HC Deb 29 January 1969 vol 776 cc1312-3
18. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on the progress made in the rationalisation of the shipbuilding industry in Scotland in the last four years; what effect this has had on the total numbers employed; and how much public money has been injected into the industry during this period.

Mr. Fowler

Since the Shipbuilding Industry Act was passed in 1967 three groups have been formed covering respectively the five Upper Clyde yards, the bigger yards on the Lower Clyde, and two yards in East Scotland. These groupings have prevented a decrease in employment and as yard reorganisation proceeds should enable more secure employment to be given than in the past. The assistance so far provided or promised under the Shipbuilding Industry Act amounts to over £7 million in addition to the Government investment in Fairfields of £1½ million.

Mr. Hamilton

While that picture is generally satisfactory, can my hon. Friend assure us that there is adequate public control over the public expenditure?

On a more specific point, the threatened closure of the Burntisland shipyard, will my hon. Friend give an undertaking that, if it eventuates, an independent public inquiry will be held into the causes of the closure?

Mr. Fowler

In answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's Question, yes, Sir.

As for Burntisland, I hope that we can reach a commercial and viable solution which will enable the yard to stay in production. However, I must point out that the assistance voted by this House in the Shipbuilding Industry Act was meant to be used not to save uneconomic yards but to assist reorganisation with a view to promoting competitiveness in the industry. If the Burntisland yard fits that pattern, I shall be pleased, but I do not think that an inquiry would help us as of now.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that neither he nor the S.I.B. will exert economic or other pressures on the Upper Clyde shipbuilders and the lower reaches firms to come together against the commercial judgments of the firms involved? When can he comment on the progress of productivity agreements in Scottish shipyards?

Mr. Fowler

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the Shipbuilding Industry Act provides us not with sticks but with carrots. We cannot drive firms to do anything against their commercial judgments.

On the second part of the question, it is not really for me to appear in this House and discuss matters which are for management.

Mr. Rankin

Can my hon. Friend ay why rationalisation on the lower reaches of Clydeside seems to be progressing so slowly? The same would apply to Tyne-side and Tees-side. Has my hon. Friend any guidance on these aspects?

Mr. Fowler

I do not understand what my hon. Friend is saying when he refers to progress being slow on Tyneside and Tees-side. I think that progress has been as rapid as could have been expected.