HC Deb 26 May 1972 vol 837 cc1820-36

12.18 p.m.

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

This debate on the dispute which is taking place at Barrow-in-Furness between Vickers and the boilermakers may be overlapping a very important debate which is taking place in Barrow. I understand that currently the boilermakers are holding a mass meeting. While we may be separated from them by 300 geographical miles, I hope we shall be united with them in our concern that everything said at both these meetings will be towards seeking a constructive solution to the problem.

The difficulty which I face in seeking to present an account of the dispute between Vickers and the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Shipwrights, Blacksmiths and Structural Workers which will be accepted as fair by the groups most intimately concerned is a measure of the low level of industrial relations which exists, and is a guide to the bitterness which this dispute has engendered.

On 31st December last year a wages agreement, which covered virtually all craftsmen working at Vickers, Barrow, was terminated. It was an agreement reached to operate over a period, and, therefore, its termination was properly anticipated. As was previously agreed, negotiations began in October, 1971, to seek agreement on wage rates to commence to operate from 1st January of this year. In the course of these negotiations the management made an offer to all the craft unions of an increase of £1.75 per week. Mr. Redshaw, the Chairman of Vickers Shipbuilding Group, stated that during December the firm was faced with a 21 per cent. increase in its wages bill as a result of a national agreement. It is the contention of the boilermakers, as expressed by Mr. Proudfoot, the district delegate of the Boilermakers' Society, that this agreement consolidated at £19 a time rate which had previously been £17.50, and in no way increased the weekly wage of any of the members of the Boilermakers' Society. He says that the only effect of this national agreement was on holiday credits and overtime premium.

The 1st January came and went without agreement being reached with any of the unions. In the first week of January the craft unions working at Vickers at Barrow decided to exercise the right not to work overtime until meaningful talks were held upon their wages claim. I understand that the management would contest the craftsmen's assertion that they have the right not to work overtime. The position was put to me by the Chairman of Vickers Shipbuilding Group that the craftsmen were bound by the terms of the previous wages agreement which made the payment of £2.50 dependent upon conditions, including their waiving their right not to work overtime.

On 11th February an agreement was reached with the majority of the Confederation unions. Two unions did not reach agreement—the Boilermakers' Society, representing boilermakers, shipwrights, blacksmiths and structural workers, and the ASTMS, representing the foremen at the works. The agreement was to pay the £1.75 per week retrospectively to 1st January. This was not regarded as a final settlement either by management or by unions. It was under stood that a substantial increase would be offered by the management in the near future, subject to conditions, mainly of productivity and flexibility. On the same day the district delegate of the Boilermakers' Society registered a failure to agree at works conference level with Vickers Shipbuilders and requested a local conference as the next step in procedure. Simultaneously, he requested a works conference at Vickers Engineering Works. So, although negotiations had proceeded from October it was not until February that the boilermakers abandoned the possibility of resolving the matter locally and resorted to the next stage of the procedure agreement.

On 14th February an internal memorandum was issued by Vickers senior management on industrial relations and administration, stating that the boilermakers had rejected the offer of £1.75 per week and that, on the basis that full co-operation was not being resumed, the bonus payment of £2.50 was to be withdrawn with effect from 13th February. I must make it absolutely clear that the Boilermakers' Society would object strongly to the terms of that internal memorandum and would not accept that full co-operation had been withdrawn, but I am trying to present the case so that it can be fairly seen that there were differences. I am not seeking to judge on those differences at this juncture.

By 17th February, Mr. Cooper, the Deputy Industrial Relations Director at the shipbuilding works, had replied to the boilermakers' request for a local conference but said that the procedure could not be implemented while the current ban on overtime remained effective. He then, on 17th February, informed the union officially of the withdrawal of the £2.50 payment as from the previous Sunday. The position was then that the firm had reduced the payment made to the boilermakers by £2.50 a week on the grounds that the boilermakers were not fully co-operating with the firm and that they were still bound by the conditions attached to the payment of £2.50. The contention of the boilermakers—and, I understand, the Barrow unions generally —would be that they would regard the terms to which they were bound by the £2.50 agreement as having in the main expired with the end of the general agreement on 31st December.

In the last two days the firm may have offered to pay that £2.50 retrospectively if there is a return to work. I hope, therefore, that this element of disagreement has been removed, but this remains to be confirmed.

