HC Deb 09 April 1976 vol 909 cc857-73

2.50 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I beg to move, That this House, while appreciating the commissioning of the Report on Greenwell Drydocks and acknowledging the findings of that Report, regrets the action of the Secretary of State for Industry in endorsing the decision of the management of North-East Coast Ship-repairers Limited to close the Greenwell Yard and put out of work about 400 employees, thereby confirming the statement which the Minister of State made as early as 12th January that it was for the North-East Coast Shiprepairers management to exercise its commercial judgment and that ' the Department of Industry had made it clear that, if North-East Coast Shiprepairers management have decided on a policy of retrenchment, it may appear sensible to them to close Greenwells because the Greenwell Yard is divorced from the North-East Coast Shiprepairers Tyne Yards and because it so happens that the closing of Greenwells involves North-East Coast Shiprepairers in no capital loss (as the capital assets were never transferred to that company), further regrets that, in closing a nationalised yard, the Secretary of State should act upon the commercial judgment of the North-East Coast Shiprepairers management and not give due consideration to the following factors, namely: (1) while Greenwells remained a separate company it carried on its ship-repairing business successfully and profitably, (2) the yard has been adversely affected by merger, (3) notwithstanding the need for public accountability in nationalised industry, there has been no adequate explanation, in terms of managerial responsibility, of the exceptional losses in 1974–75, following upon the successful results in the previous year, and, in particular, of the major loss on the Single Buoy Mooring contract, (4) in spite of becoming a nationalised yard, there has been little evidence of any effective industrial democracy and there was no consultation with the employees prior to North-East Coast Shiprepairers hanagement's decision to close the yard and no effort to discuss flexible working and other arrangements to improve the profitability of the yard, (5) the North-East Coast Shiprepairers management denied the trade unions the benefits of the Employment Protection Act and, whereas good employers acted within the provisions of the Act in anticipation of its coming into force, North-East Coast Shiprepairers management acted in flagrant evasion and avoidance of the Act, (6) the payment of about £400,000 in compensation by way of redundancy pay and ex gratia payments in lieu of notice was wasteful public expenditure which would have been better spent on providing the capital investment which the North-East Coast Shiprepairers management had failed to provide and would have afforded the opportunity to take advantage of the valuable concessions offered by the labour force and recorded in the Report, (7) in addition to the loss of £400,000 paid in compensation which in itself exceeds the total trading loss incurred by Greenwells in the last 10 years, the closure of the yard will result in substantial recurrent losses to the borough of Sunderland, which is the port authority, and to Sunderland Shipbuilders and Austin and Pickersgill, (8) the borough of Sunderland, apart from contingent problems referred to in the Report, will suffer an annual loss of £81,000, (9) the assets of Greenwells are owned by the nationalised Sunderland Shipbuilders, who will suffer an annual loss of over £100,000, (10) Austin and Pickersgill will be obliged to dry dock on the Tyne and estimate that this will involve them in an additional annual cost of £60,000 rising to £85,000, (11) although the North-East Coast Shiprepairers management claim that the costs of the closure borne by that company should be substantially offset by the additional work for the Tyne Yards which would otherwise have been offered to Greenwells, this only refers to the compensation costs and this not only disregards Greenwell Drydocks but also takes no account of the recurrent annual loss to the borough of Sunderland and to the Wear shipbuilders amounting to about £250,000 a year and further takes no account of the consequential loss to Sunderland port-users and sub-contractors, (12) no account has been taken of the social and other costs caused by making unemployed 400 employees in a town which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and (13) the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill now provides that, in giving directions to British shipbuilders, the Secretary of State shall have full regard, inter alia, to the need to take account of considerations relating to regional areas and in particular employment considerations within those areas; and, noting that the borough of Sunderland has expressed its willingness to become involved in any commercially viable rescue operation, that the trade unions have declared their willingness to make working concessions, and that a company has expressed an interest in purchasing or renting the Greenwell Yard, calls upon the Secretary of State to take immediate and effective action to pursue such a rescue operation. Perhaps by way of preface, I may express one or two words of appreciation. This is a constituency matter and, as the constituency Member concerned, I have every reason to express appreciation for what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry said yesterday on the extension of the cost escalation insurance scheme to British ship owners. I have been urging this proposal upon my right hon. Friend for a considerable time, and I appreciate all the difficulties involved. For that reason I am especially appreciative of the steps taken by the Government.

