HC Deb 26 July 1939 vol 230 cc1566-72
7. Colonel GRETTON

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he has received any intimation from the Government of the United States of America that that Government intends to make reductions in their Navy programme corresponding with the recently announced reduction in British naval construction?


I have been asked to reply. I would refer the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to the statement issued in Washington by the President of the United States on the 24th of July, and published in the Press here yesterday, to the effect that the United States Government would refrain from laying down the keels of three cruisers of this year's construction programme until there has been an opportunity for full consideration of their effect upon the final agreement for parity which it is hoped to reach. The issue has been confirmed in a telegram received this morning from His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington.


Has any special intimation been given regarding those vessels now under construction in the United States?


I have nothing to add to what I have said. The matter is under the consideration of the competent authorities.


asked the First Lord of the Admiralty what stage the construction of the submarine depot ship "Maidstone," and the other vessels the orders for the construction of which he proposes to cancel, has respectively reached; and what sum of money has already been spent upon such vessels, respectively?

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. A. V. Alexander)

So far as dockyard work is concerned the cruisers and the submarine depot ship have not actually been laid down though some material has been prepared. Some expenditure on contract work has been incurred on materials, on machinery for the submarine depot ship, gun mountings for the cruisers, and on the submarines, but precise figures cannot yet be given, pending inquiry as to details, including work done under sub-contracts.


What is to be done with the materials specified, which have already been ordered?


That will need some inquiry, but I imagine that most of it will be kept in store.


Will the contractors be given an indemnity?


The facts will be gone into fully, on the lines of the previous arrangements that have been made in connection with similar cancellations. It is too early to answer questions on this point.

9 and 10. Sir R. GOWER

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty (1) if the cancellation of the order for the construction of the submarine depot ship "Maidstone" will necessitate the discharge of any and, if so, how many workpeople from the naval dockyard at Chatham, or the placing of any and, if so, how many of such workpeople on short time and to what extent;

(2) what number of workpeople the construction of the submarine depot ship "Maidstone" and the other vessels, the orders for which he proposes to cancel, would have, respectively, employed had such construction been proceeded with; and whether, prior to actually cancelling such orders, he will arrange for alternative work being found for such men who may be thrown out of employment by the proposed cancellation of such orders?


asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if the vessels the orders for the construction of which he is delaying are being built in Government dockyards or private shipyards?

14. Mr. GREENE

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he will state the number of workpeople now employed in each of His Majesty's dockyards on construction and repair work, respectively; and whether any and, if so, how many dismissals of workpeople will immediately and ultimately be rendered necessary by the proposed alteration in this country's naval shipbuilding programme?


As stated by the Prime Minister on Wednesday, work is being suspended on two cruisers building in the Royal Dockyards; and the submarine depot ship building at Chatham and two submarines building by contract are being cancelled. The average number of workpeople in the Royal Dockyards that would have been engaged on these vessels for the remainder of the year is 1,200. As stated by the Prime Minister, it is hoped by special rearrangements to be able to secure the absorption of a large amount of labour which would otherwise be discharged from the Royal Dockyards. As regards alternative work I am unable at present to make any statement. On this and other points it will be necessary to consult with the representatives of dockyard labour. I cannot undertake that the Government's decision shall not take effect pending the result of such consultation. As regards the figures as to numbers employed asked for by the hon. Member for Worcester, I will with his permission circulate the details in the OFFICIAL REPORT.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that economies at the expense of the Royal Dockyards, to the amount of about £1,250,000, are being made? If this money is not to be spent and the ships are to be cancelled entirely, what does the right hon. Gentleman mean by "making special arrangements"?


The hon. Member must await the statements that will be made after consultation with the dockyard representatives.


Am I right in assuming, from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that two of the submarines that have been cancelled were being built by private yards? If so, has the amount of compensation been settled with the private yards for the cancellation of the orders?


The hon. Member is quite right in assuming that the two submarines that are being cancelled are contract submarines to be built in private yards, but with regard to the second part of his question, I can only give the same reply that I have already given to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Sir B. Falle).


