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Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : The multi-fibre arrangement has played a vital part in avoiding conflict in international trade, in allowing poorer developing countries to gain growing access to the market of the developed world and in preventing disruption in the United Kingdom and European textile and clothing industries with the resultant saving of vital jobs which otherwise would have been lost. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs has a true understanding of the industry or the
Column 1224immense benefits that the MFA has brought since its inception in 1974.
I preface my brief remarks in today's important debate with a summary of the effectiveness and the benefits of the MFA so that there can be no doubt that, like so many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who take an active interest in the clothing and textile industries, I am unequivocal in my view that the MFA should be renewed in its current form when the present term expires in July 1991, and that its longer-term future should be dependent on clear and quantifiable progress being made in tackling the trading abuses and barriers which face the international textile and clothing trade and which hold back the development of the United Kingdom industries.
There are those in the House and outside who criticise the MFA as a restriction on free trade, as protectionism and as unjustifiable in a world which is seeking to move ever closer to free and unrestricted trade. Those who express such a view are displaying a great naivety and a complete ignorance of the way in which the MFA has taken the world textile and clothing industries nearer to that goal that we all want to achieve--free and fair trade between nations. Had it not been for the MFA, the developing producers in Third world countries would soon be squeezed out of the world market by the big boys in Europe, in the far east, and the United States of America, who of course were able to wield considerably greater commercial clout.
We have heard robust speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly from my hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) and for Leeds, North-West, who was a distinguished Minister--
Mr. Winterton : I apologise, I thought that the name might have been changed, although I always recall it as Pudsey. My hon. Friend the Minister will ignore the views that have been expressed at his peril, and so will the Government.
Sir Giles Shaw : I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). Although I have not participated in a textiles debate for some time, I can assure my hon. Friend that during that time the name of my constituency has not been altered.
Mr. Winterton : My hon. Friend has made his point very well. Renewal of the MFA is vital to the future of free trade in the textile and clothing industries. The leverage and influence that it provides can be used to ensure that clear and quantifiable progress is made in dismantling and eliminating the trading abuses that still exist and that allow the dumping of goods--which has been emphasised during the debate--to continue almost unchecked, although technically it is condemned under the GATT rules, which, in too many cases, have proved to be a toothless watchdog. It is time that we tightened up on those abuses. The renewal of the MFA could be used to encourage the establishment of rules to allow action which is swift and effective in coping with attempts to undermine markets through the dumping of seasonal and fashion goods in particular.
I and other hon. Members who seek to assist the industry are deeply concerned that current European proposals do not go nearly far enough in allowing
Column 1225increased scope for the use, for example, of constructed prices in anti-dumping cases, and penalising the use of dumped components--all important points in the debate. We have a long way to go in eliminating the grossly unfair subsidies which are made available by some Governments to reduce the cost of exports from their own textile and clothing industries. That practice is unacceptable, but it continues to be widespread. I am sure that others who speak in today's debate will provide specific details.
I wish to move on, as two further gross trade distortions must be put on record. The first is the theft of designs and brand names, which is sadly becoming increasingly prevalent as the pace of fashion change heats up. Effective international rules must be established to outlaw that practice and to protect intellectual property rights. The second trade distortion is the straightforward closure of markets to the United Kingdom clothing and textile industry. We cannot possibly open up our markets totally to overseas competition while our own products face huge tariff and non-tariff barriers overseas. It is essential that the Uruguay round should lead to an opening of those markets to allow a true free flow in international trade.
I have highlighted to successive Ministers the gross distortions which exist, which mean that Brazil has implemented virtually a total ban on import , and that Turkey, through the imposition of an imaginative if totally unjust housing fund contribution, has priced our products out of its domestic market. Yet we are expected to open our markets to them. That is grossly unfair, and, whatever the EC might say, we must do something about it to ensure that it does not continue.
The rules of the GATT agreement must be made more workable. We need to consider the possibility of selective action against particular countries whose exports cause or threaten disruption and to suspend in specified circumstances the requirement to compensate the countries which are affected.
