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Shipbuilding (Orders)

Volume 527: debated on Wednesday 5 May 1954

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4.

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty the total amount of orders, less the amount of cancellations of orders booked in earlier years, booked by British shipyards in the first quarter of 1954, and the corresponding figure for 1953.

After allowing for the cancellation of licences issued in earlier years, the tonnage of merchant ships licensed in the first quarter of 1954 was 5,878 gross tons; the corresponding figure for the first quarter of 1953 was 119,815 gross tons.

5.

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty the total amount of orders, less the amount of cancellations of orders booked in earlier years, booked by north-east shipyards in the first quarter of 1954 and the corresponding figure for 1953.

In the first quarter of 1954, cancellations of merchant ships licensed in previous years to be built on the North-East Coast exceeded the licences issued by 1,910 gross tons. In the first quarter of 1953, licences issued amounted to 40,470 gross tons and there were no cancellations.

Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that these figures reveal a position which warrants the closest attention by the Admiralty, and will he continue to do all that he can to see if he can improve the position as soon as possible?

Yes, I agree. The matter of course deserves the closest attention, and that is what we are giving it. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, if we look at the over-all position, the order books are still very full, and in some places the orders would take three or four years to complete.

Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman not agree that there has been an increase in inquiries made of North-East shipyards since the Budget?

I am, of course, very glad to hear what my hon. Friend says, because it is a little too early perhaps to estimate what my right hon. Friend's concessions in the Budget will amount to.

Will the Admiralty be a little less complacent about this position? The figures are most disquieting, and even the recent information about this new inquiry is disquieting. Is it not time that the Government took the initiative in calling together both sides of the industry to discuss the situation as it now is?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are not in the least complacent about this. I ask him to compare the short period referred to in the last Question with the much longer period which it took to build up these large orders.

8.

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he is aware that Holland and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have concluded a trade pact under which Holland will build cargo boats for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; and if he will now give approval for British shipbuilders to tender for and accept orders from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for similar types of boats.

I am aware that under a recent Protocol to the 1948 Commercial and Payments Agreement between the Netherlands Government and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Netherlands Government have undertaken to authorise the construction of certain cargo ships for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. As regards the second part of the Question, I would refer the hon. Member to my right hon. Friend's reply to the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) on 24th March.

Would the Minister take this opportunity of making it perfectly clear what type of vessel British shipbuilders may now tender for and supply to Russia if their tenders prove successful?

I think that we have always made our position clear that any requests to build ships for Russia would be given every consideration. So far as I am aware, there have been no requests from British yards to build similar ships to those referred to by the hon. Member in the Question.

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman make it quite clear that British shipbuilders can accept tenders from the Soviet Union for the building of cargo vessels similar to arrangements made between the Soviet Union and the Dutch Government?

As I have already said, all requests will be given every consideration.

While we are aware that all requests will receive the consideration from the Government that is expected of them, will he make it quite clear that if it is open to the Dutch Government—an ally with us in N.A.T.O. and closely associated with the United States—in all these matters—to undertake the building of ships for the Soviet Union, there is ho reason why British shipbuilders should not be allowed to do so?

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. As he knows, these matters, after what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on 25th February, are at the moment under consideration between the Western Powers.

Would my hon. and gallant Friend not agree that recently, although he states that requests have not been received, business men returning from Russia have been informed that no licences will be granted for ships over 2,000 tons, and these orders were fulfilled by shipbuilders on the Continent?

I am not aware of that information. As the House knows, a very large contract for trawlers amounting to about £6 million, has been secured by a firm in this country.

Would the Minister say if the position of this type of vessel is still under consideration by the Western Powers? How is it possible for the Dutch Government to tender for these vessels and accept orders when the same does not apply to Great Britain?

I think that the hon. Member has put a different interpretation on my words. Actually I said that if firms in this country desired to build these ships, their requests would be considered, but I also said that the whole question is under consideration.