HC Deb 04 August 1926 vol 198 cc3044-60

I want to raise here this afternoon a problem which, in the mind of great industrials in this country, is one of the most urgent and dominant, the problem of the future of shipbuilding in this country. I well understand that the great industrial issue that is before the country is a vital and important one. One understands that the feelings on both sides of that great industrial trouble have run very high, but, in regard to the great problem to which I desire to address myself, one is proud, as an engineer, to say that in every possible way the very best of good feeling obtains in all sections and strata of the shipbuilding industry. Both shipbuilders and employers, artisans and craftsmen are prepared to, and do, co-operate in every possible fashion on behalf of their trade. In a word, they are prepared to help themselves. All that they ask is that there shall be assistance in regard to certain factors and features which weigh upon the industry and in regard to which His Majesty's Government can do very much to help and assist.

First let us see exactly the terrible position of the industry. On the North-East coast 55'3 per cent. of the shipbuilders are unable to obtain employment. This is not a passing feature. It may have been strengthened by the lack of coal, but for the past 10 years the shipbuilding industry has been steadily " worsening," if I may coin a word, and has steadily been unable to take its main position in regard to world ship supply that obtained some 15 or 20 years ago. When I turn to " Lloyd's List " I find that in 1892 one and an-eighth million tons were produced in our yards, whereas only a quarter of a million tons altogether were produced abroad. But when I look under the year 1925, I find that now one and one-ninth million tons of shipping were produced in the yards of other parts of Europe than our own, and our shipbuilding to be less than it was in 1892. When I remind the House that 39.2 per cent. shipbuilding employés on the average all over the country are out of employment and that unemployment has been gradually increasing the last four years, I hope hon. Members will appreciate the very grave position in which this industry is placed. I would also endeavour to point out to the Minister the fact, that the provision and the building of ships in this country is so vital that unless we can be assured of an absolute certainty in respect of our overseas trade and our export trade wherever the supply of ships made by us used to be so certain—remember we are the greatest exporting nation in the world—the 14 days' supply of food, which is all that is contained in this country, cannot economically be assured to us. This industry, to my mind, is the vital industry of the country and requires that that splendid comradeship, which has obtained between employés and employer, should be supported and sympathetically treated in practical fashion in certain ways, which I shall enumerate presently, by His Majesty's Government.

It may be asked, what are the main causes of the lack of work in our shipbuilding yards. They are many. One, which is a broad issue, and can only be touched upon indirectly either by the Government or by the people concerned in the industry, is the overplus of tonnage in the industry at the present time. The hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House suggested how this could be dealt with. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. L.Thompson) once gave us his scheme. Mr. Hill has a scheme very similar to that of the hon. Member for Sunderland and to that which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has just suggested. I would remind those hon. Gentlemen that, while it may be right and proper that the very best accommodation on ship board should obtain, the essence of the position is that, if it be that American and European shipowners are prepared, as they invariably are, to run their barques and vessels a 15 to 20 per cent. longer period than is usual or permitted in this country again, so long as subsidies are unavailable, and if we have to rest on competition to obtain freightage, the schemes of the hon. Member for Sunderland or of Mr. Hills or of the hon. Member cannot be a solution which will provide work for the employés in the shipbuilding yards in this country.

The first position we have got to face is the lack of shipping trade available for shipowners. I want to pay my tribute on this point to the shipowners of this country, for I believe that all phases of the industry should have consideration in regard to any methods that may avail for the curing of this great difficulty. I went to a number of shipowners in this country, and said to them, "If I am to take a certain line in this matter with respect to asking the Government relief on taxes, rates and against profiteering in shipbuilding essentials, I want to know exactly what is the amount of profit you are making in respect of your work." I inspected seven different companies, and I found that in none of those seven companies for three years have they been able to show a 3 per cent. profit on their outlay, bearing in mind also the question of watered capital. I investigated that also.


Might I ask to what extent and to what number of firms did the hon. Member carry his investigation with regard to watered capital?