It is interesting to note that Professor Silberston, who so often has been portrayed as the bete noir of the textile and clothing industries, now shares the concerns that have been expressed about the trade. He now supports in principle the need to link the future of the multi-fibre arrangement with verifiable progress in strengthening GATT rules and disciplines. Needless to say, I believe that Professor Silberston has once again seriously under-estimated the impact of phasing out the MFA on jobs in Britain. Even his own figure of 33,000 resulting job losses is one which we must not begin to countenance.
I understand that the Retail Consortium, which has just hot-footed it back from a meeting with our former colleague and now European Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, and which is a long-standing opponent of the MFA, has also accepted that the immediate abolition of the MFA would cause such disruption to the United Kingdom industries that it would be counter- productive, even from its own limited viewpoint. In a call to my office yesterday afternoon, the consortium accepted that renewal of the MFA in 1991 is necessary and said that its subsequent phasing out must be gradual. The Consortium's time scale of five years, like that of Professor Silberston, displays a continuing ignorance of the way in which in reality our domestic clothing and textile industries function in international markets.
Column 1226After careful thought, I take the view that we must look forward to a period of at least 10 years beyond the time at which GATT rules are strengthened before we can assess whether the changes have worked and it is prudent to begin to bring an end to the MFA. Any earlier move would be imprudent, precipitate and downright irresponsible. As my hon. Friend the Minister well knows, that view is now shared by several developing countries who fear for a future in which their infant industries would be left to flounder if exposed too soon to unrestricted trade.
It is interesting to note that the Retail Consortium, the textile industry, a number of developing countries and even Professor Silberston, all take the view that premature abandonment of the MFA would cause serious damage to our economy and world trading patterns. That would be in nobody's trading interest, and that makes support for the renewal of the MFA in 1991 the sensible and inescapable conclusion of our debate.
I should like to ask the Minister two specific questions. Will he give us an assurance in clear terms that he accepts that the future of the MFA must be linked to clear and quantifiable improvements in the working of the GATT rules? Secondly, I express my concern and ask the Minister about current rumours that would affect the position of the United States of America. It is mooted that the American Administration are currently proposing that the MFA should be replaced by a series of global quotas.
Can the Minister shed any light on that rumour, because such a change would be disastrous for United Kingdom exports? It would leave us and the rest of the European Community vulnerable to all the goods diverted from the United States and would throw world trade in textiles and clothing into chaos. Will the Minister give a firm assurance that he will stand against any such ludicrous proposal? This debate is unique because every speaker will be strongly in favour of the MFA. That is not only a message to the Government, but a clear message to the European Community, and I trust and pray that it will not be ignored.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : In opening the debate the Minister spoke about the debates that we have had in recent months on the textile and clothing industries. All those debates unfolded in a familiar way. There are many familiar faces in the Chamber ; I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) is again with us and that other hon. Members representing clothing and textile constituencies are clamouring for more help and understanding by the Government. The Minister dishes out buckets of praise and sympathy but has displayed little understanding and little hope of action for the industries.
Reference has been made to the Minister's predecessor, who is now the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. In past debates that Minister showed a forthright understanding of the textile and clothing industries. He reported robustly to us on many occasions the international efforts that he was making to defend British textiles and clothings. By contrast, I am sorry to say that the Minister who opened this debate gave a good impression of someone who will be happy to preside over the continuing decline of industries which, sadly, have
Column 1227been in decline for many years. I hope that when the Minister speaks to us again, his views will have changed dramatically. The 485,000 men and women who work in textiles and clothing want clear assurances, not only from the Minister but from the Government as a whole. Because of the importance of the industry, such assurances should come from the Prime Minister, who should say that the Government do not regard those industries as expendable. That is the suspicion in the minds of many people who depend for their livelihood on the prosperity and future of those industries. We must know clearly whether our textile and clothing industries are expendable in favour of Britain's financial services. Many people in the industry think that there is the risk of such a deal. The textile and clothing industries face great difficulty. Successive Ministers have sought to argue that matters are in the hands of others and there is nothing that the industries themselves can do. I challenge that view. There are a number of steps that the Government can take to help the industries and stop or lessen some of the damage that is being done. Over the last year, 400 jobs a week have been lost in the textile and clothing industries, which describe the prospects for the coming year as extremely worrying.
