Both my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have received a letter from the Shirt Collar and Tie Manufacturers' Federation. The Government are ready to have an early meeting with representatives of the shirt industry to discuss the situation if they wish.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the British shirt industry fears that 1975 will be the blackest year in the history of the industry and that there could be many factory closures, such as that which occurred in my constituency recently, caused primarily by a flood of cheap imports?
Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with a situation in which, for example, the new Hong Kong agreement could permit 27 million shirts to be imported into Britain next year—an increase of 10 million on last year—together with cheap imports from Korea, Taiwan and from the Communist countries? Is the hon. Gentleman aware also that there was one instance of shirts being imported at a price of 21p per shirt from Poland and Romania? If he is not satisfied with this situation, will he state what steps the Government intend to take to protect the British industry?
The hon. Gentleman has asked four or five questions. I shall try to answer them all as quickly as possible.
First, any further unemployment in the shirt industry would be serious. Recent trends in the industry suggest no major departure from the national pattern of unemployment. The position in the shirt industry is in fact no worse than it is in British industry on average.
Secondly, there is a misunderstanding about the position as regards Hong Kong. Previously we had two separate quotas for shirts coming from Hong Kong. They have now been combined on an all-fibre basis. There were no objections from the industry to the combining of the two sectors on an all-fibre basis. There is an advantage to British manufacturers, and indeed to the British industry generally, in having an all-fibre basis for Hong Kong shirts so that they cannot be switched from one sector to the other when restrictions have been put on one sector but not on the other. There have been increases in imports of Hong Kong shirts in the past year, mainly in the cotton sector. This is a sector that would have expanded if we had not combined the two sectors. Restrictions on South Korean knitted and woven shirts were imposed on 22nd August.