HC Deb 29 April 1968 vol 763 cc786-8
55. Mr. George Jeger

asked the Minister of Technology whether he has given further consideration to the recent representations made to him about the difficulties of the smaller shipyards situated outside development areas; and what action is now proposed to ensure their survival, especially in view of their contribution to the export drive.

Mr. Fowler

My right hon. Friend is considering the information provided by the hon. Member and will be writing to him shortly. There is considerable scope for shipbuilders outside development areas to improve their competitive position. Shipbuilders' relief, assistance under the Shipbuilding Industry Act and the benefits of devaluation are available to all yards, but I am not convinced that all yards outside the development areas should also be treated as though they were in those areas.

Mr. Jeger

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is rather invidious to give to one of the shipyards concerned the Queen's Award in consideration of its export achievements and, on the other hand, to leave it exposed to the possibility of being closed owing to unfair competition? Will he remind my right hon. Friend the Minister that several weeks ago I asked him to receive a further deputation about this matter, which he promised to do some time ago, and that I am still waiting for a reply?

Mr. Fowler

With regard to exports, my hon. Friend is well aware that our yards, whether inside or outside development areas, when competing with foreign competitors must stand upon their own feet. Yards outside the development areas cannot complain that they are at a disadvantage because they do not receive a subsidy in competing with foreign rivals. Their record is, in general, excellent. We would not crib at this, but they must not ask for a general subsidy.

Mr. Corfield

Does not the unfairness arise purely from the difference in the way yards are treated in regard to S.E.T.? Does it not follow that, if a yard outside the development areas is in fact competing, it is very doubtful whether yards inside ought to be subsidised against their obviously very much more efficient competitors outside?

Mr. Fowler

I am very interested to hear the hon. Gentleman arguing in favour of the proposition that all help to the shipbuilding industry should be abolished so that there is no discrimination between yards inside and outside development areas. I am sure that his remarks will be read with great interest by yards inside development areas. It is the Government's policy to develop employment inside the development areas—the areas of traditionally high unemployment. This policy cannot be got over by saying that the subsidy should become generalised.

Mr. David Price

In that context, will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there is a feeling, rightly or wrongly, amongst shipbuilders outside development areas that, not only do shipbuilders in the development areas get—very properly—the advantage which is part of regional policy, but that when it comes to competing for Government contracts, other things being equal, the Government are prejudiced against shipyards in the development areas? I should have thought that it would be right for them to be treated equally, given the advantage that is obtained through the various development district policies.

Mr. Fowler

I think that the hon. Gentleman means that there is a feeling that there is a prejudice against yards outside the development areas. He said, "in the development areas". There may be this feeling. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I that all sorts of irrational feelings exist. There is no evidence to support the proposition he has just made, and I can assure him that there is no truth in it.