HC Deb 21 July 1977 vol 935 cc1836-7
13. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many of the seven ships currently on order from Harland and Wolff Ltd. are likely to produce a profit for the company.

Mr. Concannon

As regards five of the seven ships currently on order from Harland and Wolff Limited, I have nothing to add to the reply that I gave the hon. Member on 11th October 1976. Since then the company has received an order for the construction of two liquefied petroleum gas carriers for long-term charter to Shell. The financial basis of this order—including the injection of preference capital by the company—was outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in a written reply on 27th April this year.

The company's latest forecast indicates that the price paid for these two ships should at least cover their construction cost.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

In the absence of profitable returns from most of the ships that it makes, how long does the Minister expect that the £60 million given to the company in 1975 will last? Will he say what further proposals for financial assistance the Government have to tide the company over the present lack of demand for new ships?

Mr. Concannon

It was originally expected that the £60 million would last until the end of 1978, but I can inform the hon. Gentleman that it seems possible that it will last beyond that date. The assistance that we are giving is to pursue orders for the shipyard so that it can become viable.

Mr. Neave

Does the Minister of State recall that I have been pressing him for some time for a diversification programme for Harland and Wolff? In many people's opinion the company's resourceful and experienced staff would allow it to diversify its product considerably. What is the Government's long-term policy for Harland and Wolff in this respect?

Mr. Concannon

There are inquiries into the diversification of as much of Harland and Wolff as possible, but the re-equipment of the main yard was to enable it to build huge tankers, and it is not easy to diversify some of the equipment used in Harland and Wolff to build other things. We are studying the shipyard. We shall diversify in any place that we can.