On 24th February a meeting was held between the union and the engineering works management, and on 28th February there was a meeting between the union and the management of the shipyard at local conference level. The management was not prepared to increase the offer of £1.75, and a failure to agree was registered. The boilermakers then proceeded to the final stage in the procedure agreement.

At national conference they were represented by Mr. Dan McGarvey, who is known throughout the industry as an able negotiator. However, the outcome of the conference was a further failure to agree. The Boilermakers' Society members in Barrow then refused to do work other than their own on the grounds that management was not paying the £2.50 flexibility agreement money and that the management was not prepared to negotiate a reasonable settlement.

I am reluctant to talk about the terms of the withdrawal of the £2.50 because the management might be prepared to reach an agreement on this point and pay back the money. Speaking of the circumstances at the time as stated to me by the boilermakers there was full cooperation in the works between boilermakers and management because of a peculiar outside factor which had intervened; namely, the power cuts. In the week in which the £2.50 was withdrawn the works was able to operate only on three days. It might not, therefore, be surprising in these special conditions that there was full co-operation and at least a willingness to work overtime on the only three days on which an opportunity to do so presented itself.

However, I will not trust my own words to report to the House of Commons what happened as a result of that failure to agree in London. I trust rather the words of two of the principal representatives concerned.

On 28th March the management wrote to the Boilermakers' Society in the following terms, the letter having been signed by Mr. Gilchrist, Senior Manager, Industrial Relations and Administration, Barrow Shipbuilding Works, under the heading "Boilermakers' Work to Rule": We wish to refer to the work to rule which was reimposed by the members of the Boilermakers Society on Friday, 24th March. following the central conference in London on 23rd March. In our letter to you dated 16th March we pointed out that efforts had been made to find alternative employment for welders who refused to carry out self-service in the way of knobbing and pre-heating operations. This situation has steadily deteriorated since the reimposition. We must advise you therefore that if welders continue to refuse to carry out their own knobbing, we will have no alternative work on which to employ them. This position is being carefully watched. but we anticipate that from tomorrow onwards men will be sent home unless there is a change of attitude towards self-service, which we hope at this late hour will prevail. An opportunity was taken yesterday to advise the shop stewards of the position. They will also be kept informed when it is necessary for men to be sent home. The district delegate of the Boilermakers' Society replied on 29th March in the following terms: In reply to your letters…in which you threaten to send home some of my welder members for refusing to do the caulkers' work of knobbing and pre-heating, this is a rather blatant attempt to coerce my members and if carried out would obviously provoke an already delicate situation, instead of attempting to resolve the matter round the negotiating table. You must have expected some reaction after you had the criminal audacity to reduce my members' wages by knocking off the bonus payments and now because my welder members are carrying out their own work instead of the caulkers' work as well. you endeavour to use this flimsy excuse that there is no alternative work. There is no need for alternative work, let the caulkers do their own work in servicing the welder and there is nothing to stop the job proceeding. If you carry out this threat you can only expect a further reaction from the men, and surely it is much better to meet round the conference table and settle our wage difference. That was signed by Mr. Proudfoot, district delegate of the Boilermakers' Society.

In my opinion it was clear that any further action which would intensify the dispute would be like to spark to tinder. A foreman nevertheless instructed a welder to carry out this work which the boilermakers regard as caulkers' work, and the man was sent home.

On 11th April the shop stewards met the management and asked them to reconsider the position. The request of the stewards was refused on the ground that the management was not prepared to pay individuals if they were not prepared to do assigned work available. I choose my words carefully because I am apprehensive about the feelings which have been engendered by the action which has been taken. The management indicated that other men would be affected in the same way.

When the stewards reported what had happened to the men there was a walkout. The men were persuaded to return, but on their return they exercised a sit-in. It was hoped that even the reason could have prevailed and terms found in which work could have been restored to normal. However, the facts of the situation are that the men's time cards were withdrawn from the clocks by the management.

On 12th April a letter was sent by the Deputy Industrial Relations Director at the Barrow Shipbuilding Works to the Boilermakers' Society stating that the shop stewards had been informed on 11th April that no payment would be made to Boilermakers' Society members attending the works on the afternoon of 11th April, that pay would be deducted from 11 a.m. on that date, that any member entering the works without authority would be considered as a trespasser, and that management would accept no responsibility for any injury or illness arising from attendance at work. The management also in that letter alleged that there had been sabotage of equipment.

The boilermakers took the view that they had been locked out and decided to stay out until proper negotiations commenced. From then to the present day no member of the Boilermakers' Society has worked at Vickers, Barrow.

