HC Deb 27 May 1988 vol 134 cc651-61 11.45 am
Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North)

This is the third Adjournment debate in less than a year that I have shared with my two Labour colleagues, the hon. Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). We have discussed poverty in Bradford and the Health Service in the Bradford health district. Those two debates were initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West. On Wednesday this week, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South raised the issue of education and the condition of schools in the Bradford area. Today it is my turn to bring to the House the position of the wool textile industry in Bradford and the West Riding of Yorkshire.

I and my colleagues take pride in co-operating with one another better to represent the people of Bradford, in particular the working people of our city. I use that term in its widest sense. I mean those who earn their living by hand and by brain, by their own efforts and not by rent, interest and profit—the efforts of others. We include those too young to work, those too old to work and the large number of our fellow citizens denied the right to work. In a sense, we have put the cart before the horse. We have described with some passion the effects before the cause of the serious health problems in our district and the appalling levels of poverty that have given us the name of low-pay city.

Our city is also wool city. Its history is bound up with the development of the wool textile industry. For generations, the wool industry has dominated the lives of Bradford people and, in large part, its domination is the cause of much of our low pay, poverty and ill-health.

In my maiden speech I referred to old-style mill capitalism in Bradford, to the power, flaunted wealth and arrogance of the old mill owners and to the exploitation and the back-to-back houses. I have no wish to repeat those comments this morning, but it is sufficient to say that it is still possible to meet pensioners who were employed as part-timers in the mills from as young as eight years of age.

One thing can be said in defence of the mill owners of those days. They worked in the industry and, even into the late 1960s, owner-managed mills were quite common. In more recent times, much like the rest of British industry, the mills have become dominated by investment managers in financial institutions, by off cum dens, as we call them, in remote boardrooms, and even by a film star's wife. Their interests are entirely in profits and high returns for their investors and the coupon-clipping class that they represent. They demonstrate little interest in the living standards and aspirations of the workers and those who depend on their earnings.

The modern history of the industry stems from a report prepared by W. S. Atkins and Partners for the National Economic Development Office in 1969, entitled "The Strategic Future of the Wool Textile Industry". It made 14 recommendations, which include more specialisation, a 40 per cent. reduction in productive establishments, a reduction in the work force from 144,000 to 121,000 by 1975, investment of £40 million by 1975, a higher rate of return on capital, more shift working and higher productivity, thereby, it said, ensuring higher remuneration in competition with other industries. It is interesting to note that a similar report, dealing with the Lancashire cotton industry was issued in 1969. Called "Cotton and Allied Textiles", it was produced by the Textile Council in Manchester. The trend in that industry has been similar in almost every way to that in the wool industry. Colleagues from my native county of Lancashire could make much the same points as those that we are making about the wool industry. The work force in the industry has suffered massive redundancies. Overall, some 300,000 jobs have disappeared in the textile industry since the war. Workers accepted new shift patterns and work practices and their efforts have led to substantial increases in productivity.

Between 1980 and 1986, productivity in woollen yarns rose by 41.4 per cent. Between 1980 and 1985, productivity in the carpet industry rose by 49 per cent. In bleaching, dyeing and raising, productivity rose by a staggering 69–4 per cent. between 1980 and 1986. The overall fall in employment since 1978 in the textile industry has been 46 per cent., and in woollens and worsteds, over 50 per cent. In the same period, the sales by United Kingdom firms declined by only 33 per cent., which is further proof of the enormous increase in productivity in this industry.

I asked the statistical section of the Library to prepare some information for this debate. Commenting on this phenomenon, its report said about output: Much of these falls occurred between 1979 and 1982 but while output has since risen employment has not. Fewer workers, producing far more per operative, has been nice for the shareholders. Profits as a percentage of total sales have risen from 1.4 per cent. in 1981 to 10.5 per cent. in 1986 in textile finishing, and from 3.75 per cent. in 1981 to 9.75 per cent. in 1986 in woollens and worsteds.

The Atkins report stated: However introduction of new plant and methods of working should provide scope for wage increases associated with improved productivity in many sectors. It is recommended that all parties to productivity negotiations should be mindful of the need for substantial increases in earnings. Wool textile workers have met all the conditions of the Atkins report. Their skills and efforts have achieved the recent upturn in the industry. Output is rising, productivity is high profits are booming—it is all very nice for the shareholders, but in terms of wages and employment there has been no such improvement for the workers or the unemployed.

