HC Deb 01 December 1960 vol 631 cc712-8

9.45 p.m.

Mr. William Small (Glasgow, Scotstoun)


Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small) requires the leave of the House to speak again.

Mr. Small

If I may have the leave of the House, I should like to address myself to the Secretary of State for Scotland on a question which arose in my constituency during the Recess and on current developments which have taken place since. I should like to address the Minister about engineering in Scotland, where we have always had a heavy industry.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)

On a point of order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small) but I should like some guidance from you, Mr. Speaker. Owing to a combination of I think understandable circumstances, we have had a rather interesting time this evening. I am full of admiration for the devotion to duty of all Scottish Members and Scottish Ministers, but, to begin with, I was informed this evening that a Mr. Vince or a Mr. Finch, or someone of some such name, intended to raise a matter on the Adjournment. With a little care we worked that out correctly. Secondly, I was informed that another hon. Member, name unknown, intended to raise the question of building something. As this information had been conveyed to the Scottish Office, I assumed that it would be a question on school building. I now understand that it is on shipbuilding. As I have no Ministerial responsibilitiy for that, I am a little in the dark as to how to handle this.

Mr. Speaker

The point always maintained by my predecessors—and I desire to maintain it—is that it is a great public misfortune that matters should be raised on the Adjournment without due notice to Ministers. I feel sure that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small) would be as appreciative of that as anybody else. I am in a little difficulty, and as usual I am in the hands of the House. I was not in the Chair when some hon. Member rose and the hon. Member for Scotstoun attempted to warn the Chair about something in this line. Obviously the lines of communication have broken down. I am in the hands of the House about this.

Mr. Maclay

There was an attempt to convey to us that the question of shipbuilding would be raised but it went to the wrong Minister and probably in the wrong form. I simply want to make this explanation because what I shall do, without any discourtesy, is to listen carefully to what the hon. Member says, and perhaps he will understand if I do not reply, because it would not be appropriate, without warning, for me to deal with a matter for which another Minister is responsible.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

But, surely, the Secretary of State has an overall responsibility in relation to the industrial well-being of Scotland—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is no question about Ministerial responsibility. There is a question about the advisability of debating something without notice to Ministers, which is a very different point.

Mr. Small

I recognise the hazards and handicaps of entering into a discussion on shipbuilding in Scotland generally at this time. During the Recess I spoke to shipbuilders and found that they were seeking to diversify their industry by going from heavy engineering to lighter engineering. We have suffered in the past from this sort of change in the pattern of life in Scotland.

I served my time many years ago in steam, but techniques have changed and I want to draw attention to the need to take advantage of present technical changes for the benefit of Scotland generally. In both the engineering sense and in the sense of capital, we missed the aircraft engineering industry in Scotland, and we also lost the motor-car industry and, as a result, lost the Chance to develop necessary modern engineering skills. I meet many reasonably well-educated young men in Scotland who are not getting the chance to develop skills because of the falling-off in shipbuilding in Scotland, which makes the shipbuilders themselves inclined to look for some other types of engineering work for their yards.

I suggest respectfully that now is the time to propagate the idea of going forward with a nuclear merchantman. I know that this may be uneconomic at present but if the first nuclear merchant ship of, say, 50,000 tons is sent to Merseyside or the Tyne, the development of the necessary concomitant skills will be lost to Scotland.

I know that one difficulty is that this is a matter more or less for the Ministry of Transport in terms of geography, of technical change and the development of nuclear propulsion for the future, but I seek to invoke the services and assistance of the Secretary of State and the Ministry in this field, so that the technical colleges may be assisted to train the apprentices and the instrument artificers of the future. If we do not recruit this type of apprentice, and so acquire these skills for Scotland, the magnetic pull of technical change and training will be southwards and we will again lose.

Scotland should be making its stake now by building up a skilled labour force in this field, and the shipbuilding industry seems the right one to initiate this, but if the shipbuilders diversify their work from hard shipbuilding to making component parts the industry will weaken. We have to keep a strong shipbuilding industry, and a nuclear-propelled vessel would be much in our favour—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I require, personally, the assistance of the hon. Member. Whatever the Minister says, I have to listen to something for which there is Ministerial responsibility. The hon. Member may well be developing such a subject, but must explain to me wherein lies the Ministerial responsibility in regard to what he is saying.