In two Questions which I tabled to the Minister of Defence in this House I referred to the lockout of boilermakers. The Minister objected to my use of the term, as did the Chairman of the Vickers Shipbuilding Group. I have placed on record the facts which led me to choose that term; namely, that the men's clocking in cards had been withdrawn, that their pay had been stopped, that men would be regarded as trespassers and that no insurance cover would be provided. If I could by taking back either that phrase or a thousand other words which I have spoken on this subject bring a settlement one minute nearer, I should gladly do so.

In the meantime the dispute between the foremen and the firm proceeded and on 10th April the foremen voted to support an immediate overtime ban and gave the company a month's notice of further industrial action. I am glad to say that before further action was finally decided upon the management agreed to meet the foremen as represented by ASTMNS in meaningful negotiations.

On 8th May, while the boilermakers were still out in dispute, the Vickers shipyard unions were offered by the management a sum of £5 a week under the terms of what has become known locally as the "Continental agreement". The agreement had two components: first, a £3.50 sum in terms of flexibility and productivity arrangements; and a sum of £1.50 contingent upon certain good timekeeping conditions. Until this moment no agreement has been reached on that matter with any of the yard unions.

On 16th May the management announced that it intended to shut the firm on 5th June. The day after that it was reported in the local Press that the Vickers Shipbuilding Group profits had increased by £400,000. Furthermore, Lord Robens in the company's annual report stated: Barrow Shipyard's continued success rests to a large extent on good sense and good will in industrial relations. As if to underline the irony of the situation the May issue of Link, a publication produced by the Vickers Shipbuilding Group, contained an item on the back page under the heading "Do you communicate?" It began by saying There is so much emphasis in this en lightened age on efficient and effective communication that we thought we would produce a check list…". The checks suggested were as follows: Do you make an effort to transmit your ideas to other people? Does the other person receive the message? Does the recipient understand the message?… If the recipent does understand the message, does he also make an effort to transmit his ideas back to you?… If he replies, do you receive a reply?…Assuming you have received a reply. do you understand it? The item ends: All six parts of the communication process outlined above must work perfectly before there is any communication at all. Well…do you communicate? In this instance, communications seem to be essential. The fact that that appeared in the Vickers' review in May must have been entirely coincidental. However, it is not without relevance to the situation.

Mr. Redshaw, the Chairman of Vickers Shipbuilding Group, stated that on 15th May there was a further increase in his wage bill resulting from the Confederation national agreement. However, the boilermakers say that this is entirely the consolidation of existing payments and in no way affects the rates of their members.

On 19th May it was announced locally in Barrow that 8,500 of the 13,000 work force of the shipyard were to be laid off on 5th June. This will result in an estimated minimum of £60,000 a week being paid out in unemployment benefit, and the Minister will appreciate the additional work involved for the local office of his Department in that.

On 22nd May the Vice-President of the Boilermakers' Society, Mr. John Dennett, and Mr. John Murray, an executive council member, travelled to Barrow for talks with union members and the management. It is, I hope, common ground between the two sides in the dispute that the failure to reach an agreement was in no way due to any lack of effort on the part of Mr. Dennett and Mr. Murray.

I hope that that will be accepted as a fair account of what has taken place in the dispute.

It has been contended that the boilermakers should be prepared to accept what other unions in the yard have accepted already and that they should rely upon the so-called continental agreement to lift their wages to a more acceptable level. They are opposed—as other unions are, though possibly less strenuously—to having such a high percentage of their wages dependent upon this interchangeability agreement. The Boilermakers' Society contends that it has a greater problem than other unions. This is one of the results of amalgamation. The pressures for amalgamation are considerable, but one of the results flowing from it is that people in many different trades come under one set of negotiations and under one group of representatives. In the case of the boilermakers the society's district delegate is representing men on basic wage scales ranging from £19 to £29 a week. It is not surprising that there are difficulties in maintaining a flexibility agreement over a range like that.

I am certain that in other areas of employment if highly trained and qualified men were asked to work flexibility arrangements they would look askance at the prospect of changing jobs even for limited periods. If, for example, a Q.C. were asked to allow a junior clerk in a solicitor's office to take over his job for a short period under a flexibility agreement he would look askance at the suggestion. If any Member of this House were wheeled into the operating theatre of a hospital to be told that the hospital was short of surgeons but that under a flexibility agreement a man who normally worked on boiler maintenance would be carrying out the operation that hon. Member would look askance at the suggestion.

