HC Deb 08 May 1972 vol 836 cc896-8
22. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress has been made in negotiations with the European Economic Community regarding textiles.

Mr. Noble

The Community does not yet have a common commercial policy for textiles generally. We have begun discussions with the Commission about the underlying principles of such a policy which will take time to evolve.

Mr. Meacher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if quotas had not been introduced this year import penetration of the home textiles market would have rocketed from 53 per cent. to around 85 per cent.? As it is clear from the Common Market negotiations that quotas cannot be maintained after entry, what is the right hon. Gentleman doing to prevent the flooding of the home market and the complete disruption of the cotton textile industry?

Mr. Noble

My Department has spent a great deal of time doing everything it can to make certain that that should not happen. In our discussions with the Common Market countries, these considerations are very clearly at the forefront of our minds.

Mr. Redmond

Has my right hon. Friend heard from the Textile Industry Support Campaign, which seems to be very edgy on this matter? It seems to think that the Government have sold the pass, when it would not appear from a recent answer that that has happened. Can my right hon. Friend give the Campaign any assurances on the matter?

Mr. Noble

The matter was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) in his answer to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) on 20th March and in the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) on 21st April. We certainly have not sold the pass, and have no intention of doing so.

Mr. J. T. Price

Is the Minister aware that I have been battering my head against this problem for the past 15 years at least, I am sorry to say with very little success under either Government? Whether a Labour Government or a Conservative Government have been in power, the impression has been left in Lancashire that textiles are an expendable industry and that we have gone from bad to worse, until at last a full stop was put to the process by the restoration of quotas. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at a time when 55 per cent. of the British home market is taken by imports from under-developed and semi-developed countries, some of our European would-be partners in the Common Market are importing about 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. at most, and refuse to take any step, except to pass pious resolutions, to help those countries? This country, my county of Lancashire in particular, is completely fed up with the indifference of all Governments to this problem.

Mr. Noble

I am very well aware of the hon. Gentleman's interest in the pro lem, for at least 14 years. I am grateful to him for saying that the introduction of quotas was of benefit. I think he also appreciates that, as we heard in a debate not long ago, some textile imports—I think the figure is 50 per cent., and not 55 per cent., but I would not quarrel with him about this—are necessary if we are to discharge our responsibility to developing countries.

Mr. Normanton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present burden of imports is many times in excess of that in the Common Market countries? Will he please stand firm on the assurance he gave the House on 8th December that the interests of the industry would at least be maintained? The discussions taking place in Brussels relate to cotton textile imports. Will my right hon. Friend give similar assurances that he will give equal support in regard to man-made fibre imports, including polyster, which is coming into this country at an ever-increasing rate?

Mr. Noble

I am very well aware of the problems of polyester and other yarns, and I shall do all I can to protect my hon. Friend's interests in this regard.

Mr. Benn

As the industry in question is likely to be one of the first affected by the move of decision-making power from London to Brussels, will the Minister undertake to provide the very fullest information to the House and the industry on the progress of the negotiations, including the publication of documents submitted to him by members of the European Economic Community, so that all may know exactly where they stand at this juncture?

Mr. Noble

I shall try to keep the House informed at appropriate moments, but I could not publish every document as soon as it was received, or before it had been properly considered.