Column 1250invited. The representatives spoke with one voice and said that the problems in the industry over the past 10 years were in part due to the Government's policies. The high level of imports, the Government's inability to take a tougher line in negotiations with the Common Market, the high interest rates--a direct Government policy--and the fact that the level of the pound was so high have caused devastation in our local industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) witnessed the problems at first hand when he visited Leicester. He visited firms, met both sides of the industry and heard what they had to say about the Government's policy. The Minister is not prepared to accept the level of job losses as a sign of the damage to our industry.
Over the past 10 years, the industry has lost 150,000 jobs. This week the Leicester initiative was launched, which shows that if we divide the number of jobs lost as a result of the Government's policies over the past 10 years, by the number of weeks, days and hours in that time, one textile job is lost every hour. By the time the debate is concluded, five more textile workers will have lost their job. The Minister has said nothing at the Dispatch Box to end that decline.
The ordinary people in the industry, the workers who understand the problems and the employers who live daily with the high interest rates, want the Government to take firm and effective action. Recently I visited a small textile firm in Humberstone. The owner asked me honestly, openly and in plain language, "How, Mr. Vaz, do I compete with 14p knickers that come from the far east? How do I compete with that? What profit margins do I have to pay on that?" In a week when my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) has made an issue of such matters and the press went to town, the press did not question the origin of that particular garment. The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) referred to America. I visited America a year ago. When I watched the legislators in the Senate, I was astonished to see them discuss the textile industry. Senator after senator in that place, which represents the gods of the free market, urged the President of the United States to set import quotas. That area, which believes in free trade, has suffered a penetration rate in the textile industry of between 80 and 90 per cent. The senators were putting forward initiatives which they call Acts, but which we call Bills. Twenty Acts were before the Senate, calling for the limitation of imports into the United States. If the Minister wants to know what the textile industry will be like in the year 2000, he has only to look at the American experience. That is why everyone is concerned and passionate about the issue. We do not want to share the American experience.
Hon. Members mentioned the economic importance of the industry. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). I do not accept for one moment that we can anticipate that 33,000 jobs will be lost if the Silberston inquiry report is accepted by the Government. The figure will be nearer 100,000. That will devastate the city which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South represent. It will affect not only firms, which will have to close, but whole families.
I have asked the Minister to give an assurance about assisted area status. He says that other Ministers have said that it is not right that the Government should provide subsidies to industry. What about Rover? When it was convenient for them, the Government were prepared to
Column 1251give sweeteners to buy not a lame duck but a lame dog company. They were prepared to give incentives to convince the people who wished to buy. Why not provide the same assistance to our industry? The industry does not want the Government to assist it with its profits, but it would like fair competition. At present, it faces unfair competition.
All other Governments in Europe are prepared to give assistance to their industries. The French, who have refused to accept EEC directives on origin marking, are prepared to support their industries. Why are the Government and the Minister not prepared to do that? When hon. Members raised the issue of assisted area status with the Minister for Industry on 12 December 1989, he gave two explanations why it could not be effective for Leicester, Halifax and other centres. He said that, for the duration of this Parliament, he was not prepared to alter the maps for assisted area status. The Government are prepared to alter the constitution and social fabric of the country, so why are they not prepared to alter the maps for assisted area status? The Minister said also that the unemployment figures in Leicester do not justify the establishment of assisted area status for Leicester. Unemployment figures in the textile industry in Leicester certainly justify assisted area status. Since the beginning of 1990, there have been more than 290 redundancies in the county of Leicestershire.
Nine civil servants are sitting in the Box. We have an identikit Minister, who was probably crocheted by the Prime Minister on one of her days off, and we have no policy. The Minister will remember an article in The Sunday Times in April 1988, which predicted that he would be one of the great leaders of the 1990s and that, one day, he would become the leader of his party. When he becomes the Leader of the Opposition, there will be no textile industry left unless he acts quickly.
Day by day, we see the human tragedies. Hansard shows lists of statistics, which are referred to by many right hon. and hon. Members. We are punch- drunk on statistics. The thousands and the millions roll off the tongue extremely well, but they represent real people who have lost their job and who have invested in their industries, and real companies such as Kemptons and Corah, which have a tremendous amount of involvement in Leicestershire. They cannot survive without the Government taking action.
