HC Deb 23 July 1979 vol 971 cc30-2W
Mr. Peter Robinson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the Government's proposals for the future of Harland and Wolff Limited.

Mr. Giles Shaw

Plans for Harland and Wolff Limited have been formulated in parallel with those for British Shipbuilders announced in the House today by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry.

Harland and Wolff faces the same severely depressed market prospects as the rest of the United Kingdom shipbuilding industry. While the present order book consists of eight ships, the last of which is due for delivery in the spring of 1981, some parts of the yard will run out of work well before this if no new orders are obtained. Consequently, the process of contraction at the yard may well have to continue further.

New orders cannot be won, even at a subsidised price, unless delivery dates can be met. I am concerned to learn that production targets at Harland and Wolff have recently been missed and that, for a variety of reasons, productivity generally has been slipping. This has been reflected in heavy trading losses which the Government have met, but cannot continue to meet indefinitely.

I feel confident that it should be possible, given an all-out effort by all concerned, to achieve improved efficiency and enable the yard to remain in operation. The Government have therefore decided to continue financial support of the company and to make proposals to the EEC Commission for an intervention fund for subsidies on new orders over the next two years if they can be won. Strict limits will, however, be imposed on the funding of losses and other expenditure by the company. The overall limit for the current financial year will be £22 million. The company must show early and marked improvements in performance if any new orders are to be won and if there is to be a chance of survival in the longer run.

Some further decline in the shipbuilding work force is inevitable. As in Great Britain, the Government have extended the special redundancy payments scheme to the full period authorised under the Shipbuilding Redundancy Payments Act. It is, of course, open to the company to minimise the decline in overall employment by engaging in diversification wherever possible, and I have been glad to see that some initial progress has already been made in this direction.

The way ahead is difficult and, while the Government have their part to play, the real challenge is now upon every man at the yard to strive to ensure its survival.