It is a considerable time since this House had the opportunity of debating the future of British shipping as a, single issue. On that occasion, on the Ministry of War Transport Vote, it was not in Order to discuss the twin industry of British shipbuilding. These industries are more than twins; they are Siamese twins, because one industry cannot function without the other. The House will, therefore, be grateful for this opportunity of debating a subject of such great importance to the nation. There are many pertinent questions that need to be asked, for which we hope to get answers, but the Debate will not have been held in vain if it rouses public interest in a matter which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget speech, pointed out was of such great importance to the future of the country. It is apposite to point out here that to-morrow and the next day we shall be devoting our time to a discussion of proposals in which the nation at large take the greatest possible interest. Those proposals will involve the spending of very large sums of public money. To-day the matter we are considering is how we can make some of the money that we need to spend if we are to be able to carry out those proposals.
I do not think it is sufficiently well realised how many people in this country depend on these industries. It is difficult to be accurate, and the figures must be to a certain extent guesswork, but I think it is not unfair to compute that the total number of people who in one way or another depend on the success of British shipping and shipbuilding is about 3,000,000, or 6 to 7 per cent, of the total population. The basis of the whole matter really lies on the future success of British shipowning and ship management. The British shipowner is being asked to plan ahead. I suppose that anybody having to make a plan would naturally begin with the foundation. To assess the proper size of the foundation on which the structure must be built we need some knowledge of the site. So far, not even that amount of information has been vouchsafed to British shipowners.
I take it that it is the Government's job to lead, but in this matter no very definite lead has yet been given. The shipowner does not know where he is as regards the future. The only factor about which he knows something is that the present-day cost of new tonnage is far higher than that on which his accumulated experience has led him to believe it possible to make a return over a number of years. The modern 10,000-ton tramp steamer costs from £230,000 to £270,000; that is dependent on the type of machinery fitted and a number of other minor differences. Such a ship would do 11½ knots on a Diesel oil consumption of about 10 tons a day for all purposes or a coal consumption of 30 to 32 tons a day. A similar vessel would have been purchasable before the war for about £115,000. The House will see that to-day tonnage is costing from three-quarters to twice as much as it did before the war. I do not think that that necessarily need be a deterrent, but it is a deterrent unless the owner has something tangible as to the future earning capacity of such a ship. The cargo liner formerly costing about £250,000, will to-day cost roughly £500,000. That is a ship similar to the American C3 type, of 16½ knots and carrying about 12,000 tons dead weight.
The shipowner must take into account in making his assessment the approximate life of a ship. I will take that, roughly, to be 20 years for replacement purposes. It is true that the second No. 3 Classification survey does not occur until 26 years of age, but by that time the upkeep costs get out of proportion to the value of the ship. If we take 20 years as the life, it is obvious that a long-term policy is essential to the future success of shipowning. Above all, the shipowner does not want to return to an international system of subsidies. We had enough of that before the war, and everybody knows, without my dilating on the subject, what it led to. Is it unreasonable to ask the Government to make a declaration at this stage that, using the strength that we and our Allies will have after the war, but without resorting to big stick methods, we should be able to say to some of our Allies who were our competitors before the war that they shall and shall not do certain things, without in any way trying to keep their fleets from the seas?
For instance, everybody knows that before the war nations such as the Greeks were able to buy second-hand tonnage at knock-down prices and run it under conditions that were quite impossible to us, at lower rates of wages, worse manning conditions and worse loading conditions, to which we were not allowed to resort. It has been known on occasions that a Greek steamer lying in the River Plate waiting for a berth for a cargo would give the crew no wages, with the result that on the round trip they were working at wage rates infinitely lower than we could pay our men—and they were not by any means too high. It is time that the Government said forthrightly to such people "You cannot get away with that sort of thing in the future." We want some attempt at international stabilisation of conditions. It was not the British shipowner who dictated wages and living conditions to British seamen before the war; it was the lower standard of living in other countries. We ought to make some arrangements to safeguard that position in future.
The crux of the shipowners' position seems to me to be the stabilisation of the freight markets. Is it not possible, in view of what we have done during the war, to make some sort of international agreement so that we can have minimum a rates, not necessarily maximum rates, set by agreement with our Allies for the leading freight markets of the world? We do not again want grain freights lifted from the Plate for the United Kingdom and the Continent at 18s. a ton. I would not venture to say what is a possible freight to-day, but I am sure that 18s. never was and never will be. If we are to have some attempt—and I hope we shall get some indication that we are—to stabilise freight markets, it would seem a natural corollary that some Measure must be taken to absorb redundant tonnage, because it begins to look as if, within a few years of the conclusion of the war, we shall be faced again with the problem of having more gross tonnage on the seas than we actually require. I suggest that if we ale to have stabilised freights the Government might well make it a provision that a ship's life should terminate usefully at 20 years, after which it should become the property of the Government and be put into a shipping pool. These pools should be established by all maritime nations by agreement. If that were done, the position that would result from time to time when the markets of the world suddenly expanded, would be met by time-chartering those ships to selected owners on short-time charters, so that they could be easily recalled into the pool.
