HC Deb 06 March 1963 vol 673 cc392-3
13. Mr. Bence

asked the Minister of Transport how many shipbuilding berths are unoccupied on the Clyde; and what steps he proposes to take to bring these berths into use.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

At the end of January, 60 berths were unoccupied in the Clyde shipyards. But as was pointed out in reply to a similar question by the hon. Member on 4th July last, this is not a true measure of idle capacity because modern techniques have diminished the number of berths needed for a given output.

Mr. Bence

Is the Minister aware that over 6,000 shipyard workers on the Clyde are unemployed, compared with 3,000 12 months ago, which represents a doubling of the number of unemployed? Will he take, not negative measures to frustrate the shipbuilding industry, but positive steps to encourage the replacement of older vessels and help the exports of the shipbuilding industry? Furthermore, will the hon. and gallant Gentleman give a general directive to merchant shippers that if they want a price for a tanker, it is not advisable to telephone the chairman of the company and ask him what is his price for a 55,000-ton tanker but rather to give specifications and ask for a proper tender?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I do not accept the imputation that the Government have done anything to restrict shipbuilding orders. On the contrary, we have done our utmost to encourage them. But I am well aware of, and I agree with the hon. Member about, the serious position in the shipbuilding industry. The various remedies which the hon. Member has suggested are, as I have said once before, under active consideration.

Mr. P. Williams

Is my hon. and gallant Friend aware that only yesterday it was announced that various shipbuilding orders had been placed in foreign yards? This discloses a serious situation. Many of us, on both sides, do not believe that this can be simply bad workmanship, bad costing or bad prices on our side. Will the Minister undertake to have a detailed inquiry made as to how this situation has arisen and to report back to the House at a suitable moment?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

This matter is being gone into. The short answer, however, to my hon. Friend's supplementary question is that the prices at which these orders have been accepted are certainly below anything that could be approached in this country. We are going into the matter.