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Shipbuilding (Public Ownership)

Volume 886: debated on Monday 10 February 1975

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37.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he proposes to publish the White Paper on the public ownership of the shipbuilding industry.

It will not be possible to publish a White Paper in the time available, but a full statement on the Government's proposals will be made as soon as possible.

I welcome the news that there will not be a White Paper, because both those in favour of and those against the proposed legislation are anxious that it should be introduced as soon as possible. Does my hon. Friend appreciate that some shipbuilders feel that their prospective plans are prejudiced until the publication of the Bill? Will he therefore do his utmost to ensure that the legislation is expedited?

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's remarks. We are conscious that the Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association has made clear that it accepts in principle the fact of nationalisation and is anxious to ensure the best possible organisation. We shall certainly hope to co-operate closely with the association to secure that result.

Will the Minister ensure that in any statement which is made the greatest possible care will be given to alternative forms of calculation of any compensation, bearing in mind the alternatives of valuing on a net asset basis, and earnings basis or share price value? These are extremely important considerations in ensuring fairness in any announcement which is made.

I am well aware of the point being made by the hon. Gentleman and of the fact that there are these alternative bases for the calculation of compensation. He will understand that I cannot at this stage indicate precisely what the form of compensation will be, otherwise there may be a good deal of undesirable speculation.

Will my hon. Friend accept that the shorter the period of uncertainty the better, and that the sooner we get the Bill the happier we shall all be?

I am glad to assure my hon. Friend that we propose to bring in the Bill with the minimum delay.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a large number of overseas customers for ships being built in this country will be reluctant to purchase from a company which is owned by the State and that loss of orders will mean the loss of jobs? What is the hon. Gentleman going to do about that?

I do not believe there is any evidence that foreign ship owners will be unwilling to purchase from United Kingdom shipyards. What they will be concerned about will be the quality of the product, price and delivery date, and in all those we hope to produce improvements.

Is my hon. Friend aware that concern about this matter is as great on the Tyne as on the Wear? We do not share the prejudices and fears of Conservative Members about this matter. We want to get it expedited for the benefit of both workers and management.

I can only again emphasise to my hon. Friend that it is our intention to introduce the Bill at the earliest possible moment. I am sure it will produce the kind of security and support that is wanted for workers at Swan Hunter as at other shipyards in the United Kingdom.

Can the hon. Gentleman say what possible advantage can accrue to the nation by nationalising the ship repairing industry, and precisely how I can explain to my constituents in Glasgow that the Government apparently have millions of pounds to spare to nationalise industry at the same time as they have reduced the school building programme by £30 million for the current year?

The PA Consultants' report of last year indicated considerable weaknesses in the performance of the ship repairing industry. In particular it drew attention to low investment, poor labour relations and the need for a new dry dock. Furthermore, the report indicated that the magnitude of the demand for new resources to ensure that this industry performs as well as possible was unlikely to be met from private sources.

The hon. Gentleman is well known for his rash public statements. Can he confirm what he said, namely, that the shipbuilding industry accepts nationalisation in principle, when it must be well known to him that Vosper Thorneycroft and Swan Hunter do not? Would he like to comment on that?

The hon. Gentleman having, as an exponent of open Government, said that there will be no White Paper, will he make sure that his further statement—which we shall all welcome—covers those matters not covered in the consultative document on the aircraft industry—namely, how much it will cost, whether it fits in with our obligations to the European Economic Community, and why he thinks it will produce a single extra ship or sell a single extra ship on foreign markets?

The hon. Gentleman has asked at least half a dozen questions. The answer to his first question is that the SRNA has told us that it accepts nationalisation as a fact of life and is anxious to achieve the kind of organisation that will be most suitable. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the workers in the industry, who in terms of numbers form a great deal more than half of it, are satisfied and wish to press on with nationalisation as soon as possible.

I have already indicated that because of speculation it is not possible at this stage to make clear the basis on which compensation will operate. We intend to introduce the Bill at the earliest possible opportunity.

There is no question of any conflict with the EEC. There is nothing in the Treaty of Rome which prevents the nationalisation of industries.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think it will be within your recollection that the Minister said that the industry accepts the fact of nationalisation. Is not that a matter for the House to decide?