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Textile Industry

Volume 976: debated on Tuesday 18 December 1979

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9.2 pm

I make no apology for being responsible for another debate on textiles, but it is the first one for some time intended to spotlight the problems of the industry in West Yorkshire. There is no alternative for West Yorkshire Members of Parliament but to stress continually to the Government and the civil servants that we cannot allow our area to become depopulated, deprived and a wasteland because of the sickness or death of the textile industry.

There are rapidly growing fears in the industry about what the future holds. The progress, or lack of it, in the textile industry is taking place against the backcloth of a terrifying and growing de-industrialisation in Britan, which itself proceeds in the face of a stupendous long-term complacency and inertia by successive Governments and the population at large.

It was reported at the International Wool Textile Organisation conference in London in June that a worldwide shift in textile production was occurring, whereby the Northern Hemisphere is no longer the prime producing area. It was a similar shift that led to the decline of the cotton textile industry in Lancashire. There is anxiety that the Government will trade off the textile industry, a little at a time, for concessions and benefits in respect of sophisticated goods in order to do deals with China and other countries.

Job losses are becoming not only more frequent but are now running at avalanche proportions. Within five months between May and October of this year, in West Yorkshire alone there were over 2,000 redundancies, including five factory closures. It is estimated that in West Yorkshire there are likely to be 25,000 jobs lost to the industry between 1977 and 1980.

The chairman of the wool textile delegation, Mr. Hibbert, said on 16 October this year that the industry's technical and economic base was being seriously undermined. The county council of West Yorkshire has gone on record as saying that it is increasingly concerned at the poor job prospects in textile areas.

Effluent charges effective from 1 April this year are already having a serious effect on the viability of the combing and re-combing sections of the industry. The CBI and NEDO document published in August, "Trends in Textile and Clothing", indicated an extremely gloomy outlook, with export prospects plunging. The high level of sterling and the prohibitive cost of borrowing are also both unhelpful.

The sectors most likely to suffer from these trends are heavily represented in West Yorkshire. Therefore, the outlook for the textile and clothing industries is seen to be increasingly precarious. The scenario for the carpet manufacturing industry includes a 50 per cent. reduction of its work force within 10 years. During a recent seminar the West Yorkshire county council stated that it felt that little sympathy was being shown by the United Kingdom Government to the severe problems of the West Yorkshire textile and clothing industries.

The textile industry is relatively well equipped. If it is given fair competition, it should be able to compete fairly successfully. Wages are not high by Western European standards, and by British standards there is a good industrial relations record in most factories.

I shall identify a few of the problems and suggest remedies. First, the conduct of retail distribution groups in Britain is one of the reasons why the textile industry needs more money from the Government by means of the Bill. There are 14 groups controlling more than 50 per cent. of over-the-counter sales in Britain. With the honourable exception of Marks and Spencer, which manages to buy more than 80 per cent. of its textile goods from British sources, the rest of the companies seem to be doing enormous damage to Britain and the textile industry.

Last week the Telegraph and Argus carried out a survey in Bradford shops. Bradford is the heart of the woollen textile industry in Britain. It concluded that
"Cheap foreign clothing imports are gradually killing off the British textile industry as mill after mill closes."
It acquitted Marks and Spencer, which was found to be an honourable exception. The survey included British Home Stores, Little woods and C & A. There is a feeling that these large retail distribution chains treat the United Kingdom industry as an emergency supplier when others cannot deliver. If a British company cannot deliver at short notice, the retail distribution chains complain that it is not delivering on time.

It would assist if retail distribution chains were less shortsighted. It should occur to them that if they destroy the livelihoods of their customers there will be no purchasing power to buy their goods. They are putting people out of work in textile factories as plainly as if they were handing out the dismissal notices.

The dual pricing policy of the United States is wreaking havoc in the textile industry. Oil and feedstock go cheap to domestic manufacturers in the United States. That gives them a substantial price advantage. Every time the world price of oil increases, the advantage of United States producers grows. The textile lobby in the United States is most effective. Imports of polyester textile yarn from the United States have increased from 7½ per cent. last autumn to 29 per cent. now. Those are the latest figures from the Man-made Fibres Federation. They will increase month by month if something is not done.

The unions in the North-East and the influence of the Southern States of the United States have the Government there all tied up. The textile lobby there did a deal with the United States Government in February of this year. It was agreed that in return for abandoning opposition to the Tokyo round the Government would back the United States textile industry in a great way. Of course, President Carter dare not antagonise the textile vote. The Department of Commerce in the United States has commissioned the prestigious firm of Kurt Salmon to prepare reports on textile industries in 47 countries on how to deal with those industries, and to produce a list of the retail buying groups in the United Kingdom and the person to contact in each group.

The first report was on the United Kingdom. That indicates the degree of pressure that we can expect from the United States by means of its unfair pricing policy. There is no hope that the United States will voluntarily change that policy. On 3 April of this year, after the United Kingdom had put its complaint and evidence to the Commission, the Council of Ministers gave an undertaking that in the event of artificial pricing for energy leading to the threat of disruption to the Community market the Community would have recourse, without delay, to immediate action under the GATT. However, nothing has happened, although import figures show that that threat has become a grisly reality.

Confronted with that gruesome reality, the EEC hesitates to take any action and has reneged on its promise to take action without delay, although it was satisfied about the artificial pricing policy of the United States Government in April of this year. On 20 November the Council of Ministers agreed to negotiate with the United States, but on 14 December, when it met United States representatives, those representatives filibustered, as one would expect. It is absurd to think that they would take action against their own textile lobby. Britain must therefore stop the Community from shilly-shallying, and it can do that by acting alone, properly and legally, within the rules of the Community, despite the view of our own Department of Trade.

A codified regulation on import control was published on 8 May of this year by the Community. Article 12 of that codified regulation said that a country could take restraint action on its own in two circumstances.

Where the imports of a product disrupt or threaten disruption of the Community market for that product and, secondly, where the imports of that product are based on costs or conditions that disrupt or threaten disruption, the Community can take restraining action. But then, according to article 14, those Community powers are transferred from the Community to the single member State.

If a member State decides to take action on its own to stop unfair imports, it must first give five clear days' notice to the Commission and, secondly, it must present to the Commission reasons and justification for, and details of, the action that it proposes to take, and within five days the Commission is required to summon a committee of representatives of the various member States.

The applicant country—that is to say, the United Kingdom in this case—is required to listen to the views of the committee, over which it has no power of veto. If the committee is convinced, it can take action itself, but first it has to obtain the approval of the Council of Ministers. That involves a delay, and the applicant country, as an interim measure, can take its own action to stop the abuse. If the committee of the EEC is not convinced, the United Kingdom can appeal to the Council of Ministers, and pending that appeal it can also take unilateral action. As a result, by invoking the procedures that the Community lays down, Britain is in a position to impose a complete embargo, within a week or two, on all United States textile imports that contain this inbuilt and found to be unfair advantage, pending action by the Council of Ministers.

In my view, such an embargo is essential. Although it will not last long—perhaps only a month until the Council of Ministers decides what to do—it will have the effect of jerking the Community into action. The French have done it, as one might expect. In 1977, worried by what they regarded as an unfair import system, they announced that they would take action, and the result was that within six weeks the Commission had alerted the Council of Ministers and the matter had been dealt with.

What we want from our Government now is unilateral action, operating not on a permanent basis but for a month in order to jerk the Community into taking the required action to stop these unfair American imports which are doing such enormous damage throughout the British textile industry, and especially in West Yorkshire.

What action should the Council of Ministers take? Britain must press for an immediate increase of at least 20 per cent. in the Community tariff against United States textile imports, covering in addition products such as tufted carpets and other downstream products. In other words, Britain, operating within the EEC rules, can achieve its results by courageous and strong action.

The United States has a tariff of 45 per cent. against our textiles. Our tariff varies but is about 23 per cent. It is absurd that such a rich country should have a higher tariff against our textiles than we, a poorer nation, have against theirs. This cannot go on, and, since the United States Government will not deprive their own people of the advantage which they now enjoy through that unfair policy, it is up to Britain and the EEC, together or separately, to take the appropriate action.

The United States has kindly agreed to reduce its tariff over a period of eight years from 1982. I do not know how much of the United Kingdom textile industry will be left by 1982—and certainly by 1990, the year by which the United States has promised to reduce its tariff to about 33 per cent. The United Kingdom must, therefore, take action to force the palsied hands of the civil servants in the Community.

I turn now to unfair competition, which is another aspect of the same matter. The British taxpayer has to give grants to the industry—under the current provisions, £2,800,000, which is inadequate in the circumstances—simply because the industry staggers under the various inequities which prevail, unfair competition being one of them.

The example of Korea is a blatant case in point. Korea has an 80 per cent. tariff barrier against our textiles, when it permits any textiles in at all. For our woven woollen cloth we have to overcome an 80 per cent. barrier, yet Korea plans to become the world's largest textile and clothing exporter within five years from now, that is, by 1985.

In September 1979 the authoritative and prestigious textile magazine Textile Asia declared that the Koreans were being encouraged to export to the hilt and to make up losses on export sales by increasing domestic prices. That is a straight invitation to dumping by the Korean Government, and Britain cannot allow it to continue. We must ask for closer parity.

Brazil has tariffs against our textiles of up to 205 per cent. The situation in Prato in Italy is well known. The Italian industry of Prato, by means, it is suspected, of hidden subsidies and low social security payments to its workers, has eliminated the woollen weaving industries in Holland, Belgium and West Germany, and now it is the turn of France and the United Kingdom.

I do not for a moment imagine that France will allow its industry to be eliminated by anyone, and I hope that the British Government will take a similar view. France itself has export rebates and freight subsidies for its woollen producers which we do not have here.

It is obvious that something is wrong. There is here no question of, as it were, penalising underdeveloped countries. One has only to look at what is coming from Eastern Europe. Suits made predominantly of wool are coming from Hungary at £14·20, from Czechoslovakia at £12·50, and from East Germany at £15·30. For man-made fibres the prices are: Hungary £14·30; Poland £15·30 and East Germany £11·10. Those very prices from those European countries indicate that there must be an element of loss and State subsidy.

What the Government and the EEC ought to do is to reverse the burden of proof on dumping and put the onus on those who are charged with dumping to prove that they are not doing so. Furthermore, there must be pressure by the Government on those in the EEC who are investigating the Prato industry to get on with it. They have been doing so since January without result, and it simply is not good enough. The EEC must be pressurised by our Government to adopt speedier arrangements for the investigation of unfair trading practices—including misleading labelling—breaches of quotas and breaches of bilateral agreements. We need methods of quick and thorough investigation and tough reaction to remedy the wrongs that are found. In future agreements we need a social clause to ensure that those who are given concessions treat their own workers properly and pay them decently.

I have today received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, as I am sure other hon. Members have, saying that the Government are not prepared to assist at all with the unit costs for treating wool scouring effluent. The Government will not do anything, despite the fact that costs in this country are double those in France; and in Italy and Belgium there are no charges at all. The argument is that to do so would infringe the Water Act, but the Government could assist from a different standpoint. The multi-fibre arrangement is something the industry needs, and we need a commitment from the Government to improve and strengthen it for 1981, when it will, we hope, be renewed. Furthermore, we need the strictest controls on outward processing. We need a commitment from the Government and the EEC that they will not trade away the textile industry for other advantages internationally in negotiations with other countries. Finally, we need to dispel rumours that the EEC foresees the end of the textile industry and its transfer somewhere else.

Those are the matters that I wanted to raise. I am conscious that other hon. Members wish to speak in this debate. My reason for applying for this debate was the importance of the subject and the fact that I know that there are hon. Members on both sides who feel equally strongly about it. Living in or visiting their constituencies regularly, they are in a position to know how desperate is the situation. It is because they know it is desperate and because they feel worried that they are not managing to convey how urgent the situation is that a debate of this kind is so worth while.

The general secretary of the dyers' and bleachers' union is in the Gallery this evening. That union itself is quite rightly pressing Members of Parliament in West Yorkshire very hard to get stronger action from the Government, because the textile workers' union in West Yorkshire is almost disappearing before one's eyes with all these redundancies. It is no good for Britain, it is no good for the industry and it is no good for West Yorkshire unless the present position is reversed. We must have the opportunity to compete on equal terms and not under heavy disadvantages, as is the case now.

9.25 pm

We are very grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) for having introduced this debate on textiles. I am particularly grateful to him because I had drawn No. 8 for my subject and the fact that mine linked with his has saved me from a very late night.

In intervening on what is possibly a Yorkshire occasion, I must say that in north-east Essex, in my constituency there are three thriving small textile industries. Naturally I am concerned about the dangers they face from unfair competition, especially from Eastern Europe and the connection with the Community.

We know that the industry can face fair competition within the Community. I am speaking particularly of menswear. However, it cannot face the competition and malpractices of Eastern European countries, especially when carried out in association with our partners in the EEC.

Like the hon. and learned Gentleman, I understand the position of illegal and unfair imports and dumping, especially from Romania, Eastern Germany and Eastern Europe. Recently we saw the closure of five well-known companies, with cutbacks and short-time working in others. We heard strong words from the hon. and learned Gentleman about the position in Yorkshire. There is also short-time working in north-east Essex. One manufacturer of men's outer wear said today that, unless something was done to stop unfair imports, the whole industry could disappear within two years. Indeed, if that is the price we must pay for illegal and unfair imports, it is certainly unacceptable to me, and, I am sure, to the House.

At present we are witnessing cheap imports. However, if we are not careful we shall be in danger of importing unemployment as well. We must all carefully consider that factor. The textile industry has good labour relations. It is a labour-intensive industry and makes a great contribution to the standard of living of any country. That is why I am especially glad to intervene in the debate.

People working in the textile industry say that if the industry goes to the wall there could come the moment when the Armed Services must purchase their uniforms from Eastern Europe. Indeed, some Service uniforms are made in my constituency, at Harwich. We used to make police uniforms there. However, as a result of Community regulations, the police contracts have gone to Germany. I should like the Community tendering system to be reconsidered. Although it may be fair, nevertheless there may be some method of altering it after careful consideration. Again, I ask whether we are up against fair competition.

All that underlines the need for action to ensure that there is fair competition. From what I have heard, I am not sure about that. A number of factors contribute to the situation. One is the alarming increase in unfair and illegal trading practices. By that I mean the various forms of dumping that were mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman, origin fraud as a means of quota evasion, State intervention in breach of EEC competition law, notably in Italy and Holland, and the evasion of duty through the abuse of preferential schemes. Dumping is extremely difficult to prove, especially in inflationary times when prices change so quickly.

Although anti-dumping procedures have been revised to facilitate action, they are still unsatisfactory since the onus of proof is on the importing country. Are we trying to change this? The Government must examine the anti-dumping procedures to ascertain whether certain rules and regulations should be changed.

