§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Transfer of Functions (Construction of Ships) Order, 1959 (S.I., 1959, No. 1829) dated 30th October, 1959, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd November, be annulled.
We are very dubious about the transfer of these functions. They have lain with the Admiralty now for twenty years, and whatever our complaints may have been about the Admiralty, there is no doubt that that Department has exercised a very watchful eye over the progress of the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industries. We want some assurances from the Minister of Transport that it is in the interests of these industries that the functions which have hitherto been carried out by the Admiralty should be transferred.
These functions have been dealt with by the Admiralty under Vote 14 of the Navy Estimates. An explanatory note on page 211 of the Navy Estimates, 1959–60, says:As a result the Vote is small, but it has been retained in order to bring out the Admiralty's continued responsibility as the production authority for the merchant shipbuilding, ship repairing and marine engineering industries and for maintaining contact with these industries on all matters of common concern. In particular, the Admiralty endeavour to assist them whenever help is necessary, for example, in the procurement of scarce materials and components.
I think that the Admiralty has discharged that task. I have had the good fortune to sit both in that Department and in the Ministry of Transport, and I have seen it at both ends. It is fair to say that the Admiralty has done its best to look after the interests of these industries.
Shipbuilding is a great industry, despite some of the denigration that has been directed at it over recent months and years. It is one of our major industries. It provides a great deal of revenue from the export of some of the best ships in the world, and it merits well of the nation.
464 I wonder whether it is right to transfer this function to the Ministry of Transport. It is not as though that Ministry has been the most glowing success in the constellation of Government Departments. In the last few years of road and rail transport it has made the biggest mess that any Department could make. It has failed to solve most of the problems which have confronted it. The road accident rate rises every year, and to travel on a suburban train is just about the most intolerable this this side of hell. The Ministry has not even managed to solve the question whether the hard shoulders of the new motorway can be made hard.
The Ministry of Transport has a rather sorry record. I have watched its progress over the last few years, and I would point out that there has been a steady deterioration in its standard since the late Sir Cyril Hurcomb ceased to be its Permanent Secretary. The fact that it has been such a collossal failure in road and rail transport matters gives me no confidence that it will be any better able to handle the problems of the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry.
I would ask the Minister whether he has not enough on his plate already. He has plenty to do if he wants to satisfy the travelling public, who are getting more and more exasperated at the delays and bungling of the Ministry in road transport matters. I understood that he is a very over-worked man. Indeed, from Press reports we were led to believe that one reason why the Ministry of Civil Aviation was transferred out of his care and made a separate Ministry was that he did not have sufficient time to attend properly to all the problems of road and rail, aviation, and shipping. We have set up a separate Ministry for aviation, and we were very ready to agree to this because, in the Ministry of Transport, the civil aviation aspect of the work used to receive only a margin of the Minister's time, and it was not right that a great industry of that sort should be dealt with in that way. I do not expect the Minister to admit it, but that was a common criticism in aviation circles, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary must know, since he has mixed in those circles.
465 If it was necessary to transfer civil aviation from the Ministry of Transport, since shipbuilding and ship-repairing are just as important I cannot see why the Ministry should now be made responsible for it. I warn the Minister that it will take just as much of his time to oversee the future prosperity of this industry as it would have done in the case of civil aviation. The statistics are broadly similar, since the two industries are very comparable. In 1957, the gross output of the aircraft manufacturing and repairing industry was £559 million, as compared with £413 million for shipbuilding, and ship repairing. The export value of aircraft was £69 million, and for ships it was £79 million. The number of people employed in the aircraft industry was 269,000, while the number of those working in shipbuilding and ship repairing was 231,000. The Minister has given up one big job but he is taking on another which is just as big.
I want to be satisfied—and the House and the industry will want to be satisfied—that the problems of shipbuilding and ship repairing will receive a full measure of the Minister's time, quite apart from any problems concerning M.1, suburban road traffic, road accidents, and the general decline in our shipping industry. That is why we have staged this debate. We want to get new assurances from the Minister and also to draw his attention, as the new Minister, to some of the problems that he will have to face. They are serious ones.
So far, the Admiralty has been in a particularly favourable position to look after the industry, and I would like to hear from the Minister why it is thought that he can do the job better. One reason why the Admiralty has been specially favoured is that it is a very large customer of the industry. In fact, 15 per cent. of all the new building now going on in our shipyards is for the Navy. It has also had a large though diminishing proportion of repair work. In those circumstances, when questions have arisen of getting more steel out of the steel manufacturers the Admiralty has been in a very favourable position.
I tell the Minister that his Department does not have the same reputation 466 or standing in this matter, and I want to know whether, now that it has come under the control of the Ministry of Transport, it will be more difficult for the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry to receive the care which was previously given it by the Admiralty. We are very doubtful about the amount of time that the Minister will be able to devote to it. As I have said, he is an overworked Minister. He has some of the biggest problems of any Minister. We know that he has a flair for publicity. I feel sorry for him because of the way the cameras chase him around. It must be a great embarrassment to him.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am sure that is not so. No one likes to be photographed all the time—training at Chelsea football ground, or riding a bicycle. The photographers have even pursued him into his kitchen. He must have found that most embarrassing. I hope that he will be able to escape from the glare of publicity, because he will find that gimmicks will not help him to solve all the great problems which he has taken on.
Let us deal with some of them. First, there is unemployment. Two years ago 5,600 men were out of work in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industries. In the summer, that number rose to 12,200. The level of unemployment in the industry is about 6.6 per cent. I am concerned about the transfer of these functions to a Minister's marginal time—unless he is ready to tell us that this will become the first priority in his Ministry. In the two comparatively small docks in my constituency 500 men are out of work. Some of them have been out of work for months, and it looks as though they will go on being out of work. I want to know what time the Minister will be able to devote to this problem before I agree to this function being transferred from the Admiralty—which now does not have an excessive amount of work—to an over-worked Ministry like the Ministry of Transport.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has yet had time to examine the future position of the shipyards. There are at least two which will have 467 no keels to lay after next March. Two or three of the smaller shipyards have no keels laid at present. The crisis is coming not in the large yards but in the smaller ones. How will the right hon. Gentleman overcome this? We would like to hear something from him on this subject before we agree that his Ministry is the right one to handle the problem.
Let us consider the order books of some of the shipbuilding and ship-repairing firms, as they are made public. If we examine them we see that there is a great unevenness in them. I have seen some which show that no keels are to be laid in 1960, two keels are to be laid in 1961, three in 1962 and four in 1963. It is astonishing that this great unevenness can exist. The Minister will find that many yards will have no ships to lay down during the next twelve months but will have ships coming along in two years' time. He must discover why. Are credit facilities standing in the way of the shipbuilders? Are they preventing ship owners placing firm orders for next year? If that be so, there may well be a case here for the Government to consider whether they should give them the credit facilities that are available.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
Order. The House is following the speech of the hon. Gentleman with interest, but he must keep to the question of the transfer of functions from one Ministry to another and not refer to the general question of credit facilities for shipbuilding as a whole.
§ Mr. Callaghan
As I understand it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, all the functions in relation to this are being transferred to the Ministry of Transport. I take it that is so. All the functions which the Admiralty exercised regarding shipbuilding and ship repairing are being transferred. If that is not so, we should know. I should be grateful to hear it. I will gladly give way to the Minister because I want to get in order. Can the Minister tell us, in order to help us, whether all the functions are being transferred?
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)
Under this Order it is very limited. It is in relation to Regulation 55 of the Defence (General) Regulations, 468 1939. It may be that other things are transferred, but this Order deals with that specific point.
§ Mr. Callaghan
It is not good enough for the Minister to say that it may be that other functions are being transferred. What is the position? Are all the functions being transferred or do some remain with the Admiralty?
§ Mr. Marples
This Order does not deal with the wider transfers which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. The Ruling is yours, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and not mine, but this Order is limited in scope.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I quite understand that the Minister is not yet seized of the full range of his duties. Perhaps I may acquaint him with them. The circular which has been sent out from the Admiralty, or now from the Ministry of Transport—presumably under the authority of the right hon. Gentleman—to ship-repair yards says that the change of responsibility… has involved the transfer of this Department as a whole to the Ministry of Transport. I shall continue to discharge at the Ministry of Transport similar duties to those which I have been doing at the Admiralty since 1950.Under Vote 14 of the Navy Estimates we were quite entitled to discuss, and were in order in discussing, credit facilities for shipbuilding and ship repairing, and supply as a whole, and all these other matters. If it is to be argued that we are not able to raise these issues because they are being transferred to the Ministry of Transport, I say that that is an additional reason for leaving them with the Admiralty where we were able to discuss them.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I think that the hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. It would be for the convenience of the House to know where the lines are drawn. I understood the words above paragraph 2 of the Order to be specific. They are:Transfer to the Minister of Transport of control of construction of ships.I should have thought—and I wish to submit this to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker 469 —that this means that the debate is bound to be very narrow, however regrettable that may be—because some of us would wish it to range more widely—and must relate to the actual transfer of the powers as laid down.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The debate must be restricted to the transfer of powers between one Ministry and the other. It would not be in order to debate the original Vote.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
Further to that point of order. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was raising the question of credit. It seems to me that it is very important that we should know what is the position because earlier this year, in the last Parliament, I raised the question of credit with the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, and, in fact, that was of great advantage to a shipyard in my constituency. Surely we can now debate whether that power rests with the Minister of Transport or not? will certainly be germane to the proceedings of the House, and it will be debatable whether, as the Minister has conveyed to the House at the moment, that power is not being transferred to the Minister of Transport, because it certainly will not remain with the Admiralty.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
So far as that relates to the transfer of power from one Minister to another, it is in order to debate it.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
The Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, refers to the… functions with respect to the construction of ships under Regulation 55 of the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939.It goes on to refer to the 1959 Act as well. I have taken the trouble to go to the Library to look at both the Regulation and the Act. With respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I can tell you that, in fact, the Defence (General) Regulations of 1939 conveyed to the Admiralty at that time complete power with regard to the control of merchant shipbuilding. There has been a certain amount repealed, but, in fact, the Admiralty had an overall say in the matter. All the powers regarding construction and repair work in the Merchant Navy vested in the Admiralty are being transferred to the 470 Ministry of Transport. I say, therefore with respect, that any argument about any deficiencies in shipbuilding and ship repairing, formerly the charge of the Admiralty and now that of the Ministry of Transport, is relevant as the Ministry of Transport is taking over the same functions as the Admiralty used to have.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think not. It is only so far as one responsibility F transferred from one Department to another—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
—and hon Members cannot argue the whole question of responsibility. It is the transfer of power which must be argued.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I, with respect, make this submission? We have just heard a Ruling on the basis that it is a simple transfer of power from one Ministry to another and that no details are involved. But I submit, with respect, that paragraph 2 of this Order shows that details are involved. In my submission it is not just a simple transfer from one Ministry to another; it is the transfer of details. Paragraph 2 (1) of the Order states:There are hereby transferred to the Minister of Transport"—not all the functions of the Admiralty but,… the following functions of the Admiralty, that is to say—(a) their functions with respect to the construction of ships …and(b) their functions under the Restriction of Construction of Ships Order …So, in my submission, we are entitled to argue about those details and ask the Minister whether all the powers are being transferred from one Ministry to the other, or if it is only sonic of them, we are entitled to ask what are the details.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
So long as the questions relate to the transfer from one Department to another, my answer would be "Yes".