Mills are closing, workers are being made redundant and still more are being put on short-time working. Recent changes in the social security benefits system are heaping penalties on workers who are forced into short- time working. I appeal to the Minister to take note of that and to ensure that those recent benefit changes are again changed so that short-time textile workers are not penalised. The Government can take other action. I was contacted this week by a carpet manufacturer in my constituency who is owed £48,000 in VAT as a result of his company's sharply improved export performance. The company has been waiting since 19 December for that money to be repaid by the VAT office. I have written to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about this matter, and I hope that the Minister will intervene to ensure that that money is repaid to that firm as soon as possible so that it can continue in business.
I support the view expressed by hon. Members that the MFA must be continued, and whether that is as part of GATT or independently does not matter. What is important is that the framework of protection and assistance given by the MFA continues for the foreseeable future. Some obvious strengthening measures must be taken to safeguard the industries, especially against dumping, subsidies, theft of design and brand names, and the closure of markets.
The Minister should give a much stronger assurance than the one he gave earlier about the insertion of a social clause into either GATT or a renewed MFA. In view of welcome changing events in recent months, not least in Europe, the insertion of a clear and forceful social clause is vital.
The purpose of such a clause is not to restrict the export opportunities of developing countries, but to act as a positive lever for improvements in working conditions. It is a stated objective of the GATT and of the Uruguay
Column 1228round to improve social conditions in the developing countries by introducing a social clause to achieve basic International Labour Organisation standards for employment rights, child labour and freedom of association.
The clothing and textile industry is vitally important for a number of regions, particularly Yorkshire, the north west, midlands, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where it plays an important part in the local economy. When Ministers speak of consumers, they should understand that textile workers themselves are consumers--and if they are forced into short-time working and unemployment, the local economies that we represent will be badly damaged. The areas concerned have suffered massive unemployment through the Thatcher years, and I appeal to the Minister and to the Government to begin to understand the enormous problems that those communities have striven to overcome.
For those communities, the future is extremely worrying. The men and women whose livelihoods depend on the industry's future want to be reassured that the Government will give a firm lead. They may not have done so in the past, but the need to do so now is greater than ever. The Government must ensure that, in the GATT negotiations, there are firm undertakings on the matters about which I and hon. Members who have spoken, or that the MFA will continue independently. The arrangement is not a protectionist measure, and never has been, but it allows for limited textile imports.
The latest figures show textile imports in this country amounting to £3,500 million--representing almost one fifth of our trade deficit. Britain is often regarded as a soft touch. If Marks and Spencer increases the number of imported goods it buys by 1 per cent., that will add more than £20 million to Britain's trade deficit. That illustrates the dimension of the problem and the importance of the industry, which is the fifth largest manufacturing industry in this country. It is not expendable.
The Government must respond to the pleas made today by hon. Members in all parts of the House, and to those made in previous debates, with determination and conviction, and in the understanding that their endeavours will help to sustain fragile local and regional economies. Right hon. and hon. Members who represent the textile and clothing industry, which has served this country well, look to the Government to serve it in the same manner.
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : I agree with many of the comments of the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). I welcome back to the House my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr), who is in good voice and heart, and who started the debate off well. The strength of feeling expressed today and the cross-party united view demonstrates the importance that right hon. and hon. Members attach to the clothing and textile industries that they represent in different areas of the country. I represent the cloth and knitwear sector and, like the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), a constituency in which the mills account for a high proportion of employment and in which any short-time working or redundancies would have serious repercussions.
I am worried about the lukewarm approach of my hon. Friend the Minister towards the multi-fibre arrangement. Without it, unemployment in the industry would be much
Column 1229higher, even though it has reached serious levels. The Government must adopt a higher profile and lead from the front in Europe, to secure an even better MFA than the present one at the next GATT round in Uruguay. Everything must be done to prevent escalating imports and unfair competition.
The cloth and knitwear sectors are facing severe
difficulties--knitwear most of all. They need, above all, confidence. I hope that the debate will stimulate that, and that the Minister will do everything that he can to restore confidence. Right hon. and hon. Members have been presented with a number of valuable documents relevant to the debate from the Scottish Knitwear Association, the Apparel, Knitting and Textile Alliance and the Confederation of British Wool Textiles, as well as from individual companies. It all points to the concern that is felt about the industry's economic future and the future of the MFA. I have received individual confirmations of that anxiety from speaking to managing directors and managers of mills in my constituency.
