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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 Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth 12:00 am, 4th July 1975

I believe that we should welcome this directive. It establishes ground rules for the European shipbuilding industry. I believe that it will act to the benefit of the British industry. It is a considerable improvement on the original draft and I believe that it now meets the main objections put forward by the British industry. I see it as being a modest start to what is required to tackle the enormous problems which have already been outlined this afternoon.

The future of the industry is, of course, of particular concern to us in the North-East. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), who unfortunately cannot be present because of a long-standing constituency engagement, has particularly asked me to express his concern about the future of the industry. I am sure that we both welcome the assurance of the Minister that regional aid will not be affected as a result of the directive.

The Booz-Allen Report, based on the assumption of a reasonable expansion in world demand for shipping, came to the conclusion that by 1975 there would be a surplus of building capicity of 100 per cent. over demand. In fact, we have seen a world recession and the collapse of the tanker market, and that assumption is accurate and the over-capacity must now be well over double and perhaps three times the level of demand.

I suggest that there is need for a more positive European policy for shipbuilding. The directive should be seen as only the first step towards the emergence in the near future of definite decisions as to the direction to be taken for the future of the industry in Europe. It is not just a question of protecting the industry but rather of ensuring its survival against unfair competition coming from elsewhere. We in Europe must band together and face the challenge from Japan and the emerging countries. Time is not on our side. We have reasonable order books up to 1976, but after then the situation is gloomy indeed.

Industry in Great Britain suffers not only from world conditions but from the uncertainty caused by the threat of nationalisation hanging over the industry. I am sure that all hon. Members on this side of the House feel it unfortunate that the Government's main concern for the industry at present is aimed at changing its ownership. That attitude is at best irrelevant and in practice most damaging. I urge the Government to face the hard facts in the industry as a result of world-wide over-production. The President of the Shipbuilding and Repairers National Association said only recently that time was not on our side. That is most definitely true.

I ask the Minister for an assurance that the Government will not rest on this directive but will go back to Brussels and fight hard for a further more positive directive in the near future. That directive should set out European policy and should lead to our nations working to-together to face the challenge that is before us all—in the short term to ensure the survival of the industry, and in the long term to secure the efficient expansion which we all seek.