All hon. Members have pressed the Minister for an assurance that the multi- fibre arrangement is not only to be renewed but supported and toughened because of experience over the past 10 years. On a practical level, let us have an assurance from the Minister that he will ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to lower the damaging interest rates that are forcing many of our companies and industries to close. The evidence and the damage exist. We ask the Government to act now.
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen) : I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. As we are coming to the end of the debate, I realise that many of the points that I shall make have undoubtedly been made already,
Column 1252but I make no apology to the House for reiterating them just in case, in the earlier hubbub, the Minister did not hear what we were saying.
It has been a good debate. This is the House of Commons at its best. However, I wonder how much of it will be televised and reported because we are not shrieking at each other, but agreeing. This is good House of Commons work.
It is essential to be positive about the multi-fibre arrangement and about the possible development of a totally free market in 1991 unless we can get a continuation of international trade agreements that will control the worldwide production and movement of textiles. We need that desperately. We have already heard that the industry employs about 480,000 people and has invested highly in automation and technology. Its production has increased by about 50 per cent. since 1980.
I am looking for the continuation of MFA-style agreements, if not for the present one, and for something that is orderly and equitable to provide for the development of trade for a substantial number of years into the future. Together with their European partners, I expect the Government to get on with negotiating the continuation of this style of agreement. Nothing less will be acceptable to those of us who represent textile industries and to the people who work in them.
There is no point in mincing words. The British textile industry has to be protected from unjustified and unethical competition. The Government have a duty to protect British jobs in British industry. I suggest that that is what they were elected to do and many of us look to them to do just that in the future. We must make it clear that the industry is not looking for protectionism as such. It is looking for safeguards. If other countries call it "protectionism", let them, but we know what it means and we should continue with it.
These issues affect many of us in Britain. The north of England, Scotland and the midlands have been well represented by their Members of Parliament today. We are all concerned about the industries in our areas and about many of the people employed in them. In many cases, it is not only the head of the household who is employed in the textile industry, but the whole family and any change in the fortunes of the industry will affect a great number of people. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) mentioned Hunsworth Dyeing. I do not know whether he has been to visit Hunsworth Dyeing--I was not aware that he had visited it--but it is a Coats Viyella company that is closing. The tragedy is that is not just the loss of 100 jobs, which is bad enough in itself, but that husbands and wives and even sons are employed in that industry. They will all lose their livelihoods and jobs. Many of us have been involved in great family tragedies. Unfortunately, we have not been able to persuade Coats Viyella to continue there and, regrettably, we must accept its commercial decision.
I am all in favour of overseas aid. We all are, but sometimes charity must begin at home. We must look to protect our British way of life and our textile industry. We should not be too ashamed if we are occasionally branded as "Little Englanders". Why not? That is what we are and if it helps to protect our industry, why not--
Column 1253Mrs. Peacock : I leave other hon. Members to include Scotland. As a country, a Government and a House of Commons, we should always play by the rules. We are supposed to be English gentlemen, so we play cricket by the rules, but why should we continue to play by the rules when other countries do not even understand how to play cricket and are certainly not playing by the rules? But we are not talking just about cricket ; we are talking about preserving jobs in the British textile industry. I take issue with Professor Silberston's report because of his great underestimate of the number of jobs that might be lost. Many of us are greatly concerned that even 33,000 jobs might be lost, but we do not believe that that will be the total number of job losses.
We have a great affinity for our textile industry. I was born and brought up in Yorkshire and have spent most of my life there, and I have seen all manner of textile companies prosper, go down and come back up again.
Professor Silberston speculated that if the MFA were ended, textile product import prices would fall by about 8 per cent., which would lead to an average 5 per cent. fall in United Kingdom producer and retail clothing prices. A small reduction in household budgets of 2, 3, or 4 per cent. is no consolation if the head of the household, his wife and some of their children lose their jobs. They might make a small gain in their weekly budgets, but they would have no jobs. I do not believe that they would willingly make the latter sacrifice. Given the right conditions, the wool industry for one is prepared to sell. It has done that. It has been prepared to create real export growth with first-class value added goods which cannot be equalled anywhere in the world. My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the chairman of the Wool Textile Export Corporation, Mr. John Ward, who is a constituent. The corporation has achieved record earnings from wool textile exports for three consecutive years, 1989 being the latest, and it looks forward to the future with confidence. It hopes that 1990 will be even better.
