HC Deb 30 October 1918 vol 110 cc1435-6

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he and the Controller-General of Merchant Shipbuilding expect to obtain the extra 75,000 men declared by the latter to be required for the existing shipyards and their extensions; whether the 20,000 skilled men from the Army promised by the Government have yet been given for shipbuilding work, if not, why not; and whether the Government have decided that shipbuilding is not now of the first importance, and that building 3,000,000 tons per annum is not essential to the maintenance of our national strength?


I endeavoured to explain last Wednesday to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton that it will not be possible for some months to absorb the whole of the men necessary. As regards the earlier part of the supply, as I then explained, we have that in hand. As regards the extra men who will undoubtedly be necessary for the latter part of the supply, I presume, so far as skilled men are concerned, the only available source, broadly, is the Army, and here the military situation is the governing factor.

As regards immediate and ultimate supplies of unskilled men, we hope it may continue to be possible to secure a number of recruits through the agency of the Ministry of National Service. The number of men released from the Colours for work in the shipyards, up to date, is 15,370, and in view of the urgent call for man-power in the Army, it has not been found possible to release men in excess of this number. We certainly have not decided that shipbuilding is not now of the first importance. Neither have we decided that the building of 3,000,000 tons per annum is no longer essential to the maintenance of our national strength. And my right hon. Friend may be fully assured that Lord Pirrie, who has direct access to the War Cabinet, will not lose any opportunity, as necessity arises, of pressing the claims of merchant shipbuilding, and the labour and material in connection with it, before that body.


May we have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that in the event of the military situation during the next few days becoming more favourable the whole of these men—skilled men—will be at once sent back to the shipyards?


I cannot give that assurance. I should have to consult the Controller-General of the Merchant Shipping Department. Every effort is made to get the maximum output from the facilities for shipbuilding that we have and shall have in this country.