AIRCRAFT AND SHIPBUILDING INDUSTRIES BILL (STANDING ORDERS)
The Secretary of State for Industry (Mr. Eric G. Varley)
I beg to move,
That, in view of the serious consequences to the industries concerned and for those employed in them of further delay and uncertainty, in relation to the proceedings on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, any Standing Orders relating to Private Business, and consideration of the application of any such Standing Orders, are dispensed with.
I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition, to leave out from ‘That’ to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof,
‘this House endorses Mr. Speaker's ruling of 26th May 1976, which confirmed that the rights of private citizens might be affected by the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, and considers that the normal procedures to defend such rights as laid down in Standing Orders should be followed’.
On 31st July 1974 my right hon. Friend, now the Secretary of State for Energy, made a statement to this House announcing the Government's intention to bring the shipbuilding industry into public ownership, and accompanying that statement he issued a discussion document. That paper, under the heading “Mobile Offshore Drilling Rigs” , stated:
“The Government does not intend to take into public ownership Marathon Shipbuilding (UK) Limited, makers of offshore drilling rigs.”
So, from the outset, nearly two years ago, the Government made it clear that they had no intention of nationalising Marathon.
On 30th April 1975 the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill was published. Schedule 2 was drafted to exclude Marathon and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who was a Minister in the Department at the time, made clear in the House yesterday, the drafting took full account of the need to avoid hybridity; and it appeared to have been drafted successfully from that point of view, since it was cleared with the House authorities as not being hybrid.
What is more, none of those opposed to the Bill—either hon. Members of this [column 633]House or the assiduous lobbyists to whose activities we have become so accustomed—brought forward a charge of hybridity. Yet they had ample time to study it, and we know from their representations and from amendments put forward that they examined it line by line and comma by comma for errors and flaws.
There was not sufficient time for the Bill's passage in that 1974–75 Session, so it was reintroduced at the beginning of the new Session on 20th November. The opportunity was taken to make a number of amendments, but the definition of a ship given in paragraph 6 of Part II of Schedule 2 remained precisely as it was. Once again it was cleared with the House authorities, once again it was found not to be hybrid, and once again nobody inside or outside the House challenged its credentials as a public Bill.
The Bill was brought up for Second Reading on 2nd December. Again, no challenge. No charge of hybridity.
The Bill began its Committee stage on 11th December. Standing Committee D considered the Bill during 58 sittings—the greatest number of sittings in the history of this House of Commons. The Bill was examined in the minutest detail so that at times Ministers in charge of the Bill had the feeling that they were even being required to explain the reasons for the spaces between the words.
The Committee sat as long as the Opposition wanted it to sit. There was no guillotine. Yet during 140 hours of debate no challenge of hybridity was made against the Bill. [Hon. Members: “There was.” ] One and a half sittings, as recently as two weeks ago on Tuesday 11th May, were devoted to considering Schedule 2—the focus for the controversy that has arisen.
The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), who was a member of the Committee for all the 58 sittings and the 140 hours, made six speeches during the debates on Schedule 2. Yet neither he nor anyone else on the Opposition side raised the question of Marathon or alleged that the Bill was a hybrid. [Hon. Members: “They did.” ]
You yourself, Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday of this week twice firmly rejected contentions that the Bill was a hybrid.
Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
I will not give way just now.
I recount this history not in order to challenge the good faith of anybody involved but to demonstrate that the many hundreds of people who had studied this Bill with such care for parliamentary, governmental, party political, industrial, financial or propaganda purposes all missed the apparent significance of the phrase which led you, Mr. Speaker, yesterday to rule that this Bill was prima facie hybrid.
Mr. Speaker, I want to make absolutely clear, that none of us on this side of the House is in any way seeking to challenge the ruling that you gave yesterday. [Hon. Members: “Oh!” ] You were good enough to confirm to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that you did not regard anything in his statement yesterday as a challenge to your ruling and that the motion we are now to debate is in order.
