HC Deb 19 April 1989 vol 151 cc335-6
23. Mr. Clay

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what recent information he has on new orders for merchant ships.

Mr. Newton

Based on information from Lloyd's register, new orders as well as completions in 1988 were at the lowest level for many years. The most recent figures suggest that a period of recovery may be beginning, but there is little evidence that it will be lasting and it is expected that the world shipbuilding market will remain dominated by considerable excess capacity for several years.

Mr. Clay

The Minister must also be aware of figures from Lloyd's maritime information service which I have sent him. They demonstrate conclusively from the most reliable source in the world that for the kind of ships built by British shipyards and, in particular, North East Shipbuilders in Sunderland, the last quarter of 1988 was the best for new orders for many years and that what we were told by the Government throughout last year and the year before, which was that there was no evidence of an upturn, has proved categorically wrong. We also now know that in 1988 prices for new build ships rose by 30 per cent. in one year. Has not the penny finally dropped that the Department of Trade and Industry has got this wrong and that this is a crazy time to close major British shipyards?

Mr. Newton

I have two comments. First, the hen. Gentleman puts more weight on the statistics to which he referred than they will bear. Secondly, whatever the state of demand for shipbuilding, it is necessary—as it was, unhappily, in the case of North East Shipbuilders Ltd. —to consider the prospects against the background of those seeking to run the yards so that they will be able to build such ships in a competitive and commercial way.