HC Deb 09 February 1989 vol 146 c1122
11. Mr. George Howarth

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on present negotiations regarding the future of Harland and Wolff.

Mr. Tom King

I last met the chairman of Harland and Wolff on Monday to discuss his proposal for a management-led buy-out. Other discussions with possible acquirers are also continuing. It is clear that under public ownership there can be no future for the yard and it is therefore a matter of urgency to try and achieve a private sector solution to Harland and Wolff's problems.

Mr. Howarth

In view of the job losses and the Government's consistent failure to provide a sound future for Harland and Wolff, would it not be better if the Secretary of State considered the policy of public ownership? What can he possibly achieve by talking to Mr. Olsen or anyone else?

Mr. King

It is not the Government who will provide a future for Harland and Wolff, but orders. It needs orders which can be achieved in an effective and economic manner. Under public ownership, the yard has been a one-way street to bankruptcy. The only hope for Harland and Wolff is a private sector solution and many people, including the management, who are completely committed to it, are working together with us to achieve that.

Mr. Peter Robinson

As the Secretary of State says, it is now an urgent matter. Can he give the House some idea of the time scale that he imagines is likely for the full evaluation to take place? Is he in a position yet to say which of the two bids he is considering he prefers to the closure of the yard?

Mr. King

No, I cannot say anything further today. The hon. Gentleman, of all people, will understand if I would rather say less than more at this time when very detailed discussions are taking place.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be cheaper and more cost-effective to transfer Harland and Wolff into the private sector now than to bring about closure and redundancies? Does he agree that if the Olsen management-employee buy-out happens, it would provide good prospects for Belfast and the employees at the yard? Will he also assure us that he will not place any obstacles before the new company, which we are confident will be formed, in bidding for contracts for Ministry of Defence work? Will he also ensure that intervention funding will be available?

Mr. King

As the hon. Gentleman knows, discussions are taking place at this very moment on the complex issues involved in the possibility of Harland and Wolff moving into the private sector. I do not want to say anything more today because this work is going on. It is too early yet to tell whether it can be brought to a successful conclusion.