Lords amendment: No. 12, after Clause 3, in page 7, line 8, at end insert:
A. None of the functions conferred by this Act upon the Secretary of State or British Shipbuilders shall be construed as authorising or requiring British Shipbuilders to repair or maintain ships except by or through the companies referred to in Schedule 2 to this Act.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The amendments deal with the ship repair industry in three different ways and in three different strands. I shall deal with the amendments seriatim and then draw the attention of the House to the significance of their different strands.
I shall deal first with the relationship between ship repairing and shipbuilding. The Opposition have argued, here and in the other place that shipbuilding and repairing are distinct activities. After listening to those arguments upstairs and in the Chamber and after reading the record of the other place, I began to wonder whether I was mistaken in thinking that a number of shipbuilders covered by the Bill are also engaged in ship repairing. I began to wonder, for example, why the Bill included a company called the Goole Shipbuilding and Repairing Company. I also began to wonder why we had a body called the Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association. If the industries are so different from each other, why should there be a joint body to protect their interests?
In a number of companies, ship repairing and shipbuilding are undertaken by the same group and in some cases interchangeability of labour and common facilities exist. When we had our earliest debate on this matter in Committee, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) made a great thing of the separateness of the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company and Swan Hunter.
733 But those who have visited dock areas know that one can go from shipyard to ship repair yard and back to the shipyard without realizing that one has moved from one yard to another. That also is the case overseas.
During the recess, as the hon. Member for Tynemouth knows, because he was there at about the same time, I visited Korea, which has one of the most up-to-date shipyards in the world. I visited the Korean Shipbuilding and Engineering Company at Busan, the Hyundai Shipyard at Ulsan and also the Mitsubishi Shipyards at Nagasaki, in Japan. I learned that workers and employers were amazed that anyone should suggest that shipbuilding and ship repairing should be separated. In Japan the ship repair yard is owned by the same general owner as the shipbuilding yards. At Hyundai, the docks are interchangeable for shipbuilding and ship repairing. Workers are sometimes employed on building and sometimes on repairing. Those two countries, which have some of the most dynamic facilities, labour forces and employers in the world, regard this controversy in Britain as extraordinary and bizarre. Let us therefore consider our terms of reference. The activities are different aspects of the same business. That is recognised by the SRNA.
The group of amendments that we are seeking to delete from the Bill is related to the Opposition's determined aim to remove the major ship repair companies from the scope of the Bill. Amendment No. 12 restricts British Shipbuilders' powers to do ship repairing to that done through the companies named in Schedule 2. Amendment No. 77 deletes the ship repairing companies from the schedule, leaving ship repair to be carried out through the remaining companies in the schedule. Amendments Nos. 78 and 80 amend the definitions in Schedule 2 to delete reference to ship repairing. Amendments Nos. 44, 47, 53 and 74 introduce changes to the safeguarding and compensation provisions and to the definition of works in the interpretation clause. The Government have a commitment to nationalise the ship repair industry. The Opposition are seeking to deter us from carrying out a commitment given to the electorate in the two 1974 election manifestos. That is distinct from our commitment to shipbuilding.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
That was before the electorates of Workington and Walsall, North rejected it.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Kaufman
It was not. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) may have formed a different impression. His is neither a shipbuilding nor a ship repairing area. It has few dock facilities. If the temporary hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson) were present he would confirm that this was not one of the major issues in which he fought the by-election. But it was an issue on which the election was fought in Newcastle, Central. The only by-election in a shipbuilding area reinforced our mandate to carry through these commitments.
The reasons for nationalising the ship repair industry are no less clear than those for nationalising shipbuilding. The report on the industry by PA Management Consultants, commissioned by the previous Tory Administration, highlighted a number of problems affecting the future of the ship repairing industry. Among those, the most significant were outdated facilities and unsatisfactory labour relations. Those are two problems that must be tackled within the industry as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
The Minister has said that shipbuilding urgently demands additional investment. Has he discussed that with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and has the Chancellor approved the investment of a substantial sum into shipbuilding and repair after nationalisation?
§ Mr. Kaufman
Yes, certainly. We would not be making a provision such as this if we did not want to back it up with the money that will make it effective.
