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Volume 885: debated on Monday 3 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will now make a further statement on the progress of the Under-Secretary of State's discussions with the British Footwear Manufacturers' Federation regarding problems of the footwear industry.

I invited the footwear industry to make proposals on how Government and industry together might determine how best to assure a successful future for the industry.

On 29th January the footwear federation wrote to my officials to take up that invitation formally. Officials are therefore in the process of seeking nominations from employers' and employees' organisations to a steering group to oversee a study of the industry.

I welcome the Government's stated decision to do something unspecified about the unfair dumping that is going on from COMECON countries. What will that something be, and when will it happen?

Action with regard to dumping is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. Representations should be made to him—I believe they have been made to him—and I am sure he will act on them quickly.

With regard to further action for which we are responsible, I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that the discussions with the three COMECON countries, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Roumania—to which I referred during an Adjournment debate—have started and, as I said then, no solutions to the problem will be excluded from the agenda for the talks.

Many of the factories worst afflicted by difficulties in the footwear trade are in developing areas such as the one that I represent, and the consequence for the workers there is fearful. Will my hon. Friend undertake to be really tough in his attitude towards those countries which are dumping footwear here and depriving my constituents and workers in my constituency of a secure future?

I should very much like to be able to give my hon. Friend clear and precise assurances in terms of the way in which we are handling these negotiations, but I cannot, other than to say that I have borne in mind what he said.

Does the Minister accept that these discussions have gone on with different Governments all through the 1970s? Is he aware that the footwear industry is once again under extreme pressure and that it looks to the Government for help? Will the Minister therefore give an undertaking to show the industry that the Government are determined to get positive action in, say, the next three months?

Representations on antidumping were made in 1972–73 but were withdrawn at the time. I assure the hon. Member, however, that we mean business this time, and I am sure that we shall be able to achieve positive action within the sort of time scale he has in mind.