HC Deb 18 December 1957 vol 580 cc498-501
Mr. Cronin

I beg to move, in page 7, line 13, at the end to insert: and similar goods are not for the time being procurable in the United Kingdom".

The Chairman

It may be convenient to discuss at the same time the Amendment in page 7, line 18, at end insert: and if similar goods are not for the time being procurable in the United Kingdom

Mr. Cronin

I am anxious to cooperate with the Minister of State in accelerating progress, but I feel a duty to move this Amendment. It appears that under subsection (2) goods will be exempt from import duties if they go straight to a shipbuilding yard for any purpose connected with ships. Precisely the same thing happens under subsection (3) when the goods are to be used for repairing the boilers in the engine rooms of ships.

That appears to me to be an unsatisfactory situation, because if the goods were freely obtainable in this country, shipbuilders and ship repairers could still import them, simply on the ground of cheapness. In my own constituency of Loughborough we have a very fine factory, Herbert Morris's, which makes cranes. Suppose these cranes were available for the forward deck of a tramp steamer and the shipyard found it cheaper to get cranes from Holland, as might be the case on occasion. The firms which make cranes would have no protection whatsoever. They would have the cranes and would be able to supply them, but they would not be able to give delivery because they are not protected.

A similar situation arises under subsection 3. In Loughborough we have a very large electrical manufacturing factory, the Brush Electrical Engineering Company. Suppose they are supplying generators for ships. They could be undercut by Germany and Holland, because these two subsections completely deprive them of protection, I do not wish to labour the matter from a constituency point of view, but it seems—I hope the Minister of State will be able to explain this—that there is a strong case for making sure that these goods are not available in this country before they are permitted to be imported.

Similar considerations have crossed the collective minds of the Board of Trade. If one looks at paragraph 1 of the Fifth Schedule one finds that certain goods can qualify for relief, but there is a proviso— …if similar articles are not for the time being procurable in the United Kingdom… It seems that this has occurred to the Board of Trade as far as aircraft parts, machinery for aircraft, scientific instruments and organic products are concerned. Why is there discrimination against parts of ships and goods destined for ships?

I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite are very partial to the shipbuilding industry. The shipping industry itself received very extensive concessions in the last Finance Act. This is another very large concession giving them a wide choice of resources at the expense of British industry. If the Minister of State can give a satisfactory explanation and reassure us on this matter we shall not press the Amendment.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan)

The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) moved his Amendment with great restraint. He mentioned his constituency interest in cranes. I have a rather sentimental feeling about the firm he mentioned, because on the only occasion in my life that I have been allowed to drive a crane it was one made in his constituency. It was a great experience.

The effect of the Amendment would be to make it necessary to establish, regarding each consignment of goods and materials used for shipbuilding or repairs, that there were no supplies in this country. This would bring the goods consigned to shipyards in line with the principle which, as he has rightly pointed out, is embodied in Clause 6. The purpose of the shipbuilding exemptions is entirely different from the exemptions in Clause 6. Clause 6 was designed to give relief from duty where the import duty is not having a protective effect, because similar goods are not available or because there are special reasons for a free import, such as research.

7.15 p.m.

We must be frank about the purpose of Clause 5. The exemptions in the Clause are to ensure that the interests of shipbuilding take precedence. The historic and present justification for that is to avoid hampering in any way the competitive ability of the shipbuilding industry, because the ships may be exported and because we feel, and have felt since 1932, that our carrying trade, both internationally and coastally, where there is competition from other nations, should be able to obtain its ships, and what goes into them, on terms which make them competitive with those of other countries.

I am sure the Committee will wish to accept the need for special provision for the shipbuilding industry and will not wish to withdraw this very convenient system of exemptions which has existed for twenty-five years and which is, in this case, the equivalent of the normal drawback that other industries enjoy. The result of the acceptance of the Amendment would be, to begin with, to impose an intolerable administrative burden on the shipbuilding industry and, I might say in passing, on the Board of Trade as well.

I think the hon. Member's Amendment is rather too wide to cover his own constituency interest only, but I would ask him also to consider whether it would be in the interest of those, such as crane-builders, who furnish supplies to shipyards and who are already the major suppliers, that this concession should be done away with. After all, this concession which we give to shipyards is also given by all the major foreign competitors of our shipyards. I feel that if this concession were in any way withdrawn it might in the long run react very unfavourably upon the interests of those who are supplying our shipyards at present.

Mr. Cronin

I cannot accept the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the shipbuilding industry requires help competitively against other shipbuilding industries. Its order books are full for the next few years. I believe that shipbuilding costs per ton are rather less in this country than in most others, largely because of the price of steel. I see the point when it is said that there is danger of retaliation by other countries which might make the situation worse.

In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.