Orders of the Day — Shipbuilding (Great Britain)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:49 pm on 26th July 1982.

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Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Industry) 10:49 pm, 26th July 1982

I agree, and I shall come to that matter in a moment.

The House recently debated the hiatus in naval orders, which, again, is the result of this Government's policies. That shortfall in expected work for British Shipbuilders had a major impact on the Clyde, the Tyne and the Mersey. Redundancies are likely to result. Again, the Minister of State was less than candid about the likely impact of Government policies on jobs for shipyard workers.

It may sound reassuring and comforting to people outside who listen to or read this debate and see the sums that the Minister mentioned, but the effect of redundancy payments has gone well beyond their original intentions. The number of jobs disappearing as a result of men being offered large sums to leave industries, with little thought of the long term, when they are young and middle-aged men, is a grave cause for concern.

I and many of my hon. Friends know, representing industrial areas as we do, the problems that are now being faced by people who, within the past few years, have taken significant sums of money to leave industry only to find that the money does not last for ever. Those large, attractive, sums soon run out when the bills come in. The long-term social consequences for them, their families, the communities and the country as a whole should be considered seriously. However, that is a subject for another debate that we cannot go into detail on tonight.

Workers in British Shipbuilders have steadily and consistently over recent years been improving their productivity and performance since vesting day in 1977. As is demonstrated by the report published a few days ago on the accounts for 1981–82, the corporation has stayed within the cash limits set down by the Government. Wage negotiations have again been moderate, and excellent team work throughout the corporation has again helped to increase productivity. All that has taken place against a background of reduced financial support from the Government.

The Minister mentioned the intervention fund. Of course, that is welcome, but I would remind him that in 1977 the fund was originally established at £65 million and later increased to £85 million with a much greater percentage of support for any one particular order than exists at present. In real terms the amount of support that the Government are now giving through the intervention fund, taking inflation into account, is nothing like the amount of support that British Shipbuilders were being given at that time.

I disagree with the Minister, as I am sure do my hon. Friends, that the prospect is anything like as rosy as he tended to suggest for workers in the shipyards. The future for many of them is grim and threatening. I mentioned the Tyne redundancies, announced last week. Recently several of my hon. Friends and I met representatives of workers from the Tyne yards as a whole. They left us in no doubt that, come the autumn of this year, without further significant orders, many hundreds, if not thousands, more jobs are likely to be put at risk.

That is rather strange to those workers who, a few months ago, saw the P and 0 order for a major cruise ship go abroad and, more recently, a Furness Withy line order go abroad. Now they contemplate the prospect of the replacement for the "Atlantic Conveyor" going abroad, on this occasion probably to the Far East.

The Government's policies and attitudes do not appear strong enough to the workers. Such work as the early delivery of the "Ark Royal", HMS "Illustrious", HMS "York" and HMS "Liverpool", from the Clyde down to the South Coast, has been praised over and over again by the Royal Navy, newspapers, management and the Prime Minister herself.

I shall read out some of the comments that appeared on the work done on merchant vessels and conversions for the task force. Round the Clock Working as race is on to finish warship orders … Yards respond to the Falkland crisis. And again, 'Busting their guts' for the Falklands—HMS 'Liverpool' is completed well ahead of schedule. Such comments have come from all sides on the efforts made by the shipyard workers.

The men have also been delivering merchant vessels early. However, early delivery brings them face to face, not with more orders or Government support, but with the dole queue. That is the result of improving productivity and of responding to pleas from the Navy and Government Ministers to get those vessels down the slipway. No one can complain about the perfomances of British Shipbuildiers and its management and men.