HC Deb 12 January 1978 vol 941 cc1846-7
13. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he last met the Chairman of Harland and Wolff Ltd.

Mr. Concannon

Excluding purely social occasions, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's last meeting with Sir Brian Morton took place on 27th April 1977. As the Minister responsible for commerce, I am in regular contact with and meet the chairman as and when necessary.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Can the Minister of State say whether, in any of his recent meetings, he has discussed the possibility of any part of the Polish order coming to Belfast? Will he say whether, if the Government are able to negotiate a similar contract with the Indian Government, the Belfast yard will be given due consideration?

Mr. Concannon

With regard to the Polish order, because of its existing commitments and the short delivery times demanded, Harland and Wolff would not have been in a position to accept any of the construction work. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall be in the field for any type of order that we can secure for Harland and Wolff.

Mr. Neave

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I should also like to congratulate him on his recent honour, which is very well deserved for his work in Northern Ireland? However, will he say what progress has been made with the diversification of engineering and other work in Harland and Wolff—a question which I have put forward several times in the House?

Mr. Concannon

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. The company is investigating, and has been for some considerable time, several possibilities for diversification. Currently, it is developing plans for entry into the medium-speed diesel engine market. It is particularly active in seeking alternative work for its modern steel-making facilities, including barge construction, floating plant, car ferry loading ramps, offshore oil work and structural steel work for bridges. Recently, a subsidiary company has been established for the production and marketing of motor-cycle accessories. It is, however, too early to assess the impact in employment terms of the company's efforts on the diversification front.