There must be a limit to any flexibility agreement which affects working efficiency. That is not to deny, of course, that the unions also use the division of craft skills as a basis of negotiation for the wages and conditions of their members. But it must be realised that in shipyards and engineering works such as Vickers some very highly skilled and sophisticated work is done. I cannot envisage a general shipyard worker who is able to do every job in the yard. Therefore, there has to be sensible discussion about the limits of interchangeability.

It is also held by the Boilermakers' Society that even with the full benefits of the Continental agreement they will still not receive rates such as those being paid for less sophisticated work at Austin and Pickersgills, where some wages are as high as £42 a week.

Finally, to indicate the impact that this threatened closure will have on my constituents, I draw attention to the fact that in the Barrow travel-to-work area, which takes in Barrow, Dalton, Grange-over-Sands and Ulverston, there are about 41,000 registered employed persons. The immediate effect of the closure would be that 8,500 people would become unemployed—20 per cent. of the work force—at a stroke, to use an unfortunate phrase. That would increase quickly to 13,000 if the closure continued, and that number would represent 31 per cent. of the work force. Those percentages take account of the whole travel-towork area, but the Minister will appreciate that the majority of those who work at Vickers, Barrow, live in Barrow and, therefore, that the effect on Barrow will be proportionately greater.

It must be understood that any attempt to force groups of men in our work-oriented society to accept uniformity of conditions and rating is bound for a long time to be met with strong resistance. In industrial towns which are geographically isolated men are identified by their jobs. A man regards himself as a boilermaker, as a shipwright, as a blacksmith or as a draughtsman. If a man is asked what he is he does not say that he is a Catholic, a Protestant, a father or a football fan. He says that he is a shipwright or a joiner. This is a work-oriented society, and it is a problem of a work-oriented society with which we are dealing. I hope that there will be no criticism of those involved in this dispute on the ground that it is unreasonable to protect craft divisions in this era.

One of the great tragedies of the situation is that, despite the length of time that this dispute has taken to develop to its present tragic juncture, and despite the large amount of Government work involved at Vickers, Barrow, as yet there has been no recourse to the hon. Gentleman's Department by the parties concerned for conciliation. I believe that the reason for this is to be found in the atmosphere which has been created by the Industrial Relations Act. I know by talking to trade unionists concerned that they are reluctant even to begin considering using the facilities of the Ministry in an attempt to solve this dispute. They fear that it will lead them into the troubles that have beset other unions which have been taken to the National Industrial Relations Court.

Not unreasonably, my constituents expect the Government to show some concern about this dispute. They expect it because of the terrible social and economic consequences which it will have if it proceeds to the point of works closure. They expect it because they are all very conscious of the product of Vickers and of the fact that it is produced largely with the Government as a customer.

I very much hope that the Under-Secretary, in replying, will be able to reflect that concern which my constituents rightly expect and, in doing so, will be able to give some assurances that at least some of the facilities of his Department can be offered in such a way that no fears need be experienced by those to whom they are offered of detrimental effects on trade unionists concerned, and that, therefore, he may be able to play some part in bringing an end to the dispute.

12.50 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)

I share the deep concern of the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) about the possible consequences of this continuing dispute in his constituency. I know that there is great anxiety in the town of Barrow about the future and about the possible hardship which may have to be faced not only by the workers affected but by their families and, indeed, the whole of the local community.

I hope that the House will understand that I am in a difficult position, obviously, in replying to the debate. I do not want to say anything which might in any way prejudice the prospects of a settlement. But perhaps it would be helpful to the House if I gave an account of the events which have led to the present situation, as my Department understands them, despite the fact that the hon. Gentleman has covered much of the ground in a very competent way.

Vickers employs over 13,000 workers in Barrow, of whom over 5,000 are in the engineering division and over 8,000 in the ship-building division. The economy of the town, as many of us know, is largely dependent on the fortunes of the company. Vickers provides about 75 per cent. of the male jobs in manufacturing industry in the town.

The present dispute has its roots in claims for substantial increases in pay presented to the company towards the end of last year by several unions representing the employees at Barrow. A number of package deals on pay and productivity were concluded with the unions during 1969, and these were due to end on 31st December last year. With the approach of the terminal date of those agreements, claims for substantial increases in pay were made to the company in October. During negotiations an "across-the-board" offer to all unions was made of an increase of £1.75 a week, representing an average increase of about 6 per cent. An agreement giving a similar increase was at that time concluded with the technical and supervisory section of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers representing draughtsmen employed at the shipyard and the engineering works. The company's offer did not prove acceptable to the manual workers' unions.

