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Textile Industry

Volume 201: debated on Tuesday 14 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will take steps to assist job creation in the textile industry in rural areas; and if he will make a statement.

The Department of Employment delivers a wide range of training, enterprise and employment measures through the Employment Service, training and enterprise councils in England and Wales and local enterprise companies in Scotland.

Other agencies, including the Rural Development Commission, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, play an important role in encouraging and stimulating enterprise in many sectors, including textiles, in rural areas.

Is the Minister aware that countries such as Spain are considered suitable cases for special EC support because 18 per cent. of their work force are directly involved in textiles? Is the Minister aware that districts in the United Kingdom such as my own. south-east Scotland, have similar percentages of people employed in textiles but do not qualify for either national or European support? Will he assure us that he will talk with his ministerial colleagues to ensure that the resources available to local enterprise companies and training and enterprise councils are sufficient to enable them to support the existing textile industry and promote diversification?

I very much appreciate the importance of the knitwear and textile industry in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Although the unemployment rate in his constituency is well below the Scottish, and indeed the British, average, the textile industry in his district is going through bad times. The Government are helping to diversify: Scottish Borders LEC is purchasing Jedburgh information centre to help promote tourism, and the food processing and fish farming industries are developing and being supported in the district. Scottish Enterprise and Lothian and Edinburgh LEC are taking important steps to develop designer knitwear initiatives within the textile industry. I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's comments to my colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland, as it falls to him to deal with the hon. Gentleman's point about the designation of the district for European Community purposes.

Will my hon. Friend look into the possibility of starting a form of the small engineering and firms investment scheme for small textile and knitwear firms in rural districts to encourage them to modernise and to re-equip their companies with up-to-date machines?

My hon. Friend's question is one for my colleague the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. One problem with my hon. Friend's suggestion is that there are European Community rules on the subsidies given to the textile and other industries. However, I shall refer his point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

How can we believe that the Minister is serious about creating jobs in the textile industry when he will not even protect the ones that already exist? Is he aware that when the Conservative party came to power in 1979 many thousands of people were employed in the thread industry in Paisley and now only one mill remains, which employs 340 people and is threatened with closure this year? Is he going to stand by complacently while more and more people join the dole queues, or will he take action to save the jobs in the textile industry in Paisley?

We all know that the textile industry is an important industry which currently employs 400,000 people—48,500 of whom are employed in Scotland. During the past 10 years, the industry has been protected by the multi-fibre arrangement. The success of companies in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, my constituency and elsewhere in the country depends on their efforts, and the Government can do only a limited amount. The textile industry is still successful and employs many people, but its success depends on its own efforts.