Formulation of Policies and Plans

Part of Orders of the Day — British Shipbuilders Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 23rd February 1983.

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Photo of Mr Bob Mitchell Mr Bob Mitchell , Southampton, Itchen 4:45 pm, 23rd February 1983

Both the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) and the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) welcomed the new clause in principle, but ingeniously found reasons why they could not vote in favour of it. It is a good clause, and I shall invite my hon. Friends to vote for it.

As I said on Second Reading, the Bill is basically an enabling measure. It gives a tremendous amount of power to the Minister, whoever he may be. Hon. Members wo served on the Committee will remember that we tried to reduce that power, which enables the Minister to instruct British Shipbuilders to do many things, such as to sell the warship yards and so on. We did not succeed. The new clause provides that British Shipbuilders should produce a corporate policy, which should be laid before each House of Parliament. That is one more opportunity for Parliament to exert some control over the Executive's actions at any given time.

We cannot have a corporate plan for shipbuilding in isolation. We must recognise that shipbuilding, shipping and defence are interlinked. If there is no demand for ships, there will be no demand for shipbuilding. As we realised during the Falklands crisis, the merchant navy is important as part of our defence forces. We must press the Government for a maritime policy covering all the aspects to which I referred.

Everyone will agree that productivity has improved in the shipbuilding industry, especially during the years since nationalisation. But there is still some way to go, and we have not yet reached the ultimate in productivity in the shipyards. There is a need for further, continuous discussion between management and unions.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) said that one of his disappointments since nationalisation has been the centralised control of British Shipbuilders. When the nationalisation Bill passed through the House, under the auspices of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) I said that we did not want a centralised body that made decisions and then transmitted them to the various yards. I fear that British Shipbuilders has become too centralised. It does not allow enough initiative to local yard managers for local decision making. I hope that that will be reversed during the next few years.

Industrial relations have also improved tremendously—since nationalisation. Before that, they were in an appalling state. But again, we still have a long way to go. There are still too many trade unions negotiating in that area. There are about 16 now, whereas previously they numbered 27, so we have made some progress. We must take the next step and move away from direct confrontation to a system where those who work in the shipyards play a part in the decision-making process. Most people believe that to be a part of industrial democracy. It is not simply collective bargaining—the men working in the yard have a part to play in decision-making. That is not a new concept in the shipbuilding industry. It was successfully tried at Fairfields many years ago. We must get away from the "we-they" attitude and recognise that we are all "us", and that both sides have the same object in mind, which is to maintain a profitable shipbuilding industry.

If the Government follow their present economic policies, and if the world recession continues, there will be a danger—especially in civilian shipbuilding—that we shall have no shipbuilding industry at all. So there is some urgency in the matter. I hope that, as a first step, the Government will accept the new clause. I have not heard any legitimate reason for opposing it. If the Government cannot accept its wording, I hope that they will introduce something similar.