That is a perfectly fair interruption. I investigated seven companies. I took OPC which is referred to in a Liberal paper last night, and the name of which I do not think it fair to mention without their permission. But if any hon. Member cares to look at the " Star" of last evening, he will find details there of how such a company, whose capital it is suggested is watered, has fared and how they are not able to show on their capital a bigger profit than I mentioned a moment ago. The shippers have to face the question of competition abroad, therefore there cannot be a clear or a full solution of our difficulty until there is a better improvement generally in regard to the carrying trade of the world. There is also the cost of the materials of shipbuilding, about which I shall have a word to say later. There is, again, the fact, which, to my mind, is vital for the industrial position of this country, that, so long as we are not able to retain the finest skilled engineering craftsmen of the world in our midst, those craftsmen are going abroad to found the basis of the keenest competition against our own home land in foreign shipyards. I do not blame them. If a man in the shipbuilding or engineering industry has specialised and worked, as he has to specialise and work, academically, technically and practically, in order to become a first-class engineer, at the end of that time he has a right to take his labour into the market that will give him the best return. If we in this country are not able to accept the full responsibility for the retention of our best craftsmen, we cannot blame them for going abroad and forming the basis of a competition which is taking work from even their own homeland.

One hon. Member mentioned the inquiry that has just been held by the Shipbuilding Employers' Federation and the shipbuilding trades unions, which was very exhaustive and very thorough. I intend to examine this now, but only to speak on the agreed conclusions which obtain. The first conclusion, which was arrived at by both employer and employed, was the fact that the foreign hours of labour very distinctly bore against the better conditions and hours of labour which obtain in this country in respect to competition prices. It was shown that, whereas Germany purports only to have an eight-hours day, they work up to 54 hours. It was shown that in Holland, where again they are supposed to have an eight-hours day, they frequently work a 54-hours week and in some cases are working 10 hours by day and 9½ hours by night on an overtime basis varying from 15 to 20 per cent. above the normal price, whereas our period is 47 hours. Both sections of the trade agree that here the Minister can be distinctly helpful. The International Labour Section of the League of Nations has been helpful in some small part, but I suggest that, diplomatically as well as by the conferences which take place between our own Labour Minister and Ministers of Labour on the Continent, something could be done here of a practical purpose to try and bring into line the conditions obtaining on the Continent. So long as these Continental nations owe us money which they do not pay, so long as we are carrying a higher price of interest value on the money we borrowed from America mainly for them, we ought in fairness to compel some sort of consideration for our craftsmen and our neighbours from our competitors abroad, who are thus competing with our neighbours in an improper fashion by neither paying us the proper interest nor our capital, and thus escaping taxation so heavily existing both on employers and workmen in the shipbuilding industry.

Then there came the question of wages. Here again as everyone in the trade knows for our 47–hours week a skilled man gets 55s. 6d., a semi-skilled man 41s. 6d., and an unskilled man 38s. 6d. In Hamburg, for a 54–hours week a skilled man gets between 35s. 8d. to 37s. 7d., semi-skilled men 32s. 11d. to. 35s. Id., and unskilled men 28s. id. to 30s. 3d. The conclusions of the Conference were that they were not able to state exactly the contra consideration of the value and the cost of living in those different countries which has, of course, a very marked effect., and we have to face low. priced labour abroad. But even giving full consideration to these things, they agreed there is a very distinct difference which operates against us competitively so here again I say that as Holland, Germany, France and Belgium are under-selling us in regard to our labour, I suggest that the Minister has a distinct responsibility in respect to how and in what fashion the responsibilities of those nations have to us should be counter-balanced to retain the highest standard of comfort here and also to the treatment we are receiving in regard to competition.


Can the hon. Member say what British capital is invested in those concerns which are competing with us?


If my hon. and learned Friend, with his expert knowledge on foreign law, will compare the company laws of Germany, France and Belgium, he will find that British capital is so handicapped that it would not pay to utilise it to any great amount, because the law very distinctly depreciates the application of British capital in those foreign enterprises. Another feature I want to emphasise with reference to employés in the shipping trade is the importance of interchangeability and demarcation. I would recommend any student of industrial conditions and operations to consider the very splendid encouraging agreement which has been come to between the two sections of this trade in regard to interchangeability and demarcation. I do not intend to deal with these two points at any length, but I find that over 33 main and principal sections of the engineering industry have been particularised, and I feel that if some further similar utilisation could be obtained in the steel rolling, pig-iron, and in regard to the electrical industry it would have an important bearing upon shipbuilding, it would mean that we could obtain, without any lessenin in wage values to the other industries, the essentials of the shipbuilding industry such as steel, iron and other necessities cheaper and more competitively, which would enable us to build our ships at a price which would compete with foreign builders and would also enable our own shipowners to scrap their old vessels much earlier than now and thus produce more work in this country.