Textile workers as a whole and wool textile workers in particular were low paid in 1969, and in 1979 when the Government came to office, and they remain definitely low paid today. In 1987, the average gross earnings in textile finishing for a full-time adult male worker were £25.20 lower than the average in manufacturing industry, in the woollen and worsted industry they were £31.30 a week lower, and in carpets around £20 a week lower. These earnings, deplorable as they are, can be achieved only by persistent and excessive overtime working. Average weekly overtime working in textile finishing is 7.1 hours a week, compared with 6.3 hours in the textile industry as a whole and 5.7 hours in all manufacturing. In the woollen and worsted industry, overtime hours average a staggering 9.1 a week. What a record that is for the vast number of unemployed workers in the city and the area as a whole.

Textiles are the sixth largest sector of British industry, and sales amounted to £12.5 million in 1987. In terms of value added, it is the fifth largest industry in Britain, bigger than the motor industry. In 1985, the value added was £4.67 billion, nearly £2 billion more than that achieved by the aerospace industry.

In my view, the textile industry is a mirror of what is wrong with British industry and with the Government's attitude towards British industry. In the run-up to the 1983 general election, the Prime Minister said: Most of the increased productivity comes from adopting the latest developments in equipment and machinery technology and working them up to the limit of what the machines themselves will permit. Unions have got to accept it and work it. If they don't then they are in danger of losing whole factories. I would argue that textile workers have met all the conditions that the Prime Minister laid out in that speech. They have accepted redundancies, they have witnessed closures and they have increased productivity. They have worked damn hard to create the wealth of that industry, yet their return is still absolutely scandalous and pitiful, and job opportunities have not improved, even during this modest boom. Workers have certainly responded, but again, mirroring the national position, the industry is not competing in the world market. While exports fell from £1,382 million in 1980 to £976 million in 1986, at the same time imports rose from £1,607 million to £3,400 million. Textile imports now take 44.6 per cent. of the market, compared with 31.5 per cent. when the Government came to power.

We are now faced with a protectionist situation developing in the United States because of that country's enormous balance of trade deficit. A recent trade report stated: Exports of cloth, yarns and tops to the EEC countries totalled £153.1 million, 6.5 per cent. higher than in 1985, while sales to the rest of the world were £247.9 million, a decrease of 12.7 per cent.

That is mirrored in particular by the over-strength of the pound in comparison with the dollar, which affects trade not only with the United States, but with Taiwan, Korea and other far eastern countries whose currencies are directly related to the dollar. We are certainly not competing against those countries, and in that sense the future looks bleak.

Textile workers and the trade unions that represent them are not little Englanders. We object to unfair competition and during this debate my colleagues will speak about, among other things, the imports of Turkish cloth. The textile unions have accepted the multi-fibre arrangement, which makes provision for the interests of low-paid and highly exploited workers in the Third world. They welcome the enormous movements of South Korean workers and the establishment of trade unions in their industry.

I recall speaking to a Bradford wholesaler who visited South Korea eight or nine years ago. He visited a textile factory there and said to the manager, "It's different from a textile factory in Britain. There's no music." The manager said that music was not allowed, to which the British business man replied that the girls in Britain liked to listen to Radio One or Pennine Radio. He said that he thought it was too quiet and commented on the fact that nobody was talking. The manager said, "If that girl spoke to another girl, we would sack her for talking and the other girl for listening."

Those young girls work 60 hours a week and 28 days a month with only two days off. They are brought in from agricultural areas and live in hostels. Bradford workers and trade unionists welcome the fact that those workers are now establishing trade unions and obtaining better conditions. The Transport and General Workers Union supports the KMU trade union in the Philippines in its heroic battle against a subsidiary of the British firm, Baird textiles. We are not little Englanders, but we object to dumping and unfair competition.

Bradford is part of the West Yorkshire closure area. The social conditions of our town are reflected in all walks of life. There is low pay. Many families have low incomes. We have the lowest paid women workers in the whole of Britain and our area has the third lowest paid men. 'The average earnings of our workers are appallingly low. The history of the domination of the wool industry is reflected in the general level of wages in our area.

One of our major problems is capital investment, which amounts to only £1,030 per worker annually in Yorkshire and Humberside, compared with the national average of £1,193.