I approve of the Government's overall economic objective. They have brought down inflation, and in my constituency unemployment has halved over the past three years. I accept that an important ingredient in the success of those policies is containing interest rates. They were high when we came to office and were then brought down, but have risen again. The textile industry wants nothing more than to see interest rates again being reduced, coupled with a stable exchange rate. That is the common denominator of the industry's complaints, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will convey that view to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, the Government are unable to do anything about the warm weather of the past 18 months, which certainly affected knitwear sales, or about fashion trends. However, the industry is not sitting back and doing nothing, for I doubt whether any other industry does so much in export and design. I am sure that things will turn in the industry's favour in the coming year. It is working on the development of non-traditional fine yarns and cloths to meet changing fashions. Nevertheless, it still has to meet the very high costs of imported cashmere, which have escalated dramatically over the past five years. I am glad that in the agricultural sense we are diversifying in Scotland into cashmere, but it will take a considerable time for that innovation to have a significant effect on the domestic industry. The textile industry has a fine labour force, which has held back on wage claims in the past year or two, when the situation has been difficult. Mills are retaining their employees, perhaps against their better judgment, but mindful that in the long term there will be a shortage of skilled labour. They are desperately hanging on in the expectation that things will improve--but they cannot do so for ever. What action can the Government take? We have all read the Silberston report and have made up our minds about it. I strongly disagree that we should fade out the MFA and its links with the GATT. The opposite is true. We must play our part in Europe and retain the MFA and insist that it is effective. That point has come out strongly in the debate. We must strengthen it and ensure that
Column 1230implementation is fair and that we are all on the same level playing field. In that way, all sectors and countries will have a better balance of opportunity.
As many hon. Members have said, we must halt the escalation of imports. They come into this country under various shades of regulation, but basically it is all a matter of dumping in one way or another--let us not mince words about it. We must quickly stop dumping. It takes years before there is effective action and the Government must do what they can to speed up effective measures to prevent dumping and enforce GATT. We must eliminate the export subsidies achieved by other countries. Goods from China are selling at less than the cost of the raw materials, and that cannot be allowed to continue because it is unfair and destroys our industry. We must act quickly when there is a breach of the rules. As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said, we must watch like hawks the moves towards further protectionism in America. By coupling our economic policies with stimulation of demand, which is necessary for the industry to pick up, we can bring back confidence to the industry. This is a great opportunity for the Government to start us off in the right direction. Firm words from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State about the determination to lead from the front in Europe on MFA would be the best possible start.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and to join a growing chorus in the House in favour of renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement. I speak as one who represents a constituency where the knitwear, textile and clothing industry is the main employer, following the drastic, unnecessary and short-sighted closure of deep mining in Ayrshire. My hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) and for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) have asked me to speak on their behalf. Five thousand people in Ayrshire work in the knitwear industry. The Ayrshire knitwear industry deals almost solely with cut and sew rather than fully fashioned knitwear, and is therefore much more vulnerable to the flood of cheap imports.
The Under-Secretary of State asked what factors he should consider in the negotiations. I hope that he will take account of my point. He seemed to speak only of high-value exports from the United Kingdom, but a large part of the industry produces cheaper garments. Thousands more people in Ayrshire are employed in textile and clothing production. On behalf of Afton Dyers in New Cumnock, I have already written to the Minister expressing concern about the flood of imports of cheap socks from Turkey. Manufacturers of jeans, ladies' nightwear--I shall make no further comment, because Scottish Members should keep away from that subject--and other clothing in my constituency are under intense pressure, because of reduced margins, short-time working and lay-offs.
I remind the House that the Cumnock and Sanquhar travel-to-work area has the highest level of unemployment of any such area in mainland Britain. We are particularly anxious about the threat to jobs, as a former Minister, the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), knows only too well.
Column 1231Last week I had a meeting, at their request, with representatives of the Scottish Knitwear Association, including Cumnock Knitwear and Kyle Knitwear, and of the employees. They asked me to bring this urgent plea to the House and the Government about their worries. This is a crucial time for the industry, which is facing difficult trading conditions because of warm weather and fashion changes, as the hon. Member for Dumfries said. We can do nothing about that, but we must take account of factors on which we can have some influence. Abandoning the multi-fibre arrangement would have a devastating effect on an area of already high and chronic unemployment. As Scottish Members know, there has been understandable and widespread concern in Scotland about the threat to the Ravenscraig steelworks. There has been an all-party outcry and a campaign to preserve steel operations. I would argue that the threat of abandonment of the MFA in Scotland is an even greater danger to employment in Scotland than the closure of Ravenscraig.
