HC Deb 20 December 1934 vol 296 cc1499-502

12.10 a.m.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 30, at the end, to add: (2) "The Ships Replacement Committee shall, to the extent of at least one-fourth of its membership, consist of persons appointed after consultation with organisations representative of workers employed in the shipping and shipbuilding industries In view of what has happened to our other amendments I suppose it will be said that it is impossible to accept this amendment. I will, therefore, only move it formally. We propose that at least one-fourth of the members of the Committee should consist of persons appointed after consultation with the representatives of the organised workers in the shipping and shipbuilding industries. We suggest that it should be a composite body representing both sides of the industry as is very common in committees in almost every industry. The replies on our amendments to-night show that in the opinion of the Government what other industries have done, and done successfully, and worked smoothly for many years, it is impossible in the shipping industry.

12.12 a.m.


The Amendment assumes that the Ships Replacement Committee will have occasion to deal with crew space, crews' wages, conditions of employment on board ship, and the payment of wages to persons employed in breaking up, building or modernising ships. The rates of wages paid to seamen and to the employés in shipyards or ship-breaking establishments are protected by existing non-statutory arrangements, while the conditions to be complied with on board ship are dealt with under the Merchant Shipping Act. The result is that the Ships Replacement Committee will not have to concern itself with any of these matters, and the suggestion that the Committee should include certain representatives to enable it to deal with these matters falls to the ground. For that reason the amendment must be resisted.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill".

12.13 a.m.

Captain A. EVANS

I should like a few words of explanation on a point which I am not able to understand. The Clause says: …the Board may approve the proposals and upon any such proposals being so approved the Board may, with the consent of the Treasury, and upon a recammendation made by the Ships Replacement Committee, make an advance to that person for the purpose of enabling him to build or modernize the vessels provided for by the proposals. Those proposals are contained in two White Papers, the first of which was published on 3rd July last and the second was published last month. In Clause 1—also in the White Paper published on the 3rd July—we find that so far as the scrapping and building policy of the Government is conceived, there is reference to the type of tonnage to be scrapped. It is to be of United Kingdom origin. The words used in the White Paper are: One scheme contemplates that financial assistance would be granted to British owners to enable them to build new United Kingdom tonnage or to modernize existing United Kingdom tonnage on condition that they scrapped not less than three times as much United Kingdom tonnage of the same general character. In the White Paper published last Monday, we find in Clause 9 sub-paragraph (b) that owners are to be allowed to buy ships, for scrapping, from foreign owners, as well as to scrap British ships, I have listened very carefully to all the Debates which have taken place on the money resolution and on all stages of this Bill, but I have failed to hear one word of explanation from my right hon. Friend, or from the Parliamentary Secretary, as to why this change has been made: as to why the Government made up their minds to let foreign vessels qualify so far as the scrapping policy is concerned. I raised this point on the Second Reading of this Bill. Unfortunately may right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, replying to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) did not have time to deal with this specific point. The point I put to him then and should like to emphasise to-night, is this: I should like to know why foreign vessels have been included at this late stage? It would appear to me, and to some of my friends, that there is sufficient redundant British shipping that could be profitably scrapped before we do the same thing for our foreign competitors. The whole point of this Bill is to deal with foreign competition; and surely it is advisable for us to scrap any obsolete British vessels and build in their place up-to-date tramp steamships that can compete under favourable conditions with foreign vessels. If it is argued that there is not sufficient British tonnage available for this purpose, then, I think, it is practical to suggest that the decision in these matters should be left to the Ships Replacement Committee. If they were satisfied that British tonnage of suitable character at an economic price was not available, they could issue a licence to allow foreign tonnage to be acquired for the purpose.

12.17 a.m.


The object of this Bill is to reduce redundant tonnage and to increase the amount of tonnage sailing profitably under the British flag. If we can succeed in buying some of the old stuff from abroad and scrapping it on the best terms, we shall be bringing about a reduction of total tonnage, and we shall use part of that tonnage for replacing British ships in British yards. Therefore we shall gain, on balance. The work of scrapping is a source of employment, and the scrap itself, for the iron and steel trade, is quite worth having. Furthermore, the number of vessels laid up is very much smaller now than it was 12 months ago. There is more than one reason for this. One reason is that there is a certain amount of extra trade. A second reason is that there has been a certain amount of tonnage scrapping going on here. I hope that that explanation satisfies my hon. Friend.


I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he does not think British shipping will be effected by the fact that foreign ships can be purchased and used for scrapping under the Scheme. The right hon. Gentleman says there are not enough British ships available to scrap. Will not the price of scrap be forced up by foreigners, and new foreign ships be built with the money received to compete with ours?


I am afraid I cannot accept the deduction of my hon. Friend, but in any case it is not we who buy. It is the shipowner who wants to buy two old ships to get the facilities for building one in their place.