The Batley part of my constituency has clothed our soldiers since the 1800s. It was the home of the army greatcoat and army blankets. The industry was built up partly on such products. Unfortunately, boom times in Batley were during war, and bust times were when we settled down to peace. The textile industry there has had ups and downs. It is regrettable that soldiers do not wear army greatcoats any more. I am not sure what they use for blankets, but it is certainly not Yorkshire wool. Those times have gone, and we must look to the present and the future. Wool and mixture yarn has accounted for much of the increased value in trade recently, and for increased volume. That is a clear demonstration that the industry is capable of taking positive action if it is encouraged by the right sort of Government and European support. All sectors of the United Kingdom textile and clothing industries have greatly increased their efficiency and competitiveness, especially during the past 10 years. They are less vulnerable to foreign competition than they once were as they have learnt to handle fashion changes and
Column 1254provide quick deliveries. That is what we need. Nevertheless, we need an international framework which enables the industry to prosper and reinvest.
This is too important an issue to leave to civil servants in Whitehall or bureaucrats in Brussels. We have to be involved and to have strong Government pressure and a strong Government input into the decision. In my part of the world, we have halved unemployment since 1984, but we are losing jobs in textiles. We are worried about that. If more jobs go, they will be regional. They will be Yorkshire jobs, Scottish jobs and jobs in Northern Ireland. We are not prepared to lose them to help achieve greater affluence for what I suggest are already affluent people in Britain.
Having recently discussed textile matters in Hong Kong and China, I am aware of the tremendous international pressure to end the MFA in 1991. We have to reject any change. Businesses never stay still. We all recognise that, and it is particularly true for international concerns. At the 1990 Uruguay GATT round, we must negotiate the continuation of firm and sensible MFA-style controls. I suggest that we need some sanctions, if necessary in the form of emergency tariffs. Other countries can get away with that. Anybody who sends goods to Turkey contributes to that country's housing programme. I wonder whether we could do the same here. I am sure that we will be told that that is not possible.
I note, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are looking carefully at your watch. Therefore, I must curtail my remarks.
Business is about confidence to invest and about long-term planning and investment to minimise risks. It is not about allowing agreements such as the MFA to wither away. We must plan for its replacement a long time before that happens. In modern-day life we tend to do everything quickly. We should take 10 years or more to decide on any replacement. The six to seven -year timetable for change proposed by Professor Silberston is not long enough. It is up to us to ensure that we have a much longer hand-over period.
When my hon. Friend winds up I hope that he will give us some assurance that the Government will ensure the continuation of an MFA-type agreement. If that agreement must be called something else it must come out of the GATT round of talks. That would be acceptable. We need such an agreement as it ensures help for the British textile industry.
We should concede nothing during the GATT round that would commit Britain to any steps that are not part of a long-term management plan to ensure the stability of our textile activities. Those activities are important to our manufacturing base and important to many hon. Members and their constituents.
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) : The Minister must be impressed by the unanimous view expressed in the Chamber about the need for continuing with some form of MFA, whether a renegotiated MFA or a strengthened GATT arrangement developed over a suitable time. The Minister must also be impressed by the fact that we are not seeking extra protection for the textile industry, but we are seeking to ensure that our textile industry, at home and abroad, can compete on equal and fair terms with its competitors. Despite some of the Minister's
Column 1255churlish remarks at the beginning of his speech--he redeemed himself a little by the end--the industry has made great strides to face increased overseas competition.
Reference has been made to the increase in output per employee, which, in the past 10 years, has been 50 per cent. In the past five years, £2 billion has been invested in the industry. It is also important to note that wage claims within the industry have always been moderate. Male employees earn about 85 per cent. of the national average male wage, whereas female employees earn between 90 and 95 per cent. of the average female wage. The workers are not grasping and avaricious ; they have always moderated their wage claims in their interests and in the interests of their industry.
Industrial relations are good. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) has already mentioned the amicable relationship between the trade unions and the employers. It is amicable because people realise that employers and employees have a vested interest in ensuring the industry's success. The industry has made a real attempt to survive.