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am very grateful for your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and, of course, I shall not transgress it. It would be a great pity if the perplexities which overhang the industry at the moment were lost in a welter of Parliamentary proprieties. It is for that reason that my hon. Friends have been anxious to establish the fact, which I hope will reassure the industry, that if part of the functions are going all are going, because the functions which the Admiralty has exercised and which it is now proposed should go to the Ministry of Transport—on the whole without my consent—are very broad. The Defence Regulation said:No person whose business or part of whose business is the repair, alteration or drydocking of ships shall carry out or cause or permit to be carried out in the United Kingdom repairs or alterations to or the drydocking of ships otherwise than to the order of any Department of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom except under the authority of a licence granted by the Admiralty.
It is from that very broad Regulation on the repair and construction of ships that the Admiralty constructed Vote 14, which, as it said, gave it power to act as the production authority for ship repairing, marine engineering, procurement of scarce materials and components. If the Admiralty was not acting under that Order some First Lord had better be impeached because he will have been acting ultra vires all these years. He had better repay the Vote, as a former Governor of Greenwich Hospital did.
I come back to the major point. It is all very well for the Minister to say that he is ready to issue licences for building and for the repair of ships, but he has to face the fact that people are not yet ready to lay them down. In the issuing of these licences, if he ever wishes to do so—the Vote has been allowed to drop—he will have to have regard to the fact that credit facilities must be made more evenly available to the shipbuilding industry than they have been up to the moment. I am certain it is right to do this. I say so for this reason. Any of us who have ship-repairing and shipbuilding yards in our constituencies know that this casual labour force can be dispersed very easily and that, as in the mining industry, once it is dispersed it is extremely difficult to gather it again. A great deal of skill is likely to be lost. I am addressing myself particularly to the 472 problem of the small yards, of which a number are represented by hon. Members in this House, and there are two in Cardiff. The difficulty lies there, and in those areas the Minister will be faced with great unemployment.
On the question of the capacity of small yards, there is a problem which will have to be dealt with by the Minister if the Admiralty are to hand over this work to his Department. History shows that over the last thirty or forty years, broadly speaking, ships have been getting bigger. They are wider in the beam and, generally, are of far greater tonnage than they were. The average tramp is bigger. The capacity of the small yards is not adequate to deal with the ships which owners require to be built. If this is to become a healthy industry the Minister has on his hands the problem of rationalisation and modernisation of the smaller yards to ensure its health, and the capacity of some of the small yards will have to be enlarged.
I have outlined four major problems, but there is one more. That is the fact that a number of countries which have recently become ship-owning countries are now, in the full pride of nationalism, deciding that it would be a very good thing to build their own ships. There is a growing view in some of the newly industrialised countries that they ought to subsidise and, indeed, finance the building of their own shipyards. This has happened in India and is happening in Yugoslavia, and I am sure there are other examples. What is to be our attitude to a problem of that sort?
On all the problems I have raised—the question of unemployment, phasing the programme, provision of credit, the question of what is to be our position in relation to Government-subsidised shipyards in other countries—I tell the Minister that he has a man-sized job to do and it will not do for that job to be confined to one small portion of his time. It has, or should have, taken a considerable portion of the time of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. It certainly did ten years ago when I was there, but that is a long time ago. It ought to be a major preoccupation now.
My hon. Friends and I are not satisfied and wish to register extreme disquiet at the proposal to transfer this industry 473 from the umbrella of the Admiralty under which it has sheltered for some time, where it has been looked after as well as possible and where the Controller of the Navy has been constantly in touch for his own purposes with the great steel producers and other great industrialists who supply necessary materials. I feel a great deal of disquiet that this industry is being transferred to a Ministry whose record in transport over the last ten years has been nothing short of calamitous.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I beg to second the Motion.
We are very much indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) for the first-class case which he has made. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I begin with a constituency point, but like my hon. Friend, I have many constituents employed in shipbuilding and ship repairing. The Minister may be interested to know that the average level of unemployment there is as high as 11 per cent.
These men wrote to me recently because four frigates under the control of the Navy were to be converted to weather ships. They asked whether at least one of these ships could be converted in the London area, because it would create a lot of work for many men who had been unemployed for a long time and would be an excellent Christmas present for them. I wrote in my humble capacity to the First Lord of the Admiralty and asked whether he would be kind enough to deal with the matter. I had a reply from the First Lord saying, "This is not a matter for me. This is a matter for the Minister of Transport, who has taken over the whole of these functions and who will decide who should do this job".
At that stage I was not prepared to argue the case with the First Lord, because that would do my constituents no good. I intended to write to the Minister of Transport and have a chat with him. I do not want to complicate your job any more, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because it is complicated enough as it is, but you will be interested to know that, in fact, the decision was not taken by the Ministry of Transport at all; it 474 was finally taken by the Secretary of State for Air.
That is the sort of Government that we have. Four frigates are to be converted, which is a big job involving months of work, employing thousands of men and costs thousands of pounds, and yet no Government Department is clear about whose responsibility it is. I might say that at the end of the day, although I do not know where the work has gone, the bad news which I have for my constituents is that, unfortunately, not one of these ships will come to the London area for conversion. I do not know whom I am now supposed to see about it, but I gathered from the Order that the functions are transferred to the Ministry of Transport.
In order to support what my hon. Friend has said, may I refer to the Explanatory Note to Vote 14 of the Navy Estimates to which he made some reference? This is an interesting story. The responsibility for merchant shipbuilding and repair was first assigned to the Ministry of Shipping, now the Ministry of Transport, but in January, 1940, it was taken away from that Ministry because it was realised what an inadequate crowd they are at that Ministry, andit was transferred to the Admiralty so as to ensure the co-ordination of naval and merchant ship requirements.This was done because it was realised that this was the right place to have a measure of control. As my hon. Friend said, this is in itself a full-time job.
The Admiralty is in any event a rundown business with not very many ships. We could almost count the number of ships which it controls on two hands, and many of them are not ocean-going.
§ Mr. Mellish
Nevertheless, for some extraordinary reason this work is to be taken from the Department which has the capacity to do the job and given to the Ministry of Transport. We need more than glib explanations tonight, because the livelihood of many people is involved in this matter.
In transferring this responsibility to the Ministry of Transport we have given it to a Department which has a new Minister. I hope that you will allow me 475 to continue on this issue, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, although I have no doubt that I shall be out of order in a moment.
The Minister of Transport comes to this job with a great deal of glamour surrounding the way in which he will tackle it. Already people are referring to him as "Mr. Transport". Frankly, I wish him well. There are no party politics in this for me.
The fundamental problems of transport are so vast that he will find that hon. Members on this side of the House are desperately anxious to co-operate with him and to help him to solve the problems of our congested towns, cities and roads. We want him to look at the problem of the co-ordination of road and rail and a hundred and one other problems. I speak as a parent when I point out that there is also the problem of the many thousands of people who are killed each year on the roads. All this is no party matter. We must get together and help to solve these problems. The question is, "Can this mighty man solve these problems?" I am not one of those who thought the right hon. Gentleman was a wonderful success as Postmaster-General. After all, we pay more for our letters, telephones—
§ Mr. Mellish
It is relevant in this sense. The right hon. Gentleman comes into this job with a great deal of glamour. My hon. Friend—and you never ruled him out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—said that we have the pleasure and privilege of knowing that the right hon. Gentleman can ride a bicycle, can cook an omelette better than anyone else, and can do a number of other things. He has had an enormous amount of publicity, and I am envious of him, because we all like publicity in this House, but, if he is as strong a Minister as he and the Press would have us believe, he will say to those responsible for transferring these functions to his Department, "My Department cannot cope. It is impossible to do this sort of job", and will send it back to where it came from, the Admiralty, who surely ought to be able to do this job.
