Manufacturing and Competition
Mr David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye so soon after my arrival in the House. I am aware that not all previous hon. Members for Bosworth have been so fortunate. Sir William Edge, elected as Member of Parliament for Bosworth on 31 May 1927, was first successful in catching Mr. Speaker Fitzroy's eye on 12 July 1928, 14 months later.
I noted Mr. Speaker's remarks earlier in the week that hon. Members, for their good health, should wear jackets in the air-conditioned Chamber. I am sorry to hear that Mr. Speaker is not well. However, I must tell the House that, despite following his ruling to the button, not only have I caught his eye but I have caught his cold. I ask hon. Members to bear with me if I appear to be a little under the weather.
I have always considered it to be a great honour to be chosen to stand for Parliament. It is a much greater honour to be elected and it carries with it enormous responsibilities which I take very seriously. I first wish to thank the 34,000 electors in Bosworth who voted for me. I must make it clear to the House that my 17,000 majority, which made my vote almost double that of the party that came second, owed much to the respect, admiration and trust that my predecessor, Sir Adam Butler, generated during his 17 years as Member of Parliament for Bosworth. During my time in the constituency since my selection in December, I have heard not one word said against him. On the doorstep I have heard people say how he helped them, how he looked into their family problems and helped, for example, with war pensions. He has helped so many people in the constituency and he has always been approachable. He has certainly been kind to me.
I pay tribute, too, to his career in the House. He was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when she was Leader of the Opposition. He was a Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry, a Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office and the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. Conservative Members will remember that he won the constituency in 1970 with an 8 per cent. swing, he held it in 1974 against the national swing and improved it in 1979 and in 1983. I hope that all hon. Members will join me in wishing Sir Adam a long and happy career outside the House.
I also pay tribute to my wife, who is sitting in the Gallery. She has already supported me through three campaigns, including two general elections, and I look forward to her support in many more.
One of the problems that newly elected Members on both sides of the House will have found in taking over from senior, well known and respected Members as they retire is how to get oneself known. Soon after I was selected as the candidate for Bosworth, I explained on the doorstep to a lady of advanced years and great seniority that I was taking over from Sir Adam, her respected Member of Parliament. She looked me straight in the eye and said, "Well lad, your problem is that nobody knows you from Adam." I would like to think that I have overcome that problem or I would not be speaking here today.
I am fortunate to represent one of the most historic constituencies in England. It was there, at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, that the Wars of the Roses ended with Richard III being defeated by Henry Tudor, soon to be crowned Henry VII. I must say in passing that my heart goes out to hon. Members who represent constituencies with names that mean nothing to the local people and presumably mean something only to the mandarins of the Boundary Commission.
Apart from the famous battlefield, much favoured by tourists, my constituency covers 126 square miles or, if one prefers, 80,000 acres. It is situated at the very centre of England and has countryside as beautiful as one could wish to see. However, the commercial heart of the countryside is the town of Hinckley together with Earl Shilton, Barwell, Burbage and Anstey. A total of 46 per cent. of the residents employed in my constituency are employed in manufacturing, hence the reason for my great interest in wishing to catch your eye today, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
In the constituency approximately 16,000 are employed in the hosiery and knitwear industry. They are employed by one of the 90 hosiery and knitwear companies that we are fortunate to have. The motion refers to the importance of quality. I must tell the House that the quality of hosiery and knitwear made in my constituency is second to none. It is as good as that made anywhere in the world. We have a hard working, skilled labour force, forward-thinking managements and a record of good industrial relations. I suggest to hon. Members who live in the north and north-west that if they are driving up the M1 on a Friday they could do much worse than stop in Bosworth and buy some of the hosiery and knitwear available there. It will cost them much less than anything bought in Oxford street or Knightsbridge and they will get the same quality or better. I recommend that to hon. Members.
Quality is not the only virtue required for a manufacturing company to compete internationally. I propose to look at another factor and, I hope, demonstrate the profound impact that it has had on international competitiveness, at least for the hosiery and knitwear industries. That factor is the effect of the exchange rates and the value of sterling against European currencies.
I suggest that the easing of the value of sterling against major European currencies last year has been of great benefit to textile and clothing exporters. I do not want to send hon. Members to sleep by bombarding them with statistics but I must refer to figures for clothing exports to the EEC which have just been published by the British Textile Confederation. They show that in the first quarter of 1987, compared with the first quarter of 1986, those exports to West Germany were up by 43 per cent., to France by 45 per cent., to Belgium by 56 per cent. and to the Netherlands by almost 60 per cent. Those are significant figures.
As I said, those figures have been published, but what has not been published hitherto is the impact that the large increase in clothing exports to the EEC has had on our trading performance with the EEC in the first four months of this year.
I am delighted to be able to inform the House that the unpublished figures that I have received from the British Textile Confederation show a dramatic improvement. Compared with the first four months of 1986, in the first four months of 1987 our trade deficit with all European Community countries was reduced; for textiles by 10·3 per cent. and for clothing by 24·4 per cent. The combined textile and clothing deficit was reduced by nearly 15 per cent. That is good news for my constituents, the hosiery and knitwear industry and the country.
Unfortunately, there is bad news too. There is the general problem of low-cost imports from the far east. They threaten the viability of British companies. I refer to imports from countries in which labour is paid a pittance and the hours are long. In some cases, workers get only half a Sunday off each month.
I draw the attention of the House to a specific serious problem affecting my constituency; that is, the phenomenal increase in imports of cheap underwear from China. The matter is of great concern to me. In my constituency, 12 companies that make briefs and pants could be threatened. I ask hon. Members to bear with me as I give them a few figures that I think are important. Every year, approximately 136 million pairs are sold in the United Kingdom, of which, last year, 89 million were imported. In 1985, we imported from China about 2·5 million pairs. The figures that have now been compiled show that, in the first quarter of this year, we imported 8·5 million pairs from China. This year, we expect to import from China 34 million pairs in all. That is a staggering increase on a base figure of 89 million. Last year, the French and the Germans bore the brunt of imports from China. They pleaded with the EC for regional restrictions, and they were granted.
Were I not bound by the convention that my maiden speech should not be controversial, I would say that I wholeheartedly support the Knitting Industries Federation in its demand for urgent action for Britain.
I draw the attention of the House to another important influence on the ability to compete internationally. It goes hand in hand with quality. It is by no means restricted to the hosiery and knitwear industry. I refer to design. For six years, I worked in marketing in the computer industry and learnt to recognise the importance of design. Increasingly, in my constituency, companies are investing more in design and are reaping the benefits of that investment, particularly in computerised design in the hosiery and knitwear industry.
There is no better illustration of the force of good quality and design than another company in another industry in which many of my constituents work. I refer to Jaguar Cars at Coventry, which has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock). Like many hosiery and knitwear manufacturers in my constituency, Jaguar has found the magic marketing mix that brings success in international markets.