With regard to labour-saving machinery, if the Committee will forgive me, I should like especially to emphasise that feature. It is a fact that both in the engineering and other sections of the industry in this country the brains of craftsmen and the brains of inventors, if they have sometimes been discovered in the more humble walks of life, have not always been adequately remunerated by their employers. I think, surveying the shipbuilding industry and the iron and steel rolling industries as a whole, the time has come when the employer under, stands that if he is to have the best brains, there must be one continual advance in regard to the furtherance of the greater application of the technicalities in every industry. I wish that the Government could do something in this direction by making it compulsory that where improvements and inventions may obtain in regard to work in these different industries as a result of workmen, such workmen inventors shall be properly rewarded and their inventions protected. It is now becoming properly understood that more machinery does not mean necessarily the putting out of employment labour, therefore the further introduction of machinery is more and more necessary if we are to aim at a higher standard of comfort, greater opportunities of life, and the lessening of the hours of labour.

An hon. Member his raised the question of the bearing of watered capital in the shipbuilding and engineering trade. I would like to quote from the report a clause bearing on this matter of watered capital in the shipbuilding industry as follows: We think it desirable also to explain to you that on a test made in respect of contracts taken and completed by our members during the last three years we find that the prices have been such that on the average the margin over labour and material has been so small as to cover only the increased local rates which firms have had to pay. There has been, therefore, on these contracts no margin at all for cost of administrationi, salaries, and management or directors.' fees, or any of the upstanding charges which are a necessary part of the cost of every establishment. For example, depreciation of plant and machinery and other capital upkeep. There are three other features which one must mention in regard to that problem, one is the question of the local rates. It may be an advantageous custom with municipalities in this country in regard to their finance when schemes have been put into operation to provide sinking funds and thereby include a certain sum for depreciation also, but those of us who are engaged in industry know that in hard times sometimes it is impossible to provide for depreciation. We know that there are occasions when things are bad and to keep our workers together we cut our prices to the bone, and when the returns are not showing as good results as we expected, then we also waive the question of depreciation. To my mind the Government in such areas as I have the honour to represent, in some of the great shipbuilding areas wherein it is shown that high rates and terrible unemployment obtains as in our industry where it has reached 55 per cent. on the north east coast, the question of sinking funds should for the time being be waived as would be done by any shrewd business men, and quotas obtained from other areas where little or no unemployment obtains, and what a business man would do ought to be good enough for the Government or a municipal undertaking. Some of these great shipbuilding yards, which at the call of the Government enlarged their works for the manufacture of munitions, have now most of their machinery and the majority of their men unemployed, and the rates thus necessarily weigh still more heavily upon the cost of tonnage and to a much greater degree than would be the case if all the machinery was running if the men were fully employed. Here again the Government could do something by a differentiation in taxation and a lower scale of national local taxation could be adopted to fit in conditionally a proportion of men were employed. I hope the Government will do something in this matter, even by utilising some improved scheme of insurance of lessened contributions, etc. The next matter which requires very distinct consideration. That both employers and employed should examine the cost of materials and equipment in regard to lead paint, ropes, electric cables, upholstery, light castings, and sanitary fittings in regard to which there has been an unjustifiable advance in the cost between 1913 and 1926. I understand that proof of profiteering from a legal standpoint is very difficult, and the remedy is not so easy as might be suggested, but I say that we have responsibilities in this matter and any man who sits in this House and permits unjustifiable profit making which in any way depreciates the obtaining of legitimate labour has a right to call for protection against this unjustifiable profit making. I ask the Government, and I promise co-operation by this industry, both employers and workmen, to so inaugurate tests and researches, and introduce legislation, that it may be possible whilst a fair profit is obtainable for those who produce these things which are so essential to see that only a fair profit shall be obtained.