What are we to do after the war with the Axis fleets? Those who are in the industry know what a disaster the confiscation of enemy fleets was after the last war. It dealt a severe blow at British shipping. I am not suggesting that they should be sunk, but they might be put into laid-up pools until we can find some use for them that will not be detrimental to British owners. That brings me to the question of redundant American tonnage. There are rumours going around—I do not know whether they are true, but they are substantial—that our American Allies, as a great-hearted gesture to us for what we have done in the war, are considering turning over to us, on what terms I do not know, a thousand of their Liberty ships. They are 10,000 tonners, so that would be a total of 10,000,000 tons. I sincerely hope, as one who has spent a lifetime in the shipbuilding industry, that the Minister will be able to tell us when he winds up the Debate to-day that, if there is any foundation in the rumour, it is a thing that the British Government would never contemplate. It would knock British shipping stone cold for about 10 years, and would have the evil effect, that all of those ships would become of age at about the same time. About 15 to 18 years from now there would be a sudden boom in shipbuilding. That is one of the things we should avoid. We want to iron out the kinks in the curve and have steady development.
The American problem appears to be mainly one of man-power. They have not enough to man the vast fleets that they have constructed as a war measure. From that point of view I do not think that the Americans are seriously interested in tramp steamer ownership. It does not pay so well. What they would like to get on with is the cargo liner. Running a cargo liner is probably the cream of ship-owning. The Americans have in their fleet C.3 Victory ships of a type which is, in the main, well suited to that purpose. There is a very interesting document at present before the Congress of the United States of America. I understand that it is called the Bland Ship Sales Bill. It is rather a complicated Measure to discuss in detail here, but it appears, when carefully analysed, to contain a provision that if a ship of about three years of age is purchased by an American owner under the terms of the Bill, he will probably be able to get it for £380,000, whereas it cost £750,000 to build. He will put down one-third of that cash, and pay the balance at 2½ per cent. interest for 20 years. That is not holding out a very nice prospect for British owners, who have to pay £500,000 for that class of ship to-day.
I would like to give a short illustration of the problems of owners of cargo liners. A cargo-liner owner whom I know had 18 ships at the outbreak of this war. They were a British line, under the British flag and manned by British seamen. They were running from New York to the Far East and back round the world. Eight of them have "gone West" as a result of enemy action; for those he will get £1,500,000. That will buy him three ships instead of eight. Is he to hand over five-eighths of the trade that was represented by those eight ships? If so, to whom? To the Americans, undoubtedly. Or is he to borrow £2,500,000 to get his fleet up to the mark? He will be a bold man if he borrows £2,500,000 to-day, with prospects as they are. If he is not able to build up that part of the fleet which has been lost, it will be a great disservice to British shipping and to the British nation.
The problem of the shipbuilders is primarily bound up with the future of British shipowners. The two things absolutely hang together. The first thing that the shipbuilding industry wants to know is who is to look after it in the future. Before the war, shipbuilders looked to the Board of Trade for general direction or for any information that they might require. During the war, shipbuilding has been directed and supervised from the Admiralty. There is a rumour that the Ministry of War Transport is to look after shipbuilding in future. I am not a builder; I run a dockyard, but I have a deep interest in the shipbuilding industry and have had all my life. I can assure the House that the shipbuilding industry does not for one moment want to be put under a Ministry whose primary aim is to look after the interests of its clients. Shipbuilding has the interests of shipowners thoroughly at heart but they do not want to be dominated by them. No industry would want to be dominated by its clients. I am not going to make a speech on behalf of the Admiralty; that will be done by the First Lord in due course, no doubt with his usual ability, but, on the whole, during the war, the Admiralty, though they have made mistakes, have learned a lot and they have run the thing pretty well, both shipbuilding and ship repairing. They have the technical staff, because they are builders themselves, and owners of ships, and they appear to be the appropriate authority to whom this industry ought to look for guidance in the future.
The shipbuilding industry, within two years of the conclusion of hostilities, will have the capacity to build from 1,750,000 to 2,000,000 tons of merchant shipping a year. The difference really lies in the difference in types. It depends on what we are mainly producing which figure is nearer the mark. If we take the 2,000,000 tons as the annual figure, in 10years we shall have built 20,000,000 tons, which is exactly 1,000,000 tons a year more than we need for replacement. It seems obvious that we must, if we are to put the industry on a steady footing and employ a reasonable number of people with fair regularity and at reasonable rates of wages, consider what our basis is to be on this matter.
How many men should we look to, as the number to whom we can offer reasonable employment? Figures have not been published during the war for obvious reasons. But I do not think it is an unreasonable thing to say that we ought to aim at a figure of between 100,000 and 125,000 men directly employed in the future in British yards. That will, inevitably, mean the closing down of certain yards. There have been yards which were merely sites before the war, which have been rehabilitated and put hack into commission for the present needs of the war. But those yards can well, be closed to concentrate the industry on a more efficient basis. I would say that if the Government were to yield to pleas, as a matter of policy, to re-establish shipbuilding in such an area as Jarrow, which was very hard hit in the past, it can be done, but only if other yards that were going concerns before the war are closed down as compensation. It is essential we should be realistic about this matter.
