HC Deb 18 March 1976 vol 907 cc1530-1
13. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about employment prospects in the Province.

Mr. Orme

A precise forecast of employment prospects is not possible; in Northern Ireland they will depend to a considerable degree upon an upturn nationally. The extent to which Northern Irelands participates in the upturn will be heavily influenced by the political stability of the Province until then and at that time. We need to be sure that we are making the best use of the resources available.

Indeed, as my right hon. Friend has already said in reply to an earlier Question, the economic strategy for Northern Ireland for the next few years needs to be re-assessed. This will now be done. The Northern Ireland Economic Council will be consulted, and constructive views from any quarter, including the CBI and the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions, will be welcome.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Does the Minister agree that Harland and Wolff is of overriding importance in the overall economy of Northern Ireland? Is it not a fact that two of the three tankers originally ordered by Maritime Fruit Carriers have found a purchaser in Coastal States Gas of Houston, Texas? What will happen to the third tanker? As the company is now nationalised, will any warships be ordered from it, or will it become a repair base for our Navy?

Mr. Orme

I confirm that the orders for the two tankers have been saved. I should not like to comment on the third order at this stage. The hon. Gentleman is aware that the Government have put a considerable amount of public money into what is now a publicly owned company to try to preserve employment in Harland and Wolff. Every prospect for employment is being examined.

Mr. Bradford

Is the Minister satisfied that every facet of the social and economic realities of Northern Ireland was considered before the decision to denude the Province of 2,000 jobs in the defence sector was taken?

Mr. Orme

I was in Northern Ireland yesterday when the Defence Ministers announced their decisions. The previous defence cuts did not affect Northern Ireland at the time. This is a Government decision to reduce manpower. We are being called upon to reduce public expenditure. It is unfortunate that when it takes place, as in this case, jobs are lost. As part of the reassessment, we hope to re-examine how we can create new jobs on a more permanent basis than that of defence.

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