Mr. Small

With all due respect, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that the development of educational skills in the labour force is the responsibility of the Minister. If we do not have such a skilled labour force in the Clyde area, we will not, at the end of the day, go forward as we should. I am appealing to the Secretary of State now, when discussions are going on in shipbuilding, to assist as far as possible in ensuring that such a development project comes first to a Scottish port.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

I should like to say a word or two in support of what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small) has been saying, and I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will not feel that any of us is trying to put something across on the Secretary of State or on the House.

This is an extremely important matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) tried to suggest earlier, the Secretary of State has considerable responsibilities for the economic well-being of Scotland. We have made a practice for some years of spending two days annually discussing the White Paper on Industry and Employment in Scotland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun, in dealing with shipbuilding, has called attention to the need for our being equipped educationally, and of using our technical and technological institutes and the like to prepare ourselves for the new motive power in the shipping industry. It seems to some of us that we have been losing out on too many counts in Scotland. If one looks back over the past hundred years, when most of our transport was by rail, one can reflect on the great part that Scottish engineers played in producing the locomotives and rolling stock. Then, we did very well in shipbuilding and we have provided more ships than any other shipbuilding country. In fact, the River Clyde has produced more shipping than any other river in the world.

We have seen changes in transport which have taken transport from rail to the roads, and our motor cars have been made outside Scotland. We have seen transport going into the air, and the aircraft are being made outside Scotland. My hon. Friend's plea is that inasmuch as we continue to use sea transport for a long time to come, let us for goodness' sake, in Scotland, not miss the boat on this one if we are to get a new form of motive power in our sea transport. That is exactly the point.

The Secretary of State gave us the White Paper on Technical Education a number of years ago. We had a short discussion upstairs this morning on technical education and the training of youth. We were given, once again, statistics about the progress which has been made in the launching of the programme the cost of which will be slightly in excess of £10 million. What my hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun is asking tonight is that the Secretary of State will recognise that nuclear propulsion is coming quickly, and that if we in Scotland are to remain in shipbuilding we had better be in the van of this development.

If we are to be in the forefront, we must turn our attention to this matter in our institutes of higher learning. Our young engineers, technicians and technologists of the future who will be in shipbuilding engineering had better be in nuclear propulsion as soon as may be. It is a reasonable request that my hon. Friend should make at this time that we should all be fully conscious of this great change which is taking place in the highly industrialised world in which we live and that we should not always trail behind. It does not do for any of us, Scotland or Britain, always to seem to be denigrating Britain or Scotland, but there are many spheres in which we have been seen to be trailing behind other countries who used to look up to us as a country whose example was worth while following.

We were the first country to harness atomic power for peaceful purposes, thanks to the publicly-owned Atomic Energy Authority and the work undertaken at Harwell. [Laughter.] That is no laughing matter. It is something of which every citizen should be tremendously proud. We are not in the van. We were in the forefront in using atomic power for peaceful purposes, but we have not been in the forefront in using it for propelling ships.

There is, however, no reason why we should not do our utmost to catch up on those who got in front of us. In any event, we are still one of the greatest shipping and shipbuilding countries and the River Clyde, beside which my hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun has his constituency, has, I repeat, produced more ships than any other river in the world. Inasmuch as we believe that nuclear propulsion is not only on the way, but has arrived, we want to be certain that the Clyde will continue to play its full part in the shipping industry for a long time to come.

9.59 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)

I have taken part in many debates on the general industrial scene in Scotland. My dilemma this evening was that I did not know precisely what subject would be raised and that the opportunity of briefing myself from the proper source was absent. I have listened with the greatest care to the speeches which have been made on this important subject. I will study them and see that they are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend, who has rather more direct responsibility in these matters.

I agree that we in Scotland have a great reputation in shipbuilding. We have had it for many years. Work is going on in nuclear propulsion. Scotland is not by any means out of it. I do not want to try to go into details, because I am not properly briefed and it would be unwise to do so. It is important that we should keep a close watch on what is going on and I sincerely hope and trust that Scottish shipbuilding firms—

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Noble.]

Mr. Maclay

I shall not detain the House from adjourning for much longer. Without repeating myself, I appreciate the great importance of this matter and will see that it is carefully studied both by my right hon. Friend and by myself.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Ten o'clock.