One of the bugbears of the shipbuilding industry at the moment is the present licensing system for building ships. The Minister of War Transport said the other day in another place that the restrictions governing the building of ships were to be largely relaxed. But the system as it exists is not a good one. A licence is not given for any ship to be constructed more than six months ahead. This is, perhaps, a technical point, but when so many ships are engined by machinery built in the works of subcontractors—in many cases, engine works are separate entities altogether from the shipyards—it becomes very difficult to make arrangements about auxiliaries and machinery when one cannot plan further than six months ahead. Even when one gets one's licence, it is a provisional one and plans have to be submitted to the appropriate Admiralty Department, where they may be altered in such a way that the owner may not feel like going on with his order. What shipowners and shipbuilders would like—and I see no reason why it should not be a perfectly efficient arrangement in the best interests of the country—is that the licensing system should, at this stage of the war, be handed over to a joint committee of owners and builders, with the Ministry at liberty to take up specified berths for any special ship that is wanted from time to time. Then apart from necessary stiffening for gun mountings, in the maintenance of heavy masts and derricks and the like, we may get ships built that would be of the greatest value to the Mercantile Marine at the end of the war.
Conferences have been held between owners and builders, and between the builders and the trade unions, in which the Government are interested. It is common knowledge that the Government have concurred in these meetings, and have, from time to time, actually taken part in them. I submit that unless we can get more direct information about the future these conferences are never likely to get us very far. I would suggest—although we appreciate that there may be difficulties to-day in the way of making absolutely forthright pronouncements on the part of the Government—that it is not too early to give some information on which we can build for the future.
Another matter which is obviously of very great importance to the shipbuilding industry is the question of warship building. We all know, the world knows, that apart from four ships of the King George V class, and perhaps the Nelson and Rodney, the rest of our battle fleet, our ships of the line as I might call them, might well be termed obsolescent. They may be sufficiently heavily armoured, they may have sufficiently large armament, but we know that they are far too slow for modern battle practice. They ought to be renewed, and with them perhaps, some of our larger and older cruisers. If the Government have in view the rebuilding of the battle fleets after the war on a long-term policy; if they could declare that, it would give the shipbuilding industry the knowledge of how a certain portion of equipment and manning would need to be diverted. That is a very useful foundation with which to start. The Government might well say that they can hardly tie future Governments on a matter of policy of this nature, but to-day, when we have an all-party Government, I submit we can at least hammer out the details, on which I think there is very general agreement in the House, concerning this vital matter.
Then, what is to happen about foreign building in the future? We know what the Americans have done. They have done a tremendous work in this war to help us to victory against the submarines, but I do not think that British shipbuilders really fear American competition, because although American yards can build excellent types of ships—which I might again remind the House were largely of British design—I do not think the cost at which they build them will ever make them world competitors with us. But there is the question of what we are to do with Axis yards. Are we again to allow nations like the Germans, by assistance such as frozen credits, to build up a merchant shipbuilding industry at our expense, and put their yards into first-class shape for the appropriate time at which to build submarines and other vessels of war. I think we deserve now, at this stage, a forthright answer on this point. The Germans, I well know, can build a first-class ship. I have handled some of them, and they are ships of which any builder might well be proud. But we do not want to see them knocking us out again by the methods they employed before.
I would particularly like to draw attention to the question of the Swedish yards. Sweden has twice remained neutral in war and profited greatly by trading with our enemies to our detriment. To-day they have first-class yards with modern equipment and labour at much cheaper rates than we have in this country. When it comes to competing for orders from the Spaniards, Portuguese and South Americans, they will be able to knock us out if they want to do so. We do not, in the least, desire to extinguish the shipbuilding industry of our friends in Sweden but it would not be out of place to say to them "You have twice profited at our expense and"—to use a colloquialism—"fair's fair, and Bob's your uncle." We want them to have a share of shipbuilding, but they should not be able to torpedo us like that again.
In the time of our extremity in the last war our Dutch Allies were able to establish a building and repairing industry second to none. There was any amount of money going in those days. They used it to equip their yards and they ended that war with ample financial reserves. Their labour was drawn from the farms, and was not trade unionist, and was satisfied with much less than our men received. They learned their craft as they went on. As a result of conditions entirely different from ours, they were able to take orders for the repair and reconditioning of the vast fleet of Norwegian oil tankers when they liked. It will be part of our job after the war to assist in rehabilitating our Dutch Allies. We all hope we shall do something in this respect but that it will be something which is fair to us and not that they should get the best end of the bargain every time.
Many other hon. Members wish to take part in this Debate and I regret that I have kept the House longer than I should have done. There is one other point I should like to make. A great deal will hang in future on the attitude of our trade union friends towards the shipbuilding industry. I would tell the House, as one who has been for years on the Executive Committee of the Shipbuilding Employers Federation, that the relations between the trades unions and the shipbuilding employers are probably as good as those obtaining in any other industry, and in certain parts of the country, such as the area from which I come, where we still, thank God, carry on in rather a family way between workers and employers, the relations are excellent. Trades unionism wants to be a co-partner in industry, and I do not think any of my colleagues in this industry are so foolish as not sincerely to want it too; but co-partnership means something more than a reasonably fair division of profits; it means equal responsibility as well.
