HL Deb 16 November 1976 vol 377 cc1150-78

19 After Clause 3, insert the following new clause:


"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."

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:

20 Because a limitation of the function of repairing or maintaining ships to specified existing companies is unduly restrictive.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 19 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 20. It might be to the convenience of your Lordships' House if, with your Lordships' permission, I spoke to Amendments Nos. 47, 48, 54A, 71, 80, 81 and 82, all of which deal with ship repairing.


My Lords, I wonder whether I could interrupt the noble Lord. I think that in fact it would probably be more convenient if that group of Amendments could be taken together when we reach Amendment No. 47.


My Lords, I think that the Amendments will have to be moved on separate occasions, I am suggesting that I might make my one speech on ship repairing. I have told your Lordships that I have only one speech to make on this matter. I am now trying to make it for the umpteenth time and was hoping to avoid having to make it on several occasions during the afternoon.


My Lords, lest there should be any misunderstanding, I shall hope to be able to speak on Amendment No. 47 and not to have exhausted my right to speak in the debate now.


My Lords, if this Amendment is merely to be taken shortly, it might be appropriate if I, too, save my remarks for a later occasion and limit myself now to saying that this Amendment is one on which we had considerable debates on previous occasions. The other place has disagreed to it for the reasons which I gave as best I could to your Lordships when we discussed the Amendment during the Second Reading, the Committee stage, the Report stage and Third Reading. I am not sure that there is anything in this particular Amendment that I can add. I hope that noble Lords will not insist on their Amendment.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on the said Amendment, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 20.—(Lord Melchett.)


My Lords, this is the first of the Amendments on ship repairing which has returned to us. This Amendment is related to Amendments Nos. 80, 81 and 82. Those are the substantive Amendments which would remove independent ship repairers from the Bill. We have considered very carefully the Government statements and their views on our Amendments and we have also studied the debate which took place in another place. I think it would be convenient if on this Amendment we discussed the whole subject of inclusion or exclusion. I will tell the noble Lord at the outset that we think the Government have still not made any case at all for the inclusion of ship repairing in this Bill. We believe that the ship repairing companies ought not to be included in the Bill. If your Lordships agree with that, it would not upset the rest of the Bill although we thoroughly disapprove of the nationalisation proposals in the rest of the Bill. On the mechanics of achieving this exclusion, Amendments Nos. 80, 81 and 82 are the key Amendments. They are the last three Amendments which we are due to take at the end of today.

Yesterday, the Government thanked us for our co-operation in handling Amendments to make the Dockwork Regulation Bill coherent and logical. In the same spirit we are trying today to meet as far as we can points which Ministers made. Accordingly, I can tell the House that this new clause, Amendment 19, is not essential to our purpose and that I propose that the House should agree with the Commons on this Amendment No. 19.

Amendment No. 80 is a very different matter. Again in order to meet points raised by the Government we have tabled alternatives to Amendments Nos. 47, 48, 54A and 71. I am going to make only a passing reference to them. They provide for the situation of a single firm, Vosper Thornycroft. I suggest that we discuss them when we reach Amendment No. 47. So much for the mechanics. We have on several occasions discussed the substance of the Government's proposals and the objections that we have to them. I shall therefore summarise our objections with brevity.


My Lords, I am sorry to intervene now. There may have been a misunderstanding between the noble Lord and me. I understood from our exchanges at the start, that the noble Lord was not proposing to have a substantive debate on ship repairing now, but was to take this Amendment shortly and to have the major debate when we get to the substantive Amendments. It will be helpful to me (for I have now missed the opportunity of making my speech) and for the rest of the House if the noble Lord could make clear when he intends to have the major debate.


My Lords, I got in touch with the noble Lord's office early this morning and I suggested to the noble Lord's private secretary that we should have the main debate on this Amendment. I pointed out then that there were four Amendments which related to Vosper Thornycroft and which were grouped together and could be simply dealt with as a separate case and that they might be considered together when we reach the first one of the Amendments. I also said that Amendments Nos. 80, 81, and 82, which come at the end could again be, as I saw it, the subject of debate at the end of the day if there were any outstanding points on reaching Amendment No. 80, but that it would be convenient if the general question were discussed under this Amendment.

As the noble Lord moved this Amendment, he has the right to speak again and can if he wishes make his speech on this Amendment. I think it would have been wrong to bring the special case of Vosper Thornycroft into this debate. Those are consequential matters which can be dealt with when we reach the four Amendments.


My Lords, I am anxious not to delay the House and will certainly make only one speech. But I should put it on record that I understood the situation as the noble Lord now describes it when I started making my speech. But the noble Lord interrupted me and I understood that he was trying to change the prearranged arrangements and to take this Amendment shortly. I am happy to make one speech at the end and no doubt that will be sufficient for your Lordships.


My Lords, where the noble Lord did not conform with what I suggested was that he started to read out the numbers of the four Vosper Thornycroft Amendments which I had suggested should not be discussed now. That was where he misunderstood my message. I do not see any difficulty about proceeding with the general debate. I am sure that this would be more convenient to the House than to do this at the end.

Briefly, our first objection is that the ship repairing industry is a service industry and not a manufacturing one; secondly, the activities of the ship repairing firms are distinct and separate from shipbuilding; thirdly, the nature of the work requires ship repairers to be spread at various places around the coast. To be successful they must be able to offer and provide services at very short notice and to maintain the closest understanding and contact with their customers. Their initiative and efficiency will inevitably be impaired by the imposition of a centralised bureaucracy. The fourth objection is that, although there are fewer ships sailing the seas today because of the recession, the British ship repairing industry is not in difficulty and does not need to be propped up. It has been holding its own, and more than holding its own, in the last five years when it has been increasing its share of the business in North-West Europe which it has won.

