Inside Parliament: Shipyard fate launches Commons culture clash: Tyneside MPs attack Government pledges on Swan Hunter - Foreign Office ministers go around the world in 60 minutes

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Indy Politics
The prospect of the closure of the last shipyard on the Tyne following the failure of Swan Hunter to win a vital order to build a naval helicopter carrier caused a culture clash in the Commons yesterday. The representatives of displaced craftsmen, steel workers and miners from the North-east were lectured by an Old Etonian minister about enterprise zones and looking to the future.

Tim Sainsbury, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, told the House that in the event of substantial job losses - he expected 'early losses' - a new Enterprise Zone would be designated and English Estates would implement a pounds 2.5m industrial development in conjunction with Newcastle City Council and the Tyne and Wear Development Corporation.

Labour backbenchers shouted derisively, 'schemes, schemes'. Ronnie Campbell, MP for Blyth Valley and a former miner, said: 'When is it going to register that all he is doing is not setting up enterprises, he is closing them down? When is he going to get enterprises to put 10,000 people back to work and when is he going to get off his backside and get something done in the North-east?'

Stephen Byers, MP for Wallsend which includes the threatened yard, scorned Mr Sainsbury's intention to visit the area this month. 'Tyneside doesn't want ministerial day trippers. It wants positive action from his government.'

'Despair and disappointment' on learning that the contract had gone to Vickers (VSEL) at Barrow-in-Furness and Kvaerner Govan on the Clyde had turned to 'anger and betrayal' at the minister's statement, Mr Byers said.

Appeals to save the yard by placing new orders were waved aside by Mr Sainsbury. 'I don't think we would be helping that management or that workforce if we suggested there were orders that could be conjured up out of nowhere. Let's look forward and try and build on the industries of the future and not try and prop up the past,' he said. The unemotional and cultured tone of the minister, a member of the grocery chain family, only seemed to rub salt in the wound, provoking accusations of 'complacency'.

Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrats' Treasury spokesman, said: 'All these measures are not enough even to replace the mining jobs we are losing in the North-east, let alone all the skilled shipyard workers who will be put out of work in what has been a devastating decision for Tyneside.'

Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, said that already in the shipbuilding wards on both banks of the Tyne one in three men was out of work. If Swan Hunter closed, one in two would be on the dole.

Noting that the yard was within the boundary of an urban development corporation accountable to the Government, Mr Cook asked: 'Will the minister give an undertaking that if Swan Hunter fails, the Government's own UDC will use its planning powers to stop those high-tech facilities in the yard being demolished to make way for service industries, for warehouses or for supermarkets?'

But Mr Sainsbury would not. The Tyne and Wear UDC had already created 10,000 jobs, he said. The underlying suggestion by Mr Cook was that the yard should stay open regardless of the market for its products. 'I wonder why he doesn't recognise the advantage to that area of a transition from excessive dependence upon the old industries of coal, shipbuilding, steel, to a more diversified economy with vehicles, pharmaceuticals, electronics, providing employment which will last.'

The emergency statement on Swan Hunter was a grim homecoming after a hour-long tour of the globe at Foreign Office Question Time. Starting in Eritrea, wanting aid to follow forthcoming independence, MPs moved on to Hungary, with a warning against support for 'cecessionist groups' of ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania, and then dwelt on Bosnia. Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, was typically diplomatic about the dispute between the US and Europe over military action to help Bosnian Muslims. 'I don't think it serves any purpose to start exchanging accusations across the Atlantic.'

Pressed to respond to attacks by 'safely distant Amercian politicians', Mr Hurd said: 'I don't think some of those remarks would have been made if those concerned had actually seen the exchanges which have taken place between the allies in recent days, or if they had understood the nature of the effort and the risk which some of us, including this country, are actually making in Bosnia at the present time.'

Douglas Hogg, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, welcomed Boris Yeltsin's success in the Russian referendum but was then challenged by Labour's Bob Cryer to apply the principle at home and hold a referendum on the 'wretched' Maastricht treaty. 'If the people of Russia can have a democratic vote, why can't the people of the United Kingdom?' demanded the Bradford South MP.

'I've always known that the honourable gentleman has a personality difficulty when it comes to judging things from things. But he obviously equates the congress in Russia which was elected under the Gorbachev regime as being the same as this place. I don't'

The House of Lords also cast its gaze east, with calls on the Government to recognise the right of the Tibetan people to self-determination and for the Royal Navy to deal with pirates in the South China Sea. 'Unfortunately the oriental successors of Long John Silver are alive and well and engaged in armed robbery with violence,' said Lord Campbell of Croy, a former Conservative minister.

The appeal on behalf of the Tibetans by Lord Ennals, a former Labour minister, came only hours after Mr Hurd met privately with the Dalai Lama.

Lord Weatherill, the former Speaker of the Commons, urged the Government to take a more active line in condemning Chinese abuses of human rights in Tibet. There had been 'cultural and physical genocide'.

'We take our parliamentary system far too much for granted. Yet does not the word 'parliament' mean the settlement of dispute by the word rather than the sword . . . If we cherish this for ourselves, should we not be giving wholehearted support to a small country which for centuries has practised the same approach?'