HC Deb 24 November 1993 vol 233 cc442-3
9. Mr. Chisholm

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what is his latest estimate of the number of people employed in defence-related manufacturing employment.

Mr. Sainsbury

The latest estimate published by the Ministry of Defence is that in 1991–92 United Kingdom defence-related manufacturing employment was around 410,000.

Mr. Chisholm

Does the Minister agree that that is a large and highly skilled group of workers, who must be kept in manufacturing employment? Will the Government therefore abandon their hands-off approach to defence diversification and start by accepting the recommendation of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry on that subject in its recent aerospace report? When considering the EC Konver bids, will the Government give sympathetic consideration to the submission from the Lothian region, where almost 20 per cent. of manufacturing jobs are dependent on defence orders?

Mr. Sainsbury

On the latter point, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all the Konver bids being considered today will be given careful scrutiny by the committee. On his first point, I agree that defence employees form a skilled group of employees with many and varied skills which we want to see used to the best advantage. The one sure way to ensure that that did not happen would be for the Government to decide what should happen to them, rather than for their employers, the companies, to make their own commercial decisions. We are not in the business of telling management how to run their companies. We are in the business of encouraging management by providing the right environment for them to succeed.

Mr. Wilkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the saddest casualties of the reduction in defence orders was the receivership of Swan Hunter shipbuilders at Wallsend? Can he give the House an assurance that his talks with Commissioner Karel Van Miert about the absurd Community regulations that prohibit that company from obtaining intervention funding for commercial shipbuilding will lead to the lifting of that regulation, so that other shareholders will have a chance to invest in Swan Hunter, and there will be a future for that company and for jobs on the Tyne?

Mr. Sainsbury

First, I agree with my hon. Friend about what a sad day it was when Swan Hunter went into the hands of the administrators. We continue to hope that those administrators will be successful in finding a buyer for the company so that shipbuilding can continue on the Tyne. My hon. Friend made an important point about the shipbuilding intervention fund, a matter on which the Commission has to agree because it is a state aid. I had useful discussions with Commissioner Van Miert last week. Our negotiations are continuing and I hope that we shall be able to bring the matter to a conclusion relatively shortly. I believe that we have a strong case in respect of Swan Hunter.

Ms Eagle

Can the Minister confirm whether a similar approach has been made on behalf of Cammell Laird shipyard? Both the current owners and the potential buyers, who have so far failed to secure more than 1,000 jobs on Merseyside—already a high unemployment area —have all agreed that with access to the intervention fund Cammell Laird could have remained open. If such an approach has not been made, why has it not, as the survival of shipbuilding is as important on the Mersey as it is on the Tyne?

Mr. Sainsbury

I can assure the hon. Lady that the original approaches to the Commission in July were in respect of all the warship building yards covered by the original agreement about subsidies. Because the circumstances of each yard differ, it has been necessary to focus particularly on discussions in respect of Swan Hunter. My latest meeting with Commissioner Van Miert was solely in respect of Swan Hunter.