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Textiles And Man-Made Fibres (Imports)

Volume 33: debated on Monday 6 December 1982

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asked the Minister for Trade what is the estimated financial value of imported textiles and of man-made fibres in particular for the years 1980, 1981 and for 1982 so far; and if he will make a statement.

With permission, I will circulate the figures in the Official Report.

In the first nine months of this year imports of textiles were valued at £1,501 million cif, of which manmade fibres—staple fibre and continuous filament yarn—accounted for £254 million, or 17 per cent. of the total.

Is not the message from the Copenhagen conference of Ministers that unjust and unfair import penetration must be countered strongly and urgently? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the textile industry is still Britain's largest employer? What will the Government do to help this industry?

We are within measurable distance of completing the last bilateral multi-fibre arrangement. The only two countries waiting to sign are South Korea and Argentina. If and when the arrangement is completed—I have high hopes that it will be before the end of the year—we shall have a tougher MFA than the previous one. I hope that that will give some satisfaction to the hon. Gentleman and to the rest of the House. I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's concern.

Will the Minister confirm that there has been a deficit in textiles and clothing over the past few years and that it makes sense to negotiate some planned trading arrangement through the MFA, and also with the Common Market, to ensure that our textile and clothing industries—which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) said, constitute the largest private enterprise employers in Britain—have a secure home base so that jobs in the industry are not diminished further? As the Minister knows, there has been a massive reduction of jobs in the textile and clothing industries over the past three years.

I repeat that the clothing and textile industries can look forward to certainty and a sound measure of protection under the new multi-fibre arrangement. Clothing exports, which have been doing remarkably well, amounted to £750 million in 1979, £808 million in 1980 and £691 million so far this year.

Does the Minister recognise that since 1979 210,000 jobs have been lost in the textile and clothing industries, which, with 580,000 workers remaining, are extremely important industries? Will the multi-fibre arrangement negotiations be concluded before next week's meeting of the Council of Ministers? If so, will the hon. and learned Gentleman make a statement to the House? If not, will he make a statement before the House rises for the Christmas Recess? It would be a tragedy for the workers and the employers if the House were to rise for the Christmas Recess without the fullest possible discussion having taken place.

I am conscious of the number of jobs that have been lost over the past few years in the textile and clothing industries generally. I have raised the issue constantly at the Council of Ministers in Brussels. It is one of the reasons that has led the United Kingdom to take a prominent part in debates on clothing and textiles and to press for a strong MFA. I hope that the House will be reassured about the likely outcome of the MFA. It is for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the usual channels to decide whether a statement should be made by me or by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I have no doubt that note has been taken of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Following are the figures.

£ million cif



(a) Textile imports of which:—


(b) Man-made staple fibre and continuous filament yarn



United Kingdom Overseas Trade Statistics,

  • (a) SITC/R2 Division 65, Groups 266 and 267, Item 847.11 and Subgroup 268.7 (part);
  • (b) SITC/R2 groups 266 and 267, Sub-group 651.4 (excluding Item 651.48) and Items 651.71, 72, 73 and 78.