HC Deb 18 February 1964 vol 689 cc1005-8
16. Mr. Millan

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works if he will make an up-to-date report on the success of his plan for the production of building components in shipyards.

17. Mr. Willis

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works what further development[...] has taken place in the endeavour to utilise the capacity of shipyards to supplement the building industry.

18. Mr. Lawson

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works what progress has been made in the scheme for the production of building components in shipyards.

19. Mr. Ross

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works how many shipyards in Scotland are engaged in implementing his plan for the production of building components and what is the extent of their operations in this respect.

Mr. Rippon

I understand that seven shipyards in Scotland and a number in England have entered the building field to a modest extent. As I explained in my Answer to the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) on 3rd December last, the commercial initiative for further diversification on these lines must rest with the firms concerned.

Mr. Millan

While we are all very glad to welcome the progress so far made, and while we appreciate that this is something that rests very largely with the commercial initiative of individual shipyards, may I ask, nevertheless. whether the progress is not rather disappointing? Is the Minister satisfied that his Department, through the inquiry centres, and in other ways, is giving to the shipyards the kind of technical assistance they need to get started in this field?

Mr. Rippon

I should certainly welcome further progress, and the officers of my Ministry are more than willing to give all the technical help they can to all who might be concerned in this matter.

Mr. Willis

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many shipyards outside Scotland have entered this field? Would he expand a little further what he means by "modes[...]"? Is this scheme really coming up to what the Government expected?

Mr. Rippon

It has provided a service which. I think, has been fairly well used. It is very hard to identify how many people have read the report I have issued, and taken some action. I cannot give the specific number of shipyards in England, but there are certainly a number in the North-East that have made very extensive arrangements for making factory-built houses or components.

Mr. Lawson

Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from us that we are very happy about the efforts being made in this connection; that we welcome them, and seek to press him to continue and to expand them? To what extent is he capable of using, for example, the National Building Agency in giving advice to the shipbuilding yards, bearing in mind that those yards are entering into something that is not their field at all, and that the commercial initiative required in shipbuilding and that required in other fields are quite different, and that this type of advice as well as the other is required?

Mr. Rippon

I appreciate the hon. Member's point. Certainly, the National Building Agency, whose services are available to both public and private authorities, will be able to help in some respects. Meanwhile, officials of my Ministry are there to give technical advice but, as I explained when we first discussed this, we have to bring together not only the shipyards but, say, the local authorities or other customers, and perhaps a builder as well, to help with the marketing.

Mr. Ross

Can the Minister indicate how many men are employed on these projects in the yards in Scotland? Has he yet been able to form any idea whether this work is being regarded as a permanent fixture, or is being looked on rather as a temporary stop-gap?

Mr. Rippon

I think that many shipyards would, perhaps, rather see themselves building ships, but appreciate that they have a good deal of spare capacity and that it is useful to diversify. I cannot give the exact number of men engaged, but there are three yards in Glasgow doing this work, and yards at Leith, Fife, Aberdeen and Greenock are also doing this work.

Sir C. Osborne

Does this rather new and novel development in traditional shipyards mean that we have accepted that the shipyards will never again be used for their primary purpose of building ships?

Mr. Rippon

I do not think that that follows at all.

Mr. C. Pannell

May I repeat a question that I first put to the Minister when this matter was first raised? Since this proposal was first mooted, has he set up any organisation or made any efforts in his own Department to see that these yards get customers, bearing in mind that in the early days of production there is bound to be certain price disparity because other factories are often better laid out to do this work? Does he appreciate that this industry needs nursing during the trial period if it is to compete commercially?

Mr. Rippon

The hon. Gentleman will remember that I set up special inquiry centres at Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester and, earlier this year, the shipyards in the North-East were invited to a conference on industrialised building which Newcastle University convened at my suggestion. So we are trying to bring everyone together.