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I, too, welcome the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr). The House may know that for several years we have been joint chairmen of the all-party knitwear industry federation, the aim of which has been to support the industry in whatever way we can. It is obvious from the attendance today what is happening and what hon. Members feel about the effects of the proposals on their constituencies. Hon. Members know that things are going wrong. I must tell the Minister this--he has to change his ways. He did not do any good at the Dispatch Box this morning. We have heard Minister after Minister speak on behalf of the textile industry from the Dispatch Box. Now we have another one who is going in the wrong direction. I hope that he has got the message about what hon. Members feel. The House will decide which direction to take.
Mr. Haynes : Oh it will. The Government will have to listen. They will have to go in the direction that we want them to take. The Minister is representing the Government, and he portrayed Government policy this morning. They can start to change their minds. We want our industries to have a fair deal. The Government are destroying the mining industry. It used to be the main industry in my constituency, but it has almost gone. The next biggest industry is textiles, hosiery and knitwear. Slowly but surely, the Government are allowing it to be destroyed as well because they are not helping as they should.
Ministers stand at the Dispatch Box and talk about all the help that they are to give to eastern European countries,but I hope that that help will not enable those countries to dump all their textiles on our shores. We have had enough of that. Since 1978 imports from those countries have increased year by year. The Minister brushed those massive imports to one side today, but he must listen to hon. Members. We want a fair opportunity to be given to the workers, trade unions and management of the textile industry rather than a move towards the destruction of that industry.
The Minister talked about being competitive--that is all we get at the Dispatch Box. Sometimes industry needs help, but the help that has been given for many years is being taken away slowly but surely. The Minister must realise that the countries that dump their textiles on our shores get massive subsidies from their Governments. How can we compete against that? It is the same with coal mining. The new port on Humberside will allow the massive importation of coal at the expense of our industry. The same thing is happening with textiles, and it is not good enough.
I know that the Minister came to my constituency to have a look round. He should come back to see the textile industry and the mess that has been allowed to develop
Column 1239because the Government are not pulling out all the stops. One of his hon. Friends has already told him that he must get stuck in. He must do that or else he will get his backside kicked--he will get it kicked from Ashfield, I can assure him of that. That is what will happen unless he starts travelling in the right direction. A lot of people are pulling out all the stops and, back in the constituencies, they are working like billy-o. But they are standing still because they are not getting the proper support from the Government.
I hope that the Minister has got the message and I hope that he will do something about it because we are crying out for help. For God's sake give it to us.
In the east midlands, one in four jobs are connected with textiles, representing 9 per cent. of all manufacturing jobs. My family comes from Lancashire and it has been through all this before. There is a strong feeling that the textile industry is given no support, that somehow it is seen as an old-fashioned, sunset industry. That is not only unfair, but incorrect.
We have seen recent company closures in the east midlands. Kemptons went into liquidation and 1,200 people lost their jobs. Texted Jersey of Corby recently closed with a loss of 120 jobs. Those closures are the tip of the iceberg, as there is a great deal of out-work in the industry. Those people are the first to go, then the part-timers. It is only when a company closes that it might make the headlines. Many textile companies are small, however, and they disappear gradually. The unemployment figures show only the cumulative effect of such company closures.
There is a feeling that there is a lack of sympathy for the industry in the Department of Trade and Industry. A recent issue has been the import of socks from Indonesia. Such imports have risen from 4.5 million to 9.5 million a year. In that time, those imports have more than doubled. The average price of those socks is 28p, which does not even cover the cost of the raw material. The replies from the Department about that matter could hardly be described as sympathetic.
If we are to respond to such subsidised imports, the Department must move much more quickly. If one sits around waiting to produce an intellectual study of the implications of those imports, the affected companies will be already bankrupt.
The Department must respond quickly. It should remember that we are talking about a major industry that employs 500,000 people. Employees in that industry represent 9 per cent. of the manufacturing work force, which is a lot. There are annual sales of £14 billion, which could be increased.
