HC Deb 25 April 1972 vol 835 cc1267-8
Q1. Mr. Douglas

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Department of Trade and Industry and the Northern Ireland Office with regard to the shipbuilding industry; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Prime Minister recognise that the intent of this Question was not to be critical of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Will he also recognise that the House is in real difficulty here because the shipyard in Northern Ireland is an important part of British shipbuilding and therefore the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland ought not to be burdened with trying to solve the intricate problems involved? Would he not agree that this ought to be the responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry?

The Prime Minister

This matter was being handled by the Department of Commerce in Northern Ireland; and, as under the legislation, my right hon. Friend has taken over the powers and responsibilities of the Departments of Government in Northern Ireland, it is only right that he should exercise his responsibilities in this House. The legislation was quite specific about this. If we were to say that subjects in which Ministers in the Westminster Departments seem to have a common interest ought also to be handled by them in this House, any clear definition of the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would disappear at once.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Would it not be logical for the Prime Minister to consider that the Secretary of State for Scotland should be responsible for shipbuilding in Scotland?

The Prime Minister

What I am really saying is that the existing definition of powers should be maintained. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Scottish Secretary is responsible for a very large area but that industrial policy is the one remaining sphere of major importance for which the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry takes direct responsibility at Westminster. It has often been considered whether this ought to be changed and whether the Secretary of State for Scotland ought to take it over. In general it has been agreed by Governments of both parties that to make such a change would not be beneficial to Scotland.