Can action be taken against the importation of Romanian suits under our MFA bilateral agreements? The best example of origin fraud is Germany, though Italy is also a source of such fraud. Special East-West German relations make it difficult to police EEC origin regulations, and those relations provide an ideal cover for what the industry believes is large-scale illegal traffic. Our industry claims that well-tailored, 100 per cent. pure wool suits being offered by a West German firm at an ex-factory price of £16 are made in East Germany or Bulgaria with Korean cloth. These suits do not carry an origin label.

Are this practice and similar practices which the industry has notified to the Department of Trade being investigated? The effects of such practices on the MFA regime are obviously devastating. I was in Brussels the week before last and could tell that the Commission was not adequately staffed to deal with this problem. It did not surprise me to find that the staff of the Commission responsible for enforcing the origin regulations consisted—on their own admission—of one and a half people. Surely, something should be done about that.

We have agreed to become part of a trading community and have seen what happens with the CAP. In a labour-intensive industry such as our textile industry, we now find that there are insufficient staff to enforce the regulations. That is one of the reasons why I raise the subject tonight.

Apart from the need for more effective certification of origin and stricter enforcement of the origin regulations, the industry is pressing for origin labelling—as mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West—to be made compulsory. There is much to be said for that and I am sure that it is right, but in order to stop unco-ordinated action by member States it would be far better to press for an EEC regulation to deal with the problem comprehensively.

Urgent talks should take place with the EEC. I welcome the fact that the reason why my hon. Friend the Minister of State is unable to reply to this debate is that he is in Brussels probably dealing at the moment with this critical problem for the textile industry.

A further problem, not mentioned by the hon. and learned Member, is the extent of State intervention in the clothing industry. I do not wish to make a party political point, but in Italy the underwriting of losses by the State is practised on a formidable scale. That means that the firms concerned are able to operate outside normal market forces. That is a blatant transgression of EEC competition law. The Dutch Government, it is claimed, are also heavily subsidising their clothing manufacturers. This calls for quick action by the Government.

Preferential schemes have not so far been mentioned in the debate. It is claimed that cloth from the Far East is temporarily imported duty-free into such countries as Kenya for processing and then re-exported to the United Kingdom without duty being paid. That can mean a price difference of about 20 per cent. The textile industry needs much tighter control on imports from preferential areas.

There is no doubt that unless the Government are determined to deal immediately and effectively with the problems of the clothing industry we face a serious crisis. I have been doing many other things, but when I saw that industries in my constituency were in difficulty I examined the problems. I was appalled at the practices against the textile industry in the Community. It is vital to take up this matter with the Community in Brussels at once, not only through our Members of the European Parliament but with the Council of Ministers.

We have talked about the common agricultural policy protecting the small farmers, but the textile industry also needs protection. I am a free trader. I believe in fair competition, but the present practices are not fair competition. For that reason, I felt that it was right to raise this issue in the House.

When in Dublin, the Prime Minister was right to draw to the Community's attention our fears about the budget. There are fears about the CAP and about the textile industry. Action is necessary. I hope that the Government will examine the detail of what is happening. Only by correcting that detail can we ensure that the textile industry in particular does not suffer gravely in the next two years. I trust that this debate will draw to the attention of the House and the country what is happening in this important industry.

9.37 pm

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) on being fortunate in the ballot and on choosing to debate the West Yorkshire textile industry, particularly the wool textile industry—the backbone of life in West Yorkshire. That has been so since the Industrial Revolution and before. The House last debated this subject exactly five weeks ago. On that occasion many hon. Members impressed upon the Government the serious risk involved in the decline in the textile industry. We emphasised that that decline had become even more serious in the last six months.

I pointed out that between May and October this year 23 textile firms in West Yorkshire had closed. Those closures involved 2,013 redundancies. If those redundancies had taken place in one factory, there would have been a national outcry. However, because they were spread throughout West Yorkshire they did not invite the concern of the Government or the public that they deserve.

What has happened in West Yorkshire since that debate? The steady decline continues. Yesterday in the Yorkshire Post, which I do not usually read, a most prominent advertisement appeared across the top of a page. It consisted of a large notice which stated:
"Reorganisation of Woollen Company.
The Dirctors of a West Yorkshire Woollen Company wish to reorganise the Company's business by substantially reducing the scale of its manufacturing operations. This will involve reorganising the Company's work force and disposing of surplus assets. Applications are invited from persons suitably qualified and experienced who are interested in undertaking this assignment."
It is a tragic sign of the times that a large woollen company in West Yorkshire has to reorganise its work force, which may lead to short-time working, redundancies and a reduction in the scale of its manufacturing operations. There is no sign there of any improvement since the debate five weeks ago.

There is in my constituency a world-famous carpet company called Crossley and Kosset, better known as Crossley's Carpets. It has twice received the Queen's Award for Exports, and it has an international reputation. Its record of achievement and success is one of the best, if not the best, of all the carpet firms in the country.

I learnt yesterday that short-time working started there at the beginning of the month. An average of a three-day week is now being worked throughout the factory, and redundancies are a possibility. At one time exports from that factory were 17 per cent. to 20 per cent. of the total output. Today they are only 8 per cent. to 9 per cent.

I asked a managing director what points I should stress in today's debate. He said that the greatest single problem is the threat from the United States. The implications of that were well put earlier by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West.

The Minister is today attending a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers to receive a report on the Commission's consultations with the United States. Surely, while we are waiting for those discussions to come to a head, the Gov- ernment should take interim action to stop the flood of imports from America.

The Council of Ministers will take months to reach any decision. The matter was considered under the previous Government. During the last debate on the matter in the House we were told that we would hear the result of those discussions later in November. At Question Time yesterday we were told that we might hear today that a decision had been taken and that consequently the Government would be able to act.

The Minister should make a statement when the House returns after the Christmas Recess about the action the Government propose to take. It is no good waiting for endless discussions while the jots and livelihoods of people in West Yorkshire are at stake. Not only have jobs already been lost, but those who are still working in the textile industry are under constant threat. What steps are the Government taking to find alternative employment for those made redundant?

I asked the Minister a question about the possibility of training services division support for retraining of redundant weaving over lookers in West Yorkshire. The Minister said that support could not be justified at present because of the lack of employment opportunities in the industry on completion of training. This reply is not only negative but demonstrates the Government's regrettable lack of confidence in the future of the industry as well as their refusal to provide positive assistance. They clearly think that there is no point in retraining if there are not employment opportunities in the industry on completion of training.

I come to another possibility—the provision of alternative jobs, if necessary outside the textile industry. This is a regrettable alternative, but the people in West Yorkshire must have jobs. If they are being made redundant in the wool and textile industries, they must look elsewhere.

The latest employment figures were announced today. Nationally, they show a rise. These are mirrored in the local figures for my constituency, which also came out today and which show an increase in the unemployed. The number of vacancies is reduced. We are told that this is not only a seasonal picture. It is not simply a winter figure. The prospects are not good anywhere, but in West Yorkshire in particular they are certainly not good. We are being changed from an assisted to a non-assisted area. Therefore, the small firms which stood to gain from this assistance—usually the textile firms—will be hit in that way as well. The prospects in machine tools are not good. We certainly do not have a flood of new industries in West Yorkshire to which people can go.

I ask the Government again in this debate—as I did in the last debate, when I received no reply—to state their response to the report on the scheme for textile area regeneration. I should like to know from the Minister what is his attitude to that report and what are the Government's proposals. So much for help with jobs.

We have heard from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West that another totally negative and disappointing reply was received from the Government to pleas for help from the Yorkshire wool scouring industry concerning the trade effluent charges made by the Yorkshire water authority. Here is another barrier or another insuperable difficulty facing the wool textile industry, with no positive help forthcoming.

The Minister, in replying to the Supply day debate on regional aid, after a series of speeches from each side of the House, still did not appear to appreciate the gravity of the problem. He said:
"I discovered not a dying industry"—
this was when he went to look at some mills—
but one that has carried out massive restructuring over recent years".
But is the Minister still unaware that, as I pointed out in the debate, it is not only the old satanic mills that are closing but also many of the modernised ones of which he is so proud? Why are the modernised ones closing? The crisis is hitting the whole industry, yet the Government appear to be extremely complacent about it.

The Minister also told the House that the industry is
"dominated by small firms needing advice and counselling on how to improve their production methods. The small firms division of the Department of Industry has a nation-wide system of counselling which is always at the service of the industry."—[Official Report, 13 November 1979; Vol. 973, c. 1229–31.]
I am sure that we were all pleased to hear that, but the Minister must surely realise that at the moment the industry needs more than advice and counselling to solve its problems. It needs practical, tangible assistance, not words. That is what we are asking for tonight. In the face of the facts which have been stated. the Government's attitude to the wool textile industry should be to offer practical assistance.

In a recent debate on the subject, several policy proposals were suggested, but I shall not go through all of them this evening. However, as this is a debate on the Consolidated Fund, we should emphasise the urgent need for increased selective financial assistance to the industry, particularly as virtually the whole of West Yorkshire—with some exceptions such as Bradford—has been reduced from an assisted to a non-assisted area. We should like that assistance in the form of loans, grants or in any other way possible.

Ministers keep stressing that the wool textile industry is a cyclical industry. That makes it essential that, if it is to survive during times of depression, it should receive increased Government support. If the Government really believe that the West Yorkshire textile industry should not be allowed to decline, they must support that belief with urgent practical help.

9.51 pm

We have debated this issue on many occasions and at some considerable length. I suppose that some might claim that we were in danger of repeating ourselves, but, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry is very much aware, there are strong feelings among those of us who come from the West Yorkshire area as well as among those who work in the industry that it must not be allowed to die. It is one of our oldest industries, which goes back many centuries, and it would be a tragedy to those working in it, as well as to the country as a whole, if it were lost.

We live in a period of change. I believe that the industry accepts the inevitability of change within it. There must inevitably he some contraction, and that would have taken place come what may. There have been changes in fashion to man-made fibres. Even with fair competition, I do not think that anyone can deny that some contraction in the industry would have taken place.

The industry also accepts that poorer nations will want to develop their own industries. What it objects to is the use of unfair methods by relatively well-off nations. We have in this country relatively well-organised, highly developed distribution networks. Those countries which practise unfair methods of trade have those systems of distribution wide open to them and, therefore, find it very easy to enter our markets compared with most other markets in the world.

The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) referred to the Italian industry. I am sure that most of us would agree that the Italian industry benefits from the relaxed approach to tax and social security benefits. That could be regarded, and ought to be regarded, as a hidden subsidy. We must look to the Commission of the European Community to use its muscle with regard to this matter.

There are only two possibilities—either the Commission has not got the will to do anything about it, or it does not have the resources to deal with it. If it does not have the will, Ministers must make their voices heard far more stridently in defence of our interests and in defence of the industry than they have until today. As we have already heard, the Secretary of State for Trade is today taking part in a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, and we shall all be interested to hear the outcome of that meeting.

If the Commission lacks the resources, as has already been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), there should be a strengthening of the agencies concerned with monitoring fair trade and ensuring that it takes place. Many people in this country feel that the Commission seems to be very good at imposing controls that people do not want. Perhaps, without imposing any further bureaucracy, it might be possible to transfer some of the resources that are used to impose controls that people do not want to controls that are absolutely necessary and for which everyone is crying out. We should admit that the industry has some faults. It is sometimes slow to point out individual cases of abuse that could be dealt with. On the other hand, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich has pointed out, there is great difficulty in producing proof of unfair practices. I agree that there is a good case for changing the procedure so that the burden of proof rests on the industry to prove that it is not dumping or using unfair trade practices.

The all-party group within the House has been working on a united basis. It is good that on this issue we have been able to put aside most of our party differences and fight for the industry, with which we are all concerned. I do not deny that there are one or two differences—perhaps I should not gloss over those. Conservative Members do not want special subsidies for industry. Unless the industry is capable of surviving on its own feet, it is not worth proceeding with it. There is little point in pumping in money unless it is to alleviate a short-term problem. Therefore, it is better to concentrate on dealing with basic structural problems. We cannot hide those by pumping in money. That will only drag out the procedure, and we must get to grips with the real problem.

In this industry and in most others relatively little would be gained from import controls. In a moment, I shall say why I believe that the imposition of import controls could adversely affect the carpet industry in West Yorkshire. We are a country that lives by its trade. If we start on that path, we shall be the losers in the long term.

The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) referred to the question of restoring regional grants. I agree that there is a case for refining the system. Few would argue that there are not places within Kirklees or Calderdale—which have textile industries—which are worse off in many ways than places in Bradford, which benefit and will continue to benefit from the regional grant system. The system is a blunt weapon which contains many anomalies. Under the previous system, 40 per cent. of the country took advantage of the grants and relatively few people were any better off. That was a blunter instrument and one that we do not wish to see again.

I have spoken of the differences that divide the House. On the whole, we agree on far more. I see that the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) is in the Chamber. When this matter was last debated in the House, we heard an impressive speech from the hon. Gentleman. He referred to nine developments that he believed would help the industry. Conservative Members would agree with most of those proposals. Today, I also received the letter from my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that has been referred to in the debate. We recognise his problems, but I am sure that I speak for all my colleagues when I say that the letter was a cause of considerable disappointment.

We should like a clear statement of intent about preliminary negotiations on the multi-fibre arrangement. We have been told that that desire is premature, but most of us feel that the industry looks to the Government for an indication of their determination to renegotiate the munlti-fibre arrangement. We often hear the plea from the Government that they cannot give a firm statement, and it is difficult to understand why that commitment cannot be entered into.

I refer to the contraction that has taken place in the industry. In my constituency of Brighouse and Spenborough, we are relatively fortunate in that it has taken place over a much longer period than in many other parts of West Yorkshire. Looking at photographs of the industrial scenery 20 or 30 years ago, one sees Brighouse, Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike alive with mill chimneys. Most of those have now gone and we are left with relatively few firms in that industry, many of which are in the carpet trade. Several of those old buildings are used by engineering firms and entrepreneurs have set up small companies, seven or eight of which frequently occupy space that would have been taken up by one textile company. It is an excellent example of redeployment. These firms are providing employment, and we should not fight such changes.

Last weekend I visited one such firm and was interested to hear that, in spite of the present depressing outlook, this firm, like many others, has more business than it can cope with. I welcome the fact that so many small businesses are stepping into the breach, but I am afraid that they could not span the enormous gap that would be left by the total loss of this industry, which is gravely threatened at present.

The textile industry can be compared to an animal. It is not just one industry but many, which can be taken to be the limbs of the animal. There are two ways in which it can die. It can be wounded again and again, until, through loss of blood, it simply collapses, or the total loss of certain limbs might completely cripple the whole creature—and that is more likely at present. The activities—the limbs—within the textile industry are closely interrelated. I have already referred to the loss of scouring, and that would bring about inevitable reactions in other areas of the textile world.

I wish to conclude with one or two detailed words about the carpet industry, which, as I explained, is important for my constituency. It will be looking closely at the results of the meetings held in Europe today. We have heard reference to dual pricing and imports from the United States. United States manufacturers of tufted carpets can buy their raw materials for 20 per cent. to 30 per cent. less than our producers. They have a further advantage in that, because of economies of scale—the sort of yardage with which they are dealing—their labour unit costs are low. Even after paying import duties to Britain, they are able to export carpets to this country at £1 a square yard less than the price at which our manufacturers can produce carpets. If the Americans are not prepared to change their tune, I hope that the European Community will take a firm line and that countervailing duties will be imposed.

