HL Deb 09 August 1966 vol 276 cc1701-4

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to repeat a Statement which my right honourable the President of the Board of Trade has just made in another place. It is as follows:

"On 24th March I expressed the Government's appreciation of the work of the Geddes Committee and announced the acceptance by the Government of their Report as a basis for considering the future of the shipbuilding industry. I said then that the Government would be prepared to play its part, broadly along the lines indicated in the Report, if those in the industry were prepared to play theirs.

"At the end of June I received memoranda from both the employer and union organisations, reporting the conclusions that they had reached on the main recommendations which the Report addressed to them, and indicating the action which they were taking. The Government is now satisfied, both from knowledge of what has already been achieved such as the recent important demarcation agreement, as well as from the memoranda submitted by each side, that the industry has accepted the basic recommendations in the Report, and that both sides are prepared to co-operate in giving the industry a fresh start. I can now there- fore confirm the Government's decision to play its part also in the reorganisation of the shipbuilding industry.

"We have already taken steps in the Finance Bill to provide by Order for shipbuilders to be relieved of certain indirect taxes in respect of home orders. We shall make this Order shortly to come into force on 12th September. We intend to introduce legislation this Session establishing a Shipbuilding Industry Board to promote the reorganisation of the industry. We have in mind ceiling commitments for Exchequer assistance of the kind proposed by the Geddes Committee, but the precise financial arrangements to be included in the legislation need further study. The actual expenditure will mainly depend on the progress made by the industry itself and, before giving financial support to new groupings, we shall want to be satisfied that all possible steps will be taken to ensure competitive efficiency, and viability.

"I am glad to announce that Mr. William Swallow, until recently Chairman and Managing Director of Vauxhall Motors Ltd., has agreed to accept the chairmanship of the S.I.B. when it is set up, and I hope to announce the names of two other members in the near future. They will be able to hold discussions with firms and unions in advance of legislation as recommended in the Report.

"Another important recommendation in the Report concerned naval orders. The Government agrees on the desirability of concentrating orders for frigates and destroyers in a few yards specialising in the production of this kind of sophisticated vessel. The detailed arrangements for giving effect to this change, including the placing of naval orders, will be worked out in consultation with the S.I.B. in the light of the reorganisation of the industry as a whole.

"I hope that this statement provides the necessary basis for both sides of the industry to proceed with their plans. The Government believe that any lasting solution of the industry's problems can only he achieved by the reorganisation of the industry and a new relationship between the two sides along the lines suggested by the Committee. On both these fronts the industry has made a fresh start since the Report was published. In the months ahead the two sides of the industry will need both to carry this much further in consultation with the Government and the new Shipbuilding Industry Board, and to complete the work on hand in individual yards without delays. An excellent opportunity now exists in shipbuilding for a rapid increase in productivity which could bring substantial benefits to the balance of payments."


My Lords, I am sure my noble friends on this side of the House would wish me to congratulate both sides of the industry on the speed with which they have got on with these negotiations. May I ask the noble Lord just two questions? In so far as this Statement confirms the acceptance by the Government of the Geddes Report, will he also confirm that it means that the Government accept wholly the Geddes statement that they do not recommend policies of nationalisation or State participation as necessary to the improved competitiveness of the industry, and that the "precise financial arrangements" referred to in the Statement will not take the form of nationalisation or State participation?

My second question is this. Since we know that responsibility for the shipbuilding industry is shortly to be transferred to the Ministry of Technology, would not the noble Lord agree that it might not be very wise of the Government to defer that transfer and to leave the industry as the responsibility of the Board of Trade while these developments are proceeding?


My Lords, in answer to the last question, I expect that this responsibility will be with the Board of Trade for some time, and I am expecting that the legislation, when it comes, will be introduced by the Board of Trade. I want to make it quite clear that there is no intention here of nationalisation. The real crux of it is in the Board which has now been set up, to be known as the Shipbuilding Industry Board, which is not even to be a statutory body, but will be purely voluntary. I think that that should satisfy the noble Lord.


My Lords, I welcome the agreement that has been reached in the shipbuilding industry, and I thank the noble Lord for his Statement. In particular, I welcome the concluding words—namely: An excellent opportunity now exists in shipbuilding for a rapid increase in productivity which could bring substantial benefits to the balance of payments. Is the noble Lord satisfied that no action to be taken under the Prices and Incomes Bill will deter that productivity or the rises in wages and salaries that might flow from it?


My Lords, I know so little about the Prices and Incomes Bill that I am afraid that any answer I might give would be completely valueless.