Shipbuilding

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23 July 1979.

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Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth 12:00, 23 July 1979

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on shipbuilding.

One of the most serious and immediate industrial issues facing the Government on taking office was the state and prospects of merchant shipbuilding. The Government have now completed a review of the situation with British Shipbuilders and have had wide consultations with unions, private sector interests, the shipping industry and the EEC Commission. I am now in a position to inform the House of the situation and of the approach the Government propose to adopt. Plans for the Belfast shipyard of Harland and Wolff will be made known separately by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Our consultations have fully confirmed the view of the last Government—and, indeed, of those working in the industry—that further contraction is inevitable, given the extreme severity of the world recession.

At the end of last year, British Shipbuilders put its plans for dealing with this grave situation to the previous Administration, advising, in effect, contraction in merchant shipbuilding to an annual rate of some 430,000 tons by March 1981, with a reduction of manpower to around 20,000. With the severe difficulties in securing new orders—only 230,000 tons in 1978—British Shipbuilders recognised at that time the magnitude of the task facing it in avoiding contraction below 430,000 tons, and the vital need to increase competitiveness as well as for recovery in the market.

So far this year, recovery has not taken place, and my consultations with British ship owners and others afford few grounds for optimism in that respect. Substantial over-capacity exists world-wide, and at present there appears to be no early prospect of recovery. I must warn the House that British Shipbuilders will find it very hard to sustain its target capacity.

In such circumstances, the Government must judge how far and how much they can help.

One of the Government's early acts on taking office was to seek a renewal of the intervention fund which they found had lapsed on 15 March, and a temporary agreement was reached with the EEC Commission. The Government are now making proposals for a fund of £120 million to cover the next two years. In putting these proposals to the Commission, I have had to say that the capacity of 430,000 tons is the highest figure that, in our view, could be retained in 1981.

In addition to the intervention fund, the Government will pursue other measures of support. They are ready to take part in a Community scrap and build scheme provided that it is cost-effective; they are proposing credit for conversions by United Kingdom ship owners, and will support improved credit terms in current OECD discussions; and they will advance public sector orders where practicable.

The Government will give British Shipbuilders a nil commencing capital debt. We are considering further the most appropriate means of financing the corporation. In the meantime, British Shipbuilders will continue to be financed on an interim basis from the national loans fund.

The cost to public funds will be substantial, and British Shipbuilders is aware of the need for strict financial discipline. For the current financial year, British Shipbuilders' cash limit of £250 million and trading loss limit of £100 million, after crediting intervention fund assistance, are not being changed. The corporation is also being set a financial target for 1980–81 of limiting its trading loss, before crediting intervention fund assistance, to £90 million. The corporation must make substantial progress towards providing in the longer term an adequate return on capital employed.

It is unavoidable that contraction will occur mostly in localities where unemployment is already high. For the most part, the shipbuilding industry is located in special development areas, and we are concentrating our regional industrial assisance on these areas. To help alleviate hardship to individual workers and their families, the Government have extended the special redundancy payments scheme to the full period authorised by the Shipbuilding (Redundancy Payments) Act.

The Government want to see a viable and flourishing merchant shipbuilding industry, but the economic facts of the present situation are there for all to see. Prospects depend on the ability to win orders within the limits of the substantial financial assistance which the Government are making available.

For the future, we attach particular importance to the prospect of British Shipbuilders achieving high levels of efficiency and productivity and of its being able to compete, without subsidy, when the recession is over, in what is still likely to be a very tough world. We are prepared to put public funds, for a two-year period, behind the industry's own efforts to achieve viability. After that, it will depend largely on the extent to which all those who work in the industry have been successful in helping themselves.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

Will the Minister of State acknowledge that his statement spells the virtual destruction of one of the traditional major industries of our country? Is it not plain that the Minister is totally disregarding the enormous social consequences of what he proposes? He says that unemployment in the shipbuilding industry will rise in areas of high unemployment. Does he realise the utter impossibility, as things stand, of the people concerned finding other jobs? If he must destroy the industry, ought not the replacement jobs to be got on with now?