Today I spoke to the director of a long-established company—Firth Carpets—in my constituency. He explained to me that whereas in the past at this time of year there has been an upturn in the industry, this year, almost for the first time, there has not. That is very much the message coming from other carpet manufacturers. Profits are down and a large part of the industry is not working full-time, or is shedding labour.

It is interesting to note that the more expensive part of the carpet industry, the Wilton and Axminster trade, is doing far better than the cheaper, tufted carpets. This, again, points to the dangers represented by American imports. People working in the industry are well aware of how other home markets have been overcome by imports—I think here of the motor industry—which gradually increase until eventually the home industry is threatened.

There is a danger to the carpet industry from import controls. The carpet industry depends on imports of continuous filament nylon. If we were to take unilateral action against, say, American imports of raw materials, which can be obtained 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. cheaper than from home producers, it could be the death blow to tufted, synthetic carpets in Britain. If such imports were stopped, it would be detrimental to the industry. We must take a broad view before rushing into precipitate action here.

I have listened with great interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) and concur with what he said up to the present. I did not follow his last point. Is he saying that the purpose of import controls would be to increase the price of imported raw materials and that that would inevitably damage the domestic market? If that is so, that does not seem to follow.

I believe that if our home manufacturers had to pay an even higher price for raw materials they would be in a poorer position to compete. That is one reason, among many others, why I would prefer joint action with our European partners rather than unilateral action on our own behalf, which might, in the long run, be more damaging.

President Carter recently told the American people that the United States textile industry was not negotiable and that under no circumstances would that industry be allowed to die. The most encouraging news that our industry could receive would be an unequivocal statement from one of our Ministers—preferably the Prime Minister—that the same applies here. We need to be told that in 10, 20 or 30 years we shall still have a viable textile industry. When my hon. Friend the Minister replies, I hope that we shall hear some news that indicates that we are at least pointing in the right direction.


I congratulate the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), who were successful in initiating this debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. Certainly the textile industry and illegal and unfair imports go together. I apologise for not having been present all evening. Indeed, after my contribution I shall have to return to the Standing Committee on the British Aerospace Bill. I apologise to the Minister for that, but I shall read his comments with interest.

It appears to me that we have been here before. I entered the House in October 1974 and in almost every debate on textiles since then I have managed to make a contribution. The same problems exist, despite assurances and statements of good intentions.

I take issue with the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller), who spoke about the unnecessary proposition of putting money into the industry. If he went back to his constituency and talked to management, unions and men, he would learn that the one thing they would gladly welcome back would be the Labour Party's temporary employment subsidy. That subsidy was given during a period of depression in the textile industry. When we had the temporary employment subsidy, we could at least see an end to the recession and some light at the end of the tunnel, but the present mood of the industry is one of utter dejection.

Since August this year, there have been 6,250 redundancies in the spinning and weaving industries. In addition, about 2,000 workers are engaged in short-time working. We are experiencing severe problems caused by imports from America—imports arising from the dual pricing policies which subsidise energy and feed-stock, which are used to produce synthetic fibres and other products.

In my constituency, only this month Kirklees mill, in Tottington—a mill that had fought off South Korean, Japanese, Hong Kong and Taiwan imports and, indeed, those from everywhere east of Wigan—announced that it would close. Why? It is because over the hill comes John Wayne and the cowboys. As a result, this mill has served 90 days' notice that it will close and the workers will be made redundant.

On 19 November, the EEC Council of Ministers decided to hold formal discussions with the United States to talk about these damaging effects. This does not go far enough. The case has been proved and the Community should act now by imposing an immediate countervailing levy. Discussions take too long; action is required. To put it the American way, we do not want to be short on action and long on discussions.

A further problem facing the industry is that of outward processing—the export of cloth to an underdeveloped country to be made up. It is then reimported into the EEC. This is damaging and must not be allowed to continue into 1980. It is a straight export of jobs from the United Kingdom.

We in the all-party group urge the Government to give a firm commitment to renegotiate the multi-fibre arrangement during 1982 on more stringent terms. If the Minister would give us a statement along those lines tonight, it would do as much as anything to restore a degree of confidence to the industry. Under the current MFA, provision is made for a 6 per cent. growth in the volume of imports each year. We all know that at present domestic consumption is increasing at a much lower rate than 6 per cent. This has the net effect of simply increasing import penetration.

The new MFA should have a recession clause incorporated in its terms. That would allow the importing country to suspend or reduce quota allocations. It is absolutely hypocritical and preposterous to expect a depressed home market to accept increasing numbers of imports of foreign goods, disproportionate to the home market consumption.

I believe also that the new MFA should include a social clause under which it would be a condition of the exporting country that it should provide decent terms and conditions of employment for its workpeople. How can we compete when textile operatives in some Third world countries are earning only £6 a week for a 50-hour week and working 51 weeks a year? We cannot possibly compete with those labour costs. Let us make it quite clear that no one in the North-West or in Yorkshire would deny workers in the underprivileged countries the right of a decent wage. When the American civil war was raging, the Lancashire spinners refused to spin slave-picked cotton.

During the civil disturbances in India, Gandhi banned Indian cotton exports and put our people out of work. But the textile workers of Lancashire lined the streets and clapped when he came to Lancashire. Our record of humanitarianism for Third world countries goes back generations. We believe that if we are really concerned about passing some of our prosperity and maybe some of our jobs to some under-privileged people, it is not only jobs but the conditions, the environment and the working wage that should go to them as well and not simply to a few textile barons.

Between now and the next MFA, the Commission must stop retreating from principles which are incorporated in the present arrangement. It must be prepared to act decisively against unfair trading. Hon. Members could cite many examples of quotas which have been exceeded. The United Kingdom Government and the Commission should consider imposing sanctions in the form of cancelling quotas from those countries when these abuses have been deliberate.

There must also be greater control on free circulation. As hon. Members know, this is the way in which low-cost imports are able to pass from one EEC country to another. The Government should support the argument that imports from Mediterranean countries should be subject to controls on free circulation despite any possible argument by the Commission that such action would not be legal.

A disturbing event took place when the EEC reached agreement with China in July this year which brought about breaches in the global ceilings of seven of the eight most sensitive categories of imports. It appears that China plans to double its textile output by the 1990s. It will be looking for a market for these goods in exchange for capital equipment. Assurances are needed that the textile industry of this country will not be sacrificed further to take an increased share of Chinese textiles in return for capital goods exported to that country.

A matter of great concern is the Mediterranean associate countries. Restraint agreements have been reached with Malta and Cyprus in breach of the global ceilings on the most sensitive products. The agreements are at the highest level of penetration yet achieved. Portugal has been allowed to increase its shipments in 1979. In addition, Greece and Spain have been given authority to export larger quantities than have been agreed.

An example of how reluctant is the Community to act is the case of Turkish cotton yarn. The ceiling for Turkey was 2,940 tonnes, yet by September of this year imports of cotton yarn from Turkey were 4,835 tonnes. It took the Commission six months to act on the matter despite assurances given in April this year that it would act promptly to avoid disruption. What is the definition of disruption? Twenty-four factories have closed down since April. I have mentioned that over 6,000 jobs have been lost.

Last week in my constituency, the Mule Spinners Union, a union that had been operating for 150 years, closed down. It closed because there were only 14 spinning mules left in Lancashire. They were being exported to a museum in Belgium. I accept that technology has done away with the mule and made it redundant, but the men who last week closed down those mules were no nearer to seeing a future for the industry than were their 50,000 colleagues who in 1918 came back from the bloody trenches of the Somme and Ypres and started the Lancashire mules in 1918 to spin a land fit for heroes. Less than 30 per cent. of that industry is now left. Those people last week were no nearer seeing a future for the textile industry than were their predecessors in 1918. "We shall avoid disruption"! Deeds are not matching words. These are hollow words from hollow men who apparently buy their suits in Taiwan.

As I have tried to illustrate, and as other hon. Members will further illustrate, 1979 has been a year of contraction in the textile industry—lost jobs, lost factories, lost opportunities. That is not because we are uncompetitive. The majority of the industry that remains is highly invested and productive and it has excellent industrial relations. Carrington Vyella has a spinning unit in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) and a weaving unit in my constituency. Those two units are the most efficient and modern in Europe and in terms of output can rival the world. That is no exaggeration. Yet those two units are under pressure.

What other industry in the past 10 years has lost 263,000 jobs? It has negotiated and faced with fortitude and resolution the reform of the industry to meet the challenge of Third world countries. We do not deny any country the right to become industrialised and to develop a textile industry. All we ask is that the Government define what the British textile industry should be in size and volume and give it some support. We ask not for money but for action.

The next decade had better be better than the 1970s for the textile industry, otherwise there will be no industry left. The 1980s were prophesied to be the decade of the microchip. Chips will not clothe people. If we support the textile industry, it will do so.

10.22 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) on his good fortune in being drawn in the ballot and instigating this debate. I am grateful to him for leaving the wording of the subject in the terms of the textile industry instead of the woollen textile industry, because it allows me to speak about cotton, as the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) has done.

I think that I can claim a slightly closer relationship with West Yorkshire than my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), because from the borders of my constituency I can see the barbed wire that divides Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Many of my constituents cross that barbed wire on occasions to work in West Yorkshire, and people from West Yorkshire cross it to work in Rosendale.

In this cross-party debate, many hon. Members have made clear that there is great dissatisfaction in the textile industry. The Secretary of State for Industry, the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and the Secretary of State for Trade and his junior Ministers could hardly be unaware of the fact, because there have been several lobbies and they have already met several delegations and undoubtedly had thousands of letters from all over the country from people who are concerned about the future of the industry.

In a sense, I am a little sad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry will be responding to the debate—I said that five weeks ago in the textile debate—because much of what has been raised in this debate concerns trade, not specifically industry. But, having said that, and as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows that I have a high regard for him, I welcome the fact that he is to reply to the debate, because he has great knowledge of the textile industry. Indeed, he visited my constituency recently, so he is familiar with the problems that we face.

I refer to the reluctance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and his hon. Friend the Minister for Trade in seemingly not wishing to mention that horrifying term "multi-fibre arrangement". I thought that we had overcome that problem in the debate on textiles five weeks ago, but seemingly that is not so. Yesterday, in answer to my parliamentary question, we heard reference to orderly marketing procedures. It is not good enough because, psychologically, the use of the term "orderly marketing" instead of "multi-fibre arrangement" is having a drastic effect on the cotton and wool industries. Those industries believe that there is something sinister in the way that my right hon. Friend is avoiding using that term. I hope that we can clear the matter once and for all when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry replies.

I listened carefully to the point that was made yesterday at Question Time by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). He asked whether the Minister for Trade was aware that, as the multi-fibre arrangement had to be renegotiated in 1981 and the bilaterals the year after, and as we were so near to the beginning of 1980, we had better start weaving immediately. That is probably the most opportune word that I could use in the debate. Work should begin on 1 January 1980, because time is running out.

Seemingly, however, my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade does not accept that there is great urgency in the matter. In his reply to my question, he referred to today's meeting—which is the reason why he is not in the Chamber this evening—and said:
"I will be attending the Council, and will ensure that our interests are taken into account in the discussions on the action to be taken."—[Official Report, 17 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 21.]
All hon. Members know very well that my hon. Friend is a good politician by any standard. If he had really written the answer to that question and it was his and his alone, he would have said that he would fight for our interests and not merely take them into account. That is what the House is asking for in the debate—a more aggressive attitude on the part of Government spokesmen when they bang the drum or table when speaking to the Council of Ministers in Brussels or wherever. I, like other hon. Members, will be interested to see what has transpired at the meeting that my hon. Friend has attended today.

I was genuinely sorry that my hon. Friend was pilloried during Question Time yesterday by questions from both sides of the House. I say that quite genuinely, because I hold him in high esteem and have great respect for him. Even though he must have felt discomforted, that would be nothing compared to the discomfort that will be felt by the work force in my constituency and other constituencies throughout West Yorkshire if many more people are laid off. People will be laid off in my constituency who work for the Loveclough Printing Company, whose workers are represented by the general secretary of the Dyers, Bleachers and Textile Workers Union. That will be a sad day indeed.

My hon. Friend should be congratulated on the many things that he has done. First, he has implemented the basket extractor mechanism—which has not been mentioned so far in the debate—no fewer than 11 times. I understand that at the meeting of the Council of Ministers on20 November he was effective in banging the table. He made it perfectly clear that under GATT the European Commission was not prepared to put up with the unfair import competition through the dual pricing policy as propounded by the United States. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) gave me that fact. With great respect to my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, his press relations for meetings of that sort could be better. I do not blame him for this. However, I blame someone within his Department. The information is not filtering through. Hon. Members should not have to go to enormous lengths to obtain it.

On previous occasions I have referred to the unfair import competition that is coming from America. It is a relatively new factor. In the past we have thought of unfair competition as coming from Third world countries and underdeveloped countries. We are now facing dual pricing. I cannot imagine that there has ever been a time when the textile industry has been so threatened. Probably that is why so many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.

United States dual pricing means that there are artificially low prices. The EEC now accepts the textile industry's case that there is a breach of international trade rules, but, as the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West said, from 20 November to today nothing has been done. There has to be a greater sense of urgency. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade reads the report of the debate when he returns—he is responsible for many of the negotiations—he will realise that the situation is extremely serious.

There is a feeling in the textile industry that the future is uncertain. For as long as that feeling prevails, no one in his right mind, whether in West Yorkshire, Lancashire or elsewhere, will apply for a job in the industry. No one in his right mind will take a job in which there is no security. Today my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has the opportunity to give us all the confidence that we need. He has the opportunity of injecting confidence into the industry as a whole. I sincerely hope that he does just that.

10.33 pm

The debate is formally about industry assistance schemes. One of the remarkable features was the good value for money that we obtained from the wool textile industry schemes. For a mere £30 million, an additional £100 million was invested in the wool textile industry. If other industries that have sought and seek Government assistance could ask for only £30 million and provide the export and productivity performance of the wool tex- tile industry, we should all be extremely pleased.

One of the reasons why we are debating the wool textile trade is that, despite the industry schemes and the hopes that were expressed when the schemes were introduced, optimism has proved to be misplaced. I shall quote what was said two years ago, when the wool textile industry scheme was being evaluated. It was said:
"Though market conditions have been un favourable in the recent past, despite this there are clear signs that modernisation has enabled companies to widen their markets and to compete in higher quality markets and so on."
It was hoped and expected that the multi-fibre arrangement would
"help to stabilise import penetration into the United Kingdom."
The truth, as many hon. Members have said, is that those hopes of a mere two years ago have proved ill founded.