Furthermore, I appreciate my right hon. Friend's statement about British shipbuilders honouring present contracts. I am realistic enough to realise that that is an indication of the serious position of some of the shipyards. I noted with a little trepidation the remarks of my right hon. Friend about the OECD. It is rumoured that serious thought is being given to a rationalisation of the industry.

I also noted my right hon. Friend's remarks about the Govan yards. This is the crux of my complaints. We in Sunderland complain not only about unfair foreign competition, but about unfair domestic competition. We in the North-East, and particularly in Sunderland, feel that different consideration is being accorded to us compared with other shipbuilding districts. Although the Government make an ongoing response to the requirements of the Govan yards and to their difficulties, we meet a negative response. The Department makes clear from the outset that it will not intervene. Such an attitude ignores the development area aspect of shipbuilding and more especially the difficulties of the North-East coast.

This was very different from the reaction of the chairman designate of British Shipbuilders when he visited Sunderland in January and heard of the position at Greenwells. He at once responded by saying that he hoped to make a return visit in order to meet my constituents. He has not done so. I have no complaint on that score, because I regard the proper responsibility at the present time, until we nationalise the yards, as resting with the Department. But we complain that the reaction of the chairman designate is very different from that of the Department.

This is the kernel of our complaint against my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry. I made clear throughout our discussions on the closure of Greenwells that if NECS decided on a policy of retrenchment and of rationalisation, the closure of Green-well Drydocks might make sense to NECS. It so happens that it is particularly attractive to the NECS because it will suffer no capital loss from a closure. The capital losses will be borne by Sunderland Shipbuilders, but my hon. Friends must recognise that that equally that is a nationalised concern.

Let us contrast the position in a nationalised industry with that in a private industry. When Court Ship- builders came to Sunderland it was intent on converting Greenwell yard into a shipbuilding yard on the Appledore model, but that was a very different situation from that which obtains today. The attraction of that proposition was that it would provide more work for skilled workers in Sunderland.

However, in due course Court Shipbuilders changed its mind. It decided to concentrate on developing a covered yard on the Pallion site. It then undertook that work, but it had put in issue the whole situation of ship repairing on the Wear. It had originally taken the view that it would expand the capacity on the Wear to build ships. When it changed its plans and decided to develop up river, it continued to consider the question of rationalisation and of providing ship repairing facilities only on the Tyne but it still hoped to expand the shipbuilding employment on the Wear.

The difference in attitude between Court Shipbuilders before and after nationalisation is striking. Court Shipbuilders virtually postponed any decision. It felt that, as a major employer, it should not put people out of work. The view was that it should not consider such a proposition until it was satisfied that the yards could absorb men displaced from the Greenwell yard if repair work was transferred to the Tyne. That is a different attitude from that taken by the present nationalised management.

There is not the slightest doubt that Greenwell has been very much prejudiced by the merger. There is perhaps some question whether the NECS management has prejudiced the yard. The evidence is capable of conflicting interpretations. What is clear—and this matter is often overlooked—is that the volume of work in Greenwells increased dramatically in 1974–75 over previous years.

A question mark arises over the nature of that work. That question is not dealt with satisfactorily in the Touche Ross report. In this context the major factor is the loss of the single-buoy mooring contract. The losses have been quoted as between £170,000 and £210,000. I notice in the report that the figure is given as £190,000. That was the major factor. This matter should be pursued because it is relevant to the question of public accountability of a nationalised industry. A thorough inquiry should be undertaken into that loss, if this firm had remained in private industry, under Court Shipbuilders, I have no doubt that it would have insisted on a rigorous inquiry into this loss and the circumstances for it. Because an industry is nationalised does not mean that the management should escape any such responsibility.

I come back to the issue of Greenwells. My hon. Friend the Minister of State needed little, if any, persuasion to accept a new principle in the case of nationalisation of shipbuilding, namely that it should be decentralised. There is not the slightest doubt that Greenwells was prejudiced by the merger. Greenwells is one of the most famous ship repair yards in the country. The former head of the company, Colonel Greenwell, was a distinguished Member of this House. He was a foremost authority in the Conservative Party on shipbuilding and ship repairing. He was succeeded by his son, Mr. Tony Greenwell, who was equally distinguished and who held high office in the National Association.