Is the Minister aware that the British Shipbuilders plan to reduce building to 430,000 tons was not in fact approved by the last Government, and does he not realise that a time will come when there is an upturn? Throughout the world the shipbuilding industry is operated on a Government basis. There is not one shipbuilding country which does not rely on large subsidy by the Government. That is why some countries are building at much less than cost. Is it not the British Government's duty to keep this industry alive?

In the light of those factors, does not a period of two years offer far too insufficient a programme? Second, will the Minister take into account the unions' own suggestions, which are, first, that we stop British Shipbuilders from selling its ships abroad, it being possible to bring this into the scrap and build programme; second, that we make it a condition that British ships are built in British yards; and third, that we see that the limits of subsidy—at the moment under EEC and OECD rules at 30 per cent.—are greatly increased, since that is what all our competitors are doing?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

The right hon. Gentleman does not help the situation by talking about the virtual destruction of this great industry. There is nothing in my statement that should lead to that conclusion. The Government have been prepared to put a considerable amount of money behind this industry, since, as the right hon. Gentleman points out, so far as we know, all shipbuilding industries throughout the world are at present subsidised.

Moreover, it is quite unreasonable to suggest that we are disregarding the social consequences. Of course, we are aware that most of the areas where shipbuilding is carried on are areas with higher than average unemployment at present. That is partly due to the rundown in the industry which has occurred in the past two years. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have done his homework and will know that in merchant shipbuilding alone there has already been a reduction in employment of 11,000 in roughly the last two years of his own Administration.

Of course, the consequences are serious. Therefore we have to put what support is available from the Government to help in these social consequences. We also have to see whether there are any other ways in which we can assist in the problem.

The right hon. Gentleman made one or two other suggestions. Principally, he asked that the level of subsidy should be limitless, as I understood him—

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

Vastly increased, he said, or words to that effect. I am bound to say that this is very much in line with the sort of attitude which his Government pursued over the last five years. It is not possible to go on spending taxpayers' money without limit without the consequences which flow from that. The whole point of the intervention fund arrangements within the EEC is that at least those countries within the EEC have a sensible approach towards subsidy and that possibly we can reduce the subsidy race which has occurred in the past.

As for British ship owners, again it would be in line with the right hon. Gentleman's own party's approach to compel British ship owners to take the action which he suggests. In fact, as far as I am aware, nothing was done in that respect. It is our belief that, certainly, British ship owners should receive every encouragement to put their orders in British yards, but they, too, must compete in the world, and the most likely way in which British ship owners will place their orders in our yards is if our yards can deliver the ships to order, to specification, and at a competitive price.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

The Minister is totally ignoring the real nub of the question. He is talking about what I and my right hon. and hon. Friends believe to be inadequate support over the next 18 months to two years, but the upturn will not come at that time. While the Minister says that there will be a cut-off in 1981, Tory Governments abroad are busy subsidising their shipbuilding industry. The Minister is saying "It is true that this is an important and historic industry, but it does not matter what happens to it".

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware, I am sure, of the statement put out by his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) earlier this year in April. One of the matters in that statement was a request for an intervention fund spanning one year only. The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed from my statement that we are going for an intervention fund over two years. To me that seems to be evidence that we are taking a much longer term view than did the right hon. Gentleman's Administration.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

What has my hon. Friend to tell the House about the shin repairing side of British Shipbuilders' business? Through sheer management incompetence, including incompetence on the part of Admiral Griffin and Mr. Casey, taxpayers' money has been used to buy ship repairing operations such as that at Falmouth, following which money and jobs have been lost because management has not been capable of running those operations competently. Will my hon. Friend ensure that these assets are sold off to the private sector? That will provide finance for the industry and employment in the areas concerned.

Mr. Heller:

That is a hybrid question.

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I am aware of the very real concern of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) about the situation at Falmouth. In general, the ship repairing companies will benefit from an extension of the home credit scheme to conversions. As for the policy of British Shipbuilders towards disposal, it is generally aware of the Government's view on this matter and it will take decisions in the light of commercial considerations.