We had a period of stability in 1977–78, but since then we have seen a considerable decline. In West Yorkshire, when the industry was reviewed thoroughly in 1969, the report of the review—the Atkins report—was reporting on an industry which had more than 140,000 workers. Today, the industry in my county has fewer than 60,000 employed. That is a reduction of more than 70,000 employees in one industry in one county.

If such a reduction were suggested today—as it has been, to my great regret, in the steel industry—there would be up-roar and concern in the nation. But in West Yorkshire the industry has suffered a halving of employment in each decade over the past 20 years.

Our problems come from all quarters. It has been said tonight that we have a fine all-party approach in the Chamber. and with my colleagues from Bradford I agree that such an all-party approach should be followed as far as possible. But I am bound to say that when that all-party approach fails to penetrate the Front Benches, sooner or later it will be increasingly difficult to attempt to pursue what I believe always to be the right and reasonable course.

The serious job loss which is occurring is causing intense worry and now, I believe, a feeling of betrayal and frustration among the workers in the industry. I appreciate that hon. Members know this to be so, but it cannot be said too often that, whatever might be thought of another redundancy or another closure resulting from another month of getting nowhere in negotiations, each redundancy means another worker on the dole. If we ourselves were being put out of work because the EEC Commission ground very slowly, we should be extremely angry.

I pay tribute to the trade union leaders and to some of the leaders of the industry for the work which they are trying to do. The workersinvolved—who, after all, are the ones who bear the brunt of redundancies—often do not know of the efforts being made on their behalf, and I think that tribute should always be paid for work which we know is being done. That having been said, however, hard work and perseverance are no substitute for action, as has already been said.

One of the remarkable features of events over the past few months has been the willingness in West Yorkshire of all parties in the industry—the employers and trade unions, the clothing side and the woollen textile side—the local authorities, the Members of Parliament and the European Members of Parliament to come together and work together for the good of the industry.

In Bradford today, what I believe to be a unique meeting has taken place. Representatives of all those bodies and interests—both sides of industry, local government, British government and European government—have met in what is called the Wool Textile and Clothing Action Committee to consider a united front in the West Yorkshire area in the interests of the wool and clothing industries. I shall come later to one or two of the matters which are most immediately in their minds.

I turn, first, to some of the issues which we raised only a few weeks ago and on which we seem to be getting no further. As regards the carpet industry, I shall not go into detail because it has been touched on already, but what is clear to the workers in the industry is that talks in Britain, talks in Brussels and now talks between Brussels and Washington are no good at all if carpet factories are closing week by week.

The West Yorkshire carpet factories are closing or declaring redundancies weekly. If no action is taken, very soon there will be no carpet industry left. We are now down to a few thousand workers. If nothing is done soon, that industry will no longer be there to protect. I understand that TUC officials are meeting Common Market officials on Friday. My suspicion is that they will get no further than the Minister did in his discussions today.

I refer next to the Prato affair. After many months—indeed, years—of argument, the Government referred the matter to the Commission in January or February this year Since then, the investigations have been grinding their usual slow progress through what I assume must be the usual channels. Officials from the EEC eventually visited Bradford last week. It took from January or February until December for the EEC Commission actually to come to my county to see what we were talking about. In that time further redundancies have taken place. Those officials will return to Brussels and report back. That will take a bit longer. They will then consider what to do and eventually report to the Ministers, who will discuss the matter. In the absence of a ministerial assurance, I know that it will be many months before a decision is taken. I shall return to the implications of that.

There have been complaints about Italian wool competition. Wool scouring was referred to earlier by the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller). Here is another disappointment. The previous Government investigated the matter and came to the same conclusion. One section of the letter we received said that the EEC did not regard it as its duty to comment or intervene on different charging practices for trade effluent. In other words, the Commission was prepared to sanction unfair competition when it suited the EEC. But when we talk about unfair competition as it affects us, the EEC Commission appears to be unwilling to take action.

Next I come to the question of outward processing, which is a serious matter. If we export the making of cloth to third countries, eventually the cloth production will go there. Then the spinning will go there. We shall be left with no industry. I refer to employers' hypocrisy over discussions and negotiations. Many producers are setting up assembly operations in third countries. Some employers in the EEC, especially in our country, are exporting jobs to other countries. They are able to retain their profits. It does not matter to a business man whether he makes his profits in Brazil or in Yorkshire, but it makes a difference to the workers in my constituency. Outward processing means a loss of jobs to Britain. It does not mean a loss of jobs to the producers, who are getting their cake and eating it. It is the workers who are affected.

The same is true in terms of imports of suits. Many importing firms are the erstwhile producers of suits. The greatest difficulty in the discussions is to persuade some of our producers to clamp down on the imports of cheap cloth and suits from other countries, because those producers are engaged in the trade. I shall come to Portugal and Greece later. It is well known and understood that in Portugal there is heavy investment in the wool textile trade. There is machinery there ready to produce at considerable capacity, and those products will be ready to come into the EEC market.

Who is investing the capital in those units? It is the textile producers within the EEC. We must, and do, recognise in this House that there is always likely to be a conflict of interest between producers and workers in the industry in any country. I am concerned that on occasions the producers and the employers are somewhat divided on the merits and demerits of particular policies.

We heard earlier that carpet producers favour the import of cheap materials but want a ban on the importation of cheap carpets. The spinners, of course, do not want cheap materials imported. Some employers and producers want protection for their section of the industry but would deny protection to other parts of the industry. From the workers' point of view, it is six of one and half a dozen of the other.

When the Minister replies, I should like him to touch on a specific matter—that is, the question of the control of import documentation procedures as they apply in this country. In my discussions with the chamber of commerce and industry in Leeds, I find that it has examined the matter in considerable detail. In its report, which I shall be forwarding to the Minister, it set out as clearly as possible, bearing in mind the unwillingness of people to reveal the names of who is doing precisely what, that the controls of import documentation as to certificate of origin are simply not being applied on imports from the EEC.

It is widely rumoured and, I suggest, widely known in the industry that textile goods are coming into the EEC from outside the Community and getting into this country by free circulation as a way round quota regulations. The practice is said in the trade to be so widespread that, unless the trade is foolish and does not know what it is talking about—I do not believe that the Minister would suggest that that is so in this case of any sensible, hard-headed business man—the matter should be investigated.

The Leeds chamber of commerce went as far as to say—and in this time of cutting back on the work of bureaucrats and civil servants it is a remarkable thing to have said:
"Chambers of commerce believe in the reduction of documentation required for overseas trade. It would go against the grain for them to argue for the introduction of proof of origin for imports into the United Kingdom from EEC sources. Nevertheless the Chamber of commerce want more bureaucrats. They actually want more people for this work."
I ask the Minister to indicate a view on this issue when he replies. The Irish, the French and the Italians have increased the number of bureaucrats for textile products, and the chamber of commerce believes that this country has no choice but to follow suit if a true picture of import penetration is to be built up and action taken when agreed levels of imports are raised.

Is the Minister prepared to ensure that our import regulations, in terms of certification of origin, are fully and properly put into operation? Is there a proper unit in the Departments of Industry and Trade to monitor and control unfair import penetration from within the EEC? I ask that because the feeling in Yorkshire is that, whether we are dealing with the MFA, carpets, wool scouring or Prato, it is not good enough that Britain should continually have to say that the issue is stuck in Brussels. Time and time again we are told that the British Government would like to take action but that they cannot do so because the matter has been referred to Brussels and agreement is required throughout the EEC.

Everybody else ignores the rules while we play the game by the rules. Some months ago, I said that we played by the rules of cricket while everyone else played the game by rugby league rules. I think that we are playing by croquet rules while everybody else is playing by rugby league rules. We should use the same ingenuity to find ways of protecting jobs and creating real productive wealth as is used in the City of London for tax avoidance and the creation of paper fortunes.

Incredible ingenuity is involved in creating fortunes through abstruse schemes to drive wedges through tax legislation and take advantage of loopholes. The Germans, French and Italians use the same ingenuity in the EEC for their industries. We play by the rules of the game with a straight bat and a stiff lip while our industry goes down the drain.

Will there be a renewal of the MFA on no less favourable terms than at present? If the Minister will not give that assurance, we must have a clear explanation. Will he please say that consultations will begin on the new MFA in January? If he will not give that assurance, will he say why not? He was asked by the TUC's textile, clothing and footwear industries committee on 29 October for that assurance. That was two months ago.

May we also have an assurance that the short-time working compensation scheme will be continued after 31 March, when it is due to expire? It has been said that we want not money but action. I suggest that unless the scheme is continued after 31 March many more thousands of workers will lose their jobs. In West Yorkshire, between 7,000 and 10,000 more workers could lose their jobs. An early statement should be made.

It is neither fair nor reasonable for employers and workers to be kept waiting until the last week or month before they know whether the scheme is to continue. If we were all officially on short-time, ready to be declared redundant in March, we would be demanding to know now whether the scheme will be retained.

The foreign exchange rate for sterling is a real problem. It is not enough for us in this Chamber to complain about the problem of a 20 per cent. difference in American feedstock prices and the drastic effect that that has on the carpet industry if we then pretend that a 20 per cent. change in the exchange rate has no effect. Of course, it is having an effect. The high value of sterling—bolstered largely not by our manufacturing competitiveness but by the hoped-for value of North Sea oil—is causing severe problems for manufacturing industry. It is common sense that a 15 to 20 per cent. improvement in the value of sterling must have an effect upon the import and export competitiveness of our industry. It is of paramount importance to our manufacturing industry that the exchange rate of sterling should, in a controlled manner, be brought to a level that reflects our manufacturing industry's competitiveness and not our North Sea reserves.

The minimum lending rate is causing severe problems. Having listened to everything that has been said in the debate so far, I have been extremely surprised not to hear Conservative Members complain about the 17 per cent. minimum lending rate and the borrowing rate of over 20 per cent. for industry. In the textile trade credit is very important, and this high rate is causing severe problems concerning working capital for financing the movement of materials and also in terms of investment.

My discussions with industry generally have indicated that a widespread postponement of investment decisions is now occurring and that there will be a significant slump in investment in manufacturing industry in two or three months' time as the figures come through. Minimum lending rate must be brought down, and brought down quickly. As always, it is the small firms which are getting squeezed.

The industry requires two things. First, there should be a statement from the Government on what they see as the future of the industry. We cannot go on from hand to mouth from week to week, from month to month and from year to year without knowing whether the Government of the day have faith in the future of the industry.

Second, and most immediately, we need not only to talk about multi-fibre arrangements, wool scouring, carpets and so on. We would all be more than satisfied if we were told by the Minister in his reply tonight that he and his colleagues are determined to act in the next few weeks in the interests of our British industry and to find regulations which can be used in our interests, as suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) and by the trade unions in the industry.

I am sure that there are all kinds of clauses in the MFA, the EEC regulations and GATT which, if there were the will to identify them, could be used in the interests of our British industry and our British workers. We should like to have a clear statement from the Government tonight that, operating within the rules of international agreements, they will seek to use those rules speedily in our interests, in weeks and not in months and years. We ask them to try to find the loopholes to protect our industry. If they would do that, I accept that it would be perfectly reasonable for the Government to come back in a month or two and explain to us how those loopholes and regulations can be used in our interest. I should like a statement as to whether the Government are examining the treaties to find the methods whereby, perfectly legally, we can protect our industry.

This is an important debate. In my county area, the industry accounts for between 50,000 and 60,000 jobs. Less than 10 years ago, that figure was 70,000. No one wants to come here in 10 years' time and say that yet more mills have gone and that, in effect, communities have been swept aside in the name of EEC diplomacy that has sold the textile trade down the river for the sake of wider Common Market designs on political influence throughout the world.

11.1 pm

I shall not repeat many of the points that have been made so ably from both sides of the House. However, I reserve the right to cobble my answers to correspondence and for press releases from those speeches.

Last week, some of my constituents in Sowerby lost their jobs when a textile firm closed, and others are on short time. Let no one minimise the tragedy of events such as that, but I should like to pay my respect to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the help that he has given, and is currently giving me, with various textile problems in Sowerby.

Not all those problems are problems of recession. It is only fair to say that many textile firms are buoyant and expanding. Many textile firms are exporting well and are busy. Many cannot find skilled machinists to take on the work that is flowing into their factories. We in this House ought not to delight in talking down this great industry, because many people in the industry are frightened that we shall talk it into a decline.

Other hon. Members have spoken, as I did on 13 November, about unfair competition. They have spoken about things such as outward processing, a problem that was well pinpointed by Lord Rhodes in another place and by the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer) tonight, when they both described it as "exporting jobs". Many hon. Members—this will be my main point, and almost my only point—have called for a renegotiation of the multi-fibre arrangement. They forget the history of that arrangement. They forget that it was negotiated in 1974 under the GATT framework in an optimistic spirit. Then, we were looking for consensus and ont confrontation.

To my mind, the key point of that arrangement was the 6 per cent. increase per annum of imports into this country. That is not what we want now. At that rate, by 1990 there will be no textile industry in this country. We do not simply want 10 years in which to wind up. The MFA is an importer's dream. Its renegotiation during 1977 was based on a series of hasty, bilateral arrangements and always depended on what the Commission in those days called "a hyper-sophisticated, statistical set-up".

That set-up, even now, does not exist. The Minister must do better than the present MFA. We have at least 25 separate agreements with different countries of various degrees of effectiveness. Surely a better marketing policy is what we are looking for, not a renegotiation of the same leaky net which allows to Portugal, Greece and others the unfair competition about which we have heard against this country.

We want another set of agreements that make, for instance, the Eastern bloc responsible for its own dumping. The Minister has told us that he is seeking orderly marketing arrangements. Perhaps he should take note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Trippier) said and call it "MFA Mark II". Then, at least, there would be some confidence.

The agreements will be welcomed by my constituents who live by exporting, especially those who do not export textiles. Many of those people fear a purely protectionist lobby. They also fear the renewed threat of their jobs being stolen by other regions in the country where industries are in steep decline. Too often in the past, their jobs have been stolen and taken, dare I say, to Wales, New-castle and Liverpool when West Yorkshire should have been expanding. They fear that public expenditure will not be cut back far enough to allow industry to breathe. West Yorkshire is still strong, but it must receive fair play. It looks to the Government for that fair play.

Before I call the next hon. Member, I should tell the House that some hon. Members who are now serving on a Standing Committee have indicated to me that they will seek to catch my eye in the debate. I say that in case hon. Members feel that it is unfair when an hon. Member walks into the Chamber and is called to speak shortly after his arrival.

11.6 pm

There has been so much worthwhile comment and expertise in the Chamber tonight, not only on the broad sweep of the canvas but also on the minutiae and detail of the problems that face the textile industry, that I cannot hope to go over the ground that many hon. Members have covered with so much knowledge and understanding.

However, I should like to put a different slant on the debate by trying to look at the textile industry as part of the total economic picture of the country. To do so is realistic. The textile industry does not exist of itself but exists within the national economy. We must understand its general as well as its specific problems. There is tremendous pressure on all our manufacturing industry.