§ Mr. Kaufman
We shall get the money from the taxpayers. That is the way that Governments get money. There is no other way. We shall get it from the taxpayers. There are two ways in which Governments get money. One is from profits, which the industry is not making, and the other is by borrowing money from the taxpayers.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton) rose—
§ Mr. Kaufman
I do not want to give way, but if I do I hope that hon. Members will not complain that I speak for too long.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
We should not be discussing the source of money. That is not contained in the amendments.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Do we not borrow from the International Monetary Fund as well as taxing the taxpayer and borrowing from our local money market?
§ Mr. Kaufman
The borrowing requirement is rising less speedily than it did when the hon. Member gave his sporadic support to the Conservative Government.
I shall return to the subject, since I have a certain amount to say that is relevant to the amendments. I was being characteristically humble and self-effacing, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Our aim in taking the larger ship repair companies into public ownership is to achieve improved investment and productivity. Taking into public ownership the larger companies mostly set out in the main schedules will enable the corporation to produce a coherent strategy for the larger ship repairing yards as a whole.
I should point out some of the difficulties that would be created if the Lords amendments were not rejected. Lords Amendment No. 12, which is a particularly foolish one, would prevent British Shipbuilders from carrying out any ship repair activities except through the companies named in Schedule 2. But there is already a major ship repair group—North-East Coast Shiprepairers—which is in public ownership, and it makes industrial logic to bring that group into British Shipbuilders. In Committee, the hon. Member for Tynemouth specifically asked us to do so, and, as so often, I acceded to his request, even though, as a holding company, this company does not appear in Schedule 2. Lords Amendment No. 12 would prevent that sensible structure. The three subsidiary companies of North-East Coast Shiprepairers are named in the schedule. They are Brigham and Cowan Limited, Mercantile Dry Dock Company Limited, and the Middle Docks & Engineering Company Limited.
736 If Amendment No. 77 is not reversed, these companies will not appear in Schedule 2, and by reason of Lords Amendment No. 12 it would not be possible to place these important publicly-owned ship repairing companies under the control of British Shipbuilders unless they become subsidiaries of shipbuilding companies or engine-building companies already in the schedule. The Government would thus be prevented from making the most effective arrangements for ship repair companies already in public ownership, or, indeed, for any private sector ship repair companies which by agreement are brought into British Shipbuilders.
Lords Amendments Nos. 44, 47, 53 and 74 are also unacceptable to the Government. These would allow any shipbuilding company named in Schedule 2 to hive off its ship repairing operations without the consent of the Secretary of State. I have pointed out several times in the debates on this Bill that many ship repair facilities and operations are closely integrated with shipbuilding yards.
Several shipbuilding companies in Schedule 2 also carry out ship repairing activities within the same company—Vosper Thorneycroft, Hall Russell, Swan Hunter Shipbuilders Ltd, Robb Caledon, Smiths Dock and the Goole Shipbuilding and Repairing Company Ltd. are examples. It would be illogical and difficult to try to hive off the ship repair operations in these cases where they are so closely integrated with shipbuilding, and it would be wrong to have a provision which allows any company to do this without consent, as it would mean breaking up the existing company structure to the disadvantage of British Shipbuilders.
The Government's case for nationalising the ship repair companies listed in Schedule 2 of the Bill has been made at considerable length in the course of the passage of the Bill in this House and in another place—and the Government remain firmly committed to bringing these companies into public ownership under British Shipbuilders.
I would now like to try to clarify the three strands of amendments and to make clear that acceptance of one group of them by any group of hon. Members 737 would not necessarily carry with it acceptance of either or both of the other two groups.
The main amendments which I know are of particular interest to some hon. Members are Nos. 77, 78 and 80. These would have the effect of removing the definition of a ship repairing company from Schedule 2, together with the names of the 12 ship repairing companies listed in the schedule. That would at least be simple. We do not like it, but it would be a clean cut operation. However, we oppose it and will try to reverse it. Nevertheless, this is a category of amendment on its own. British Shipbuilders would still retain a duty to promote the repair and maintenance of ships either through several shipbuilding companies in Schedule 2 already engaged in this activity or through any ship repairing companies that it might acquire by agreement.