The MFA has brought substantial benefits since its introduction, not least because it has averted an international trade conflict. That would have followed as night follows day if the MFA had not been introduced. If the MFA is wound up too quickly, that type of conflict will be the result. Without it, the weaknesses in GATT will
Column 1240produce a proliferation of unilateral measures. We need only to think of the Bills produced in the United States Congress last year to realise what the result would be. That would affect our exports as well.
The other day I received a letter from someone in an associated trade. He was referring to the situation in Hong Kong and how it should be dealt with and to the suggestion that 50,000 heads of families should be allowed into this country. He concluded his letter by saying :
"Ministers tell us that if we do not give assurances to these hand-picked people, the economy of Hong Kong may suffer. Dare I say--so what?"
That is the response of someone on the receiving end of some of the trade that Hong Kong has conducted.
The MFA has kept disruption to a lower level. Without it, not only unemployment but--I speak as a Nottingham Member--the problems of the inner city would be exacerbated and the social consequences felt. For the poorer developing countries, the MFA has provided guaranteed and growing access to the world markets. The danger for them is that otherwise they would be crushed and ground between the millstones of the newly industrialised countries.
Under the Uruguay round, the MFA is supposed to be integrated into GATT. The GATT rules and disciplines will be strengthened and the MFA-imposed restrictions can be phased out. That may happen, but even if it does, there would be a year between the conclusion of the Uruguay round and the MFA being renewed. One year is not long enough to determine whether those measures would have the desired effect. The MFA must be renewed. If the GATT rules have done their job, we can start talking about phasing out the MFA, but not until then. It is essential for the Community and for the United States to develop and implement their textile trade policies in a harmonised way ; otherwise, we will be played off against each other. We are the two great markets and we would each start taking protectionist measures without controlling dumping subsidies or non-tariff barriers. Once those problems have been solved, the British textile industry can gain substantial markets. The industry is confident that it can.
In 1989, the industry had almost £4 billion of exports. I must make it clear to the House that our textile industry is our most successful single- industry exporter to Japan. Let no one do the industry down. When it has a level playing field and when there is free and fair trade, our industry can more than hold its own. Our plea to the Minister is to ensure that the playing field is level. 12.33 pm
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be conscious of the sense of unanimity and harmony that has been shown by Scottish Members today. However, that will not continue into other debates. The hon. Members for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), and for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and I are here because we want to speak strongly on behalf of our constituents and all those in Scotland who are employed in the textile industry.
The latest figures from the Library show that more than 55,000 people are employed in the textile industry in Scotland. That represents 14 per cent. of the manufacturing base in Scotland. Hon. Members have already touched on the industry's overall significance, but when we realise
Column 1241that 14 per cent. of the manufacturing base in Scotland is represented by textiles, people will appreciate why there is unanimity among the four of us today.
Moray is the most northerly constituency of the Grampian region. I do not know whether the Minister has ever had the opportunity to watch the exciting presentation prepared by the Grampian Initiative. If he has, he will know that strong reference is made to the importance to our area of the textile industry. In that presentation one of our proud boasts was that from the Grampian region we have sold warm woolly overcoats to the people of Russia. I do not know whether President Gorbachev is going round in one of the Crombies we produce in the north-east of Scotland. If it were possible to persuade Ministers and the Cabinet to adopt the same decentralist philosophy that the President of Russia shows, I would gladly supply them with coats from our area.
Like others who have spoken, I pay tribute to those who work in the textile industry--both at management and shop floor level. It is important to remember that people have tried hard to respond to the new challenges in the industry. They have not been slow to respond to the changing demands. I have seen great determination and vision shown by those in the industry.
In my area, small companies have managed to make major breakthroughs into the more general fashion market through contracts with organisations such as Tie Rack and Next--household names. Sixty per cent. of all goods produced in my constituency are exported. The work is being diversified because, like those mentioned by the hon. Member for Dumfries, many of the companies in my area are looking carefully at the prospects for cashmere. One of them is already competing effectively with fashion knitwear companies in Italy and France because of the high quality of its product.
One difficulty we have experienced is the high cost of cashmere during the past few years. In correspondence with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Scottish Office, we were disappointed when we asked whether there was any possibility of fallow ground, which is part of the set-aside scheme in agriculture, being used for grazing cashmere goats. A strong attempt is being made to establish our own cashmere flocks to to reduce the cost. It will take a long time to reach the required levels, and we should be given more assistance.