I believe that the House is becoming perilously close to the breakdown of any all-party agreement on the textile industry because of the Government's attitude on the broad industrial strategies which they are pursuing. Those strategies hurt, harm, injure and destroy many industries—whether they are steel or textile industries. The Government's beliefs and philosophy mean that for many areas Government aid for industry no longer exists. Regional policies have been swept away and there is no positive side to industrial strategy. There is merely the negative belief that all industry must look after itself and compete in a free enterprise system.

The Government believe that all industries must decline inevitably and that if they decline they deserve no help. In the West Riding or in South Wales—which, Mr. Speaker, I know that you hold close to your heart—industries have declined and towns have been destroyed overnight in terms of future prospects and the lives of individuals on the dramatic scale that we have seen in Corby and Shotton. I believe that the Government's attitude will have the same effect on the textile industry, only a little more slowly.

When Conservative Members talk about industry, they appear to take a negative attitude that we do not understand. The policies of the Labour Government were positive and gave management and workers a belief in the future of industrial production in this country.

The steel industry is a parallel example. The Labour Government would not countenance closures in the steel industry at Ebbw Vale unless they were previously agreed between management and workers. That is quite different from the closures introduced by this Government. We accepted closures only when there was agreement, and, as part of positive government, we then introduced investment at a high level in the infrastructure of Ebbw Vale and other areas affected. At Ebbw Vale the figure was £40 million.

The hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting that we should support declining industries indefinitely. If he is saying that, the implications are that money that should be spent on new investment in industries that can prosper and develop is being thrown away in propping up declining industries. I do not believe that the textile industry should be put in that category, but the hon. Gentleman appears to be saying that we should prop up any declining industry ad infinitum.

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands my point. We should not support declining industries for ever and a day, but we should have compassion and look to the future. We should help to transform declining industries and towns so that they grow again. Government is about compassion and the representation of citizens in need, in both the long and short terms.

I have given the more dramatic example of the steel industry to draw to the attention of the House the fact that the textile industry faces similar problems. We all understand the decline that has taken place since 1945 and perhaps before. On this side of the House, we believe that the Government must act positively to help to tackle the problems and not merely offer consolation.

A careful analysis of the reasons for the decline of the textile industry must concentrate on purchasing patterns. When considering the present purchasing patterns in this country, I am reminded of what I think of as that very poor novel "The Tribe that Lost its Head". I do not believe in compulsory import controls introduced by a Government in a heavy-handed manner.

I believe that our colleagues in France, Belgium and Germany understand our position when they look at our consumption patterns, which are so different from those in our competitor countries. It is about time that we realized that the consumption patterns of our fellow countrymen pay little regard to the long-term interests of us all.

One of my constituents came to see me recently and expressed great concern that his daughter could not find work. It is no comfort to a 16-year-old lass leaving school to have no prospect of employment. This is one aspect of employment in Huddersfield that is on my mind: unemployment among young girls is twice as high as among young men. The reason for this is the declining textile industry, which has traditionally provided jobs for girls leaving school. Many have gone into the mending side of the industry, but now, in order to cut costs, many producers are sending mending out to out-workers, who do it at cheap rates.

It is not only the textile industry that is declining. Large shops are employing fewer people. The youth employment ser- vice reminded me last week of a local shop which once employed 25 young girls as shop assistants. Now, it employs only three supervisors full-time. Everyone else works part-time. So, once again, there are no jobs there for school leavers.

The gentleman who came to see me about his daughter had parked a V-registration Japanese car outside. I pointed out to him that there was something that we could do about our own consumption patterns; there was a relationship between that car standing outside and the problems facing his daughter and other youngsters in the job market. We sometimes underrate the fact that many of our competitors have considerable national concern. It was once called nationalism—the identity one feels in belonging to a nation. That kind of latent nationalism, which once manifested itself in an abhorrent way during the war, now lingers on in the form of consumption patterns. It is very difficult to sell British goods in Japan, France or Germany, but it is easy to sell foreign goods in our stores. Many hon. Members might care to stroll down Oxford Street—if they can stroll in this pre-Christmas shopping bonanza—and they would see the great stores where the counters are crowded with buyers eager for foreign goods.

Most hon. Members have discussed detailed figures and the problems of import control. I should like to stress that the purchasing patterns pursued by British folk are a great danger to our future. You are aware, Mr. Speaker, that a cloud lies over the steel towns of Llanwern and Port Talbot. Those great steelworks produce castings. But this country now produces so few cars that communities hundreds of miles away from car manufacturing plants are feeling the cold wind of unemployment and a bleak future.

I do not wish to adopt a jingoist approach or to suggest that by rushing around the country and saying that if one follows the flag and buys British all will be well. But it is the responsibility of hon. Members on both sides of the House to lead and educate public opinion. It is our duty to emphasise that faith in products manufactured by our own people is vitally important.

I should like to turn to what I term the Consumers Association syndrome. Hon. Members representing textile areas have been annoyed by a recent publication of the Consumers Association which suggested that consumers would be even better off without such guarantees as the multi-fibre arrangement or the agreement reached in terms of complex international trade with the rest of the world. The association argues naively that the British man and woman would have a better deal if there were no controls and if imports were allowed of as many cheap, dumped products as we could lay our hands on. I shall not use the language that I had intended. I merely observe that it is an armchair critic's attitude to consumption that one looks around the market, investigates, reads the best journals and takes the best buy regardless of where the product is made and regardless of those who gain employment by the purchase.

It worries me a great deal that we take less notice of the effect of our consumption on the jobs of our fellows than we take of the argument that only buying the best will teach British manufacturers to be more efficient and more competitive and that in the end all of us will be better off. That is false logic. It is logic that will destroy the British textile industry and the British car industry and at the end of the day make all of us poorer.

Many hon. Members represent constituencies such as mine. My predecessor said that those living in Huddersfield worked in chemicals, textiles and engineering. Those were the three main employers. Now, we also have the administrative and service industries. They do not produce anything. That is unusual in my constituency. It is a relatively new growth area. People in service industries do not produce anything for their fellow citizens to consume or for people abroad to buy.

Huddersfield and West Yorkshire are exporting communities. That is the message that I hope the Government Front Bench will get tonight. First and foremost, we are exporting and manufacturing communities. Secondly, we have our share of service industries. In a sense, people in service industries live parasitically on the manufacturers—those who make the cars, the steel and the textiles. It worries me that such people can sit in their armchairs and say "We are going to buy whatever is best, whether it be from Japan, Belgium or Hong Kong." If we do not provide each other with jobs, a bleak future will face all of us, whether in the manufacturing industries or not.

I agree with many of my hon. Friends who have talked about the weakness of import control of another kind. Last week I was talking to an Italian manufacturer about the EEC regulations on slaughterhouses. That matter has cropped up in my constituency. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will know that the EEC regulations on slaughterhouses are causing the closing down of many small slaughterhouses, both municipal and private. The industry now feels that, having invested a vast amount of capital to update slaughterhouses, it cannot compete. The Italian said "What interests me is that the British take EEC regulations seriously. We have not even started to take note of EEC regulations on slaughterhouse updating and control."

I should like to emphasise that point in the context of the textile industry and the control of imports. I believe that our fellow members of the Common Market approach the various EEC regulations in a very different spirit from us. I refer specifically to the way in which imports are controlled informally even within the European Community. I can give instances of the ways in which imports into Italy, Germany and France are subject to informal controls. A marvellous import control is to look at and investigate every bale of cloth. A good way of slowing down textile imports is to have very few ports through which such imports can come into the country.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer) that we are still playing croquet or cricket when our competitors are playing rugby league football. We should investigate the informal mechanisms which are at work within Europe. A dramatic example of the difficulty of selling British goods abroad is Japan. There we face not only resistance to buying foreign goods but a sophisticated structure of informal controls preventing our goods appearing in Japanese markets. I suggest that we shall have to learn to play in a more professional way. We must cease to be gentlemen if we are to compete with some of our rugged competitors in international trade.

May I assist with an illustration of how clever the French are in dealing with the EEC? They have help of about £5 million and no one raises an eyebrow, whereas if one asks for £50 million there is a close investigation. They have arranged for Martinique and Guadelope, their associated territories, to apply under EEC regulations for sums of £2 million or £3 million, with the effect that at the end of the day no one seems to notice what is happening. Every inhabitant of Martinique and Guadalope receives £1,500 a year from EEC funds, built up gradually. It is a miraculous piece of sleight of hand operated by the French, and virtually no one knows that it is happening. That is the way to deal with EEC regulations and the system.

I am grateful for my hon. and learned Friend's intervention, which gives a specific example of the way in which our competitors play by a different set of rules.

I turn to another aspect of concern in the debate. With the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller), I believe that realism has to be injected into any debate on textiles. I do not wish to deny that there is some area for improvement in design and marketing. We should be better and more responsive in design and quicker to learn what the French, German and American consumers require. We should be quicker to learn that traditional products will not suffice and that our marketing must be more aggressive. I have great doubts about the efficacy of our representation abroad in our embassies, trade delegations and so on in helping the textile and other industries to be effective.

It may strike a chord with hon. Friends and other hon. Members that I have a special interest in the quality of management that we are bringing into the industry. Many speakers have talked of the problem that once an industry ceases to expand and be dynamic, a natural corollary is that the industry ceases to attract talent on the shop floor, in the mills—the spinners and the weavers—and ceases to produce the right calibre of management.

Management has always been a problem in the textile industry, possibly because genetically, as we know, bright fathers, do not always produce bright sons. They may send them into Parliament and they may be successful parlia- mentarians, but they do not make successful entrepreneurs or successful managers. Let us be honest and admit that the textile industry has suffered from dull sons going into positions that they could not hold successfully.

In a more modern society, any Government should be in the business of producing good management. As someone who has had many years as a university teacher, I saw at first hand that we produced too many theoreticians in our universities and not enough good managers for the textile industry, the chemical industry and others. The country does not need a smaller higher education sector but one that is larger and more relevant. The work being done in the universities and polytechnics in West Yorkshire is an example to the rest of higher education in its relevance and in its building up of expertise—for example, in the Huddersfield polytechnic—in textiles. So we need a great deal more initiative and development in design and marketing.

The importance of the industry in this country leads me to consider how it is seen by the Government. If the industry were to fail, it would be a serious blow to current Conservative philosophy. The industry seems to satisfy all the criteria that the Government could possibly lay down. It is composed mainly of small competing firms. It has shown an amazing readiness to rationalise, modernise and adapt. It is a remarkable example of free enterprise. There is very little State control. It has excellent industrial relations, as anyone who knows the industry will bear witness. But although the industry, which is a model industry in so many senses, scores extremely well on all those criteria, it still has difficulties.

I notice that the hon. Gentleman has been giving us the benefit of his wisdom for over half an hour. Is he trying to reach the 9 a.m. deadline single-handed? If he is, I can assure him that there are plenty of Conservative Members who would be glad to help him out.

Order. Have mercy on the rest of us. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for 31 minutes.

There was a great demand for me to take my time this evening. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) should be unable to control his impatience. He will no doubt be called to speak at some future time.

I wish to deal with the responsibility of the Government to ensure the future of the textile industry, whether wool or cotton. We have stressed the urgency of the position. When we debated the industry five weeks ago and during questions yesterday, we heard a voice from the Government Front Bench that did not convince us that the Government have a satisfactory commitment to the future of the industry. If the Government do not abandon their negative attitude to the industry, it will decline catastrophically as the steel industry has done. When I said that during. questions yesterday, I was accused by the Government of making an irresponsible comment.

I do not believe that the maintenance of a facade of all-party agreement on the future of the industry is worth allowing the Government to think that it is not desperate for our workers and the industry's future that we have a different sort of debate in future weeks. I still just cling to the agreement across the House of trying to find common ground in the interests of the industry, but I find it difficult to continue to do so.

The crux of the matter is the Government's attitude to the Common Market. The EEC makes it easier for international capital to flow where it wishes. There is no longer much patriotism in capital, whether in West Yorkshire or South Wales. There was more patriotism 50 years ago.

The Common Market is an instrument to avoid control and to prevent the ability to retain employment and industry in our own country and to aid an industry in temporary trouble. The Common Market is at the root of the present troubles of the textile industry. A stronger line on the Common Market and a more effective policy in respect of our fellow partners is essential if the textile industry is to survive.

What we want in West Yorkshire and Lancashire is fair competition and Government action rather than words. We also want to be convinced that the Government are willing to take a positive step towards safeguarding the textile industry if there is a demand from both sides of the House that we should maintain some form of temporary employment subsidy in the short term so that in the longer-term perspective, until we have renegotiated the MFA, we can have a new structure for the industry that will give heart to the manufacturers and the employees and will make sure that this vital exporting industry, which employs men and women doing the useful job of making things that people want at home and abroad, can survive.

11.43 pm

I came into the Chamber to listen to the debate and not to participate, but I have become motivated to take part by some of the comments of the past couple of hours, particularly on import protection.

Five weeks ago, hon. Members on both sides of the House pressed the Minister who was replying to a textile debate to be more specific about his intentions for the renegotiation of the MFA. We said that it should start to be renegotiated forthwith, that the new agreement should be much more in Britain's interests than is the existing agreement and that there should be a greater sense of commitment and urgency.

The Minister was reluctant to commit himself, at least in public, to the assurances that would have satisfied hon. Members. I wonder why he should have been so reluctant. I suppose that he might have been mindful of many of the normal arguments against the general concept of import protection. I guess that somebody in the Minister's Department said to him "If we say now that we shall be much tougher with the next MFA, we can expect retaliation from the countries that export their textiles to us."

With great respect, I ask the Minister to consider that argument with the greatest scepticism. The majority of countries that export cheap textiles to Britain do not import a great deal from us. The one exception is the United States. It imports a great deal from us, but at present its import tariffs on our exports are considerably higher than the MFA arrangements against its exports to us.

Someone in the Minister's Department might have said "If you go further in the direction of the MFA, you will remove choice in the shops and increase consumer prices." The textile industry that we still have continues to have the capacity to provide as much choice as is reasonably needed. I cheerfully concede that domestic prices would be slightly higher if we were to have a tougher MFA. The increase in consumer prices would be but a small price to pay for the jobs that could thereby be saved.

I suppose that somebody in my hon. Friend's Department might have said "if we bring in a tougher MFA and protect our textile industry, they will merely use that to keep in being machines that should already have been thrown out of the window, and keep in operation restrictive practices that are basically at the heart of our uncompetitivity in the world." There are many industries to which that general argument could be applied, but with great respect I do not think that it can be applied to the textile industry. By and large, the machinery in the textile industry is modern. Restrictive practices in the industry exist, but they are nowhere near as prevalent as in other industries.

I am bound to conclude that it was a general fear in my hon. Friend's mind that by renegotiating the MFA in a way more beneficial immediately to the United Kingdom he would be moving us further down the road towards import protection. That general suspicion and fear prevented him five weeks ago, and in answers to questions subsequently, from giving us the assurance that we require. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend and everyone at the Department of Trade will say to themselves "We are a trading nation. We are over-populated. We cannot feed ourselves. To survive, we need to import, and to import we need to export to raise revenue." In the long term, how can anyone in the Chamber disagree with that general concept?

