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Shipbuilding Costs (Royal Dockyards And Private Yards)

Volume 526: debated on Wednesday 28 April 1954

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13.

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty the number of ships at present undergoing conversion in the Royal dockyards and private yards.

I assume that the hon. Member has in mind the conversions of destroyers to antisubmarine frigates, of which four are at present in hand in the Royal dockyards and nine in private yards.

While congratulating the Royal Naval dockyards on their obvious success in these difficult conversions, may I ask whether the attention of the First Lord has been drawn to the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the cost of the work carried out in private yards, and will he in future take steps to increase the amount of conversions carried out in Royal Naval dockyards instead of giving the work to private yards?

I have read the Report and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we always give the work to the Royal dock yards as far as possible, but they are extremely busy with the refit of ships and are fully employed at the moment. Our policy is to see that the Royal dockyards are fully employed, and when they have room for work of this kind, it will be given to them.

What is the First Lord doing to get the price in the private yards down to the price in the Royal yards?

That is a point which really arises on the following Question. As the Parliamentary Secretary informed the House a fortnight ago, we are in constant and full consultation with the Ship Repairers Council to see if we can get these prices down, but I must say that the Royal dockyards have had some advantage in that they were able to buy materials in bulk earlier. [HON. MEM BERS: "Hear, hear."] Since then, owing to the rise in the cost of coal and other commodities, the price of materials has gone up.

Will the right hon. Gentleman at least express pleasure that the Royal dockyards have done so much better than private dockyards?

I accept gladly that tribute, and later on, on the Question of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), I have my own tribute to pay to the work done by the Royal dockyards.

14.

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty on what proportion of the work of conversion of ships in private yards a price has been, or will be, fixed not later than halfway through the conversion.

In no instance has it yet been possible to fix a price by the halfway stage of the job. It will, how ever, remain the Admiralty's policy to endeavour to agree a price at the earliest possible stage in the progress of the work.

In view of the fact that according to the Comptroller and Auditor General the work carried out in private yards costs anything up to 50 per cent, more than that carried out in the Royal dockyards, and in view of the fact that the Royal Naval dockyards have always been used as a check on the cost of work done in private yards, why is it that it is not now possible to fix prices for work done in private yards based on the cost of that carried out in the Royal Naval dockyards?

While a fixed price would be desirable from the point of view of the Admiralty, it is not easy to arrange because, until a ship is opened up, it is difficult for the yards to see how great will be the amount of repair work needed. As I said in answer to the previous Question, I am in constant consultation with the Ship Repairers Council to see if we can get these prices fixed at an earlier stage than they are fixed today.

18.

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he will consider granting a bonus to the workers in Her Majesty's dockyard, in view of the fact that the Auditor General reports that the work carried out in Her Majesty's dockyard was 50 per cent, cheaper than work carried out by civilian contractors.

The Comptroller and Auditor General's recent report on the comparative cost of certain work per formed in the dockyards and similar work done by private contractors is greatly to the credit of the management and men of the Royal Yards. But I do not think it could appropriately be made the occasion for a bonus to the Admiralty employees concerned.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that one civilian 'firm, Messrs. Cammell Laird, gave one week's extra pay to all their employees, and will he do something for the workers in H.M. dockyards for their very fine work in saving 50 per cent, of the cost?

The conditions of employment in the Royal dockyards and in shipyards are really somewhat different, as my hon. and gallant Friend knows, and I have already given and will not now repeat some of the reasons for these differences. If I repeat my congratulations to the Royal dockyards, that does not call for the step which my hon. and gallant Friend suggests.

In view of the Socialistic question of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) and the Socialistic statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, cannot the right hon. Gentle man come to the rescue of his hon. and gallant Friend and help him to hold the seat in the interests of anti-Socialism?

As my right hon. Friend wants to give the dockyard workers credit, would he consider the possibility of put ting more work in the Royal dockyards and so give the workers there the opportunity of earning more money, because it would appear that, even with overtime rates, the Royal dockyards will still be cheaper than some private firms?

I do not know if my hon. Friend was in the Chamber when I answered an earlier Question, but I made it clear that the Royal dockyards have been used to full capacity and are likely to be used to full capacity for many years to come.

In view of the fact that the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General states:

"Admiralty inquiries have established that materials costs were not a major cause of the higher cost of contract work,"
and in view of the fact that a large number of similar conversions have already taken place, does not the First Lord think that a fixed price might now be made for work done in private yards?

We are investigating, in consultation with the Ship Repairers Council, the possibility of getting a price at an earlier stage, but, for the reasons given in my answer to a previous Question, a fixed price for repairs is very difficult for this Government, as it was for our predecessors, to secure.