Orders of the Day — Textile and Clothing Industries

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:32 pm on 30th July 1980.

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Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives 7:32 pm, 30th July 1980

I have said we shall get the best possible deal that we can for the textile industry. I have explained to the many delegations of trade unionists and employers who have seen us that it would be foolish of us—because it would not help in negotiations—if we tied ourselves down in the House of Commons to what we hope to achieve, what we can achieve and what we shall fight for. I do not think that that would help us to get the best possible deal. However, MFA III, like MFA II, will not be an imposed arrangement. It will be a deal between groups of countries that will involve an extremely difficult and delicate set of negotiations.

When the present Government took office in May 1979 we inherited an environment in which 150,000 jobs had been lost in the previous five years. Over 32,000 men and women were kept in work by the temporary employment subsidy, which the Labour Government, if I recollect rightly being told in the textile areas, were committed to ending. Under the Labour Government we were a temporary employment Britain and, to a large extent, we had a temporarily employed textile industry when we took over. We shall see, after five years of Conservative Government, whether we have succeeded in arresting the decline.

I deplore, as do all my right hon. and hon. Friends, the acceleration of unemployment in the textile and clothing industries during the past few months. But the notion, sedulously fostered by the Opposition, that insecurity, lack of confidence, decline and import penetration began in June 1979 is simply and clearly not the case. The clothing and textile industries have had grave problems for many years.

Our commitment is to do our best to ensure the arrest of that decline and see it reversed. That is our task and I am happy to have it. Whether we succeed or fail will ultimately depend upon whether the industry can produce the goods that the public wish to buy.

The right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North dwelt on the high price of the pound. It is not simply a question of price. If price were to be the prevailing factor, we should sell no woollen and worsted products in the United States over a tariff barrier of 44 per cent., but we do. Last year over that tariff barrier we exported to the United States 2–3 million square metres of cloth compared with 2 million for the year before when the right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North was in office.

The notion that as more low wage countries enter the world market with their products we can become more competitive with a weak pound where we are not now competitive with a strong pound is false. When the Labour Government lurched from one financial crisis to another, with sterling falling in value from $ 2–40 to $ 1–60, there was no sudden upsurge in overseas sales. The decline in the United Kingdom textile industry was not arrested.