That point is not fully appreciated because of the spread of employers throughout Britain and the lower profile of this sector. The hardship, the economic effect and the other problems would be just as severe. The industry has told me that it reckons that the 30, 000 jobs about which Silberston talks would be lost in Scotland alone, not just in the United Kingdom.
As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I rarely speak from the Back Benches because I am a Front Bench spokesman on foreign affairs. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] Thank you. I am a spokesman on aid and development, which is appreciated by Conservative Members. In that role, I am constantly made aware of the needs of developing countries, so I know of their concern about protectionism and of their wish to have access to the rich markets of the West.
That has to be balanced against our constituency interests, but as other hon. Members have said, the MFA allows controlled growth in access to the market without excessive disruption of employment. Other hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) have said that the employees in the textile industry are themselves consumers and their purchasing power is important. With controlled growth, we can ensure that priority in growth is given to the poorer countries rather than to the newly industrialised countries whose economies, in some cases, are stronger than our own, especially with the present Government's economic policies. As other hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) have said, we must ensure that the market throughout the world is not swamped by the colossus of China. That would have a devastating effect in other countries, as well as ours.
I want to reinforce above all what others have said about the need to ensure that, before the full rigours of the free market come into effect, there is a level playing field. That means that the present inadequate controls against dumping must be tightened. It also means that there must be no subsidies such as the subsidy in South Korea which I mentioned in an intervention, or the subsidy in Turkey, which the German Government are giving to encourage the return of the guest workers. We must ensure that all
Column 1232those subsidies are eliminated, that all markets are opened up and, as the Minister said--I hope that he will say it in other councils as well as here--that intellectual property is safeguarded.
Above all, that policy needs to be pursued vigorously by the British Government. The producers have told me that they detect a lack of determination in the Government's approach. I have a great respect for the Minister's intellect and capability, but there seemed a lack of energy and determination in his speech. The industry feels that this sector is being sacrificed to others. The Prime Minister, for example, considers that civil engineering contracts in Turkey can be traded off against United Kingdom textile jobs. That is not acceptable. The Government must fight hard.
We make representations by remote control through the European Community, but that increases the need for the Minister to be even more active in fighting on behalf of the industry to retain the MFA or a similar arrangement that is far more effective than GATT. If that is not done, there will be not only unacceptable job losses but, as was said earlier, as a result of increased imports and the decline in exports, there will be an increase in our already abysmal trade deficit.
The Minister must act with more vigour than he has displayed today to protect this vital industry. Above all, he must represent what will be seen at the end of the debate as the unanimous view of the British House of Commons.
In view of the importance of textiles to my constituency, it is perhaps appropriate that my first Back-Bench speech after six years of ministerial office should be on this subject. No other parliamentary constituency has as many employees in textiles as we have in Pendle. The 1987 figures--the latest figures--showed that about 3,800 employees were in textiles, which represented 24 per cent. of total manufacturing employment and 13 per cent. of overall employment. Hence, the health and prosperity of the industry are of particular concern to me.
In preparing my speech, I referred again to my maiden speech in June 1979, in which I pointed out that the textile companies then would not invest the substantial sums necessary to re-equip and increasingly automate their plants unless they saw a permanent future for their products. I went on :
"That is why the commitment to continue with the multi-fibre arrangement well into the 1980s is vital."--[ Official Report 14 June 1979 ; Vol. 968, cc 690-1.]
As the House knows only too well, the early 1980s were a sad and difficult time for our textile industry. There was mill closure after mill closure and painful redundancies as the industry carried through brutal, if necessary, restructuring, in the teeth of the recession. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) here. He knows full well the impact that the recession and the closures had on our region of Lancashire.
