend's remarks.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that what is happening in the textile industry is also happening in the shoe industry? Is he aware that both industries are seriously threatened by imports, not from the Community but from very much outside that, from COMECON countries and also from the Indian subcontinent? He said that these are matters for the Secretary of State for Industry, but I felt that the tone of his reply implied that his Department was not particularly interested in the problem. I hope that that is not correct. Will he confirm that the Department is taking an acute interest in something which involves substantial unemployment in many constituencies?

I give the hon. Member the fullest assurance that there is close co-operation between my Department and the Department of Industry. We are concerned whenever there is short-time working.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the figures he has given are a little outdated, since the situation in textiles changes from day to day? Will he impress upon his colleagues that we hope that in future they will be meeting more than one trade union official in the textile industry? Is he aware that the workers in the industry are becoming increasingly militant about the situation and that Members of Parliament representing textile interests are also becoming increasingly bloody-minded?

I ought to remind my hon. Friend that, apart from my right hon. Friend having a meeting with Mr. Fred Dyson, there have been meetings between the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and the National Joint Industrial Council for Hosiery and Knitwear, and a further meeting between the Secretary of State for Industry and the textile group of Members of Parliament. There is concern about this industry and wherever there is short-time working.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable concern in the textile industry about the proposals contained in the consultative document relating to the Employment Protection Bill? We welcome the fact that consultations have been held with the unions, but may we have an assurance that careful consideration will be given to representations being made from the other side of this important industry?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a lot of help, but of course my right hon. Friend takes very seriously all representations made to him. I understand the point that is made.