As I say, this is not a political matter. We are now discussing the livelihood of 476 thousands of men. We know that hundreds of our ships are laid up. We are in competition with some of the great ship-repair yards of the world. This is a serious problem for many of us who represent people who earn their living in this industry. We will not allow this Department to work as a sub-department of the Ministry of Transport, which is already overloaded with work. The problems are too great for any one man to deal with. There will be trouble if the Minister gets up and says, "It is all right; we will deal with it". We will not take that from him. We want to know how he proposes to solve the problem We want to know his long-term plans. I have a shrewd idea that until tonight he did not know that the Department had been transferred to him.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) always entertains the House, whether we agree with him or not. He is always most engaging. Indeed, he was much more engaging in what he had to say and the way he said it than the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). The speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East missed the point, and it was wildly extravagant on two particular points. The first concerned his reference to the civil servants involved. He said that this Ministry had gone downhill since the retirement of a particular civil servant.
§ Mr. Williams
I am glad to hear the hon. Member saying "Hear, hear." I can only assume that he was making a most cleverly veiled and cunning but, nevertheless, unpleasant attack on the civil servants who have occupied high positions at this Ministry. If he was not doing that, I should be glad if he would say so to the House.
§ Mr. Callaghan
It is well-known throughout the whole of Whitehall that some Departments have a high reputation and some have not. I put it to the hon. Member quite clearly: if there is a choice between the Admiralty and the Ministry of Transport, the quality of civil servants in the Admiralty is much 477 higher than it is in the Ministry of Transport. I have served in both Departments. I shall not be mealy-mouthed and hide that sort of truth, which the country ought to know about when important functions like this are being transferred. I want this to go down clearly on the record. In my view, the deterioration of this Ministry started when a great civil servant, Sir Cyril Hurcomb, retired.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Member has made his own position perfectly clear, but I do not think that by that approach he will help the task of those who work permanently at the Ministry of Transport. I think that what he said earlier and what he has now repeated has done a great deal of damage to this Ministry. We on this side of the House reject what the hon. Member said.
Secondly, I was surprised to hear the general line of attack by hon. Members opposite, criticising something of which I should have thought they would approve—this form of co-ordination of our transport effort. That is a phrase which I always understood to be lauded by hon. Members opposite. Nevertheless, this appears to be a moment of reversal of faith for them. They cannot be right on both occasions; they can take their choice.
The object, I understand, is to transfer to the Ministry of Transport powers previously held by the Admiralty. I have always felt that there was something lacking in the control exercised by the Admiralty in its set-up over the problems of shipbuilding and the co-ordination of policy on shipbuilding, taxation and ship ownership. There may be, therefore, positive advantage in the transfer of power.
Ignoring the slight contretemps between the two sides of the House concerning the civil servants in the Ministry of Transport, it would be regrettable at this moment of transfer if a sincere tribute were not paid from both sides of the House to those devoted civil servants who have worked in the Admiralty to further the cause of our shipbuilding. Many of us, on both sides, know them very well and appreciate the work they have done quietly, consistently and over a long period to further our shipbuilding interests.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
Will the hon. Member now take steps to correct the charges that are always made from his side of the House against an overflowing Civil Service, many of whose servants are simply hanging on to their jobs?
§ Mr. Williams
The questions of size and quality are quite separate matters. I am talking of the quality of the civil servants in the Department at the Admiralty who, under the Order, are being transferred to the Ministry of Transport. I believe that they are devoted men who are entitled to great support from the country in general.
It seems to me that, under the Order powers which are being transferred from the Admiralty to the Ministry of Transport will give greater strength and co-ordinating ability to the Ministry of Transport in its oversight of land transport problems allied to sea transport problems and the co-ordination of policies in providing for the transport of goods across the seas.
Like the two hon. Members who have spoken from the other side of the House, however, I believe that in this transfer there is danger of overloading a Ministry. This is a matter on one aspect of which we need a specific statement this evening. I refer particularly to the position of the previously-named Galbraith Committee. Has the rôle of that Committee been transferred with these powers to the Ministry of Transport? Is the Ministry of Transport now responsible for the development of nuclear power for commercial enterprise? This is a most important matter, which is, perhaps, of greater long-term significance than anything else that is debated here this evening.
§ Mr. Williams
It is all very well for the hon. Member to say that. This is something which I have been championing since before he came to the House.
§ Mr. Williams
I know what the position is. We need to have it cleared up specifically in relation to this debate tonight.
My other hesitation about the transfer is that I am not certain how the Ministry will be able to balance the interests of the shipbuilders, on the one hand, and the shipowners, on the other hand. There are many ways in which these two interests may conflict in times of emergency and difficulty. Obviously, the interest of owners is to get their ships at the cheapest price and at the earliest possible date, whereas the builders, naturally, are interested in selling at the highest possible price. There is, therefore, danger of conflict of interest in the shipping community in general between the owners, on the one side, and the builders, on the other side.
It is worth while to give notice to the Minister that there are certain large problems which he will have to face and solve in the near future. The recovery of shipbuilding in this country depends primarily on the recovery of world trade. Obviously, this is a matter far outside the Order, and therefore—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is indeed outside the Order. For that reason, I hope very much that the hon. Member will not continue in those terms.
§ Mr. Williams
I was about to add, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the words, and therefore I will not elaborate on this point.
Nevertheless, there is something which is of equal importance which does come within the purview of this Order. There is a nationwide and a worldwide surplus of building capacity. Because of the very narrow lines of the Order, I do not think it will be possible to develop that matter, but it is a problem which will rest on the Minister's desk and will go on resting there—hon. Members will see that it does rest there—till some method is found to solve it. Many countries which have attained or developed self-government since the war are developing their own yards and wish to develop their own capacity. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East mentioned this. It is a problem which has consequential effects upon our yards in this country.
Then there is what is, perhaps, the greatest immediate problem on the 480 Minister's desk, and that is the question of the surplus tonnage which is laid up all over the world today.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I do hope the hon. Member will try to keep to the terms of the debate. It concerns the transfer of functions from one Department to another.
§ Mr. Mellish
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. With respect, it seems to me that the hon. Member's argument is valid in the sense that he is arguing that with this transfer of functions the Minister will not have the time or the opportunity to deal with them because of the enormous problems he has already. That is a fair point, surely?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have endeavoured to rule that we must try to stick to the transfer of functions from one Department to another, and that is what I invite the hon. Member to do.
§ Mr. Rankin
No. On a point of order. May I put this point to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? Is the hon. Member for Sunderland, South going to be allowed to limit the scope of the debate, as he obviously will, if he succumbs to this indefinite Ruling? Because it is indefinite, if I may say so with respect, when we are concerned with a transfer of functions which so far have not been clearly defined.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The scope of the debate should be limited by the Chair and not by hon. Members.
§ Mr. Callaghan
This is important, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, not only for the hon. Member for Sunderland, South but for hon. Friends of mine who may wish to continue the debate. Is it not in order to argue, as I tried to argue, I hope successfully, that if the Minister has a problem on his table at present which is very large and needs solution and has not been solved, that is a good reason 481 for not giving him these additional functions? As I understand the argument of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South, it is that there is a great deal of tonnage laid up in ports and harbours round the world and that this is a problem the Minister has to deal with now. It has not been dealt with. I am not blaming the Minister because it has not been dealt with, but from the fact that it has not been dealt with it could be argued by the hon. Gentleman that the Minister should not have many other matters put on him as well.
§ Mr. Williams
Neither do I, and I thank the hon. Gentleman. Nevertheless, I do not intend to elaborate it at his invitation.
The fifth matter on which the Minister has to exercise his powers, but which, if these powers are transferred, will be the key one, is this. With this transfer of powers, will he be in a position to make recommendations in time for the Budget? Because it seems to me that if these powers are to be granted he must have a policy for the taxation or otherwise of shipping and the shipbuilding industry. Unless we know that he has those powers and can exercise them properly, it would be wrong to grant him these powers today.
Finally, these functions and powers being transferred today are powers which give the Minister the privilege of serving Britain, British shipbuilding and British shipping in a greater degree than has come to the lot of anyone for a considerable period of time. I hope and pray that he will not spend all his time building bridges and new roads, but that he will think primarily now of British shipping and British shipbuilding. If he is able to give us an assurance on that this evening, I shall welcome this transfer of functions as being in the interests of the whole industry.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)
I certainly do not want to occupy the time of the House by discussing the merits of respective civil servants, but I am bound to say, in reply to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams), that I wish that he and many 482 of his hon. Friends showed the same solicitude for those members of the public who serve the nationalised industries, such as the National Coal Board, the electricity boards and the gas boards. I will not go beyond that, but I think that the hon. Gentleman must accept from me that the Civil Service is one part of the make-up of life in this country. Some are better than others, which was all that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said.
The question I want to raise is purely that of employment, and I make no apology for it at all, because in my constituency, Leith, we have had continued dealings with the Admiralty and we have run into a fair amount of trouble and certainly considerable unemployment in the shipyards. I think that Leith is fairly representative of all shipyard constituencies throughout Scotland and in Britain as a whole. Indeed, the only point on which I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East is that he seemed to think that there has been a wide difference in the unemployment position between the big and the small yards. The stage is rapidly being reached when unemployment is reaching the big yards as well as the small ones.
One of the things we have to contend with is competition, on which I will not expound, except to say that there are many in the shipbuilding industry who feel that our shipbuilders are unable at present to compete on equal terms with shipbuilding firms abroad, because of concealed subsidies or credit facilities which are not obtainable by shipbuilders in this country. I will not take the matter further except to say that, if the Minister of Transport is to deal with this problem, the quicker he looks into this question the better it will be for our shipbuilding industry.
What confronts us today is the ever-growing unemployment. I have had a letter only this week from the secretary of the branch of the United Society of Boilermakers, Shipbuilders and Structural Workers in my constituency. In this yard, which has given of its best throughout the years and has a great record of service, with very few hours, if any at all, lost through strike action, we have the situation that, despite all 483 that, the reward for that service is unemployment. It is very difficult, I say to the Minister, to ask men to go on giving of their best, and to give us the output which the country needs, if, at the end of the day, the only reward they get is to sign on at the employment exchange.
