HC Deb 09 December 1976 vol 922 cc625-9

Mr. Biffen (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will make a statement on the resignation of Mr. J. Graham Day, Chief Executive of the Organising Committee for British Shipbuilders.

The Secretary of State for Industry (Mr. Eric G. Varley)

Mr. Day has told me that, following the failure of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill to achieve Royal Assent in the last Session, he intends to return to Canada next year. I have learned of Mr. Day's intentions with regret, and in doing so I expressed my warm appreciation for his services.

Mr. Biffen

Is the Secretary of State aware that I, too, acknowledge Mr. Day's record of public service, particularly his service at Cammell Laird? Will he tell us whether he has had any indication that either Mr. Peter Mills or Mr. Tony Peers intends to follow the course taken by Mr. Day? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, should the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill encounter a thicket of procedural difficulties in the House of Lords, it will be only and solely because the Public Bill Office pronounced it to be prima facie hybrid and because the Leader of the House and his right hon. and hon. Friends were unwilling to accept that the House of Commons should deal with the consequences of that pronouncement?

Mr. Varley

I cannot say what the intentions of other members of the Organising Committee are. As soon as it can be arranged, I shall meet the other full-time members of the Organising Committee. Perhaps that meeting will take place tomorrow.

Regarding the Bill, I think that right through this sorry situation we have been trying desperately, as was acknowledged by Mr. Day on the radio at lunchtime today, to take the only way forward. Mr. Day said: By early action we could have assisted a restructuring and a stablisation with the minimum disruption for the individual yards and the maximum preservation of genuine job opportunities. In saying that, Mr. Day acknowledged that nationalisation of the industry was the only way forward.

Again and again the only thing that has been demonstrated by the Opposition, and particularly by the House of Lords, has been that they do not give a fig for these industries. The only thing they want is some kudos out of wrecking the Bill. In the process, they will wreck the industry.

Mr. Buchan

Is not this Question a piece of impertinence on the part of the Opposition? Is not the assassination to be laid directly at their door? Are they not now trying to run away from their own action? We have seen the first victim in this capacity, just as we saw 300 victims in the Stephens yard a week ago, as a result of the conspiracy between the Tory Party, the Scottish National Party and the House of Lords to wreck the Bill.

Mr. Varley

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Mr. Graham Day is the first casualty of the obstruction by the Opposition and the House of Lords. I hope that they are proud of what they have done.

Mr. Grylls

Is the Secretary of State aware that this resignation emphasises the perspicacity of the Opposition in raising the question of the huge amount of money which has been spent by the Organising Committee? The right hon. Gentleman said that we were responsible for this situation. He knows perfectly well, however, that he could have used the Industry Act at any time to help the shipbuilding industry. Therefore, he has no right to blame us at all. The right hon. Gentleman knows that it was the result of his own petulant and stubborn attitude in not letting the Bill go through in the last Session as amended by the House of Lords. Where will he find a new manager?

Mr. Varley

It is not for the hon. Gentleman or for the House of Lords to instruct this House on which parts of our manifesto the House of Lords should allow us to implement or not implement. The Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill had hundreds of hours of debate. On the ship repairing section we were never defeated, yet the Opposition chose to wreck the whole Bill.

Regarding expenditure by the Organising Committee, I was in the House recently when the hon. Gentleman raised these squalid little points. I think he should bear in mind that Mr. Graham Day and other members of the Organising Committee have been building up contacts both at home and abroad to get orders to preserve jobs in British shipbuilding. That is what the Opposition have put at risk.

Mr. Loyden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people in the industry today will regret the statement that he has made? Workers in the industry who have been concerned about the future of the industry saw its future safeguarded only by public ownership. Their experience of private ownership in the shipbuilding and ship repairing industry has included a situation of a work force of 24,000 being reduced to 3,000 on Merseyside alone. Will he take it from me that all workers in the ship repairing and shipbuilding industry are behind him on the question of public ownership?

Hon. Members

They are not.

Mr. Varley

The fact that they are is coming through time and again in the messages that we are receiving. All the messages that we have conveyed over the last 12 months to the House and elsewhere demonstrate that nationalisation is the only answer if we are to have a coherent and viable shipbuilding industry. Those are not my words. They are Mr. Graham Day's words. The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), I assume on behalf of the Opposition, has just paid tribute to that gentleman. At lunchtime today, Mr. Graham Day again said: Nationalisation … in my opinion is the only alternative.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a Private Notice Question, not a statement. I shall call one more Member from each side of the House.

Mr. Amery

Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that Mr. Day's resignation results from his own inability to convince him that the Bill would be enacted in the lifetime of this Parliament? Furthermore, looking ahead, would it not be better to forgo nationalisation of the aircraft and shipbuilding industries than to sell off and denationalise part of British Petroleum?

Mr. Varley

That does not arise out of this question and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. He still has some influence within the Conservative Party, and as a former Minister of Aviation he knows that damage has been done to that industry and the shipbuilding industry. If he has any influence with his right hon. and hon. Friends or any influence in another place, why does he not assist us in getting the Bill on to the statute book as quickly as possible.

Mr. Heffer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on Merseyside, particularly in the trade union movement and in the shipbuilding and repair industries, regret will be felt at the decision of Mr. Graham Day to resign? He was well thought of on Merseyside, particularly in Cammell Laird. He did a first-class job. Will my right hon. Friend make further representations to Mr. Day to reconsider his position?

Mr. Varley

I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks. Mr. Day is highly regarded throughout the industry and he has done a magnificent job. I understand his frustrations and why he was worried about the Bill getting on to the statute book. I shall consider my hon. Friend's last point. Perhaps even at this late stage we could ask Mr. Day to reconsider his position. But we should have an indication from the Opposition, particularly from the Tory Peers, that at least they will allow the Bill to get on to the statute book as quickly as possible in the new year.

Mr. Speaker

Mrs. Thatcher—Business Question.

Mr. Bagier

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I humbly point out that of the Back Benchers called from this side of the House, two were from Merseyside but none was from the North-East of England where 35,000 shipworkers are employed?

Mr. Speaker

I realise that. The hon. Member could have recited other parts of the United Kingdom where shipworkers are also involved.

Back to