Last December the district committee of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions considered the company's refusal to improve on its offer and called for the imposition of an overtime ban. The ban was introduced from 1st January and the unions declared their intention of continuing it until immediate and meaningful talks were agreed to by the company. Some 12,000 employees were involved.

Vickers had made it clear at the time that the offer could not be increased unless the unions were prepared to offer greater flexibility and that it was always ready to negotiate further on this basis. During January it wrote to the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions warning it that unless the overtime ban was lifted a £2.50 a week "co-operation bonus" which was paid in return for freedom from industrial disputes, as I understand it, would be withdrawn from the end of that month.

During the last week of January some of the unions involved notified the company of their acceptance of the offer and withdrew their ban on overtime, but on 4th February the National Society of Boilermakers rejected the company's offer.

Five days later—at a meeting of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions—all unions with the exception of the National Society of Boilermakers reported their acceptance of the company's offer. However, the boilermakers made it plain that they were prepared to go it alone. At this stage the company informed the unions that continuation of industrial action could jeopardise the efficient operation of the yards and might lead to the closing down of production facilities.

The company then decided to withdraw the "co-operation bonus" in respect of those workers who were continuing to ban overtime—action which had begun a month earlier.

I will now turn to the events of 10th and 11th April when the dispute escalated sharply. One aspect of the general withdrawal of co-operation by the members of the Boilermakers' Society was their refusal to use certain technical processes. On 10th April the refusal by a welder to perform certain work led to his suspension. A "sit-in" during the afternoon of that day by members of the Boilermakers' Society in protest at the suspension was followed by a strike. The hon. Gentleman referred to it as a lock-out and I will not argue about that. But I understand that, certainly technically, this could be described as a strike. Anyway, it was followed by a strike by 1,200 members of the society from the following day, when the company informed them that they would be allowed to resume work only if prepared to work normally. The present stoppage has continued from that time.

On 5th May the company wrote to members of all manual unions giving details of its proposals for a new longterm package deal which had been evolved from a study of European shipyards. The package offered further very substantial increases in pay in return for agreement on certain conditions relating to flexibility and modernisation and, in addition, a bonus for good timekeeping.

The company's proposals for a longterm agreement have not so far found favour with the members of the Boilermakers' Society. As I understand it, the company's offer to the boilermakers at that time was that they should accept the present £1.75 wage increase which had been accepted by the other unions, return to normal working, and enter into negotiations on the long-term package.

On 16th May the company issued a warning to the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions that it would be forced to close the engineering works from 5th June unless normal working was resumed by that date.

Further discussions have taken place during this week between the company and the Boilermakers' Society. I understand that certain proposals were put to representatives of the society on Monday and that these have been clarified at a meeting between the company and the society as recently as yesterday afternoon. As the hon. Member said, a mass meeting of the union has been taking place this morning, but as yet I have had no report of its outcome.

My Department is closely following the course of the dispute and, as the hon. Member said, although there has been no request for assistance from either side, one of our officers has had the opportunity of informal discussion with both the company and the society in the course of the last few days. Although our conciliators usually become involved in a dispute in response to requests from one side or the other, they do not exclude the possibility of intervening on their own initiative when it seems this would be appropriate in the light of the circumstances and would also be acceptable to the parties.

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman said about the Industrial Relations Act and the present atmosphere. But perhaps we should be getting a little wide of the mark if we embarked on a discussion of that at this stage. But I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept from me that there are still many instances of useful conciliation and help which my Department can extend and which have been accepted in the post-Industrial Relations Act period.

Having considered all the relevant aspects that have occurred, our officers have concluded that in the present circumstances of this dispute—I emphasise the present circumstances—it would not be helpful for them to try to intervene. One of the factors that they had in mind was the difference in approach between the various unions involved. In the light of the hon. Member's concern I have again considered carefully whether intervention on our part would be likely to be of help, but I have decided that it would not in the present circumstances

I should like to take the opportunity which has been usefully provided by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness to say a few words about the future of industrial relations in the shipbuilding industry generally. The development of new techniques and methods of work is bringing about changes in many of the traditional craft skills. Apprenticeships now cover a wide range of skill. Some union amalgamations have enabled agreements to be reached which widen the range of jobs which can be undertaken by members. These and other factors have been laying the foundation for significant improvements in the methods of working in the industry.

