HC Deb 18 November 1974 vol 881 cc865-6
2. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will have consultations with British ship-owners to ensure that wherever possible British ships are repaired in British shipyards.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)

The Government urge British shipowners to have their ships repaired in this country whenever possible. We recognise, however, that they themselves compete in an international market and that therefore they should be free to repair at home or abroad according to their commercial judgment. We notice with satisfaction that British shipowners at present buy nearly three-quarters of the capacity of the British ship-repairing industry.

Mr. Mitchell

Is my hon. Friend aware that the latest example is the Southern Ferries ship "Panther", which sails from Southampton and is now to have its annual refit in a French shipyard? Will he hold an inquiry into the extent to which foreign Governments are directly subsidising tender prices?

Mr. Davis

I will look into the point made by my hon. Friend. Regarding the specific case he has mentioned, I understand that the French quotation was the best.

Mr. Mitchell

Very much less.

Mr. Davis

Our shipowners are obliged to compete in an international market and must exercise their discretion within that compass as to where they will have their repairs done. We must always be on guard about any pressures that we might invoke, because this might result in retaliation from foreign interests.

Mr. Heseltine

How much higher a proportion of the output of our yards will be directed to British shipping after nationalisation has taken place?

Mr. Davis

That is a matter that we hope will flow as a direct result of nationalisation. The hon. Gentleman knows that the ship-repairing industry is excessively fragmented at present. Desperately important changes are necessary in the structural and modernisation programme which has to be introduced, and public funds are an important part of that. Unless public funds are injected, we cannot get the necessary improvement.

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