In my maiden speech and in other speeches in the House, I have spoken of the fraud of modern "people's capitalism", which the Prime Minister speaks about so often. It is a fraud for working people in Bradford and in the country as a whole. It has offered us nothing. There has not been an increase in service jobs. All we have had is an increase in the proportion of service jobs because of the decline in manufacturing jobs in our area. The engineering industry, which was brought to Bradford to replace the decline in textiles, has suffered a similar decline during the Government's period of office. Eighty-three per cent. of the 11,600 jobs that were brought to the city of Bradford over five years were for part-time workers.

We are a city and an area with a proud history and tradition of craft and skill. If I make one criticism of Yorkshire wool workers and Lancashire cotton workers, it is that they are not proud enough of their skills and that they do not demand enough recompense in terms of wages and conditions for the skills that they have exhibited. They are hard-working people who have never asked for anything other than to be able to give their labour and to ask for a decent living in return for the hard work that they are prepared to put in. The Government have denied wool workers in Yorkshire and in the city of Bradford a decent standard of living for their efforts. The Government's economic policies offer those workers no real prospect for the future. The Government and the wool employers stand condemned. It is up to all Opposition Members to work for a situation in which the workers in the industry will get a decent return for their efforts.

12.1 pm

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I shall be brief, but should like to say how pleased I am to take part in this debate, which has been initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) and in which we shall be joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). We wish to raise our concern about the major industry of Bradford and West Yorkshire.

It is interesting to reflect on the fact that 10 years ago I took part in a press conference at the Victoria hotel in Bradford to report on the effect of the wool textile scheme by which the then Labour Government had stimulated investment and improved quality in the wool textile industry because we believed in the need to assist industry.

That contrasts with the current limited policies of this Government, who are letting industry drift asunder, in many cases on to the rocks. At that press conference we pointed out that in the West Riding wool textile industry, over 500 jobs—not a lot—had been created by the development of the industry, in partnership with the Government. That presents a strong contrast to the 50 per cent. reduction in employment in the textile industry since 1979.

That contrast is symbolised for me by Salts mill in the village in which I was brought up. In 1979, that mill was working. It was the largest integrated textile operation, and although it was by no means then working at full employment, it is now empty. Its vast bulk signifies the Government's attack on British manufacturing industry. People are now talking about turning it into a museum or an art gallery, about anything but providing jobs in the wool textile industry. Those are the decisions of the entrepreneurs to whom the Government are giving such free rein.

I should like to make a brief point about the imports of Turkish acrylic yarn, which has caused so much unemployment and short-time working in the wool and spinning sector in the area and in my constituency, as in the other Bradford constituencies. I know that those imports have declined somewhat, but the Government have not negotiated an adequate safeguard clause to prevent severe and real damage to the industry before such a safeguard clause can be brought into operation.

We are talking about a massive increase in imports from around 4.5 tonnes in 1984 to about 4,500 tonnes in 1987. While I dare say that the Minister will claim that there was no safeguard clause before the Government negotiated one through the EEC relationship with Turkey, the fact is that that clause is less than adequate. It is a sign of the difficulties facing the textile industry in its association with the EEC.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North said, the industry faces difficulties in exporting as a result of the high value of the pound. That is symbolised by the clash between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. At least the Chancellor of the Exchequer wants to control the level of the pound and has so far beaten the Prime Minister, although her malign influence is still causing difficulties for British exporters.

The current circular from the Bradford chamber of commerce says of the textile, clothing and footwear sector: Firms in this sector continue to find it difficult to penetrate export markets.

My next point relates to false labelling and adequate labelling for consumers. The West Yorkshire trading standards service often prosecutes for false labelling, but it has difficulties because the current legislation requires that false labelling is something carried out by way of trade. Other countries, even in the EEC, have legislation regarding counterfeiting. The Government should seriously consider making the counterfeiting of goods a criminal offence. That would help.

I express deep regret that the Government have given way to pressure from the EEC over labelling and have repealed the Trade Descriptions Act 1972 and associated regulations. Concern has been expressed by the wool textile and clothing industry action committee—Wooltac—over the legislation that the Government will introduce to replace the repealed legislation to ensure that consumers have adequate information about the origin of the material and the garment. It is wrong and mistaken of the EEC to try to impose its will on our country and remove information to which consumers have a right when making a purchase.