During this war we have seen the excellent effect produced by the works committees set up by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. I believe they have come to stay. They are a good idea and will have a good influence, but it takes time for the system to function properly. There has been a reluctance on the part of some men to sit in judgment upon their fellows. They must get over that feeling. The main body of men are decent, level-headed fellows, but they are rather frightened of encouraging public opinion among themselves for the crying down of the odd black sheep who is a menace to them all and to the industry. We have got to cultivate these committees, and if the Minister of Labour can help by co-operating he will have rendered a very great service: The other day "The Times" had a leading article which said, I think with great truth, that trade unionism to-day stands at the water shed. It must either look back at the triumphs of the past or look forward to a new view, and mark out a new path; in that view, towards a better future. I sincerely hope that trade unionism will take that better path and that co-operation will prevail in the future rather than competition and a nagging spirit all the time. We do not want to bring wages down to ridiculous rates. The unions were very loyal in helping us during the difficult time of the slump. Again and again they accepted reductions and more difficult working conditions. We, in our turn, not only cut out all profits. We cut again and again into charges, and sometimes made losses without even including anything for charges. I never thought that policy got us anywhere. A good article is worth a fair price if it is to be sold at all. My colleagues and I are not out for wild wage reductions and we want the unions to go hand-in-hand with us in the future.
That is all I have to say. I know that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty is a keen and enthusiastic supporter of association football, and I feel rather like a half-back standing on the touch-line waiting to throw the ball back into play. When he and his colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport get the ball—and I emphasise that I am on their side and am not playing against them—I hope they will give it a rousting great kick, but, please God, not through their own goal.
I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Colonel Greenwell) on his interesting and lucid speech. We may congratulate ourselves that for this shipping Debate the attendance of hon. Members, if they will allow me to say so, is larger than is customary on such occasions. In the many Shipping Debates here before the war Members seemed to be disinterested, and the same can be said of successive Governments. There was persistent and gross neglect both of shipping and the shipbuilding industry, and, in consequence, at the outbreak of war our tonnage was depleted, it was difficult to find the personnel for the Mercantile Marine, and for the shipyards also, on account of the absence of skilled craftsmen, and that had a profound and it may be a melancholy bearing on the prosecution of the war, at any rate in its early stages. There is common agreement among hon. Members on one issue. It is that at whatever cost and whatever organisation may be necessary we must assist the Mercantile Marine of this country to re-establish itself. There are, of course, acute divisions of opinion among hon. Members as to the approach to a solution of the problem. Hon. Members opposite, as my hon. and gallant Friend has just indicated, prefer a return—not an undiluted return but a return with certain reservations—to the position as it was preceding 1939. On the other hand, hon. Members on this side of the House, while not postulating wholesale nationalisation, do assert that a large measure of control by the State over shipbuilding and shipping in the realm of policy is essential.
Nevertheless, in spite of that difference, we are agreed that we must direct our efforts to bring back the Mercantile Marine not merely to its former state but to an improved position. We must do so because when we pay tributes, as we so often do, to the men of the Mercantile Marine, we should not forget that the best reward we can give them is to ensure continuity of employment and the highest possible standard of living. That can only be achieved on the basis not of stabilisation in the Mercantile Marine or in shipbuilding output but of continuity in the use of the Mercantile Marine and in the utilisation of our shipyards. It seems to me that this issue of shipping and shipbuilding cannot be dissociated from our general trade and commercial policy. We must discuss it to-day in isolation, on account of the rules of Order, but it must be evident to every hon. Member that volume and continuity must be related to our trade potentialities. Clearly, it would be futile to build up a huge merchant fleet only to discover in the end that much of it had to be laid up because there were no freights, on account of the lack of foreign trade.
Without a clear indication from the Government as to their intentions in respect of the rehabilitation of British trade and commerce in the international sphere it is hard to define with clarity the amount of shipping tonnage that will be necessary in the future. But I make an assumption, and I hope it is not unfounded, that we seriously intend to improve our foreign trade, and, indeed, we must do so in order to live. We must import a vast quantity of raw materials and unhappily—I say this deliberately—a large quantity of foodstuffs. But there it is; let us face the facts, however unpalatable they may be. In those circumstances we must export, but the question emerges at once "Will markets be accessible to us?", for obviously, it markets are inaccessible, a large volume of merchant tonnage will be of little value.
That brings me at once to the most important question of all, that of the size and preponderance of the United States merchant fleet. On this matter it is not easy to state with accuracy the American position. Conflicting statements are made from time to time by the experts and advisers of the American Maritime Commission. It has been said that they expect at the close of the war to have a merchant fleet—Liberty ships, emergency ships and Victory ships—of, say, between 30,000,000 and 40,000,000 tons. On the other hand, some American shipping experts have suggested that a large amount of that tonnage will be valueless for ordinary mercantile purposes. So the figures really convey very little; but this we do know, that the United States will have at their disposal at the end of the war a very large number of Liberty ships which they are ready to dispose of to us, if we will have them, or to anybody else.