Photo of Mr Bernard Conlan Mr Bernard Conlan , Gateshead East

Is the Minister aware that, in spite of the limited support that he has announced to the House this afternoon, the Government's policy must inevitably lead to large-scale redundancies in the shipbuilding industry? Is he further aware that, because 70 per cent. of the work involved in building a ship is done in factories outside the shipyards, the Government's policy will also lead to large-scale redundancies in subcontracting firms? What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that workers in the factories outside the shipyards are treated fairly and equitably?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I am aware that redundancies in shipbuilding have consequences in the supplying industries. As I said in my statement, I believe that the inevitability of further contraction is accepted, however reluctantly, by all those who understand the problem—including those who work in the industry and management. We must try to reduce the degree of contraction by winning orders, and that, as I have said, is up to those who work in the industry, including management.

Photo of Mr Iain Sproat Mr Iain Sproat , Aberdeen South

Will my hon. Friend accept that the overwhelming majority will support him in facing the grim realities of the shipbuilding industry, both in this country and in the rest of the world, which the last Labour Government so disastrously failed to do? As for the situation in Scotland, will my hon. Friend lose no opportunity of pointing out that while the worse of the redundancies are likely, tragically, to be in the west of Scotland, that is exactly where the greatest amount of help under the new regional policies will be concentrated?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. I hope that it is a hallmark of this Government that we at least approach matters with realism.

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

The Minister will be aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced last week that development area status would be withdrawn from my constituency which is one of the most important shipbuilding areas in this country. The hon. Gentleman made no reference to the position of those yards involved with naval contracts. Does he accept that with the grossly inadequate intervention fund that he has announced there will inevitably be a mad scramble for any naval orders that are forthcoming? Is it not irresponsible to put to the House at this stage the concern for shipbuilding areas in the form that he has this afternoon, when development area status is being withdrawn from a shipbuilding area?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

We must look specially at the area for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible if it becomes significantly affected by further contraction of the industry, but it is true to say that most of the areas in which the redundancies will occur are already special development areas and, therefore, aid will be concentrated on them.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is fairly realistic to continue public support for this industry in view of the world situation? Does he also accept, however, that the future of the industry depends upon those working in it? The country requires an efficient and prosperous shipbuilding industry. First, can the Minister confirm that the implementation of the rationalisation will be left to British Shipbuilders and its commercial judgment? Secondly, can he confirm that he has basically accepted the recommendations of British Shipbuilders as the best possible solution in appallingly difficult circumstances, unlike his predecessor, who sat on the corporate plan for six months?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

It is true that we have come to grips with the situation and discovered a matter that had been left in abeyance during the period of the run-up to the election. As I pointed out in my statement, it certainly is true that, for instance, the intervention fund ran out on 15 March and one of the first things that I had to do was to achieve an interim arrangement.

To answer the main point of my hon. Friend's question, it is up to the management of British Shipbuilders to run the business, to achieve those orders that it can and, where rundown is necessary, to make its own arrangements.

Photo of Mr Harold McCusker Mr Harold McCusker , County Armagh

Where, and in what form, will the statement of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the future of Harland and Wolff be made? Does the Minister agree that a written announcement would be most inappropriate?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

The matter of Northern Ireland and Harland and Wolff will be answered by means of a written answer today.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

Does the Minister agree that British Shipbuilders—both management and men—have made very aggressive attempts to obtain new orders in recent months? Those attempts have been thwarted, to a large extent, by the strong value of the pound, which is making life far more difficult. Will the Minister have discussions with the management of British Rail Sealink, which has a number of designs on the drawing board for new cross-Channel and cross-Solent ferries? Could those orders not be brought forward and placed in British yards?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that management has been making sterling efforts to find new orders. Naturally, along with the rest of British industry, shipbuilding faces a difficulty where the exchange rate moves against it. I made clear in my statement that we will look at ways of bringing forward public sector orders in terms of British Rail.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

In order to assess the amount of support the Government are giving to the industry, can the Minister estimate approximately how much public money will be spent on the shipbuilding industry over the next two years?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

As my hon. Friend will realise, that is an extremely difficult calculation to make. It obviously depends on the degree of rundown in the industry.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

The statement that the hon. Gentleman made a minute or two ago, that the announcement about Harland and Wolff and the effect of his policy in Northern Ireland would be made only by a written answer today, is entirely unsatisfactory. We therefore must hope that a statement will be made to the House; it could be made now, because the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is in the Chamber. I should have thought that it would be perfectly possible for the Secretary of State to make a statement today, which would mean that representatives from Northern Ireland would be able to cross-question him about it. Indeed, the Leader of the House is aware that we found the arrangements for business today entirely unsatisfactory, in any case. But if the statement is to be by way of a written answer it will make it even more unsatisfactory and difficult to proceed with the business. Therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will make that statement from the Dispatch Box this afternoon.