But the new clause inserted by Lords Amendment No. 12 would seriously curtail the ability of British Shipbuilders to carry out this ship repair activity effectively, and I think that even if one supported Lords Amendments Nos. 77, 78 and 80, everyone would agree that that would be undesirable and greatly damaging to British Shipbuilders. The new provisions inserted by Lords Amendments Nos. 44, 47, 53 and 74 would permit a shipbuilding company to hive off any ship repair activities without consent, thus breaking up the existing company structure, to the disadvantage of British shipbuilders.
I emphasise, therefore, that there are very strong reasons for disagreeing with Lords Amendment Nos. 12, 44, 47, 53 and 74, even if the ship repairing companies were to be removed from the schedule. I want to explain, because it is important that the House should be clear about the exact effects of these amendments.
Amendment No. 12 would prevent British Shipbuilders from carrying out any ship repair activities except through the companies named in Schedule 2. But there is already a major ship repair group—North-East Coast Shiprepairers—in public ownership, as I have pointed out, and it is the intention to bring this group into British Shipbuilders. In Committee the Government accepted an 738 amendment that has the effect of vesting North-East Coast Shiprepairers in British Shipbuilders, even though, as a holding company, it does not appear in Schedule 2. This was because of the strong feeling that the most effective structure for the ship repair group under British Shipbuilders would be achieved by vesting the group as a whole. There was no difference between the two sides of the Committee on that point, but Lords Amendment No. 12 would prevent it, which would be very damaging.
Furthermore, if British Shipbuilders were to acquire by agreement a privately owned ship repairing company, it would be forced by Amendment No. 12 to operate this undertaking through one of the companies listed in Schedule 2. Because of this, the amendment would place a severe constraint on British Shipbuilders by preventing it from setting up the most effective organisational structure.
The purpose of the group of Lords Amendments Nos. 44, 47, 53 and 74 is to allow the naval shipbuilder, Vosper Thornycroft, which has a separate ship repair division, to hive off this activity from the company to the parent group, without consent. This is because Vosper Thornycroft's ship repair division, which is a substantial operation, would not escape public ownership by reason of Amendments Nos. 77, 78 and 80.
But there are several other shipbuilding companies in Schedule 2—Hall Russell, Robb Caledon, Swan Hunter Shipbuilders, Smiths Dock, Goole Shipbuilding and Repairing Co.—which carry out ship repairing in the same company and which might be affected by these amendments. It would be difficult to separate ship repairing from shipbuilding in these companies, and to do so would be to lose the flexibility that exists at present in combining both activities in one company. Flexibility would also be lost to a certain extent by hiving off the ship repairing division of Vosper Thornycroft.
To include this group of amendments would allow companies, if they so wished, to break up the existing company structure in which ship repair operations are closely integrated with shipbuilding, and this would be to the serious disadvantage of British Shipbuilders.
739 In asking the House to disagree with these amendments, I must point out that we are discussing three different groups with three different rationales, and I hope that in approaching the matter, hon. Members who seek to remove companies from Schedule 2—with which we would disagree—will not feel that they will also have to support the other amendments, because to do so would be very damaging to the companies and to British Shipbuilders when it comes into being.
§ Mr. Tom King
We have now moved to a very important group of amendments affecting this part of the Bill. Our strong opinion is that ship repairing should not be included in the Bill. We had a tied vote at the end of the last debate. I do not know whether one Labour Member was so revolted by the Minister's speech on that occasion that he could not stomach voting for him, but I hope that my contribution, together with some of the anomalies and paradoxes in what the Minister has said about ship repairing, will persuade at least some hon. Members opposite not to support him again. The Minister of State went on at length about certain amendments involved in this group, particularly the leading amendment, No. 12. But because of the impossible situation in which we find ourselves we can have no meaningful discussion on a number of important points and no opportunity to vote upon them. We can have only a very limited number of votes. The only amendments on which we can vote effectively is the group referred to by the Minister of State, Nos 77, 78 and 80. That does not mean to say that we recoil from the other Lords amendments, but we are in an impossible position because of the guillotine procedure.
We have been round this course before, probably more times than the Minister of State and I care to remember. I have heard nothing yet which is a convicing argument for the case for including ship repairing. It is an entirely different sort of industry from the ship construction industry. It is very much a service industry. In many instances it is a cost-plus industry which depends on service good will with customers. But we have established these points before. If one were looking for an industry which was less 740 suitable for nationalisation, it would be difficult to find one more unsuitable and less appropriate for this legislation.
