HL Deb 11 December 1969 vol 306 cc674-6

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to repeat a Statement on Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Limited, which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Technology. The Statement is as follows:

"I informed the House on June 19 of the arrangements the Shipbuilding Industry Board were making to provide assistance under the Shipbuilding Industry Act to Upper Clyde Ship-builders Limited.

"This action has not yet restored the confidence of suppliers and customers to the extent necessary to enable the Company to carry on its business on a satisfactory long-term basis. The Shipbuilding Industry Board do not consider that they would be justified in present circumstances in providing further help to the Company out of the funds available to them under the Shipbuilding Industry Act.

"However, the Company have been seeking ways of improving their position in recent months, and in order to allow them a further period in which to show results the Government have decided to introduce fresh legislation to provide assistance to this Company by way of loans not exceeding —7 million and, if necessary, guarantees of completion in the case of new orders of particular and immediate value to the Company because they are for early completion.

"Any funds required immediately for such loans will be provided in the first instance from the Civil Contingencies Fund; a supplementary estimate will be submitted to the House at the appropriate stage.

"While we are seeking to provide financial help to the Company outside the Shipbuilding Industry Act, this will be related to the continuing process of reorganising and strengthening the shipbuilding industry, particularly on the Clyde, with a view to improving its productivity and future prospects. I am in close touch with the Ship-building Industry Board who are actively considering what further measures may prove desirable to that end."


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating that Statement which I am sure will come as a great relief to Upper Clydeside, which is well aware of the present difficulties of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. But is the noble Lord aware that that relief is bound to be tempered with anxiety in view of the time that is being taken for this merged industry to get on its feet? Could the noble Lord tell us how much Exchequer money has already been put into Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (including Fairfield, before Upper Clyde Shipbuilders were formed) by way of grant and loans respectively? Could he also say what is the significance of the Shipbuilding Industry Board not being prepared to give any further financial assistance to Upper Clyde Shipbuilders? Can he further say when this legislation will be brought before Parliament and on what Parliamentary authority in the meantime the advances that he referred to will be made?


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating that Statement As the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said, it will be a matter of considerable relief in Clydeside. But I think we should look at the principles involved, since possibly these "one-off" contributions to industry from Government outside the normal machinery are a disturbing factor. I should like to echo Lord Drumalbyn's question about the significance of the fact that the Shipbuilding Industry Board does not appear to be able to help while the Government are able to do so. At first sight this seems to be evidence either that this loan is not a very good risk or that the machinery in use for the Board is not adequate. If so, are the Government considering any change in the machinery of money supplied through the Board?


My Lords, in answer to the first question put by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, I am in a position to give him the figures for Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. The amount received from the Shipbuilding Industry Board has been £5½ million in grants and £7.7 million in loans or subscription to share capital. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, both asked about the position of the Shipbuilding Industry Board in this connection. The Act under which the Shipbuilding Industry Board operate requires the Board to exercise their powers to promote the abilities of the United Kingdom Shipbuilding Industry. The S.I.B. considered that in the present case they could not provide more on the basis of their commercial judgment and having regard to the statutory purposes for which they were established, their responsibilities as a whole, and the funds available to them.

This is not a question of disagreement between the Government and the S.I.B. The Government accept the S.I.B.s views of their own responsibilities; but the S.I.B. recognise that the Government have wider social and economic responsibilities. I cannot at present state when the legislation will be put forward, nor can I add to what I have already said in respect of the immediate advances. On the broader question of the future, the S.I.B. are currently considering what industrial measures might be helpful to the industry following the action which the Government now propose to take.