In my constituency, many rivetters have been idle for months. A considerable number have not done a day's work this year. That is serious unemployment. We have able-bodied, efficient tradesmen who are capable in every way, yet simply cannot find work. The same may be said of the shipwrights in my constituency. Unemployment is rife, and, what is worse, they think that by March of next year there will be no more keels to lay down. Therefore, the out-look gets worse.
It is often said that we ought not to have, and cannot have, direction of industry or direction of labour, but unemployment in my constituency would be very much worse if it were not for the fact that the unions concerned have been able to secure employment for people from Leith in Glasgow, at Grangemouth. I was surprised to find from this letter that a dozen men have now gone to Lowestoft to find employment. It might be said that we shall not have direction of labour, but unemployment is directing shipbuilding workers out of Scotland into England.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Member will try to direct what he is saying to the question of transfer from one Department to the other.
§ Mr. Hoy
Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I do not want to transgress the rules of the House. All I was saying was that there are two different types of transfer, and the transfer of men from my constituency to Lowestoft is one which we think important.
When this responsibility is transferred, it will be transferred to the Ministry of Transport. I am not prepared to vote in favour of that taking place unless the Minister can give me an assurance that he will deal with this problem. It is the responsibility of the Admiralty at present and if the transfer takes place it will become the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport.
484 I do not want to delay hon. Members, or prevent any other hon. Member from taking part in the debate, but I say in all seriousness to the Minister that the problem which concerns us in Scotland and elsewhere cannot be got rid of by photographs, or publicity, or any of those "gimmicks". The one thing that will get rid of it is work, and hard work, and it is work that the men in my constituency want. If they meet with failure in this respect, Scotland will speak with an even much stronger voice than it did at the recent General Election.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley McMaster (Belfast, East)
I should like to add to what previous speakers have said by calling for an assurance from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport that the transfer of these powers to him from the Admiralty will mean that he will concern himself particularly with the shipbuilding industry. We all know the reputation that the Minister has for initiative and imagination, and I trust that he will exercise those qualities in dealing with the industry. I hope that he will particularly concern himself, as a result of the transfer of these powers, with the type of shipbuilding that is going on abroad and with the prefabrication that one sees in German and Swedish shipbuilding yards, and that he will encourage the modernisation of our yards.
I hope that my right hon. Friend, in particular, will note the number of British shipbuilding orders which are today going abroad. Too many are going abroad. I would ask the Minister to assure the House that he will use all the influence in his power with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see that the necessary capital arrangements are made by way of capital allowances, or the provision of capital in any other way so that we can modernise our yards and bring them up to the standards of German, Swedish and Japanese yards. In that way we may compete for orders and our shipbuilding industry may be assisted in facing the type of competition which it has to face today from other yards in the world.
I ask the Minister, as a result of the transfer, to concern himself particularly with our fine shipbuilding industry I hope that he will encourage it in every way possible and will do everything in 485 his power to improve the capacity of our yards, not only here but also in Northern Ireland. I am confident that with an assurance along those lines we can support the transfer of powers to the hands of the Minister of Transport.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
I do not know whether it will be better for this work to be done by the Ministry of Transport than by the Admiralty. I shall wait with great interest to hear the Minister explain how advantageous the change will be. It seems to me that the Admiralty, which is undoubtedly running down now, will have less work to do and that the Ministry of Transport, which, we know, is full of work, will have more to do. One would think that the Lords of Admiralty would be able to carry on with their present functions in view of our smaller Navy, which is getting smaller all the time, whereas the Minister of Transport might hesitate about taking on extra work.
The staff position, it seems to me, need not be very different if it is handled properly, but, of course, it never is. The natural think to expect would be that the staff now engaged on the work at the Admiralty would move to the Ministry of Transport to do the same work. However, I pity the Minister if he tries to do that, because we all know what happens when functions are transferred from one Department to another: extra staff are taken on in the second Department, promotions are made and, at the same time, there is no saving of staff in the first Department. Somehow, that never seems to work out.
As I say, the Admiralty has fewer functions today than ever before. It is true that there are not quite so many admirals—there are still between 60 and 80—but there are big rambling buildings, not only in Whitehall but also in Horse Guards Parade, and there is also Lenin's Tomb—we all know what Lenin's Tomb is, do we not? There are also outbuildings in other places. What will happen to the offices which will be vacated by the staff which, presumably, will move? Where will the new staff go? Will new offices be taken for it?
I am confining my doubts to the one narrow point of the transfer of staff, or what should be the transfer of staff, because unless the Minister handles this 486 matter carefully there will not be a simple transfer of staff from one Department to another but there will be extra expenditure at the Ministry of Transport and no economies at the Admiralty. This is a non-party point and I ask the Minister to watch carefully that part of the operation.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
It would be an under-statement to say that the encouragement—indeed, the facilitating—of shipbuilding and of our shipping industry generally, is one of the greatest acts the Government could perform if it had the power to do so, but the shipbuilding industry is in the hands, and rightly so, of private enterprise. Had the reverse been the case, I think it would have followed the same course of some other industries since they were nationalised.
§ Sir P. Agnew
For the most part, it steers a straight course and generally avoids shipwreck. Having made that general observation, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am sure you will call me to order if I pursue it at any great length, as the subject of this Order, which the Opposition is seeking to annul, is very narrow in scope. I had not intended to try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but since the debate began—
§ Sir P. Agnew
The hon. Gentleman will hear in a minute. Since the debate began, I have been to the Library and have ascertained what the Regulations refer to. I have found out exactly what are the vast powers which the Front Opposition Bench suggested are being transferred from one great Department of State, leaving a vacuum behind, to be lodged on the broad shoulders of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, which might make even him stoop a little. If that were the case, I should be very nervous on his behalf in spite of the progress he made while he was at the Post Office. That is not the case at all. These Regulations are Regulations which were brought in under the stress of war and are wholly restrictive and prohibitive in character. There is 487 nothing in them about encouraging shipbuilding. They were for the purpose of stopping the yards building merchant ships in order that they might be free at any moment to build warships for the Admiralty in furtherance of the war effort. I do not believe I have misstated the true purport of the Regulations.
§ Mr. Mellish
If that was so, many of our arguments would fall to the ground. But is the hon. Member aware that I received a letter from the Admiralty, after I had asked for certain work to be done in my area, stating that this was now in the hands of the Ministry of Transport which has the direction of the work to be done? How does that tie up with the powers described by the hon. Member?
§ Sir P. Agnew
The powers of the Admiralty are very great; indeed, they have never been entirely circumscribed by Statute. I believe that to be the case. In fact, the Letters Patent creating the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty are very widely worded and not controlled by any Act of Parliament, so far as I am aware. It would be out of order for me to mention how great are these powers. Many of them are never likely to be used again in our history, except under the stress of war, and if that calamity ever occurs I think that such powers should rightly belong not to the Commissioners of the Admiralty but to whoever is exercising the supreme power of Minister of Defence in this country.
These powers, which this Order transfers to the Minister of Transport, are merely restrictive powers that have been saved from removal when a whole host of war regulations were swept away by Her Majesty's last Government, and I understand that there is no intention by this Government to reimpose them.
The justification for the transfer of these powers from one Department to the other can be summed up in one sentence. It is simply that the actual function, if there is a function left for these Regulations to carry out, is not a military function but a civil one. It is an emergency shadow power which, in the event of an emergency occurring, would enable the Minister of Transport at once to shut down any further merchant shipbuilding and leave the 488 yards clear for the Defence Department of State for whatever use it might wish to put them. So it is a civil function and not a military one, and it is rightly going to be reposed in a Minister who is primarily a civil Minister.
I shall find it easy to resist the Prayer against the transfer of these functions, because I believe that the Minister of Transport in the many arduous duties which he will perform, with all the work that he has before him, will not find the extra duty imposed by this Order so great as to dislocate his work or his Ministry's work.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
There is nothing in what the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) has just said with which we are not familiar. I am sure that it will not be a surprise to him to learn that when we debated the Navy Estimates, earlier this year, we discussed the many aspects of the Regulations to which he has referred.
My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), sitting beside me, has the note attached to the Estimates, and I am sure that he will refer to it if he is fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. Everything that has been said tonight from this side of the House, and, I am sure, everything that will be said from it, apart from what the hon. Gentleman may think, is justified not only by what is in that note but by the custom and precedent of the House.
Time and time again I have put to the predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman points which, I hope, I shall be able to put tonight—
§ Mr. Callaghan
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I call your attention to the fact, and ask you to bring it to the notice of the attendants, that an occupant of the Public Gallery is smoking?
§ Mr. Rankin
The questions which have been asked and the speeches which have been made in the House dealing with these matters have been answered by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. I 489 assumed that when the right hon. Gentleman took over what I thought were his functions it would automatically follow that the matters which we have brought to the attention of the Civil Lord in past years would be pertinent matters to draw to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman tonight.
I have only one worry, and it has been expressed by two or three of my hon. Friends. My constituency, Govan, has three of the largest shipbuilding yards in the United Kingdom, and they employ, I believe, between 5,000 and 6,000 men. This is an immense factor in the total employment in my constituency, because if trouble comes to those shipbuilding yards poverty will ensue almost automatically for the great mass of the people there. This affects not only the immediate Clydeside area; because of Scotland's dependence on ancillary industries related to shipbuilding, it will also affect the whole of the country.
I want to impress on the right hon. Gentleman the fact that we regard shipbuilding and ship repairing as a major Ministerial task, and I hope that he will find it possible to do what would appear to be two major Ministerial jobs. To ally shipbuilding and ship repairing with transport is to place too big a burden ort one Minister, however able that Minister may be. I would have felt more satisfied if we had been told that this was not merely a transfer of functions, but a transfer of the responsibility for shipbuilding and ship repairing to a separate Minister. I say that because there are great problems to be faced, some of which have not yet been mentioned.