The Minister of State adduced one new fact since we discussed these problems before. He has been travelling. He has been to Korea and Japan. He has ideas about what is happening in Korea and he referred with admiration to the dynamic management. I do not know what he thought about the dynamic wage rates and the hours of work.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Perhaps I can tell the hon. Gentleman that some of that dynamism is not appreciated by the workers in Japan since they work a 60-hour week for £20.
§ Mr. King
That is exactly the point I had in mind. I was in Japan myself and I know the Japanese attitude to this.
The Minister of State said that when he discussed ship repairing with the Japanese they looked amazed. If the hon. Gentleman told them that he was the man who will be in charge of ship repairing and shipbuilding, and that he has never been involved with ship repairing or shipbuilding in his life, I should think that the amazed look never went off their faces. The Japanese probably thought that he was referring to some rather arcane point. The Japanese are very polite people and rarely understand what we are actually saying. That is another problem. The Japanese have been used as evidence that it would be wrong to delete ship repairing. That is the first new argument that we have had as to why ship repairing is relevant to the Bill. On reflection, however, I do not think it is a very good one.
I shall not weary the House with a repetition of the arguments about ship repairing in detail. As I have explained, when we vote on the group of amendments at a later stage I hope that hon. Members who have positively considered the situation will support us in the Lobby.
§ Mr. John Evans (Newton)
As someone who started work in a shipyard at 14 and who worked in ship-repair yards and engineering establishments until I came to this House, I support the Government in disagreeing with the Lords. I doubt whether the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) has ever worked in a ship-repairing yard. At least I can 741 claim that I have worked in a considerable number of ship-repair establishments.
All of us who have worked in the industry stand back amazed at those who suggest that shipbuilding and ship repairing are two separate industries. They have two extremely important things in common—first ships, and secondly men. Any shipyard worker is capable of transferring his affections from the shipbuilding industry to the ship-repairing industry. The men often do.
For many years I worked in one of the shipyards on the Tyne which is one of the most famous names in shipbuilding. That was Hawthorn Leslie, which was a composite yard. We were building and repairing ships at the same time, and workers transferred from the shipbuilding berth to the ship-repair berth. I worked at Swan Hunter and other yards on Tyneside and I do not regard the two industries as in any way separate. I simply regarded myself as working on the building or repairing of a vessel. Whether I worked in the engine room, the boiler room or on the deck, I was simply a ship worker. Everyone in the industry regards himself in exactly the same light.
A noble Viscount in the other place referred to me on Second Reading as someone who had worked in five yards in one year. In fact I worked in seven yards in one year. The noble Lord said that I moved in order to improve either my conditions or prospects. But I moved for the same reason as most shipyard workers do—because I got the sack. It is now called redundancy. In those days we called it the sack. Some of us used to get it at 24 hours' notice.
We are all aware of the legacy of evil industrial relations which has surrounded the industry, whether on the shipbuilding side or the ship-repair side. I did not move in order to improve my prospects. My prospect at any one of the yards at which I worked was to get the sack when the ships ran out, as they frequently did because of the cyclical nature of both sides of the industry.
Many speakers, who have little knowledge of the industry, constantly refer to the industry as two separate industries. When reading the debates in the other place, I was surprised that Lord Inchcape—a famous name in shipbuilding—made the mistake or referring to them as sepa- 742 rate industries. He may be a famous name in shipping, but his knowledge of the industry from the building or repairing side is obviously sadly lacking. They are not separate industries. The ships and the workers are there, and it does not matter to the workers which yard they work in. They are interchangeable.
Indeed, the trade union movement is organised through the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions and the employers themselves are organised in a joint body, the National Association of Shipbuilders and Ship Repairers. The workers and the employers recognise that the industries are indivisible. I doubt whether the noble Lords, or Conservative Members opposite, who obviously would not know a shipyardworker if they fell over one, would be able to tell the House very much about an industry which is centred mostly in the development regions.
