HC Deb 11 November 1991 vol 198 cc771-2
8. Dr. Godman

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy how many contracts for the construction of offshore oil and gas structures and vessels were awarded to United Kingdom fabrication yards and shipyards in each of the past four years.

Mr. Moynihan

United Kingdom yards were awarded 55, 50, 51 and 71 contracts for the construction of structures or vessels for offshore production in the years 1987 to 1990.

Dr. Godman

Naturally, I am extremely pleased with the orders that were won in recent months by Scott Lithgow and other yards, but may I point out to the Minister that there is a massive skills shortage in the industry? Will he impress on his ministerial colleagues at the Department of Employment and the Scottish Office the need to encourage and finance relevant skills training courses that are run in technical colleges and other training places? The James Watt college in Greenock and other colleges are providing important training in, for instance, coded welding skills. They are precisely the skills that are in demand and are in short supply. Encouragement must be given to our colleges and other training centres in Scotland, and indeed south of the border.

Mr. Moynihan

The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be pleased to learn that addressing skill shortages is a major priority for all involved in offshore oil and gas, and particularly for those in the yards. However, the hon. Gentleman will realise that part of the success of Scott Lithgow in recent months and the support that it has had through intensive marketing efforts by Trafalgar House, building up its work force quite rapidly to 300 men, has been because of the quality of the men and because we have been addressing skill shortages and enhancing the ability of that yard to win important contracts.

Mr. Michael Brown

Is my hon. Friend aware that following the passage of the Associated British Ports Act 1990, it is now possible for the South Humberside Engineering and Fabrication Services company, which is based in my constituency and which I visited only last week, to build a bridge that will join that company to the docks, thus enabling it to export the offshore vessels that it has been manufacturing for several years? Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to advise the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) that even if there is a skills shortage in Scotland, there is certainly not one in south Humberside and that any company that requires the type of vessel that is associated with the offshore oil and gas industry will find them available in south Humberside?

Mr. Moynihan

The yard to which my hon. Friend refers has in recent months demonstrated its productivity. its advanced capabilities, its excellence in terms of safety, its reliability and, above all, its technological edge. That is what we need if we are to have a package that will beat other countries' export potential in that market and if we are to keep the United Kingdom right at the forefront of export orders for United Kingdom oil and gas activity.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Given the importance of those orders to the fabrication yards and the communities in which they are based, has the Minister given any consideration to the position of the suppliers of the raw materials that are used in those yards? Is he aware, for example, that since the closure of part of the Lanarkshire steel mills, there has been a delay in delivering steel to the Ardersier yard, which I know that he has visited several times? Indeed, Ministers seem to be some of my constituency's main tourists. Does he agree that there is a cause for some concern and will he look into that matter in conjuction with the Department of Trade and Industry?

Mr. Moynihan

I hear what the hon. Lady says. It is always a pleasure to visit her constituency, not least because that gives me the opportunity to see why the value of the contracts that were won by United Kingdom yards last year amounted to £759 million, which is 36 per cent. up on the previous year's figure and five times the 1987 value.