I have been involved in the textile industry in some way or other ever since I graduated from university in 1963; first professionally, and then, after my election here in 1974, politically. Without fear of contradiction, I can say that confidence in the industry now, particularly among the employers who make the decisions, is at the lowest ebb that I have ever seen.
We had meetings during the past few months with employers, who said that unless action were taken--they were talking about the need for changes in Government policy on interest rates and the high value of the pound--there was a real possibility that large sections of the textile industry would not survive the next two to three years. The Minister said that the value of the pound has declined. However, we still need action on interest rates. They are so high that they act as an inhibition on employers to invest in the new technology that the industry still requires.
There must also be continued action on the MFA. If it is thought that the Government are prepared to do away with the MFA, that could seriously--if not lethally--undermine the remaining confidence within the textile industry. The Minister must say clearly and unambiguously that the Government are prepared to renegotiate the MFA and, if necessary, to set up a new MFA and wait for the strengthening of the GATT in the next 10 years.
The Minister and the House are probably sick of Leicester Members speaking during such debates as this, but I wish to say a few words about Leicestershire, as the industry is vital to the city and the county. Two years ago, 42,000 people were employed in the textile industry in that area. Since then, 20 per cent.--one in five--of those jobs have disappeared. If present trends continue, that figure is likely to be further increased throughout 1990. That would be disastrous.
As the Minister and the House know, a large proportion of those employed in the industry are women and members of the ethnic minorities. Every time a job disappears in the textile industry, it impinges upon equal opportunities for those people. It is essential that there is some stability in the industry to protect their jobs.
Column 1256It is in all our interests that there should be an expansion in world trade, as that will increase prosperity both here and overseas. When we seek to bring that increase about, it must be done in such a way that competition is fair on both sides. The Government have made clear the guidelines that they want for that to be brought about. There has been a surge in imports and in tariff and non- tariff barriers. The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) talked about the surges in imports of sweaters and socks from Indonesia. The initial reply from the Minister for Trade, Lord Trefgarne was appalling. He said that, although imports had increased by one third in 1989 over the corresponding period for 1988, he remained unconvinced that that was a surge in imports, and he was not prepared to take any action. I was pleased to learn from the Under-Secretary's speech that he may now be prepared to take action. We must ensure that, if the Government know the rules, they are prepared to operate them quickly and expeditiously so that British industry can be saved from unfair competition.
On tariff barriers, the example of Turkey has been quoted many times. Turkey is operating discriminatory trade barriers against British goods. For knitted outerwear, it is 125 per cent. That is a well-known fact. Therefore, why the hell is something not done about it, so that British manufacturers can compete on an equal footing? I shall repeat the point that I have already made twice. The British textile industry can and will be able to compete if the Government are prepared to ensure that there is fair competition at home and abroad. In the short to medium term, we must maintain the MFA so that we can have such fair competition.
Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood) : The subject of today's debate is of great significance to the knitting and textile industries, which play a major role in the national economy. Therefore, it is essential to renew the multi-fibre arrangement in its current form when its present term expires in July 1991. It is also essential that its longer-term future should be dependent on demonstratable progress in tackling the trading abuses that adversely affect international trade and hold back the development of the United Kingdom's industry. The knitting and textile industries are vital to the national economy, with annual sales of more than £14 billion, exports last year approaching £4 billion and a work force of 485,000 people who account for 9 per cent. of all manufacturing employment--64 per cent. of whom live in the east midlands. The region's prosperity is crucially linked to the fortunes of the knitting and allied industries, in which one job in five is to be found in manufacturing, compared to one in nine nationally. The industries are also major employers of women, who represent 80 per cent. of the work force. What I have said so far gives the impression of a successful industry. Unfortunately, that is only half the story. The profitless prosperity of 1987 and 1988--high activity with insufficient profit margins--has been overtaken by high interest rates, which have stunned high street sales. Today's debate takes place against the background of increasingly difficult trading conditions. The latest production index from the Department of Trade
Column 1257and Industry shows output down 13 per cent. in October 1989 compared to a year earlier. Job losses in the 12 months to December 1989 were 23,000, and the outlook for 1990 is extremely worrying. The United Kingdom's knitting and allied industries are efficient and well equipped, with a strong reputation for quality and design. Their work force is skilled and adaptable. That commendable tribute is supported every time I visit a factory in my constituency. My latest visit was to the Viyella menswear factory in Hucknall. It preceded an important visit by the Princess Royal. We saw the latest in computer design and a new production line system of gents' shirtmaking--revolutionary but necessary for the company to stay in business and to meet its customers' growing need for a quick response to rapidly changing consumer preferences.