Now I give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
Sir Derek Walker-Smith
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy. I think that the House would like to know the exact point he is making by these lengthy references—[Interruption.]—ample references to the proceedings in Committee. Does he accept that the onus is on the Government to establish to the satisfaction of Mr. Speaker the facts of the case for him to be able to arrive at a correct judgment about hybridity, or does he assert that there is some duty on the Opposition to establish the exact state of the Bill? Does he accept that the onus on the Government is not reduced or discharged by what happened in the Standing Committee?
I shall have something more to say about that point, but I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I do not impugn anyone's good faith and I do not challenge the ruling that you, Mr. Speaker, gave yesterday. All I am saying is that the Bill was submitted on two occasions, in the formal processes, to the authorities of the House, and was cleared as a Bill which was not a hybrid Bill. That is all I am saying. It is not that your Department, Mr. Speaker, is in commission to any Department of State. You take your own independent advice. That is the only point I am making. [column 635]
This controversy that has arisen, in the opinion of the Government, concerns at most a hairline hybridity—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ]—and it is ludicrous that a major legislative measure should face frustration on the narrowest of technicalities which apparently no one noticed for more than 13 months. Throughout, the Bill was in the Vote Office, there for people to collect. I have already recounted for how many hours it has been considered. The Stationery Office has sold about 7,000 copies of the Bill, I think. At no point was hybridity questioned.
As my right hon. Friend the Lord President stated yesterday, if the House accepts this motion today, the Government will move at Report stage an amendment to remove the tiny area of doubt that remains.
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not the Secretary of State's phrase “hairline hybridity” a direct challenge to your solemn and considered ruling yesterday?
No, it is not a direct challenge to my ruling yesterday. I do not wish to enlarge on that ruling, but I did have a statement prepared in which I was going to indicate to the House that it was the area of doubt that led me, following the ruling of Speaker Hylton-Foster some years ago, to decide that because of the doubt I must come down on that side.
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the motion to which the Secretary of State is now speaking is based upon your assessment that the Government may put down any motion and it is not for your judgment, but for the judgment of the House, whether the motion is suitable, is it not, therefore, quite possible for any Government at any time to put down a motion totally eliminating all the rights of the Opposition in this House?
I am not taking part in the debate, and that is a debating point rather than a point of order for me. Speculation about motions in the future will only hold up the debate.
Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we expect a ruling [column 636]from you as a result of what you said, as reported at column 460 of Hansard for 26th May, when you were asked whether it was right to change the rules in the middle of the passage of a Bill so that those who were affected by it would be dealt with in one way in Committee and dealt with in another way on Report and Third Reading? You seemed to say that you would give a ruling today. I wonder whether this is the moment at which you would wish to do so.
I said to the House, in reply to the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower), that if I thought it necessary I would make such a statement. I have taken advice, and, as I said yesterday, the House is its own master in regard to procedures. Rules which are made by the House may be varied by the House after debate, if desired, at any time. The motion is in order.
The question is whether the Marathon shipyard builds ships, and it revolves around the structure of the “Key Victoria” —raised by the hon. Member for Tiverton—which was under construction at Marathon on 31st July 1974, the relevant date. The hon. Member for Tiverton submitted that this structure is a ship within the definition of paragraph 6 of Part II of Schedule 2. On Tuesday, in supporting his contention, the hon. Member for Tiverton quoted the American Bureau of Shopping as saying that the “Key Victoria” is a vessel having the characteristic hull form of a barge. I have to tell the House that that same American Bureau of Shipping, on 17th October 1974, issued a certificate for the “Key Victoria” classifying it as a
“Maltese Cross A1 mobile self-elevating drilling unit”
as a major part of the structure—namely, the drilling legs—is non-integral with the platform, which floats only when the structure is being moved from one location to another.
