HC Deb 19 October 1981 vol 10 cc23-5
Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the closure of the Robb Caledon shipyard in Dundee. Until recently the shipyard employed more than 1,000 people in Dundee, but in 1979 British Shipbuilders announced its intention to close the yard, so ending a history of major shipbuilding in the River Tay that stretched back over 100 years. As a result of a sustained fight by the work force the yard was kept in business and reinstated as being capable of building ships, although British Shipbuilders preferred other work or the closure of the yard.

Despite the paper promises that were made, but never honoured, by British Shipbuilders, the order book dried up. British Shipbuilders, by voluntary redundancy and a process of attrition, scaled down the work force to just over 250. On 18 September British Shipbuilders sought to close the yard, with compulsory redundancies, but met with resistance from 145 of the men affected, who occupied the yard. It also met resistance from the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, which objected to the breach of an agreement, known as the Blackpool agreement, which sought to prevent compulsory redundancies from taking place within the shipbuilding industry.

British Shipbuilders is adamant and refuses to budge, despite the difficulties that its actions have caused to the industry and the provocation of industrial trouble. Seventy thousand shipbuilding workers have been involved in large-scale efforts to try to prevent redundancies.

This matter is specific. It relates to the future of the Robb Caledon shipyard and the damage that the actions of British Shipbuilders have caused to the already precarious economy of the city of Dundee. It is important not only because of the involvement of Dundee, but because of the danger to the shipbuilding industry. British Shipbuilders admits that losses are weakening the corporation and impairing job security.

British Shipbuilders has behaved in a discreditable manner. In its treatment of the Robb Caledon yard it has acted in a manner reminiscent of a Victorian coal and iron master. Serious allegations, including the allegation that British Shipbuilders has been a confidence trickster, have been made, and these should be investigated by the House.

The matter is urgent. Although industrial action has been called off, through the intervention of ACAS, the position remains grave for the 145 men leading the fight. I checked with the convenor of shop stewards, Mr. Bob Barty, this morning. He tells me that the men have not been consulted about a possible takeover and know little of what is happening. They look for an honourable settlement and the retention of their jobs. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that your will allow the debate to proceed, to give the House an opportunity to show its concern and also to investigate malpractices on the part of British Shipbuilders.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman gave me notice before 12 noon midday that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the closure of the Robb Caledon shipyard in Dundee". I listened with care to the hon. Gentleman. He was in correspondence with me on the matter during the recess. I have listened with deep concern to his arguments. As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the order but to give no reasons for my decision. I listened with care to the hon. Gentleman and I understand his concern. I have to rule, however, that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House.

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