Investment in new machinery has been made by many of the companies to make them more competitive. One comment I received from the mills this week was that the textile industry was not looking for feather-bedding and was not afraid of competition as long as it was fair. All the work done in the companies in my area shows that they do not expect feather-bedding, and have not received it. They want fair treatment to ensure that they can maintain the manufacturing base that exists in our area.
I am conscious of the other hon. Members who wish to speak, so I shall be brief. I was surprised at the debate's opening, because the Minister seemed to say--he can correct me if I am wrong--that he agreed with many of the findings of the Silberston report. I re-emphasise the point made by the Scottish Knitwear Council : that, if the multi-fibre arrangement is abolished, the upper projected figure of unemployment in the report--33,000 --will apply in Scotland alone. When the Minister winds up, I should
Column 1242like clear guidance about which aspects of the Silberston report the Government agree with and with which they disagree.
Like other hon. Members, I believe that the renewal of the MFA is essential for the continuation of our industry. The Uruguay round of negotiations must lead to a reduction in the unreasonably restrictive tariff and non- tariff barriers operated by competitors. We need better rules to allow prompt and effective action to be taken against dumping, particularly as we move towards 1992, and we need action against the clear subsidies which are being given in other countries.
Finally, I am often told that it is becoming increasingly difficult to attach "Made in Scotland" labels to our goods. Apparently that is because of regulations pertaining to the country of origin of the raw materials and various EC regulations. Right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have shown great pride in the work of their country or region. We all want the right for goods to be clearly labelled because it gives dignity to the work undertaken by the people in the mills and it is generally a sign of quality. We want quality to be recognised, because it wil be one of the most accepted ways in which we can compete in a hard commercial world. Will the Minister touch on the labelling of our goods, as it is an important issue?
May I add my request that the Minister goes in fighting very determinedly for the textile industry? The hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) said that the Minister was being urged to be a Little Englander. The Prime Minister boasts about negotiating tough and hard on our behalf. Generally speaking, I did not agree with the Prime Minister's attitude in the European Community or with the issues on which she fought, but if the Minister reflects the same toughness of attitude in fighting for the textile industry, the House will be greatly indebted to him.
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley) : I maintain today, as I have always done, that the British textile industry does not seek protection for its own sake, but wants to end the distortions of the free trade system. Some people in the House--although not today--and outside have failed to grasp that when, without examining the facts, they condemned our industry for opposing the opening of our markets to what they called fair competition.
A report from the National Economic Development Office shows that many countries have protected their home markets using every trick in the book, including high tariffs, quotas, restrictive licensing and distribution systems as well as import deposits and bans. By no means are the worst offenders the poorest countries. At the last renewal of MFA the British Government rightly pressed for special provision to be included for the most underdeveloped countries to expand their markets. However, tariffs of 100 per cent. or more destroy the jobs of British workers and to say, as the leader of the Liberal Democrats stated in 1986--I am sorry that the representative of his party, the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) is no longer present--that MFA 4 must not be renewed is effectively to give away all our bargaining counters. Not for a moment must we consider trading off or bargaining away our textile industry in return for other benefits.
Column 1243We must also recognise that a protectionist spiral would harm Britain perhaps more than any other country. We in Europe cannot sit back and allow our market to be swamped by diverted goods if the United States imposes unreasonable protectionist measures. Earlier legislation in Congress may have been halted, but United States protectionism is certainly not dead and buried and we must be vigilant.
At the beginning of the previous decade there was great scope for rooting out inefficiency as a means of improving productivity in our industry. After such enormous improvements have been achieved it is much harder to detect ways of reducing costs and increasing production. Because the nature of many sectors of the industry requires them to be relatively labour- intensive, demographic changes involving a fall in the number of school leavers pose particular challenges. It is no longer a matter of seeking cheap labour only. Training has become all-important and we need more people with the skills and commitment to make their career in a progressive industry. We should never forget that, despite the structural improvements which have taken place in the past decade, profitability in our industry is still relatively low, and even a modest decline in demand would have devastating effects. Already many sectors of our home market have been captured, and eight out of every 10 pairs of jeans or shirts sold in Britain are made abroad. The dramatic effect of textiles on our trading position generally can hardly be underestimated, with a deficit in textiles accounting for nearly one fifth of the total national balance of trade gap.
