HC Deb 05 March 1969 vol 779 cc391-5
2. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Technology whether he is aware that world shipbuilding construction in 1968 was 16 million tons, approximately, including 8 million tons, approximately, from Japan and 900,000 tons, approximately, from Great Britain or less than six per cent. of the world construction; and what steps he is taking to enlarge British shipbuilding.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology (Mr. Gerry Fowler)

I am aware of the position, which is largely the result of the small flow of orders in 1966–67. The Shipbuilding Industry Act, 1967, provided substantial assistance to promote the industry's ability to compete in world markets, and last year the tonnage of new orders taken by the British industry was the largest since 1951.

Sir G. Nabarro

Would the hon. Gentleman note that the proposal of the British Steel Corporation to raise the price of hull steel plate by 9.3 per cent. of an average of £47 per ton for that steel would have a calamitous effect on the obtaining of future orders by the shipbuilding industry, where margins are already at a dangerously low and uneconomic level? Will he go to the Prices and Incomes Board and frustrate this increase in price?

Mr. Fowler

We have debated this on several occasions when the hon. Gentleman has not been present. Steel is an important element in the total cost of a ship, but it would be best to await the report of the Board for Prices and Incomes on the proposed new structure and level of steel prices before deciding any effect on the profitability of existing orders or on the shipbuilders' ability to obtain further orders.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Contrary to the pessimism about, and derogation of British shipbuilding that we have just heard from the other side of the House, is my hon. Friend aware that within the past few days Hall, Russell and Co. Ltd., of Aberdeen, has secured a contract from Hamburg to build the largest ship ever built in Aberdeen which is a tribuate to the shipbuilding potentialities of Aberdeen?

Mr. Fowler

We in the Department are well aware of the virtues of Aberdeen and of its excellent representation in the House.

32. Mr. Leadbitter

asked the Minister of Technology how much shipbuilding tonnage, and what value of shipbuilding, has been given to foreign shipyards by British shipowners during the past 12 months; and what are the figures for new orders abroad.

Mr. Fowler

Orders for United Kingdom registration placed in foreign shipyards during 1968 amounted to 2.8 million gross tons of a value estimated at £205 million. The foreign order book for United Kingdom registered vessels at the end of that year totalled 4.6 million gross tons estimated to be worth £338 million.

Mr. Leadbitter

While my hon. Friend can from time to time report an improvement in shipbuilding in this country, is he aware that his Answer will give rise to some concern, remembering that British shipbuilding does not have as high a share of world shipbuilding as it should have, bearing in mind our substantial shipbuilding capacity? Are our credit terms sufficient to attract British ship owners to place orders in British yards?

Mr. Fowler

We now have perfectly good and competitive credit terms. This is what the Shipbuilding Industry Act, 1967, was partly about and what the extension of that Measure, presently before Parliament, is also about. Indeed, the percentage of orders for United Kingdom registration placed in British yards has been rising, on average, over the past three years, and quite sharply, too.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the number of Questions about shipbuilding on the Order Paper today reflects the concern which is felt on both sides of the House about the state and potential of this industry? Will he contact the Minister of Employment and Productivity to see whether the multitudinous trade unions in this industry have anything to do with the general state and efficiency of the industry?

Mr. Fowler

I do not quite know to what the hon. Gentleman is referring in that only two Questions on this subject have so far been asked. That may reflect something about the interest of the House in the matter. I assure him, however, that there has indeed been a dramatic change in trade union attitudes in yards throughout the country since the passage of the Shipbuilding Act.

Total Percentage for
Gross Tons (Million) United Kingdom Registration Export
Merchant Vessels Only
Order Book at end of 1968 3.6 65 35
New Orders placed in 1968 2.6 57 43
Estimated Valuemillion)
Merchant and Naval Vessels
Order Book at end of 1968 607 72 28
New Orders placed in 1968 316 64 36
33. Mr. Leadbitter

asked the Minister of Technology what is the total value and tonnage of shipbuilding in British shipyards; what are the figures related to new orders; and what proportion in each case is attributable to orders from British shipowners and foreign shipowners, respectively.

Mr. Fowler

Since the information is best given in the form of a statistical table, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Leadbitter

I will read with interest the information which my right hon. Friend is circulating. Is he aware that there has been a substantial improvement in the state of shipbuilding in Britain and that, as a result, industrial relations in this industry have also improved? Would he agree, however, that this is the time when we should be increasing our capacity to attract to our yards a higher share than they are now getting of world shipbuilding?

Mr. Fowler

My hon. Friend will have noticed the grant made by the Shipbuilding Industry Board towards the construction of a new building dock at Belfast. He will agree that it is precisely in this sphere that we must increase our capacity if we are to be competitive with other countries, notably Japan.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Has there been any improvement in the delivery dates of shipbuilding firms in this country?

Mr. Fowler

The record of the British industry as a whole last year was splendid. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we watch this matter extremely closely. I am satisfied that, with one or two normally much-publicised exceptions, ships from British yards have been delivered on time and even before time.

Following is the information: