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Royal Navy

Volume 149: debated on Friday 16 December 1921

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New Construction (Suspension)

13.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty what will be the total charge in connection with the four new battleships whose construction has now been abandoned?

I regret I cannot give figures of the total charge which will be incurred in the event of the contracts for the four new battle cruisers being cancelled.

Does the hon. Gentleman not wish that he had taken our advice to postpone the construction of these ships until after the Washington Conference?

Considering that this House has voted these sums to be spent on shipbuilding, cannot the hon. Gentleman see his way to adopt some alternative scheme of spending the money in order to alleviate unemployment in the shipbuilding districts?

Is it not a fact that two of these ships have to be built, and that this news is in the paper to-day?

I have no information on that subject. As regards the other supplementary question, the only shipbuilding I can deal with is Admiralty shipbuilding.

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the four ships are to be proceeded with or not?

The construction of the four battle cruisers for the present is in suspense. What will ultimately be done will depend on the outcome of the Washington Conference.

Has anything been done by way of compensation to the shipbuilders who are going to lose money on these contracts; and if so, will anything be done correspondingly with regard to the workmen who will lose wages?

My right hon. Friend's question raises a point of detail with reference to the contracts. Questions of that sort may arise, but I do not think it would be in the public interest to go into them now.

Will the House be informed how much money has been thrown away owing to this mistake?

Warships (Breaking-Up)

14.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether the Admiralty has signed a contract for the breaking up of a number of British warships in Germany; and, if so, whether he can give to the House the reasons for this action when there are so many men unemployed in Britain who could do this work?

The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. This step was taken after every effort had been made to dispose of these ships for breaking up in this country. I should explain that the facilities in this country for breaking up old ships—especially large vessels—are fully occupied for some time to come, in consequence of the special measures taken by the Admiralty during the last few months to distribute vessels for breaking up to various ports in Great Britain in order to relieve unemployment. There can, therefore, be no question of the action of the Admiralty having prejudicially affected the employment situation, as is suggested in the second part of the hon. Member's question.

Surely the unemployed men in the shipbuilding places who have constructed those vessels are equally able to destroy them, and facilities are there in the yards for the destruction of any vessels? Why is it, therefore, necessary that the Government, which is supposed to be giving money to the unemployed, should not give work to these men instead of doles, and permit those vessels to be broken up in those yards, although it may cost a little more money than in Germany?

We have approached a number of firms to see whether they could not possibly take part in ship-breaking, but they all found it impossible to do so because, for one reason, they are overstocked with scrap, and there is already over 1,000,000 tons of surplus vessels being broken up in this country at this moment.

Is it not a fact that you have transferred the breaking up of these ships to Germany because they are paying lower wages than we are?

That certainly is not the case, because we have offered and disposed of a very large volume of ships for breaking up in this country at far lower prices than the particular block which has gone abroad, and we did this in order to relieve unemployment to the fullest extent.

Is the Government prepared to make an offer to the trade unions affected, giving them the option of finding men to break up the ships in this country?

I am ready to consider any practical suggestion which the hon. Member can make.