In the special arrangements of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks, will tradesmen be employed on tradesmen's work, and skilled labour on skilled labourers' work, or will any kind of work will be found for them?


Will there also be taken into consideration, if compensation is to be granted, the loss of work to the employés who would have been working upon these cancelled boats?


All relevant considerations are being kept in mind, but I would ask hon. Members not to expect me to anticipate the result of conversation with the trade union representatives.


Will it be competent for the right hon. Gentleman and his Department, in connection with alternative work, to take into consideration the making of the tunnel which has been suggested across the Tamar between Devonshire and Cornwall?


I think the hon. Member is referring to the announcement in the Press of suggestions made by the workmen's side of the Whitley Council, but I cannot anticipate the answer that will be given after consultation.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is doing far more than the late Government did when they cancelled ships?

Following are the details:

The numbers of workpeople now employed in each of H.M. dockyards at home on new construction and on repair work respectively are as follows. The numbers on repair work include all workpeople employed in the professional departments of the dockyards on the repair of all kinds of ships, yard craft, boats, etc., and also on the general dockyard services:

New Construction. Repair Work.
Portsmouth 906 9,022
Devonport 723 8,971
Chatham 1,086 5,581
Sheerness 60 1,687
Portland 143
Total 2,775 25,404


asked the First Lord of the Admiralty what vessels are now being constructed by His Majesty's Government in the Royal dockyards and private shipyards respectively?


I will, with the hon. Member's permission, circulate a list in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the list:

Ships under construction for the British Navy on 25th July, 1929.
Dockyards. Contractors Yards.
Dorsetshire. Shropshire. Norfolk.
Exeter. York.
Surrey. Northumberland.—All work on these two vessels is suspended, vide Prime Minister's announcement in the House of Commons on 24th July.
Codrington. Keith.
Acasta. Basilisk.
Achates. Beagle.
Active. Blanche.
Antelope. Boadicea.
Anthony. Boreas.
Ardent. Brazen.
Arrow. Brilliant.
Acheron. Bulldog.
Odin. Parthian. Olympus. Pandora.
Rainbow. Orpheus. Regent.
Phoenix. Regulus.
Perseus. Rover.
Poseidon. Royalist.
Proteus. Rupert.
(Two of the above contract submarines are to be cancelled, vide Prime Minister's announcement in House of Commons on 24th of July.)
Dockyards. Contractors' Yards.
Hastings. Folkestone.
Penzance. Scarborough.
Repair Ship.
Submarine Depot Ship.
Maidstone.—(The struction of this ship has been cancelled, vide Prime Minister's announcement in the House of Commons on 24th July.)
13. Mr. GREENE

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty what reduction in the personnel of His Majesty's Navy will be immediately and ultimately necessitated by the proposed restriction of this country's naval shipbuilding programme; and what provision he proposes to make for the officers and ratings who will be adversely affected by the Government's reduction of naval armaments policy?


It is not possible at present to estimate the effect on personnel of the decision taken as regards the naval shipbuilding programme. I shall, however, give the matter the closest attention.


Will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that such officers and ratings who lose their employment will he adequately compensated?


I can add nothing at present to my previous reply.


asked the First Lord of the Admiralty why the Government have decided that the full brunt of the proposed reductions in naval shipbuilding is to fall upon the national yards whereas the private firms remain unaffected; and why the national shipbuilding is not to be placed with the national yards?


Having regard to the type of vessels to which on grounds of general policy it has been found desirable to apply the decision, there was, except as regards submarines, no choice in the matter, since no large ships were allocated in the 1928 programme to contract.

In the case of submarines, the brunt of the reductions falls entirely on the contract yards. I may add that dockyard-built cruisers and depot ships are supplied by contract with a large amount of material and equipment such as gun mountings, armour, armament and machinery; and the amount of this work suspended or cancelled clearly demonstrates that the reductions in the 1928 programme fall to be borne as much by private firms as by the Government dockyards.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is hardly an answer to my question, and that all the loss which the private firms have suffered is the two submarines, whereas practically the whole of the dockyard programme is cut out, and is not that very difficult to reconcile with the policy of sending national work to national yards?


That is entirely a matter of opinion.