It is a very great pity that Hansard does not publish illustrations, because I have in my hand a photograph of the “Key Victoria” —[Hon. Members: “Order.” ]—in its normal operating position. [Hon. Members: “Order.” ] I am making copies of this available in the Library and Vote Office this afternoon so that hon. Members may look at it.[column 637]
Mr. Peter Tapsell (Horncastle)
Is it not clear—whether or not it is his intention—that everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said so far in his speech is intended to challenge the authority of Mr. Speaker's ruling? Mr. Speaker ruled that this is a hybrid Bill, and nothing that the right hon. Gentleman says can alter that fact.
I am only saying that I want to put all the evidence that I can before the House of Commons, and it is quite right that the House should have it. That is the reason I am making this illustration available to hon. Members.
Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to put information, in this slightly irregular fashion, at the disposal of the House, will you rule that it is right that he should make full and not partial information available? In other words, if that device moves by using its legs, it may be relevant to show it standing upon them, but if it is mobile in some other way, we must be shown a picture that illustrates in which way it moves.
The only thing that I am trying to say is that in my view it is very difficult to construe that structure as a vessel within the natural meaning of that word.
Several Hon. Members
Order. I think that the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) has risen on a point of order.
Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me on a point of order. My point of order is that I think that the Secretary of State is embarking on an entirely wrong approach this afternoon. My point of order to you, Mr. Speaker, is that yesterday you ruled that the House had adopted an inappropriate procedure in the matter of dealing with the Bill. I do not think that the House is suggesting that we should question you on that ruling for one moment, and I hope that the Secretary of State will not try to mislead us in this matter. Nor are the Opposition suggesting that we should have another 58 sittings on the matter. Would it not have been better for the Leader of the House to concede yesterday [column 638]that you were right, Mr. Speaker, and not to suggest, and even imply this afternoon through the Secretary of State for Industry, that you were wrong, as he is now so doing?
Anything that challenges the ruling that I made yesterday would not be in order in this debate. That is quite clear. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State began by saying that he had no intention of challenging my ruling yesterday, and he will no doubt keep to that.
The American Bureau of Shipping——
Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have just been to the Vote Office and the Library to get a copy of the photograph to which the Secretary of State referred. It is not available. Will you please do your best, Mr. Speaker, to see that hon. Members who want a copy may get it, so that we may refer to it during the Minister's excellent speech?
I said that during the course of the afternoon I would make the photograph available. I understand that steps are being taken for that to be done.
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will the Secretary of State tell the House on what date, by whom and at whose expense this photograph was taken?
Order. I hope that we shall not have bogus points of order. We want to debate the matter properly and we cannot do that if there are continual interruptions.
Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the only purpose of producing such a photograph can be to invite the House to reach a different conclusion from that which lay behind your ruling yesterday, is it in order for the Secretary of State for Industry to refer to the photograph for the purpose of undermining your decision yesterday?
Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. What is being adumbrated is the weight of [column 639]evidence which we all require to enable us to determine whether your ruling, which is clear, should or should not be altered by the House. Is it not desirable that the Secretary of State should continue to give us all the information he has to enable us to reach a decision?
The House is not considering whether my ruling is to be altered. The House is considering the motion proposed by the Minister which contains the procedure which the Government propose in view of the ruling I made yesterday. Anything else would be out of order today.
Would you rule on the point I put to you, Mr. Speaker, before the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) followed my point of order? I was putting to you, Mr. Speaker, that the Secretary of State was seeking leave to introduce a photograph in evidence in the House so that hon. Members might be invited to question the ruling that you gave yesterday. As the Government's motion in no way questions your ruling, Mr. Speaker, what possible virtue can there be in allowing the Secretary of State to produce evidence which must have that point behind it?
Evidence that the Government put in the Library is their concern. My concern is that my ruling yesterday is not open to debate today.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you have indicated, it was unfortunate if I addressed myself to you in a way which suggested that the motion sought to alter your decision. The motion seeks to relieve the House from the consequences of your decision. Therefore, is it not in order, proper and correct that all the evidence should be given to enable the House to come to a decision whether it should be relieved of the consequences? I hope that you will rule that the Secretary of State may continue to give the weight of evidence which we all require.
