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Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1961

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Foreign Shipyards (Minister's Visit)


asked the Minister of Transport what conclusions he reached as a result of his tour of foreign shipyards; and if he will make a statement.

I have nothing to add to the Answer I gave on 8th November to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams).

The Minister did not say very much on that occasion. While we all support him in any action he may take to make the British shipping industry more competitive, may I ask whether he gained any information as a result of his visit which was not already known to the British shipping industry? If so, what use is he making of it? Has he put it before both sides of the industry, and what has their reaction been?

I gained information which was not known before. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is in touch with both sides of industry and I am consulting closely with him, because I am certain—without casting any doubts about who has been responsible in the past—that we must get the relationship between management and men better. Another by-product of my tour abroad was that I managed to get quite a number of inquiries here. I have with me a letter from a shipbuilding firm stating that it has now been asked by a Norwegian company to tender for a ship and adding:

"I think their last paragraph about your visit is a very nice tribute and, I am sure, justified."
The last paragraph which is referred to was to the effect that the Norwegian company would put inquiries here which they did not put here before.

Can the Minister answer one simple question within the limit of what he saw? Can he say whether modernisation in those shipyards is more advanced than in Britain?

The best of our yards are equal to their yards, but there are quite a number of yards in this country which are not equal to the best in other countries.

Did my right hon. Friend find the same multiplicity of unions and the same lines of demarcation in yards abroad as exist in this country?

If the Minister is claiming that as a result of his visit to Norway an order is likely to be placed by a Norwegian firm in this country, why does he not go away more frequently?

I am so fond of the right hon. Gentleman that I could not part company from him for too long.

Coastal Shipping


asked the Minister of Transport what plans he has to stop the number of British ships engaged in coastwise shipping from shrinking further; and if he will make a statement.

I am aware of the decline in the number of British ships engaged in coastwise shipping. Nevertheless, I do not consider that this situation is such as to call for special measures by the Government at the present time, apart from the provision which has been made for coastal shipping in the Transport Bill at present before the House. I am, however, keeping the position under close review and will continue to do so.

I think that that is an unsatisfactory Answer. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the disastrous contraction in the size of our shipping fleet is having very grave repercussions on, amongst other things, our small ports? Will he not now take steps to see that our coastwise trade is carried only by ships which fly the British flag unless there are reciprocal agreements, and will he in any case take steps to see that the proper manning scales are fulfilled in foreign ships plying round our coasts?

I must say that I have not had any request from the General Council of British Shipping to exclude foreign vessels from the coasting trade. If we were to do this it would be a very serious step indeed.

Is the Minister aware that we on this side of the House, too, share the concern expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne), that coastwise shipping is a necessary part of our transport industry, and that it should be possible for the Minister to decide as a practical matter, if he wants so to do, that certain types of traffic ought to be taken on the sea to relieve our over-congested roads? Is he aware that we need something more than his looking at the matter? Will he make a statement to give us some idea exactly what is going on?

Competition between road, rail and coastwise shipping can be discussed on the Bill which will be introduced next week, that is, the Transport Bill. I am bound to say that in 1960, for the first time in many years, the tonnage of cargoes carried in United Kingdom vessels in the non-coal tramp trades increased.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the coastal shipping people are anything but satisfied with what is now in the Transport Bill, and will he have the courage to stand up and tell the House what is the position? Is he aware that unless we are to get more protection for coastwise shipping I myself at any rate have no intention of voting for the Bill?

In answer to the last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, the next time my hon. Friend supports me will be the first time. The answer to the first part of the supplementary question is that we could debate that next week.

In order to encourage the smaller ports, will my right hon. Friend do all he can to improve the communications to those ports, as certainly much more encouragement is needed in that sphere?

I am quite certain that that is a good point, and Lord Rochdale and his Committee are looking at that particular point.

Credit Facilities


asked the Minister of Transport whether he will publish a White Paper giving details of the information he has received regarding the credit facilities now being offered by the principal foreign competitors of the United Kingdom shipbuilding industry.

The information which I have received, some of it confidential, demonstrates that the credit facilities offered even within one country vary widely from one transaction to another, depending on the commercial prospects and, in some cases, conditions imposed by the Government. In these circumstances it would be neither appropriate nor helpful to publish a White Paper.

Surely my right hon. Friend is aware of the very strong feeling that this is one of the disadvantages our industry suffers under? The more information he can give to clear this up the more welcome it will be, so that we may know where we stand in our shipping industry.

The difficulty is that if we produce a White Paper we want it to be comprehensive, to show what people abroad are doing. The difficulty is to find a comprehensive picture. The picture we have now got at present in the Ministry is that credit facilities are not necessarily a handicap to our exports.

May I ask the Minister to get a small booklet which was issued by the Federation of British Industries yesterday as a result of a visit made by Sir Norman Kipping and another gentleman to Japan, where they say, on page 15, that

"A Japanese exporter of shipping"—

Order. Verbatim quotations from articles are out of order in Questions.

I am very grateful. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will send it to me, and I will read it, but we are not losing orders to Japan. We are losing orders to Sweden, Germany and Holland, and they do not get credit facilities.

If my right hon. Friend cannot produce a White Paper about credit facilities offered to foreign competitors, could he publish one to show how streamlined trade union representation works to the advantage of both the workers and industry?

I think the best thing I can try to do is to get this industry efficient as soon as we can without attributing blame to anybody.

Why should the Minister regard as confidential information he has received while overseas in connection with credit facilities furnished by financiers and shipbuilders to enable them to build British ships? Is it not very important that we should know all the facts so that we can decide upon a policy of our own? Is he aware that there is nothing confidential about our position in this country? Why should he be confidential about the position elsewhere?

If people give me information confidentially I intend to treat it confidentially and not to publish memoires.