HC Deb 17 March 1925 vol 181 cc2036-40
6. Mr. B. SMITH

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has any evidence that a large proportion of the merchant shipping of this country is out of date, inefficient, and in some cases unseaworthy; whether he proposes to take steps to re-classify and re-grade ships in the mercantile service; and whether he will take action to secure the restoration of the Plimsoll line of 1906, and thus give a stimulus to the shipbuilding industry?


The Board of Trade have no evidence to support the suggestion that a large proportion of the merchant shipping of this country is out of date, inefficient and, in some cases, unseaworthy, and I do not think that anything would be gained by attempting to reclassify and regrade merchant ships. The whole question of load line was examined by a Special Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Philip Watts, which reported in 1915, and proposals based on their recommendations will shortly be laid before the Merchant Shipping Advisory Commitee, on which all the interests connected with shipping are represented. The position of the load line is governed, and should be governed, by considerations of safety alone.


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that nearly 70,per cent. of the vessels engaged in the coal carrying trade of South Wales ports are of foreign nationality, and that the ship-repairing and marine engineering trade of South Wales ports is in a languishing condition; Whether he could state what foreign countries insist upon the vessels under their flag being repaired at their home ports under a tax penalty; and whether he will take action to avoid the unfair foreign competition which exists in ship-repairing and marine engineering under which many workers are rendered idle?


As the answer is rather long, I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, have it circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Captain A. EVANS

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is possible to afford assistance to the ship-repairing industry under the Trade Facilities Act?


Yes, it is, provided that the ordinary regulations are complied with and the application is entertained by the Committee.

Following is the answer:

Of the ships leaving ports in South Wales with cargoes of coal or coke during the 12 months ended 30th January last, about 40 per cent. were foreign. I am aware that the ship repairing and marine engineering trade in South Wales is in a depressed condition. As regards the third part of the question, I am unable to furnish a complete list of foreign countries in which taxes are levied on repairs made to national boats in foreign ports, but according to my information such taxes are imposed in the United States, France and Spain. On the other hand, in a number of other countries, including Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, sea-going vessels are not subject to Customs Duty, and it would appear to follow that foreign material incorporated abroad in national ships of those countries would also be exempt from duty. The question of meeting foreign competition in the ship repairing and marine engineering trades is part of a very large question which is now being considered by the Committee on Industry and Trade.


asked the President of the Board of Trade if he car give an analysis of how the German cost of construction of steamers compares with the British cost of construction?


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, considering the continued depressed state of the shipbuilding industry and the repeated loss of work due to foreign competition, he will be willing to set up a Commission to inquire into the causes?


I am not in a position to give a detailed analysis of comparative costs. I have, however, put such information as I have been able to obtain at the disposal of the Federations of Employers and Employed in the shipbuilding industry. As regards an inquiry, I would refer to the answer given yesterday to the hon. Member for Kennington, of which I am sending my hon. Friends copies.


Will the House of Commons be put in possession of that information?


Yes, I am quite willing to give any information I can, but I think really the best thing I can do with regard to any information I get about shipbuilding conditions in foreign countries is to put it unreservedly at the disposal of both employers and employed in the British shipbuilding industry. It would not be possible to lay a whole succession of reports in the House of Commons, but if my hon. Friend requires any particular information I shall be willing to give it.


In view of the tremendous importance and the interest which is being aroused in the public mind on this point, would it not be as well that the House should be put in possession of any available information?


Yes, Sir, I will certainly consider that, and also what is a convenient way of laying the information. It is quite possible to put in the Library a copy of the information I have, and I will consider that.


With regard to laying the information before the interested parties, if not before this House, will the right hon. Gentleman consider including in that information the amount of British capital which is now being utilised amongst foreign shipbuilders?


I am only too anxious to put at the disposal of those concerned in this great industry all the information I possess.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL

Will the right hon. Gentleman put the information in the shape of a White Paper, so that we may all have it?


One is getting information from, time to time, and I think that probably the course which I suggested of putting in the Library a document summarising the Reports I have would in the first instance be the best.


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has, or is able to obtain, information with regard to the payment of any subsidy by the German Government to German shipbuilding concerns; and, if so, whether he can state what is the amount of that subsidy?


I do not know of any subsidy. But 50 million marks have been set aside for loans for shipbuilding Such loans, I understand, are to be for a period of five to six years, bearing interest at ½ per cent. during construction, and thereafter at 4, 5 and 6 per cent. in subsequent years.


Has the right hon. Gentleman any information as to how the British steel plate makers are subsidising foreign shipowners by selling them plates at 30s. a ton cheaper than they sell them in England?


I have no information at all that any British firm is selling to a foreign firm at a lower price than the firm can get elsewhere.