There is no issue about the fact that Greenwells, when it was separate and independent, was profitable. It was a successful yard run by ship repairers. This is a factor my hon. Friend should bear in mind. If we are looking at organisation and structure, we could probably learn from the past. What might make sense to North East-Coast Ship-repairers does not necessarily make sense to the industry in general terms of ship repairing.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State has a very good record on industrial democracy. As he responded to my plea for decentralisation so he responded to the case for industrial democracy. He has made this a major objective in the present legislation passing through the House and is seeking to ensure that it provides an effective means of achieving industrial democracy. But there could not be a worse illustration of the lack of industrial democracy than the closure of Greenwells.

This is the case, not only in the context of the steps leading up to the closure—the disregard of the unions and the workpeople in the yard—but in the context, about which my hon. Friend knows I feel strongly, of the Employment Protection Act. It is disgraceful that nationalised industry should not set a good example and precedent. It is disturbing that this closure should have been aggravated by such circumstances. There was no open consultation or discussion with the work force. Every step was taken to conceal the intentions of the management until firm and definite decisions had been taken.

The position, and this is the case upon which my hon. Friend relies, is that NECS can close the yard at a minimal cost to it of £300,000, or an overall cost of £400,000 if we take the £100,000 coming out of central funds for redundancy pay. If the Government pay that compensation and concentrate the work on the Tyne, they feel that they will be able to get the money back and that that will make sense to NECS. As I have pointed out, this does not make sense either to Sunderland or the industry as a whole. This is a compensation payment compensating men for being put out of work when they want to stay in work. It is paying money in compensation which would more than meet the capital requirements of the yard.

As it is conceded that Greenwell has been adversely affected by the merger, it is equally conceded that it has not had the capital investment it might have had. It is difficult to quantify the immediate or short-term need. What was put to me was that £250,000 would be adequate. The Touche Ross report puts the figure at £750,000, over a period. It is clear that if the money used for compensation had been put into the yard we could have held the jobs and there would have been no need to provide redundancy pay or payments in lieu of notice.

That is unacceptable in the sense that we shall not establish a competitive position in British industry if we think that the easiest line is to rationalise and compensate. Apart from that, my concern is not with the losses of NECS but with the losses imposed upon Sunderland and shipbuilding.

The Touche Ross Report confirms the figures I gave to the Secretary of State when we met him. The borough of Sunderland, as the port authority will lose each year over £80,000. Sunderland Shipbuilders will have to face a recurrent loss each year of over £100,000. Austin and Pickersgill will be rewarded for its enterprise by having a loss imposed upon it of between £60,000 and £85,000 a year.

In other words, in spite of all our difficulties, a loss of £250,000 a year is to be imposed upon Sunderland and Sunderland shipbuilding. That does not make sense, particularly when we remember that Sunderland Shipbuilders is nationalised as well as NECS.

That is why we cannot, as my hon. Friend suggests, accept only the commercial judgment of NECS. I am obliged, as the constituency Member, to consider the effect this will have upon Sunderland and Sunderland shipbuilding. It is not enough to say that NECS does not believe that there is an acceptable commercial return on Greenwells. Any return that would keep that yard going at no loss is an acceptable return.

I come to the main issue. Greenwells is situated in a town which has had the highest incidence of unemployment of any town in Britain for the past seven or eight years. We did not get the response that Govan, Harland and Wolff and Cammell Laird had. We are told that this must be regarded in the light of the commercial return within the confines of this Tyneside company.

Incidentally, I plead for a Minister for the North. As we said when we successfully argued for a Minister for the North, it makes a difference in ministerial decisions when there are Secretaries of State to represent the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend needs the reinforcement of a ministerial voice to speak for the North-East.

The position is starkly simple. Ship repairing is a capital-intensive and labour-intensive industry. This decision sterilises expensive capital investment and puts out of work several hundred people, many of whom are skilled, in a town which already has exceptionally high unemployment. Now that the yard has been closed, I appeal to the Minister of State to concentrate on the last plea I make to him in my motion. The borough of Sunderland is prepared to exercise its powers under Section 137 of the Local Government Act, and is prepared to back any viable proposition to rescue the yard.

The trade unions have given the same undertaking—this is a point emphasised in the Touche Ross report—that they are prepared to do everything required to re-open and reactivate the yard. Incidentally, a company has expressed a direct interest in renting or buying the yard. In the circumstances, I appeal to the Secretary of State to take the initiative to see what can be done to save the yard.

