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House of Lords

Tuesday, 12th May 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Textiles and EC Anti-Dumping Duties

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to persuade the European Commission to lift its provisional anti-dumping duty on imports of cotton greycloth from countries outside the European Union.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): My Lords, we agree with the opposition expressed by the British textile industry to the imposition by the European Commission of provisional anti-dumping duties in this case. Along with a majority of member states, we made it clear to the Commission that we opposed such duties. Despite this, the Commission proceeded with the imposition of provisional duties. Although legally entitled to do this, we regard the decision as unfortunate. The provisional duties will stand for no more than six months. If the Commission were to propose definitive duties, it would be for the Council of Ministers, acting by simple majority, to determine the issue. For our part, we shall continue to make every possible effort to ensure that definitive duties are not imposed.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that marginally encouraging reply when one considers that some 2.5 million European jobs depend in some way on these imports, perhaps 0.5 million of which are in the United Kingdom. Can the Minister confirm that the Council of Ministers had agreed with its advisory committee that these duties should not have been reimposed and that under EC law that should have been the end of the matter? Can he also confirm that even though no new circumstances had arisen, the Commission agreed to reimpose the duties last month but only after intense and improper pressure from M. Chirac?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, it is not correct to say that the Commission has no legal right to impose a provisional duty. That has been the position since anti-dumping legislation was first implemented in the European Community in 1968. The Commission has a right to impose provisional duties. The UK agreed to that on accession to the Community in 1973 and when the relevant Council regulation was revised in 1979, 1988, 1994 and 1996. The issue is that these are

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provisional duties. The legal position will be clarified during the investigations; it will then be for the Council of Ministers either to agree definitive duties or not.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is it not the case that there are 5,000 French jobs involved in this matter which is why the French are particularly keen that the duties should be imposed? However, there are many more jobs which are adversely affected by those duties. Is it not true that the rest of Europe has caved in to the French position? I have no complaint about the French. They are only batting on their own wicket. But should we not try to play some decent cricket or even la boule instead of allowing the parlez-vous to get away with it?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, we could debate the numbers. The noble Earl refers to 5,000 French jobs. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, says that there are 2.5 million jobs at risk. That means that there is even more gearing than the noble Earl thinks. This is a provisional position. Investigations are taking place. There will be a very good reason to turn over the provisional duties so that they are not made definitive if a majority of the Ministers believe that the French are behaving improperly. Let us wait until October, until the investigations are over. If it is improper, as the noble Earl suggests, the decision will be turned over.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that unlike the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, I do have a quarrel with the French because they are not behaving in what is termed in polite circles a communautaire manner? I sincerely hope that my noble friend will take that into account. If it is shown that the European Commission has acted outwith its powers, will my noble friend promise me that the British Government, if nobody else, will take the Commission to court to clarify the position and to safeguard the many jobs, including British jobs, which are involved?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I have made it clear already that this is not an illegal imposition of duties. The Commission is acting within its right to impose provisional duties if it has grounds to believe that pricing is illegal. I agree that if the French are found to be in a minority when the matter is put to the Council of Ministers in October, as it is obliged to be after the six months provisional duties period has run out, the decision will be turned over and not become definitive. I should say that on our unofficial current count, five countries are supporting the provisional duties.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a danger that this sort of Question descends into Europhobia and that we should have a more serious look at the importance to the British textile industry of the issues raised? Does the Minister agree, first, that our textile industry is dependent on the added value of finished goods? It is extremely important therefore that the textile industry has a worldwide free market in greycloth, and that is the policy which the British Government have so far pursued. More particularly, will the Minister agree that there is a serious danger in this

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case? Jobs are being lost in the textile areas of the country. In addition, producers of greycloth, particularly in Turkey, are developing significant added value capability and are using the opportunity of the manufacture of greycloth and its high price to stop the textile added value which manufacturers in this country can obtain. Will the Minister agree that it is not a question of bashing the French or Europe but a question of confirming the Government's commitment on this issue?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I can confirm to the noble Lord that we quite agree that value added on this imported material is extremely important to the British industry. We have that in mind in continuously expressing our opinion that this is an improper imposition. In October, when we come to vote, we shall say the same thing and hope to have a majority. We quite agree that our industry is very good at adding value.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, although the Minister is correct about the imposition of these duties, which would provisionally be for six months, does he accept that the problem here is their improper re-imposition for another six months?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, that may well be so, but we have not yet finished the first six months or had the Council's vote on the matter.

Lord Renton: My Lords, cannot the Council of Ministers deal with the matter before the present six-month period has expired?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I do not think that the investigations will be completed before the six months have expired.

Palace of Westminster: Media Passes

2.44 p.m.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford asked the Chairman of Committees:

    How many passes are now issued to media representatives in the Palace of Westminster, and of the total how many are held by BBC staff.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, a total of 514 media passes are on issue; 125 of these are held by the BBC.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, will the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees accept my thanks for that reply? Is it not surprising that we are now moving rapidly towards a situation where there will be one media representative for each elected Member of the other House? Indeed, no other democratic institution in the free world has such a coverage as prevails here.

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In relation to the number of passes held by the BBC, does the noble Lord recall that in the 1960s and the early 1970s, before either this House or the other place was televised, David Holmes and Hardiman Scott, assisted from time to time by none other than Angela Rippon, were able to report the proceedings in both Houses with great expertise? In view of the noble Lord's own excellent experience in the media, can he explain why on earth the BBC needs 125 people to cover the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament when we seldom, if ever, see any of them at this end of the Palace?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, with reference to the noble Lord's middle question, I do indeed recall those days. That is certainly so for the 1960s but less so for the 1970s in the case of the BBC. Perhaps I should declare an interest in that I worked for the BBC during the 1950s and the 1960s. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, is right about the numbers who managed to report the proceedings then. However, we are now in a different situation. Whether we are moving to the situation that the noble Lord described, as regards the proportion of media representatives to the number of elected Members in another place, I do not know.

Indeed, comparisons are awkward. I do not know what is a proper number of media representatives. All I can say is that this number seems to be needed. Perhaps I should, therefore, draw upon Mozart's riposte to his royal critic when the latter said that he had used too many notes. Mozart replied:

    "No more and no fewer, your Majesty, than are necessary".

The BBC does need quite a number of representatives. It should not be forgotten that, apart from its coverage of Parliament, which it is required by its Charter to provide on a daily basis--and we try to facilitate the BBC as far as we can--noble Lords will also be aware of the BBC's role in covering special events, such as the State Opening of Parliament, Addresses to Members of both Houses by foreign and Commonwealth leaders, and other such matters.

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