We have been talking about redundancy. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) referred to—
§ Mr. Speaker
I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, but he must relate what he says, if he can, to the particular functions transferred by this Order.
§ Mr. Rankin
I was merely about to quote something already said and, it already having been said, I assumed that it must have been in order and, therefore, being in order from that point of view, I thought that I could refer to it, Sir.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not know what it was, but, supposing what was said was out of order, it will not be cured by the hon. Member referring to it.
§ Mr. Rankin
I was trying to say that it was said, so I assumed that it must have been in order, because I am certain that an occupant of the Chair would not allow anything out of order to pass his notice.
I only wanted to point out that this was not merely a local, but a national problem, and was emphasised by the fact that this industry's labour force over the past year has fallen from 210,000 to 190,000. That is the great problem, anti in taking over these functions—
§ Mr. Speaker
I dislike having to interrupt the hon. Member, but unless the debate is kept in order it wanders from one subject to another. It is not to be doubted for a moment that it is a great problem, but can the hon. Member relate it to the transfer of functions effected by this Order?
§ Mr. Rankin
Like you, Mr. Speaker, I do not like being interrupted. I was doing my best to get it over quickly, because of its importance and because I believe that the Minister, if he does not appreciate it now, will realise in due course that this aspect of shipbuilding is a very important function for him.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question which derives from one which I have already put on the Order Paper. Having had that Question answered by the Minister, in a Written Answer, unfortunately, I take it that it will be in order.
§ Mr. Speaker
It will be in order if it is in order in this debate, but the hon. Member may have asked and had answered many questions which would not be in order in this debate.
§ Mr. Rankin
This matter has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and others. We have drawn the Minister's attention to the fact that world capacity to build ships is now three times greater than world demand. In view of that, what consultations has the right hon. Gentleman had, or does he propose to have, with those people interested in the shipbuilding industry, the shipping industry and the trade 491 unions which might be affected by any of his decisions? Because of the new duties that have come to him and the tremendous increase in world capacity for building ships, has the right hon. Gentleman devised any policy, or is he thinking of any policy, which will help to maintain full employment in the shipbuilding yards?
I want to advance another suggestion which has been freely canvassed. The Government ought to encourage the policy of scrapping ships which are over a certain age. Many of our ships are now out of date. The Government should embark on a policy of replacing those ships by more modern vessels. Such a policy would require credit facilities. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East has already made that point from a different angle.
§ Mr. Speaker
There is great difficulty about the course that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to navigate. I do not think that he has in mind how limited are the functions under the Statute by which they are governed. They are related to… such prohibitions or restrictions as appear to the competent authority to be expedient having regard to any agreement or arrangement concluded in respect of defence matters, or any consultations held in respect of such matters, between Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the government of any country outside the United Kingdom.My difficulty is to relate what the hon. Member is saying to that.
§ Mr. Rankin
I hope that it will be realised that nothing I have said so far has not been put to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. I agree that we are dealing with what would, on the surface, appear to be a limited and narrow subject, the transfer of functions. We on this side of the House have endeavoured to navigate the debate in such a way—with, I hope, the co-operation of Mr. Speaker—that the Minister will be able to tell us what is the policy that he is churning over in his mind to deal with the issues and responsibilities which have been placed on his shoulders.
I do not want to say any more. If the Minister can say something helpful on the points that I have raised it will bring great comfort to shipbuilding areas 492 which are facing a serious future. It is because of that that I have persisted in trying to put over the points that I have raised.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) paid tribute to the Admiralty and to the men who deal with the administration of this problem there. If those men have done such a good job, why does the hon. Member welcome the taking away of the functions that have been performed by that administration and the placing of them under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transport? I should have thought that if these men, who had been connected with merchant shipbuilding and ship repairing for so long and knew so much about it, had done such a wonderful job this was not the time to take their powers from them and transfer them to the Ministry of Transport.
Some of us are very concerned about the transfer. We are concerned, first, because it may not be possible to ask as many Questions and to raise the problem of shipbuilding and repairing in as many debates when the functions have been transferred to the Ministry of Transport as it was when the subject was under the administration and jurisdiction of the Admiralty. That would be very unfortunate, because the right hon. Gentleman is taking over at a time when the industry's future prospects appear rather bleak.
I am opposed to the transfer because hundreds of men in my constituency do not know where their next week's work will come from. Last year about 8,700 men were employed in ship repairing in the Tyne and Blyth area, but that figure has now fallen to just over 5,400. The number of unemployed ship repairers has risen by 2,000, and when I go back to see my constituents this week-end they will ask me whether, before I gave my vote for the transfer of these powers, I was assured that the new Minister would look after their interests as well as, if not better than, the Admiralty.
The right hon. Gentleman must realise that a great deal of apprehension exists on this point. Many people feel that this may be a case of the Government thinking that they must write the industry off, and can therefore pass it to the control 493 of a Minister who is overworked and has to deal with many other problems already and will therefore have no time to care for this major industry. They feel that the industry may be allowed to wither away. Unless the Minister is asking for powers to do something during the next two or three years far more deliberately and effectively than did the last Minister, there will be no purpose in making the transfer.
What attitude does the Minister take in regard to the restrictions on foreign orders? Will the Ministry now remove those restrictions and enable anybody abroad to have a ship built in Britain? We are entitled to know.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am not sure that I understand in what respect the hon. Member is entitled to know that in the context of the functions which are to be transferred which relate to the licensing or construction of shipbuilding in this country.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
On a point of order. As I understand it, this Statutory Instrument deals with the transfer of powers concerning the construction of ships from the Admiralty to the Ministry of Transport. We know that the great majority of shipbuilding yards tender for Admiralty orders. If foreign competitors are allowed to take up berths in the shipyards, and keels cannot be laid down if the Minister wants them, cannot that matter be brought into the scope of this discussion? Cannot we he sure that there will be an unopposed building of those Admiralty ships which the Minister may desire to order from any yard?
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) can relate what he says to the functions being transferred by the Order, well and good, but I do not know how he relates what he was saying to that matter.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
The point I was making is that at the moment there are certain embargoes regarding the building of ships for certain countries. That has been the direct responsibility of the Admiralty. I presume that the responsibility will now be taken over by the Ministry of Transport. I want an assurance that the practice which has obtained in the past will not continue in the future. In other words, if the 494 Russians, the Rumanians or the Poles want ships built in this country, the Ministry of Transport, as the responsible Ministry, will not stand in the way.
The second thing I wish to know is whether the Minister will pursue some sensible arrangement in the international sphere so that British shipping may be given a fair chance. Unless that is done the industry cannot possibly prosper. So it is the job of the right hon. Gentleman to see that some of the unfair practices and discriminations which now make it impossible for our people to compete on fair terms—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I regret having to interrupt the hon. Member, but he cannot conceivably relate that proposition to this Order.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I presume that the Ministry of Transport Estimates will contain an Explanatory Note identical with the note in the Navy Estimates covering shipbuilding and ship repairing. Referring to the power being retained, the Explanatory Note in Vote 14 of the Navy Estimates states:… it has been retained in order to bring out the Admiralty's continued responsibility as the production authority for the merchant ship building, ship repairing and marine engineering industries and for maintaining contact with these industries on all matters of common concern.I should have thought that questions of overseas orders was a matter of common concern; I should have thought that unfair discrimination and practices was a matter of common concern; I should have thought that the running down of the industry was a matter of common concern; I should have thought that unemployment in the industry was a matter of common concern—
§ Mr. Speaker
It may be of common concern. The trouble is that it does not relate to the functions transferred by this Order.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I should have thought that since what I am saying would be perfectly in order when we are discussing the Navy Estimates, it should be in order now, but the power is being transferred to the Ministry of Transport.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I do not wish to deny your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but henceforth all the questions which in the past I have put to the Admiralty regarding these matters will now go to the Minister of Transport and I am merely asking what his attitude will be. The right hon. Gentleman has asked for power to administer these matters. He is asking for powers which hitherto have been possessed by the Admiralty. I am not anxious to give him these powers until I receive an assurance that he will exercise them in the way that I should wish him to.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to go on for so long. [Laughter.] I hope that hon. Members are not going to tempt me because I have more notes which will enable me to speak for longer. I would say this to the Minister. He, of course, may win many medals for building roads and bridges and easing our transport problems, but unless when he leaves his present office he can say that he has restored something of the security and prosperity to the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industries which they knew between 1940 and 1956, all his other achievements will pale into insignificance because he is bound to leave not only wrecked towns and wrecked shipyards but wrecked homes and wrecked men.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
I understand that we are debating the transferance of certain powers of supervision over the shipbuilding industry from the Admiralty to the Ministry of Transport. We are questioning the utility and advisability of that transfer.
Although, like my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), I find it particularly difficult to form an opinion on any benefit to the shipbuilding industry if such a transfer is made, I was confirmed in my scepticism about that utility by what the hon. Member for Sunderland. South (Mr. P. Williams) said. He made it plain enough, I do not think anyone could deny, that these powers are being transferred from one of the most powerful and one of the most formidable Ministries, the Admiralty. Anyone who has had any dealings with the Admiralty when in Ministerial office will know how formidable that Ministry is, but, with respect to the hon. Member, 496 it is being transferred to a far newer and far less formidable Ministry.
We ask how this transfer of powers will fill empty berths, particularly in the Caird Shipyard, in Dundee, which is a problem which affects me especially and, mutatis mutandis, will apply to every hon. Member who has a shipyard in his constituency. There is the simple problem about which we asked you, Mr. Speaker, and you referred, if I may say so with great respect, to your difficulties in this debate on a number of occasions; but our central difficulty is that we can see no hope, in this transfer of powers, of any benefit to what is becoming an increasingly desperate situation, in a number of constituencies throughout the country, in a great and traditional industry.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South spoke of the shipbuilding industry and was glad that it was in the hands of private enterprise. I should have thought that that was a particularly unfortunate example. It is quite true that it is in the hands of private enterprise. I do not wish to attack the shipyard I know best, the Caledon shipyard, in my constituency, but I must say that when I moved there from other industries—some of them private and some of them public—in that constituency, I have sometimes been tempted to think that I have moved a step back in industrial development.