The multi-fibre arrangement has been renewed by the Government and that has been welcomed by the industry. However, the Government will be under increasing pressure as the internal market in the Common Market develops by 1992 to remove all kinds of labelling protection for consumers and international arrangements like the multi-fibre arrangement. The internal market, much advertised by the Government for 1992, spells disaster based on experience of subsidies for other EEC countries and unfair competition. We will have to face that, unless the Government are prepared to take action to ensure that we keep the jobs in the wool textile industry in Bradford.

12.7 pm

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) on his successful application for this debate and on making an extremely powerful speech in introducing it. At the outset I should declare my interest. I am sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union, whose textile group represents 50,000 men and women in the textile industry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North has said, at the moment and over recent years those men and women have seen profits rise and their productivity increase substantially. They have also seen their senior management take fat pay increases from the wealth that they have created. They should now look for a fair share from the wealth they have created.

The debate is about the woollen industry, but I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women working in the cotton industry, who are taking their first official industrial action for 50 years calling for a modest increase in pay and conditions of employment. They are seeking a 10 per cent. increase in pay. The low pay in the cotton industry and low pay throughout the textile industry is clear from the fact that that 10 per cent. increase, if granted, would result in only an extra £11 a week.

The workers' demands are set out in early-day motion 1118. I hope that the employers in the cotton industry will concede their demands. It is also interesting to note that one demand is for cancer screening facilities. It is significant that, so far, the employers have proffered only a working party to consider whether such facilities should be made available.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) referred to the damage done to the British textile industries by imports of Turkish acrylic yarns. Hundreds of British textile workers are on short time or have lost their jobs as a result of those imports. It is no use the Government blaming, as they have in recent months, the failure of British textile companies to complain, as an excuse for not having done anything effective to reduce Turkish yarn imports. The Transport and General Workers Union extensively set out information about the harm being done as long ago as last September.

In his written answer to a parliamentary question I recently tabled, the Minister for Trade replied: The volume of acrylic yarn imports from Turkey has fallen off sharply in the first three months of 1988, compared with the same period last year. The Department's unfair trade unit is assisting the United Kingdom industry in preparing an anti-dumping complaint on Turkish acrylic hosiery yarn."—[Official Report, 24 May 1988; Vol. 134, c. 114] I hope that the Minister and his officials will make sure that that complaint is sent to Brussels as quickly as possible, because the damage being done by imports is increasing at an alarming rate.

I turn now to a matter affecting British textiles and British Coal. I recently took up with the Prime Minister the prospect of British Coal buying imported cloth for protective clothing such as donkey jackets and duffle coats. I much regret the fact that, as from I May, British Coal has decided to import foreign cloth from Europe for that purpose. My letter to the Prime Minister was referred to the chairman of British Coal, Sir Robert Haslam, by a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, and Sir Robert wrote to me: This particular contract was let following a competitive tender exercise with a number of U.K. manufacturers of workwear; we have no direct involvement with the purchasing of cloth. We found from the tender exercise that, when comparing garments made up from European cloth to those of British cloth, the savings offered were considerable. I am sure that over the coming months tenderers will be reviewing their pricing policy prior to the next round of tenders, when it is to be hoped that the British textile industry will be able to make the most competitive offer, and thus allow us to use British cloth exclusively for our needs once again.

It is regrettable that British Coal, which rightly urges consumers of its own products to buy British, should itself buy foreign cloth. Judging by Sir Robert's letter, there can be only one explanation. It is either that foreign producers are able to undercut British cloth manufacturers because of unfair subsidies, or that British textile manufacturers attempted to rip off British Coal in a way that would be considered wholly unacceptable and which would lay them open to the charge of seeking to make excessive profits from a public sector customer. I suspect that this is further evidence of unfair trading from Europe, and of substantial subsidies being given directly to European textile producers. I ask the Minister to mount an urgent investigation, so that the British public and the British textile industry can know the truth.

As my hon. Friends have said, the British textile and clothing industry is a major one. It is a major employer, a major exporter and a major source of added value. It is not expendable, nor will it ever be. British jobs cannot be traded for bridges in Turkey, or to facilitate Turkey's entry into the Common Market. The industry demands proper consideration from the Government. When negotiations are being mounted overseas, whether for GATT or the multi-fibre arrangement, its interests must be put forcefully by British Ministers.

All that the industry and those who create its wealth want is a fair trading environment, and they have been waiting for it from the Government for a long time. Now is the time for those men and women to be given a fair share of the wealth that they created, and to be able to look confidently to the Government at long last to put the interests of British textiles at the top rather than the bottom of the agenda.

