HC Deb 15 May 1996 vol 277 cc945-6
18. Mr. Davidson

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on future prospects for the shipbuilding industry. [28374]

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Energy (Mr. Richard Page)

I am pleased that United Kingdom shipyards are continuing to improve their competitiveness and to win orders in the face of very difficult international market conditions. I thank the hon. Gentleman for being the only one to turn up and ask me a question.

Mr. Davidson

I thank the Minister for that answer. However, having rushed all the way from Glasgow to hear it, I had hoped that it would be more satisfactory. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the international competitors to our shipbuilding industry do not cheat by receiving unfair subsidies from their Governments? As the Minister knows, the shipbuilding industry has taken considerable steps to reform itself, but it is being undermined by unfair foreign competition.

Mr. Page

I, too, want a level playing field. If there is any evidence that people are cutting corners and bending the rules, it should be presented to the Department of Trade and Industry where it will be followed up vigorously. It is intended that the shipbuilding intervention fund should be abolished—it should be signed on 15 July—which would mean no subsidies to any shipyards throughout the world, so we will have that level playing field.

Mr. James Hill

Does my hon. Friend agree that not just shipbuilding, but ship repair, is of great importance to United Kingdom yards? Will he join me in congratulating the Cunard shipping line? For the first time, under the management of its new owners, it will, this year, have its total maintenance check—work that is worth £12 million—performed in the port of Southampton. Is not that good news for our ports?

Mr. Page

My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that not only shipbuilding, but ship repair, count—as does the construction of sail, pleasure and sporting boats: it goes throughout the piece. It provides a great deal of work and employment throughout the country. I willingly echo his congratulations of Cunard. The United Kingdom has some excellent ship repair companies and I hope that more companies will take advantage of the facilities that are offered.