Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mrs. Browning: My hon. Friend points to an important aspect of why the industry is under pressure. However, there are other aspects where the Government could clearly intervene to assist the industry, and I hope to cover some of those in my speech.

The job losses that have been identified--of which the unions are well aware--must be put into context. We are talking about 500 job losses, on average, a week, in an industry that employs just over 350,000 people. It is interesting to focus also on the contribution that the industry makes to our national economy. The manufacture of textiles and apparel contributed £7 billion to the output of the UK economy in 1997. It is an important industry, but it is not just the individual companies that we need to look at. The Government must take a more active role in the industry, as it is has a national dimension that is very important to our economy.

I wish to quote from an article in The Observer last September, which looked at what was happening in some of the bigger companies:


The rate at which textiles production is moving overseas varies from company to company, but there is a trend for the removal overseas of companies manufacturing in this country which is very concerning. The article continued:


    "Dewhirst, one of Marks and Spencer's oldest suppliers, has told analysts it will have 60 per cent. of production abroad by the end of the year, rising to 70 per cent. by the end of next year."

Hon. Members will no doubt have focused on the fact that Marks and Spencer has made some public statements about where it will source its apparel and clothing from, but it is important to understand that that that does not necessarily mean that the company is saying that it has decided to source from abroad, and not from the UK. Marks and Spencer, like many other retailers, is now faced with a situation where its sources of supply--people with whom it has had producer-supplier relationships for many years--have upped sticks and moved. Marks and Spencer and other companies must now choose--do they stick with those people they know, albeit that they are now producing abroad, or do they seek new suppliers within the UK?

The Minister for Energy and Industry (Mr. John Battle): What about Heathcoat?

27 Jan 1999 : Column 261

Madam Speaker: Order. The Minister must not intervene from a sedentary position. It makes it very difficult for the Hansard reporters.

Mrs. Browning: I will give way to the Minister if he wishes to make a point at this stage.

Mr. Battle: I apologise, Madam Speaker. I simply said to the hon. Lady that her whole case was based on the grounds that there were no suppliers, but she spelt out that Heathcoat was doing very well. In her conversations with the industry, was she not advised that real damage was done to the supply chain if Members of Parliament talked down the industry and pretended that it had all gone?

Mrs. Browning: I am disappointed that the Minister should intervene in such a manner on my opening speech. Will he listen to me? I am not making party political points. I am speaking on behalf of a successful company that is concerned about its industry. It is no good the Minister's taking one company in isolation. I do not want the management and unions from Heathcoat to have to tell me that they will put the work force on short time working or close. If companies in my constituency see a trend developing in their industry, they will want to intervene, and they will seek my help. What is happening in the textile industry must be apparent to the Minister. We want companies such as Heathcoat to keep working seven days a week, and that is why I have initiated the debate.

Mr. Battle rose--

Mrs. Browning: I have given way to the Minister already, and he will be able to respond later. Perhaps he should hear the rest of my speech before he intervenes.

Mr. Battle rose--

Mrs. Browning: I am too generous to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Battle: I come from Leeds, so I know something about the textile industry, and I speak on it with some passion. During the period when the hon. Lady was a Minister, my constituency alone lost more jobs every week than the numbers she is referring to today.

Mrs. Browning: We are not talking about former Conservative Governments. The Government, and the Minister, have been in office for nearly two years. As he has chosen to conduct the debate on that level, I shall do what I did not intend to do, and read out the list of job losses for which the Government have been responsible. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously telling me that it does not matter, and that he would rather talk about the situation that pertained two, four or 10 years ago? He should be addressing today, tomorrow and the next 10 years.

In June 1998, Pringle in the north-east lost 280 jobs. In June 1998, Pringle in Scotland lost 245. On 30 June in Scotland, Dawson lost 600. In July, William Baird, in the north-east, lost 25 jobs. On 1 July, Todd and Duncan in Scotland lost 50 jobs. On 30 July, Morley and Kemp in the east midlands lost 37. In August, in the north-east, Textillion lost 100 jobs. Also in August, SR Gent in south

27 Jan 1999 : Column 262

Yorkshire lost 50 jobs. On 8 August, Dawson lost 720 more jobs in Scotland. On 22 August, Dewhirst in Scotland lost 120. On 21 September, William Baird in the north-east lost 450. The Minister may laugh if he wants.

