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Mr. Brady: I should like to put it on record that I am always happy to do that. Indeed, dressing up in different uniforms may even help the textile industry.

Dr. Iddon: I look forward to seeing the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), opposite whom I always appear to sit on the programme, dressed up in another costume. I wonder who he will appear as.

To be serious, the town of Bolton has a strong history in the textile movement. It was the cradle of the industrial revolution in textiles, where Crompton invented the mule, where Arkwright lived and worked for a while, and where the first mill to use the new industrial textile system--St. Helena--was built. I am pleased to say that it has been preserved, and still stands today.

If one visits a town such as Bolton today, one will not be able to count so many smoking chimneys. In fact, my constituent, Fred Dibnah, said to me in his garden the other day, "Will you tell the Minister for the Environment that I've done more good for the environment than he'll ever do in the whole of his time in Westminster?" That is probably true. From the west Pennine moors overlooking Bolton, one can see scores of textile mills. Thankfully, many of them still manufacture textiles, although others have switched to alternative industries. Such textile mills are valuable to our town and to Britain.

Let us look at the facts. Britain annually spends £25 billion on textiles. Although we export £8 billion of textiles, regrettably, we import £12 billion-worth. That £4 billion trade deficit could easily be balanced by demand in Britain. Those who lobbied the House today are asking, "Why on earth don't we start manufacturing the types of item that we import in huge volumes?" The question is very difficult to answer, whether we are talking about televisions, clothing, curtains, or anything else.

The fact is that, in the north-west, 62,000 jobs--12 per cent. of its manufacturing employment--rely on textiles. Across Britain, 370,000 employees are involved in the industry. However, many of those people are currently either facing redundancy or working short time. Let us consider the situation of a textile worker who, month after month, works one week on and then one week off. What happens when that worker goes to see the Department of

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Social Security? I assure the House that, because of that work pattern, it is very difficult for that worker to gain approval for his or her application for the jobseeker's allowance. Many workers end up living for two weeks on the wages that they earn in one week, as it is almost impossible for them to get benefits out of the DSS.

Employees in the industry would be the first to admit that the strength of the pound has been a cause of their problems. However, they will also say--I have listened today to three major speeches by union leaders--that the strong pound has not been the primary problem. If that were so, why has the textile industry continued to decline over many years?

Employees in the industry tell us that lack of investment and a subsequent productivity decline has been one of the major causes of problems in the textile industry--and in all British industry. Europe's production record in the textile industry is 30 per cent. better than ours. That gap, if analysed, speaks volumes.

In 1964, when I left university, I considered going into the textile industry. I applied for a job, and was shown around a factory in Cheshire. I saw machinery that was built before the war. The people there admired the machinery and said, "Look what it's doing!" It was printing curtaining on both sides simultaneously, and producing an excellent product. However, even in 1964, the machine was not producing the product fast enough to stay ahead in the industry. Time and again, that has been the history of the United Kingdom textile industry. It has never thought about investing in state-of-the-art machinery, which is not only available but produced in the United Kingdom. We invent, produce and export such machinery, but we do not use it.

Some British industries use state-of-the-art machinery, but not nearly enough; it is about time that they--especially the textile industry--did. It is much easier, however, for textile managers to uproot machinery, export it, employ cheaper labour, and export those textiles back to the United Kingdom. That is criminal, because it makes our people suffer, many of whom have been made unemployed. Once upon a time, far more than 370,000 people were employed in the UK textile industry.

The condition of buildings is another factor in the industry's decline. We subsidise Japanese companies to come to various parts of the United Kingdom, and put them on green-field sites close to motorways to produce microchips. Why on earth do we allow our textile industry, which operates in a very competitive sector, to continue trying to produce in clapped-out mills which are often seven storeys high?

I live next to one such example, Falcon mill, in the Halliwell part of Bolton. It is very costly to take goods up seven floors and then to bring them back down again. Moreover, I dare anyone to try to negotiate round very large transporters in the narrow streets of the old industrial parts of Bolton. It is about time that the textile industry not only invested in new machinery but got itself into modern productive plant, which one can find across Italy and in many parts of Germany.

There has been little training and retraining in our textile industry, and I implore training and enterprise councils to pay more attention to that industry. If we are to invest in new plant and new machinery, we must have the new skills to operate the machinery, but TECs have

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not paid sufficient attention to that problem. I welcome the establishment of the National Textiles Training Organisation, which has not yet received the recognition that it deserves.

