HC Deb 21 April 1975 vol 890 cc958-60
5. Mr. Nelson

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what proportion of the shipbuilding industries of Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland and France are State owned, according to the information available to him from international sources.

Mr. Meacher

According to my information, about 35 per cent. of the merchant shipbuilding industry in Germany and about 20 per cent. in Sweden are State-owned. Naval shipbuilding and outfitting are largely State-owned in all the countries mentioned.

Mr. Nelson

As one of the principal reasons for the Government's proposal to nationalise the whole of the shipbuilding industry in Britain is its alleged poor performance as compared with our overseas competitors, does not the Under-Secretary feel that the European example of State support rather than wholesale ownership should prove exactly the reverse?

Mr. Meacher

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not fully listening to my earlier reply. Certainly in the case of Sweden the successful yard at Uddevalla is fully 100 per cent. State-owned, and turned in £5 million of profit in 1974. In Germany, the Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft is also 100 per cent. Federal and State-owned. That also turned in a profit, in 1973, of DM 37 million. The hon. Gentleman's conclusion is not proven by the European example.

Mr. Hall-Davis

As inflation is now being generated by wage settlements in the nationalised industries and the public sector, will not the nationalisation of ship-building give a further boost to inflation, imperil exports and, incidentally, add to the cost of the defence programme to the taxpayer?

Mr. Meacher

Certainly to the extent to which it promotes investment, improves production and increases exports, it will not have the effect the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

8. Mr. Trotter

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what was the total net worth of the companies to be nationalised in the shipbuilding, ship repairing and marine engineering industries at book value according to their latest accounts.

Mr. Benn

The latest published accounts of these companies are available to the public. For my Department to extract the information required would involve a disproportionate amount of time and effort.

Mr. Trotter

Is it not incredible that we should be about to spend vast sums of public money on taking over this industry, at a time of grave economic crisis, in ignorance of the background? Is the Minister satisfied with the abysmal level of research carried out by his Department before putting forward his proposal?

Mr. Benn

The proposal was put forward by the Labour Party in two elections. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Department does not prepare policy statements for political parties as such in that sense. He will also know that our compensation provisions are based not upon book value but on share value. Therefore, there is no reason why I should ask my civil servants to spend time gathering published information which is not to be the basis of our compensation arrangements.

Mr. Small

Is my right hon. Friend yet in a position to tell the House when we are likely to have the Shipbuilding Industry Bill?

Mr. Benn

I have nothing to add to what my hon. Friend already knows. The measures intended for the present Session include the public ownership of the ship-building and aircraft industries. I take on board what was said by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) about being anxious to get the Bill before the House and passed as soon as may be.

Mr. Tom King

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Chief Sec- retary to the Treasury on television was able to give the cost of the nationalisation of the shipbuilding and aerospace industries, a figure which he was quite unwilling and unable to give to this House? Is not that an affront to the principles of the sovereignty of and accountability to Parliament? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the figure of £300 million is correct?

Mr. Benn

No, Sir.