What the Secretary of State and everyone else must do until an amendment has been proposed is to speak to the motion, which indicates to the House the steps that the Government believe should be taken arising out of my ruling yesterday. The House has to [column 640]decide whether it wishes to take those steps.
Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Something has happened which I have not known during the 15 years in which I have been a Member of the House. As well as the Secretary of State addressing the House, which is a verbal process, he is purporting to exhibit photographs to the House. If there are contrary photographs which the House ought to be able to see, for instance, a photograph of a ship called the “Key Victoria” at sea, as appears in the Financial Times this morning, what is the procedure whereby conflicting photographs can be circulated? Instead of confining ourselves to verbal statements, as has been the custom during my time in Parliament, we now have exhibited a photograph of visual effects. The Secretary of State held up the photograph in an endeavour to show it to hon. Members. Are hon. Members permitted to walk round the House with opposing photographs so that other hon. Members may see them?
I hope that we can get back to the debate. Anyone who has any pictures may put them in the Library.
I have referred to the American Bureau of Shipping, which the hon. Member twice quoted——
Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I raised with you earlier a point of order, and you subsequently expressed the hope that there will be no bogus points of order. If you feel that my point of order was bogus, of course, I withdraw it. When I went to the Library and the Vote Office, no photograph was available but it has just been delivered to me. The point of order was genuine when I raised it.
I had no intention of treading on the hon. Gentleman's corns. I do not want to say whom I had in mind in case that provokes another point of order.
I have referred to the American Bureau of Shipping, which the hon. Member twice quoted——
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The words you uttered to the effect that anyone who had [column 641]photographs could place them in the Library were scarcely out of your mouth when a cascade of photographs arrived in the Chamber. That recalls the substantial point I made to you a few moments ago. If photographs are to be distributed through the House in the course of the debate they must not be confined to showing a ship when it is ashore but should also show it when it is performing the function of a ship on the water.
I do not know how the pictures are distributed, but there is nothing disorderly about it. If the hon. Gentleman seeks to distribute some of his photographs, or if anyone else wishes to do so, let him do it. I suggest that we get on with the serious business.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker——
Order. I shall hear the hon. Gentleman's point of order, but I must tell the House that it is wrong to prevent orderly debate by continually raising points of order.
I am sorry to refer to my earlier point of order, but will you please give a ruling, Mr. Speaker, if not now, after the Whitsun Recess, whether it is in order for the Government to put down on the Order Paper anything they wish—for instance, that non-members of the Labour Party on the Opposition side of the House may not vote or speak? Would you not be able to say that such a motion was out of order?
I cannot rule on speculative issues. I deal with the motions on the Order Paper, and this motion is in order.
I was referring to the American Bureau of Shipping, which the hon. Member twice quoted in his support. The American Bureau of Shipping is not alone. Lloyd's Register of Shipping has been quoted in the controversy. Today's Financial Times says the following about it:
“Lloyd's Register of Shipping would not be drawn into the argument yesterday, although Lloyd's regards ships and oil platforms as sufficiently different to warrant separate technical staff.”[column 642]
Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that the motion on the Order Paper reads:
“in view of the serious consequences to the industries concerned and for those employed in them of further delay and uncertainty” .
It also refers to
“the application of any such Standing Orders”
which it says, should be dispensed with. Admittedly with constant interruption, the Secretary of State has been speaking for some time but so far he has said nothing which is in any way relevant to that motion.
Order. While I am glad of assistance at any time, if I found that the Minister was out of order I would pull him up.
I want to place before the House all the information that we have. We are entitled to do that. We are informed by the Inland Revenue that it does not regard self-elevating rigs as ships for capital allowance purposes and it has informed the General Council of British Shipping of this. It was never——
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of what you have just said, the credulity of the House is being tested if the Inland Revenue view that self-propelling rigs are not ships is to be argued.