In those circumstances we have to consider what is to be our position, and that consideration must be stripped of all emotion and sentiment. We are grateful, and shall be eternally grateful, to the United States of America for the magnificent services rendered to this country and to our cause, but, equally, we have rendered services; it has not been a one-way traffic. Therefore, in our commercial and our maritime decisions, we must think of the paramount needs of this country, and perhaps I may add—though some may think it is a case of King Charles' head—the Empire, because the Empire comes into this question of trade.
I want to speak quite categorically about this—no frills, nothing fanciful, quite straight from the shoulder—to our American friends. I say to them, first of all, "Your Liberty ships were built for the Atlantic trade, and we want ships not merely for the Atlantic trade but for our general trade." That is the first thing. Ships that are suitable for the Atlantic trade may not be suitable for the Mediterranean or Danubian trade, and the best judges of what ships are best for the British Mercantile Marine are those associated with the industry, with the reservation, of course, that their decisions dovetail into the national needs. They must not be allowed to do just as they please. We have to consider the paramount needs of the nation.
Moreover, the Liberty ships will be costly. They have been costly to produce, and if the United States Maritime Commission mean to dispose of any number of these ships—it has been suggested that the figure will be round about 200 or 300, although my hon. Friend suggested the figure of 1,000—we shall have to consider at what cost we are expected to purchase those ships. My view is that we should not purchase any of the Liberty ships at all. That may present the United States Maritime Commission with the difficulty of how to dispose of them. They can lay them up or break them up; that is a matter for American determination, and not for us. But it may be necessary, in the immediate post-war years, because of the scarcity of shipping tonnage at our disposal and for the purposes of our trade in the transitional period, to avail ourselves of some of those vessels. If so, it can only be on a charter basis and for a limited period, and at rates that are fair and do not have the effect of subsidising the American Mercantile Marine. Paying high charges for the use of the vessels would be a very easy way of subsidising the American Mercantile Marine, and we must be careful about that.
I would make this further observation on the American position. It is strange, but true, that, so far as I have ascertained, the United States Maritime Commission have not suggested that we should have any of the Victory ships. Of course, there is a difference. The Liberty ships are the usual 9,000 or 10,000-tonners with a speed of about nine knots—sometimes only six or seven knots—with coal-fired engines, and the rest, but the Victory ships, although, perhaps, of only 10,000, 12,000 or 15,000 tons, have a speed of 14½ or 15½ knots, and they are usually of the motor type which, by the way, the Swedes were very careful to build in bygone years, and which will, perhaps, be the most valuable of all vessels in the future for many reasons. Therefore, I would say, as regards this question of the American vessels, that we may have to avail ourselves in the open market—having regard to the general commercial situation—of some of their vessels, but as to the purchase of those vessels, that must be ruled out entirely, more particularly because we are not an importing nation as far as ships are concerned. We are an exporting nation. We have supplied ships to the rest of the world. Is there any reason why we should suspend our operations in that direction? We must go on exporting ships, and we are entitled to export ships because we have the most skilled craftsmen in the world as far as shipbuilding is concerned.
What is to be done about the Mercantile Marine in the first instance? First, we must determine what is to be the volume of ships to be built over a long period. say, 15 or 20 years. If we decide to build, as, indeed, we must decide to build, we must space out the period in order to avoid booms and slumps. There have been far too many in the pre-war years. That is essential. And we must do something else. We must make an early start. I say that advisedly, because I gather that President Roosevelt the other day instructed the American Maritime Commission—so it is reported—to make a beginning at once with the construction of the right kind of fleet. Of course, they have been doing that all along, but now they should get ready for the competitive period which the President's advisers think will follow the war. I do not see why we should complain of that. The Americans have a perfect right to build their Mercantile Marine and to get in on the ground floor, but why we should stand aside and allow this operation to happen without taking the requisite steps ourselves to put us at least—excuse the language—in a strong bargaining position, I cannot understand. It may be necessary to put ourselves in a strong bargaining position despite, all this talk of international agreements. I notice that my hon. Friend opposite fell for that, as, indeed, some shipowners fall for it. They seem no longer to be able to rely on themselves. Is it forgotten that we had international agreements before the war but that, strangely enough, America would have nothing to do with them?
I would remind my hon. Friend that some of the agreements which were made before the war were never properly honoured by many of the foreign nations who gave lip service to them.
That is just what I was saying. I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend was following me, but I said that we had these international agreements before the war. Many of the foreign nations did honour them, but the Americans would have none of them. They rejected them out of hand and I warn the House not to assume too easily that we can come to international agreements that are satisfactory or that will be permanent in character. That will not be so easy, and certainly we shall, have no satisfactory international agreements if we enter into negotiations with the United States Maritime Commission with 30,000,000 to 40,000,000 tons of shipping in its possession and we with a matter of 9,000,000 or 10,000,000 tons at the end of the war. I am all for these international agreements—perhaps freight charges on particular routes and perhaps some arrangement about zoning—but our first step is to put the British Mercantile Marine in a strong position. How are we to do that?
