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Volume 531: debated on Wednesday 27 October 1954

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asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he is aware that the shipping tonnage orders cancelled during the past nine months are equal to the new orders received; what is the cause of this recession; how many of these orders were transferred abroad; and what steps he proposes to prevent a further deterioration in shipbuilding and to maintain a steady flow of output of tonnage from our shipyards during the next few years.

Yes, Sir. Most of the tonnage cancelled was licensed in 1951 and 1952 at a time of unprecedented demand for shipping. So far as I am aware, none of these cancelled orders has been transferred abroad and I can only assume that the ships are not now required. The order book amounts to 4ยท4 million gross tons of shipping, or about two years of work without making any allowance for future orders. As my right hon. Friend informed the hon. Member on 11th May, 1954, a careful watch is being kept on the shipbuilding situation.

Is the Minister aware that if the withdrawal of orders proceeds in the same proportion as during the past nine months, in four years there will be nothing on the stocks except tugs and barges; and will he look into this matter.

I think that is most unlikely. After all, the industry has two years' work ahead, which is a lot better than some other industries.

Does the Minister know that ships for Russia are being built at the moment by Finland. Sweden, Holland, Belgium, I believe by Norway and certainly by West Germany, and will he take a more forthcoming view about the orders that the Soviet Minister of Trade was willing to place in this country?

I am aware that some foreign countries are building for Russia, and that there have been some inquiries here, but I do not think that there is any action which I can take. It is a matter between the firms and the trade delegation.