The abilities of the Minister of Transport received a new eulogy from the hon. Member. We were told that he had remarkable initiative and enterprise. I am bound to tell him that I think he will need the whole of it in dealing with the shipbuilding industry.
§ Mr. P. Williams
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for giving way. I am sure that he would not want to blackguard the whole British shipbuilding industry on one case, which I personally do not know. I think that he would acknowledge that the majority of British shipbuilding yards have put back profits into amazing plans for reorganisation, modernisation and re-equipping.
§ Mr. Strachey
I certainly should not want to blackguard the particular shipyard of which I spoke. As a matter of fact, I think that it is well up to the average, but, without claiming any great 497 technical knowledge and judging by results, and without at the moment saying that I can allocate blame, this industry does not seem, in the test of world competition, to have succeeded very well in holding its own. We ought to face that fact.
§ Mr. Speaker
The difficulty, which I share with the right hon. Gentleman, I suspect, is in relating his observations to this debate. The problem in which I would welcome his assistance is how they relate in any way to the functions transferred by this Order.
§ Mr. Strachey
I realise, Mr. Speaker, that I was led astray by the interjection of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South.
The strict issue is the transfer of these powers of supervision. Those of us who represent constituencies which have a shipbuilding interest feel great scepticism and very serious concern whether this Order will help us. It seems to me that that is the substantial issue with which the House is concerned. We should like some light on it.
At the very end of the last Parliament I called attention to the parlous situation which was developing in the Caledon Shipyard, in Dundee. I am bound to use every opportunity to call attention to it. The powers of supervision, be they great or small, which the Government possess over this matter are being transferred from one Department to another. Surely that is an occasion on which we must call attention to what may be regarded as a local emergency, but which is also a national emergency which has arisen in this industry.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
If I had any doubts before I came into the Chamber whether the transfer of these functions from the Admiralty to the Ministry of Transport was desirable, I should have been persuaded that it was desirable by the speech of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). First of all, he treated us to an explanation of the disastrous state into which a yard in his constituency has fallen. He says that it cannot meet competition from overseas. In spite of this, he says that we should continue with the same system which he maintains has 498 created this state of affairs and that we should not transfer the functions from the Admiralty to the jurisdiction of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.
§ Mr. Strachey
I understand that the hon. Member is arguing that after ten years of Conservative holders of the office of First Lord of the Admiralty they have reduced the shipbuilding industry of this country to the present parlous state. I did not go as far as that.
§ Mr. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman is well known for twisting arguments. I said nothing like that. I said that the right hon. Gentleman maintained that this yard in his constituency is in a mess, and that it is in a mess under some control by the Admiralty In spite of the fact that it is in a mess he says that it must not be transferred to another Minister who may run it more efficiently.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Gentleman has had a lot to say to the House already and has been out of order.
I think it most desirable that this transfer of functions should take place. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read the Order."] Hon. Members might be interested to know that I have read the Emergency Laws (Repeal) Act, 1959. I will read to the House the paragraph to which the Order refers. The Second Schedule states:A competent authority may by order provide—(a) for imposing in respect of the movement, transport, disposal or acquisition of any article situated outside the United Kingdom, or in respect of the re-export of any article from the United Kingdom, or in respect of the construction of ships, such prohibitions or restrictions as appear to the competent authority to be expedient having regard to any agreement or arrangement concluded in respect of defence matters, or any consultations held in respect of such matters, between Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of any country outside the United Kingdom;I hope that the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), who appeared to be puzzled, is now clear what we are talking about.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
The hon. Gentleman should be fair. The hon. Member who claimed that that very wide definition was narrow and confined was one of his hon. Friends, the hon. Baronet the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew), who lectured us for trying to argue the matter on too wide a basis. The hon. Gentleman ought to ask for an apology from the hon. Baronet, not from us.
§ Mr. Williams
My hon. Friend was perfectly right when he gave the reasons why the functions were originally exercised by the Admiralty.
§ Mr. Williams
I did hear my hon. Friend's speech. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the reason for these powers being under the control of the Admiralty was that in days gone by it was essential for the Admiralty to have complete control over the shipbuilding industry so that it could clear the yards, if necessary, in order to put forward an important programme of construction for war purposes. That state of affairs is never likely to arise again, because if there is a major war, which we all hope and pray will never happen, without doubt we shall not have the opportunity to carry out a large shipbuilding programme. A war would be settled in a very short time and we should have to make do with the ships that were available. That was the point made by my hon. Friend, who was criticised by an hon. Member opposite. I think that my hon. Friend was quite right.
What are the points in favour of transferring these powers from the Admiralty to the Ministry of Transport? First, both the shipbuilding and shiprepairing industries must remain as competitive as possible. That is very necessary. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) said, there are many highly efficient yards in this country, but it is essential that that efficiency should be kept as high as possible. My belief is that this is more likely to happen if control of the industry is exercised by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport than by the First Lord of the Admiralty, because I believe that the Ministry of Transport, 500 in particular, has greater experience in handling industrial relations, which is very important if we are to have a high level of efficiency in the shipbuilding industry.
It is no good hon. Members saying that we are losing orders abroad. We shall continue to lose orders unless we can keep down to a price and keep our yards as the highest possible efficiency. I do not think that we are likely to achieve that end if the industry generally is controlled by a Service Department.
I therefore welcome the proposal to transfer these functions to the Minister of Transport. I am satisfied that he will make a success of it, in spite of the derogatory remarks made about him tonight. There are plenty of people in this country who have a great admiration for the work which he did at the Post Office. I think that he will be even more renowned after he has served his time at the Ministry of Transport.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
Not only is it a case of mistaken identity, Mr. Speaker, but the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) thought I had previously made a speech. This is the first time I have spoken.
§ Dr. Mabon
An extremely good one, too. The hon. Member for Exeter has made an excellent contribution. He has tended to elaborate the point that we have been trying to make all along concerning the importance of this transfer of functions. Very few hon. Members opposite appear to have appreciated the extent of these functions.
The reason why my hon. Friends on this side of the House, in their natural zeal, have got into trouble with the Chair is the difficult interpretation of the many functions which follow from the Order. At least three Acts of Parliament and no fewer than four Orders are involved. One of the Orders is over 20 501 years old. In paragraph 2 (3) of the Order, we find the following:Any authority, licence, or direction given or granted by the Admiralty for the purposes of the functions transferred by this Order shall, if in force at the coming into operation of this Order, continue in force as if given or granted by the Minister of Transport.There must be in existence literally hundreds, if not thousands, of such authorities, licences or directionsgiven or granted by the Admiralty.The administrative directions flowing from the Order must come to a substantial number, so much so that I doubt whether even a Philadelphian lawyer could tell us what precise function at what particular time we are discussing.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) was able without question from the Chair—quite rights, in my opinion—to ask a question about nuclear propulsion. I did my hon. Friends and myself a grave injustice when I said that the hon. Member's question was ten days out of date. I was wrong. It was twenty days out of date. I asked the Question, as did one or two other hon. Members, on 4th November.
It is interesting to reflect that on that day—the Minister will remember it well—he had, perhaps, 50 or 60 Questions to answer. Although he had the whole day entirely to himself, I doubt whether more than four Questions were concerned with the major industries of shipbuilding and ship repairing. While I do not deny that those four Questions were valuably used, quite apart from one of them being, mine, they were valuably used in the sense that we elicited from the Minister an important answer about an important Committee. I wonder whether in some oblique way it does not come under one of the authorities, licences or directionsgiven or granted by the Admiraltyin relation to the development of nuclear-propelled ships.
I seriously wonder whether the Minister is prepared to challenge the legality or the strictness in law of any hon. Member asking a Question in that regard concerning the outcome of the venture. For example, many of the authorities for spending money in the Admiralty were secured under these powers. It could be argued that if even only £1 of Vote 14 of the Navy for the last year was voted 502 in respect of any one item covered by the Order, we are entitled to ask whether it is wise for this function to be transferred.
Coming from Greenock, which has many interests in the Navy, both Merchant and Royal, I have had a lot of experience of the Admiralty. I cannot say that I am pleased and delighted that the Admiralty is losing this function. Nevertheless, if it were going to a fresh Minister, even like the present incumbent of the office, who had no other responsibilities, I would be delighted. When, however, it is going to a man who carries on his shoulders such tremendous problems as the present Minister of Transport, I wonder whether ship repairing, shipbuilding, shipping and all the functions now being transferred will not become the Cinderella of the Department. There is no doubt about it that of Vesuvius and the other volcanoes on the other side of the House the Minister is the only one still erupting and that he has some energy which may produce something, but whatever his good intentions and whatever his energies, one cannot help wondering whether he will be able to do very much to help.
Another question comes to my mind in relation to the very point raised by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. When we asked this Question on Wednesday, 4th November, regarding the outcome of the Galbraith Committee, the Minister said he was glad to say that this Committee had since lodged its Report and that now that Report was on his desk and he was giving it every consideration. We were all very pleased about that, but the curious thing is that Rear Admiral Wilson himself said something about it in a contrary sense. I am wondering whether Rear Admiral Wilson is being transferred along with these functions.
§ Mr. Speaker
The problem is to discover what this has to do with the narrow range of functions transferred by this Order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member if he can satisfy me about that, but I have a duty to the House, and at present I am not satisfied about that.