The last thing I want to do at this stage is to criticise the Government; we have had enough of that. But the criticisms we have levelled against the Government as regards shipbuilding and shipping have been amply justified by events. We demanded the building of fast ships, and we were right. All this was suggested to the House and some of us were derided, but we were right. However, let that pass. We are good friends now because the war is getting on well. That is all we wanted. We were concerned about the supreme objective, and when we seem to be reaching the supreme objective, why worry about the past? That will be recorded in the pages of history; we need not trouble about it here. Nevertheless, we have to consider the type of ship that is going to be placed at the disposal of the British Mercantile Marine. That is a very serious matter.
I am not suggesting—I would not dare to suggest; indeed, it would be foolish of me to suggest—that we should build ships of a standard pattern, either a 9,000-ton ship with a certain type of engine of a certain horse-power, and the rest of it, or a 15,000-ton ship. No, we must build a variety of ships, some even of 4,000 and 5,000 tons, for ocean-going purposes, designed for certain trades, but an essential prerequisite of a strong and efficient Mercantile Marine, that can hold its own in the maritime world and do credit to Great Britain, is that we should have the very best ships—the fastest ships. [An HON. MEMBER "And the best conditioned ships."] My hon. Friend suggests also the best conditioned ships, and I will add, in passing, not merely in the commercial sense for trading purposes, but so as to satisfy the obvious needs of the officers and men. That is essential, and we ought to know something about that, because I am afraid that shipbuilders in the past have relied too much on certain types of vessels. That day has gone. To put it in a very colloquial way, the best is good enough for us.
How are we to assist the British Mercantile Marine to have the vessels placed at their disposal? There is a good deal of conflict about this matter. It is a financial matter, and some say the shipowners have vast sums at their disposal. On paper that appears to be so, and no doubt they have made very fine profits during the war. I make no complaint about that. We are living under the capitalist system, and there is no reason why shipowners should not make profits as do coalowners and landowners. We ought not to single them out; they are perfectly entitled to make their profits. But I doubt very much whether in order to rehabilitate the British Mercantile Marine, there is sufficient money in the "kitty," to get the Mercantile Marine we want. What is to be done? I rule out subsidy, but it would be possible to promote some kind of financial arrangement, perhaps by the provision of credits, low rates of interest and by long-term arrangements, which would enable shipbuilders to respond to the needs of shipowners, and enable shipowners to place their orders with ease.
Something of that kind was done by the Dutch Government before the war. Although the Dutch Maritime Marine recovered as a result of the last war—it was not so severely handicapped as we were—yet, in the course of a few years a depression overcame the Dutch Mercantile Marine, but the Dutch Government promoted a financial scheme. They set up an organisation—the name of which I need not mention—and they provided shipbuilders and shipowners with credits at low rates of interest. As a result, the Dutch Mercantile Marine made a speedy recovery, and the Dutch, at the beginning of the war, had a very large number of vessels of the very best kind, whereas we were going backwards.
I suggest that the Government may require to undertake a financial arrangement of that kind, but I add this, and here, perhaps, we join issue—in fact, I am satisfied we join issue—with hon. Members opposite. If the Government provide credit facilities, or if they should be compelled to provide something of the nature of a subsidy, or render assistance of any sort, they are entitled to exercise some measure of supervision as regards policy. The shipowners and shipbuilders cannot have it both ways. We cannot conceive of going back to the 1939 arrangements. All talk of free competition is irrelevant to the situation which we en- visage after this war. As to the nature of the supervision, I shall not discuss that at this stage. It is a matter to be worked out, and I imagine there are very enlightened shipowners and shipbuilders in this country who recognise the need for revision.
As to the kind of Department we are going to set up to administer the shipping and shipbuilding services of the country, I do not agree that we should leave it in the hands of the Admiralty. The Admiralty have done a good job during the war, but I do not think the mercantile fleet is related to the building of warships as some people imagine. You can in ordinary shipyards provide the gun mountings, stiffen the decks, and make all the necessary preparations for emergencies. In peace-time I would prefer a Ministry of Transport to be charged with the duty of organising, in concert with all the private transport undertakings, the transport services of this country—road, rail and shipping services—not impinging necessarily on the functions of shipbuilders and shipowners. But in the interim period, before we have determined whether shipping and shipbuilding should be nationalised or left in private hands, we must have some kind of organisation superimposed on the shipping and shipbuilding industries; and I think it would be better aligned with the Ministry of Transport than with the Admiralty, because you cannot dissociate shipping and shipbuilding.
We have to take into account the costs of shipbuilding. Here I put before hon. Members something which may seem a little disconcerting. In the past, within the recollection of all hon. Members who have studied the pamphlets sent out by shipbuilders' and shipowners' organisations before the war—there were so many of them—the shipbuilders and shipowners talked about the high wage costs, and said that those costs militated against the building of ships, and that we were unable to stand up against foreign competition as a result. The extraordinary thing is that in the United States, where wage rates are far higher—out of all proportion to those in this country—that is not their problem. Neither is the cost of raw materials the problem in the United States, because their steel costs compare very favourably with ours. Their high costs are due partly to high wage costs, but partly to the fact that they are not so skilled as the shipbuilders of this country in shipyard management.