However, I submit that in 1979 we have practically ceased to be a trading nation. We are self-sufficient in energy but we still have a chronic balance of payments deficit. Many of our industrial competitors have to import virtually all their own oil and some of their other energy raw materials. In spite of that immense burden, they are able to run a balance of payments surplus.

The manner of existence by which we have lived for the past 150 years—selling overseas the benefits of our industrial technology—has come to an end. I hope that that is a temporary cessation. If that is so, we must institute policies that will lead to the regeneration of British industry, so that before this century comes to an end we can once again pay our way in the world.

I do not disagree in any real way with the Government's policies, but I wonder whether we shall regenerate British industry as long as we have the minimum lending rate so high, as long as we have a currency based upon the existence of North Sea oil, which is, therefore, overvalued, and as long as we have a level of domestic demand which, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) explained, is all too easily satisfied by overseas suppliers. That leads me to think that probably an additional economic ingredient is required. Should not the leaders of the Government, especially in the Department of Trade, occasionally drop their blinkers to the concept of import protection?

To regenerate British industry we need, first, to restore the dominance that we once had in the management of the marketing function and the production planning function. I do not think that we shall do that with the present climate.

Second, we need to ensure that greater capital investment takes place. I am not talking here so much of the textile industry—indeed, I almost except the textile industry—as of British industry generally. Many elements in the CBI are now calling for a more specific kind of import protection. Surely, if we could put on the table the possibility that such protection might temporarily be granted to them, it would not be too much to ask that in return they should give some guarantees about capital investment.

Finally, there is the question of restrictive practices. We on these Benches are fond of talking about Britain's industrial relations problem, and we seem to speak of it as though the principal problem is strikes. I do not believe that it is. Our strike record is in fact—perhaps somewhat amazingly—rather better than that of some of our competitors. Where our industrial relations record is worse is simply in the number of people we find necessary to produce a given quantity of goods.

In the stated policies of the trade union movement and many trade unions, it is normally said that they would prefer a greater measure of import protection, and at the same time they resist attempts to reduce over manning in British industry. The Conservative Party over the past 20 or 25 years has usually said that it believes in free trade and at the same time it believes in the dismantling of such restrictive practices.

Surely there is here, fundamentally, scope for a larger deal for British industry whereby we on these Benches could say "We are prepared temporarily to give you the protected economy which you have wanted for so long. Will you, in return, give some kind of guarantees that retrictive practices and overmanning can at last be dismantled?"

If we do those things, there is, I believe, at least a sporting chance that within the next 20 or 25 years we shall reestablish our competitiveness in the world. If we do not adopt that approach, then, frankly, I see little opportunity for our doing so.

I recognise that the views that I am expressing are at present profoundly unfashionable in most spheres of politics. I acknowledge that, but I believe that they are becoming the prevailing idea. I believe that the long summer of world free trade is drawing to an end. We are now entering upon an autumn of more restricted world trade. The first leaves of that autumn we see in the French attitude towards our lamb and the Japanese unspoken attitude towards all imports. We see it even in our own Government's attitude to the Common Market in Dublin, and certainly we see it in the nature of the presidential campaign now taking place in the United States.

I believe that that, motivated by world high interest rates and a world energy shortage, will be the direction of the next five or 10 years. Perhaps we can go on burying our heads in the sand and saying that our interests do not lie in that direction. I believe that if we adopt that attitude we shall in 25 years be in an even worse state than we are now. But if we can recognise that that is the direction in which matters are moving and that we must at least be part of it, perhaps generations in the next century will say that in the 1980s at last the British people realised what the problem was and did something about it.

11.54 pm

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak in this debate, and I am pleased at the choice of subject by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West(Mr. Lyons). He is to be congratulated because it gives those of us who were not called in the last textile debate, alas, the chance to make some of the points which might then have been made and give them, perhaps, a certain freshness.

Last Friday, I attended a meeting of about 50 people in Liversedge. This was a fairly remarkable occasion in any event' today, but it was called by the Labour Party there and the purpose was to discuss the position of the textile industry. The concern of the people of the West Riding is indicated in that such a meeting was called with such a subject, since the textile industry has been an all-pervading part of the background of the West Riding about which people did not expect anything dramatic to happen or to see any quick changes. Yet that meeting took place, it was held on a rotten night, when the rain was extremely heavy, and people turned up at a distant school to attend it. That is an indication of their concern.

Their concern is also indicated by the fact that about three weeks ago Bradford district council and the West Yorkshire metropolitan county council, which, although of the same political hue, do not normally talk in terribly affectionate terms of each other, had a joint meeting. At that meeting there was at least one representative from the Department of Trade and one from the Department of Industry. It was decided to form a textile action committee to consider what could be done amout pressing the Government to take action to preserve the West Riding wool textile industry.

The wool textile scheme, which was introduced in 1973, produced, although not entirely, a largely modernised industry with a high level of investment. It is a pity that in the post-war period our textile machinery industry has not produced a sufficiently high level of innovation and design development. Most of the £70-odd million spent on the scheme was not spent in the United Kingdom but went abroad. However, that is water under the bridge.

We have seen an alarming decline in the textile engineering industry. We are concerned to ensure that the manufacturing industry does not follow suit. The modernisation scheme did not, as the Yorkshire Post industry corespondent, Mr. Robin Morgan, suggested on Tuesday, 14 November, result in a crisis in the industry. The Department of Industry carefully monitored that scheme and produced a report. The scheme saved and preserved jobs because the quality of output was improved and the quantity was increased. There was a slight increase in the numbers of people employed in the industry following the extensive implementation of the scheme. That is not the cause of the problem. I wanted to make that clear in view of the misleading comment that the Yorkshire Post contained as recently as 14 November.

The industry depends on the temporary short-time working scheme. In Keighley about 350 jobs, although not exclusively in the textile industry, are dependent on the temporary short-time working scheme. I know that the Minister can say only that he will bring my words to the attention of the Department of Employment. Will he make sure that he does that? I am pretty sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned to ensure that the temporary short-time working scheme should be continued after 1980, when it is planned to end.

That would meet the request of the Conservative-controlled West Yorkshire metropolitan county council, which said in "Economic Trends No. 13" in September this year:
"Wool Textile firms are particularly dependent on the Government's temporary employment schemes. Earlier this year some 79 applications (out of 102), made by firms under the Temporary Employment Subsidy and Short-time Working Compensation Scheme, had been approved over the previous 12 months. A further 21 applications were still being considered. It might be expected, in the context of a deteriorating world market, aggravated by a stronger Sterling exchange rate, that employment will decline still further (and faster) in the remainder of 1979."
That emphasises that, in view of the difficulties facing the textile industry, the wool textile industry is particularly dependent on the Government's temporary employment scheme. I emphasise the importance of continuing this scheme.

I deeply regret the Government's decision to downgrade only one section of the Bradford metropolitan district area—that of Keighley. At the moment, Keighley has intermediate area status. As the Minister should know, it is dependent to a significant degree on textiles. Tonight we are talking about the difficulties of the textile industry. Yet, concomitant with an acknowledged difficulty, the Secretary of State for Industry has downgraded Keighley, although very sensibly keeping intermediate area status for the rest of Bradford. We say that he should reverse that decision and retain the whole of Bradford as an intermediate area, especially in the face of the textile industry's difficulties.

I mention the EEC briefly and I quote a criticism to the Minister because it is relevant:
"There is concern about the effectiveness of the EEC anti-dumping mechanism. It is relatively new and traditions on the Continent for tackling dumped imports emanating from outside the Community are rather different from our own. We will, of course, insist that the EEC anti-dumping section is properly staffed and equipped to handle applications without delay. There remains a continuing need to strengthen and speed up the procedures in this field. A particular problem exists with the COMECON countries—and other State trading nations which indulge in 'political' pricing. I have spoken on earlier occasions of our attitude to trade with the Communist bloc countries but it seems to me that this is a particular area where a shift in Government attitudes is required".
That expression of concern about the EEC and the products from the COMECON countries came from the present Secretary of State for Trade as quoted in a Conservative Party briefing for the last textile industry debate.

In case any Conservative Members wonder why the Secretary of State, or the Minister, expressed reservations about import controls, let me say that it is because their manifesto stated:
"Just as we reject nationalisation, so we are opposed to the other Socialist panacea—import controls."
That really is nonsense, and most Conservative Back Benchers readily recognise that. The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) certainly did.

What we on the Labour benches are asking—and, I suspect, some Conservative Members are asking with some force—is that the Government should put force and pressure on the EEC Commission to carry out the MFA to the letter of the agreement. That pressure is needed to ensure that quotas are observed, to ensure that the basket extractor mechanism is enforced and that the circumventing of the MFA by member States of the EEC through devices such as outward processing and subsidies to the Prato district of Italy is brought to an end.

I know that the Government are in difficulty about this because they are one stage removed from the problem. It is not the Government acting as a Government; it is the Government pressuring another body to carry out the terms of the Treaty. All I ask is that the Government press as hard as they can with consistent determination. Believe me, they will need it. Pressing the EEC Commission is like pressing a wet sponge into a particular shape. The Commission never wants to go the way it should.

During the referendum, the employers in the textile industry took advertisements in the local press urging people to vote "Yes". Mr. Tom Hibbert, chairman of the wool textile delegation, has now expressed strong reservations about the EEC because he sees the failure of the EEC to carry out the obligations which were negotiated in good faith by the last Labour Government.

What will the Government do about renewing the MFA? The weasel words which the Government have used and the statement that we shall need some kind of organised trading in the future are not exclusive to this country. When statements are made in this Parliament, they are read in Brussels. The EEC can see a lack of resolve and determination by the Government as a chink in the door through which it can push to make sure that the MFA is not renewed.

The MFA was renewed largely at the insistence of the Labour Government. The Minister may not accept that; he may think that it is partisan. I am partisan. I can assure him that the Labour Government used their utmost strength and determination to ensure that the MFA was a reasonably tough undertaking by the EEC Commission. Commissioner Davignon suddenly broke off negotiations to insist on the tough mandate required by the British Government.

We tried as hard as we could to ensure that the EEC carried out its obligations. At that stage it was clear in our minds that the EEC was lacklustre and lukewarm about a tough MFA. It had the backing of such countries as West Germany. If the EEC hears lacklustre words from the Government, the Commissioners will use that as a pretext for saying that the present Government have not the spirit of the last Labour Government and that, therefore, they can allow the issue to slip.

I hope that there will be a clear statement from the "PUSS-Ind"—the Under-Secretary of State for Industry—to use a technical term. I hope that he has a message from the Secretary of State for Trade and that he has approval from No. 10 to make a hard statement. If he cannot do that, he must know that pressure will continue in the Chamber from both sides for that firm statement. Jobs are at risk. We are determined to protect jobs in the textile industry.

I turn to the question of a social clause in future negotiations. The wool textile industry claims that it can deal with fair competition. That is probably right. Indeed, the British Textile Confederation has demonstrated that by and large production costs in the United Kingdom are lower than in any other European country. There has been modernisation and innovation to a degree, and the industry is reasonably modern. The industry has employment protection—what is left of it—health and safety legislation and decent working conditions negotiated by a trade union which can exist freely. That is not so in Hong Kong or Taiwan. Hong Kong applies about 26 of the International Labour Organisation articles whereas we apply 79. We should use the desire of certain countries to enter a wealthy and important market to urge them to improve the standards of their workers and reduce exploitation, so that they are more in parity. The Government have the power to do this because such countries want to be part of our wealthy market.

When I talk of improving and tightening the quota control, I do not mean that we should put up huge barriers. I am talking about the enormous import penetration of textiles and garments. I do not want to reduce consumer choice. More control would leave a proportion of the market for United Kingdom manufacturers so that they could continue to exist and so retain jobs. I am talking about a combination of imports and United Kingdom manufacture. That is all that the industry seeks. We seek simply that the industry should not be wiped out by cheap imports.

The Government are having talks with China about selling Harriers and other hardware. May we be assured that there will be no barter deals under which the Government exchange an enhanced aerospace industry—which they are busy selling off to private enterprise—at the expense of the textile industry by negotiating a deal with China under which China may export large quantities of textiles to us? That must be watched carefully.

I am also receiving reports of certificates of origin being available in European countries purporting to guarantee that goods are of British origin when they are not. I cannot give the Minister any more details at the moment, but this has been brought to my attention by a constituent and I am writing to Germany for authentication of the claims which are made. I hope that the Minister will be able to do something about it.

I hope that the Minister will draw to the attention of the Minister for Consumer Affairs the need for better marking of garments. If anyone says "You were in office for five years, why did you not do something about it?", I shall agree that this is something we should have done. We did some good things and there were also some omissions. We should have made better arrangements for the clear labelling of United Kingdom origin.

People in Bradford are able to buy garments on which the labels are tucked inside the pockets. Only a week ago my wife bought a pair of gloves. She looked for the label and could not find it. When she got home she turned the gloves inside out and found, deep inside, a label reading "Made in Taiwan", after being assured that they were United Kingdom goods. That is not good enough. The labelling should be quite clear and distinct. The Government could usefully deal with that matter.

I shall not pursue the question of wool scouring to any great extent. It is a knotty problem. There are 2,000 jobs involved in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The import of tops from France has in- creased enormously over the past few months. The French industry is receiving a considerable subsidy. As usual, the EEC Commission has turned down the possibility of giving a subsidy to the wool scouring industry to make it equal to its competitors. I am not sure which body shows the greater enthusiasm—the Commission which turns us down or the civil servants who go to the Commission and encourage it to do so in the first place.

We should look at our own system of charging, and I hope that the Minister will bring to the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment the need for the National Water Council to make up its mind. The council has been reviewing charges for probably 12 months. It is one of those constant reviews in which Governments seem to be constantly immersed. Whenever Governments are asked about anything, they always say that they are reviewing the position. Certainly the National Water Council has been reviewing the question of water charges for too long.

The Minister concerned in the last Labour Administration received a delegation in, I think, March this year and promised to bring pressure to bear on the council. There has been a general election since then. Will the Government apply a little pressure so that the effluent treatment charges in the wool scouring industry can be made a little more bearable, enabling that industry to be retained as an integral part of the West Riding woollen industry?

I hope that after these few remarks the Minister has got the message. If it has sent him off to the Box to consult his civil servants, I suppose that that is an indication of something worth while being done. But the very loud and clear message is that the West Riding textile industry is a worthwhile industry in its own right. It is also worth while because, at a time of a diminishing number of jobs, there are too many people being put on the dole. It is all right people talking about rationalisation schemes, and so on. Let us have the jobs in the West Riding before there are any more mill closures. Keep people in employment. Keep an important and valuable traditional manufacturing industry which has been modernised. Give people in the West Riding some confidence. That is the message from the Labour Benches of the House of Commons. We shall continue the pressure until we get results.

