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Harland And Wolff

Volume 888: debated on Thursday 13 March 1975

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9.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made towards a more balanced work force at Harland and Wolff; what is the current distribution as between the two communities expressed as a percentage; and how this compares with five years ago.

Although the bulk of the shipyard's work force has traditionally come from the Protestant East Belfast area, the company wishes to recruit more widely. In consultation with community interests in West Belfast it is considering setting up a training facility to draw on labour resources outside its customary recruitment area. Meanwhile, arrangements have been made for the company to sponsor apprentices in a Government training centre in West Belfast, as well as in other GTCs.

Percentage figures cannot be provided, since the company does not record the religious affiliation of its employees.

Could not the Minister have indicated what progress has been made? Does he accept that I appreciate the valiant attempts that he has made in this matter? Does he agree that there is depressingly poor progress towards the dilution of this symbol and economic expression of the old ascendancy system? Does he also agree that the British taxpayer will go on financing what a growing number of people view as a bottomless pit only while they see growing evidence of power sharing at Stormont and work sharing at Harland and Wolff?

Like the policing issue to which my right hon. Friend referred previously, this is a difficult matter. Over recent months I have discussed it with the shop stewards and the trade unions at the yard and got their acceptance to a large increase in apprentices representing both communities. I think that will go a long way to meet the basic problem that we face in that shipyard at present. For historical reasons, skilled workers are not available in the numbers required from the minority community. Regarding religious discrimination, we hope that the Fair Employment Bill, based on the recommendations of the van Straubenzee Report, will shortly be introduced.

Will the Minister assure us that the jobs available at Harland and Wolff will be allocated without reference to religion?

I am the first to concede that when we can stop talking about this issue we shall have resolved it.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that whatever justification there may have been for the discrimination which occurred when the shipyard was privately owned it is no longer tolerable when it is publicly owned? Does he not accept that although there may not be skilled men available there must be many unskilled men who could take up jobs there if given the opportunity, because a fair proportion of men working in ship building and ship repairing are necessarily unskilled?

We did not create this situation; we inherited it. We are starting from the position as it is now. As I could have said to the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), the co-operation that the Government are getting from the shop stewards and trade unions in the yard shows me that we can move forward on this issue, and that is what I desire.

Does it not offend against the Race Relations Act that employers should take note of the religion of their employees?

I do not know whether the hon. Lady heard me correctly. I said that the firm did not take note. If she will wait for the terms of the Fair Employment Bill, I think that she will see that that point is covered.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the system of accountability for the expenditure of public money invested in Harland and Wolff.

Following the announcement in the House on 22nd July 1974, a project team was appointed to examine the affairs of the company, including the arrangements for monitoring performance. Until the examination is finished it is not possible to say what changes, if any, may be needed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mr. Hoppe, whose contract as managing director of Harland and Wolff was recently terminated, was being paid at the rate of £70,000 to £80,000 a year, and that the money was being paid into a Swiss bank account? Does he think that that sort of tax-dodge arrangement is appropriate for a company whose prosperity is heavily dependent upon Government funding? Does he not think that there must at all costs be an avoidance of any repetition of this sort of behaviour by any future Government?

The terms and conditions of the previous managing director's appointment were negotiated by the company in 1971. Mr. Hoppe's appointment was approved by the Shipbuilding Industry Board and the Government of Northern Ireland. I was the Minister resonsible for terminating Mr. Hoppe's engagement, not for appointing him. Following the July statement that I made in the House about the future of Harland and Wolff, the Government will have firm control over any future appointments.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what financial arrangements were made when he terminated this man's engagement?

As there are likely to be proceedings in the courts, the matter is sub judice.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm or deny that, apart from the rather strange financial arrangements to which the Conservative Government agreed, Mr. Hoppe was able to milk the company in other ways—for example, by having a house built for him at the company's expense? Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that this man, on this fantastic salary, was responsible for screwing down the wages of many of the employees in the shipyard, preaching restraint to them while he was living in the lap of luxury?

As the contract was with a limited liability company, its terms were not made public. These criticisms will be taken into account in the appointment of the new managing director.

What sum of money has been lost to the Exchequer as a result of Mr. Hoppe's salary being paid, tax-free, into a Swiss bank? Do the Government intend to pay severance pay for the cancellation of his contract of service? If so, how much will that cost the taxpayer?

The hon. Gentleman's last point is a matter of legal consideration and is therefore sub judice.