12.16 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. John Butcher)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) on securing this debate, and also on mustering the support of his hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer).

The hon. Gentleman has a reputation as a staunch exponent of the more radical approach within his party, and it was thoroughly to be expected that he should introduce some of his economic philosophy into the debate. It is not, of course, his intention to engage in a long discussion on that today, but I should like to say two things in response to his general comments.

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's speech and I do not believe that the word "customer" featured prominently, if at all. The difference between us is that Conservative Members start from the proposition that the customer is the job creator and the wage payer. In a command economy—for which the hon. Gentleman would presumably feel some affection—there is more direction and control and judgments are made more from the centre; or, indeed, to put the syndicalist view, on the shop floor. Evidence throughout the world is that such command economies consistently under-perform compared with demand-based economies founded on the enterprise ethic.

Mr. Wall

I spent most of my working life dealing directly with customers, so I, too, know the importance of a customer to industry. I do not wish to become involved in a long debate, but I should like to clarify a point that is often misunderstood.

The faults of the state-controlled industries in China and Eastern Europe lie not in the fact of state control but in the fact that they are run entirely undemocratically. There is proof, not only in those economies but in capitalist economies as well, that if working people have no real say in the running and management of an industry it becomes bureaucratic and inefficient. I am certainly not a supporter of those totalitarian regimes, and I never have been.

Mr. Butcher

I accept that. In my view, the hon. Gentleman's approach and philosophy have rather more to do with syndicalism than with old style Communism, but that is for another debate and another day. The hon. Gentleman may be personally acquainted with customer power, but this debate should have accentuated the fact that customer decisions result in the provision of jobs.

The hon. Member for Bradford, South asked three questions. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Bill is being considered in Committee, where I have said that it will provide for counterfeiting. Some of the groups who feel most strongly about counterfeiting have told me that this is a step in the right direction but that we have to keep an eye on it. That links up with origin marking, another live issue.

I shall be taking soundings of my counterparts in other EC countries from which I hope we can agree that there should be an EC origin marking regime for non-EEC imports. The issue is more complex than that, but in Yorkshire, with its interests in steel or wool, or in Lancashire, with its interests in cotton textiles, there is real concern about origin marking. I am determined that common European regime should be introduced and that it should go as far as possible towards meeting those concerns, including misleading labels. They imply a clear manufacturing location in the United Kingdom when there is no such location. Yorkshire and Lancashire are very agitated about that. I shall deal later with Turkish imports.

The wool industry is one of our oldest industries. For many years it has been an important part of our industrial base. Its products are diverse. They are wool tops for processing into worsted yarns; wollen and worsted yarns for making woven and knitted fabrics, carpets and knitwear: woollen and worsted fabrics mainly for making up into outerwear, but also for blankets, furnishing and non-apparel uses. I could deal at length with the variety of products involved.

The industry employs around 40,000 people, the majority of them in West Yorkshire, a region that relies heavily on the continued existence of a healthy wool textiles industry. I am pleased to say that production has been gradually increasing since the severe contraction in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The industry continues to enjoy a positive trade balance, to the extent of almost £100 million in 1986 and probably much the same last year.

Against a backcloth of substantial import penetration in other parts of the United Kingdom textile sector, it is worth considering why the wool industry still enjoys a positive trade balance. First and foremost, I believe that it is because British wool textiles have a reputation for quality that is perceived worldwide. Even a layman such as I can appreciate the feel of a fine worsted which, for suiting, is in a class of its own. But design is also important—never more so than in recent years, as consumers have become increasingly more sophisticated in their requirements and ever more design conscious. More casual clothing styles have come to the fore. Fashion dictates have also led to the development of lighter weight wool fabric for the ever-increasing number of overseas markets in warmer climes, as well as for the occasional good summer in the United Kingdom.

A reputation for quality and design would in itself be incapable of sustaining the United Kingdom wool industry in today's intensively competitive world markets. There is very real professionalism within the industry that belies its somewhat traditional image. There have been major investments in new machinery, and marked improvements in productivity. The industry has long recognised that it is not enough to produce a desirable product and expect everyone to beat a path to its mills. Even quality products have to be marketed effectively and it is increasingly important to be able to react speedily to changes in market requirements.