Fifthly, out of about 100 British ship repairing companies the Government have selected 12 for nationalisation on an arbitrary basis. This has raised the question of hybridity, the question of whether Parliament is being fair under its own rules of procedure if an apparently arbitrary selection of ship repairing companies is included in the Bill. For all these reasons, the sensible course is to drop ship repairing from the Bill.

Let us now consider briefly the Government arguments in favour of nationalisation. These have been advanced during debates here and in another place. The Government have said that nationalisation is required in order to introduce a coherent strategy for the industry—this at the very time when it appears that a report has been written by the National Economic Development Office pointing out the shortcomings of the relationships between the Government and the existing nationalised industries. I will quote briefly from yesterday's Times, which makes clear that the strategy is unlikely to be coherent. The Times purports to quote from the Report: …government pressure has also impeded the management of the public sector, so that the Boards of nationalized industries cannot reasonably be held accountable for their economic performance 'since their ability to carry out a predetermined strategy has been increasingly circumscribed by the way Government and trade unions have exercised their powers. 'The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that relationships between governments and nationalized industries despite some recent improvements and one or two exceptions, are confused, demoralizing to all concerned and can have damaging economic consequences for the country as a whole'. My Lords, that is allegedly a quotation from the report. An informed commentator on radio yesterday, when asked about the report, described the relationships between Government and nationalised industries as a "shambolic mess". He was a very informed commentator; he was Sir Richard Marsh, speaking on the "World at One" radio programme. I of course remember him as a Labour Member of Parliament in another place. He went on to say that the Government have been changing policies every few weeks and that Ministers and Civil Servants kept popping in and out like mice in the woodwork. Those were his words; I took them down as I was listening yesterday. He was clearly deploring the absence of a coherent strategy. That is the view of a recently retired chairman of a nationalised industry. Is it prudent to take the risks involved in consigning the ship repairing industry to that kind of situation?

Then another Government argument has been ship repairing will not carry out the investment and modernisation needed unless it is realised. The Government here are wrong. There may have been some holding back while the threat of nationalisation has been there, but there is no serious difficulty under these heads if the ship repairing companies are released from this Bill.

Let us look at the part of the ship repairing industry which did go into public ownership through the mishap of Court Line folding up. It folded up because of the collapse of its travel and tourist side, not because of its ship repairing interests. Within 18 months one of the companies went out of business. That was Green-wells of Sunderland. About 380 men lost their jobs. That need not have happened. Is that the kind of new investment and progress which the Government mean? Then another pretext which the Government have used is that they have a commitment to nationalise the ship repairing industry. They may have a commitment to nationalise shipbuilding, but there has been nothing to indicate that it was ever suggested that ship repairing on its own was ever put forward as a candidate for nationalisation. When it appeared in the proposals, it was an adjunct to shipbuilding.

At no moment in recent history did a Fabian Archimedes, rushing out from his ablutions, announce that it was essential for the achievement of Socialism in Britain that the ship repairing industry should be nationalised; nor did the Labour policy committee or the Executive Committee propose or approve that ship repairing be nationalised other than with shipbuilding. Ship repairing was to be found in the Labour Party's proposals with shipbuilding and because of its supposed relationship with shipbuilding.

In the debate in another place last Thursday, the Minister, Mr. Kaufman, tried to make a lot of his contention that ship repairing was closely interrelated with shipbuilding. There is a convention that Members of one place are polite about Members in another place. As Mr. Kaufman was a little unkind in his remarks to my noble friend Lord Colville, he will not mind if I poke a little gentle fun at him in return. For the second time (because he also made the same point in Committee) Mr. Kaufman spoke of his visit to Tyneside and having walked from the Swan Hunter shipbuilding yard to the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company's ship repairing yard without knowing it or being able to distinguish the difference between them. I must tell him the truth: he did not know where he was. He was not going into the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company's yard. It is a mile away down the River Tyne from the Swan Hunter Shipbuilding yard.

There is a comic irony in his statement that he could go from shipyard to ship repair yard and back without realising he had moved from one yard to the other. The fact is that he had not. He went on to say it was also the case overseas, and spoke of his visits to yards in the Far East. If one looks in Who's Who one sees Mr. Kaufman lists his recreations as "travel and going to the pictures". On this occasion I think he got his recollections of them mixed up. My noble friend Lord Carr, in an earlier debate, referred to an article in the Guardian today to the effect that the Government were considering what course they might take which amounts to special pressure or even blackmail on certain companies by withholding money which had already been made available from certain companies if this Bill were held up. I hope that the Government will publicly deny, as my noble friend asked them to, that they are considering the kind of course that is conTained in that article.

Last night in Guildhall the Prime Minister was reported as saying that the highest priority must be given to the needs of industry, even over social objectives; also that we must make a success of the mixed economy. To nationalise the ship repairing firms runs directly counter to that speech. It would upset and damage an industry which is wholly inappropriate for nationalisation. My Lords, when we come to Amendment Nos. 80, 81 and 82 I suggest that we should, as a House, insist on our own views.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, in the present state of world shipbuilding the concept advanced by Her Majesty's Government to transfer private ownership of British shipbuilding to a nationalised Corporation is a highly speculative undertaking. Nevertheless, the history of British shipbuilding in the past 20 or 25 years demonstrates that an organisation superior to that in operation for many years past under private ownership—what is called "private enterprise"—must be replaced by an organisation most stable in character, more collected in its operation.