An issue which has exercised many people's minds for a long time concerns Bristol Channel Ship Repairers. We shall no doubt, hear more on this score. As an ex-worker in the industry, I recognise only too clearly the fears which have been expressed by those workers. They are afraid that if their firm is taken into public ownership the ships to be repaired will be diverted either to Merseyside, the Tyne or the Clyde. That argument is fatuous nonsense. In many respects the workers have been entirely misled.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
How can the hon. Gentleman assure the workers that that will not happen? Does he not agree that, while shipbuilding and ship repairing may be similar in trade, their clients are different and that the smaller firms have a better chance of getting the clients? That is what brings employment.
§ Mr. Evans
Had the hon. Gentleman contained himself, he would have found that I was coming to that point. The Bill does not contain any power, and there is no suggestion that there will be any power, for the central board to direct a ship to be repaired in any area. Indeed, if there were any such suggestion it would be arrant nonsense. The Government would be stupid to put in such a clause. A ship owner who was directed to send his ship to be repaired in a particular yard to which he did not want it to go 743 could simply send it to another repair yard anywhere else in the world. He would not be directed. Those who suggest that there is a fear of direction are either attempting to mislead the workers or are ignorant of the industry. There is no requirement in the Bill to direct ships anywhere.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
If what the hon. Gentleman is saying is correct, will he advise the House why, when the specific question was put three times running to the Minister in charge of the Government side of the Committee whether the client would be able to specify the repairer at which his work is executed, each time the Minister refused to answer? If the answer was "Yes", why did not the Minister say so?
§ Mr. Evans
The House will appreciate that I cannot answer for the Minister. I can answer as someone who has worked in the industry and who recognises that there is no power to do that. Swan Hunter, the ship repairers for which I worked, had no power to direct a ship owner who wanted to have shin repaired at a specific yard to go to another yard. The ship owner has the final power to send his ship to be repaired where he thinks he will get the best deal and where he will get the job done at the time he requires it. it would be nonsense for the Government to attempt to put such a clause in the Bill.
The strongest arguments have been on behalf of Bristol Channel Ship Repairers. It is significant that we have had no arguments from the ship repair workers at Tyneside. Merseyside, Teesside, Glasgow or Belfast. Those workers have not lobbied Parliament and sought to influence Members of Parliament by giving them lunches and dinners. They are delighted that the industry is to be nationalised.
It is important to get across to the workers the strategy for the industry, which is that there will be a major ship-repair establishment on every major estuary in Great Britain. One of the great potential growth areas in ship repairing is the Bristol Channel. It is ideally placed on the main shipping lanes between Europe and North America. That is what lies behind the objections made by the directors of that company. In the past they have wanted considerable 744 sums of Government money to increase their facility on that estuary. As the Bristol Channel is such an important potential growth area, the workers will benefit from the Bill.
It is essential to end the uncertainty that hangs over the lives of thousands of men and women and their families who depend upon this industry for their livelihood. They have proved that they can build and repair the best ships in the world. I sincerely hope that tonight, at long last, we shall end that uncertainty and bring the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry into public ownership.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I repeat, three times in Committee the direct question was put to the Minister, who has now abandoned the Bench—
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I did not say why he had abandoned the Bench; I merely said that he had abandoned the Bench.
Three times on the same morning, in Committee, the question was asked: will the customer be able to specify where his order is executed? If he cannot, as the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) realised, many customers will take their orders to Amsterdam, Lisbon, Hamburg, Gothenburg and elsewhere. Had the answer been "Yes", the Minister would have given it. Why did not the Minister answer? We are entitled to assume that it was because the answer was not "Yes".
We are also entitled to expect that in his winding-up speech tonight the Minister will suddenly announce that the answer is "Yes", in the hope that gullible people will thereby be included among those who will vote against the amendment.
No assurance from the Minister is worth anything. We are discussing what is or is not in the Bill, not what assurances Ministers give. There is not a court of law in the land that will uphold any assurance given by a Minister. Courts of law uphold the law, not what Ministers say they hope it is, wish it to be, or intend it to be once it has received Royal Assent. We are dealing with lawmaking, not with statements of intent 745 from Ministers. That is fools' gold, that has been taken too often in the past.
What the Bill will achieve for the ship repairing industry is politely called rationalisation. That means, in practice, that in shipbuilding areas where there is a large Labour vote firms will be kept alive by diverting to them ship repairing business that would otherwise have gone to other ship repairers. The total volume of business, and therefore of employment, will be smaller. Once we have nationalisation there are higher costs, and a new stratum of top management is invented. Who pays for that? At the end of the day the customer pays for it—as we all know from nationalised electricity—and the taxpayer.