I know about Henry Kaiser, and all the rest of those mushroom organisations, but we are thinking in terms not of mass production but of the individual character of ships—and ships have an individual character, let us not forget. That is a different proposition altogether. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell the House—and I think the House is entitled to know—whether it is true, as I am told, that steel costs for shipbuilding in this country before the war were actually 30 per cent, or 40 per cent. higher than world prices. I do not want to talk about war conditions—that would not be fair—but we cannot afford that kind of thing at the end of the war. Steel prices have to be brought down. Whether it is due to cartel arrangements or some other cause I do not know, but steel is the primary commodity used in shipbuilding, and we certainly cannot afford to have costs as high as that. Something must be done about that.
There are two other things I want to say. I am not at all pessimistic about the future of the British Mercantile Marine. I do not think it is possible to state with accuracy what the position of the American Mercantile Fleet is going to be, because of the Pacific war. They have a large number of vessels now, but who can tell? As a result of the Pacific war they may find themselves denuded of a large number of ships, and the competition may not be so intense as some people imagine it is going to be. With the skill and craftsmanship and technical ability of our shipbuilding experts and the men in the shipyards, and their willingness to render service—I speak of all those in the shipyards—we have nothing to fear on that score. The men in the Mercantile Marine have demonstrated during the war their high patriotism, and we can expect that they will be inspired when the war is over with the knowledge that it is just as important to take care of the interests of the nation in peace as when we are in the midst of a great conflict. We must, at whatever cost, see that the conditions in the Mercantile Marine are an improvement upon the conditions that existed before the war. During the war there has been a scheme for continuity of employment. That was inevitable because of war conditions. I see no reason why that scheme should not be continued after the war. I see no reason why the seamen and officers on their discharge should not be retained on the pay roll for two or three weeks or a month, or perhaps three months, until they succeed in finding another vessel.
As regards the men in the shipyards, my hon. and gallant Friend speaks of the attitude of the trade unions. 1 do not protest against that. It may be that the trade unions might rise to their responsibilities and appreciate their obligations in relation to State needs more than they have done in the past. I do not enter into any argument about that, but if it is expected that the trade unions, on behalf of the men they represent, should enter into some kind of partnership—I am not speaking of co-partnership, on a financial basis—which recognises joint responsibilities in order to meet the menace of foreign competition and the difficulties which will arise when the war is over, we must expect a like appreciation on the part of those who own the ships. I am afraid that before the war there was not that appreciation. Shipyards were closed down regardless of the needs of the men concerned. I say to my right hon. Friend that, in so far as he has any authority in the matter, he should insist that no shipowner has the right to close down his shipyard without consulting the appropriate State Department, because such closing down inflicts injury on a large number of men and their dependants, and that, in my judgment, is not conforming to national needs. I am glad that there is a large measure of agreement in the House on this question of the future of shipbuilding and of our shipping services. I have often said that the House has not recognised its responsibilities in the matter, and certainly Governments have not done so. But now that we have got so far through the war and we wish to pay tribute to the men concerned, let us do whatever is possible by discussing these matters in a spirit of harmony while at the same time considering the relations between our shipping, shipbuilding and our commercial policy when the war is over.
I would like to associate myself almost entirely with what has been said in the two speeches we have heard. They were both admirable speeches, and show a definite determination on both sides of the House to see that everything possible should be done for the development of our shipping industry after the war. I am certain that the time has come when the Government must make some kind of pronouncement about shipbuilding after the war. There is undoubtedly a feeling amongst those who are engaged in the industry that unless they have some assurance from the Government that it has the welfare of the industry at heart—and that it has a heart—the industry will go on drifting, and sooner or later will assuredly fall into the same position as it was in before the war.
There is a great fear, among the workers on Tyneside, at any rate, that the shipbuilding industry is destined to collapse, as it did after the last war. That feeling is having a bad effect on industry on the Tyne. This fear among those who work in the industry is fortified by the fact that shipbuilding workers are now being discharged. I should be glad if the First Lord would tell us, if he can, how many unemployed shipworkers there are on Tyneside at present. Another factor which is causing uneasiness in the shipyards is that overtime has not been worked in shipbuilding, as opposed to ship repairing, since March, I believe. This makes the men believe that there must be some falling off in the programme; their reaction is that there can be no more shipbuilding to be done, or they would be working overtime. It is a still more curious thing that this feeling is, I am assured, aggravated by what we are now doing in the North, by local endeavour, to bring new light industries into the area. The feeling among the shipworkers is that this is another sure sign that their industry is in danger. It would be a major disaster if we were to allow a similar state of things to come about in the shipbuilding industry after this war as followed in the years after 1918.