In the course of our debates on Second Reading, the Committee stage and Report stage, I availed myself of the opportunity of rejecting the proposition that ship repairing should be telescoped with the nationalisation of shipbuilding itself. There are various reasons why we should refuse to telescope the two. As I have already indicated, it is highly speculative to nationalise British shipbuilding. One has only to consider the situation in Japan, Norway, West Germany and elsewhere, many countries producing ships at low cost to our detriment in this country, and the gradual decline in the industry. However, it is inevitable and I leave it at that.

But when it comes to ship repairing it is even more speculative and quite unnecessary. It will contribute nothing whatever to the advancement of our economy. Indeed, it might be an impediment to take over a vast number of small industries, some of which are struggling for their existence. At the same time to agree that British Shipbuilders can undertake repairs as and when they regard it as necessary obviously means that the ship repairing industry would be in even greater danger.

I have read the reports of all the arguments which have been used in the other place in favour of taking over ship repairing. I am bound to say that some of those arguments were laughable—certainly incoherent. I am not going to follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, in criticising Members of another place, particularly Ministers. Some of them are not worth bothering about, quite frankly. On the other hand, certain Members of another place are enjoying themselves, extracting great amusement and at the same time indulging in considerable excitement, by condemning some Members of this House who have ventured to express their views on this subject. Such adjectives as "backwoodsmen", "old has-beens", "misfits", and a great many more have been used. I have heard them all before but I have managed to survive. Some of those people have fallen by the wayside and those who remain had better be careful. We can take it all. It is about time that we recognised that in this democracy of ours—even with the Party system, such as it is—we should be permitted the right to express ourselves independently, irrespective of what a Government executive or caucus decides. Yesterday my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry indulged in that exercise, and I think that she was quite entitled to do so. It does not mean that one condemns a Government or a Party; one seeks to correct the errors of judgment. That is all, and that is all I have sought to do in connection with British shipbuilding.

One must not be at all egotistic about this and indulge in personal reminiscences, but I understand shipbuilding. I was brought up on the Clyde. I was a town councillor for a shipbuilding area for many years, with a huge majority in the days when I was popular. It has all gone now! For many years I was the chairman of the Party's shipbuilding and shipping committee and, looking at the other side of the coin, I can recall the occasion when for the first time in our history a Conservative Minister came along and asked for finance to enable a British shipbuilding company of great reputation to build a ship which was regarded as necessary. We supported him when many Conservatives were in opposition to him. Ever since then British shipbuilding has been dependent upon Government finance.

When it comes to ship repairing it is, to excuse the mixed metaphor, a horse of another colour. It is suggested that one of the companies—I need not mention its name—has been indulging in bribery and corruption and has been inviting people to dinners, functions and so on. I have not received a single invitation, but I manage on three meals a day and am quite content. What an utter nonsense it all is. The fact is that we should do this nation great harm if we took over the British ship repairing industry; nor should we do the industry, or the workers in that industry, any good.

I am not going to argue the matter again. It is better to state one's position and be done with it. I am not going to support the Government. The critics in another place can jump into the Atlantic for all I care—or some other part of the world's oceans—and I shall bear it with my customary fortitude. No, we have to make a stand. I shall make my contribution by making it clear beyond peradventure, whatever may be said about it, that this project for taking over British ship repairing should be denounced, condemned and rejected, and I hope that your Lordships will do so, too, at the end of the day.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, I had not been aware of the private carve-up between the Government Front Bench and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, by which we have this odd arrangement whereby we are conducting the debate on Amendment No. 80 on Amendments Nos. 19 and 20. However, if this is the right opportunity to discuss ship repairing I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and emphasise, very shortly, what he has said. I think that today is a time for short speeches because I sense that the Government are not going to give an inch, no matter what persuasion we bring to bear. Therefore we are wasting a certain amount of time. However, I should like to say once again how welcome the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has been. It helps the House very much to hear from him in the terms in which he has spoken today—as, indeed, we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, yesterday. It shows that there is a good deal of independence on all Benches in this House, and I think that it should be welcomed. I make no secret of the fact that I think that this whole measure is extremely irresponsible, in the light of the present economic circumstances. With all our experience of the failures, the bureaucracy and the capacity for making losses in the industries which are already nationalised, it is unbelievable and lacking in common sense that any Government should embark upon further nationalisation at this time. To commit the country to further expenditure out of public borrowing—because that is what it is—of about an additional £1 billion is total political irresponsibility. But it is obvious that the Government are determined on their course and that if we try to exercise our legitimate delaying powers we shall provoke them to use the Parliament Act and they will get the whole measure in a relatively short time.

I believe that the least we can do is to save the ship repairing industry from the dead hand of nationalisation. We on these Benches do this because it is an industry which we know requires alertness, enterprise, quickness of action and quickness of decision. These are not the characteristics of nationalised industries as we have experienced them. We are also aware that if any individual ship repairing firm wishes to become part of the new nationalised industry it can negotiate to do so; there is nothing to stop it. For the rest, however, we believe that individual ship repairers should have the freedom to escape from nationalisation. If there are two or three firms in this list of 12 which want to be nationalised, then good luck to them, but personally I believe that the right action of this House is to resist the nationalisation of the ship repairing industry.