The fragility of the present trading position is well put by the managing director of Aire Valley Mills in my constituency, Mr. John Knox. He writes :
"Imports over the last few years have grown at a greater rate than our domestic market It would seem that already we must brace ourselves for a fresh avalanche of imports from Eastern Europe as they sell us one of their few tradable commodities (fabric and clothing) for hard currency. We would doubt if their prices would represent the actual cost of manufacture."
Despite the recent changes in eastern Europe, it is likely to be a considerable time before one will be able to say that the countries there have ceased to be state trading economies. For political and social reasons, we are right to encourage their economic resurgence, so there is likely to be a long period during which imports from eastern Europe will increase while prices continue to be centrally supported. As Mr. Knox says :
"in the case of a sizeable percentage of our imports the main beneficiary is the middle man and not the general public. We manufacture wool crepe which we sell to the makers up at about £6.50 to £6.70. A very similar fabric is bought by a merchant from Poland at £4.65 and sold to the same makers up at £6.25."
It is not surprising that Mr. Knox concludes :
"The controls that exist in the form of the MFA are to a great extent illusory, but their final removal would precipitate further disruption to our market and more manufacturing closures." In several of our previous debates about textiles and the MFA in its various forms, hon. Members have stressed the importance of reciprocity and the need for any dismantling of safeguards to be linked to clear progress towards free and fair competitive conditions and access to markets. Some newly industrialised nations now have many people
Column 1244prosperous enough to seek out the best in textiles and clothing of the type which our exporters produce so well, but those countries remain adept at using tariff and non-tariff barriers to deny us access to their markets.
It should not be thought that we can rely on further moves towards liberalisation without insisting on the renewal of the MFA. I agree with hon. Members who have said that its phasing out must take place over a lengthy period. I emphasise again the critical importance of the Punta del Este declaration, and that GATT rules must be strengthened before the MFA can go.
It is clear that the measures that GATT should incorporate in its rules must be sufficiently flexible to deal with unfair disruption of European Community markets in response to changing fashions and preferences. It is often difficult to make out a case that dumping is taking place, but its effects can be quite deadly in terms of the survival of companies and employment in this country. Although Professor Silberston says that Britain is not alone within the European Community in its susceptibility to targeting, it remains a fact that the relatively small number of distributors and retailers who account for over half the clothing sales in the United Kingdom make us peculiarly vulnerable to targeting--very often from countries whose own markets remain relatively restricted.
The creation of a single European market implies a single quota, but I do not think that we are alone in our concern about the damage that could be caused if that change was not introduced gradually and linked to progress in eliminating restrictions by producing countries.
Contrasting to some extent with his earlier report, Professor Silberston has gone a long way in recognising the realities of international trade in a competitive environment which is, unfortunately, far from fair. It is now perhaps also more widely recognised that over-hasty changes would have disastrous effects on employment in certain parts of the country, including the north of England. One must also not underestimate the problems caused by high interest charges and fluctuating exchange rates for an industry that is bound to import much of its raw materials and that depends so heavily on exports.
To an unparalleled extent, factors such as interest rates, which so often matter more than anything else, are outside the control of those who have to make the decisions about investment for the future. One must applaud the long-term vision and confidence of Courtaulds Textiles, which is currently investing over £4 million in a new factory for the production of mainly furnishing fabrics at Silsden in my constituency.
It is important to lift our eyes from the economic issues and consider the political and social consequences, not just in terms of jobs in Britain, but internationally.
The former Minister for Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), was never slow to speak up for British interests, and in introducing our debate on the MFA in December 1988, he stated :
"As 1992 approaches, there is talk and, indeed, apprehension about the prospects of a Fortress Europe developing, and that would not be in the interests of the United Kingdom."--[ Official Report, 9 December 1988 ; Vol. 143, c. 563.]
