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Warships (Breaking-Up)

Volume 149: debated on Friday 16 December 1921

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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.