asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the Ben Sherman Shirt Company and what financial aid it is receiving from the Government.
Last November the Ben Sherman group, which employs about 600 people in the Londonderry area, told the Government that it could not continue without financial help. As closure would have doubled the number of women unemployed in Londonderry, it was decided to support the group temporarily through extra-statutory payments.The Department is now seeking to acquire the assets of the group so that a new company financed wholly by the Government can carry on. Negotiations have been prolonged for legal reasons. Assistance to date has cost about £350,000; it cannot continue indefinitely. In any case, if the company is to be made viable it can only be on a reduced scale; two of the four factories will have to close.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Ben Sherman Shirt Company is using British taxpayers' money to produce a shirt which costs £1·80 and is forcing competitors in Northern Ireland out of business? Is he also aware that the shirts are selling in Liverpool at £1·20 and that on 160,000 shirts there is a net loss of £100,000? Does he agree that there should be a Government representative on the board of the company?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman on the last point that the Government will have full control of the company when we have the assets. As for the unfair competition instanced by the hon. Gentleman, on which he brought a deputation to meet me, I can assure him that the matter is being looked into and I shall write to him.