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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 Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Industry) 12:00 am, 4th July 1975

For my hon. Friends who seek to be the guardians of this House, partly because of the attitudes they adopted before the referendum, is one thing. For a former Minister for Europe to complain of the way in which we now proceed is another. While I fully accept the criticisms of my hon. Friends, I cannot accept the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) put a number of questions and took up the complaints, which were also put with a great deal of validity by other hon. Members, about the form in which the motion had come before the House and the question of which motions should come before us when we are considering matters of this kind. He asked how we could involve the House at a formative stage. I agree with him that that is an exceptionally serious point. The present arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny for EEC proposals allow for the views of the House to be taken into account at the negotiating stage, but I think that the House would not be satisfied if that situation were to continue simply as it is.

Therefore, it is important that the House should note the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister after the referendum that it would be expected that we should develop the scrutiny arrangements to make them more effective. He added: I trust that there will be an early debate on the recent Report of the Procedure Committee on European secondary legislation."—[Official Report, 9th June 1975; Vol. 893, c. 36–37.] That report was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) in his point of order at the beginning of the debate. What he said will add extra emphasis to what my right hon. Friend said last month.

The hon. Member for Cheadle also asked that in trying to find solutions to the problems, whether of shipbuilding or of other industries, we should always proceed on a Community basis. He contended that it was best to try to solve them on such a basis. My reply is that it depends on the problems. It is true that now that the people of Britain have voted for us to remain in the Common Market, and that it is an established fact that we are and shall continue to be members of the Community, we should make the best of the machinery of the Community that is available to us and the partnership into which we have bee slotted, and which the British people edorsed a month ago. But it is equally true that it is best to approach other matters on a national basis.

For example, it is strongly held on the Labour benches—the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) might disagree—that there can be no satisfactory future for the British ship-building industry outside public ownership. We believe that the nationalisation measure that we shall be introducing early in the next Session is an extremely important part of the solution of the problems of the shipbuilding industry. That is not a Community policy. It is a United Kingdom policy which is fully compatible with Community membership, as we have established.

The hon. Gentleman also asked when the directive, if approved, would come into effect. It is to be considered by the Council of Ministers on 10th July, and, if adopted, it is expected to come into effect immediately.

The hon. Member for Cheadle also asked what takes place during the interregnum. The Commission has said that during the interregnum, which is in any case a short period, it would not raise any difficulties. To my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West I would reply that notification of investment applies only to projects of over 5 million units of account receiving State aid, and investment by the Government as an owner is not affected.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) asked during my opening remarks and during his own speech what the position was about Japan. Japan is bound by the OECD General Arrangement and the Understanding on Export Credits for Ships.

The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) was understandably concerned about two matters. The first was the position of Harland and Wolff in Northern Ireland. The Government have announced their intention to bring Harland and Wolff into full public ownership. This is allowed under the Treaty of Rome and there is nothing in the draft directive to prevent investment by Governments in publicly-owned companies. The Commission is aware of the Government's plans and has made no objection. I say to the hon. Member for Down, North that the best way in which he can safeguard Harland and Wolff and the jobs in that company—he asked that not a single job be lost in that company—is by coming into the Lobby with the Government when we have the Second Reading debate on the shipbuilding nationalisation Bill early next Session. I trust that we shall see him with us in the Lobby to safeguard jobs in Northern Ireland. I know that he does not have these odd ideological views. He is something of a populist. Therefore, I am sure that he will vote with us in favour of nationalisation.