I thank the Secretary of State for answering the question that I put to him some days ago, asking that he should make a decision on the future ownership of Shorts prior to the opening of the Paris air show. Perhaps it is appropriate that a decision has been made on the eve of that show.
We welcome the fact that a decision has been made because it will remove the uncertainty which surrounds the future ownership of Shorts. We also welcome a bid, which, we hope, will seek to maintain the company as a single entity, and its product range.
It will come as no surprise to the Secretary of State to learn that we still continue to dislike the Government's privatisation policy, in particular as it applies to Shorts. Our view has been, and remains, that if the Government had been prepared to provide the level of financial assistance that they are now prepared to give to get rid of the company, Shorts, as a publicly owned company, would have flourished and could have been profitable. However, once the Government persisted in their privatisation policy, we made it clear some time ago that, out of the two bids that the Government were actively considering from Bombardier and GEC-Fokker, the decision should be made in Bombardier's favour. We are delighted that the Secretary of State has seen fit to accept our view.
Does the Secretary of State agree that, important though today's announcement is, of even greater importance is the future strategy for the development of the company in view of its pivotal importance to the economy of Northern Ireland? Paragraph 4 of the Secretary of State's statement refers to the commitments that Bombardier
has given in relation to the future of the company.
It does not say that commitments will be, or may be, given but that commitments have been given. I and my party do not feel that those commitments were fully and adequately expounded in the Secretary of State's statement. It is those particulars and specifics lacking from the statement on which I wish to question the Secretary of State.
First, during his discussions with Bombardier, has the Secretary of State received any assurance about the existing product range and likely levels of employment? Secondly, I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that Shorts is a centre of technical excellence. In view of that, has he received any assurance that the company will continue with research and development at the very frontiers of high technology?
Thirdly, the success of the bid depends greatly on the financial arrangements announced today by the Secretary of State. However, as he said, those will depend on the agreement or acquiescence of the European Commission. Have there been any preliminary discussions with the European Commission, and, if so, in which direction are they likely to go?
Fourthly, the House will know that Bombardier, although a successful company, is small in international terms. It employs 13,000 people worldwide. It is to take over a company in the north of Ireland, Shorts, which employs about 7,000 people. In those circumstances, is the Secretary of State convinced that the enlarged company has the necessary level of managerial expertise and sources of profitability to ensure its survival?
Fifthly, will the Secretary of State seek to ensure that, between today and the final takeover by Bombardier of Shorts, all members of the work force will be involved in full consultation with the Government, the present Shorts' management and the management of Bombardier?
Finally, Shorts has a distinguished past and deserves a soundly based future. We hope that that can be assured, not just for the sake of the company, but also for the economy of Northern Ireland as a whole.