HC Deb 14 November 1967 vol 754 cc193-5
3. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Technology whether he will make a statement on the progress of mergers between shipbuilding yards.

25. Mr. Willey

asked the Minister of Technology what applications have been made to the Shipbuilding Industry Board for loans facilitating grouping schemes or reorganisation.

34. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on the progress which has been made in the merger of shipyards in the upper and lower reaches of the Clyde, respectively.

The Minister of Technology (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)

Mergers were announced affecting two firms in the North-East and two in Hampshire before the passage of the Shipbuilding Industry Act. Groups are now being formed on the Tyne, Upper and Lower Clyde, and there are active discussions of groupings on the Wear and in East Scotland. The groups now being formed on the Upper and Lower Clyde are, in common with a number of other firms, discussing with the Shipbuilding Industry Board what assistance they may need under the Shipbuilding Industry Act.

Mr. Digby

While welcoming the mergers which have already taken place or are about to take place, may I ask whether the Minister still hopes to get down to the very small number of groups suggested in the Geddes Report, or whether he now accepts that there will have to be a larger number than that?

Mr. Benn

I am accepting in most cases the advice of the Board set up by this House and in very close touch with the firms concerned. My own view remains that we want to get the minimum number of large viable groups, but I recognise that in approaching that aim we may have to go through certain transitional stages.

Mr. McNamara

Can my right hon. Friend inform the House what progress he is making with mergers of small shipbuilding yards, some of which are not in development areas and were not covered by the Geddes Report?

Mr. Benn

That is a separate Question. I have in my constituency a yard faced with this sort of problem, as a number of other hon. Members have in their constituencies. If my hon. Friend would like to put down a separate Question about this, I will try to advise him.

Mr. McMaster

What steps is the Minister taking to help those groups which meet the Geddes Committee's requirements by new orders? Is he aware of the great fears of redundancy owing to the few new orders which are hidden by the one or two large tankers which have been ordered?

Mr. Benn

I am well aware of that. It would, however, be wrong for my Department or the Board to take over marketing responsibilities from the new groups. One of the advantages of having groups is that they will be able to do rather more vigorous and active marketing than they have done in the past, but I am interesting myself as far as I can in the orders which are likely to become available.

Mr. Lawson

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the advantages to be obtained from these steps will be greatly reduced if the shipbuilding concerns increasingly buy their components for the making of ships from overseas? Will he ensure that they are encouraged strenuously to buy from British component makers?

Mr. Benn

It is certainly true that a lot of the value of a ship is the built-in components. One of the advantages which we see from having these groups is that they will be able to negotiate more effective terms for getting competitive bids for components from British firms.