I want to make only one further point regarding the political aspect. I do not accept without reservation the theory of the political Manifesto. As time elapses and economic and political circumstances change, particularly when they change dramatically and substantially, so the authority of the political Manifesto itself diminishes. It has to. The situation at the end of 1973, when the Labour Party's Manifesto was written for the February 1974 Election, was quite different from the situation today. Different policies are needed and in our present circumstances we should not be spending public money on more nationalisation, Manifesto or no Manifesto. Personally, as I have said, I should like to kill the whole of this measure because I think it is ill-conceived and irresponsible against the economic climate and background in which we are living. At least what we can do is to save efficient and profitable ship repairers from the fate which the Government have in mind for them. From these Benches we shall have no hesitation in insisting that ship repairing is taken out of the Bill and I hope that the Government, against the whole economic background of today, will respond in the spirit in which our actions are intended.


My Lords, because the Opposition Front Bench have been extremely puritanical, because they have been leaning over backwards to avoid the risk of being charged with constitutional misbehaviour, they are allowing the Government to get away with three-quarters of the things they ought not to get away with. In terms of argument on principle, we should not for one minute be contemplating allowing the nationalisation of the aircraft industry; on grounds of principle and argument and common sense we should not be allowing them to get away with nationalising the shipbuilding industry. The only point on which I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is that I see nothing wrong with the Government giving a grant to certain industries to enable them to carry on over difficult periods. But that does not necessarily mean that there has to be national ownership of the industry. The two things do not run together.

I gather that the reason why your Lordships are not likely to make the stand which in my view ought to be made on the aircraft industry and the ship building industry is because some mention of it was made in the Manifesto. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, has expressed absolutely my view on that. I do not think that a sentence in a Manifesto ought to be sacrosanct and be able to override the common sense of what has happened since that sentence was put into a particular document. But because mention of the document was made in the Manifesto, my noble friends, whose guidance on these matters I accept because they are wise, have thought fit not to use any powers they may have to deal with these two Parts of the Bill in the way I should like it to be done. So far as the ship repairing section is concerned, that was not mentioned in the Manifesto and—


My Lords, it is fascinating to hear the advice which the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, has been given by his Front Bench on these matters, but I am afraid the advice went astray at that point because ship repairing was mentioned in both Manifestoes. I was anxiously awaiting the news of how the noble Lord's Front Bench had managed to distinguish ship repairing from shipbuilding and the aircraft industry.


My Lords, I have not had any advice from anybody; that is why perhaps my contributions are not as effective as they might be. But this is not a matter on which one needs technical advice. I was getting a little worried a few minutes ago in the debate on this important principle, because it was beginning to get very technical and procedural. It is much deeper and there is much more to it than that. This was not mentioned in precise terms in the Manifesto, and the reason my noble friends have given as to why they did not want to conflict with the elected Chamber was that it was in the Manifesto, I quite understand, although I should not have felt that I had to be quite as pure myself. But that does not apply to ship repairing.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will do me the courtesy of answering the question: why does it not apply?


My Lords, the noble Lord is suggesting that the shipbuilding mentioned automatically carries with it ship repairing.


With great respect, my Lords, I am not. Ship repairing is mentioned specifically in both Manifestoes. The words" ship repairing" actually appear in the Manifesto.


My Lords, as I do not want to take up too much time on that sort of argument, perhaps the noble Lord will read the Manifesto, if he can find one, and then he can form his own judgment as to how precise it may be.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I will read out to him what was said in the February and October 1974 Election Manifestoes: We shall take shipbuilding, ship repairing and marine engineering into public ownership and control.


My Lords, the point is—

Several noble Lords



But, my Lords, the noble Lord is not taking the ship repairing industry into public ownership under this Bill. The main point I want to come to is that under the Bill the noble Lord is taking into control one or two sections of the ship repairing industry. It is discriminating in a way which is against the rules, and I am saying that in the sense that appears in the Bill the noble Lord and his Government never put into the Manifesto that they would take ship repairing into public ownership in the form that is being presented in the Bill.

The real point that I want to come to—because we want to get on and to come to the vote on this Part of the Bill—is that this Part of the Bill is not clean. This Part of the Bill does not pass the test of whether or not it is hybrid. The position has been made perfectly clear and quotations have been given in the past. The ruling of the Select Committee was given: if there is any doubt, it is deemed to be hybrid and it should be sent to Examiners for that doubt to be removed. In 1962 Mr. Speaker in another place said that he accepted the ruling that if there was any doubt it would be deemed to be hybrid and the matter should be sent to the Examiners. The record here is perfectly clear. The Bristol ship repairing industry has expressed a real doubt and they have prepared Petitions which, if we do not vote this Part of the Bill out today, I shall make myself responsible for presenting to your Lordships to give a ruling on it. That is the first doubt.

A second doubt was expressed by my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross who put questions to the noble Lord the Leader of your Lordships' House in terms which showed that my noble friend, for sound legal reasons, had very real doubts. No answer was given to those questions which removed the doubt as to hybridity. Indeed, as a result of the answers given, quite impartial and objective legal opinion was sought outside and eminent counsel in that opinion made it clear that he disagreed with the Government on at least eight or nine of the items on which they said they had no doubt.