12.14 am

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). He has made a very useful contribution to the debate. I just regret that from time to time he made a few intemperate comments about Ministers of the Crown which I believe to be unjustified. As history unfolds in the next year or so, I think that the hon. Member will find some of his criticisms of my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade to have been very unfounded indeed. But I find myself in agreement with most of the points made to the Minister this evening by the hon. Member.

I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), on achieving the number one spot in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate. I am sure that a number of hon. Members will think that this debate has gone on long enough, but, as the hon. Member for Keighley highlighted, we are talking about people's jobs and about the standard of living of a large number of people in important areas of the United Kingdom, not least the North-West as well as West Yorkshire. We are also talking about the industrial base of this country.

I hope that when he replies my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will pay some attention to the way in which the industrial base of this country has been severely reduced in recent years. I was privileged to meet and have a very full discussion with the trades council in Macclesfield on Friday evening. That meeting lasted well over two hours, and we covered a great deal of ground. Labour Members may be surprised to hear that there was a great deal of common ground between what the trades council thought and the views that I expressed about various vital industries in my constituency.

My own constituency's manufacturing base has been reduced because of the decline in textiles, paper and board, so that now only about 35 per cent. of those who work in the constituency are employed in manufacturing industry. To a great extent, manufacturing industry has been replaced by service industry. I believe, however, that there is a limit to the extent to which we can allow our manufacturing base to contract and be replaced by services without its being detrimental to our economic performance and our long-term prosperity. When he replies to the debate, I hope that my hon. Friend will turn his attention to that matter, which I believe is of great importance indeed.

Letme say straight away that I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade is as determined as anyone—certainly as determined as I am—to ensure that there is a successor to the multi-fibre arrangement, and that when the arrangement comes up for renewal there will be another positive system of orderly marketing in textiles to ensure the future of this vital and strategic industry.

I should like to be specific for a moment. I am gravely concerned about the way in which, under the existing MFA, the global ceilings appear to be breached time and time again. I want to relate my remarks initially directly to the woollen textile industry, which is so important to the West Yorkshire area of our country.

Let us look at several statistics to see exactly where we are going. Is my hon. Friend aware that in the first nine months of this year Hong Kong sent to the United Kingdom 213,440 woven suits, compared with only 61,996 in the comparable period of 1978? That is a "ginormous" increase. In the case of the Philippines, the number of woven suits from there rose from 3,000 in the first nine months of 1978 to 28,710 in the first nine months of this year. The State trading countries such as Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia have also substantially increased their suit exports to Britain.

That will have a direct impact upon the work force in this country and the viability of industries, which in the long term will inevitably affect employment. Between January and September of this year, Britain imported from the State trading countries that I have mentioned 482,626 woven suits compared with 380,885 in the same period in 1978. That substantial increase must damage the potential of firms in West Yorkshire and elsewhere. Such firms have been in receipt—rightly so—of funds from the Government in order to improve their equipment and to rationalise.

The industry, with its responsible work force, has co-operated with successive Governments in seeking rationalisation so that it can compete with other countries. The position is not, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) described in his long contribution, like that of the British car industry. That industry has a shocking record of industrial relations, often because we have been unable to produce cars of the quality that people overseas want in the numbers that are required. The textile industry does not suffer from that problem, but it suffers from unfair competition. The British car industry suffers from self-inflicted wounds. Therefore, to equate it with the textile industry is unfair to the 750,000 who work in the various sectors of the textile industry.

The Mediterranean low-cost countries are posing a serious threat to the British textile industry. Portugal has stepped up its exports of suits to Britain from 60,269 in the first nine months of last year to 183,994 in the first nine months of 1979. Cyprus recorded a 112 per cent. increase in its exports of woven suits to this country over the same period—from 10,248 to 21,742.The situation is serious and it relates directly to the subject which has been chosen for debate by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West, who represents an area of the country that is famous for its wool industry.

The Clothing Manufacturers' Federation, which liaises closely with all hon. Members, has noted with great concern the increase in imports from Common Market countries which are not of genuine EEC origin. The garments are being offered in the country at what I can only describe as unusually low prices. A considerable quantity of suits from West Germany are manufactured in East Germany under the outward-processing system. I mentioned that fact five weeks ago in the House but I did not receive the sort of reply that I would have wished. I do not seek to cover the same ground, but I hope that the problems that are occurring are appreciated by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

A prominent member of the Clothing Manufacturers' Federation has advised me and other hon. Members that his firm was offered by a West German firm a well-made woollen suit for the small sum of £16. That compares with the factory-gate price of about £27 for a similar British suit. That shows the unfair competition faced by the clothing industry in this country. The Government must deal quickly with the problem.

I was interested in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr: Watson). He and I do not agree on many issues, although we sit on the same side of the House. However, I found myself in agreement with his argument. Precedents have been set by previous Conservative Governments that limited import controls—not general or widespread controls—can be of great benefit not only to our balance of payments but to the regeneration of industry in the country.

I am particularly concerned that an industry such as the textile industry, which has sought to co-operate with successive Governments and to rationalise and, as hon. Members on both sides of the House clearly stated, has a fine record of investment and industrial relations, should be allowed to be destroyed by unfair competition. The Government have a responsibility to ensure that this industry is given the climate of fair competition to invest and expand. It would then help to save on our balance of payments and provide jobs in areas where it is the traditional large employer. If it disappeared from those areas, the problems of unemployment would reach grotesque proportions.

Italian export tactics are also of grave concern to the Clothing Manufacturers' Federation and the British textile industry. Three-piece suits from Italy are currently offered for sale in this country for less than £20. The Clothing Manufacturers' Federation has discovered that these suits were made in Romania and exported to Italy at a landed price of only £8. The Italians re-export these suits to the United Kingdom, taking advantage of the Common Market regulations permitting free circulation. I also raised the subject in the debate some five weeks ago. Grave problems can result as there is no firm regulation agreed by the EEC on free circulation, and because of that these suits do not count against Romania's quota to this country. That is causing grave disruption, the closure of mills and the loss of jobs.

I should now like to change tack and come closer to home, to Lancashire and Cheshire, where we are much more involved with shirts and spinning and weaving than with suits and the woollen side of the textile industry. I support the views expressed by the hon. Member for Keighley. It is important that we do not exchange employment and orders for the aerospace industry for the many thousands of jobs in the textile industry.

I want to see British Aerospace sell the Harrier jump-jet to the People's Republic of China, but I do not want a barter to be set up in exchange and for the People's Republic of China to flood this country with textiles. If that happened, the exchange would be unfair. Although temporarily the aerospace industry would benefit, the manufacturing base and the economy of this country would suffer immensely.

The People's Republic of China is emerging as a great threat to the industry. In the first nine months of this year, Britain imported 369,027 woven shirts from China compared with 225,009 in the comparable period last year, which is a jump of some 64 per cent. I have a number of shirt manufacturers in my constituency, and there are many more in Greater Manchester, Lancashire, North Wales, which has also suffered from the closure of the Shotton steelworks, and Scotland, where they will take their share of the problems of British Steel. How can that jump be explained under the multi-fibre arrangement if there is genuinely a system of orderly marketing in this country?

However, 64 per cent. is nowhere near the highest percentage increase for woven shirts. The Philippines tops the league of low-cost exporters in percentage terms. From January to September of this year, 545,857 woven shirts were imported from the Philippines as against a mere 20,988 in the same period of 1978. That represents a staggering rise of 2,501 per cent. This is a grave problem. The MFA is doing a job, but it is not a good enough job. Whatever system replaces it must be much more effective if the textile industry, which is so important to this country, is to survive.

I acknowledge that my hon. Friends the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and the Minister for Trade are doing a good job in trying to protect the interests of the British textile industry and to guarantee it fair competition in future.

I now refer briefly to the United States. There is no doubt that there are concern, frustration and anger on both sides of the House that the EEC has not acted more quickly against the dual pricing policy of the United States which has placed thousands of people out of work in this country, particularly in the wool and carpet sectors of the textile industry. At the same time, we must realise that we are inhibited in the way in which we can act.

I am pleased that the Council of Ministers has decided to introduce anti-dumping duties against the United States in the case of acrylic fibres. Although it is a bit late in the day, the decision taken by the Council of Ministers on 20 November is welcome. I am confident that the Prime Minister, in her discussions with President Carter, will persuade the United States Administration to remove this system of assisting their industry. If they do not, the EEC will be forced to erect tariffs of between 8 per cent. and 25 per cent. which will enable our industry to compete fairly with the United States. Unless the United States acts quickly to reduce the disparity, these tariffs will be erected some time in February.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade in particular. I have found it necessary to be in regular touch with him in my capacity as chairman of the all-party group for cotton and allied textiles. He and others in his Department have been ready to assist me and to talk to me at any time. I am convinced that he is working as hard as any of the hon. Members on both sides of the House who are desperately keen to ensure a good future for the British textile industry. I believe that he is fighting to get the best possible arrangements for the successor to the MFA and that he will ensure that the new MFA will be effective and do the job that the people of this country demand. We are talking about human lives and a responsible industry. I believe that this Government will stand by them and do what is right.

12.35 am

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). His knowledge of the textile industry is great. The hon. Gentleman has great expertise. He covers a wide canvas. This means that one can shorten one's own speech. I had intended to make a short speech, but I am happy to inform the House that it will be even shorter as a result of the hon. Gentleman's interesting contribution.

The hon. Gentleman covered unfair competition from China and from the United States. He gave important figures and evidence about unfair competition and breaches of the quota arrangements by countries all over the world. I do not intend to try to match his statistical knowledge except to say that the Minister should have no illusions about the seriousness of the crisis facing the Lancashire and Yorkshire textile industries.

There has been debate after debate in the House over the years on the crisis facing the Lancashire textile industry. That is a tragedy. As the hon. Member for Macclesfield has stated, the textile industry has done a great deal to help itself. It has modernised. It has rationalised. It has shed labour. The industry has responded to most of the demands made upon it. Yet, in 1979, it faces one of the most gloomy prospects ever. I would not wish the Minister, who is not a man given to wild statements, to imagine that this is an alarmist view of my own. It is the view of trade unions and of employers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) and the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Trippier) have covered the prime points that I am sure are now well established in the Minister's mind. The hon. Gentleman is Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Industry. I should like him to know that one of the problems that faces the industry is the removal of regional aids from North-East Lancashire. My constituency of Accrington and other areas of North-East Lancashire had the benefit of intermediate area status.

I do not expect any firm assurances tonight. But the Minister will know that North-East Lancashire is most concerned about the diminution of regional aid because it affects the textile industry so severely. It is likely to add to the burdens that have been outlined by speaker after speaker in this debate. So great is the concern that this point is top of the agenda at a meeting on Friday of the North-East Lancashire Development Association. I feel sure that the Minister will take the matter seriously. Hon. Members have dealt with the issue of import penetration. I should, however, like an assurance that the Government recognises the importance of negotiating a tough new multi-fibre arrangement in 1981. I am not sure whether that is the Government's intention.

The present multi-fibre arrangement is the strongest that there has been, but it is abused repeatedly. Country after country ignores the arrangement. Speaker after speaker in the debate has given examples of quotas being exceeded over and over again. If the Minister is to negotiate a new multi-fibre arrangement, he must have the will to ensure that it is properly monitored and enforced, otherwise it will be mere verbiage. It will be another arrangement that the EEC and contracting countries do not take seriously.

It would be wrong of me at this time in the morning to delay the House any further, because all the points have adequately been made. However, I assure the Minister that the Lancashire textile industry is facing a most serious problem. I am not saying that it is the fault of the Government. It is not. It is an accumulation of problems. But the Government's policies have not helped. Certainly high interest rates, the overvalued pound and the undervalued dollar have not helped either. The immediate problem is that of import penetration. I hope that the Minister will reassure the House on that problem and give me a particularly favourable reply as I have been so brief in my observations.

12.41 am

The debate was started by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons), who was indeed fortunate to have secured a place in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate. Clearly, he opened up the opportunity for many hon. Members to contribute, and that is an indication of the widespread nature of the unease that is felt about the situation facing the textile industry.

Among those who contributed were the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), my hon. Friends the Members for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) and Rossendale (Mr. Trippier)—I understand better the problems of the industry since my hon. Friend took me to see a number of mills in Rossendale—the hon. Members for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White), Batley and Morley (Mr. Woolmer) and Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby Mr. Thompson), who was characteristically and straightforwardly outspoken about the problems of the industry as he saw them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) is to be congratulated on having persuaded the initiator of this debate to allow him to attach his position in the batting order for the Consolidated Fund to the first debate. He would probably be here at 7 o'clock this morning were he not so fortunate.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), the hon. and learned Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) also contributed to the debate. The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford), who is chairman of the all-party wool committee, has listened to the proceedings but has not spoken.

It is clear that there is all-party concern about the state of the textile industry and the number of redundancies and closures. "Redundancy" is a hard statistical word, but the reality is that the way of life for a whole village, valley or community may be suddenly and totally disrupted. In Committee recently an Opposition Member said "You have read your brief. Now speak from the heart". I think that all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have spoken from the heart about how they see the realities of the consequences of decline in the textile industry. However, I disagree with one hon. Gentleman who suggested that a closure did not hurt employers. I think that everyone in the industry is affected. A closure is a tragedy for all concerned, and I have no illusions about it.

A massive number of issues have been raised. I shall endeavour to cover all of them. If I miss any, I hope that hon. Members will write to me. As the hon. Member for Halifax has joined us again, I shall mention that I have referred to her contribution to the debate and that the hon. Member for Bradford, North—although he has not spoken—has been in the Chamber throughout the debate as chairman of the all-party wool committee.

The issues raised have covered the minimum lending rate, the level of sterling, the current and future state and size of the industry, unfair United States competition in the tufted carpet market, unilateral action suggested against the United States, illegal and unfair competition of outer wear, Romanian imports, imports from Romania via Italy, alleged fraud from East Germany, mislabelling, the Prato arrangements, the scouring industry, the social clause and the future of the MFA. I shall endeavour, even at this late hour, to deal with as much of that as I can. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if at a quarter to one o'clock there are a few matters that I slide over quickly.

The hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe talked about the last 14 mules left working in the Lancashire industry, which stopped last week and were taken straight out of the factory to be exported to a museum. I should not like that to be the picture carried away from the debate as the state of the industry, but rather the hon. Gentleman's reference to firms able to compete anywhere in the world. He asks the Government to determine the size and shape of the industry for the next decade.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough asked for an unequivocal statement that we should always have a viable and prosperous industry. I regret to say that I am unable to give that assurance. It is not that I have no crystal ball, not because I am not united with hon. Members on both sides in their objective but because the Government's job is to hold the ring and to see that there is fair opportunity and fair competition. It is up to the men and the management to produce at a price that customers are prepared to pay. It is not only a matter for the Government.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East likened the position in the industry to that in the British steel industry and said that it was in trouble partly because British people were buying foreign cars. He sggested that we ought to take more notice of the effect of our purchasers on jobs in this country. I sympathise with that view, and as the hon. Member was speaking I pulled out my tie to see where it was made. To my consternation, I found that it was not made in this country Like so many others, I buy what seems to be the best value for money. I am afraid that that will have to be the basis upon which this industry and all other industries earn their daily bread. While one may achieve a marginal benefit from a desire for British people to buy British goods, it can never be any substitute for the best value obtainable.

