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Shipbuilding And Ship Repairing

Volume 990: debated on Thursday 7 August 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he intends to introduce legislation to enable the nationalised shipbuilding and ship repairing companies to be offered back to private enterprise; and if he will make a statement.

The Government have been considering whether to introduce private sector capital into shipbuilding and ship repair. This review was begun when there were some signs of recovery in the market and there was still a reasonable expectation that British Shipbuilders would be able to keep within its financial limits this year without the need for substantial corrective action. As the Minister of State told the House last week, these hopes have not been realised and the industry faces a period of continuing uncertainty about its future shape and viability. We have accordingly decided to defer proceeding at this stage. I know that this decision will be a disappointment to many, including all those who think that private enterprise offers a better hope for jobs and prosperity in the industry than public ownership. We intend to introduce private capital into the industry as soon as appropriate.We recognise that some previous owners and many members of this House and of the public believe that the terms of compensation imposed by the 1977 Act were grossly unfair to some of the companies and we share this view. We have explored every possibility to right the injustice done by the previous Government, but to our very great regret we have concluded that amending legislation to establish new compensation terms retrospectively would be unjust to the many people who sold shares on the basis of the previous terms.We had to recognise, moreover, that had we wanted as an alternative to offer the companies back to the former owners legislation would have been required. This would inevitably create a long period of uncertainty for the industry during the passage of legislation, the preparation of the detailed offer to the former owners and the consideration of the terms. Moreover we cannot return to the former owners that which was taken from them because the assets and liabilities of the companies concerned have changed. In the case of the aircraft industry the changes are quite clearly irreversible. We have therefore come to the most reluctant conclusion that there is no satisfactory way to alter the 1977 compensation terms.