HC Deb 14 March 1967 vol 743 cc234-9
The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Douglas Jay)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on textile imports.

I am glad to inform the House that the Textile Council have agreed at my request to set up a Textile Council Imports Commission, with the following responsibilities:

First, to keep a watch on imports of all types of textiles within the purview of the Council, and to analyse their type, source and price.

Secondly, to assist firms or sections of the industry to prepare and submit antidumping applications to the Board of Trade. I have offered the Commission the advice of the Board of Trade on material required to support applications.

Thirdly, to act as the normal channel for consultation between the Board of Trade and the industry on proposals to use tariff or import controls to regulate the flow of imports.

Fourthly, to study and report on particular problems arising from or affected by imports such as evasion, substitution etc.

I am confident that the new Commission will be of great value in assisting the Board of Trade in the control of textile imports.

Sir K. Joseph

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether this Commission will have any executive authority at all?

Mr. Jay

The Commission will have authority to collect all the information it chooses, to make any representations it wishes to the Board of Trade, and to assist the Board of Trade in the general task of regulating and controlling imports.

Mr. Thornton

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that, in general, he will be prepared to accept the advice of this Commission, provided that its recommendations do not contravene our international legal obligations?

Mr. Jay

I can give an assurance that I shall welcome the Commission's advice, but I cannot say, in advance of knowing what its advice is, whether or not I shall accept it.

Mr. Hirst

Does the President of the Board of Trade realise that his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) is not sufficient? The Commission may well have executive power for collecting information, and so on, but we want to know whether that executive power is to be a matter of right, which all Governments have refused to give for years.

Mr. Jay

The Commission will have all the powers short of the legal powers of controlling imports which Parliament has conferred on the Board of Trade. I have no power to devolve on other bodies the power which Parliament has conferred on my Department.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that his announcement will be welcomed by all those in the north-west of England, particularly in Lancashire, who have for a long time been pressing the Government to appoint exactly such a Commission? They will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for appointing it. If it turns out that the Commission should be equipped with further and executive powers of any kind, will he consider the matter sympathetically?

Mr. Jay

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. I will, of course, consider very sympathetically any suggestion that may be put forward.

Sir M. Stoddart-Scott

In speaking of textiles, does the right hon. Gentleman mean cotton textiles, wool textiles, or both?

Mr. Jay

I mean cotton and man-made fibres, which are within the purview of the Council, but not the wool industry, which so far has not been willing to join this organisation.

Mr. Blackburn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, while we are always grateful for small mercies, a Commission without any power at all will not satisfy the industry?

Mr. Jay

I have said that I think the industry will welcome the proposals we have made. I could not go further than this without conferring on the Commission powers which have been given by the House to the Board of Trade.

Sir Frank Pearson

Can the President of the Board of Trade give an assurance that, should the Commission so advise it, he will not close his mind in advance to the question of reducing the level of quotas of imports?

Mr. Jay

I shall not close my mind in advance to any suggestions made by the Commission, but I point out to the hon. Member that we have now made an agreement, lasting until 1970, to control imports from a very large number of countries. We are, of course, bound by this agreement, as are the other parties to it.

Mr. Mapp

While I welcome this somewhat belated statement, may I press my right hon. Friend further on the question of the Commission? Will it be of high standing? Will its recommendations be strengthened by having independent members? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Mapp

Has the Textile Council explicitly approved my right hon. Friend's recommendations or broadly condoned them? In fact, this Commission must be—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions must be reasonably brief.

Mr. Jay

The Council has accepted a request I made to it, but the actual appointment of members of the Commission is of course, for the Council and not for me. I have no doubt that its members will be of high standing.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Does the right hon. Gentleman regard this feeble thing as a redemption of the pledge given by the Foreign Secretary to his own party before the General Election, when he said that there would be a Commission empowered to have the exclusive right to buy textiles from abroad? Is this a sufficient redemption of that pledge?

Mr. Jay

No, neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said anything of the kind. What we now propose is precisely in line with what my right hon. Friend proposed.

Mr. Barnett

While hoping for Lancashire's sake that the objectives will be achieved, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend has received any representations from any quarter that this Commission should not have executive powers? If he has not received any such representations, why not give it precise executive powers to deal with the situation?

Mr. Jay

I have received many representations from a large number of quarters, but the proposal carries the support of a great many sections of the industry and carries out the pledge we gave at the General Election.

Mr. Heath

Is it not true that nothing in the task given to this Commission has not been effectively carried out and could be effectively carried out today by a properly run Board of Trade? Is it not true that where action is required the only people who can take it are the Board of Trade, which is responsible to this House? The President of the Board of Trade has said that in any case he is bound by the agreement made to last until 1970. Therefore, is not this just plain humbug?

Mr. Jay

No, Sir. It is a grievous mistake to think that all the information and expertise in this matter resides in the Board of Trade. As the right hon. Gentleman must know, there is a great deal of advice, help and information which we can get from those engaged in the industry. They are anxious to give it and I am very glad to receive it.

Mr. J. T. Price

While Lancashire Members will, naturally, give a qualified welcome to the move my right hon. Friend has made in the direction which for a long time we have been asking him to take, to appoint a proper watchdog over imports, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will take it from me that most of us would prefer a watch-dog—[Laughter]. All right. We would prefer a watchdog endowed with decent teeth to get over these difficulties. Does he recollect previous efforts to shuffle on to the Board of Trade the need to make bilateral agreements with traders of other countries, which have always failed? Is it not the duty of the Government to arrest the present tendency of decline and to do something for the large number of people who are out of work in Lancashire at the moment as a result of the continuous closing of mills and the decline of the industry?

Mr. Jay

If I may make a personal statement, I have always disliked dogs. I am, none the less, always very grateful for even a qualified welcome from my hon. Friend.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Does the President of the Board of Trade fully appreciate that with the rundown of the economy some parts of the textile industry are having a worse time now than they did in the 'thirties? What he has said today, while welcome, does not go nearly far enough. What do he and the Government intend to do to keep textile workers employed?

Mr. Jay

I fully realise the great anxieties in the Lancashire cotton industry at the moment, which is caused mostly by the destocking movement by the distributive part of the trade. This, in any case, must be temporary.

Mr. Coe

Quite apart from the work the proposed Commission will do, does my right hon. Friend propose any immediate action on imports from Portugal, which are so great?

Mr. Jay

As my hon. Friend knows, I have discussed this matter again recently with the Portuguese Minister of Economic Affairs. I have every reason to expect that imports from Portugal during the coming year will be at a lower level than they have been in recent months.

Mr. Bessell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my hon. and right hon. Friends welcome the basis for this Commission and that, while we would like it to have executive powers, we wish to have an assurance that the Commission could have them at a later stage? Has the right hon. Gentleman any plans for the provision of research factories and other technical training in the Lancashire area?

Mr. Jay

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his qualified support, but I must content myself today by saying what we and the Textile Council have decided that this Commission should do from now. We shall always be open to suggestions for the future. Research was one of the responsibilities undertaken by the old Cotton Board and now by the Textile Council.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the shake-out is shaking the life out of the cotton industry? What is required are immediate steps to help the industry, or it may fail to revive as a major industry.

Mr. Jay

I advise my hon. Friend not to be too pessimistic, because there are hopeful as well as adverse tendencies. We also have plans, which we are discussing with the Textile Council, on the productivity front, as well as that of controlling imports.

  1. NEW MEMBERS SWORN 19 words