A great deal has happened in eastern Europe since then. Economic factors will continue to play a key role in determining the future both of western and of eastern Europe, and trade, both between Europe and the rest of
Column 1245the world and within Europe, will continue to involve a number of state trading systems in the East--with tremendous consequences for the rest of this decade and into the next century. Unless that trade develops against a background of discipline and order, there could be disastrous results for both East and West.
Mr. Tredinnick : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance because of the crucial nature of the debate. Is it in order to proceed now that the Liberal Democrat Benches are empty? 12.51 pm
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : It is important, even at the risk of being repetitive, to remind the Government of the views of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House on the possible consequences to the textile industry of any move to end the multi-fibre arrangement. The Minister gave a rather ominous warning about the industry's wages costs. Given the Government's record of not looking after the industry as well as they should have done, I hope that we are not entering a phase of the Government blaming workers, who have co-operated in every possible way through the most difficult times, for the industry's problems.
Like the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson), I have a strong constituency interest. In fact, my mother was a textile worker, as were many other members of my family. I can go one better than the hon. Member for Calder Valley, because I worked in the industry myself, in two or three different disciplines.
I object to Conservative Members blaming the industry's current position all on the EEC, when in truth the Government themselves are responsible for a great deal of the mismanagement that has affected the industry's fortunes. No effective manager would have allowed a clothing and textiles trade deficit of £3.5 billion to develop, accounting for almost 20 per cent. of Britain's negative trade balance.
As to wages, if the Minister imagines that low pay leads to a successful economy, why is it that Bangladesh is not ahead of West Germany in the league of successful economies? My constituency and Calder Valley have suffered the loss of 8,000 jobs in the industry since 1975 but 5,000 jobs remain, and that is a substantial work force. The industry's workers, in co -operating in massive restructuring and in achieving an enormous increase in per capita production, helped to achieve the stabilisation that the industry enjoyed until very recently. Unfortunately, textiles are again becoming very vulnerable, and part of the blame for that must be laid at the Government's door. High interest rates and energy costs and other factors have created that vulnerability.
The effect of water privatisation has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), and it is of particular concern to those engaged in wool manufacture. It is suggested that water supplies will be cheaper, but I hope that any Conservative Member who makes that argument will be around when the industry starts receiving huge bills for water services.
For years, the Opposition have been telling the Government about misdescribing, which is another big problem for the industry, and about dumping. The Minister has promised to fight like a tiger. In the past, we have seen rather more kittenish behaviour, and we would welcome a change. Against that background, the MFA has
Column 1246been important to the industry, allowing it to recover. There is no question but that the MFA has controlled the rate of imports and allowed planning to take place.
The Silberston report said :
"It seems on balance to be desirable that every effort should be made to bring the MFA to an end, phasing it out over a period of time."
We would have expected that view from a pro-marketeer such as Professor Silberston. Even he has had second thoughts. He now feels that the MFA should not be abolished without agreement on measures to strengthen GATT rules and disciplines. He now says :
"This would lead to piecemeal unilateral, or forced bilateral, action by many importing countries without multilateral supervision : the remedy would be worse than the cure."
I am worried because the Minister has not shown even this modest conversion. He told us that there was no evidence that the MFA had protected jobs. I wait with apprehension to see what the Government have in store. The Silberston report, referring to consumers and bringing down prices in shops, says that the ending of the MFA would allow
"viable sectors of their textile and clothing industries time to adjust to greater competition."
I know what my constituents would choose if given the choice between decreassing prices and their jobs--they would definitely go for jobs in the industry. I ask the Minister to take that on board. I welcome the assurances given by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) that the Labour Front Bench was considering helping areas without assisted areas status. I have long complained that we in the Calder valley have been left like the hole in the middle of the doughnut, with areas all round us given assisted area status, but we have had nothing. That is detrimental to long-term planning and to the aim of attracting business into the area.
We have heard about the 33,000 jobs, or 7 per cent. of the total in the United Kingdom, that might go if the MFA were abolished. That is nonsense. Informed people agree that the figure would be nearer 100, 000 jobs. If only 7 per cent. of jobs went in my constituency, that would mean half the jobs gone at a stroke. If the figure were 100,000 nationally, it would wipe out the industry in Halifax and the Calder Valley for ever.