Last October, Praxis Tailoring in the north-east lost 15 jobs. In October, JPS Ltd. lost 200 jobs in the north-east. I am half-way through my list, and I have reached only last October, when Kangol in the north-east also lost 200 jobs, Karrimore in the north-east lost 35 jobs and William Sugden had 35 job losses, also in the north-east. On 14 October, Rieter-Scragg had 97 job losses in the north-west. On 16 October, Textillion had a further 240 job losses in the north-east. Slimma lost 103 jobs in Scotland on 21 October. On 22 October, 10 jobs were lost at Woolmart in Yorkshire. On 23 October, the Jerome Group in Yorkshire had 50 job losses.

On 6 November, FII had 130 job losses in the west midlands. On 6 November, Desmond and Sons lost 225 jobs in Northern Ireland. On 10 November, Coats Optilon had 61 job losses in the north-east. On 11 November, Umbro lost 70 jobs in the north-west. Edward Hall Bleachworks on 13 November lost 70 in the east midlands. On 14 November, C and J Clark had 120 job losses in the west midlands. In the north-east, 260 jobs were lost on 19 November at William Baird. Dewhirst lost 600 jobs across the country on 27 November. On the same day, Laura Ashley announced 100 job losses in Wales.

On 2 December, Courtaulds announced 1,220 job losses across the country. On 18 December, Chamberlain Components had 24 job losses in the east midlands. On 22 December, Dawson lost 300 jobs in Scotland. On 22 December, Sherwood lost 300 jobs in the east midlands.

The trend has continued in 1999. We do not want to hear a Minister telling us that that has nothing to do with the Government. All those job losses occurred during the Government's stewardship. I am asking the Minister--politely--to hear what the industry is saying. What can he and the Government do to stop a clear trend that is alarming companies such as John Heathcoat in Tiverton? Those companies are worried not about this week, but about the next few years.

What does the industry want? Heathcoat wrote to me:


I welcome the Minister's initiative in setting up an industry-led group. However, the Government must do more than hold meetings and sit around tables talking. The Department of Trade and Industry has agreed to support only 19 overseas events to assist United Kingdom exports. That compares badly with the Department's support for 31 last year. At a time when exports are being hit by the strength of sterling and the problems of the far east, it seems ironic that the DTI should provide less support to help companies expand into export markets.

Mr. Phil Woolas (Oldham, East and Saddleworth): The point about overseas exports is important, but does the hon. Lady agree that the number of companies attending those exhibitions and trade fairs is more important than

27 Jan 1999 : Column 263

the number of events that occur? I welcome her call for more DTI support for our industry, but we should be clear about that point.

Mrs. Browning: I do not have a breakdown of those figures, but concern has been expressed by the industry's trade body, the British Apparel and Textile Confederation. If the Government are doing better than the confederation believes, it is surely incumbent on the Government to communicate better and to ensure that the trade body knows what they are doing. The confederation is expressing public concern about the support coming from the Government this year, in comparison with that given last year. If that concern is unfounded, there is clearly a lack of communication.

The industry wants a level playing field. We speak often of level playing fields, but they are vital. They make the difference between winning and not winning contracts. The industry want a level field at home and abroad.

Heathcoat of Tiverton is based in an area that would not be immediately identified as having a large textile manufacturing sector. There is an industry in the south-west, but the area is less well known for it than the north, the midlands and Scotland. If the Government intervene domestically to support the industry, through grants or in any other way, it is essential that they should do so in a way that is fair to companies such as mine in the south-west. It would be quite wrong to address the crisis by putting support into companies or regions that would disadvantage other companies in the textile industry in another part of the country.


Next Section

IndexHome Page