asked the President of the Board of Trade, in view of the fact that imports of knitwear from Portugal for the first half of 1967 amounted to £1,789,000, compared with £464,000 for the first half of 1966, and of the short-time and unemployment that this has created in the industry, what action he proposes to take to safeguard the livelihood of the people engaged in the trade.
While imports from Portugal have increased in this period, total imports in the first eight months of this year still represented only about 7·7 per cent. of home production. I have no present proposals for action.
Does the Board of Trade mean to allow the hosiery industry to suffer the same fate as the Lancashire cotton industry? If not, will the right hon. Gentleman take steps about the matter?
We do not intend to allow that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the hosiery industry is an expanding growth industry. There has been a sharp up-turn in production since June. There is now an up-turn in employment, and exports this year are 24 per cent. higher than last year, I am delighted to say. As to imports, Portugal has not devalued, and therefore the industry now has a 15 per cent. competitive advantage.
The implications of the import flow in this question are of equal application to both yarn and cotton piece goods. Will my right hon. Friend bear this in mind and take vigorous action to deal with the sub-standard wages and the substandard pricing policy operating in Portugal?
I entirely understand that these problems concern the cotton textile industry as well. But 74 per cent. of our cotton cloth imports come from countries which have not devalued, and over which we therefore now have a very large competitive advantage.
Can my right hon. Friend at this stage give any estimate of the likely effect of devaluation on imports of textile goods? If it is not going to be significant will he take direct action, which would have a great deal of support in Lancashire and elsewhere, to deal with the flow of imports from this rather anomalous E.F.T.A. ally?
It is not possible under E.F.T.A. rules for us to restrict imports directly from Portugal, but I am aware of the very strong feelings held in Lancashire on the subject and I propose to discuss very shortly with the Textile Council what effect devaluation will have on the whole imports situation.