We would now like to see a really determined effort by unions and management to move towards comprehensive negotiating machinery which would bring all the unions to the same negotiating table at company and yard level. Some progress, I agree, has been made in this direction, but it has not been enough. There are, of course, many problems, particularly as regards traditional practices, and I know that the reform of bargaining arrangements will not be an easy one. However, these are problems which I am certain must be faced and solved or much of what has been gained may well have been in vain. In the long term the continued pursuit of sectional interests by unions could seriously jeopardise the prospects of stability in the yards and affect the security of employment which we all want to see throughout the industry.

As my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said in the House on 18th May, the Ministry of Defence is also very concerned about the current dispute at Vickers' Barrow Shipbuilding Works which we have been discussing today.

The reason for this, as I am sure right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, is that Vickers is responsible for a substantial part of the current naval programme, and the company occupies a key position in the naval construction field both now and in the future. It is wholly responsible for the very important nuclear submarine programme, and, indeed, four of these vessels are being built at the present time, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

The company is also providing the lead yard services for the type 42 Sea Dart destroyer, and I am sure that the House will recall that the first of these sophisticated news ships, HMS "Sheffield" was launched by Her Majesty the Queen last June from the Barrow Yard. The company is building a further one of these ships for the Royal Navy and two for the Argentine Navy; one at Barrow and the other in the Argentine. The company is also heavily involved with design work on the new through-deck cruiser for the Royal Navy.

Export work accounts for a good proportion of Vickers Shipbuilding work, and, in fact, in addition to the type 42 destroyers I have just mentioned, it is constructing a destroyer for Iran and two conventional submarines of the well -tried Oberon class for Brazil. The building of a commercial liner for an overseas customer is also being undertaken at Barrow.

The House will, I am sure, therefore, fully appreciate the reasons for the deep concern with which the Ministry of Defence views the current problems, and its anxiety is not only for its own contracts but for those overseas contracts for which it has a responsibility.

We all recognise that the unemployment rate in Barrow is higher than we would like it to be. Indeed, the hon. Member has been very assiduous in asking parliamentary Questions about it in months gone by. I am glad to say that the May rate for the Barrow travel-towork area, which includes the Dalton, Ulverston and Grange-Over-Sands employment exchange areas as well as Barrow itself, was 3.8 per cent., which is the same as the national average. In fact, the rate would have been lower than that for the country as a whole if the figures for the Barrow travel-to-work area had not included 200 workers who were temporarily stopped, largely because of the indirect effects of the industrial dispute that we have been discussing.

I recall the concern which was expressed by the hon. Member on behalf of his constituents when the Barrow Paper Mills announced its decision to close its factory in March. As soon as he heard of this redundancy, our area manager in Barrow took immediate steps to help the redundant workers, and I am pleased to be able to report that the majority of the 275 or so workers who lost their jobs appear to have found fresh employment reasonably quickly. Only a few of the older men are still on our registers, and we are continuing to do all we can to help them.

I recognise that, as the hon. Member pointed out, Barrow's remoteness from other large population centres is a very real problem, and no one would wish to underestimate it. However, being a development area, it is able to offer considerable inducements to industrial expansion, and we believe that the measures announced in the Budget have done much to improve those inducements.

As I am sure the hon. Member is aware, we are making available regional development grants, at the rate of 20 per cent. in development areas, towards capital expenditure on new buildings and adapting existing buildings and on new industrial plant and machinery. Since these grants will be disregarded for tax purposes, their value will be substantially enhanced. They will provide the assisted areas with a more clear-cut preference than any previous incentive and will be simpler, more easily understood and more certain in their application.

Let me say once again that I share the regret that even now, after a further offer by Vickers, it has not been possible to reach a settlement in this dispute. There is a serious threat to the employment of thousands of workers in this area. There may be grave consequences for the company and the community, not to mention important defence and export orders. I sincerely hope, even at this late stage, that there will be further reflection by those concerned, and I am glad that meetings are still taking place.

We at the Department of Employment will continue to keep a careful watch on developments, but my judgment remains that it would not be appropriate for my Department to intervene at the present time.

As I say, we shall continue to observe the situation with great care and any further information with which the hon. Member may wish to provide us will be readily accepted.

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