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North-East Lancashire

Volume 888: debated on Tuesday 18 March 1975

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Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to North-East Lancashire.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. However, may I convey to him the disappointment of the people of North-East Lancashire? If my right hon. Friend visits that area he will meet thousands of textile workers who, anticipating the forthcoming debate on textiles, expect action on cheap imports. He will also meet thousands of footwear employees who are suffering from short-time working as a result of cheap imports from Eastern Europe. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give those footwear workers that action will be speedily taken to reduce the level of imports and to give those workers a secure future in the industry?

I visited my hon. Friend's constituency early last September and met the representatives of the neighbouring local authorities on the North-East Lancashire Development Association. As regards this Question, my hon. Friend will recall the answer— I hope he feels it was a positive answer—which I gave to a Question by the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) last Thursday. A debate on this matter is now arranged for Thursday. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will meet the Members of Parliament representing the affected areas. I know the Rossendale footwear project very well, and I agree that the footwear, textile and other industries are threatened by the kinds of imports to which I referred the other day.

Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether he plans to suspend the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility on the important question of import controls?

Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that one of the problems in North-East Lancashire is the decline in the population, and that we need more white-collar jobs and new industries in the area?

I am well aware of that point. My hon. Friend will know that I discussed the matter, our hope in the future to obtain a redeployment of civil servants into that area, and the present difficulties about doing that. In case there is any doubt about the answer I gave while I was dealing with a minor liquidity crisis here—I spilt my glass of water—I meant that there will be no suspension of collective responsibility. That is a once-and-for-all answer in relation to the referendum, whereas every week there is a retrospective dissociation by the present incumbents of the Opposition Front Bench from the actions of the previous Conservative Government.

Is the Prime Minister saying that on Thursday the Secretary of State will make an announcement about stopping footwear imports dumped by East European countries?

The hon. Gentleman had better await the statement by my right hon. Friend and the debate on it. He is giving urgent consideration to the matter, and we have been in touch. Many hon. Members representing North-East Lancashire have had much experience of this in the past. However, I cannot foreshadow what my right hon. Friend will say in the debate.

Will my right hon. Friend accept my approval of the fact that he has listened to back benchers, and will he accept also that I should like him to do it a good deal more over forthcoming weeks? Is he aware that import controls are needed as a matter of urgency to protect the West Riding wool and textile industry, and that in order to do this he should show our independence of bureaucrats in Brussels and impose import controls freely and independently, as he has the right to do?

Apart from the general question of import controls as a means of safeguarding our balance of payments, my hon. Friend is now referring to protection against unfair competition. Over the years, successive Governments have taken action in that direction. There is nothing in principle against it, and we are examining these matters for evidence of unfairness, subsidies or wrong pricing. My hon. Friend will be aware that as part of the Lom é Convention, which has been welcomed in all parts of the House, we, in common with other European countries, are providing increased access for the products of primary producing countries. I am sure that my hon. Friend is not against that.