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Textile And Clothing Products

Volume 21: debated on Monday 29 March 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the total value of imports of textiles and clothing products for the latest available month and for the same period 12 months before.

Imports of textiles and textile clothing were valued at £247 million cif in December 1981 and at £204 million cif in December 1980.

Does the Minister recognise that the level of imports could be greatly depressed by the effect of the Government's policies, and that if there is a recovery in the economy it might not necessarily lead to increases for British textiles or British jobs? Has he initiated any specific steps to monitor any such upsurge?

I am sure that the recovery in the economy—the evidence of which is now very apparent—will be much welcomed by the hon. Gentleman and welcomed not less by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I accept that it could have an impact upon the levels of imports of textiles. It is a matter that is contained within the multi-fibre arrangement and we believe that the cutbacks that we have secured in the five group 1 clothing categories with the four dominant suppliers, the anti-surge mechanism and the likely continuation of members' use of certain quotas will limit the extent to which there will be a rise in imports.

Does the Minister accept that it is surprising that the imports of textiles and clothing have increased by such a significant amount in the middle of a depressed market? Does the right hon. Gentleman have any estimate of the import penetration ratio in these industries? What is the state of the negotiations that are taking place with Mediterranean countries, especially Spain and Portugal, which pose a problem over and above the MFA low-cost countries?

The negotiations are being conducted by the European Commission under a mandate that has already been discussed by the House. I shall seek the information on import ratios that the hon. Gentleman has requested and send it to him.

Does my right hon. Friend think it rather odd that Labour Members seem to spend a substantial amount of their time urging the industrial development of the Third world and underdeveloped countries but start to whine as soon as they begin to export to the United Kingdom?

Yes, I think that they believe in Socialism with a white face. They become highly discriminatory. The hostility of the narrow-minded "Little Englanders" on the Opposition Benches is terrifying when one deals with items such as textiles, without which the developing countries cannot pretend to have the resources to engage in a wider trade.