HC Deb 04 March 1965 vol 707 cc1508-9
17. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the President of the Board of Trade why there has been delay in the appointment of the Committee of Inquiry into the shipbuilding industry; and what steps he is taking to expedite its proceedings when appointed.

Mr. Mason

?: There has been no avoidable delay. The hon. Member will be aware from the Answer I gave to the hon. Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) on 19th February that the Committee started work over two weeks ago and that I hope it may report in about a year's time.

Mr. Digby

Since this Committee was announced, I think outside the House, in November, since it took two and a half months to appoint a chairman and set out its terms of reference and since, at a later stage, other members, who will need some experience of this matter, were appointed, will the Minister of State now give an assurance that the Committee will not be used as a kind of smokescreen but that it will get down to the important work of getting in touch with shipowners and visiting the main shipbuilding yards in this country without further delay?

Mr. Mason

I had not realised that the hon. Gentleman was so naïve. [Interruption.] The Committee started sitting three weeks ago. This is the first time that the shipbuilding industry has been subjected to an objective appraisal by a technical team of experts who have nothing to do with the industry itself. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] To appraise themselves fully of the shipbuilding industry's problems, the members of the Committee will obviously have to visit all the large yards and many of the medium-sized yards, too.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that a thorough survey of the industry was undertaken as recently as 1961 and is there not a real danger of ignoring the findings of the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee's Report and going forward with a further Committee which might possible be used as an excuse for delaying action on the decisions which were pointed out in 1961?

Mr. Mason

The hon. Gentleman must know that this was the Patten Committee, which was formed of a team of shipbuilders who were themselves looking at shipbuilding and shipbuilders.

Mr. Heffer

Is my hon. Friend aware that the decision of the Government will be widely supported, particularly in areas like Merseyside which have long felt that the shipbuilding industry has been allowed to decline and that it is due to that decline that we hear the sort of statements that have been made this afternoon about the inefficiency of the industry?

Mr. Mason

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. He is quite right.