British Shipbuilders

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th June 1984.

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Photo of Mr Donald Dixon Mr Donald Dixon , Jarrow 12:00 am, 6th June 1984

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what meetings he has had with the chairman of British Shipbuilders to discuss the corporate plan.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Chingford

The corporate plan has just been received by my Department and I have not yet had the opportunity to discuss it with the chairman.

Photo of Mr Donald Dixon Mr Donald Dixon , Jarrow

Is it not true that British Shipbuilders submitted the corporate plan in May last year, and also submitted an interim strategy policy document in October? Have not the Government told British Shipbuilders that it must dispose of the warship yards within two years and that there must be a further cut in the mercant shipbuilding industry? Has not British Shipbuilders told the Minister that a further reduction in merchant shipbuilding capacity is unacceptable? Is it not time that the Minister came to the aid of the shipbuilding industry—as have the French Government to their industry—to give some future to the thousands of men who work in it?

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Chingford

The hon. Gentleman has a rather high threshold for some aid to the industry. That industry has had more than £1 billion of taxpayers' money during the past five years. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is petty cash or a substantial amount of taxpayers' money.

On my discussions with the chairman of British Shipbuilders, I have nothing to add to the clear and full answer that I have already given him.

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

When does my right hon. Friend expect to decide whether the warship division will be sold as a whole or in parts?

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Chingford

Not yet, because we have not yet begun seeking purchasers for the warship building industry. We are waiting to see what proposals will come forward.

Photo of Mr Robert Clay Mr Robert Clay , Sunderland North

Is the Secretary of State aware that last year alone the French Government gave £300 million to their industry? Therefore, is not this Government's record pretty pathetic compared with that of the French and many other European nations?

As this Government advocate staying in Europe for ever and a day, is it not about time that they tried to persuade the European Community to do something more in Europe for shipbuilding? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the last launch on the present orders of Austin and Pickersgill, which is in my constituency, will be on 17 November? That massive yard, which two years ago the Prime Minister described as an inspiration to the remainder of Europe, is likely to close unless the Government get off their backsides and do something.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Chingford

The hon. Gentleman has caused considerable concern to workers and management at Austin and Pickersgill as well as to a number of his trade unionist friends by claiming that the company is about to be closed down. That is the surest way of making certain that customers do not come forward with orders. He should try to act in the interests of his constituents instead of taking a class attitude and acting in a narrow, biased, bigoted and partisan way. What is more, had he spent a little more time thinking and a little less talking he would have discovered that last year the taxpayer put £350 million of extra support into British shipbuilding, which is what he praises the French Government for doing.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

Does the Department have any plans to publish the Touche Ross report on marine engineering plants and capability in Britain? Does he agree that that report is now out of date, particularly in relation to John G. Kincaid of Greenock?

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Chingford

If the report is out of date, it would not be particularly useful to publish it.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

As British Shipbuilders say that it submitted its corporate plan in May 1983 and the Secretary of State says that he has just received it, where on earth has it been for the last 13 months? Before the right hon. Gentleman reaches any decision on the future of British shipbuilders—bearing in mind his record of failing to discuss such important issues with the people who work in the industry — will he now give an unqualified guarantee that he will discuss the corporate plan with the trade unions representing the employees in the industry?

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Chingford

What I say is absolutely correct; the corporate plan has just been received by my Department. There have been occasions when there have been discussions about what should be happening to the corporation in the interim, but if the hon. Gentleman writes to Graham Day and asks for confirmation of what I have said today, he will get it. The corporate plan will be discussed in the traditional manner in which such plans have been discussed in the past.