The industry pays close attention to developments in its major markets, principally the United States, West Germany and Japan, where the United Kingdom industry's performance is particularly impressive, showing just what can be achieved on the basis of quality and perseverance in a notably difficult market. At the same time, it keeps a watchful eye on opportunities to break into or to expand existing trade with developing markets. British wool textiles are currently exported to no fewer than 160 countries, with export earnings of around £600 million a year, an impressive achievement by any standard. The performance was improving in the early months of this year. Despite these positive aspects, I recognise that the United Kingdom wool industry is facing some very real problems today, and I should like now to consider the problem of imports from Turkey in the acrylic yarn sector of the industry.

This is a matter of considerable concern to my Department. Turkish exports to the European Community of certain textile products are covered by a voluntary restraint arrangement, which was renewed—and acrylic hosiery yarn included for the first time—after very difficult negotiations between the Commission and the Turkish textile export associations in December 1987. Although the restraint level agreed was higher than we and the industry would have liked, without the restraint the United Kingdom would have been wide open to unlimited imports of Turkish acrylic yarn.

At the time of the negotiations we had insufficient evidence of serious disruption to United Kingdom industry. Although we had information on short-time working and low prices, the other economic data which we had to take into account, such as domestic production, consumption and exports did not show the sort of systematic downward trend that would have been necessary for us to make a convincing case for a lower restraint level.

The Department has received numerous representations from the industry expressing concern about the situation in the acrylic yarn spinning sector and complaining about unfair trading by the Turks resulting from the low price of their acrylic yarn. Officials in the Department's unfair trade unit are in close contact with the Confederation of British Wool Textiles to provide advice on the kind of evidence needed to mount an effective anti-dumping complaint against Turkish imports and, more recently, against imports of similar yarn from Mexico. However, success in anti-dumping complaints depends not only on establishing dumping, but on showing that injury to domestic producers is directly attributable to imports from the country in question. This is not proving easy.

Although Turkish imports rose significantly in 1987, total import penetration fell to 49.7 per cent.from 55.4 per cent. in 1986. That suggests that Turkish imports were substituting for yarns imported from other countries rather than adding to import penetration. In addition, there are clear signs that the problems in the acrylic yarn spinning sectors are, to some extent at least, a result of falling UK demand. The latest figures show that imports from Turkey so far this year are greatly reduced. Nevertheless, officials are continuing to work closely with the industry to ensure that the anti-dumping case that they are preparing has the best possible chance of success when it is presented to the European Commission in Brussels. I am sure that the House will be united behind that endeavour.

I know that the industry's sense of grievance is aggravated by what it preceives as the unfairness of the situation. There are formidable barriers in the form of multiple duties, taxes and other charges on our exports of textiles and clothing to Turkey. I assure the House that the Government take every opportunity in trade negotiations to argue that countries such as Turkey should adopt a more open stance to imports. We shall continue to do that until disparities of the magnitude involved are diminished. I should also add that the Commission has invited member states to submit evidence of practices that are contrary to the European Community's association agreement with Turkey. The United Kingdom intends to respond fully to the Commission's request for information and it is hoped that the Commission and Turkey will soon be able to set up a joint group of experts to study all the issues impeding free and fair competition between the Community and Turkey.

On the wider front, we attach considerable importance to achieving a better balance between developed and developing countries in the current round of GATT multilateral trade negotiations. The hon. Member for Bradford, North made some interesting comments on that. I hope that he is reassured that, whenever we negotiate, in the European Community and elsewhere, we examine countries that have exceedingly low pay—the very poorest countries in the world—in considering more amenable arrangements for imports from those countries.

While there may be some justice in the poorest developing countries continuing to be largely exempted from the obligations of GATT, we have long believed that the strongest among them—the newly industralised countries—should, in their interests as well as ours, fulfil the expectation that they recorded in GATT at the end of the 1970s: that, as they developed, they would progressively abandon the special relaxations that GATT allows for its poorest members and enter fully into the GATT system of rights and obligations.

Although the return of textiles and clothing to normal GATT rules is on the table in the current Uruguay round, progress on that will depend very much on developments, such as the GATT safeguard clauses and market access. We would also want to be sure that any return to normal GATT rules did not lead to undue disruption for United Kingdom textiles and clothing.

The hon. Member for Bradford, North raised one or two other points, some of them for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment I shall examine the record of today's debate and refer the relevant points to my right hon. Friend, so that he can reply to the hon. Gentleman.

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