Anything that disputes the ruling that I have given is not relevant. I have to tell the House that we are not discussing the question whether this was a ship or whether it was not a ship. [Interruption.] I am telling the House what we have to turn our minds to, and that is the steps that the Government propose to take arising out of my decision.
I can well understand——
Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You are in charge and exercise your authority over order in the House. You have stated that the motion is in order. Has anything been said by the Secretary of State which is out of order?
He is getting very near. [Interruption.] Order. I do not need support when I am making statements. It becomes near to being out of order if the issue of this vessel, ship or barge is put [column 643]in question. I have given a ruling, and we have to decide whether the House will dispense with the Standing Orders.
Mrs. Judith Hart (Lanark)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would I be right in assuming that the Secretary of State has been trying to tell us that, on the absolutely accepted ruling that you have given, the motion on the Order Paper is to be understood and accepted in the light of the great technical problems that confront us?
I suggest that we hear the Minister out.
If at any time——
Mr. William Ross
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I asked you whether you had heard anything from the Secretary of State that was out of order.
Maybe the noise in the House prevented the right hon. Gentleman from hearing my answer, but I did answer him a moment ago.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have two specific points to raise. Is not the Eric VarleySecretary of State adducing the sort of evidence that should go to the examiners for them to assess it at a time when evidence from the other side can also be advanced and a decision made whether it is a hybrid Bill? It is not for the House to undertake that examination.
In all my years in the House I have never known photographs to be passed around by one side of the House without notice first being given. Is it now in order to use photographs as a means of debate?
On the right hon. Lady's first question about examiners, I believe that the question of the ship is not one that can be settled here. I have given a ruling after long consideration. We have to decide what the House is to do arising out of that decision. I have not come up against the question of the circulation of photographs before, although this practice might have taken place without my knowing. I should like to consider it. The fewer changes that there are in our procedures, the better it is for orderly debate.[column 644]
Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We shall be in difficulties not only in the Minister's speech but in the speech of any hon. Member speaking later in the debate about exactly the point at which you have suggested that the Minister might be straying out of order. For the purposes of the rules of the House we must accept that that thing is a ship. You have so ruled. But may I put this to you, Mr. Speaker? It may be a ship for the purposes of the rules of the House—there is no doubt about that—but some of us might want to argue that in common sense, by the rules of the Inland Revenue or for other purposes relevant to whether we pass the motion, it might not be regarded as a ship—although not for the rules of the House. That would be a legitimate distiction for us to draw and it would be wholly relevant to the motion that we are being asked to consider.
Order. Niceties of that sort are not acceptable. Anything that challenges my ruling yesterday will not be acceptable. The Government will make their case for the motion and it is irrelevant to argue that which has been decided on the question of the ship.
The Government are entitled to put their views and all the evidence that they have before the House. The question in dispute——
Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand the situation, you have given a ruling that the Bill is prima facie a hybrid Bill. A prima facie ruling presumably means that somebody or other has finally to decide whether it is a hybrid Bill. Are you ruling that the Bill should go to the examiners for that final decision? If so, may I ask you which Standing Order is the basis for that reference?
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that I have given no such ruling. The House will decide, if the debate is allowed to continue, what procedure it intends to follow. I have given no other instructions.
All I am seeking to do is to give all the evidence to the House, and the House is entitled to have that evidence. The issue in dispute is the [column 645]meaning of paragraph 6 of Part II of Schedule 2. [Hon. Members: “No.” ] I think that the Government are entitled to put those views before the House.
Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister has now referred to the issue being in dispute. What can that be other than a challenge to your ruling?
The issue in dispute before the House is the motion on the Order Paper, and no other.
There is other evidence that I want to give the House, and I think that I am entitled to give it. If you rule me out of order, Mr. Speaker, I shall of course accept your ruling, but I am certainly not taking rulings from the Opposition. If you at any time decide, Mr. Speaker, that anything I say is out of order, I shall observe your ruling straight away, but I will not be bullied by Opposition Members.