§ Dr. Mabon
I am very sorry about that, Mr. Speaker, but earlier in the debate—I do not remember whether you yourself were in the Chair at the time—there was a reference to civil servants who had worked on the matter. Rear Admiral Wilson was one. It was suggested, by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South, I think, and acquiesced in by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, that certain civil servants would be transferred as a result of the Order. I wonder if one will be Rear Admiral Wilson.
Although he is a civil servant, he is a public figure, and he makes public speeches. I want to refer to one sueh speech of his, in which he involved this Minister and the presentation of the Galbraith Report. I am sorry if this appears complex and, perhaps, controversial to you personally, Mr. Speaker, but I am genuinely seeking information and making a point of genuine concern. It has relevance to these functions which are being transferred.
The point is that Rear Admiral Wilson in Glasgow the preceding Friday, which was Friday, the 30th October, made a public speech. I think I sent a clipping of the report of the speech to the Minister with a request to him. The Rear Admiral made certain statements that this Report—at least, the inference was—that this Report would not be in the Minister's hands or the Admiralty's hands for some time. Yet the Minister could get up some three or four days later and announce that the Report had been received.
Rear Admiral Wilson is actually in charge of this project, and I am trying to argue, without reflecting on the capabilities of Rear Admiral Wilson or of the Minister, that there seems to be a divorce in the relationship between him and the Department which is, perhaps, disadvantageous to the conduct of the Admiralty's interests. It may be an argument against these functions being transferred. I merely put that in, and no higher than that, for your consideration. The fact is that Rear Admiral Wilson did make this speech, the underlying assumption of which the Minister was able to contradict by saying that the Report had been received by him and was getting due consideration.
I would not expect the Minister to deny that that Report is an extremely 504 vital one for British shipbuilding, affecting, perhaps, one of the most important decisions he could make if this transfer were to go through. I doubt whether even a great motorway would excel in importance the question of what kind of nuclear reactor we are going to use in our ships.
It does seem to me that in discussing this problem tonight we are discussing one of the greatest industries in this country, the industry which dominates the Rivers Tyne and Clyde and many other small rivers—
§ Dr. Mabon
I say what I have said without qualification, because on the Tyne and Clyde are produced four-fifths of British shipbuilding, and most of that is done on Clydeside, although I doubt whether Tynesiders would go with me that far.
This industry is going through one of the most difficult times in its history and requires the full attention of a Minister. We are alarmed lest this Minister, overburdened as he is, will not have the ability—though he may have the resolve, will not have the physical ability—to be able to carry out these duties. We do ask him to reassure us now that in the exercise of these functions which he is seeking from this House he will be able to give full attention to that industry, and we do ask him at the same time to delineate these powers and functions about which we are concerned in this debate, and to give us some hope that he will give as much time to shipbuilding and shipping as he does to other transport.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)
In following the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), may I say that I share his knowledge of the wide range of powers at present possessed by the Admiralty, and also his reluctance that these wide powers should, after a very long time, pass from the Lords Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral. Surely the situation has slightly changed since the day, centuries ago, when these powers were first granted.
505 The situation in the shipbuilding industry, which has been brought particularly to our attention by the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) and others, is a serious one. We are told that there is at present a world slump in the shipbuilding industry. As I and many others know, there are orders for shipbuilding which are available to those who go out and get them, and I ask the right hon. Member for Dundee, West why some of the orders from Brazil, Indonesia and other countries have been placed in Poland and Eastern Germany and in Finnish yards and are not now going to the shipyards in his constituency.
The reasons for this are far-reaching, and they are a commercial aspect of this matter which is, perhaps, no longer best served by a purely military Ministry. Therefore, with the greatest reluctance, I support the transfer of these powers, and would ask my right hon. Friend whether he will pay particular attention to the failure of the British shipbuilding industry to compete for the orders which are going in the world today, but which are passing to competitors, very largely in Eastern Europe.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)
Perhaps it might be for the convenience of the House if I reply to some of the points which have been made during this debate. I only hope that in doing so I can keep within the rules of order.
It has been a very good-humoured debate, with Members from the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industries playing a prominent part. Many harsh things have been said, particularly about me and the Post Office, especially by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). I received an anonymous postcard this morning, and I shall compare the writing on it with that of the hon. Member for Bermondsey, because it said:My idea for motorways and roads: Get out of the business yourself before you have time to ruin transport as you have ruined the Post Office.The postmark was not Bermondsey, but not very far away.
I should like to say that there are two points to make here. First of all, what does the Order do?—and, as you, Mr. 506 Speaker, said, it merely transfers some powers—and, secondly, what are the reasons for the transfer? There exist certain powers at the Admiralty, and these powers will not be added to, subtracted from nor diminished in any way. They remain precisely as they are, and all we are seeking to do is to pass them across to the Minister of Transport. Whether this Prayer is successful or not will make no difference; the powers will still be there.
I will deal first with the powers, in order to get the matter into perspective. It has been said that the Ministry of Transport at present has a great burden, and that at the Ministry we have many great problems. I agree. It has also been said that a great burden will be placed upon me, a task of great magnitude, by the receipt of these powers.
All I can say is that the powers are at present carried out by sixteen civil servants who will be coming across to the Ministry of Transport. The Director of Merchant Shipbuilding and Repairs, who is the leader of the sixteen, has arrived, and the others will be arriving shortly.
§ Mr. Marples
As a matter of fact, it was someone in the Ministry who said that they were delayed by traffic jams in Piccadilly Circus, but I do not believe that is true.
They are coming from the Admiralty, and the reasons for the transfer are fairly simple. Before the Prime Minister made the alteration, the position in civil aviation was that the Minister of Transport had responsibility over the running of services and the Minister of Supply for the production of the aircraft. That was a division of responsibility which was not really efficient, and it was very much better, with the industry contracting a little and consolidating, as it were, for them to be placed under one Ministry. Therefore, that took an immense burden from the Ministry of Transport and gave it to the Ministry of Aviation.
The Minister of Transport is responsible for running shipping, and the Admiralty was doing the licensing for shipbuilding and ship repairing. The extent of the Admiralty's duties which are now being transferred can be judged by the 507 number of civil servants there. This Order transfers responsibility for licensing the construction of ships. No ship may be built in a United Kingdom shipyard unless its builder holds or obtains from the Government a licence for the purpose. The Restriction of the Construction of Ships Order sought to bring under central control during the Second World War the country's shipbuilding resources, both naval and civil. The licensing requirement has been kept in being probably because it is the most effective method of ensuring that the United Kingdom will meet the obligation it has accepted with other European countries to embargo the construction of certain kinds of ships for countries of the Sino-Soviet bloc.
Licences have been issued promptly, and the only delays have been where orders were for that bloc. In 1958, the restrictions on sales of ships to that bloc were drastically reduced, and there has been hardly any interference with possible trade and no builder in this country has any order at present for a ship for that bloc. The need for shipbuilding work was emphasised by the United Kingdom when the President of the Board of Trade went on a visit to Russia in the spring of this year. The Russians displayed no interest. Several United Kingdom yards have been pursuing possibilities for some time without any success.
I do not know how far I shall be in order, but I should like to say that I very well realise that this industry is in a difficult position and that shipping, shipbuilding and ship repairing are in the doldrums for reasons of world trade, and their problems are immense. I was asked by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) whether I had seen the people concerned. I have already seen all the people connected with the old functions of shipping at the Ministry of Transport, and I hope to see in the course of the next few days all those representing the shipbuilders' interests and the ship-repairing interests.
It would be folly for me to try to answer any of these questions until I have consulted the people in the trade, talked to them and found out their points of view. For me, after twenty-odd days at the Ministry and when this Order has been in force only since 3rd 508 November, and with only one of the civil servants arrived, to try to answer all the questions that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East asked me would look foolish indeed, and I do not believe that anybody here would believe me if I gave the answers.
§ Mr. P. Williams
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that, in the round of conversations he has with different interests, these will include the interests of the trade unions themselves?
§ Mr. Marples
Yes, I will. I have seen the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee, at a meeting held for the first time at the Ministry of Transport. The chairman is Sir Graham Cunningham. The trade union representatives were present at that meeting. I arranged to look at some yards, and they asked if I would let them know when I wanted one of them to accompany me. That should show that I am carrying out my obligations to the shipbuilding interests.
§ Mr. Hayman
When the Minister is consulting the ship-repairing interests, will he take into account the 1,000 men who are now unemployed at Falmouth in the ship-repairing industry?
§ Mr. Marples
I am conscious that there is unemployment in that area, but I must take into account not only unemployment at Falmouth but consider all areas of unemployment.
§ Mr. Marples
Because the hon. Gentleman says that I have enough to do. I might also tell the hon. Gentleman that the reason why he was referred to the Air Ministry about the ocean weather ships was because that Ministry is the customer and is paying for the ships so this rests with them. So the hon. Gentleman should go to the Air Ministry. I am glad that his education in this respect has now been completed.
I thought that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East was a little less than his usual fair self when he said that the Ministry of Transport had been a bad Ministry this last ten years.
§ Mr. Marples
That would be from 1949 to 1959, and the Ministry had the benefit of the hon. Gentleman's services from 1947 to 1950 as its Parliamentary Secretary. I am sorry that the Ministry was deteriorating during that time.
§ Mr. Marples
We know where the deterioration started.
However, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman drew my attention to some points. I agree with him on two of them. One is the rationalisation and the modernisation of our yards. We have no hope of competing with the rest of the world in this industry unless we have the tools which will build ships efficiently and quickly. That is one of the major points to which we shall have to direct attention. The other, which is more difficult to solve, is the problem of discrimination and nationalism, when people want their own ships and go to immense lengths, such as under-cutting, subsidies and discriminating against ships of other countries. However, I would be out of order in discussing that, Mr. Speaker, and I must not get too far out of order.
