HC Deb 21 May 1936 vol 312 cc1523-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Captain Margesson.]

11.12 p.m.


My reason for raising this question on the Adjournment is that, when the North Atlantic Shipping Bill was under discussion and the question of a subsequent guarantee for the purpose of building a possible sister ship to the "Queen Mary" was raised, I asked my right hon. Friend whether he would consider all relevant questions before a final decision was taken as to a guarantee being forthcoming. He said as there was no immediate prospect of a sister ship he did not propose to discuss that issue. The other day in a supplementary question I asked whether we could now discuss all the relevant facts and my right hon. Friend said that the proposal had already been discussed. I thought it was only fair to put my point about the relevant questions. I do not propose to say anything about which river is to be the lucky one to receive the order, though I should be less than human if I did not desire that it should come to the Tyne, but I quite appreciate that it is the business of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look at the country as a whole.

All that I am asking is that one or two of what I consider to be the relevant issues should he taken into consideration before a final decision is taken between the Government and the Cunard White Star Company. The building of a ship of that capacity is a tremendous advertisement to any river in the world. The fact that a ship of such magnitude is on the stocks in any yard makes for the reduction of establishment charges and puts the yard which has the honour of building such a ship into a first-class position so far as tendering for other shipbuilding orders is concerned. Also, so far as Admiralty work is concerned, there can be no question that, on the major issue on which tenders are allocated, any yard having such a ship on its stocks must have an enormous advantage over its competitors. My right hon. Friend may say that it is the business of the Admiralty, but if I may say one thing about the Government, it is that, in the very difficult situation we shall have to face in the future industrially, it would be simpler if there could be a little more co-operation between the Government Departments as far as major problems are concerned. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when discussing these proposals with the Cunard White Star Company, to bear all these issues in mind. I am certain that when my right hon. Friend comes to reply he will say that it is purely a business matter, and that economic and business questions are the sole factors.

While I appreciate that the position of my right hon. Friend is such that he has to look solely at the financial position of the country, I suggest that as far as the Government are concerned, the welfare of the nation as a whole has to be taken into consideration. Of course, every one of us wish the "Queen Mary" the very best of luck in the future. I have not a very warm personal admiration for the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), but my right hon. Friend will be aware that the hon. Member has, both in the Press and as a result of his broadcast, let it be known among the unemployed what a magnificent thing it was—he does not always say that it was due to the National Government—that the "Queen Mary" was allowed to be finished as a result of the guarantee given under the North Atlantic Shipping Act. All the unemployed in other parts of the country who have listened to these very moving and touching descriptions ask that when the next ship is due to be placed the Government should take into consideration the interests of all the other rivers which hope that they may he the lucky river to receive the order. That is quite natural and human.

My right hon. Friend takes a pride, as does every one of us, in the democratic system of government in this country. Everybody takes a pride in it and believes in it irrespective of party politics, but what the people of this country like as a result of their belief in this democratic system is ordinary justice. It is not necessarily that they would disagree with the Government in any decision they might make, but they would like to know that, before a decision is taken, every aspect of the question is considered. All that I ask is that my right hon. Friend should say that, before a final decision is taken as between the Government and the Cunard-White Star Company, all relevant factors, such as the advantage the Clyde has already had and the advantages to the unemployed on Clydeside compared with other parts of the country, should be considered, and that when he has weighed all aspects of the situation he will make his decision and I am certain that that decision will be a wise one. I apologise for having to keep the House after a heavy day, but I wanted to say this, and it is rather difficult to find an appropriate moment. I think hon. Members who represent unemployed in different parts of the country want to know that everything that can be said has been fairly weighed in the interests of all concerned.

11.21 p.m.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)

It is impossible not to recognise the honesty and sincerity of the advocacy of my lion. Friend and also the moderation and fairness with which she has put her case. She is not asking for any assurance that a second vessel, if it should be ordered, as a sister ship to the "Queen Mary," should be placed on the Tyne, or any other river. She has asked for an assurance that all relevant factors shall be taken into consideration. It is not difficult to give that assurance. But if I confine myself to the bald statement that every relevant factor will be given full consideration before a decision is come to I am not sure that I shall be doing full and complete justice to my hon. Friend. I ought to say what the relevant factors are. Nobody doubts that even such a magnificent specimen of marine architecture as the "Queen Mary" can be built on other rivers than the Clyde. No doubt the Tyne, for example, has a claim, by its past achievements and the skill and experience of its designers and craftsmen, to be able to produce a ship equal to any in the world. But when the hon. Member put her case it seemed to me that she was almost suggesting, perhaps not intending to do so, that the fact that one ship had been built in one place might be put on the debit side in considering whether a second ship should be taken to the same place. If that was her intention, I could not go so far as to agree with her. The Government did not in the original terms reserve to itself any right to a final decision as to where the second ship should be placed if it was to be ordered, but at the same time in considering any proposals that might be made to the Government, the Government certainly would have to take knowledge of a number of factors, among which would be, other things being equal, the value to the country as a whole, the provision of employment and the great publicity value in one place rather than another.

My hon. Friend will recognise that the Government, as representing the country, has now a very substantial financial interest in the successful working of the great concern under which the "Queen Mary" is about to work, and, therefore, if it appears that great economic advantages to the company will be secured by placing the order in one district rather than in another, it will be difficult to say that the other factors in question were so important as to override a consideration of that kind. My hon. Friend would not expect me to tell her what the value of these various factors is. All I can say to her is that certainly I will take all the relevant factors into consideration, but she will realise that a major factor in the final decision must be the result on the successful working of the Cunard-White Star Company of the placing of the order in one or in another part of the country.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-five Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.

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