Finally, Mr. Mayor--Mr. Deputy Speaker; I apologise--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has forgotten where he is.

Dr. Iddon: Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I thought that I was in the council chamber in Bolton. I apologise.

Britain can no longer produce bulk cotton or wool as raw materials. However--unlike other countries, at least so far--we are good at adding value to certain raw materials. We are very good at producing high-quality, high-value products that the rest of the world enjoys importing.

I should give a brief plug for the Bolton Institute, which provides a superb training centre for those working in the textile industry and is very good at developing fire-retardant textiles. Around the world, disasters on mass transport, and in hotels, cinemas and nightclubs, have demonstrated the desperate need for textiles and other building materials to be flame-retardant. The Bolton Institute has a very fine research group that is leading the world in inventing new ways of stopping fabrics--including everyday clothing--catching fire.

I compliment London Fashion Week, which has provided a showcase for British designers to show the world what they do. It is also helping London to catch on as one of the world's major fashion centres. Britain has some excellent schools for designers and for those working in all aspects of marketing. Sadly, however, many of our designers are still leaving Britain to live and work in France and Italy, among other places. We must not only train such skilled and innovative people but keep them here in Britain.

I do not write off the textile industry. Some very skilled people work in the industry, and some very fine inventions are waiting to be marketed around the world. I hope that the Government will accept the challenge, run with it and put British textiles back at the top around the world.

6.59 pm

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak--I hope briefly--in the debate on the Queen's Speech, which contains many measures that Plaid Cymru Members will want to support. Removal of the right of hereditary peers to vote in the other place is one such measure, and modernisation of local government is another.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on saying that he supports elected mayors, at least for parts of England. We also very much welcome the proposal to legislate on the Disability Rights Commission. Of course, there will be measures that we will want to scrutinise very carefully, especially those on welfare reform in so far as they impact on the disabled, the long-term sick and the frail elderly. We want to ensure that they are not penalised in any way.

The Queen's Speech heralded one of the major constitutional changes that this House has debated for generations, and probably this century. I listened with

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some care to the words of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who passionately believes that those constitutional changes are wrong. Obviously, I approach the topic from a different point of view.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman holds his belief passionately, but I passionately believe that it is right that the people of Wales, of Scotland and of Northern Ireland should be allowed the responsibility--as in the referendum--to consider ways to promote their own affairs within their own territories. If people vote for such a change, the House should encourage them to ensure that it is not only implemented, but actually works.

That is one reason why I want to mention a couple of facts that I believe will assist the Welsh Assembly to ensure that when it is established in six months time it will work well. All of us, whatever side of the debate we were on during the referendum in Wales, now want the Assembly to work. The primary responsibility of everyone elected to the body is to ensure that it works. Once the constitutional framework is in place, it must be allowed the flexibility to deal with various issues. For example, it needs the flexibility to develop innovative, practical and deliverable policies across all the policy areas that are devolved to it.

My great disappointment is that the Queen's Speech did not deal with those specific issues. I shall give two brief examples; the first is training. As hon. Members from both sides of the House have said, one major problem is the multiplicity of organisations that deal with training. They may not be responsible for training in the strategic sense, but are responsible for its delivery. There is a great deal of confusion in the minds of employers, trade unions, young people, those who wish to return to work, those who are in work and those who need to be upskilled about the appropriate organisation to approach.

One of the difficulties in Wales is that the training and enterprise councils have a patchy record. Some have done some good work, but others have fallen far short of the standards we expect. If the Assembly, not having legislative powers, is to deal with the problem, it needs the power to abolish TECs, if it so chooses, and to investigate other ways in which training can be delivered. Plaid Cymru wants the House to recognise that that flexibility is necessary. It is why we wanted the Queen's Speech to include a short Bill to allow the Welsh Assembly that freedom.

As tonight's debate covers training-related issues, I want the House to consider a number of ways in which we could improve training throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. First, we should establish a new type of audit of skill needs and training outcomes. We need to broaden the existing skill needs research and ensure that it is done consistently. We should also audit the sort of training people receive and its relevance to current market needs. One of the problems is that many young people feel either that the training is inappropriate for them or that it is not suitable for the needs of the market in which they must work and live.

Secondly, we must make full use of the enhanced Welsh Development Agency's market intelligence to forecast emerging skill needs. One problem with our existing training provision is that it often tries to deal with

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current problems--with people currently out of work--rather than anticipating the skill needs of the new millennium.

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