Most people are satisfied that, with aggressive marketing, adequate aggressive management, and a policy of going out for the right market for the yard, its future can be re-established. I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister of State to recognise the difficulties we face on Wearside and the North-East Coast, and to realise that any effort he makes will have this guaranteed response from those affected. There will be determination by everyone concerned—the local authority, the port authority, the shipbuilders and the shipyard workers—to make a success of the enterprise. I hope that my hon. Friend can give an adequate assurance that this is a matter on which we can make immediate representations to him.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

The right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) was good enough to refer to the length of the motion. I shall not, therefore, follow my usual practice in proposing the Question on a Private Member's motion. To read out the motion on this occasion would leave no time for further debate.

3.12 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Industry (Mr. Gerald Kaufman)

It is an agreeable parliamentary routine to congratulate a Member who has the good fortune of being successful in the Ballot. My tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) is far from being routine. Ever since the latest trouble at Greenwells manifested itself, from that very morning when he telephoned the Department of Industry and spoke to me, he has been unceasing, unrelenting, undeviating and untiring in his efforts to help Greenwells, to try to save it, to try to save jobs, to work for his constituents. The tribute I pay to him is wholehearted. No Member of Parliament could have done more in such a situation than he has done, and I cannot imagine many Members who would have done as much.

My right hon. Friend has used every avenue, every channel, in which to raise this matter and, whenever it has been in order, he has raised the subject in addition to the other methods he has adopted in Standing Committee D, where we are discussing the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill. I think it is only right, in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend, to draw attention to the contrast between his unrelenting and untiring efforts and the attempts at political capital which have been made by other members of that Standing Committee who have raised the subject in Standing Committee in order to try to embarrass the Government, or even to embarrass my right hon. Friend. But when this week they were invited to be here on the Floor of the House this afternoon to join him in raising this subject—there is plenty of time—they have not bothered to do so; they have not turned up; they have not been here.

I very much hope, therefore, that we shall be spared any comments on Green-wells from now on in Standing Committee D by hon. Members who have not troubled to turn up this afternoon to debate it with my right hon. Friend. I thank my right hon. Friend for his acknowledgment of the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry in the Budget debate yesterday. They are, of course, very welcome announcements for British shipbuilding.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North, in moving his motion this afternoon, drew attention to exchanges which took place in this House yesterday afternoon on the subject of Govan Shipbuilders, and contrasted those with what he feared was relative neglect of the North-East compared with Clyde-side. I assure my right hon. Friend that we do not distinguish between the needs of shipbuilding in assisted areas, whether they are on Clydeside, Merseyside, or Tyneside.

I have visited Cammell Laird and Western Shiprepairers—to whom I shall allude presently—and, as my right hon. Friend knows, I have not only visited Swan Hunter at Hebburn and Wallsend but have also visited Sunderland at his personal invitation. I visited the shipyards of both Sunderland Shipbuilders and Austin and Pickersgill, and have discussed with the local Sunderland representatives of the CSEU the question of Greenwells, which has been a source of very great anxiety in Sunderland for a considerable time. We have done our best to provide work, inasmuch as it is possible for the Government to do so, for North-East shipyards. Swan Hunter now has a Type 42 destroyer and the prospects of a through-deck cruiser, which will help very much with the employment situation in that area.

As my right hon. Friend knows, only this week there has been an event, both symbolic and material, of the greatest importance to the future of shipbuilding in his area, namely, the opening of the Pall ion yard. It was only the fact that I had to be in Standing Committee D from 10.30 a.m. to 7 p.m. that prevented my having the privilege of performing the ceremonial opening of that yard. But at any rate I had the opportunity of visiting it when I was in Sunderland only a very short time ago, and I was enormously impressed with it. It is a trail-blazer, and a very great symbol of this country's and this Government's dedication to the future of shipbuilding on the Wear.

My right, hon. Friend has been good enough to mention my own involvement in the Greenwell project, and he knows my very great concern about this problem from the moment it was drawn to my attention. I have been, naturally, aware of the extremly severe employment problems in Sunderland, and it was a source of great concern to me that jobs and job opportunities should be lost in this part of the country.

I get these pressures from the most unexpected directions. Round the corner from where I live in London there is a newsagent's shop which has just been taken over by some people from the North-East. When I went in there the other day I found that a brother of the proprietor was losing his job at Green-wells. Greenwells has followed me wherever I have gone, and therefore I can assure my right hon. Friend that I have been enormously concerned about that problem.