So if in the light of all those doubts just because noble Lords say that they are not convinced and they still have no doubts they cannot claim to have removed the doubts which others have. I sent Counsel's opinion along to the noble Lord the Leader of the House in order to support the claim I had made before, as to the Bill's hybridity. This outside, objective opinion established that there was a real doubt. The noble Lord the Leader of the House, in his reply to me, said: Having studied the opinion, nothing in it causes the Government to doubt the correctness of their conclusion that the ship repairing companies are not in conflict with the rules". What he said in effect was that the Government had no doubts. He did not move far enough to say that nobody else had any doubts and the rule as it is clearly laid down and supported by the noble Lord, is quite clear; if there is any doubt at all from the source this matter ought to be sent to the Examiners for it to be made perfectly clear that quite apart from the principle of the Bill itself, we are working according to our rules.

The further point which made me quite satisfied that the Government were not completely clear in their own minds was the reply given by Mr. Kaufman in another place when they were dealing with other Amendments. My right honourable and learned friend Sir Derek Walker-Smith raised the point of hybridity, with some force and again with some legal backing behind his opinion and when Mr. Kaufman referred to that he did not attempt to deny any doubt. What he did is what Counsel, according to history, always do when they know they have not got a good case: they abuse their opponents. The only reply given by Mr. Kaufman on this serious point as to whether we were working to our rules was that eminent counsel who had given this opinion, which was in conflict with the Government's view, could not be relied upon, just because he had been the Chairman of the Conservative Association at Oxford, or just because he sat on the Executive of the Conservative Committee of Lawyers. I wonder what the reaction would be of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor? I wonder what would be the reaction of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, the ex-Lord Chancellor? I wonder what would be the reaction of my noble friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone? If in either House it was suggested that when in their private professional capacity they were giving an opinion that they were incapable of being objective and impartial because they had shown some civic interest in genuinely showing or having sympathy with one or other of the political Parties, that ought to be resented by the whole of the legal profession in this country. But for your Lordships' House, it ought to be taken into account that if the Government spokesmen have to descend to that sort of argument in order to divert attention away from the real facts of the case, it is pretty good evidence that the facts as presented have a basis. I should like the noble Lord to deal with this if he can.

My Lords, if my noble friends and the noble Lords on the Cross-Benches and other Benches do not remove it on the grounds of principle, which are unanswerable, it ought to be kept in mind that we would have a duty to insist that the rules be adhered to. At some stage in the future, either in Parliament or outside, this question of whether or not this is a clean Bill, whether it passes the test of hybridity, will have to be looked at to decide whether or not it ought to have been put before the Examiners, and whether when we let it pass it passes the test of legality and of keeping within the boundaries of our procedures. I hope there will be no doubt, when we vote on Amendments Nos. 80 and 81, that this section will be removed from the Bill in order to do justice to what the country needs, and in order to do justice to the sanctity of the rules under which we work.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, there can be no objection to noble Lords making a case against the nationalisation of any particular industry even if in the past, like my noble friend Lord Shinwell, they have been instrumental in nationalising great industries. But when these occasions are always used to denigrate the whole conception of nationalisation, then we are entitled to object. I challenge noble Lords to tell me of any set of industries in the post-war era which have increased their productivity at the same pace as the nationalised industries.

Several noble Lords



My Lords, I challenge noble Lords to tell me that in fact, if my noble friend had not nationalised the coal industry, there would have been any coal industry left.

A noble Lord: ICI.


My Lords, the productivity of ICI has been good, but not as good as the great chemical industries of other nations. I mention this only because of the type of debate we are having. The coal industry was indire straits. The miner would not send his son into the pits. Again, I am challenging the Opposition to deny the fact that public ownership of coal has saved the lives of thousands of miners. There has been nothing in any of the privately owned coal industries elsewhere comparable with the efforts made in the realm of safety in the British pits. There is no coal industry in the world which can compete with it.

My Lords, let us look at the other nationalised industries. The gas industry has had huge sums of public money spent on it. In a few short years it changed from carbonising coal, which was uneconomic, and the gas industry was going out to taking the by-products of oil. The industry then converted itself from a gas-making industry to one which merely distributes gas. The colossal sums of public money necessary for that could never have been invested unless the industry was publicly owned. I could go on talking in the same way about the electricity industry. Let us take the health industry. Had my old friend Aneurin Bevan not nationalised health, we could never have had the reduction in mortality that we have seen in this country. These are facts which no one opposite can deny.

So far as shipbuilding is concerned, this industry has remained in existence because of the huge inoculation of sums of public money. Such sums could not have been invested by the private owners. These are the facts, and unless someone wants to contradict me—and I will give way if they do—


My Lords, I am not seeking to contradict. My noble friend may have heard what I said about the principle of the nationalisation of shipbuilding. We are seeking to take over another industry. Is my noble friend aware that in the Cabinet of 1945 to 1951, when we decided to nationalise steel, we argued about it at great length. I protested because there was a suggestion that we must take over some subsidiary undertaking, Guest Keen and Nettlefolds. Eventually we agreed to nationalise steel, but not to take over Guest Keen.


My Lords, my noble friend need go no further. We could have been nationalising Smiths' Crisps at that time. But the peculiar composition of capitalism is not the issue before us. I agree with my noble friend, which is why, when drawing up the Steel Bill in 1965, one deliberately took out all that kind of thing. Indeed, when I look at shipbuilding as distinct from ship repairing, maybe I should declare an interest because thousands of my colleagues in my engineering union are in both industries. Sometimes they work in ship- building, and sometimes in ship repairing. I do not know that to them it makes much difference.

