I am grateful for the extended number of contributions which have been permitted in this debate and I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) on selecting a subject which is so close to the hearts of Members from the North-West.
The industry is modern and in contrast to the image that people living in the South have of textiles. I worked in the industry for some time and I know that its problems are not restricted to the North-West. It is spread throughout the nation, with a firm like Coates in Glasgow, substantial textile activity in London and a great deal of cotton textiles in East Anglia, but it is in the concentration in the North-West that the biggest problems are being felt.
Mention has been made of the efforts by the people in the North-West, joint efforts of both management and unions, to deal with these problems. I do not think there is another industry which could boast of such joint co-operation between management and employees to ensure survival.
We have a very modern industry. It is the second most capital intensive industry in the country, operating the most advanced technology and with the most advanced management attitudes. I helped to train management at one time and I know that it is aware of and concerned to utilise the most up-to-date techniques. It has an open mind on new developments, yet it feels helpless in the face of the crisis created by imports, and it feels bitter, quite rightly, at being let down.
There is also a crisis of confidence in recruitment. Very few parents feel able today to advise their children when they leave school that they can be confident of a long and successful career in the textile industry. One of the most difficult tasks at the moment is to ensure that it gets the right quality of recruits. Of course, the unemployment statistics in no way indicate the extent of short-time working and the loss of income in families where in many cases both husband and wife depend on the textile industry and both are put on short time.
The industry has never asked for privilege. It has accepted sacrifices, going back to the days of the American Civil War. In recent years in many ways the Lancashire textile industry has provided many of the funds for development in the under-developed countries. But while we do not ask for privilege, we do ask for fair treatment of imports. It might be appropriate if marks of origin were restored to imported goods.
The hon. Member for Rochdale indicated the decline in the number of jobs in the industry over the years. The industry is concentrated in an intermediate area into which the Government are pouring funds, but that money will go straight down the drain unless they do something about the import problem.
It was said at the end of the war that Britain's bread hung on Lancashire thread. Lancashire responded to that situation. I suggest that, now, Lancashire's thread hangs over the Government's head, and I hope that the Minister will respond. I know that he is concerned, and I am sure that he will take urgent action on imports.