HC Deb 09 July 1969 vol 786 cc1352-3
25. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Technology whether he will now publish or place in the Library in advance of the next annual report of the Shipbuilding Industry Board, further details of the financial forecasts on the basis of which further public money is being advanced to Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.

Mr. Benn

I have considered this proposal very carefully but have concluded that it would not be right to do so.

Mr. Digby

In view of the amount of public money—I believe about 48 per cent.—now invested, is not the House entitled to the same kind of information as shareholders would have, particularly in view of the rather disquieting stories of resignations, another of which is reported in the papers today?

Mr. Bean

I think that the hon. Gentleman understands the difficulty about doing this whenever the Government do business with any firm. We have had business with the aircraft firms for a very long time without information of any kind being given to the House or authorisation sought. We now have the innovations of the Shipbuilding Industry Act and the Industrial Expansion Act, under which much more information is made available. If anybody needed to be convinced of the damage which can be done by unnecessary publicity, one need only look at the case of the firm with which we are here concerned.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us appreciate the dangers of over-exposure in the affairs of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders? Is he aware that he is extremely popular in Glasgow, and that he may be invited to take part in the Gorbals by-election campaign? Will he try to find out before then which Conservative voice is stating official policy?

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the sooner we get away from the atmosphere of continuing crisis in Clydeside and back to the business of building ships the better it will be for U.C.S. and those who work for it? In view of the concern about the number of resignations, when does he expect that the gaps in its board may be filled?

Mr. Benn

I have made it clear in the House many times that it has never been my purpose or intention to run Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. The purpose of the exercise has been to get the company to take responsibility for its own affairs, and to provide the support necessary through the Shipbuilding Industry Board.

Mr. Rankin

As the S.I.B. has no abiding place in the shipbuilding structure, why should it have such power over Clydeside in settling its shipbuilding affairs?

Mr. Benn

The power of the Shipbuilding Industry Board is entrusted to it by Parliament. If we did not have the board one of two things would happen. Either no support for the industry would be made available or it would be given by direct Ministerial intervention at every point. That would be highly undesirable compared with the operations of a board which has on it business men, experienced trade union members and others with the objective of creating a viable industry.