Despite the continuing rise in exports, the trade deficit in textiles and clothing is likely to have reached £3.5 billion in 1989--almost 20 per cent. of the national balance of trade deficit. In those extremely difficult circumstances, it is vital to avoid adverse changes in the international trading framework. Any phasing out of the MFA must be dependent on progress in strengthening GATT rules and disciplines, and signs that those new rules are truly effective in eliminating the trading abuses that adversely affect our constituents.
It is too early to specify the period required to bring about such progress, but it is unrealistic to expect that strengthening GATT rules will remove trade distortions and allow the benefit to be felt until at least 10 years after the integration process begins. Even the exporting countries whose exports are limited under the MFA recognise that the process cannot take place overnight. Virtually all have recognised the need for a phasing-out period of at least five years, and some will be seeking considerably longer.
Therefore, it is essential that the MFA should be renewed in its present form in 1991 when the current term expires. Without the MFA, despite its serious imperfections, there is no doubt that the present critical situation would be even worse.
In my constituency there is an added dimension. The House and the country know that Sherwood is Britain's premier coal-producing constituency. It was also the home of Rev. William Lee, the inventor of the knitting machine, whose quincentenary we celebrated last year.
Miners' wives invariably work in the textile industry. The two industries run hand in glove. The textile factories take advantage of the available female labour and the wives' salaries complement the household income. However, since 1983 6,500 miners in Sherwood--50 per cent. of the total work force--have left the industry. Miners over the age of 50, having worked underground for almost 40 years, were encouraged by their wives to accept early retirement and enjoy their remaining years, but before doing so, all the options were considered, including the wives' earnings. Due to the textile recession and the unfettered dumping of garments, wives' jobs are disappearing, bringing hardship to many households. If there is no alternative female employment available, as a last resort retired miners will have to seek work again. That would be grotesquely unfair. However, my hon. Friend the Minister has said that he will fight like a tiger. Perhaps he should not have said that, knowing that these days the only people who win fights are
Column 1258the lager louts. I know that he is listening to the arguments and that he will act in the best interests of my constituents who work in the knitting and allied industries.
Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East) : Debates on the textile industry have one factor in common : right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House who represent constituencies with textile interests rally round an industry which is vital to Britain. The textile industry is the fourth largest light manufacturing industry in Britain. It employes 485,000 people. Its output per head has been increased by 50 per cent. in the last 10 years. Its annual sales amount to £14 billion and exports in 1988 reached £4 billion. It represents 9 per cent. of manufacturing employment in the United Kingdom. However, the textile industry is concentrated in particular regions. Therefore unemployment in the industry means unemployment in those regions which were hardest hit by the recent recessions. Often there is little alternative for employment. Therefore it is the duty of the Government and Back-Benchers to support the textile industries in those regions.
I was taken aback by the Minister's rather laid-back approach--it was almost horizontal. Of course, he has no direct responsibility and of course the decision will be taken by the EC, but it is the duty of the Government to speak for the textile industry in the councils of the EC and those negotiations are no place for sleeping tigers. Management and unions have the feeling that the Government look upon the textile industry as something from the past. Financial services are the up-and-coming thing and there is an impression created by the Government that we may have to do without the textile industry. I hope that that impression is wrong and that in his winding-up speech the Minister will say that the Government are fully behind the renewal of the multi-fibre agreement. I hope that he will tell us that the Government will do everything that they can to see that the agreement is renewed.
I recently found a quotation which sums up the matter fairly well. It is from a speech by Mr. Tony Benson, president of the British Textile Employers Association, and was delivered in 1985 before the last renewal of the multi-fibre agreement. Describing the agreement he said :
"The developing countries have been provided with an assured, quantified market in the developed countries, and with reasonable annual growth rates. The more vulnerable developing countries receive equal treatment and are protected from the crushing power of their more advanced neighbours. We must have confidence to invest in new and modern equipment in order to improve our international competitiveness, and the prospect of a balanced trading environment, in which the MFA is an essential part, is a pre- requisite for this advance."
