Part of Orders of the Day — Shipbuilding Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:17 pm on 5th February 1985.

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Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 9:17 pm, 5th February 1985

I ask the Under-Secretary of State to accept this modest new clause, because it gives the Secretary of State and the House the flexibility to manage the British shipbuilding industry much more effectively. As my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) and for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) have said, the Bill brings a guillotine into the management of British Shipbuilders. Because redundancy payments have almost become a way of life in shipbuilding areas, they very much affect industrial relations in the industry.

We are trying to give the Government flexibility. How can we tell what the position will be in 18 months time? It could be transformed in one way or another. There could, for example, be another Falklands crisis and the Government could cry out for ships. If the Bill is passed in its present form, the Government will have to go through the paraphernalia of introducing a new Bill.

I emphasise that we are not talking about over-generous payments. The payments to shipyard workers, compared with workers in the other heavy industries of coal and steel, are less. We cannot emphasise that fact enough. Those hon. Members from the north-east of England, where there are appalling unemployment levels and the four travel-to-work areas which are highest on a list of travel-to-work areas along the coastal belt of Tyne and Wear from Newcastle to Middlesbrough, are aware of the problem. It may be difficult for the Government to appreciate the fact that when British Shipbuilders asks for volunteers for redundancy the lists are over-subscribed. That over-subscription is based on fear and a lack of morale. The workers are afraid of losing the pittance of £2,000 or £3,000. That genuine fear can be seen in the pubs and clubs—everywhere in the shipbuilding area.

The replacement scheme to which the Minister referred on Second Reading will not be anywhere as good as this inadequate scheme. If the Under-Secretary of State accepts new clause 1, he will get himself off the hook and will make the management of British Shipbuilders much easier. I suggest that the Under-Secretary of State should join the Opposition, because we want British Shipbuilders, and the rest of British industry, to operate in management terms as effectively as possible.

The Government are imposing a deadline of December 1986. We all know that the redundancy schemes will be cut off because we have seen what happened with Tyne Shiprepairers in my constituency and other shiprepair yards that have been privatised. By placing in the legislation this albatross of the deadline of 31 December 1986, the Minister is making life much more difficult for himself and for British Shipbuilders. He will force men out of an industry when we cannot afford to do so. I urge the Under-Secretary of State to accept the new clause.