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Orders of the Day — European Community (Shipbuilding)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th July 1975.

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Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West 12:00 am, 4th July 1975

I want to start by commenting on the reasons for our amendment, which I regret has not been selected, and stressing that my anxiety on that score has not been relieved by the Minister's later remarks, although I understand his anxiety to try to set our minds at rest on this matter.

However, as I understand it, he ended by saying that the importance of this debate arises from the fact that, among other things, in a few days' time our representatives in Brussels will require to know the mood and the attitude of this House. I do not take this to refer to peripheral points but as a reference to the directive as a whole. Nothing in the Minister's speech suggested anything to the contrary. It was a general speech in approval of the document, and not a speech in explanation of it.

I take entirely the point made by the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), who has done more than any other individual in the House to try to secure the right kind of scrutiny and that the right kind of decisions are made thereafter in this Chamber. On this very first occasion we are in grave danger of creating the precedent whereby, whatever we may think of this particular directive, a decision in this House on a take-note basis may be interpreted as a declaration of approval. The rejection of that view does not alter the situation. It is not enough for the Minister now to say that it will not be taken in this way. The whole tenor of his speech and the way in which the Government have approached the matter suggest that this is how it will be interpreted. I know the Minister's anxiety now to reassure us, but his whole approach is the reason for our anxiety, and not his later remarks. That is the problem.

The second matter is the point we raised on points of order earlier today. I shall read reports in The Times and The Scotsman. The version in The Scotsman is longer, and is highly specific. Yesterday The Scotsman said: Originally the commission had hoped that member governments would agree to reduce their shipbuilding aids to certain maximum levels over a set period. At the same time they demanded prior approval of any new state aids to shipyards"— not just notification— but under pressure from Britain and other EEC members the commission climbed down from an interventionist approach to the more flexible set of rules which the Nine have now approved. What rules have been appoved? Has the directive been approved? What position do we now face? That is an extremely circumstantial statement in The Scotsman.