HC Deb 07 December 1988 vol 143 cc310-1
15. Mr. Cash

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is the extent of the financial interest of the Department of Trade and Industry in Shorts of Belfast.

Mr. Atkins

I want my hon. Friend to listen carefully. The issued share capital of Short Brothers plc comprises 3,600,000 ordinary shares of £1 each, 7,710,000 A preference shares of £1 each and 79,700,000 B preference shares of £1 each. Of these, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry holds 342,000 ordinary shares and 4,840,000 A preference shares. That adds up to about 10 per cent.

Mr. Cash

Does my hon. Friend agree that Shorts has an extremely bright future and that it is a company that some of us wish to campaign to privatise? Does he further agree that if my right hon. Friend were prepared to accept such a proposal, it would lead to Shorts having an extremely bright future in the European Community for the next 20 years?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend is right. Shorts has contributed greatly to British Aerospace success. That is what it is and the House should be aware of it. Its plans for the future, which include privatisation and a new aircraft which it hopes to launch, suggest that its future will be as bright as it has reason to expect on the basis of its past achievements.

Mr. Cryer

Is not the truth that the attempt to privatise Shorts produces uncertainty, and has not our experience of privatisation shown that it always leads to sackings under the guise of slimming down and improving competitiveness? Surely, in a place like Northern Ireland, it is better to have certainty to reduce the level of unemployment, which must contribute to the sectarian strife there. The Government's recipe is a recipe for disaster.

Mr. Atkins

The main plans for privatisation will be controlled by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. As I said, our shareholding is relatively small. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I believe that privatisation has proved a success story in the aerospace industry. British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce clearly show what that success has been, and Shorts deserves the same consideration.