Every potential customer from abroad has an option. He does not have to go to any repairer in Britain unless the damage suffered is so acute that he has to go to the nearest one that happens to be British. That is why the Bill is an attack on the total level of employment in the ship repairing industry. It is not a question of redistribution; it is a question of the total level of employment, which will be less if the Bill goes through.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. The Bill is to nationalise shiprepairing, not shipping. The hon. Gentleman talks as though, once the Bill is through, the Government will be able to say to the shipping industry "You must send your ship to this yard." When I was in a nationalised ship repairing yard three weeks ago I noticed that it had three ships in, each of which came from a different foreign country. Most of the ships repaired in the nationalised ship repairing yards at present are foreign ships, and foreign ships will continue to come here when other ship repair yards are brought under the same umbrella.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is absolutely right. He has proved our case, not the Government's case. It is not the shipping industry throughout the world which is to be nationalised. Shipping companies are free to take their business elsewhere, and that is what those which at present bring their business to Britain will do. That is the basic case against the measure. It takes away from the customer much of 746 the element of choice that remains with him at present. That choice is built largely on reputation generated over many years. That is what will be destroyed, and that is why we are opposed to the Bill.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I speak for a large number of my constituents working in the ship-repairing industry. In many cases they are working in yards that were taken over because of the financial failure of the old private companies, not because of their inefficiency as repair yards. The yards became involved in other industries that led them to disaster. If it had not been for the action of the Government, those yards might well have had a large number of unemployed on their books as against their present activity.
I voice the concern of those working in those yards today. They are concerned lest there should be any suggestion of the yards returning to private hands. They want an assurance that the Bill will be completed as rapidly as possible, so that they can get on with the work that they are anxious to do, which the Opposition are now preventing them from doing.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Unlike the occupants of the Front Benches, I have not had the pleasure of going to Japan or anywhere east of Caernarvon this summer.
The circumstances of the ship repairing industry in Wales concern me much more than any circumstances that may hold true in Japan. We have been over the grounds of the argument many times in the past and I shall not bore the House by repeating them now, save to restate that in my belief the ship repairing industry needs to be very much more fast-moving. It will have to operate within a shorter time cycle, and the attitude adopted to sales and marketing needs to be much more aggressive. There is a need to go out and look for more work, and that needs to be done more frequently. We must realise that we are dealing with a service-based industry.
The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) suggested that ship repairing and shipbuilding were one and the same industry. He argued that the product is the same, and that the men have the same sympathies. That may be said of the motor industry and the garages, but in 747 this case the marketing aspect is essentially different. Unless the marketing is right and the product is right the industry will not progress. The people in the ship repairing industry may have the same skills as those working in the yards, but it is the marketing that is the critical factor for the repairing sector.
If the companies that are included in Schedule 2 are nationalised, the opportunity to undertake the marketing and to get in the work will be decreased. On 28th July I quoted the letter from Holter-Sorenson and Company, which reads:with our experience with nationalised companies, we must regret to announce that, in the event of nationalisation of your firm, we shall no longer be interested in making use of your docking and repair facilities.The danger is that that will tar the whole of the ship repairing industry, which would be tragic.
On Monday the Minister of State responded to my question at Question Time by saying that if my hon. Friends and I voted against the Bill we should have to take into consideration what we would thereby be doing to the aircraft industry or the shipbuilding industry. I can see a certain amount of logic in that argument, but if that is the case, would it not be much better to accept the Lords amendment concerning ship repairing? That case has been made repeatedly in this Chamber, in another place, throughout the media and by other sources throughout these islands. Surely it is a clear-cut amendment. If it were accepted, there would be no consequential problems.
The hon. Member for Newton said that it was important that we should have an end to the uncertainty. That is right, and one way to end it would be by accepting the amendment. I put it to the House that the only way in which we shall have an end to the uncertainty—
§ Mr. John Evans rose—
§ Mr. Wigley
No, I shall not give way, as time is short.
The only way in which we shall end the uncertainty is by removing this group of companies from the Bill. Last week, in a debate in another place, Lord Harmar-Nicholls said that it was the opinion of counsel that if this part of the Bill remained it would without doubt open up the grave question of hybridity. 748 I shall not quote from the 40-page document at length, but it is important to draw the attention of the House to the grave difficulties that the Bill will face in another place unless the amendment is accepted.