Management appreciated that there was no future in mass-produced, low-value products and concentrated on higher-value products, often in niche markets, taking full advantage of the most modern manufacturing techniques,
Column 1233with increasing emphasis on quality, design and colour. The industry also faced up to the increasing globalisation of companies and markets. Perhaps no industry is so truly international as the textile industry, with major companies taking full advantage of the lowest raw material and making-up costs on the world scene. Many of our major companies act as both importers and manufacturers. Heavy and continuous capital investment has produced dramatic increases in productivity. For example, at the Carrington Viyella fabrics Holmefield mill operation at Barrowford which I visited last week and which is part of the Coats Viyella group, productivity per employee will have risen by 50 per cent. in the four years from 1987 to 1990.
Perhaps no industry is quite so sensitive to factors outside its direct control as the textiles industry. It is sensitive to imports, exchange rates, interest rates and climate--let alone fashion. In Pendle today, firms such as Smith and Nephew, Albert Hartley, Thomas Mason, J. B. Battye, Verber Bairdtex, Dawes and Company, Lontex, Clover Brook, Mitchell Interflex, William Reed, Johnson and Johnson, Peter Reed and others battle away in intensely competitive markets. I think that it is agreed that, despite its imperfections, the present MFA has given a measure of protection, and during the mid and late 1980s, in broad-brush terms, the industry experienced better trading. Now there is increasing anxiety, however, with a question mark over the future of the MFA post-1991.
I welcome the fact that 25 of western Europe's most powerful textile groups came together in December to finalise plans for a new organisation to represent the industry on trade issues, including forthcoming negotiations on the future of the MFA--companies such as Marzolto and Benetton of Italy, DMC and Chargeur of France, and Courtaulds and Coats Viyella of the United Kingdom.
Nobody in the industry believes that the world's textile trade is fair as between companies and countries, when hidden subsidies abound, when a country such as Turkey imposes substantial duties on EC textiles and clothing imports, compared with a nil duty for Turkish exports to the EEC and when anti-dumping cases take so long to prosecute. I have considerable regard for my hon. Friend the Minister, but his officials at the Department have a lousy record when it comes to prosecuting dumping cases. I can only think that the Barlow Clowes team has been promoted to the task.
I can do no better than to quote Dr. John Finnegan, the chief executive of Carrington Viyella fabrics and a vice-president of the Council for British Cotton Textiles, who summarised his views to me :
"Whilst we understand the UK Government's and European Commission's desire to move to a free trade arena, their pace towards this goal takes no account of the realities of overseas trading practices where local subsidies are given to producers, and significant barriers to our own exports exist We cannot see the point in freeing EC import restrictions without such moves being reciprocated in our export markets. We are not asking for any privileges or support, just simply that we are allowed to play on a flat and level pitch with an unbiased referee."
What happens to our textile industry in future is vital for the United Kingdom economy in terms of employment and balance of payments. Textiles and clothing constitute no less than 23 per cent. of our overall adverse trade balance.
Column 1234I have some recommendations for my hon. Friend the Minister as we look to the future. First, if negotiated on an EC basis, each country must retain its own quotas so that no member state can be the target for total EC quota. Secondly, if the MFA is to be scrapped, that must happen over a long period--say five to 10 years--during which time the GATT rules must be strengthened. There must be a reciprocal opening up of domestic markets in low-cost exporting countries. Thirdly, the tightening of procedures and reciprocal duty rates must be in place and working before the MFA is phased out. Finally--this is perhaps particularly apposite at the moment--we must maintain our quotas against newly liberalised eastern bloc countries or they will be another cause of job losses.
I repeat that I have a considerable regard for the intellectual ability of my hon. Friend the Minister. He said earlier that, at times, he would fight like a tiger. When he replies, I hope that he will sound rather more like a tiger ; the future of the MFA may be of limited concern to his constituents, but it is of considerable concern to my constituents.
I was born in Bradford and I am proud to represent part of Bradford that is the centre of the wool and textile industry. I was brought up in Saltaire, a textile village, where what was once the biggest integrated textile mill in Europe now stands gaunt and idle. Some 14,000 people in Bradford depend on textiles directly--perhaps double that number in other respects--for employment. The industry is vitally important. I am committed to a confident, modern, well-paid textile industry which does not have short- time working. A statutory instrument was introduced at the end of 1989 which limited unemployment benefit to a maximum of £43 a week. That was disgraceful, because it has badly hit textile workers and others who are forced to work short time, although they may not want to do so.