I have already referred to the fact that the Inland Revenue takes a similar view to that of the American Bureau of Shipping. These two authorities are not alone.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker——
I shall hear this point of order, but I appeal to the House and to individual hon. Members who become anxious about whether the Minister is straying to trust my judgment in the matter, so that we may have fewer points of order and the speech may come to its conclusion.
That was very much the point of order that I hoped to put to you, Mr. Speaker. [Hon. Members: “Then sit down.” ] I feel sure that if the Minister cited any purported authorities which disagreed with your ruling he would be instantly and properly ruled out of order. I hope that he will be able to get to the motion, that the House can hear him on that, and that some of us can speak to it.
There is another piece of important information that I need to put to the House about this matter. It concerns the good faith of the last Conservative Government and members of it. The Industry Act 1972 distinguished be[column 646]tween a ship and an offshore installation for eligibility for ship construction grants. The Act has the following definition:
“‘mobile offshore installation’ means any installation which is intended” em;—
Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not everything we have heard from the Secretary of State this afternoon not only a hairline challenge but a direct challenge to your ruling yesterday?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand it, the House must decide whether it will dispense with the existing Standing Orders. That is the issue. Therefore, surely we should know whether your ruling is based upon serious and weighty matters—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ]—or whether the unchallengeable ruling you have given is based on trivial matters. Surely the House is entitled to know the evidence to enable us to decide whether we should avoid the serious consequences.
The hon. Gentleman is not correct. The House is not considering whether I was on good grounds.
I was not saying that, Mr. Speaker.
That is how it seemed to me.
What the House is considering is whether, in view of the ruling I gave yesterday—[Interruption.] Order. The House is considering the motion on the Order Paper. I must say this, and I hope that it will be hearkened to: anything that seeks to discuss the merits of whether the ship was a ship is a challenge to what I said yesterday. What we must deal with is the motion.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
On a point of order——
Mrs. Winifred Ewing(Moray and Nairn)
Mr. Skinner, on a point of order.
Order. I have called the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on a point of order.
You said yesterday, Mr. Speaker, in that supposedly historic ruling—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ]—that prima [column 647]facie the vessel was a ship. What we are doing today, I presume, is to listen to all the various comments and arguments from both sides. I have no doubt in my mind, either inside the Chamber or outside it, that my view about this matter if I had to give an opinion——
Order. The hon. Gentleman is not required to give an opinion. I thought that he was raising a point of order. But for his information I can tell him that I did not mention the word “ship” in my ruling yesterday. I merely said that the Bill was prima facie a hybrid Bill. That is the ruling. The House is not discussing it now but is discussing its consequences.
Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
Further to that point of order——
I was coming to my conclusion. I was saying that in my opinion——
Order. The hon. Gentleman is not entitled in the middle of somebody else's speech to give his opinions. If he is raising a point of order, I am quite willing to deal with it, but I am not willing to allow hon. Members to rise just to express opinions when the Secretary of State is addressing the House.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not clear that so far all that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done is to show that when the Government commenced with the Bill they felt that it complied with every rule of the House, although yesterday you decided that it did not? My right hon. Friend is merely trying to indicate the steps which the Government took, and the advice which they took, before they made the decision that it was a Public Bill. Surely any man in the position of my right hon. Friend today is entitled to convey to the House all the steps he took to comply with the rules of the House so that the Bill would be in order.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is quite right. That is in order. I call the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing), and then I hope that we can return to the debate.[column 648]
Mrs. Winifred Ewing
My point of order, Mr. Speaker, is this: is there not a lack of order in this House and would you not advise 11 of our faithful Members of this Chamber to attend a much more important occasion than this, namely the Scottish National Party annual conference at Motherwell?
Order. That shows the extent to which we are becoming disorderly.