It is important to pursue the aim of a social development clause if we purport to be democrats. That measure concerns child labour. I should like the Under-Secretary of State to ask Ministers in other Departments to look at the awful regulation affecting textile workers laid off and working part -time which was introduced before Christmas. I ask the hon. Gentleman to give us some assurances to end the uncertainty and to tell us that the MFA will remain in place and protect the industry.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. Several hon. Members seek to catch my eye. Doubtless, Front-Bench speakers will want time to wind up. I therefore hope that, although the 10-minute limit has expired, hon. Members will continue to make brief speeches.
Column 124712.58 pm
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : I want to place on record the fact that six Leicestershire Members are in the Chamber this morning. That is over 20 per cent. of the total number of hon. Members in the Chamber this morning. There have been three Opposition Members ; and three Conservative Members : that shows the enormous concern in the county about the multi- fibre arrangement. I welcome the return of our senior Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) and I also welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) was in the Chamber, although, as a Government Whip, he was unable to speak.
I too believe that the MFA is crucial, as does every hon. Member who has spoken in this debate. It has enabled the industry to modernise. In the past five years, more than £2 billion has been spent on new equipment. As a result, since 1980, output per head has risen by 50 per cent. These industries make a huge contribution to the national economy. In 1988, sales exceeded £14 billion and their value added exceeded £5.4 billion. That is more than half as much again as the aerospace industry, and more than twice the computer and office machinery industry.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) I am worried by what I perceive as the attitude of my hon. Friend the Minister to the MFA. I should like him to adopt a little more feline zeal. I forget whether he said that he would put a tiger in his tank or fight like a tiger. I hope that by the end of the debate, my hon. Friend is persuaded to fight like a tiger for the MFA.
The industry has had record exports of £3.6 billion. It provides 480,000 jobs, which is 9 per cent. of total manuafacturing employment. My hon. Friend represents Wokingham so he must believe me when I say that this issue is crucial in the midlands and in the north. We are not concerned merely with tinkering with technicalities ; we are talking about livelihoods. I appeal to him to take seriously the issue of the continuation of the MFA.
At this very time, firms in my constituency are making desperate requests for MFA quotas to be introduced on imports of socks and sweaters from Indonesia. Firms such as Atkins of Hinckley, Hall and Son, Pex and Smallshaws, which are well known to me, are under threat. Most of the 70 firms in the Hinckley areas will be affected to some extent. The Knitting Industries Federation has been fighting hard on behalf of the firms, which are faced with a huge surge in sweater imports of 2.2 million pieces in the first nine months of 1989 compared with 1.4 million pieces in the same period in 1988, against a basket extractor level of 462,000 pieces. Indonesian sock imports spiralled to 9.5 million pairs in the first nine months of 1989, which is an incredible figure. We must see the MFA as the only way in which we prevent this wild escalation in imports. The 28p cost of those socks is lower than the cost of the raw materials in this country.
The Minister for Trade in another place--my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Trefgarne--has replied to the representations of the Knitting Industries Federation. He said :
"I am not persuaded that we have the clear evidence that these Indonesian imports, as opposed toother factors, are a major cause or threat of injury to UK producers in this sector."
I am delighted to tell the House that I received a letter yesterday from the KIF saying that my right hon. and noble Friend has now agreed to consider the matter again.
Column 1248That is the flexible approach that we need. I appeal to my hon. Friend to follow the example that has been set by our right hon. and noble Friend Lord Trefgarne.
The examples of the surge in the import of socks and sweaters from Indonesia show up the weakness of the basket extractor system, which exists to introduce new quotas when imports rise and become disruptive. The Government require proof of injury or proof of the threat of injury before any action can be taken. The production of the necessary facts and figures inevitably takes time.
In the meantime, while the data are provided for the Government, the industry continues to suffer severe damage. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) said earlier, the process is too slow. To me, it is like trying to catch a rabbit which has gone down into the warren. What hope is there? The imports come in and it is impossible to track them down. We have discussed this with representatives of the KIF. We face an uphill task. The onus should be on the exporting countries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey said, we want to see the bills of lading. Why should we do it all at this end?