In the document to which Lord Harmar-Nicholls referred—I shall refer briefly to the Cammell Laird Company—it is said:My opinion is contrary to that adopted by the Government. The Cammell Laird Company does not qualify as an associated ship repairing company; and it follows that both J. B. Howie Ltd. and Western ship repairers are wrongly included in Schedule 2 Part 1.In conclusion it states:There is grave doubt about the correctness of the Government's view and room for further inevstigation and inquiry before the Government's views on these important questions are accepted and acted upon.That is the opinion of Leolin Price, a well-respected counsel in these matters.
The Government, by insisting that the ship repairers should remain in the Bill, are increasing uncertainty for the aircraft industry in places such as Flint as well as increasing uncertainty for the shipbuilding industry. Unless we are clear-cut and accept the amendment, removing ship repairing from the Bill, the uncertainty will continue, and possibly the whole Bill will be lost for another 12 months. Whatever line is taken towards the nationalisation of the aircraft industry, the shipbuilding industry and ship repairing, another 12 months of uncertainty will do no good to anyone.
I put it to the Government that at the end of this long debate on this issue they should accept the best possible bargain they can get and accept the amendment.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) ended what I was glad was a general debate by bringing in the tired and tattered issue of hybridity and quoting as his authority a legal opinion offered by Mr. Leolin Price, whose qualification for offering the opinion is that he is a leading Welsh Conservative. It is offered as an impartial and objective legal opinion but it is a piece of Tory advocacy. That gentleman has put together 40 badly argued pages, but they do not add up to an unquestioned legal judgment. All it means is that a Tory wishes that the Bill were hybrid.
§ Mr. Wigley
The Minister has said that it is not an unquestioned legal judgment. Does he accept, therefore, that there is a question about it and that that question will have to be answered in another place, which will take time and delay the Bill?
§ Mr. Kaufman
I do not accept that. This issue was raised by Lord Colville of Culross, who caused people to grub about on the shelves in Edinburgh. He was trying to argue that something was No. 32 rather than No. 31 and that, therefore, the Bill was hybrid. We descended so far into the trivia of filing systems, let alone ship repairing, that the whole thing became absurd. There was the attempt to prove that a land reclamation and dredging company was a ship-repairing company. There was an attempt to prove that a sugar company was a ship-repairing company. There was the attempt to prove that BP was a ship-repairing company. It was absurd to the point of lunacy.
If the hon. Member for Caernarvon is wishing me to acknowledge that someone suggests that the Bill is hybrid and that, therefore, there is suspicion that that is so, I suggest that the fact that my good old friend the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) is sometimes called an eccentric does not mean that he is unquestionably a lunatic. I am afraid that that is the level of argument that we are being asked to debate.
§ Mr. Tom King
Will the Minister reconsider what he said about that opinion? He knows that if he said it outside the House he could lay himself open to a grave charge indeed. I do not know the status under which this opinion—which I have seen and read and which to me looked perfectly convincing—was offered in a professional capacity. I understand that the gentleman in question—I do not know him personally—is a distinguished Queen's Counsel. The Minister said that that gentleman put aside any legal responsibility as legal counsel to a client and deliberately debauched those views for political motives. The gentleman in question is not here to defend himself.
I do not want to raise the temperature in the House. However, I ask the Minister, whose only answer on two occasions was to allude to the gentleman's political 750 persuasions, to withdraw his remark. I remind him that there are some distinguished Queen's Counsel who are supporters of the Labour Party. Indeed, there are distinguished members of the Bar who may have political leanings of one sort or another. However, it does not lie in the mouth of anybody to impugn their legal judgments or advice or to suggest that such matters are part of biased political opinion. I urge the Minister to withdraw his remarks.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Gentleman speaks as though this gentleman were some kind of vestal priest. The gentleman in question gave his legal opinion for a fee. He did not come forward as a public-spirited citizen to state his view but was invited by a ship-repairing company to provide a legal opinion for a large fee, and that was what he did. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is wrong with that?"] There is nothing wrong with it, but the fact that a man is a QC does not make him sacred or non-political. The right hon. and learned Members for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) and Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) are Queen's Counsel, but that does not make them non-political. There is nothing wrong with being political. We are all political in this House. What I am saying is that there is no special status to be given to a legal opinion so provided. It has no status other than that of being the opinion of one man.