This Order is narrow. Of course, the shipbuilding and ship-repairing problems are enormous, but I give this pledge to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East. I promise him that I know something personally about shipyards. When I was engaged in civil engineering I built some of the biggest dry docks in this country, and I used the labour normally used for building ships. Some of the carpenters made the shuttering and so on. So I have first-hand knowledge of the problems of the industry from practical experience and the dry docks I have built have ranged from 10,000 tons to 80,000 tons, so it was not small work.
If I find that I cannot get on with the work, I shall go to the Prime Minister straight away and say that it is too much and that he should make some rearrangement. I cannot do more at this stage. I cannot answer those questions, because it would be folly to try. I shall do my best, and if I cannot succeed I shall be frank, because it will be nothing to be ashamed of if I find that the job 510 is too big a burden. I am not taking it on for the sake of empire building or because of Parkinson's law. I shall do my best in the three departments—road, rail and shipping—and if I find it is too much I shall go at once without hesitation—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I have tried to explain that shipping, shipbuilding and ship repairing in any sensible concern would be brought under the same management because they are now closely related.
With all the rationalisation that is going on, the owners and operators of the ships should be brought into consultation with the shipbuilders and ship repairers in the same way as operators of aircraft should be brought into consultation with the constructors of aircraft. It is what any sensible private concern would do, and I see nothing wrong with it.
With these words, I hope the House will agree to my taking over these functions and the 16 civil servants who go with them.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
The Minister always endears himself to the House. He is the bright boy in dull company, but he has been disappointing tonight. All he has come to the House to say is, "If I do not do well, I will give up the job." But we do not know why he has the job. He said that he has been at the Ministry for only 21 days and has not yet found out, but that he will consult the industry.
These functions should not have been transferred without the industry being consulted. It is too late now. Why has not the industry been consulted before? Why treat the industry in such a light-hearted way? It is no use the right hon. Gentleman saying, "I am a good fellow. I will have a go". We want to know why this decision was taken by the Government, and on whose advice.
I have a few points to make about the actual transfer. This is not co-ordination, because aviation has been taken away from the right hon. Gentleman. He says that it has been taken away because the Ministry of Supply has been destroyed. The Minister of Aviation is in the Cabinet. Aviation has its own voice in the Cabinet. That is the position which aviation has got into because it 511 is in difficulties. Shipbuilding is in as great a difficulty as aviation and the right hon. Gentleman flippantly comes to the House and says, "I have only 16 civil servants".
Let us consider these two great industries. They are equally important. The difficulties facing aviation are very much the same as the difficulties facing shipbuilding. They are in neither a greater nor a lesser scale, in the case of one industry, if they are to be co-ordinated, because shipping is directly affected by the development of civil aviation.
When the right hon. Gentleman tells us about the virtue of co-ordination, I say that no one is more upset with him in this country than the shipping industry. The ship builders have no wish to be associated with a Ministry which has already let down one major industry.
§ Mr. Willey
Let the right hon. Gentleman read the resolution of the Chamber of Shipping. One cannot be stigmatised more than he has been by the shipping industry.
Let us consider this operation as a whole. The shipbuilding industry feels very much that it has been neglected and it will read the report of this debate with the greatest trepidation—flippant remarks about it affecting only 16 civil servants. That is the whole trouble. I say at once—I am not decrying this industry—that I wish the right hon. Gentleman's information was more up to date, and that he would go to the Wear, the Tyne and the Clyde and other shipbuilding yards and see what has been done by way of modernisation.
What we are complaining about is unfair competition. It is unfair for two reasons. One is that we did not start on the level. Other countries do not say for their shipbuilding industries, "We have only 16 civil servants." They say, "We are taking every step to maintain the level of production". Let the right hon. Gentleman go to Japan and say that all we are doing for shipbuilding is to transfer 16 civil servants from one Department to another. Japan takes every step necessary to maintain its present level of shipbuilding, and it is 512 facing very great difficulties. What did West Germany do? Let the right hon. Gentleman tell me of a shipyard abroad that meets us on level terms.
Competition has become so keen that prices are unrealistic. As my hon. Friend said, the essential thing is to hold the labour force. The capacity of the yards of the world has trebled three times in a few years without the 16 civil servants showing any concern about it. With this over-capacity, of course, prices being quoted now, apart from the question of subsidy, mean that if our yards are to hold the work they will have to price themselves at a loss.
In these circumstances, we have had a most unsatisfactory debate. The right hon. Gentleman has made a most unsatisfactory start. This industry will face the gravest difficulties in the next few years. We on these benches have called the attention of the Government to this for the last two or three years, without any response. If I may make a confession, I would say that I hoped that we would get some response from the right hon. Gentleman that we have not obtained from the Admiralty. This evening he claims that things are the same as they were. I hope that my hon. Friends will protest against the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman—not only against what has been done—and that he will realise that we do not intend to be treated in this cavalier way.
We have great difficulties to contend with and are facing the most intense and unfair competition. It will not do for the Government to say that we have no more than 16 civil servants and that we are moving them from one Department to another. It will not do for some hon. Gentlemen to say that these are only shadow powers, emergency powers. The problem with which we are dealing is a serious one for the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industries. They are facing very real difficulties and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will divide on the Prayer.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 113, Noes 187.515
|Division No. 5.]||AYES||10.26 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Hannan, William||Probert, Arthur|
|Ainsley, William||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Proctor, W. T.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Hayman, F. H.||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Rankin, John|
|Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.)||Hilton, A. V.||Redhead, E. C.|
|Beaney, Alan||Holman, Percy||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Benn, Hn. A.Wedgwood(Brist'l, S. E.)||Hoy, James H.||Rhodes, H.|
|Blackburn, F.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Ross, William|
|Blyton, William||Hunter, A. E.||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Boardman, H.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Small, William|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S.W.)||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Steele, Thomas|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Callaghan, James||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Stones, William|
|Carmichael, James||Lawson, George||Strachey, Rt. Hon. John|
|Cliffe, Michael||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Summerskill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Sylvester, George|
|Crosland, Anthony||MacColl, James||Symonds, J. B.|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||McInnes, James||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Darling, George||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Thornton, Ernest|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Manuel, A. C.||Timmons, John|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Mapp, Charles||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Deer, George||Marsh, Richard||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Dempsey, James||Mason, Roy||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. Chuter||Mellish, R. J.||Whitlook, William|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Mendelson, J. J.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Evans, Albert||Millan, Bruce||Willey, Frederick|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mitchison, G. R.||Williams, Rev. LI. (Abertillery)|
|Fitch, Alan||Moody, A. S.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Foot, Dingle||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Forman, J. C.||Oram, A. E.||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Owen, Will||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Woof, Robert|
|Ginsburg, David||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Gourlay, Harry||Plummer, Sir Leslie||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Grey, Charles||Prentice, R. E.||Mr. Mahon and Mr. Howell.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Coulson, J. M.||Hiley, Joseph|
|Allason, James||Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hobson, John|
|Arbuthnot, John||Critchley, Julian||Hocking, Philip N.|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Crothwalte-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Holland, Philip|
|Balniel, Lord||Cunningham, Knox||Holland-Martin Christopher|
|Barber, Anthony||Deedes, W. F.||Hollingworth, John|
|Barlow, Sir John||Drayson, G. B.||Holt, Arthur|
|Barter, John||du Cann, Edward||Hornby, R. P.|
|Batsford, Brian||Duncan, Sir James||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Duthie, Sir William||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Eden, John||Hughes-Young, Michael|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Emery, Peter||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Bidgood, John C.||Erroll, F. J.||Jackson, John|
|Biggs Davison, John||Farr, John||James, David|
|Bingham, R. M.||Finlay, Graeme||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Fisher, Nigel||Jennings, J. C.|
|Bossom, Clive||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Johnson Smith, G.(Holb. & S.P'ncr's, S.)|
|Box, Donald||Gammans, Lady||Joseph, Sir Keith|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Gibson-Watt, David||Kaberry, Donald|
|Brewis, John||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.|
|Browne, Percy (Torrington)||Glyn, Col. Richard H. (Dorset, N.)||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Bryan, Paul||Goodhew, Victor||Kirk, Peter|
|Burden, F. A.||Gower, Raymond||Legge-Bourke, Maj. H.|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Green, Alan||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Gurden, Harold||Lilley, F. J. P.|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Linstead, Sir Hugh|
|Channon H. P. G.||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Litchfield, Capt. John|
|Chataway, Christopher||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Longbottom, Charles|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Longden, Gilbert|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Loveys, Walter H.|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Harvey John (Walthamstow, E.)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Collard, Richard||Hay, John||MacArthur, Ian|
|Cooper, A. E.||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Hendry, A. Forbes||McMaster, Stanley|
|Cordle, John||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)|
|Maddan, Martin||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Maitland, Cdr. J. W.||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Marten, Neil||Ramsden, James||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Rawlinson, Peter||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Maudling, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin||Wade, Donald|
|Mawby, Ray||Rees, Hugh||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Ridsdale, Julian||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Milligan, Rt Hon. W. R.||Royle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)||Wall, Patrick|
|Mills, Stratton||Russell, Ronald||Webster, David|
|Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Scott-Hopkins, James||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Seymour, Leslie||Whitelaw, William|
|Morgan, William||Shepherd, William||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Neave, Airey||Skeet, T. H. H.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Nicholls, Harmar||Stodart, J. A.||Wise, Alfred|
|Oakshott, Sir Hendrie||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm||Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard|
|Osborne, Cyril (Louth)||Tapsell, Peter||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Page, Graham||Temple, John M.||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret||Woollam, John|
|Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Thomas, Peter (Conway)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Peel, John||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Pilkington, Capt. Richard||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Pitman, I. J.||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Pitt, Miss Edith||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)||Mr. Brooman-White and|
|Powell, J. Enoch||Tilney, John (Wavertree)||Mr. Sharples.|
|Prior, J. M. L.||Turner, Colin|