I need make only one other point at this time before passing on to some other matters which the House wants to hear. That is the question of the 1972 Industry Act, which is absolutely relevant to the subject under discussion. That Act defines a mobile offshore installation as meaning:
“any installation which is intended for underwater exploitation of mineral sources or exploration with a view to such exploitation and can move by water from place to place without major dismantling or modification, whether or not it has its own motive power; ‘ship’ includes every description of vessel used in navigation” .
I have to tell the House that under the Tory Industry Act the “Key Victoria” was not awarded a construction grant as a ship. Instead Marathon applied for and received construction grants for it as an offshore installation, and it was the Conservatives' own Act, the Act put through by those same hon. Gentlemen who have been spluttering and howling me down, and howling down my right hon. Friend the Lord President like a gang of illiterate yahoos——
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
All this would be cause for satire from the pen of a modern Swift if the consequences were not so inherently disastrous for both the aircraft and the shipbuilding industries and for hundreds of thousands of workers whose livelihoods depend upon them. Under private ownership the aircraft industry has not brought forward a single new civil project in more than two years. The HS 146 would be dead today had it not been for the holding contract placed by this Government. Increasingly in recent years shareholders of existing companies have avoided their responsibilities for the future work of these com[column 649]panies and have expected the Government to provide the necessary finance.
The Department of Industry currently has before it three proposals of this kind where the companies expect the Government to provide all the funds. In anticipation of nationalisation, things are beginning to move at last. Scottish Aviation has been offered some of the RAF Jetstreams to modify at Prestwick for possible United States sales. That would give new confidence to the workers there. The Organising Committee for British Aerospace at long last brought Hawker Siddeley and the British Aircraft Corporation together, and last week held constructive talks with their French counterparts about possible collaboration on the Airbus and HS 146.
If this Bill does not proceed rapidly, the important relationships being built up between British Aerospace and potential European partners will evaporate. The nationalised French airframe industry will lose confidence in us as a partner and will turn firmly and irrevocably to the Americans. Today's diverting parliamentary ploy could mean the dole queue before long for tens of thousands of skilled British aircraft workers and could mean Britain declining into being no more than a client sub-contractor. Without speedy nationalisation the stakes are as high as that, and no hon. Member can turn his back on those facts.
But if the delay in nationalisation faces the aircraft industry with a crisis, it faces the shipbuilding industry with a catastrophe. The shipbuilders know it. That is why so many of them have begged me to get the industry into public ownership as quickly as possible. Hon. Members opposite know it, too. That is why so many hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, while opposing this Bill publicly, have privately been lobbying me to get the headquarters of British Shipbuilders into their own area. Indeed, the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Morrison), in his capacity as Chairman of the North-West Group of Conservative MPs, has written formally to me pressing Merseyside as the headquarters of British Shipbuilders.
Mr. Peter Morrison (City of Chester)
Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that my hon. Friends in the North[column 650]West area and I would be deserting our constituents' interest if we did not push for the headquarters of British Shipbuilders to be on Merseyside? Does he also realise that, for the sake of our constituents and those involved in the shipbuilding industry, we are totally and utterly opposed to the nationalisation of that industry?
Of course I agree entirely that the hon. Gentleman would not be acting in the interests of his constituents if he were not asking for the headquarters of British Shipbuilders to be placed on Merseyside. But I will say to him that he will be acting against the interests of his constituents if he votes against this motion tonight. In another letter, the hon. Member for Newcastleupon-Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott), a former Vice-Chairman of the Tory Party, has eloquently stated the case for the Tyne.
Sir William Elliott (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
Would the Secretary of State accept that the reason for my writing that letter was an approach by the North-East Development Council, which body told me that it had been strongly suggested to it that, despite the facts before the House, a decision had already been taken to establish the headquarters at Merseyside? I was asked to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman that the biggest concentration of shipbuilding and advisory services in the country was on Tyneside, which I told him. But I violently oppose nationalisation of the industry.
