HC Deb 24 November 1977 vol 939 cc1740-2
10. Mr. Craig

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will give an assurance that the Government are giving the maximum assistance to Short Bros. Ltd. in its efforts to acquire the right to manufacture Britten-Norman aircraft together with the jigs and tools connected therewith.

4. Mr. Michael MacNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with the Chairman of Short Brothers and Harland about the proposed take-over by the company of a substantial part of the Fairey Britten-Norman Company.

Mr. Concannon

The Government have maintained regular and close communications with Short Brothers and have given the company every encouragement in its efforts to acquire on appropriate terms the trading assets relating to the Britten-Norman aicraft through negotiation with the Receiver of Britten-Norman (Bembridge) Limited and the President of the Tribunal of Commerce in Belgium.

Mr. Craig

I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he fully appreciate the importance of this acquisition to the future rôle of the aircraft side of Short Brothers Limited, and also to fill the ugly gap left by the closure of RAF Sydenham?

Mr. Concannon

Yes, and I appreciate the help that the right hon. Gentleman and the work force in Sydenham have given me with this project. That is why we are following it up as hard as we possibly can. It is the only thing on the stocks that could be helpful to the work force at Sydenham, and I give the assurance that this matter will be followed up as closely as possible.

Mr. Monro

Will the hon. Gentleman look at this, not only in the interests of employment in Northern Ireland, but because it is a particularly fine aircraft and is most important to air communications in Scotland and throughout the world?

Mr. Concannon

Yes, of course. That is why Short Brothers Limited in Northern Ireland has a lead, and why the aircraft will be a valuable asset to the existing marketing arrangements of the company.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Is the Minister aware that the Britten-Norman aircraft was originated in the Isle of Wight, where 240 were built, and that, although my constituency has no great objections to the proposed take-over by Short Brothers Limited, we seek assurances that the employment of more than 300 people in the Isle of Wight who were responsible for the design and fitting out of the aircraft will remain in the Isle of Wight, where we now have a 9 per cent. unemployment rate?

Mr. Concannon

Yes, Sir. I understand the difficulties and what 9 per cent. unemployment means in such an area, but in unemployment terms in Northern Ireland I am talking about figures ranging between 30 per cent. and an average of 12 per cent. But that does not help. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Managing Director of Short Brothers Limited has assured the trade union interest at Bern-bridge that he has no intention of decimating the Bembridge labour force. On the contrary, he proposes to retain as many of the work force as he reasonably can.