asked the Minister of Supply whether, in view of the Government majority holding of shares, he will state what plans Messrs. Short Brothers & Harland, Limited, have for dealing with the situation which has arisen at their factory in Belfast as a result of the suspension of contracts for the Cornet II.
I am informed by Messrs. Short Brothers that the work on the Comet, which has been temporarily suspended, employed about 1,600 persons. The company have managed to provide alternative employment for some 800 of these. This has been done by bringing forward work on other orders and by discontinuing overtime working throughout the factory as far as practicable.
In addition, I am urgently examining the feasibility of advancing some aircraft contracts, which would, either directly or indirectly, provide additional work at Shorts. However, in order not to raise false hopes, it should be made clear that these and other measures under consideration are, I am afraid, unlikely to prevent substantial discharges of labour at Shorts at the end of this week.
While thanking my right hon. Friend for the prompt attention which his Department has given to this matter, may I ask him to bear in mind the bringing forward of existing contracts not only for Canberra aircraft but also for Sunderland flying boats, the tools for which are already in Short Brothers' works in East Belfast?
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is very grave news which he has given, because it means that about 800 men will be declared redundant? Will he speed up his inquiries into the matter and, in particular, consider the possibility of calling a conference between himself and the employers and the trade union officials concerned, as I understand that both sides have some suggestions which might be made to him?
The Minister will be aware that this redundancy problem is affecting other areas, as, for example, Hatfield. Can he say whether the same steps which he has taken in regard to Belfast will be applied to De Havilland's works at Hatfield? Further, in view of his overall interest in the aircraft industry and the fact that much of the investigation with regard to the Comet is taking place at his establishment at Farnborough, can he say when any result is likely to emerge from these inquiries?
I do not think that this is an appropriate occasion to make a progress statement on the investigations that have been taking place. So far as the position at De Havilland's works at Hat-field is concerned, I understand that no immediate discharges will be necessary, and in any case, owing to the wider spread of their work, the problem there is not likely to be anything like so acute as at Short Brothers in Belfast.
I think that that has always been the position. It is not the R.A.F. but the Royal Aircraft Establishment, at Farnborough, which is, of course, co-operating exceedingly closely in the whole of these investigations and has placed its entire experience and knowledge at the disposal of the aircraft industry, not only on this occasion but throughout. I do not think it should be assumed that suspension of work on the Comet will necessarily be lengthy. We must all hope that the investigation which is going on will speedily reveal the causes of the accident, and that it may be possible then, with such modification as may be found necessary, to resume work on the production of the Comet.
As there is very great interest in this matter both nationally and in places such as Broughton, in my constituency, where work on the Comet has been stopped, can the Minister indicate the way in which the investigations are being shared between the firm and the Government's establishment?