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Textiles

Volume 982: debated on Monday 31 March 1980

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10.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he plans to reduce the level of textiles imported into the United Kingdom.

Imports of textiles from low-cost sources are already strictly controlled, and on 18 February I announced further restrictions on certain synthetic textile products.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his announcement earlier this year was another example of too little, too late? Is it not about time that he recognised that the British textile industry is dying rapidly and that thousands of workers are being thrown onto the dole? When will he go to Brussels and demand action from the EEC or take unilateral action to protect this once great British industry?

I have had more protests from the textile industry about my having applied the quotas than about the action being too little and too late. As I explained to the hon. Gentleman at the time, the low-cost fibres are a raw material of many British textile producers who export their goods.

Is it not better to expand trade by removing obstacles to exports, rather than to restrict trade by creating obstacles to imports, since with the expanded trade, our invisibles, which are our major earners, will automatically benefit?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It would be foolish for the country that has the greatest single interest in the expansion of world trade —we have a greater proportion of our gross national product in world trade than almost every other nation—to be a party to restricting world trade, which is what import controls are all about.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he has received massive criticism from British man-made fibre manufacturers about the fact that a so-called quota to be introduced next year is at a level higher than the import penetration of the year that preceded it? In that circumstance, he is allowing the United States to use the unfair advantage of its low price for energy to decimate a good British market.

Everything about those comments was incorrect. The quotas are not higher than the import penetration of the preceding year.

As for decimating the British textile industry, I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans), that I have had more protests from the British textile industry about having imposed the quotas than about having done too little.