I urgently call for a renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement. It is better to have arrangements for solving trade problems by agreement than to indulge in trade wars that are potentially highly damaging to our industry. The MFA has helped developing nations, not hindered them, by providing increased and improving quotas. We face the problem of imports from developed nations and that problem must be considered.
The Minister said that there was no calculable proof of the efficiency and effectiveness of the MFA. He should ask his civil servants in the industry section of the Department of Trade and Industry to calculate the number of jobs lost in relation to the quantity of exports. An increase in exports to the United Kingdom might bear a direct comparison to the number of jobs lost. It is very important that a social clause should be incorporated into the MFA. Child labour is used in some developing nations such as in South Korea. There are no adequate health and safety standards in those countries and I resent the National Consumer Council urging in more cheap imports on the back of child labour and shoddy and dangerous working conditions.
I thought that the Minister concentrated excessively on the alleged lower prices of imports as outlined by Professor Silberston. The cost of job losses is very great. It includes
Column 1235a waste of skills, the level of unemployment benefit, retraining costs and health costs for workers and other family members who are adversely affected.
As I said in an earlier intervention, textile workers have collaborated with changes in shifts, with new machinery and new working patterns. No one could describe their wages as excessive. On every criterion, the textile industry reflects help and collaboration on both sides of the industry. However, workers have often been kicked in the teeth by mill closure after mill closure, and the Minister should bear that in mind. The Minister's speech was not clear. It may be because of his style that he sounds lacklustre, but he did not provide an assurance that he will clearly and positively support the industry in the future.
The EEC must negotiate the new agreement with important, effective measures of application. People have criticised the Department of Trade and Industry. We handed powers to the Common Market when we should not have done so. People who support the Common Market must direct their criticism at that institution to ensure that they negotiate the multi-fibre arrangement satisfactorily and produce an effective means of application.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) referred to anti-dumping cases taking years, and jobs being lost in the process. Bradford is concerned with woollen textiles. The Prato region of Italy has been subsidised for many years. That problem has not been dealt with effectively by the Commission, because it is difficult to obtain proof. With increasing water prices and privatisation, many people in the woollen textile industry are looking apprehensively at 1992 and regarding it as a nightmare and not a benefit.
I emphasise that the burden of sharing arrangements for imports into the Common Market must be continued. The United Kingdom has the most efficient retailing system in the EC. Therefore, why should our manufacturing industry be damaged because importers find a soft retailing arrangement in the United Kingdom? They can go to five major retailers in the United Kingdom and get distribution to every major town and city throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. That cannot be done in any other Common Market country. It is absolutely vital that the burden-sharing arrangements are retained after 1992 and coupled with the existing multi- fibre arrangement. People in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Scotland and other regions have pride in their skill and traditions in producing fine textiles of high quality. Of course we must develop our design potential, but we have pride in skills and ability. We have a tradition of knowledge. I am determined, and I hope that the House is determined, that those skills should be retained and have application in job opportunities in the textile industry.
Mr. Donald Thompson (Calder Valley) : My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) said that we discussed the same topic 10 years ago. That is quite true. It is because the Conservative Government have renewed the multi-fibre arrangement on two occasions before this. Therefore, we have had similar debates. My credentials for speaking in the debate are as strong as those of the hon.
Column 1236Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) or anyone else. My constituency is in the centre of the Yorkshire textile industry. In 1914, when she was 12, my mother started work as a weaver. She worked in the textile industry until she was married. She thought that I was a bit Left-wing.
My area makes textile products of all sorts. In 1988, I held a celebration of textiles on the Terrace of the House of Commons. We had printed clothes, woollen clothes and woven fabrics. There were 50 different ensembles from my constituency, and manufacturers brought buyers from all over the world. Our firms are old family businesses, new one-man and one-woman businesses, national companies and multinational companies. All export and all work hard to encourage people to buy British. In the 1980s I visited a firm that was closing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee) said, 26 ladies worked in that firm. All of them were wearing imported jeans. We should buy British more often.
It cannot be that all my companies will remain as they are at present. Various factors, from the developments in Eastern Europe, which the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) mentioned, to the hot summers, which the last remaining Liberal, the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) mentioned, change trade all the time.
