HL Deb 11 February 1981 vol 417 cc203-4

3.1 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will place orders for small general-purpose warships to be ready for sale "off the peg" to overseas customers in two years' time.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, there are no plans to place such orders. The speculative construction of warships is a matter for the commercial judgment of the shipbuilders concerned.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his Answer. Can he say whether there are any other plans for increasing orders through the warship builders?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence made clear in his Statement on 20th January, there is a substantial warship building programme under way at British Shipbuilders, with 28 warships under construction or on order, including the eight ordered by the present Government. The number of orders beyond the present period and the workload for British Shipbuilders in the future are under constant study, both by British Shipbuilders and by my right honourable friend at the Department of Industry.

Lord Hill-Norton

My Lords, does the noble Viscount the Minister agree that the reason why we have sold no warships abroad for something like 10 years (I think I am right in saying) is that the capital costs of building them in this country grossly exceed the capital costs of building similar ships anywhere else in the world?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord is of course correct; the lack of competitiveness of British Shipbuilders has made it very hard for them to get a fair share of world trade. Part of their problem has been the depressed state of the shipbuilding industry all over the world, but part of it undoubtedly has been loss of a share of the market through lack of competitiveness. It is not quite true to say that no ships have been sold, but certainly far too few ships have been sold.

Forward to