HC Deb 26 March 1986 vol 94 cc931-3
2. Mr. Kirkwood

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has any plans to meet the Scottish Knitwear Council to discuss the current state of the textile industry in Scotland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has no plans to do so at present.

Mr. Kirkwood

Does the Secretary of State realise that if he met the Scottish Knitwear Council he would be made aware of the real apprehension felt in towns such as Hawick, in my constituency, over the outcome of the multi-fibre arrangement negotiations which are due to take place in Geneva next week, and would be made aware of the damage that could be done to domestic markets if the volume of imports were allowed to increase beyond existing limits? Is the Under-Secretary aware of the significance of those negotiations for the industry north of the border? Will he give an assurance that he will stiffen the resolve of the officials negotiating the bilaterals within the mandate to maintain the EEC limits set out there as being ceilings that are absolutely sacrosanct?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, Sir. We are fully aware of the importance of the negotiations, as is my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that the Government intend that the import levels reported should represent the maximum position of the European Community, and not the starting point for negotiations. As the hon. Gentleman said, the industry is very important for Scotland. But it is encouraging that, for example, Pringle of Scotland has announced a twofold expansion of £6 million at Hawick in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and a new factory involving £6.6 million in Arbroath, in the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. That will mean 150 jobs initially, and a further 400 jobs over the next five years.

Sir Hector Monro

May I compliment the Government on their firm stand over the MFA negotiations? Will my hon. Friend ensure that pressure is kept up throughout the GATT negotiations, and bear in mind how important the textile industry is both to Scotland and to those employed in it?

Mr. Stewart

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. Indeed, I know that he recently met the Minister for Trade. We are all aware of the textile industry's importance to the Scottish economy.

Mr. O'Neill

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he has the united support of the Labour party, if not of any other party in the House, in stiffening the resolve of Ministers in negotiating the MFA? In my constituency, the unions and the management are of one mind in agreeing that the jobs of 3,000 people in Clackmannan are literally hanging by a thread. We must get a better deal than has been suggested.

Mr. Stewart

The prospect of having the united support of the Labour party for anything worries me considerably. However, I reiterate the assurance that the Government fully recognise the importance of the textile industry in Scotland.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Scottish knitwear industry has a lot to be commended for and complimented on? When he meets the Scottish Knitwear Council, will he remind it that it is in the areas of added value and quality goods that Scotland excels and that we have nothing to be ashamed of and should not hide our light under a bushel?

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend is right to point to the success of the Scottish textile industry. Certainly my right hon. and learned Friend and I are prepared to meet the Scottish Knitwear Council if it wishes to have a meeting in the near future.

Mr. Steel

Does the Scottish Office have any direct input into the Government's renegotiation of the multifibre arrangement, and if not, why not?

Mr. Stewart

Of course we do. My right hon. Friend who was then the Minister for Trade, who is now the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and I met representatives of the industry with a joint delegation from the unions and the management some time ago. I note that the view of the right hon. Gentleman's party on the multifibre arrangement was expressed in the House by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) on 13 February 1986. He said: I believe that there is a need for a renewed MFA for one more term. But it would be wrong to tighten it, … I believe that any movement should be in the opposite direction."—[Official Report, 13 February 1986; Vol. 91, c. 1132.]

Mr. Foulkes

I was about to ask the Minister if he would join me in congratulating the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and the right hon. Member the leader of the Liberal party on dissociating themselves from the remarks of the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). Those remarks would threaten nearly 60,000 jobs in Scotland in the textile industry, including 3,000 in my constituency, where the level of unemployment is already 26 per cent. Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that the Government will not accept more than a 1 per cent. increase in imports from South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, or preferably, will ensure that there is no increase in imports from those countries?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman made a number of detailed points which I am sure will be fully taken acccount of by my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade. It is clear that the policy of the Liberal party on this issue is rather a woolly one.