In conclusion, I for one would consider it a distinct insult to ask for any consideration of the lessening of the price of labour in the shipbuilding industry. When I consider that for the amount which is given to a skilled craftsman working as an engineer there are unskilled labourers in this city getting more pay, when I remember that there are men and women employed in industry in which there is no unemployment and yet they are better paid, when I remember these things say, if there must be any consideration in regard to the alteration of wages, it must certainly be on the upward grade, unless by a reduction of the cost of living, and a raising of the standard of comfort of those employed in this industry the same rate of payment can give better results to the workers. That is the problem which one must address one's self to because there cannot be any further cut in regard to wages. We have first to see that the local cost on industry shall be distinctly lessened. Next we must in order to relieve the heavy bearing of national taxation see that what is due to us in some cases as a result of the nonpayment of our debts and interest to us by our foreign competitors overseas, who are shirking their taxation, is dealt with at once. We must see that the high unnatural cost of materials used in the industry is reduced next, highly specialised machinery be employed to help production, and if these main features can be thus dealt with, then the same happy co-partner relationships that do exist between different sections in this industry, will continue and carry us slowly on the road to elimination of our difficulties. To-day we have the record of being the finest shipbuilders in the world, and not only can we build ships better than those built by any other nation in the world, but we are able to compete with them successfully, and in so doing we must secure to our own craftsmen those advantages which they have a right to expect.


We are rather accustomed to listening to speeches of an unreal nature from, hon. Gentlemen on the benches opposite. But I confess I have rarely listened to a speech so unreal as that of the hon. Member for the Hartle-pools (Sir W. Sugden), in spite of the demand put forward in it for better conditions in the shipbuilding industry, when one remembers that the Government which the hon. Member supports have been mainly responsible for the inflation of tonnage which has helped to create the difficulties that exist in the shipbuilding industry, and when one remembers the policy that the Government. have pursued, first in the Peace Treaties, and now by limiting the powers of British ships to bring goods to this country by the policy of safeguarding and other things of that sort. If the Government continue in power for any length of time, and continue to carry out the safeguarding policy upon which they have embarked, it is very likely that even fewer ships will be required than are being used at the present time.

I rose, however, to bring to the notice of the Minister of Labour the position that is being created as a result of the application of the ordinary regulations of the Ministry regarding unemployment, particularly under the special conditions that the coal stoppage has created in industries unconnected with the coal industry. In the borough that I represent, a large number of mills have had to shut down, in some cases unexpectedly, on account of the shortage of coal. The workers in those mills have been expecting that something would happen to enable coal to be got for the mills, and I admit they have not been very seriously searching for work in other mills, knowing as well probably as the Minister knows that other mills are affected by the same causes which have created the condition of unemployment in their own. They have been insured contributors, and have done their part in the Unemployment Insurance scheme, and they have gone to the Employment Exchange expecting that unemployment benefit would be paid to them; but, because it has been possible to urge against them that they have not been making genuine efforts to find work—and I submit that there was no particular reason why they should have wandered about from mill to mill, knowing that so many mills have been shut down on account of a temporary shortage of coal—that has been found to be sufficient to cut them off from receiving unemployment benefit. That is an extremely unfair proceeding. I submit that the Ministry of Labour, during the continuance of the coal stoppage, ought not to make this extreme demand upon the workers who are thrown out of employment on account say of a temporary stoppage of their mill due to shortage of coal.

One other point that I want to bring to the notice of the Minister is in regard to the attitude that the Ministry continues to adopt in connection with the employment of young women, or, as I might describe them in this case, young girls. I have had a case brought to my attention this week by one of the Anglican clergymen, and I mention that to show that I have not my information through the usual channels. Indeed, I am very glad that the Anglican clergy are taking more notice of what is happening in the industrial world. Many of them are helping to bring to the attention of the Ministry very serious evils in connection with the administration of unemployment insurance when young women and girls are concerned. I have had brought to my notice the case of a young shorthand typist in the Huddersfield district, aged 20, who applied for unemployment benefit and has been recommended, and, indeed, to the extent to which they have the power, compelled, to accept a position in Spalding, a good many miles away, at £2 a week. She refused to accept the position. She refused in this case under the encouragement of her friends. She is one of the many girls who have been carefully sheltered in their home life. She has not gone out into the general industrial system and cut herself off from her home connections, and she has been confronted for the first time in her life with the necessity of going far from home into new conditions—conditions that might easily prove morally dangerous. for a girl of this type and of this age.

The Anglican clergyman who sent me this information suggests, and I agree with his suggestion, that, where the Ministry of Labour discovers that a girl has never left her home, it ought not, through it insurance officers, two insist on her taking a long journey from home to go to any new job that may offer.