I expect to see an expansion in some areas, but unfortunately I also expect to see significant restructuring and--I know that my hon Friend the Member for Pudsey asked us not to put too fine a point on this--a significant number of redundancies in my constituency shortly because of the changes in fashion and the hot summers. Jobs will disappear for both training and technical reasons. I am fortunate in the level of employment in my constituency. Between 95 and 96 per cent. of all those who want to work are working.
However, many of those jobs rely on the same factors that affect the textile trade, and high on the list of factors for keeping those jobs is access to other markets. We should begin to deal with that at home--here in the EC. The fastest growing sector of employment in the country and in Calderdale is financial services. That industry cries out for the same level playing field as textiles. That is what we need if we are to keep jobs in that industry.
The EC cannot continue to sanction a totally unbalanced agreement with Turkey. I know that other hon. Members have had and will have more to say on this detailed point. Like other hon. Members, I have received a significant amount of correspondence from the textile firms in my constituency, much of it about Turkey. I simply want to point out the position to the Commission. Here I agree with the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), but from an entirely different standpoint, that the Commission cannot go on pussyfooting and prevaricating, because that is costing me jobs and those jobs will not be replaced until the EC allows free trade within its own boundaries, not just for the textile industry but for financial services and other industries. Those other industries should not be instead of the textile industry, but should run alongside it. We must ensure that the same level playing field prevails for all our industries.
An effective MFA and/or a strong framework in the Uruguay round of GATT is necessary. As other hon. Members have said, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey so eloquently put it, we need that protection through GATT and the MFA because otherwise it would
Column 1237be like playing a game of American football as the only chap without protection or padding. It would be difficult for us to score.
Europe must put its own house in order as part of that process because unless we do so we cannot argue with strength. All businesses rely on capital equipment and on the price of raw materials, power and labour. We cannot negotiate demand elsewhere in the world unless we in Europe have a level playing field in those things. Firth Carpets in my constituency, the manufacturer of the very carpet upon which the Minister now has his feet, was subjected to unfair competition by a German firm within a few months of laying that carpet. The German firm received £1 million and the EC did nothing about it. We cannot have such unfair competition in Europe. Raw materials will be discussed at the GATT round, and I shall not go on about that issue. Power is an emotive subject and United Kingdom suppliers should ensure that they are at least
Euro-competitive. However, it is up to the Commission to see that there are no hidden subsidies on power, as there seem to be in France at present.
We have debated social clauses before. I was glad that the hon. Member for Bradford, South again brought up the subject of the "perpetual Prato" in northern Italy and the way in which it ignores social standards. I am worried when I hear Opposition Members say that we should have a social charter when there are still such people in Europe. I saw nothing in the article that I read in the Financial Times in November last year about the heavy South Korean aid for textiles, nothing about the £15 billion or the £23 billion to help replace outdated production lines. I saw no evidence of the Korean Government doing anything for a social charter. We may find pronouncements such as that by South Korea nearer to home when state trading companies shape themselves into some other animal--perhaps tigers.
My textile workers and companies are frustrated by the Commission's lack of action on their behalf. I ask the Opposition not to complain when our Ministers attack the Commission in Europe. They should not call us little Englanders, as that is what they have asked my hon. Friend to do all day today. The EEC will have to be vigilant. The textile industry looks after itself and is looking after itself in a remarkable number of ways. With other hon. Members, I recently went to a seminar on trading in the clothing industry in London, where I was delighted to learn that the much vaunted German trading systems are not flexible, cannot adapt to retraining people who come into the industry and are not as effective as ours. All they are is more expensive.
The future also depends on our industry exhibiting throughout the world, which it already does very well. I have had complaints about the British Overseas Trade Board. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister has received similar complaints from hon. Members on both sides of the House and that he will deal with them. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire knows all about quotas in a fishy sense and how they lead to more and more complications. We must be careful when asking for quotas, even in the MFA or the GATT round, that our industry is not restricted as to what it can produce, as was the steel industry until very recently. It would be in the interests of many countries to restrict production to the 1 January 1990 level. An arbitrary date was chosen for milk quotas.
Column 1238The textile industry is essential to Britain. We have to have high technology industries, and the textile industry is one of them. We have to have industries that are ready for change, and the textile industry is one of them. My time is up.