HC Deb 15 November 1938 vol 341 cc661-3
18. Mr. Kirkwood

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that there are 6o shipbuilding yards in Britain and Northern Ireland which can turn out simultaneously 2,000,000 tons of merchant ships, and that by the end of next year 75 per cent of that capacity will be unemployed, the building berths will be empty, and the naval architects, draughtsmen, and all the other shipyard workers will be idle, while the plants will, for the most part, be silent and the personnel deteriorating in skill; and what action are the Government going to take to face this situation?

Mr. Stanley

I have seen a statement to this general effect. I think it is premature to forecast the situation at the end of next year, but I can assure the hon. Member that the position of the shipbuilding industry is engaging my close attention at the present time.

Mr. R. Gibson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this condition is very much more serious in those ports where at present a good deal of naval shipbuilding is being done, and is he keeping in mind the fact that a great portion of Greenock was devastated in order to extend the Caird shipyard, which is now lying derelict and is in every sense of the term, an "aching void" in Greenock?

Mr. Stanley

I was not thinking particularly of Greenock, but was particularly concerned with the position of shipbuilding as a whole. It would be very difficult to separate the problem of shipbuilding from the problem of shipping, on which I am hoping to receive a report.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Is not the position revealed in this question largely due to the fact that, owing to German currency regulations, debts owing by Germany can be paid only in the form of shipbuilding? Is that receiving the attention of the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Stanley

That has some relevance, but I am afraid it is not the only explanation. The hon. and gallant Member will find that building costs in Denmark and Sweden are almost as low as in Germany.

Mr. Ede

Does the right hon. Gentleman hope to be able to make any statement of constructive policy in a short time in regard to this deplorable condition?

Mr. Stanley

It is essential that we should link up the problem of shipbuilding with the problem of shipping. They are related and cannot be separated, and I am waiting for a report from the shipping interests as to the needs of shipping.

Mr. Shinwell

Can we have a statement soon? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise the gravity of the situation as regards the Mercantile Marine?

Mr. Stanley

I realise the gravity entirely, but I cannot believe that it is a good thing to try to solve a problem before you have the views of those interested. I have offered every assistance of the Department in speeding up the report.

Mr. Kirkwood

The right hon. Gentleman says that until we have the views of those concerned we cannot know the position, but may I point out that the facts given in the question come from those immediately concerned? The shipbuilders of this country say that they have nothing in view once the armaments programme is finished, and they expect that will be finished in less than a year. I want to know what the Government are going to do, because the shipbuilders have nothing in view.

Mr. Stanley

I cannot accept the statement that the programme of shipbuilding will come to an end within 12 months.

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