I very much accept what my right hon. Friend says about the rôle of decentralisation in this situation. I have accepted a view which he put forward very strongly at the first sitting of Standing Committee D some four months ago, and has put forward by implication ever since—that decentralisation does not mean necessarily decentralisation in order to consult and consider the interests of North-East Coast Shiprepairers. Decentralisation must pay regard to the constituent parts in relation to their rôle in British ship-repairing as a whole. That is why I very much hope that when the board of British Shipbuilders comes into being later this year, it will not necessarily look at units it takes over on the basis of agglomerations as they existed on vesting day, but will look at them individually within a generally decentralised policy.

My right hon. Friend mentioned my concern with industrial democracy in terms of the public ownership of this industry. I have been deeply concerned to make sure that industrial democracy goes well beyond simple consultation. When the question of Greenwells was brought to my attention some months ago, the first thing I did was to ask what kind of consultations were taking place. The next was to insist that genuine consultations were to take place. With all his criticisms, which my right hon. Friend has been rightly ready to voice, he will nevertheless accept that consultations, however inadequate he may regard them, did take place as a result of my intervention.

I do not respond in any way to my right hon. Friend's speech or his motion as an apologist for the actions of NECS. I have always tried to make it clear within the Department of Industry that when I try to deal with an industrial subject, whether relating to privately-owned or publicly-owned industry, whether nationalised by statute or brought into public ownership, I am not in ministerial office to act as an apologist, let alone a rubber stamp, for bodies which get into trouble and have difficulties.

Therefore in responding factually in so far as I am able to a number of my right hon. Friend's points I am not saying that they are necessarily reasons which are fully acceptable to the Government. That is not my rôle this afternoon. But it would be useful to him and to those in Sunderland who will follow this debate with so much concern if I respond to one or two of the points in the motion in order to try to clarify the situation which arises after the inquiries have taken place.

In his motion my right hon. Friend talks about confirmation of the Department's decision not to intervene. My right hon. Friend will know that we did something which was unprecedented in a situation like this, namely to set up the Touche Ross inquiry. We did that in direct response to him and others in the North-East who were seen at my request by the Secretary of State. The report gave the Department no grounds whatever for reversing the decision not to intervene in the decision of the NECS. On the contrary, the report said that Greenwells had not made an acceptable return on net assets employed in any one of the last 10 years, and, given the case of the NECS for retrenchment, which the report, to use its own words, said was "compelling", Greenwells was the obvious yard to close, and this was admitted even by the Greenwell management.

The motion states that while Greenwells remained a separate company it carried on its ship repairing business successfully and profitably. The problem here, as my right hon. Friend with 31 years' experience as Member for his constituency will know, is that one has to go back into the past to examine that situation. Greenwells has not been a separate company for 10 years. It was part of Doxford and Sunderland—later Sunderland Shipbuilders—between 1966 and 1972, and since then of NECS. The report stated: We see no reason why Greenwells, which has operated most unsatisfactorily both as part of Sunderland Shipbuilders and within NECS, should become viable as an independent operation. My right hon. Friend has taken the view, and puts it in his motion, that the yard has been adversely affected by merger". The report certainly acknowledges that ownership changes must have adversely affected the yard's trading, but it concludes: At worst, Greenwells has benefited rather than suffered from being a part of NECS. A matter which has understandably exercised my right hon. Friend and those for whom he speaks has been the statement to which he refers in line 17 of his motion—that there has been no adequate explanation of the losses on the single-point mooring buoys. The report points out: Although the job had been accepted to utilise surplus capacity, additional men were hired to work specifically on the buoys. Costs on the contract were adversely affected by Greenwell's inexperience in such work, by wage rate escalation between the tender date and the period of work and by an exceptionally high standard of finish required by the ultimate customer. My right hon. Friend referred to the Employment Protection Act. This is an extremely vexed subject. I should point out that whenever the Department of Employment, under my right hon. Friend the newly appointed Secretary of State, has a matter like this, it always emphasises the need to observe the Employment Protection Act in the spirit where it cannot be observed in the letter.