What the hon. Gentleman has said will be noted in the North-East, too. Members of the Conservative Party have written to me. I have the hon. Gentleman's letter in my hand. I will not bore the House by reading it out. But today I have had another letter from Admiral Sir Anthony Griffin, Chairman of the Organising Committee for British Shipbuilders. He says:
“I am writing on behalf of the Organising Committee to assure you of our unanimous support for the Government's efforts to bring the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill quickly into law.”
Several Hon. Members
I am very surprised that hon. Gentleman on that side should scoff at that letter and scoff at someone such as Sir Anthony Griffin, who has given service to both Governments when Controller of the Navy and was in fact appointed by the then Conservative Government to that post. It is utterly disgraceful that they should laugh and jeer in that way. Conservative Members who laugh should be utterly ashamed of themselves—[Interruption.]
Order. This Chamber believes in the right of free speech. Even when hon. Members disagree with what they hear, they have to listen.
Admiral Griffin went on to say the following—[Interruption.] It is important that the House should have this information, and I do not know what Conservative Members are frightened of. He said:
“Our wide-ranging examination of the industry during the past five months leads us firmly to the view that nationalisation offers the best chance of creating a stable, profitable, competitive shipbuilding industry, and that any further delay in achieving this objective would be seriously damaging.”
That is the considered statement of Sir Anthony Griffin.
The world recession and the oil crisis have created a famine in orders which has brought our shipbuilding and shiprepairing industries to the verge of disaster. I say frankly, as one who has to face a new crisis in the shipbuilding industry on practically every working day, that we are hard put to it to hold the line. Only a co-ordinated strategy backed by the workers in the industry can save the situation.
The Organising Committee for British Shipbuilders has made a fine start. It must be given a chance to get on with the job quickly—otherwise there will be yards that may not live through next year.
It is my duty solemnly to warn the House that after six months in Committee any further delay in the passage of this Bill could deal a death blow to the prospects of the shipbuilding and shiprepairing industries in some of the areas of most intolerable unemployment. I refer to Tyneside, Wearside, Teesside, Merseyside and Clydeside. I deliberately mention Clydeside because I understand [column 652]that the SNP has decided to vote against our motion.
Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
No, I cannot give way. The SNP will be fully aware of its responsibilities.
Mrs. Winifred Ewing
We want an election.
Some 20 per cent. of the shipbuilding industry lies in Scotland, and some of the shipyards which face most imminent crisis lie in Scotland. Any delay in the passage of this Bill could mean the dole queue for thousands of Scottish shipbuilding workers.
Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
In view of the fact that the effect of nationalisation and centralisation will mean a loss of thousands of jobs, what case can the Minister put forward for saving shipbuilding jobs in Scotland when the present Bill is intended to centralise the control of the shipbuilding industry elsewhere and to take that control outside Scotland, without any Government policy aimed at securing that shipbuilding orders are placed with industry in Scotland?
The Bill is not a centralising measure. It aims at bringing about a nationalised strategy for the shipbuilding industry. The SNP carries a heavy responsibility. Already hundreds of telegrams are pouring in. The shop stewards of the Clydebank Engineering Shop Stewards Committee urge the SNP members to take their responsibilities seriously. That is also the attitude of the Clydeside Shop Stewards Committee.
I understand that SNP Members leave for their annual conference shortly and that they intend to vote against the Bill. If they vote for the Conservative motion and against the Government motion, they will bear the responsibility of throwing thousands of ship builders out of a job. If that happens, it will be held against them for ever.
This debate is not about a jolly jape or some small parliamentary strategem. It relates to two vital industries. That is the reason why I have no hesitation in urging the House to support this motion and [column 653]to sustain the hopes of hard-pressed communities and tens of thousands of workers who are profoundly anxious about the future.
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have received a sheaf of telegrams from the organised workers of Sheffield. I hope that it is in order to place those telegrams in the Bag at the back of your Chair.
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order.