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I understand that the answer to this question is available now and that this matter can be raised during the debate on the Northern Ireland Appropriation order this evening.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

May I press the hon. Gentleman further?

Hon. Members:

Order. Order.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I believe that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) is about to ask a question.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Will the Minister of State reconsider what he has just said? Since the written answer is available now, and since the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is present on the Treasury Bench, surely the statement can be made to the House now, so that hon. Members representing Northern Ireland seats can put questions to him. If they cannot do so now, hon. Members may have to wait until very late tonight before any question can be raised. Will the hon. Gentleman therefore reconsider his statement and ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who certainly appears to be willing to do so, to make his statement?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

It was clear in my statement that I was referring only to British shipyards and that the Northern Ireland aspect would be dealt with separately.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull Central

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have been to the Vote Office and found that no statement is available on Harland and Wolff. That makes nonsense of what the Minister of State said.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

That may well be so, but we are now dealing with the statement by the Minister of State, and supplementary questions must be directed towards that.

Photo of Mr Michael Grylls Mr Michael Grylls , Surrey North West

Does my hon. Friend accept that the statement by the Opposition Front Bench spokesman that the Government are proposing to destroy the shipbuilding industry shows his complete ignorance of the industry, particularly since the Government have proposed a cutback of one-third? That can hardly be described as destruction. Will my hon. Friend therefore disregard the right hon. Gentleman's comments?

Will my hon. Friend look at some of the extravagances of British Shipbuilders in respect of its headquarters? If the corporation is to apply a good financial discipline in the yards, ought it not to apply such a discipline to its own organisation? Is my hon. Friend aware that it has four offices—two in the West End of London, one in Newcastle and one in Hong Kong? In addition, it has innumerable Jaguars whizzing around the country. Would it not be better if it tried to save money and therefore set a good example to the yards in the difficult two years that lie ahead?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the first part of his question. On the second part, I have no doubt that the management of BS will already have taken note of the letters that my hon. Friend has sent to it, which he has also sent to me, and that if there are extravagances it will do its best to cut them out.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock and Port Glasgow

Have the Government not totally failed, in terms of high technology in the North Sea, to make sure that orders for large support ships are placed at home? An example is the Shell emergency maintenance and service vessel, about which I spoke to the Secretary of State for Industry some time ago. Is it not the case that the Government are failing to build these ships at home? They represent a very large market. The Government should waken up to the fact that British industry should supply ships to the North Sea oil industry. They should not let the orders go to the Japanese, the Finns, the Norwegians and all those with whom we have no contractual agreements.

Are the Government not also failing to appreciate the way in which subsidies on ships are operated within the Common Market? In spite of the conversation by the Minister with Commissioner Vouel, the Government are not robust enough in standing up to the Community and insisting on British participation.

Finally, is it not the case—

Hon. Members:

Too long.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The length of the right hon. Member's question will have reduced the number of hon. Members who are called. He has asked two questions already.

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that our attitude towards the Commission is robust but courteous. If he has evidence of unfair subsidy within the Common Market, perhaps he will draw my attention to it. We have discussed his first point before now. The ESV required a degree of subsidy which was not justified in the circumstances. It is the only vessel for which an application for intervention fund money has been refused.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

Is the Minister of State aware that we feel that the Secretary of State has failed to defend Scottish interests on shipbuilding in the Cabinet? The real problem facing the shipbuilding industry in Scotland is that certain areas are running out of orders. Will the Minister therefore consider a programme of speculative building for those yards in order to keep the design teams together, or will he produce public service or public sector orders in order to maintain employment in areas that are desperately short of jobs?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I am not privy to what goes on in the Cabinet, but I can assure the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) that the Secretary of State for Scotland has made very clear to me the position in that country. The answer in respect of speculative building is "No".