The problem as it has been put to me—I am not giving this as my own view—is that the Act did not come into force until 8th March, that notice had to be given to most of the employees before that time because they were entitled to several weeks' notice before the closure date, and that the feeling was that it was unreasonable to suggest that closure should have been postponed with consequent further losses to the group. My right hon. Friend said most tellingly when discussing compensation matters in Standing Committee D—discussing them a good deal more relevantly than others—that the compensation of £400,000 could have been better spent. The problem is that the commitment of the money to capital investment would have done nothing to solve the basic problem at Green-wells, which was a shortage of work. The report acknowledges the labour force's offer of concessions on work practices, but did not modify the conclusion that the yard could not be viable.

There can be many ways of computing the losses at Greenwells and one way is no doubt as good as another. The report puts the losses at £796,000 over 10 years. This figure can only be reduced below £400,000 by ignoring the write- down of the £425,000 expenditure on the North Quay.

It is a sad fact that, despite the losses to which my right hon. Friend has referred which will be incurred by the borough of Sunderland, by Sunderland Shipbuilders and Austin and Pickersgill, neither Austin and Pickersgill nor Sunderland Shipbuilders was willing to take over Greenwells—both were asked whether they were interested—and the exra costs they incur are not significant on their scale of operations when, for example, an SDH costs about £4½ million and the burden of the loss caused by the closure of Greenwells to Austin and Pickersgill is £5,000 per ship per launch. The turn over of Sunderland Shipbuilders is about £40 million. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not argue that one Government company should continue to incur losses to subsidise another or, indeed, a port authority.

There are different ways of computing the cost of closing Greenwells. NECS claims that it will be able to make up the cost, but that matter would be less interesting for Sunderland than for the main base of NECS's operations.

My right hon. Friend referred to an offer which has been made and to the future of Greenwells. The Department is aware that there has been talk of another company being interested in Greenwells. I have heard rumours that are unfounded—and I take this opportunity of denying them categorically—that an approach has been made to my Department asking for assurances and that either that approach has been ignored or has been rejected. No approach of any kind whatever has been made to my Department, and no request has been made to my Department for any assurance.

I have had this matter specifically considered within my Department, and on my instructions a letter has been sent from my Department to those who are said to have expressed an interest, making it clear to them that the rôle of my Department would come into activation only should an offer be made, should that ever seriously be discussed and pursued, and should the necessity for the involvement of my Department at that stage be made known. That matter, my right hon. Friend will, I am sure, be interested to know, is now on the record, and is on the record on my personal instructions. I hope that no mischief will be made because this is a matter of jobs and the future of a town, and not a subject for gimmickry of any kind, as I know my right hon. Friend would confirm.

I have answered my right hon. Friend's speech seriatim rather than dealing with it on the basis of some brief, because I wanted to deal with the points in the order that he raised them. I should, however, like to say three things in conclusion.

First, as my right hon. Friend knows, although Greenwells has closed and its labour force has been dispersed, its assets will be maintained on a care and maintenance basis by Sunderland Shipbuilders. The assets will not be dissipated, but will be handed over to British Shipbuilders when it comes into existence later this year, and it would be open to British Shipbuilders, if it thought it appropriate and sensible, to reopen the yard in the future.

Secondly, in the light of that, I say to my right hon. Friend, who asked for a positive response from the Government, that, if at any time from now onwards he feels that it would be useful, on the basis of the situation that will apply when Greenwells becomes part of British Shipbuilders, to discuss with the Organising Committee for British Shipbuilders a rôle for Greenwells as he might see it, or a rôle for Greenwells as he might ask the committee to see it, I should be glad—without commitment as I know he will accept—to arrange for talks between him and the Organising Committee.

I say that, first, because my right hon. Friend has never at any time relaxed in his efforts to try to achieve a satisfactory solution and, secondly, because nobody who has had any connection with an industrial Department could fail to be aware of the long-standing social and economic problems caused by the severe unemployment in Sunderland. Regardless of the future of Greenwells, one way or the other—and my right hon. Friend knows my views about that—I should like my right hon. Friend to be able to tell his constituents in Sunderland that my Department will do all it can to try to help the employment situation in the Sunderland area and that representations from my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) will always be given priority in this connection. Having said that, I thank my right hon. Friend for moving his motion and the way in which he did so.

Mr. Willey

I appreciate not only the attendance of the Minister of State to reply to the debate, but very much of what he said. In the light of his assurance and his acknowledging that he is as much concerned as I am to reduce unemployment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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