HC Deb 22 February 1965 vol 707 cc4-6
4 and 5. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Labour (1) whether he is aware of the shortage of shipwrights on the Clyde, in East Scotland and in Birkenhead, causing delays in completion of ships; and what steps he is taking to solve this problem;

(2) what conversations he has held with the boilermakers' society about the shortage of shipwrights in some shipbuilding areas.

25. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware that skilled men of several trades in the Clyde shipyards are scarce; and what action he will take to solve this problem.

Mr. Marsh

I am aware of these shortages, and our local officers have been making every effort to fill those vacancies which have been notified to them. The future training programme for these trades is a matter for the recently established Shipbuilding Industry Training Board. Training is provided for some of the trades in the industry, such as welders in the Government training centres.

Mr. Digby

Is it not a fact that the expansion of Japanese shipbuilding shows what a potential this industry has in the export field, and how helpful it could be to our economy? Is it not, therefore, essential to concentrate on this very important skilled labour; and also on the difficult question of demarcation?

Mr. Marsh

I accept entirely that there is a manpower problem in this industry, and it is a great pity that we were not able to start dealing with it perhaps a couple of years ago. We were not in a position to do so then, but we are doing so now. As to demarcation disputes, it would in the first instance be for employers to discuss some of the problems with the unions concerned, and if the help of the Ministry were required in that process we would be happy to consider this.

Mr. Taylor

Would the Minister agree that the shortage not just of shipwrights but of others in the finishing and steel work trades on the Clyde is a very serious problem, since the reputation of the Clyde depends on carrying out completion dates that have been undertaken? Did he not indicate in a Written Answer on 10th November last that there were 1,370 unemployed shipyard workers on the Clyde? Would he not agree that more effective use of labour and less rigid demarcation, and even a temporary measure of interchangeability of labour, might help to alleviate these difficulties, and would he not initiate discussions on those lines?

Mr. Marsh

With respect, it is very easy just to talk about problems of demarcation and trade union attitudes, but there is no reason why there cannot be discussions between the two sides—

Dame Irene Ward

There have been.

Mr. Marsh

No doubt the hon. Lady will ask her Questions when we get to them; in the meantime, I am dealing with the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor). It is extremely important, in order to solve some of these problems, to create the right basis so as to remove some of the fears of insecurity that are in the minds of men. My right hon. Friend's policies in regard to redundancy payments, and things of that kind, will go a long way towards doing that.

Mr. Heffer

Is not my hon. Friend aware that the boilermakers' and shipwrights' unions have now amalgamated as one organisation, with the result that demarcation disputes have diminished considerably; and that the problem of shipworkers is basically one of decent conditions and decent wages?

Mr. Marsh

This exchange is now moving to a somewhat different area—to the whole question of the shipbuilding industry. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has set up an inquiry into the industry at the present time, and these are some of the factors with which it will deal.