HC Deb 07 February 1962 vol 653 cc427-9
44. Mr. P. Williams

asked the Minister of Transport what was the total tonnage of shipping launched from British yards during 1961; how this compares with 1959 and 1960: and what is the potential capacity of British yards.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

In 1961 1,190,000 gross tons of merchant ships were launched in United Kingdom yards. The figure for 1960 was 1,330,000, and for 1959 1,370,000 gross tons. The industry estimated last year that potential annual output was some 1,600,000 gross tons, apart from new naval construction.

Mr. Williams

I am very grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for those figures. Can he confirm, or otherwise, to the House that the importance of the figures is that they show that there is at the moment a decline in the shipbuilding industry? Does not this heighten the need for an urgent and immediate debate on the matter in the House of Commons? Is my hon. and gallant Friend aware that it is not quite good enough for him to tell me in a few seconds' time that this is not his responsibility? Surely it is his responsibility to press this on the Leader of the House. The House deserves a debate on this matter, and very soon indeed.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

As to the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, the improvement since 1959 is encouraging, but at the same time a considerably greater volume of orders would be necessary to keep the industry fully occupied. The net orders last year represented less than half the capacity. As to the matter of a debate, I live in hope, as my hon. Friend does.

Dr. King

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that one very important factor in the obtaining of orders for shipbuilding is the amount of credit facilities which the Government are willing to provide for the shipbuilders who seek to obtain contracts abroad? Will he give very grave consideration to this important aspect?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

Yes, Sir, but I am quite confident that the new arrangements for export credits which the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 23rd January will be of great assistance to our shipbuilders in obtaining foreign orders.

Lady Tweedsmuir

Can my hon. and gallant Friend give the percentage of those figures applying to Scotland and say whether the position shows any improvement?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I cannot give the percentage without notice, but, speaking from memory, I think it is fair to say that Clydeside had a very good year, especially in the latter half of 1961.

Mr. Mellish

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that this is a problem with which the unions and the employers are gravely concerned, and that it is one which we ought to be discussing in the House as a matter of urgency? Will he please see to it that we have such a debate, so that we may have an indication of what the Government are proposing to do? The hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred to Clydeside, but will he also remember that Belfast is in a very serious position? What has he to offer Belfast, which is supposed to be part of the United Kingdom?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I certainly look forward to a debate as much as does the hon. Gentleman, and we live in hope. I agree that the situation in the Belfast yards is serious.

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