HC Deb 03 February 1960 vol 616 cc996-8
34. Mr. Willey

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will make a statement about British shipbuilding.

38. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Transport if he is now prepared to outline his plans for the future of the shipbuilding industry in this country.

Mr. Marples

I have discussed with the Shipbuilding Conference and with the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee, on which both sides of the industry are represented, the problems currently facing the industry. I will give careful consideration to any proposals they may wish to put before me.

Mr. Willey

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is a good deal of anxiety in the shipbuilding industry because of increasing unemployment and redundancy. Would it not be wise of him to discuss this matter with the President of the Board of Trade and possibly to issue a White Paper on the policy of the Government towards shipbuilding areas?

Mr. Marples

Before I discuss this matter with any of my colleagues in the Government, I ought to discuss it exhaustively with the trades concerned. I met a committee yesterday, and the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee meets tomorrow. We are having these meetings and we have already received from the industries concerned a number of papers which we are now studying.

Mr. Rankin

While the right hon. Gentleman is holding these discussions, will he realise that speed is becoming a factor in the situation which confronts the shipbuilding industry? Will he bear in mind that during the last 15 to 18 months the number of persons employed in the industry has decreased from 210,000 to 190,000? That is creating a feeling of uncertainty amongst all those who are still employed in the industry and is producing instability in the yards. Will he not try to come to a speedy decision—

Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

Get on with it.

Mr. Rankin

The hon. and gallant Member should keep quiet. He consumes more time than anyone in this House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope the hon. Member will keep his supplementary question short.

Mr. Rankin

When the right hon. Gentleman reaches some decision after his consultations, shall we have the opportunity of debating the matter in the House?

Mr. Marples

The question of a debate is one for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I am glad to say that this country is now second in the world for building, which is something, and in the last weeks of 1959 100,000 tons of new orders were placed here, including some foreign orders. This is a world-wide problem. I realise that it is serious. When all these consultations have taken place I hope to be making some sort of announcement.

Dame Irene Ward

Is my right hon. Friend aware that part of the shipbuilding industry has suggested that an acceleration of the naval shipbuilding programme might be put into operation in order to relieve this temporary recession in shipbuilding? I ask for an assurance from my right hon. Friend that he will discuss this matter with the Admiralty and the Treasury with a view to putting this suggestion into operation.

Mr. Marples

I should like to look into that.

Mr. Short

Will the right hon. Gentleman consult with his other Joint Parliamentary Secretary—not the one who is present answering Questions today—who recently visited the North East? Will he bear in mind that the position is quickly deteriorating in the North East where we have the highest shipbuilding unemployment figure of the country and where 30 per cent. of the boilermakers are unemployed? This position has been aggravated by the arbitrary closure of Messrs. Stephenson and Hawthorn's by English Electric. Unless Government policy on shipbuilding is worked out very soon, the position will he quite serious.

Mr. Marples

I consulted my noble Friend last evening and I am going to see him again. I am glad to say that the North East has an order for the largest passenger ship for which an order has been placed in recent years.

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