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Foreign Orders

Volume 645: debated on Wednesday 26 July 1961

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asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware of the drift of shipbuilding and ship-repairing orders from British shipyards to continental shipyards; and what steps he now plans to counteract this drift of British finance and employment away from Great Britain.

I am aware of this development. I told hon. Members in the debate on shipping and shipbuilding on 13th July of the independent inquiry which I have arranged for Messrs. Peat, Marwick, Mitchell and Company to make into the reasons why British ship-owners have ordered ships abroad.

Why did not the right hon. Gentleman act earlier? Is he aware that this drift has been going on for far too long, and that during the last three months alone the tonnage that has gone to foreign shipyards from British yards amounts to over 250,000 tons? That is a very serious loss to British employment and to British finance. What is he doing about it?

I am finding out the real answer, firmly and impartially, as to why these orders are going abroad. Then perhaps we can see that our own industry is made more competitive.

In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said during the recent debate on the shipbuilding industry, is he aware that the leaders of the industry still maintain that their major handicap in getting orders is absence of credit facilities comparable to those granted by other Government and foreign banks to their own industries? Will the right hon. Gentleman look into this further?

I have myself recently seen about 15 ship-owners, and not one of them has given as a reason the fact that they could not obtain credit. No case like that has been brought to my notice. The inquiry will soon find out whether that is the reason, but I do not believe it is.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he will be able to get the sort of information from the foreign yards that he is to get from British yards? Unless he gets that information and is then able to make a direct comparison, the whole operation will be valueless.

I do not agree that it will be valueless, but the firm will try to get what information it can from abroad.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the British ship-owners who have placed orders for vessels in foreign yards are recipients of the 40 per cent. investment allowance? If they are, is it not time to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to inform these owners who are so unpatriotic that they will not receive this relief at the expense of the public?

Any owner who buys a new ship is entitled to the 40 per cent. investment allowance.