HC Deb 11 May 1994 vol 243 cc308-9
8. Mr. Byers

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what steps he is taking to assist the shipbuilding industry.

The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tim Sainsbury)

We provide the industry with assistance from the shipbuilding intervention fund and the home credit guarantee scheme.

Mr. Byers

Is the Minister aware that it is exactly a year ago this week that the Swan Hunter shipyard on Tyneside went into receivership and that, since then, more than 1,300 jobs have been lost? Does he accept that, if shipbuilding is to survive on Tyneside, we need a new owner for Swan Hunter to take the yard out of receivership? Can he say today that the Government would welcome a new owner for Swan Hunter and can he give an assurance that the Government would give all possible assistance to a new owner to secure new shipbuilding orders on Tyneside, especially in the export market?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am happy to confirm something that I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would know. The Government have been seeking for the whole year to assist the receiver to obtain a buyer for the yard and we seek to assist the yard now, as we have done consistently, to obtain further export orders.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the main hope for shipbuilding areas may well come from attracting new companies such as Nissan rather than propping up high-cost, inefficient industries as happened in the case of British Shipbuilders? How much Government money was poured into British Shipbuilders? Was not it a great deal more than was given to Nissan to create long-term jobs in Sunderland?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that in public ownership British Shipbuilders was not competitive, and absorbed a great deal of the taxpayers' money, without using it effectively. He is right to draw attention to the benefits of inward investment, which the Government have strongly encouraged, but which the Labour party has at times positively discouraged. I return to what I said earlier to the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers): we wish to see a new owner for Swan Hunter, and we shall continue to assist the receiver to find one.

Mrs. Ewing

When considering the overall pattern of the shipbuilding industry within the United Kingdom, does the Minister attach any weight to the effect on our offshore construction yards? We should look at what is happening in Italy, with the building of the Spirit of Columbus. That is extremely important for our offshore construction yards. Is it possible for the Government to consider how we can balance the needs of the shipbuilding industry with those of the offshore oil and gas industries? That is an important question in terms of the money contributed by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Sainsbury

I assure the hon. Lady that the Minister for Energy and I keep in close contact about the possibilities of offshore construction for the oil industry, as well as for shipbuilding orders. If the hon. Lady has a specific point to make—about the Spirit of Columbus, for example—perhaps she would like to write to me about it.

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