That quote from a speech made some years ago sums up the present position.
The Government must seek the renewal of the MFA because it is all that we have at the moment to safeguard the textile industry. We must not throw away such an agreement by actions or by default. The textile industry has an efficient, skilled and adaptable work force. Management has done what it can to modernise, but that is not enough to counter the grinding effects of high interest rates. I am sorry that in his opening speech the Minister seemed to place responsibility for success entirely on the management and work force. In the battle to retain
Column 1259our share of the textile market, Government have a part to play. It is worrying that a great deal of the severest competition comes from countries whose Governments have taken up the cudgels and are prepared to support their textile industry in every way.
I hope that the Minister will do everything in his power to help our industry. More than anything else it needs confidence. It must be assumed that Back Benchers and Government are speaking on its behalf and that the Government will argue in Europe for the renewal of the MFA.
This nation is a member of the EC and must fight its corner within that organisation. We have a tremendous textile industry, but its is facing increasing difficulties, which in many cases such as high interest rates have not been caused by its own actions. It is for us and the Minister to back the industry and to help Britain to retain an important part of its manufacturing base. That can be done only by supporting a renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement.
Mr. Ken Hargreaves (Hyndburn) : Perhaps it is appropriate that the last Back Bencher to speak in the debate is from Oswaldtwistle, where James Hargreaves invented the spinning jenny. Not so many years ago, a debate on textiles would have prompted a large postbag for the Member of Parliament representing my constituency. That that has not been so on this occasion reflects the massive loss of textile jobs in Hyndburn in recent years, with those involved in the industry now numbering hundreds rather than thousands. I may be speaking on behalf of fewer constituents, but they are no less important for that. The debate does not concern propping up the domestic textile industry but is about maintaining a fair and stable environment that will give it confidence to invest in the future. It asks not for protectionism but for the enforcement of fair trading practices. Given that, there is no doubt that massive investment on the scale of recent years will continue.
The present rules are unsatisfactory, in that in many instances they allow a case to be proved only after damage has been done. Blackburn and District Textile Manufacturers Association supports the view that any erosion of the rules would be catastrophic and that strengthening of GATT is of paramount importance prior to the ending of the MFA.
I welcome the fact that that view is widely shared by the Government, by the European Community and by Professor Silberston. It is important that before the arrangement is ended, stronger and more efficient safeguards, especially those relating to dumping, subsidies and fraud, are put in place. I welcome also the statement by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs that
"The main issues for discussion in GATT are clear. It is accepted that the integration of textiles and clothing into GATT could only be gradual and progressive."--[ Official Report, 9 November 1989 ; Vol. 159, c. 1304.]
In a letter to me on 8 January, Mr. David Duckworth, secretary of Blackburn and District Textile Manufacturers Association, commented :
Column 1260"To achieve an orderly transition from the MFA to GATT rules will need a period of five to ten years in order that the effectiveness of the GATT rules may be tested."
I believe that he is absolutely right.
The textile industry and the fine people whom it employs deserve our support. The industry has shown remarkable resilience over the past few years and has acted to improve its competitive position. Even in the uncertain conditions that now prevail, investment is increasing, with some £8 million of investment in north-east Lancashire over the past five years.
Increasing importance is being placed on design. Hilden Manufacturing Company in my constituency, under the enthusiastic leadership of its managing director, Mr. Peter Hargreaves, has succeeded in expanding through a combination of positive attitudes by all and a determination to break into the often difficult export market. I know that Mr. Hargreaves will ensure that its export earnings continue to rise.
The survival of such firms depends on improving further their competitiveness in both domestic and overseas markets. The investment required in new technology will be made only if companies are confident of the future. Without the present system of restraint on low-cost imports, the prospect of reasonable stability would be removed--and with it, much of the confidence on which investment depends. Job losses would inevitably follow.
Professor Silberston himself acknowledges that almost 33,000 jobs will be lost if the MFA is ended. Many in the industry believe that he underestimates the danger and fails to take full account even of his own statement that imports entering this country at very low prices
"if sustained for some time, could make it impossible for competing domestic production to survive at all."
