HC Deb 23 March 1970 vol 798 cc967-9
34. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a further statement on the progress being made by Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.

Mr. Benn

I understand that the company is finishing off as quickly as possible the sophisticated and other nonstandard ships it has under construction and has recently announced a number of new orders for standard merchant ships. Management arrangements are being improved. As a result of these developments, discussions have been opened with the trade unions about arrangements for reducing the labour force by 3,500 rather than 2,600 agreed last summer.

Mr. Taylor

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that considerable progress has been made towards the targets planned at the time of the last Government intervention? Can he confirm that there is a need for a demonstration by all involved in the project of the maximum responsibility and flexibility at times of difficulty like the present?

Mr. Benn

I have no reason to believe that the people working in Upper Clyde Shipbuilders have not been very well aware of the need to co-operate. All my experience of them has been of their readiness to do so.

Mr. Rankin

During the last fortnight I have had the opportunity to meet both management and the chief shop stewards to discuss the problems facing Upper Clyde Shipbuilders today, particularly the reduction in numbers employed. I am sure that my hon. Friend realises that reducing a labour force at any time is a very difficult and tender job. I hope he will attain his end, keeping that in mind, and that production on Clydeside will go ahead.

Mr. Benn

I recognise the difficulties, but I think that my hon. Friend will know that with the support given by the Government to Upper Clyde Shipbuilders there is a very strong case for continuing the move towards greater productivity by this and other means.

Sir K. Joseph

May I take it from the right hon. Gentleman's answer that there has been no need for the Government to give any completion guarantees, or have any been given?

Mr. Benn

No completion guarantees have yet been given. I should be interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman's view on Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

On a point of order. Increasingly we notice at Question Time that questions are put to Her Majesty's Opposition. This is not a part of Question Time. Would you, Mr. Speaker, rule that questions should be answered where Ministerial responsibility rests and should not be flung across the Floor of the House? They never have been in the 20 years I have been here, and I am sure that the Ruling has not changed.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have noticed that interesting phenomenon, but it is not new.

Mr. Russell Kerr

On a point of order.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Points of order take up Question Time.

Mr. Kerr

Is there any means whereby the House can protect itself from the attempts of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) to usurp your position, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order.

Mr. Small

Is my right hon. Friend likely to pay an early visit to the Clyde?

Mr. Benn

I have no plans to go to the Clyde. With regard to the point of order of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing), I have never thought that there was any responsibility on the Opposition Front Bench.

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