HC Deb 07 February 1939 vol 343 cc732-5
33. Mr. Johnston

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that orders for merchant ships placed in British yards during the first nine months of 1938 amounted to only 168,000 tons; that during the year 1938 British shipowners had launched to their account in continental shipyards nearly 200,000 tons of shipping; whether he can give the name of the firm of British owners which had seven motor tankers built for it during the year 1938 in German shipyards; and what steps he is taking to prevent British owners placing such orders abroad?

Mr. Stanley

I am unable, from official sources, to confirm the figures given in the first two parts of the question, but I may point out that figures of orders placed are not strictly comparable with figures of ships launched, and that the tonnage of merchant ships launched from British yards during the year 1938 for registration in the United Kingdom was 824,199 gross tons. The answer to the third part of the question is that seven motor tankers built in German shipyards during the year 1938 were recorded as owned by Inver Tankers, Limited, when they were registered as British ships. As regards the last part of the question, the House has already been informed that there is no action within the power of the Board of Trade to prevent shipbuilding orders being placed abroad, but, as the House is aware, the whole position of the shipping and shipbuilding industries is now receiving the consideration of the Government.

Mr. Johnston

When does the Minister hope to be able to put before the House proposals for dealing with what is a most alarming position, and is he aware that it is contrary to British national interests that ships should be not only built in German yards, but broken up in German yards and used as scrap in German armament factories?

Mr. Stanley

I have already informed the House that the Government recognise the urgency of this matter, and I hope there will be no undue delay before proposals are brought forward.

Sir Percy Harris

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that none of the ships built abroad is entitled, either directly or indirectly, to get a subsidy?

Mr. Stanley

At the present moment none of the ships get subsidies.

Miss Wilkinson

In view of the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has just made, does he not think the time has arrived for inquiries to be made by the Government into the activities of National Shipbuilders Security, Limited, which is one of the chief factors for this?

Mr. Macquisten

Is not the reason for buying these ships from Germany this, that Germany owes these people a great deal of money, and this is the only way they can get their money?

40 and 41. Mr. Leslie

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) whether he is aware that one of the best equipped shipbuilding yards in England, situated on the Tees-side, has seven berths empty out of eight, and 60 per cent. of skilled workers unemployed; and, in view of the fact that the Mercantile Marine is an essential adjunct to the Navy in time of war, what action does he intend taking to meet our deficiency in merchant vessels;

(2) whether the Government have further considered rendering financial assistance to shipping companies; and, if so, whether such assistance will be restricted to British-built vessels?

43. Mr. Kirkwood

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware of the decline in the numbers of merchant ships of all types and classes now being built or repaired in the shipbuilding yards of Great Britain, which is not offset by the naval shipbuilding programme; whether, in view of the unemployment which will ensue if no remedial measures are taken and the fact that Scotland in particular is adversely affected, he will consider promptly calling a conference of all the interested parties in Scotland with a view to evolving a scheme to benefit all engaged in the engineering and shipbuilding industries, the prosperity of which is vital to our country; and whether in the meanwhile he will examine the practicability of giving further assistance to British shipping provided that to qualify for such assistance ships must have been built in and repairs carried out in British shipyards?

57. Mr. Kirby

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he can give the House a statement of Government policy in relation to foreign competition in the coastal shipping industry, saying what is the state of such British trade now as compared to five years ago; and whether the Government propose to counter such foreign competition by subsidising the British coastal shipping companies?

Mr. Stanley

The subjects mentioned in the questions are covered by the representations which, as the House is aware, the Government have received from the shipping and shipbuilding industries, and the position of those industries is now receiving the consideration of the Government. The House has already been informed that a statement will be made as soon as it is possible to do so.

Mr. Leslie

Is the Minister aware that there are approximately 2,000 fewer vessels sailing under the British flag than in 1914, and that we have 5,000,000 more people to feed; and is it not the case that, as long as this country has to rely on the overseas countries for food supplies, it is essential to have merchant vessels as much as air-raid precautions?

Mr. Stanley

It is because of this fact that the Government are considering this as a matter of great urgency.

Mr. Leslie

Will the Government consider that service to the country ought to come before profits, and, therefore, give no financial assistance to companies which have vessels that are not built in British yards?