Professor Silberston has also paid too little attention to the additional job losses resulting from the knock-on effects in other related manufacturing and service industries. Despite the increased investment in east Lancashire, which I mentioned, in the past 12 months there has been a return to short-time working in many companies, together with a number of redundancies and mill closures--at a time when unemployment has fallen dramatically in north-east Lancashire. The loss of jobs in textiles is sad in an industry that is made up of skilled, hard-working people with an industrial relations record second to none, people who have readily accepted attempts to improve competitiveness--shift working, job flexibility and low wage increases.
Those are real people, as the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) said. To those of us who have lived in textile areas all our lives, these are our family, friends and neighbours. I believe that the Government care about the textile industry. Although the British Government in isolation cannot have their own way in the important decisions and discussions ahead, I hope that we can look to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to argue Britain's case forcefully.
Mr. Henderson : With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a few concluding observations on an interesting debate. Much information about the industry has emerged and the passion felt about the industry and the communities that depend on it has been displayed. The number of hon. Members who have
Column 1261spoken shows the strength of feeling on this subject on both sides of the House. I welcome the fact three former Ministers were prepared to give us their experiences of industrial affairs in making the case for strong support for the industry--the hon. Members for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw), for Pendle (Mr. Lee) and for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson). The Minister should be in no doubt about the opinion of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) commented on the Minister's lack of energy in presenting his case. I hope that there is nothing physically or mentally wrong with the Minister. I hope that he has some appetite for his brief. He is remembered, especially by Conservative Members, as a somewhat energetic tiger when he was involved in the No. 10 think tank. I hope that he is not burnt out. Industry needs something better than a paper tiger in the Department of Trade and Industry tank. Unless the Minister explains the Government's position more clearly, the House will be in great doubt about their intentions.
The hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) said that he was scared stiff of the consequences for his constituency. My hon. Friends the Members for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond), for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) and for Bolton, South-East (Mr. Young) said that they, too, had been scared stiff by the possible consequences if we do not get this matter right. The industry will be scared stiff if, at the end of the debate, it is not clear where the Government stand. The Under-Secretary of State must not hide behind any brief that the civil servants have prepared for him in the hope that he will play for more time before it is necessary to make the Government's position clear. I am not saying that this was your intention, Minister, but I do not believe that the Government's intention was clear from the opening remarks. You must give the House a clear answer
I have four final questions for the Minister. First, will he make it clear that he will support a multi-fibre arrangement renewal by the European Community in the talks that are about to begin? Secondly, will he guarantee that any outcome of the talks at the GATT negotiations on safeguards, anti- dumping and market access will be reported to the House before a final decision is reached by the EC negotiators? Thirdly, if the results of those talks are unacceptable to the House, will he give us a commitment that it is not the timetable, but the substance of the issue that then matters? Will he guarantee that the British Government will seek to toughen the MFA, if that is the situation that we face? Fourthly, does the Minister accept the argument that whatever one's long-term strategy, there is a strong and essential case to be made now for a tightening-up and renewal of an MFA 5?
Column 1262their constituencies, and have stressed to the House the importance of the textile industry and the way in which it has changed in recent years. I appreciate all those comments and I understand the importance of the textile industry to many communities. In the mid-1970s, I was a textile analyst and I travelled the country extensively visiting the textile industry, so I learnt a great deal about it. Although I travel less frequently these days in my new job, I see textile companies, and I am impressed by how great the changes have been and how much progress there has been in introducing new machinery, new ideas and new products. Nothing that I said at the beginning of the debate was intended to cast aspersions on the industry, and I went out of my way to stress its importance and its achievements in increasing productivity and exports and playing an important role in our economy and in many individual communities. I understand that some hon. Members have had to leave before the conclusion of the debate and I am grateful to them for letting me know in advance. Friday is the day on which hon. Members like to be in their constituencies and I am grateful for the courtesy of those hon. Members. Much comment has been made about my remark that I would fight like a tiger against unfair trade practices. I reassert that now. I have no love of unfair trade practices, whether they are state subsidies and state aid, dumping or other types of market distortion which are widely condemned by GATT provisions covering individual products, and in the framework set out in the treaty of Rome and subsequent documentation aimed at creating a fair and level playing field in many areas of the market place within the European Community.
