HC Deb 02 July 1962 vol 662 cc3-7
2. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will give a list of the types of fishing trawler contracts which have hitherto gone to Scottish shipbuilding firms but which this year have gone to European and South American shipbuilding firms.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Christopher Soames)

None, Sir.

Mr. Hughes

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that owners and workers in British shipyards, and particularly in north-east Scottish shipyards, are complaining of the lack of orders and of work, which is due largely to the encouragement given by the present Government to foreign shipyards, particularly by giving grants and loans to foreign shipyards, and thereby depriving British shipyards and British workers of work to which they are entitled? Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to change that policy and see that justice is done to British and particularly Scottish shipyards?

Mr. Soames

What the hon. and learned Gentleman says cannot be so, for until schemes are laid before Parliament there will not be any grants and loans given for building fishing ships abroad. The schemes will be laid before Parliament and will be debated then.

Mr. Peart

Is the Minister not aware that the future policy of the Government is to encourage building in foreign yards? Is there not a danger that this may have harmful effects on our home shipping industry? Will he consult his colleagues in the Cabinet and have the policy reversed?

Mr. Soames

There is no question of encouraging owners to get ships built abroad, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. When the schemes are laid it will be seen that it will be possible for owners in this country to get boats built either at home or abroad and still be able to get the grants and loans, but there will be many provisos in the arrangements which are made which will ensure that there is fair competition from the point of view of our yards.

Mr. Peart

Apart from the verbiage, cannot the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to everybody that it is the Government's policy to encourage ship-owners to have ships built abroad? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that this scheme will encourage people to build abroad instead of in this country?

Mr. Soames

It is not a question of encouraging, as the hon. Member well knows. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has had consultations with leaders of the fishing industry and their views will be taken into account when the arrangements are made.

Mr. Prior

Is it not a fact, though, that what is worrying the British shipbuilding industry is that the competition may not be fair? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it will be fair? Will he furthermore confirm that if the fishing industry needs ships but cannot always get them built at home, it is very much up to the shipbuilding industry to see that it supplies the fishing vessels which are required?

Mr. Soames

Yes, Sir. As to the question of fair competition, I assure my hon. Friend that the arrangements will be such as to ensure that our grants will not be used in such a way that the competitive position of British yards would be prejudiced in any way by competition from yards abroad which can be shown to be in receipt of a material element of subsidy.

14. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, what new discussions he has had with representatives of the fishing industry about proposals to extend the grants and loans scheme to foreign-built trawlers.

Mr. Soames

Proposals on the procedure to be followed when applications to build abroad are made to the White Fish Authority have been circulated to the fishing interests concerned, and have been discussed with the builders by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and his Parliamentary Secretary. These proposals are being finally adjusted in the light of the comments of both industries.

Mr. Wall

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the British Trawlers Federation and similar organisations are sympathetic to the Government's view? Can my right hon. Friend explain the methods that we shall use to get fair competition as between British yards and foreign yards?

Mr. Soames

First, I assure my hon. Friend that we have had no representations from the British Trawlers Federation or from other fishing interests against the Government's proposals. Secondly, the purpose of the procedures that we shall be laying down will be to ensure that British yards have an equal chance to compete. That is obviously most important. The matter will be divided into two. First, an applicant who wishes to place an order abroad will be required to obtain tenders from a sufficient number of yards in the United Kingdom to ensure that a genuine opportunity to compete has been given to our home yards. Secondly, in such cases, the same specification in as complete a form as practicable will be issued to each competing yard to ensure that the tenders can be assessed on a common basis.

15. Mr. B. Harrison

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will estimate the payments on home-and foreign-built white fish and herring vessels, separately, each year under any schemes made after the Sea Fish Industry Bill becomes law.

Mr. Soames

It is not possible to forecast over the years ahead how many people will take advantage of the grants available under these schemes, or how many of them will wish to have vessels built abroad.

Mr. Harrison

Is it not extremely risky that my right hon. Friend should introduce a scheme like this, which may drain foreign currency reserves, and so on, without having any form of estimate about what is involved?

Mr. Soames

It is obviously quite impossible to say how many owners who would otherwise have had vessels built in home yards would have them built in foreign yards. One's estimate must be based on whether one has confidence in the competitive ability of our shipbuilding industry, and this we have.

Mr. Peart

Is not the Minister aware that people outside this House believe that the Government are letting down British shipping interests? Will he ensure that this matter is reconsidered? After all, this is a vital matter which concerns not only the shipping industry as a whole but the nation.

Mr. Soames

It is not my information that people outside the House think what the hon. Gentleman chooses to say they think.

Mr. P. Williams

It is not good enough to say that the British shipbuilding industry will be treated equally with foreigners. It should be treated preferentially. Can my right hon. Friend explain what possible justification there can be, under any circumstances, for paying British taxpayers' money to foreign competitors? Also, can he say what Parliamentary control there will be over this expenditure?

Mr. Soames

The justification is that to continue as we have been doing in the past now that we have to alter the scheme in any case to bring in the larger vessels would be contrary to our international obligations.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Does not the Minister realise that it is thoroughly unpatriotic as well as illogical and impracticable to consult the experts in the fishing industry after instead of before deciding on this atrocious policy? Will he reconsider the matter and change his policy so that justice can be done to British shipyards and British shipyard workers?

Mr. Soames

I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that we have consulted the British fishing interests and that they are not opposed to the schemes which have been put forward by the Government.

Lady Tweedsmuir

In these discussions, was my right hon. Friend satisfied that no order would go to a foreign yard which was in receipt of some form of hidden subsidy from its own Government either in tax turnover or by other financial arrangements of that kind?

Mr. Soames

We shall be setting out to ensure in the rules that we shall be laying down within the schemes that advantage is not given to foreign yards which are in receipt of any material subsidy.