So far as shipbuilding is concerned, many hundreds of millions of pounds of public money have been invested in it, and therefore I should have thought we were entitled to expect a return for that money. Ship repairing is a different issue. I heard one Tory Member of Parliament say this morning on the radio, that we should try to denationalise those industries which are making profits; in other words, keep in public ownership those which do not make profits, and then complain that they cannot make profits. This is the kind of issue we are up against now.

I would put it to the House that there can be no affinity between shipbuilding and ship repairing unless they are of an entity in the sense of ownership, plus the fact that I have yet to hear contradicted their enormous success in the field of increased productivity and public investment. Whether you take the steel or coal industries, or any of the others, there could never have been the modernisation of those elements which are now in the public sector unless public ownership had taken place. The House and the nation had better face that as a fact which is irrefutable should anyone wish to deny it.


My Lords, I did not intend to join in the debate this afternoon, but yesterday I received a letter which, in view of the various remarks made by your Lordships this afternoon, I feel it would not be out of place to read to your Lordships. The letter says: Dear Lord Kinnaird, Please accept my gratitude for your recent vote in the Upper Chamber against the Government Bill to nationalise the ship repairing firm of which I am an employee and a shareholder. Fears have been expressed amongst many of my fellow workers as to the future of our jobs under Government control. We are a small democratic company who have over the years built up an excellent name in the ship repairing industry and have contributed greatly towards the balance of payments in this country. Should we be nationalised, the current fear is that many foreign ship owners would rather use Continental repair facilities. Consequently, the outlook for us in this part of the country would be very bleak to say the least. While thanking you for your efforts on our behalf in the past may we still look for your future support in the weeks that lie ahead? Yours sincerely. My Lords, does not that cry for freedom speak for itself?

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls has already explained why the question of hybridity is apposite to this group of Amendments. It is a subject in which I have been taking a particular interest. I have been rather vocal outside this House in the last day or so, and perhaps it would be as well if I explained my position inside the House. I will do so briefly, because, of course, this is not an occasion on which the actual argument has to be deployed.

My Lords, as understand it, there is nothing wrong with hybrid legislation. It is just that when the Government, or any other promoters of a Bill, wish to deal with people or companies in a certain category and do not do so equally among them all, then the rules provide that they should be entitled, if they wish, to be heard before Parliament as to the way in which they are being treated. It does not mean that Parliament necessarily has to accept what they say, but they must at least be heard. That I should have thought was both fair and democratic.

Not only is that the general rule, but under the express terms of this Bill there is a real danger that trouble could arise if we did not deal with it according to the rules. In the form in which the Bill came to us first from another place, under Clause 19(2) only those companies are nationalised which are listed and which also fulfil the criteria as to ship repairing in Schedule 2. There is nothing to stop a company in Schedule 2—I do not know whether any one of them will—going to the courts after this Bill becomes law and asking the courts to interpret the words whereby the criteria have been described. If the courts some to a conclusion—and I think they would—which is different from what we have been told by the Government, then we shall find out, but find out too late, that we have all the time been dealing with a hybrid Bill, and we have not given to those people who are entitled an opportunity to be heard and to put their point of view about it. That, I think, would be a very sad thing to happen.

The reason why I am increasingly doubtful about the status of the Bill is this. The words in the criteria are very simple and straightforward. I have asked a number of questions of the Government, and as the Answers have proceeded the Government have introduced more qualifications and brought in more and more glosses about what these words mean. Instead of the simple words as they are in the Schedule, in order to accurately fit those companies which the Government wish to nationalise and to leave out the ones that they do not wish to nationalise, we have to have new qualifications, new points, new differences and distinctions brought in in shoals in each of the answers I have been given. Again there is no reason why the Government should not, if they wish, draft the Bill in that qualified and differentiating form. It has been done many times before in other Statutes. But they do not. They rely upon these distinctions in private, but they do not state them in the Bill. I have no doubt at all that, if I were given the opportunity, I could put your Lordships in a position such as described by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, where you would not be sure that the Bill was not hybrid, and that would be all that I would have to do. I am not going to do it, because the great advantage of this group of Amendments is that it makes it unnecessary. For that reason, if for no other—and I have many others—I will be happy to support it.

I would say one other thing. In another place, both on the guillotine Motion and when our Amendments were being discussed, the Government spokesman, Mr. Kaufman, made two strange speeches. In two speeches he attacked the personal and professional probity of Mr. Leolin Price, QC, and in the second one he poked fun at me. I do not mind about the latter in the least; I agree with my noble friend that those who descend to paltry jibes and personal abuse probably are disguising a very thin case, and the Government's case has got thinner and thinner. But Mr. Leolin Price has had no opportunity to answer what was said in a privileged position in another place. I know what he would like to say, because by chance it came into my hands in text. It was not his suggestion that I should say anything about this, but I asked his consent to do so. This is what he would like to answer to Mr. Kaufman: It is clear to me that Mr. Kaufman does not begin to understand how the Bar works, and that he has no idea of the personally damaging content and quality of his observations about me, or in the privileged assembly in which his observations were made he simply did not care whether they would be personally damaging. My Opinion was prepared in the ordinary course of my practice on instructions received from a well-known firm of solicitors, and the preparation of the Opinion was an ordinary professional task. For a Minister of the Crown to suggest that my professional Opinion is worthless because of any personal political history or political interest is novel and extraordinary. The Minister's view of the value of my opinion and advice is not, I think, shared by such clients as Mr. Arthur Scargill and the trade union of which the noble Lord, Lord Briginshaw, was the General Secretary. The Minister's view is absurd as well as insulting. I think that, since the insult appears in the Official Report, so should Mr. Leolin Price's answer. Apart from that point, I think the doubt about the hybridity stands, and for that reason we should certainly carry these Amendments.


