HL Deb 11 July 1989 vol 510 cc95-6

2.50 p.m.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made to date on the negotiation of clearance for the United Kingdom taxpayers subsidies provided to Short Brothers for the purpose of acquisition by the Bombardier Corporation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell)

My Lords, formal notification to the European Commission of the Government's proposed package of financial assistance for Short Brothers plc was made on 22nd June this year, and under the terms of the Treaty of Rome the Commission has 30 working days in which to reply.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that information. Will he bear in mind that there may be a large number of our fellow taxpayers who would be only too delighted if the European Commission were to decide that this very large package of taxpayer support was over the top? If the Commission were in its wisdom to approve the scale of the subsidies, would the Government be able to ensure that they would not find themselves in a similar situation to that in which they recently found themselves over the Wang factory in Scotland, where large sums of taxpayers' money could not be recovered?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend's first supplementary question, he will be aware that, prior to submitting formal notification to the European Commission in cases such as this, officials have informal discussions with officials from the European Commission about how best to present the proposed package of financial assistance. The discussions between the two sets of officials in this case were most helpful. The notification that was submitted drew very heavily on the advice which we received.

So far as concerns my noble friend's second question, of course there can be no copper-bottomed guarantee in any case, but we have a number of assurances from Bombardier, the purchasers of Short Brothers plc. With regard to my noble friend's comment about Wang in Scotland, I do not think that that case is precisely the same as some of the other interesting cases that he and I have discussed over the years.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for his reply, which I believe to be encouraging. The noble Lord will know that the Official Opposition has been critical in the past of the Government's attitude, behaviour and policy towards Shorts. Is it of some comfort to the noble Lord to know that we are now anxious that the Government should obtain clearance from Brussels for the arrangement that has been negotiated, as that is in the interest not only of the workforce in Shorts but of the people of Northern Ireland.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, it is indeed a great comfort to have such support from the noble Lord. I reiterate that after the formal notification to the European Commission the Commission has 30 days in which to reply, which, according to my calculations, takes us to 4th August. Your Lordships will know that that is the maximum period and we have some hope of receiving news before August.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend one further question. Is he satisfied that this is a venture in which it is proper and appropriate for employees in the company to be encouraged to take an interest?

Lord Lyell

In general, yes, my Lords.