I turn to the question of the tufted carpet industry, which was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West in his opening speech. A number of other hon. Members have also spoken on this issue. In the carpet section of the trade there is excess capacity, and there are a number of factories involved in that. There has been some weakness in marketing. Undoubtedly some United States companies are more market-orientated than we are in Britain. Our productivity levels are below those of a number of other countries in the EEC, and I shall return to that later.

The factor which has dominated this debate has been the rising level of imports. That is partly and considerably because of a distortion of competition caused by the artificial level of oil prices in the United States. To the extent that that factor is responsible, we are pressing the EEC for action and the United States for export restraint. In keeping up that pressure, my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade is in Brussels. He asked me to convey his apologies to the House for his being unable to participate in the debate.

The difficulty here is that, although my hon. Friend has been seeking to raise these matters in Brussels, our initial soundings have shown that we do not have as much support from other EEC members as we would wish. I have a message to go to them which I think the House will join me in sending. When the United States starts rolling, we in the United Kingdom may be the first to be hit by the waves. We are the easiest market for the United States—we speak a similar language. But do not let anyone in Europe misunderstand that the second wave will strike there.

Does the Minister accept that Britain is entitled, within the letter of the EEC regulations, to take unilateral action to stop those imports? He seems to be suggesting that unless the EEC agrees nothing can be done. If that is the view of the hon. Gentleman's Department, it is wrong.

I have every intention of dealing with the hon. Gentleman's point. I hope that I shall succeed in covering all the points that have been made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton referred to restrictive practices and their effect. It is right to return to the question of productivity and other factors. It is possible for us to get out of proportion the question of the United States' advantage on artificial oil pricing. It may be uncomfortable, but in the first half of 1979 United States exports of tufted carpets to this country went up by 1·5 million square metres. But Benelux and Denmark increased their sales to this country by 1 million square metres. They did not have the artificial oil price advantage enjoyed by the United States. So there are factors other than that advantage, on which we are united in wanting to act, which have led to increased imports.

When the rest of the EEC has a higher level of wages than we have, we ought to be able to compete. We must look to our productivity to ensure that it reaches EEC levels.

The hon. Member for Halifax said that neither the country nor the House was sufficiently concerned. Both sides of the House and the Government are concerned, however. It is untrue that there is any sense of satisfaction, certainly on the Conservative Benches, about the current situation.

The hon. Lady called for unilateral action against the United States, as did the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West. We want, if we can, to reach a Community solution to protect us against United States retaliation. The Commission's consultations with the Americans are not complete, and I ask hon. Members not to overlook the potential damage that may result from unilateral action. It is far better to seek to secure our first objective of effective Community action.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich spoke about illegal and unfair imports of outer wear. He was right to draw attention to his fear that malpractices may exist in Romania and East Germany. My hon. Friend is an effective representative of Harwich. I was surprised that he raised the matter, because I did not realise that he had a textile industry in his constituency, but he made clear that he is involved with firms in his constituency that are part of the United Kingdom garment industry and have been manufacturers of uniforms for many years.

The problems facing that part of the industry include the change in fashion that affects demand—towards scruffy jeans instead of jacket and worsted flannels. There are some productivity problems, and it is our policy to ensure fair competition.

Let us look at the matters raised by my hon. Friend indicating unfair competition. I start with Romania, which has access, as arranged under the import quota agreement of 1977, which was negotiated when the previous Government were in office and has a life of five years. My hon. Friends the Members for Harwich and for Macclesfield asked whether dumping is taking place. Is Romania selling to the United Kingdom at below the cost of production? If so, an anti-dumping duty can be introduced, subject to proof, but that is not an easy or swift procedure.

Happily, we have another weapon—the price clause in the EEC bilateral MFA agreement—and we are currently collecting a dossier on the allegation. We shall ask the EEC to consult as quickly and effectively as possible. We anticipate that discussions will be opened before the House reassembles after the Christmas Recess. I hope that the House will feel that that is an effective step.

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield also referred to Romanian suits entering the United Kingdom via Italy. That has been happening, but the numbers are small. A great deal of understandable heat has been created by that practice, but only 45,000 suits have come in to a United Kingdom market of 6 million suits a year. We have approached the Commission—we did so at the end of November—to seek to put a stop to the abuse of free circulation. Unfortunately, the EEC has not accepted that sufficient numbers are yet involved. We shall keep the matter under review. I hope that hon. Members will ensure that we are informed if there are any further developments.

I have heard this evening for the first time that Hungarian suits are entering the United Kingdom unfairly. If hon. Members give us the necessary information—we must have evidence—we shall pursue the matter as we have done with Romanian suits.

An allegation of fraud concerning East Germany has been made. East German suits are said to be coming into Britain. There is the obvious temptation presented to West German traders to take advantage of importing goods from East Germany free of duties and quota controls and re-exporting them to the rest of the Community. Unfortunately, no firm evidence has yet been presented to us. When it is, we shall be ready to take effective action, as we have taken it in other areas.

It has been revealed in the debate that a trader in Britain has falsely declared East German goods to be of Community origin. That is linked with mislabelling. The local authority trading standards officer—whom older hon. Members will know as the weights and measures inspector—has power to bring a prosecution if fraud is taking place. I hope that none will hesitate to give evidence to ensure that that takes place.

Is it not the case that under EEC regulations as we operate them there is no independent certificate of origin for many of the goods that the Minister is considering? We leave it to the exporter to indicate the origin of the products. In practice, our Customs staff are not checking that properly. The country of consignment is shown and not the country of origin.

Will the Minister follow the lead of Ireland, France and Italy and insist on an independent certificate of origin through the chambers of commerce and industry so that we have a clear, independent certificate of origin for goods from the EEC, which are now being used as a means of exploiting free circulation? That is an important issue that has been raised with me by chambers of commerce in West Yorkshire. They have stressed that there is a system that we can apply if we wish to do so.

I should like to consider that possibility. There is a danger that it might make matters worse if we were not satisfied about the authenticity and authority of those issuing the certificates. It is something that I should want to follow through. If a case is found where there is a claim that goods are of EEC origin and they are not, a prosecution can follow. In addition, the goods can be seized. We would like to have evidence to enable Customs and Excise to operate in that way.

Will the Minister satisfy himself, by whatever procedures he can adopt—for example, spot checks or whatever he feels is necessary—that the Customs officers are checking on documentation in a way that satisfies him? If the checks on certificates of origin and declarations of origin are loose and casual, that is because, as I understand it, Customs staff feel that the Minister's Department is not regarding the matter as one of concern or priority. I suggest that he will not get the evidence if that feeling is present. Will he give me an assurance that he will carry out spot checks in the next few weeks to satisfy himself that Customs staff are checking on the country of origin?

The hon. Gentleman has made a useful suggestion. I am not familiar with the precise mechanism by which the system operates at the port of entry. I shall make it my business to find out.

The Italians and Prato have been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough, the hon. Member for Batley and Morley and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield. The Government have been concerned about imports of low-cost woollen and mixture fabrics from Prato, where, it is held, hidden subsidies operate, in addition, it should be said, to a very efficient industry with 24-hour shift working on machinery.

We wish to see fair conditions of competition. We pressed the EEC Commission for some action in this matter, and last week officials from the Commission spent two days in West Yorkshire visiting woollen mills and holding discussions with manufacturers. The visit was intended to let the Commission officials see the modernisation which has taken place in the wool textile industry and to examine with the industry's own experts the comparative cost information which had been sent to the Commission in February last.

I am informed that the visit went well and that the Commission officials were impressed both by the modernised mills which they visited and by the detailed work which had been done for them on comparative costs. Before returning to Brussels, they indicated that they would be going to the Italian Government on the points made, and they would expect to be in touch with the Department of Industry within weeks.

It is clear that the Commission is fully aware of the nature of the problem, and the questions posed about price must be answered. Of course, I am not complacent about this timetable. The Commission's investigations have taken longer than the industry or the Government would like. I remain determined to see that the matter is conducted as rapidly as possible.

I do not pretend that we are in any way satisfied with the rate of progress in Brussels. Sometimes, as in the negotiating of the present MFA bilateral agreements in the autumn of 1977, one can pay tribute to the speed with which the Commission has acted, but sometimes, as in the case of our complaint against Prato, I can only agree that the Commission has been deplorably slow. But I assure the House that the Government will continue to press this country's interests on Brussels just as hard and as often as we feel will be useful.

I turn now to wool scouring. I appreciate that the wool scouring sector has felt the pinch of increased charges for treatment of its effluent. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment and I met a deputation from West Yorkshire on 24 October to discuss this matter. One result was that it was agreed that my hon. Friend would have direct discussions with the water authority concerned. These have already taken place, and he has written today, I believe, to hon. Members who were involved with that deputation.

I have not had the opportunity to discuss that letter with my hon. Friend, and I hope, therefore, that the House will recognise that it is a matter on which I cannot comment in depth now. What I noticed that they can apply for financial can say is that most, if not all, of the scouring takes place in Bradford, which will remain an intermediate area under the assisted area status scheme and thus may qualify for project assistance under the revised guidelines for section 7 of the Industry Act announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry on 17 July.

I come now to the question of a social clause, to which the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe and others have referred. I have to say that the MFA is a negotiated agreement under GATT auspices. Other signatories would resist inclusion of a social clause as an interference in their internal affairs, and if we accepted it others, such as the United States, could argue that low wages in the United Kingdom amounted to unfair competition. I think that the House ought to take on board that this is a double-edged weapon and we must be careful how we seek to use it.

I turn now to the multi-fibre arrangement. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale seeks a new form of words. The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough raised the question also, as did the hon. Member for Keighley. It is, however, too soon to enter into commitments. The precise arrangements will be a matter for decision not only by the Governments of the member States of the Community closer to the time but also by others, such as the United States and low-cost suppliers. The MFA is a multilateral agreement and not something which is within the Government's gift.

Perhaps I can go a little further and say that in talking about an orderly marketing arrangement to succeed the present MFA the Government are not trying to hide anything. It is simply a recognition that as regards the framework for continuing restraints all options are still open. We entirely accept that the industry will continue to need effective protection after the present agreements expire.

Does my hon. Friend accept that he could not substitute an orderly marketing arrangement for the MFA within 12 months? As the MFA structure is already established, and as it has to be agreed by so many countries, it must be established on the same lines as the existing MFA.

My hon. Friend will recognise that the prime responsibility for this matter rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. I shall convey to him my hon. Friend's point.

My hon. Friend would appear not to be answering the point that I associated with the requirement to renegotiate a replacement to the current MFA for orderly marketing in textiles. As this is within the scope of my hon. Friend's responsibility, are his Department, the Government and himself prepared to do their utmost to ensure that the manufacturing base of this country is not further eroded? A replacement MFA is vital if that is not to occur.

I understand my hon. Friend's point. He will equally understand that I am not in a position to give the commitment he seeks. It is a matter for the Department of Trade. Already the Department is carefully preparing the way in which it will negotiate what is to follow. However, it would not be right for me to seek to answer on behalf of my right hon. Friend.

It is within the scope of my hon. Friend's responsibility in the Department of Industry to ensure that the manufacturing base of this country is not further eroded. Will he give an assurance that in so far as he has responsibility in this area he will do his utmost in his representations to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade?

Is the Minister aware that we are constantly frustrated when raising this issue by Ministers with responsibility for industry who do not have, or who appear not to have, sufficient interest in industry to give a single answer on behalf of the Departments of Industry and Trade? The workers and employers in industry cannot understand why we cannot hear a single voice from the Government Front Bench. Does the Minister recognise that we understand why the Secretary of State is not here? However, hon. Members on both sides of the House expect the hon. Gentleman to give an answer, having, we assume, consulted his right hon. Friend. Is he saying that he has not had sufficient discussions with his right hon. and hon. Friends to be able to give us an assurance on behalf of the Departments of Industry and Trade?

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that I endeavoured to answer all 14 major questions that were posed. I have already detained the House for a considerable time at this early hour of the morning.

I should like to be able to answer for my right hon. Friend. However, it is not for an Under-Secretary of State for Industry to answer at this Dispatch Box for the Secretary of State for Trade. I am sure that my hon. Friends would not expect me to do that. Were I to do so, I might find that I was not given any similar opportunity on a future occasion. The House will understand the division of responsibility in the matter.

May I question the Minister about one matter for which he has responsibility? I refer to regional aid. Will he say something about the matter that I put to him and whether he considered restoring intermediate area status to North-East Lancashire or, at least, phasing it out over a longer period?

The hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to an area which is moving from intermediate to non-assisted status, and we have afforded it a very long phasing-out period. The intermediate status will remain until 1982, which means a much longer period of transition than had been recorded before. The hon. and learned Gentleman will recall the 10 days' notice given for the ending of the regional employment premium. That concerned a far bigger sum than is involved in this case. He will also recall the much shorter period of notice given for the ending of the regional development grant for the mining industry.

What may comfort the hon. and learned Gentleman is the fact that, during the whole of the transition period until 1982, section 7 assistance under the Industry Act will be available in what are now intermediate areas. If by 1982 we find that there is a change in the relative position of any travel-to-work area which is affected by the changes in assisted area status, we shall be prepared to look again at that particular travel-to-work area. I hope that on that basis—

As we are discussing the Consolidated Fund Bill, we are concerned with money and assistance from the Government. Can the Government see their way to giving any selective assistance to this industry, which, after all, is what the Vote in the Consolidated Fund and in the Estimates covers? That is what this debate is about.

I understand what the hon. Lady says in alliance with her hon. and learned Friend the Member for Accrington. I cannot say more than I have said to him except that perhaps I could embroider the point by repeating that section 7 assistance under the Industry Act as set out by my right hon. Friend in his statement to the House in July will continue to be available throughout the three years. That means that this industry—as any other industry—can put forward schemes from which individual firms in the industry can benefit, provided that they come within the criteria laid down by the Secretary of State where section 7 assistance is applicable. That involves additionality and the various other criteria.

I have given way many times. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will accept that he shall be the last since he was the first—the first shall be last—I give way to him.

I am grateful. I was interested to hear the Minister say that there was a possibility of money forthcoming under the Industry Act in respect of effluent charges. Will he elaborate on that, because that is perhaps the most promising thing he has said so far? It is a matter of great importance in the textile industry.

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will wait until tomorrow to see Hansard, I think he will find that I have phrased what I had to say very carefully and that I have covered the point that he wishes me to cover.

The House has had a lengthy debate and I have endeavoured to answer all the main points raised. If I have failed to answer particular points, I am sure that hon. Gentlemen will write to me and draw my attention to them. To sum up, there is in the textile industry, among its Members of Parliament, its employers, its workers and the Government a unity of purpose and a determination to have an industry which stands on its own feet and holds its own in fair competition.