My Lords, I will speak very briefly. I am, naturally, supporting my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy on taking ship repairing out of this Bill. But I was a little alarmed when the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, got up and said that he intended to make only one speech. Well, that is very nice in one way, but am I to understand from that that he is not going to answer the point that was raised both by my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy about the article in the Guardian? I think that is a very important statement that the noble Lord ought to make during this debate. If he really stands by his statement that he is only going to make one speech, which he has already made, does that mean he is not going to answer that particular issue? I think it is very important that that particular argument on what was in the Guardian should be answered. Is he going to answer it or is he not? I should like to know. I am going to say one or two more words, but I should like an answer to that.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for allowing me to intervene in her speech. If I could reassure her, I am, when I get the opportunity, going to make one more speech to your Lordships' House on ship repairing. What I will say in it I think the noble Baroness had better wait and see.


Well, my Lords, of course I have to wait, because there is no other way of dealing with the matter, but I hope the noble Lord will answer what was said in the Guardian. Otherwise, perhaps I shall get up and have a word or two to say in the middle of his speech. Nevertheless, I will not bother about that at the moment.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy was very amusing, which he thought was the right thing to be, about Mr. Kaufman's visit to Tyneside. As I represented Wallsend-on-Tyne for very many years until I was sadly defeated, I know a little bit about ship repairing. Mr. Kaufman may be an absolutely charming Minister; I really do not know him at all, but I am sure he is probably a very nice Minister. I am sorry he did not know where he was walking. to when he walked through from Swan Hunters to the ship repairing yard. That does not matter. The point is, does he really know anything about ship repairing? I very much doubt whether he knows anything about it at all. If he knew anything about it, it was a pity, as a very nice Minister, that he did not give us some information about the difference between ship repairing and shipbuilding. When I spoke last time I referred to ship repairing, which is a most important industry, quite different from shipbuilding. I want to reiterate that because I hope that when the vote comes we shall have overwhelming support for taking ship repairing out of this Bill. I will not say any more than that at the moment, but I certainly will vote to take it out. I still retain a lot of friends in the North-East—they very often did not support me politically, but we always got on very well—and I am quite certain that there are many men who would be well pleased if we took ship repairing out of this Bill. That is really all I want to say on the subject.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, there has been a certain amount said about the making of personal attacks on either Members of another place or Members of your Lordships' House, and to what an extent that reveals a weakness in the attackers' arguments. As one who was subject to some attack by the honourable gentleman who speaks for the Opposition on this Bill in another place, I of course would not necessarily dissent from the arguments put forward; but I certainly do not intend myself to follow various noble Lords in attacking either Members of your Lordships' House or Members of another place with personal abuse. It seems to me that what we are meant to be doing in this House at any rate is arguing the case on its merits, and that is what I have tried to do throughout the passage of this Bill and what I intend to continue to try to do.

There has been extensive debate on the ship repairing proposals both in this House and in another place. I, for my part, have made it quite clear that the Government's proposals to vest in British Shipbuilders the nine privately-owned and the three Government-owned ship repairing companies listed in Schedule 2 to the Bill result from a firm commitment in both of the 1974 Manifestoes of the Labour Party. As I have said many times, these are the major ship repairing companies operating dry docks on the main estuaries. The Government firmly believe that only by vesting these major firms is there any prospect of bringing about the improvements on such matters as investment and working conditions that this industry badly needs.

The Amendments which would remove the 12 ship repairing companies from Schedule 2, together with the definitions which cover them, would prevent the Government from bringing into effect their industrial strategy for the most important part of the ship repairing sector of industry. As I have said before, and as my noble friend has reiterated in this debate, I believe that the distinctions between shipbuilding and ship repairing have been very much exaggerated. This was effectively pointed out in another place by someone who has actual experience of working in the industry.

As I have said before, there arc several examples of ship repairing and shipbuilding being carried out by the same company. There are other cases where separate ship repairing companies are in the same group as shipbuilding companies. The only conclusion to be drawn is that these activities complement each other to a considerable extent. The same types of skills are needed in the labour force, and very often common facilities are used. Separating ship repair and ship-building will in many cases lead to inefficiency and to the loss of flexibility in the use of resources.

It is worth adding that many of the ship repairing companies in Schedule 2 have been planning for some time on the basis that they will be nationalised, with possibly one well publicised exception. The Government's discussion paper which listed the major ship repairing companies covered by the proposals for public ownership was published on 31st July 1974. If these companies are removed at the eleventh hour from the scope of the Bill, they will be faced with a situation they did not expect and which may well be unwelcome in some cases to the shareholders. Worse still would be a situation where uncertainty about the future of such companies drags on.

I do not question the sincerity of noble Lords opposite in the stand that they have taken on this aspect of the Bill. But I suggest that it is misguided, and possibly based on a lack of full understanding of the nature of the ship repairing industry and the industrial logic behind the proposals, and even in some cases of the wishes of the companies themselves, certainly in so far as the need to end uncertainty is concerned.

Could I turn briefly to the question of hybridity, which the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, have raised. As I understand it, the purpose of raising hybridity in this debate was to some extent at least to suggest to your Lordships that your Lordships' House should decline to accept the Commons' rejection of this House's Amendment removing ship repairing companies from the Bill, because there is an element of hybridity in the provisions relating to such companies. I do not think it would be appropriate for me to advance fully with the noble Viscount the numerous respects in which the Government consider this point is misconceived, but I must make a few comments on the argument which the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, put forward.