It may not seem to be very unreasonable where a woman is used to knocking about the country and going from place to to place, and has accustomed herself to standing up to the difficulties of the world in which she lives, and I agree that in a case of that sort the Ministry, through its officials, might well expect that a girl should leave her home and take up such position as offers. In the case, however, of a girl like the one to whom I am referring, who has not been accustomed to that sort of thing, I hope it may be possible for the Ministry to recommend to its insurance officers that whether it be a question of sending typists to new jobs 100 or 200 miles away, or whether it be a question such as my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has frequently raised, of sending a girl to a positions in domestic service, those positions should not be forced upon applicants for benefit unless it can be proved that they are accustomed to leaving their homes, and have got so used to the type of life that it is easy for them to go from one job to another and take lodgings in different parts of the country. I feel sure that, if the Ministry could meet me on the matter I am putting forward, and could accept the suggestion of my reverend friend in the communication that he has sent to me, it would meet a good many cases of hardship, and might prevent serious difficulties for girls who are confronted for the first time in their lives with being compelled to leave home in order to meet the conditions laid down by the Employment Exchange.


My remarks will be directed, not so much to the Minister in charge of the Debate, as to one or two of his colleagues, and I am very pleased to see that the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department is in his place, because I have one or two questions to ask him. I desire to focus the attention of the House once again upon the question that has been raised by the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Sir W.Sugden), and also by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I am impelled this afternoon to raise again in this House the question of the shipbuilding industry, because a new threat is held over the industry that threatens to make the last condition worse than the first. Quite recently we have had a suggestion, which almost amounts to a threat, that the Trade Facilities provisions are about to be withdrawn from the industry. If that be done, it will be little less than a, calamity in the present state of trade in the shipbuilding industry. There are signs of a revival—they are very slight, but still, they are there. If we get this further blow we shall go back again.

I have reminded the House, and so have other Members, including the last speaker, that the shipbuilding industry has a gaping wound in its side, caused by the policy that has been pursued with regard to Reparations. I am not going over the old ground again, hut I would point out that the Government, whether it be a Liberal, a Tory or a Labour Government, is under a deep obligation to the shipbuilding industry; and I want to speak this afternoon of this threat—for threat it is—to withdraw the trade facilities provisions from the industry and further worsen things. In my own constituency we have been able, under the Trade Facilities Act, to give employment to hundreds of men at home and in Newfoundland on a job that was undertaken there. The firm concerned, which is the largest in my Division, having four shipbuilding yards in East Newcastle, got credits for over £2,000,000 and thereby gave employment to this very large number of men for a period of well over two years. I mention this to show that during the trade depression we have benefited on Tyneside, and Wearside has also benefited from the Trade Facilities provisions. I do not know whether anything has been done for the district of the hon. Member for The Hartlepools, but on the Wear and on the Tyne we have benefited to a considerable extent by the operation of the Trade Facilities Act. Now we are threatened with the withdrawal of this provision at a most inopportune time. I hope that the Minister of Labour, who has now come back to his place, will communicate to his colleague our protest, because I am sure my colleagues agree with me in protesting against the suggested withdrawal of the provisions of the Trade Facilities Act.

I want to say something in support of what has been said by the hon. Member for Gorbals and the hon. Member for the Hartlepools on the question of the rings that are keeping the industry from rising to its feet again. I have also a copy of the Report of which the two hon. Members spoke, and in this joint Report of the trade unions and the shipbuilding employers an emphatic protest is made against the operation of these rings that are running up the prices of shipbuilding equipment to an abnormal report. The Report says that the firms in question are charging prices that are unreasonably high as compared with pre-War prices for the same commodity, and unreasonably high also as compared with the general level of prices. In contradistinction to the assistance that is given in other countries, we have the remarkable fact that where a shipbuilding firm in this country can give an order that can be regarded as a wholesale order on account of its bulk, these firms absolutely refuse to supply the shipbuilding firm, and compel them to deal through intermediaries, again forcing up the cost of ships' scantlings and equipment. The Report makes a most emphatic protest against this sort of thing, and a letter was sent to the President of the Board of Trade on the matter. The President of the Board of Trade promised to make a close investigation into these allegations of profiteering in ships' materials, and I should like the Minister of Labour to remind him that we are awaiting some report of his investigations into this matter of exploitation by rings in the case of shipbuilding equipment.