§ Mr. Tom King
The Minister is trying to ride away from the point I made. Of course, people are entitled to political opinions. The hon. Gentleman expresses his opinions. What he inferred however, was that the gentleman in question, who had a professional responsibility and who works under a professional code of conduct, sold shoddy goods and distorted those goods so as not properly to discharge his professional function. The Minister has made a very grave charge. If he made it outside this House, he would lay himself open to grace and serious damages. It is a gross abuse of the privilege of Parliament to act in that way.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I did not raise the question. It was mentioned by the hon. Member for Caernarvon. Until the hon. Gentleman raised the matter, we were 751 conducting a general debate on ship repairing. I wish it had remained that way. However, the hon. Gentleman sought to bring in the question of hybridity and a legal opinion. I repeat that that legal opinion is a piece of advocacy from one man. It has no status other than as a piece of advocacy from one man. I do not say that that piece of advocacy was politically motivated, and if it is thought that I so implied I withdraw that comment. The man who gave that opinion has a political affiliation, and I have every right to draw attention to it. I reject that piece of advocacy. I am sure that it was supplied with all integrity, but I merely make the point that the man himself is politically motivated. On the other hand, I regard the opinion as a pretty poor piece of advocacy.
Now that we have sorted that out, let us get back to a brief speech about ship repairing—the speech I would have been happy to make if it had not been for the remarks of the hon. Member for Caernarvon.
I wish to mention the speech of the hon. Member for Tiverton because I thought that he made some valid points. The hon. Gentleman said, as he has said on many occasions, that he will not accept a Minister's assurance on this, that and the other because he likes to see words written into a Bill. I think he is right. Therefore, I wish to draw his attention to Clause 5 of the Bill as it left this House in which we laid down the following:decentralisation of management and decision-taking to separate profit centres in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing areas of Great Britain, and in particular of Scotland and Wales and, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, in relation to sales, pricing, production, the formulation and implementation of investment programmes, manpower planning and management, industrial relations, and responsibility for financial performance".That is in the Bill and if it is carried it will, of course, be in the Act when it is passed. That is better than an assurance from me.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
But that does not stop the customer who wants to go to Bristol Channel being moved to Walls-end. Both places are in England.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Gentleman is not aware of the nature of Bristol 752 Channel Ship Repairers. All its yards are in Wales. It is not in England at all. The hon. Gentleman has this fantasy about the Government moving ship-repair work to Labour areas. If we were to be so fatuously motivated as to intervene, I should point out that the main yard of Bristol Channel Ship Repairers is in Cardiff, South-East, the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Therefore, if we were to switch work to suit any member of the Government or of the Labour Party, I am sure that my right hon. Friend would take a great interest. But that is not the way we intend to run the industry. It will be run by British Shipbuilders in a nonpartisan and commercial way.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Lords Amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 15 disagreed to.
§ Lords Amendment No. 16 agreed to.
§ Lords Amendments Nos. 17 to 25 disagreed to.
§ Lords Amendments Nos. 26 to 33 agreed to. [Some with Special Entry.]
§ Lords Amendment No. 34 disagreed to.
Amendments made to the Bill in lieu thereof: In page 31, line 26, leave out from second 'of' to 'the' in line 29 and insert
'such amounts as to ensure that the aggregate payments of dividend for that period on those securities are equal to the maximum amounts permitted under section 24 above or, if larger amounts have been approved under section 23(1) above, to'.—[Mr. Frank R. White.]
§ Lords Amendments Nos. 35 to 42 agreed to. [One with Special Entry.]
§ Lords Amendment No. 43 disagreed to.
Amendment made to the Bill in lieu thereof: In page 41, line 37, leave out from 'repaid' to 'or' in line 42 and insert
'any sum the right to repayment of which, it the sum had not been repaid, would, following the service of a notice under section 21 above, have been treated as a security or part of a security under subsection (6) of that section'.—[Mr. Frank R. White.]
§ Lords Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 disagreed to.
§ Lords Amendment No. 46 agreed to.
§ Lords Amendment No. 47 disagreed to.