First, the Government do not agree that there is any element of hybridity in these provisions. We have considered the various detailed matters raised by the noble Viscount at other stages during the passage of the Bill, and my noble friend the Leader of the House has replied to them in a series of Written Answers. These Answers have set out the reasons why, in each particular case, the Government consider that the company in question does, or does not, come within the description of ship repairing companies in paragraph 3 of Part II of Schedule 2 to the Bill. Maybe I should add that we have of course had the opportunity of studying the opinion of learned counsel, to which both the noble Viscount and the noble Lord referred, and the Government do not consider that anything in it affects the view that we have formed and held consistently during the time the Bill has been before your Lordships' House.

Perhaps I could reiterate a point which I know I have made before, and which I think is fully accepted at least by most noble Lords opposite; that is, that the Government have demonstrated the conviction which they hold that there is no element of hybridity by making every possible effort to give all the information to noble Lords opposite that was at our disposal, and answering fully all the points which have been raised to us. It has not been the case that the same courtesy has been shown in return—not, I hasten to add, by noble Lords opposite, who have been in the position where the information has come to them in certain dribs and drabs and certainly was not available to all of them when the Bill reached your Lordships' House. But I should like to place on the record once again the fact that the Government are perfectly clear that the Bill is not hybrid. We have retained that firm conviction throughout the Bill's passage through your Lordships' House. Nothing that has been put to us at various stages during the Bill's passage has shaken that conviction.


My Lords, everyone will accept that the Government have no doubt. Do they, in return, say categorically that outside Government circles there is no doubt?


My Lords, I think it is a little foolish to ask me to answer for every single individual either in your Lordships' House or outside the House as to whether they have doubts. After all, a great many people may not have studied in detail the various questions and answers that have been given. I have no doubt that they could have some doubts, particularly in view of the various com- ments that have been made in the Press and other places about hybridity in the Bill. I would suggest that anyone who has carefully considered the various questions which the Government have been asked and the answers which have been given should not have any element of doubt as to the hybridity of the Bill.

There is one other point that I should like to make briefly about hybridity. As I understand it there is no question whatsoever for the issue of hybridity being raised in this House at this stage. In fact, there is no question of it being raised after the Second Reading of any Bill except where the question of hybridity has arisen because of an Amendment made to the Bill after Second Reading. The ship repairing provisions of this Bill are in exactly the same form as they were when the Bill was introduced into your Lordships' House. Noble Lords have had ample opportunity to raise the point formally in the months that have passed, but have not done so. It is clear that ever since May, if not before, persons interested in opposing the Bill have been engaged in the most thorough and extensive researches in order to find grounds for suggesting that the Bill is hybrid.

I make no complaint about this, but the fact is that nothing which those persons have discovered, or argued, caused any of your Lordships to raise the point formally while these provisions were included in the Bill and the Bill was still before your Lordships' House. It was not made a formal issue on Second Reading nor in Committee nor on Report. I would also remind the House that in another place the issue was raised at a late stage in the passage of the Bill through that House and after considerable discussion that House decided to treat the Bill as an ordinary public Bill and not to apply any of the procedures which might have been appropriate to private legislation.

As I understand the implication behind what the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and the noble Viscount have said, nearly six months later we as a House are being asked to consider the issue at an even later stage on grounds that the Government regard as even slighter than those relied on in another place. Of course this would raise the issue of comity between the two Houses. In any event I suggest that the use of the issue of hybridity at this stage to impede the inclusion of ship repairing in the Bill is not intended to be bona fide in the interests of individuals but wholly and solely as an excuse, and a bad excuse, to impede Government legislation on a point which has been reconsidered and voted on again in another place.

I have been asked to comment on a report which I understand has been published in the Guardian this morning. I confess to your Lordships that, having returned rather late last night from Northern Ireland and having had a considerable amount of reading to do on this Bill this morning, I have not had a chance to study in detail what the Guardian said although I have got some of the flavour of the remarks in the newspaper from things which noble Lords have said in the course of the debate.


My Lords, if the noble Lord is turning from the question of hybridity, does he not accept that the facts on which the issue of hybridity was raised in another place—which I think was something to do with whether or not an oil rig was a ship—are totally different from the facts on which the issue of hybridity was raised in this House?


My Lords, I am not sure that I accept that any new facts have been discovered which give rise to an element of doubt as to whether or not the Bill is hybrid. Some of the so-called facts which have been so-called discovered during the Bill's time in your Lordships' House have turned out not to be facts at all. I am thinking of the famous folio numbers found to be put on by the girl taking pieces of paper out of the records in Companies House in Edinburgh. Of course I agree that when the issue of hybridity was first raised in another place the particular facts on which the case was raised are not those on which the Government are being questioned in this House. As I have said, nothing which has been raised in this House has altered the Government's determination that the Bill is not hybrid.

I was coming to the conclusion of my remarks. I merely wanted to say to your Lordships' House that, although I have not had the chance to study in detail what is written in the Guardian, I have made clear in your Lordships' House and Government spokesmen have made clear throughout the passage of the Bill in another place that in all sincerity we feel that if this Bill is further delayed the consequences for the shipbuilding and the aircraft industries would be extremely severe. That is still the Government's view.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

5.34 p.m.