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British Textile Federation

Volume 982: debated on Monday 31 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade when next he expects to meet representatives of the British Textile Confederation.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade when next he plans to meet representatives of the British Textile Confederation.

I met the chairman of the British Textile Confederation earlier this month, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and I have recently met its representatives. I have no immediate plans for further meetings.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to give a categorical undertaking that it is the Government's desire to renegotiate the multi-fibre arrangement when it expires next year? Are the Government seeking a longer successor to the MFA than the present three-year arrangement?

We have said repeatedly that we envisage that when the present MFA expires in about 18 months' time it will be necessary to have a continuing arrangement. That is the position, and we have repeatedly said so. The length of MFA 3, if I may call it that, will have to be decided as part of the discussions leading up to it.

In those discussions will the right hon. Gentleman consider inserting a recession clause, so that if the home market is growing slowly, if at all, there will not be a massive penetration of imports further to harm the industry? Secondly, will he consider the problems caused by the imminent acces- sion of Portugal, which is clearly expecting to take a substantial part of the textile market in Europe, which if obtained will be to the detriment of our industry in Yorkshire and elsewhere?

I realise that managements and unions in the textile industry are anxious for some form of recession clause in MFA 3, if I may use that shorthand term. The previous Labour Government were asked for a recession clause when they negotiated MFA 2, and they were not successful in obtaining one. These matters are for discussion and negotiation at the appropriate time. As I explained to the TUC textile committee only last week, it would be most foolish for the Government to commit themselves to details before the negotiations begin. I agree that it will be necessary to arrange some sensible and useful transitional arrangements for the accession of Portugal to the Community.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that he or the Minister for Trade gave the trade unions in the textile industry a categorical assurance that the MFA would be renewed, as far as was in our power, as soon as possible? Is my right hon. Friend therefore taking the initiative in the matter, which I hope he is? He is only one among many, and if he cannot build in a recession clause will he at least see that there is no element of dynamism, which would mean that overseas countries have an increasing quota as time goes on instead of merely a static one?

Discussions have started at an official level about a possible successor to the MFA. I do not anticipate that Ministers will be involved much before the autumn. I am quite clear that all our Community partners know of our position, and there is not much more that I can say that will make it more clear.

I understand that the textile industry would like a lower global quota than at present. However, I repeat that it would be unwise to commit ourselves to the details of a negotiation that, after all, concerns a regime that will start 18 months from now. We should not get into too much detail at this stage.

What, if any, progress has been made in solving the vexed problem of labelling and countries of origin? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that that problem is greatly troubling the Scottish knitwear industry and other elements in the textile industry?

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs is considering the matter at present.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a decision on the renewal of the MFA is urgent, as a view must be presented to the GATT textiles committee in October?

I know that my hon. Friend is anxious for me to commit myself to my negotiating position in advance of those negotiations. However, I have told him repeatedly that that would mean that the United Kingdom was less able to get a good deal than if we await the moment when the negotiations commence.

Does the Secretary of State agree that when asked if he would accept the renewal of the MFA he used the phrase "a continuing arrangement", and on previous occasions he has talked of "an orderly marketing system" as the successor to the MFA? As there is doubt about his policy, will he say clearly and unequivocally that the Government are totally committed to the renewal of the MFA, which will put everyone out of their misery?

The semantics of that question are astonishing. The right hon. Gentleman may call it what he wishes—an orderly arrangement, a continuing arrangement or a new MFA. I envisage that, following the expiry of the present MFA, a new arrangement will continue it. It is impossible to predict precisely what arrangement it will be until the negotiations begin.