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , Knutsford

Will my hon. Friend confirm that if we were to implement the fatuous suggestions of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) every British shipping line would have to chose between going into liquidation and changing its domicile? Will my hon. Friend look with extreme scepticism on any proposals for a scrap and build programme, bearing in mind that it is virtually impossible to devise such a programme without allowing a substantial part of the proceeds to go to yards in Korea and elsewhere?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I referred in my statement to the need for scrap and build to be cost-effective. I have already made clear in informal talks with Commissioner Davignon that if the scheme were to go ahead we would wish the principle of he who benefits pays to be followed.

Photo of Mr Andy McMahon Mr Andy McMahon , Glasgow Govan

What positive steps is the Minister taking to secure work for the Govan shipyard, which will be running out of work within the next couple of months? In that yard men and management have got together in order to solve their domestic problems. What steps is the Minister taking in order to provide us with work?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I think that the House has been pleased with the demonstration by the Govan workers of continuing to work over the holidays in order to get out the shipbuilding orders. However, future shipbuilding orders are the responsibility not of me but of British Shipbuilders.

Photo of Mr James Hill Mr James Hill , Southampton, Test

Is my hon. Friend aware that the General Council of British Shipping is deeply concerned about fleet replacement over the next 10 years? It is also greatly concerned about the family firms—close company firms—that are members of the Council but are not allowed within the distribution of profits to put sufficient investment aside to replace their fleets. Will my hon. Friend have a word with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see whether some encouragement could be given to British shipping concerns to use their investments to buy at British yards?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor will have taken note of my hon. Friend's suggestion. He is correct in saying that British shipowners are facing a severe time. They have had to sell ships in order to raise cash.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I propose to call five more Labour Members. That will have given a good run to the Opposition.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell:

Is the Minister aware that the decision not to return the naval shipyards to private enterprise and thereby avoid another major upheaval will be widely welcomed by the workers in that industry? Will he give a firm undertaking that the placing of future naval shipbuilding orders will be on the basis of commercial criteria and not as an adjunct to regional policy?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I understand that the Ministry of Defence places orders with those yards which are best suited to do the job. I did not receive the impression that the hon. Gentleman did when I visited the shipyards in his area recently.

Photo of Mr Donald Dixon Mr Donald Dixon , Jarrow

Does the Minister realise that to those working in the shipbuilding industry their jobs have become a way of life? Does he appreciate that his statement today will kill many communities whose economic and social base relies on shipbuilding? That was the case when Shipbuilding Security Limited murdered my home town in the 1930s. Does the Minister appreciate that in future he will be referred to as "the nautical pill" because of the number of shipbuilding births that he has stopped today as a result of his statement?

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I am aware, from my recent visits, of the special feeling that exists in shipyards and the pride with which the work is done. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman improves matters by using emotive language. We are faced with a serious problem and the Government are trying to solve that problem.

Photo of Mr Mike Thomas Mr Mike Thomas , Newcastle upon Tyne East

Is the Minister aware that the equanimity with which he proposes to double the male unemployment rate on the riverside areas of the Tyne will be noted in Newcastle and the surrounding areas? It will confirm the impression of my constituents that they are to pay with their jobs for other people's tax cuts. Is the Minister aware that were it not for the fact that naval orders have continued to come through from the last Government by now we would have almost gone over the precipice? Will he assure the House that work will be brought forward? Work for the yards is critical. Govan runs out of work in two months' time and the yards in my constituency will run out soon after that. I hope that he will look into the matter.

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I cannot add anything to my statement about the bringing forward of public sector orders. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government's attitude towards defence expenditure is likely to result in more naval work for the yards than the attitude of the previous Administration.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

Does the Minister accept that we have had yet another statement from an Industry Minister which brings despair to tens of thousands of families around the country? Will he spell out not how many jobs he hopes to have in merchant shipbuilding by the end of two years but how many jobs he intends to axe over the next two years? We are now seeing the force of the statement that one man's tax cut is another man's job loss.

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

On the hon. Gentleman's last point I hope that he will learn that that is not the case. Every pound that is taken from profitable industry to provide jobs in obsolete industries will affect the job prospects of those in the profitable industries. That is the lesson that must be learnt.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

In his statement the right hon. Gentleman referred to the maximum annual production of the industry as being 430,000 tons. Will he tell the House what the minimum figures are? How can he justify acting now and thinking later about a scrap and build policy? Unless jobs and orders are provided and assistance is given to build the ships he will be scrapping the yards and other countries will be building the ships.