I repeat that assertion, but the House should remember that most of the remarks today were addressed to my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Trade. I am not in the same position as my predecessor at the Dispatch Box at the end of 1988, who was Minister for Trade and who was himself handling these detailed matters. My right hon. and noble Friend is doing a good job standing up for British interests in matters such as Turkish and Indonesian imports and he will read the comments made in the debate. I know that he is doing the best possible job for Britain in trying to put across our point of view through the EC and directly when he meets his opposite numbers. He has, for example, recently been to Turkey and has made strong representations about the points on which the House is concerned. The House will have noticed that I have been here throughout the debate listening attentively and I have made copious notes. I shall report the strength of feeling in the House to my right hon. and noble Friend and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Three times in recent weeks the Government have set out their attitude to the negotiations in the EC and to those in GATT. My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry put it clearly in a recent Adjournment debate. I have tried to be more expansive today as we have had the advantage of a five-hour debate. I have tried to explain some of the intricacies of the negotiating position that has been assumed by the European Commission in the early negotiations with GATT and the type of questions that the British Government are pursuing as a result of the consultation replies to Silberston, this debate and other representations that have been made.
When the record is read, it will be quite clear that a number of issues of importance to the textile industry are being covered in those negotiations but that the
Column 1263negotiations must be looked at in the round. The EC negotiators will, in the end, have to do the best possible deal for European interests at large and for industry and commerce generally. Those negotiations are a matter not for the British Government but for the Commission.
It was good to see my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) here today, and I hope that his health continues to strengthen. It is a sign of his great concern about the issue that he came today to give us the benefit of his views. He said that the final decision on the MFA had to be a firm decision of the House. That is not the legal or constitutional position. Some hon. Members may regret the fact that these decisions are made following EC negotiations ; others will welcome it because they wanted such powers to be exercised at European level. Under our treaty obligations and under the other legal arrangements with our Community partners that have developed, the simple fact is that the European Community is a party to the MFA and the European Community handles the GATT negotiations.
Mr. Haynes : The Minister is not being very helpful. We get this sort of talk all the time. It is time it stopped and the British Government did some fighting over there in Brussels. Proposals come to us when they have already been decided in Europe. That is all wrong. We should be deciding our own destiny in this place and it is high time that the Minster said so over there.
Mr. Redwood : Usually the Government are criticised for fighting too hard for British interests, so it is strange to hear the Opposition level the opposite criticism. I assure the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) that I fight extremely hard for British interests in the Council of Ministers. I look at them in the light of wider European interests, but there is no way in which I will let Britain down when I am handling negotiations because I believe that it is my job, as a member of the British Government, to make the point for Britain.
Mr. Henderson : On the question of how the negotiations have been considered in Europe, may I ask the Minister how the British Government have argued? Have they argued that there should be a further round of MFA, an MFA 5? If the Government have argued for an MFA 5, have they argued that it should be the same as MFA 4, less strong than MFA 4 or tougher than MFA 4?
Mr. Redwood : As I explained, the British Government have said that they seek the best possible series of market-opening measures in GATT. We have been making the necessary representations to Brussels and my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Trade and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will keep in touch with Brussels as the negotiations develop. They have not proceeded that far yet.
Mr. Kirkwood : Surely the GATT textile committee will have to meet initially in five or six months' time--in June 1990. The Uruguay round of GATT will not be completed until the end of the year and the Government will have to strike a position in four or five months. I realise that the Minister cannot give away his bargaining hand but the House is entitled to know what attitude the Government will strike in June or July this year.
Mr. Redwood : I have explained the Government's position on the GATT negotiations and on the negotiations through our European Commission friends. By June, other issues may be on the table but I do not intend to prejudge those because they will, of course, depend on progress being made in the general negotiations on GATT.
Mr. Foulkes : Can the Minister clarify something? I am sorry to interrupt, but this is the most crucial point. Am I right in saying that the answer that the Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) is that, rather than the strengthening or continuing the MFA, the Government propose to opt for the GATT alternative? That effectively means that they are abandoning the MFA. Is that what the Minister meant?