HC Deb 10 July 1973 vol 859 cc1240-1
7. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total number of people employed in the shipbuilding and ship repairing industries at the latest available date; and how these figures compare with each of the previous five years.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

It is provisionally estimated that there were 152,300 employees in employment in the industry in April 1973. I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a table showing the comparable figures for earlier years.

Mr. Mitchell

That reply is a little difficult to interpret. Is the Minister aware that in many parts of the country, including Southampton, there has been a drastic fall-off in the labour force in ship repairing over the last five or six years? Will he have urgent talks with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to consider what steps can be taken to remedy this situation?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I am aware of the fall-off in this respect. There are many reasons for it of which the hon. Gentleman, who takes an interest in these matters, will be aware. There is the trend towards very large vessels for which ship repairing facilities in the United Kingdom are not always adequate and the consequent reduction in the number of ships. There is the decline in the age of the United Kingdom merchant fleet with the consequent reduced need for repairs, and there are also many other factors.

The hon. Gentleman will know of the developments in Southampton. Harland and Wolff sold its Southampton repair operation as a going concern to Vosper Thorneycoft which, according to Press reports, offered to continue the employment of 800 Harland and Wolff personnel. There are reports that about 20 senior staff are claiming redundancy payments on the ground that the jobs they have been offered are not comparable with their previous employment, and I am looking into this.

Mr. Dell

Is the Minister aware that the withdrawal of REP would have a serious effect on employment in the ship building and ship repairing industry? Despite any assistance that may be available under the Industry Act, is the hon. Gentleman aware that the level of employment in ship repairing on Merseyside has fallen substantially over recent years and is making a serious contribution to the high level of unemployment which continues there? Will the Minister have words with the Secretary of State for trade and Industry with a view to Merseyside being declared a special development area?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have noted the words of the right hon. Gentleman. I think that the right hon. Gentleman understands the reasons—and I have given many of them—why there has been this decline in ship repairing. I cannot take it any further than that at the moment.

Following is the information:

Estimated Numbers of Employees in Employment in the Shipbuilding and Ship-repairing Industry
Thousands Total
April 1973 (Provisional) 152.3
April 1972 (Provisional) 156.9
April 1971 160.8
April 1970 157.9
June 1969 (b) 153.2
June 1969 (a) 144.0
April 1969 144.8
April 1968 151.6

Estimates for June 1969 (a) and earlier months are classified according to the Standard Industrial Classification (1958) and are not fully comparable therefore with the estimates for June 1969 (b) and later months which are classified on the basis of the Standard Industrial Classification (1968). Estimates for April 1972 and April 1973 are subject to revision when the results of the 1971 Census of Employment are available.