HC Deb 20 April 1920 vol 128 cc211-3
74 Brigadier-General SURTEES

asked (1) the Minister of Transport whether he is aware that the whole of the federated shipbuilding yards on the North-East Coast have had their building programmes seriously disorganised owing to the difficulty of obtaining adequate supplies of steel plates, angles, and other materials, due to the shortage of wagons; and that Messrs. W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth, and Company, Limited, have received at their naval yard during the last six months less than 60 per cent. of their promised weekly deliveries of steel plates, and have in consequence been obliged to send platers and helpers home almost every day; whether the conditions in the Wear and Tees and Hartlepool ship-building yards are similar to those existing on the Tyne; whether, seeing that the shortage of wagons is restricting output, causing unemployment and creating dissatisfaction and unrest in consequence of firms having to discharge men, put them on short time, or lay them idle until the arrival of material, he can take steps to rectify this;

(2) whether he is aware that there is an accumulation on the North-East Coast of plates and sections approximating to 70,000 tons, and that not only the whole of this could be loaded, if sufficient wagons were available, but that the out- put of plates and sections could also be increased by at least 200,000 tons per annum by putting mills into operation which are not now working and cannot be worked owing to the shortage of wagons; whether he will take steps to induce the railway companies to provide proper and sufficient vehicles for transport of materials, and also to put men on three shifts, not only at terminal stations, but on the mineral traffic generally, and thus utilise night time for traffic, and as a result give employment to additional men;

(3) whether he is aware that a conservative estimate of the loss in tonnage output of the North-East Coast finished steelmakers is 725,000 tons per annum (approaching £15,000,000 in turnover) and that this is due to the inadequate supply of the right type of wagons; and whether, having regard to the admitted inability of the present supply of railway transport to cope with the finished steel output of the North-East district, he will assist the North-Eastern Railway to obtain the number of trucks necessary to deal with not only a full output of the existing plate mills, but also with the new output represented by mills now in course of construction and nearing completion?


I am aware of the accumulated stocks at the steel works on the North-East Coast and of the difficulties of the shipbuilding firms in that area in obtaining supplies of steel plates, etc. As the hon. and gallant Member indicates, the problem is one of shortage of the special trucks required for the bulk of this traffic. The North-Eastern Railway Company, with the assistance of the other railway companies and the Ministry of Transport, are doing all that is possible to increase the supply of trucks. They have borrowed a number of bolster wagons, and more cannot be lent without causing a shortage in other districts. Special priority has been given to the construction of about 1,400 bolster and plate wagons on order by the North-Eastern Railway Company. Continuous working already exists on important lines and branches, and elsewhere the hours are increased wherever this is necessary and practicable.

The situation in the North-East Coast steel works is receiving constant attention by the Ministry, and the matter is to be discussed at a meeting with the steel makers and the railway company to-morrow morning, to which I have invited hon. Members who are particularly interested in the subject.


Is it not a fact that the North-Eastern Railway Company have placed these large orders with different wagon manufacturers, and they cannot get delivery; therefore does not the fault, if any, rest with the manufacturers?


I cannot find any ground for thinking that the North-Eastern Railway Company are at fault in this matter.


Is it not a fact that a large number of these wagons were sent to France, and are still there, and can they not be brought back?


A certain number were sent to France, and I believe that nearly the whole of them have now been returned.


Will the hon. Gentleman see that more orders are given for new wagons so that more of the unemployed and ex-service men may be provided with work?


Will the hon. Gentleman make inquiries as to whether these wagons can be brought home and how many are still in France?


I shall be glad to do so.