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Ethical and Sustainable Fashion — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:02 pm on 19th March 2013.

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Photo of Lord Razzall Lord Razzall Liberal Democrat 8:02 pm, 19th March 2013

My Lords, it is not possible to overestimate the importance of fashion design in this country. From Stella McCartney to Vivienne Westwood, we are clearly world market leaders. It is also important that we should highlight the importance of ethical fashion, which was brilliantly highlighted in this House by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and outside it by Livia Firth, who is better known in this field than her famous actor husband.

We all remember the horrors of Primark, which were referred to earlier. It was accused of exploiting third-world employees to produce dresses that it was cheaper to wear once, throw away and replace with another than to dry clean. However, the big companies have begun to catch on. I commend to the noble Lord, Lord Young, and others-I do not know why I picked on him-the Gucci ecologically 100% traceable bag. It is not black but a burgundy brownish red because this is the best vegetable-sourced colour. The leather is sourced from cows reared without causing deforestation and the handle is made from bamboo that grows like a weed. Gucci may sell furs, but this bag is a start.

It is not only major companies that have caught on. The United Kingdom has Brora, which sources ethically produced fibre from the Mongolian goat and turns it into cashmere in Scotland. It also has People Tree, which started in 2001 and is recognised as a pioneer in fair trade and environmentally sustainable fashion. It both provides desirable fashion and works to improve the lives and environment of workers and farmers in developing countries. UK manufacturers do not just provide jobs. Barbour not only makes all its waxed coats in United Kingdom but is a major donor to charity. It has given away £8 million in recent years, including a recent grant of £1 million to Newcastle University for medical research.

What can the Government do? That is the Question put by the noble Baroness. I am not a great believer in government intervention, but if we accept that demand for high-end value manufactured goods made here rather than in China is good for the United Kingdom, the Government could, first, encourage universities to concentrate courses on manufacture rather than just design; secondly, following the reference to Vince Cable, contemplate the creation of manufacturing hubs, or "catapults" to use the jargon, to encourage manufacturing; and, thirdly, in their export drives, promote manufacturers and suppliers of ethically produced clothing that is made here. They could also, as the noble Lord, Lord Stone, indicated, give a lot of money to the initiative of my noble friend Lord Alliance.