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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 John Davies Mr John Davies , Knutsford 12:00 am, 4th July 1975

I shall be very brief. It is something of a feat to come within just a whisker of going into the Lobby with the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and the hon. Members for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) and Newham, South, (Mr. Spearing). I am grateful for Mr. Speaker's foresight in not accepting the amendment and therefore not putting me in that embarrassing position.

I have a strong objection to the acceptance of the directive as it stands. I object equally to the attitude of mind of the Government as expressed by the Under-Secretary. He said that this was just a take-note motion but that the Government had approved it, and I noted that he said that they had virtually reached agreement with their partners as to the content of the instrument. If that is so, I wonder what on earth is the good of their coming to the House to debate it.

I therefore strongly object to this form of debate and to the way in which the directive has been put to us this afternoon. The instrument itself worries me in this respect: I believe that it reveals a dangerous degree of complacency on the part both of the Community and of the Government. A great deal has already been said this afternoon about the extreme gravity of the situation that faces the industry. It is not just a question of competitiveness. It is a question of survival which now faces the industry. To try, therefore, to get us to accept an instrument which I believe has only one real advantage for us, in that it allows us to maintain certain other facilities to the yards, is unreasonable. We all know that the clock is stopped, that arrangements are found to hold over situations in the Community so that things which are beneficial are not arbitrarily destroyed. It is not necessary to go through all this paraphernalia in order to do so.

The directive portrays an atmosphere in the shipbuilding industry which is totally at variance with reality. It is all very well for the Government to say that they are not precluded from putting proposals for further aids to the Community and that they would do so. How does the Under-Secretary reconcile that with a preamble which says, Whereas the continued application of aids to operations has a conservatory effect which was justifiable in the past but which is not of a nature to improve significantly or in the long term the competitiveness of the Community shipbuilding industry; whereas, however, such aids must be eliminated gradually so that the shipyards may adapt to the new conditions; whereas aids to shipbuilding should not however adversely affect trading conditions to an extent contrary to the common interest… How can he maintain that he can go to the Community and ask for something new having put his name to a document like that?

In view of the problems that this industry will face over the next few years, in view of the immense importance for the Community to face up to the need of ensuring the survival of the shipbuilding industry, which despite these cycles has a great future to fulfil, and on which point I wholly agree with the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon), this directive is valueless. It is quite unnecessary for preserving the rights and provisions which we already possess and it give a character to the attitude of mind to the industry which is singularly at variance with the realities of the case.