Then there is the whole question of enforcement. The industry as a whole seeks reassurance from the Government that in future they will readily implement the existing agreements. That problem is highlighted by the massive influx of Turkish socks. In just three years, United Kingdom imports of knitted products have risen by 59 per cent., fuelled by artificial manipulation by many south-east Asian countries, particularly in connection with currencies and other matters.
Hon. Members have touched on the question of the United States. The USA is currently considering the possibility of introducing a global quota on all imports. If that happens, we shall have another major dumping problem. That too strengthens the case for existing arrangements. In the important Adjournment debate on the Leicestershire knitwear industry on 12 December, my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry, responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) said that, in looking for ways in which the industry could be helped, there was
"scope for collaborative ventures in which the Government are prepared to play a part."--[ Official Report, 12 December 1989 ; Vol. 163, c. 984.]
I should like to know from my hon. Friend the Minister what those collaborative ventures are ; we should be grateful for clarification.
The Minister also referred to the 10-point plan put forward by the Knitting Industries Federation. Half of those points entail self-help. Many firms in my constituency have approached their problems aggressively with self-help in mind. Few industries, if any, have a better record in this respect. Take Fludes in my constituency. In 1975, it employed 1,200 people. Today, it employs half that figure, but its productivity is a third higher. Local firms--Fludes, Bennetts, Atkins and many others--have all invested in new plant and new equipment. They have certainly helped themselves--make no mistake about it. One can get any modern high-fashion design made up in Hinckley now. One does not need to go to Italy. The turn-around in Hinckley is 24 hours for a sample. That shows how competitive we have become.
There have been failures too, and that is why we need the MFA and we need the transitional period extended. My hon. Friend the Minister asked how long we should extend the period. The answer is 10 years. Failures in my
Column 1249constituency include Castle Knitwear, Sunnydale Knitwear, Hinckley Knitting, and K. D. Apparel, which announced its closure almost a year to the day after I attended its new factory opening ceremony. I am convinced that any phasing out of the MFA must depend on demonstrable progress in strengthening GATT rules and principles and signs that the rules are truly effective in eliminating trade abuses. That is why I argue for a 10-year period. It is unrealistic to expect that strengthened GATT rules and disciplines will have had a sufficient effect in removing trade distortions for the benefits to be felt fully before 10 years have elapsed. It will take 10 years for the new arrangements to evolve. One cannot wave a magic wand and simply say, "It will change." It will not work like that. We are all delighted at the changes that are taking place in eastern Europe, but the hosiery knitwear industry must surely view the prospects with some foreboding. The obvious way in which to help eastern European countries is to ease the quotas. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) referred to requests for quota increases of 44 per cent. for Poland and 16 per cent. for Hungary. We cannot take such changes straight away. I am all for giving aid to help the countries develop internally, but we must not give away concessions that will wreck our industry.
Finally, I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to initiate a "Buy British" campaign. We have great products. It has been done before. I receive lots of letters asking why the Department does not promote a "Buy British" campaign. I am sure the Minister would have the support of all of us, and I leave him with those thoughts. 1.9 pm
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : I join other hon. Members in welcoming the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) back to the House, although he has had to leave the Chamber because he is unwell. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) is here and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Janner) was present earlier, but had to leave because he had an urgent constituency engagement and was unable to stay.
The unity of Leicester Members was demonstrated recently in the early hours of 12 December 1989, in our speeches during an Adjournment debate initiated by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham).
The history of the textile and hosiery industry is embedded in the social fabric of the county of Leicestershire. As early as 1520, one third of the aldermen in the city of Leicester gave their occupations as connected with the textile and hosiery industry. Despite the job losses over the past 10 years, Leicester remains one of the principal seats of the industry.
It was wrong of the Minister today to begin his speech trying to stir up problems between the two sides of the industry by referring to wage costs. One of the rare things about the industry is the degree of unanimity in Parliament and outside between the employers and the trade unions. Representatives of the National Union of Hosiery and Knitwear Workers and the Leicestershire knitting district committee came to the House of Commons in December to lobby and speak to both Labour and Conservative Members. It was a great pity that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry could not be present, although he was