Textile Council (Dissolution)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th December 1971.

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Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton 12:00 am, 14th December 1971

I should like to join in the commendations to the Textile Council and agree with the tributes to those who did so much to make it the success it was. I endorse all that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) said about the co-operation that the trade union movement has always shown in the industry.

When the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) was speaking about the statesmanlike approach of the trade union movement and how he would have liked to have seen this practised on a wider scale, I could not help reflecting that many trade unionists in the industry and elsewhere might wonder whether their statesmanship had got them low wages and massive unemployment. Irrespective of whether it is in the national good, they are entitled to ask whether it has been for their particular good. One can go too far at times in this statesmanlike approach and the textile workers have not had a fair return for the statesmanship they and their leaders have shown over a long time.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will reply to a number of questions I shall ask him tonight, unlike his right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade a few nights ago who made no effective replies to a number of questions I asked. To receive proper answers, perhaps one needs to plant Questions. Perhaps I should have given the hon. Gentleman notice of my questions.

In the context of the dissolution of the Textile Council, it is clearly impossible not to refer to the position of the Lancashire textile industry. On a previous occasion I welcomed the Government's acceptance of the council's recommendation that the tariffs and the quotas should operate side by side. In Lancashire the position has been and is appalling, with mills closing every week and with unemployment and short-time working at a terrible level, not only in textile mills but in other industries, making it virtually impossible for many women thrown out of work in this industry to find other employment. It helps nobody, certainly not the developing countries, to destroy Lancashire's textile industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) referred to the industry's failure to respond to incentives. If my hon. Friend were to talk to some of the owners of both single-unit mills and of groups in Lancashire, he would find that it is not too surprising that they have not responded, since they have had to sell their products at literally below cost because of the disruptive effect of many of the imports from the developing countries, in which I include Portugal.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the need for alternative industries in Lancashire. There has been considerable diversification but many parts of Lancashire—certainly my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East—have, and are likely to have for a considerable time, great dependence on the textile industry.

I am sure that the Under-Secretary has the answer to these questions because they are clearly relevant and must be troubling the Government. First, what will happen about the voluntary quota system? It was a system operated by arrangement between ourselves and the Commonwealth countries; there was no law enforcing it.

For how long do the Government propose to retain the existing system? Do they propose to accept entirely the recommendations of the Textile Council? Will the quota system be retained until the mid-1970s or is it only an arrangement of an even more temporary nature? It is understandable that countries such as India and Hong Kong are disturbed that this is introduced at the very last moment, when they thought that they would be able to start the new system on 1st January. I see that the Minister is smiling.