2.0 P.M.

I am glad the Secretary for Overseas Trade is here. I was very interested. when the question of credit guarantees was discussed in the quotations that were made by several Members from answers given to a questionnaire he sent out with regard to overseas trade I remember the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taylor) quoting a reply to question 6 by the large and important firm of Hornby Ruston and Company, who employ something like 5,000 engineers even in these very slack times. They said most emphatically that there was no lack of orders for engineering implements, and particularly those in which they specialise. They said there was no question as to prices. Their prices compared favourably with their competitors and orders could be got. The one great obstacle was the question of long term credit. I am very pleased to be able to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the scheme he has brought forward to give assistance to those firms whose prices and whose manufactures are all right, but who have been handicapped by not being able to give long-distance credit. I want to ask him whether the benefit of this credit guarantee scheme, which I understand covers engineering, could be extended to cover shipbuilding. Perhaps it would be convenient for the hon. Gentleman to answer that question before I proceed to deal with what orders might be got if the benefit of the scheme is extended to the shipbuilding industry.

Mr. A. M. SAMUEL (Secretary, Overseas Trade Department)

I will do my best to answer the hon. Member's question at such short notice. I do not think the Government will depart from the policy they laid down in regard to building cargo boats. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. Hudson) pointed out that there has been a great loss to the shipbuilding trade owing to what he called the inflation policy, by which I suppose he meant the taking of ships as reparations. Probably lying behind his view is the principle which I myself advocated some few years ago from the opposite benches, and which the Government has still as its policy, namely, that it does not want to see more cargo boats put on the water, because the additional steamers might injure our trade and depreciate freights and so reduce our invisible exports. I do not think, therefore, I can give the hon. Member any hope that, except in very exceptional circumstances, the Advisory Committee—they will go into each proposal on its merits—will recommend this new scheme of credit guarantee to be applied to the building of cargo boats.


I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I am not speaking with regard to giving credit guarantees for home ships. I am speaking about foreign orders.


The Advisory Committee would give very careful consideration to any and every project laid before it. If a shipbuilder came before the Advisory Committee who had been offered or given an order for ferry boats, river craft, ice breakers, dredgers, or passenger boats for a foreign river or port, I am inclined to think the committee would recommend that such an order should receive favourable consideration.


I am pleased to have that answer because it is in connection with foreign trade that I have raised the question. I have here the Report of the Russian Mercantile Marine. I have never spoken upon Russia or Russian matters in this House. I believe Russia is big enough and strong enough to stand on her own feet and, despite what we may or may not do, she will remain a great and powerful nation, as she has always been. This Report states that war wastage accounted for 794 steamers, and that for river craft there has been a diminution of 1,802 vessels. I submit that there is here a big field for our shipbuilders getting orders.


I can tell the hon. Member that my Department will not object to extending the facilities of credit guarantee to cover small tugs and boats ancillary to ports and for inland navigation.


Does that cover Russia?




This is an important question, as far as the small craft are concerned, and I would certainly advise serious consideration to extending credits to these vessels that are mentioned here, or to the replacement of vessels most of which would not come into competition with our own trade.


Which are they?


The river craft would not come into competition at all. So far as the 794 steamers are concerned which are mostly engaged in the Eastern trade, they would not come into serious competition. The scheme is an admirable one. I hear nothing but praise for it, and if it could be extended it would be a great boon and a veritable charter to the engineering trade and would get us out of our difficulties. I would seriously advise the Department and the Committee to consider the question of extending its scope to bring in cargo vessels—deep-seagoing boats. The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Sir W. Sugden) mentioned the handicap we are under in the industry with regard to hours as against Continental hours. It is true that in Germany and in Holland, though nominally there is a 48–hours week, they have by some elasticity in the agreement been able to work 53 and 54 hours.


Also in regard to overtime in Holland they are working a night shift as well as a day shift.


I was referring not so much to that as to the actual elasticity of the agreement with regard to basic hours, and in that we are suffering from their competition. At the same time I am not one of those who believe we can live by taking other people's living from them. It is at home where we want to direct our attention. The fault lies with us because we have refused to ratify the Washington Convention. Germany, Holland, France and Italy are prepared to fall into line if we do so, so that this disability that we are suffering under can be removed if our own country will ratify the Washington Convention. There is a sign of revival in the industry. The largest yard in my division has berths cleared for five ships, two of them of 10,000n tons, but we cannot get on on account of the stoppage in the coal industry. We all feel that the time has come for everyone to concentrate his mind upon a settlement of the dispute. There would be hundreds of men employed in East Newcastle to, day on those five ships had it not been for want of coal and material caused by the coal stoppage. I earnestly ask hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench to convey to the Government our exhortation to bend to this task of getting a solution of this unfortunate dispute.