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

I made clear the Government's attitude towards the preferred strategy figures of British Shipbuilders. We believe that it would have difficulty in sustaining that capacity figure in the present market conditions. On the other hand, we have put forward substantial sums of money to help it to reach that capacity. As far as the scrap and build programme is concerned, I first saw Commissioner Davignon some weeks ago and I told him that our attitude was likely to be one of support but that if it was to have any effect it should be brought in as soon as possible.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Industry)

Does not the Minister's statement mean that there will be massive redundancies on the Upper Clyde, the Tyne and the Wear and probably on the Tees, both in direct jobs in shipbuilding and many times more in indirect shipbuilding jobs? It also means that British Shipbuilders will miss an opportunity to develop new maritime technology. Because of the financial restrictions that have been imposed, if and when an upturn in the industry comes British Shipbuilders will be too small and too inadequately financed to take advantage of it.

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

The purpose of the exercise is to end up with a merchant shipbuilding industry which is able to survive in the future without subsidy. Unless that is achieved there will be no future for the industry. I believe that productivity increases will be forthcoming and that the industry will be self-sufficient. However, it is up to the management and the workers in the industry to achieve that position.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have heard the exchanges that took place a few minutes ago when it was indicated by the Minister that a statement in reply to a written question was available to the House. My hon. Friends and I asked that the statement should be made available now to the House. In one of his replies the Minister said that he had not been privy to the discussions in the Cabinet on the matters. We appreciate that and it was one of the reasons why we objected to his making the statement in the first place.

In the light of these reasonable representations we ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you have received a representation from the Government that they should make an oral statement to the House about Northern Ireland and the future of Harland and Wolff. That has been an explosive political issue for many years. For a statement on such a matter to be included in a written answer is not the right way to deal with the matter, especially when the question has been raised in exchanges in the House. I urge the Government to make the statement orally to the House, especially in view of the fact that the Opposition made strong representations last Thursday about the way in which the business was being organised. I hope that the Government will take that into account and do their best to ease matters. The Opposition suggested that there should be proper time to discuss Northern Ireland affairs today and the Government rejected that proposition—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I have allowed great latitude to the right hon. Gentleman. He should pursue his point with the Government rather than with me. Only a point of order can be raised at this stage.

The right hon. Gentleman asks me whether I have received a request from the Government for an oral statement to be made. I have not received such a request, and I cannot change the business of the day.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I may remind the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) that when a statement on shipbuilding was made by the relevant Minister of his Government on 4 April it was by means of a written answer.

I have ascertained that the present answer, to written question No. 170, was put on the Board at 4 p.m. Copies have been sent to all Northern Ireland hon. Members, or have been put on the Board for them, and they have also been sent to the spokesmen of the Labour and Liberal Parties. Further copies are either available now in the Vote Office, or will be available in a few moments.

Several hon. Members:

Several hon. Members rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. There is no point in our getting out of order on this question. It is quite clear that all that we can do is to follow the order of business as it is laid down. That is all that I am able to do. All the points of order in the world cannot change the fact that I am instructed by the House to follow what is on our Order Paper for today.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Before I call the right hon. Gentleman, may I say that I shall not take a series of points of order on this question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I shall not do so because the House has itself given me instructions on what I am to do.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

May I put to you afresh the point of order that I put to you before, Mr. Speaker? [HON. MEMBERS: "NO".] I am putting the point of order to you, Mr. Speaker, not to others who presume to order the affairs of the House.

I call special attention to the statement that has now been made to the House by the Leader of the House. It was not made originally. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a written statement now in the possession of some hon. Members. I once again ask whether, in the light of that fresh disclosure that this now been made to the House, there have been any further attempts by the Gov- ernment to ease the position of the House in this matter.

We shall shortly come to a motion on the business of the House. Presumably, on that motion it will be in order to debate whether we should have had a proper statement on this matter. Therefore, I ask once again, in the interests of the Government, whether they will not consider afresh making representations to you, Mr. Speaker, to have the chance to make to the House the statement which they say is available to some hon. Members but not to all. If they do not, the House must take the opportunity to debate the matter on the next motion.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I have received no request on the subject of the right hon. Gentleman's point of order, and therefore I am obliged by the House to move to "Presentation of Bill".