The Government, in the White Paper on Employment, emphasised the need for securing adequate and regular employment for people of this country. Shipbuilding is a great national asset and it seems to me essential for our national prosperity that it should be maintained at a high and regular level. This aim can be attained only—and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) in this—by the Government taking a leading part in planning. I am not quite certain that I am one of those who are so much enamoured of "planning" as to suppose that it is going to be the cure for all our ills, but, if ever there was a case where looking ahead and planning were necessary, it is in the shipbuilding industry. We must have a planned shipping policy. In the past the record of our shipbuilding industry has been one of booms and slumps. Periods of high production have been followed by periods of the deepest depression. It is noticeable that these periods of depression have almost invariably followed wars.
This has had a bad effect on the prosperity of the industry, because, with the state of uncertainty that has existed, shipbuilders have not been able to look after the multifarious ancillary activities which are part and parcel of modern industry. I agree with both the hon. Members who have spoken that it is absolutely necessary in the future that far more attention should be given to the needs of those who work in the industry than has been the case in the past. Twice in the last 30 years, shipyards have been created for war purposes, and have launched within a period of five years the number of ships which in normal times are launched in 20 years and, as has been pointed out, the period of life of modern ships is now much longer than it used to be. The consequences of this state of things are obvious and I need not enlarge upon them.
The result, of course, was that the shipbuilding industry declined seriously after the last war. Both hon. Members who have spoken have pointed out the only possible policy which should be adopted to meet the difficulties of the situation in regard to foreign competition, namely, that we should produce faster and better ships than our rivals. There is no need to enlarge upon the mistakes and difficulties of the past. Our object must be to prevent the same thing happening again. After the last war, we had a great drive for disarmament, and those of us who can remember the views of the majority of hon. Members in this House at the time regarding the kind of Navy we ought to have, and the kind of Mercantile Marine that was required, will wonder whether that story will repeat itself after this war.
That terrible phrase, that terrible policy, "No major war for ten years," had a most damaging effect upon our shipbuilding industry, not only on shipbuilding for the Royal Navy, but also of building for the Mercantile Marine; it led to our losing the great majority, or, at any rate, a very large number, of our most skilled craftsmen, who, finding themselves workless, went all over the world. When the time came and we had to begin to rebuild our battle fleets in the '20's and '30's, the great difficulty was to find skilled craftsmen to build the ships, and much of our trouble, and much of the great cost of shipbuilding in those days, was due to their absence.
I remember, in this connection, an occasion when I went to the launching of one of our ships, at a big naval shipyard. At lunch, after the ceremony, I happened to sit next to the hon. Member for the division, who was a strong pacifist. He was also the hon. Member representing a constituency which depended entirely upon shipbuilding. He had to reconcile his two interests. His suggestion, I remember, was that we ought to go on building battleships for all we were worth, but that we ought to sink them as we built them. That was the spirit that prevailed in those days. I hope that, after this war, we shall be in no hurry to reduce the strength of our Fleet, but that our policy will be to keep it up to date and large enough for its duties.
Do not let us make the mistake that we made in the inter-war period of not planning our shipbuilding in a combined manner, so to speak, both for the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine. In the inter-war period, when the rebuilding of the Fleet was in progress, naval orders were so timed in most cases—and figures prove it—that, when the volume of merchant shipping improved, so did that of naval shipbuilding, and, when the former declined, so din the latter, In other words, there was no timed and thought-out policy to enable the Admiralty to come to the assistance of the private yards when the Mercantile Marine was not having enough work to do, and when it might have been perfectly easy to have helped those yards with Admiralty work.
It seems to me that here is a matter where Government planning could do a great deal to maintain a more steady employment in the shipbuilding industry, and, at the same time, keep the Navy up to date. In another way, too, yards whose work in the past in time of peace has been confined to the building and repair of merchant ships might be utilised for the repair of ships of the Royal Navy, and Government dockyards might be established on the North-East coast and on the Clyde, both of which areas would be able to afford the requisite facilities. I have no doubt that, after this war, the present Government dockyards will' be quite insufficient to deal with the repair work of the Admiralty. Some of them are not in good condition, and some do not even exist at all, and I think this opportunity might well be taken to establish Government dockyards in other parts of the country.
Finally, let me emphasise the importance of some shipping policy being adopted, whereby British shipowners should be induced not to buy ships from abroad. It is wholly wrong, it seems to me, that it should be necessary, as it has been in the past, for shipowners to go overseas for their ships. We are a shipbuilding country. In the early days of the last century we built practically 100 per cent. of the world output of merchant shipping. Our share of world trade had shrunk to about 19 per cent. at the close of the inter-war period, and, as has been pointed out in this Debate, the vast majority of the shipbuilding work had gone to the Northern countries of Europe. I quite agree with what the hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepools (Colonel Greenwell) had to say in regard to the Swedish shipbuilding trade, and I agree also with what the hon. Member for Seaham said about the Dutch shipbuilding trade. It is not for us to dictate how much or how little of their trade we are going to have, but we must make clear our views regarding our own position and show that we intend to re-establish our position as a shipbuilding nation.
I am equally certain that we ought to make one of the terms of peace with Germany and the other Axis Powers that those Powers shall not be allowed to construct or to own merchant shipping, at any rate, for a long period of years. There is no doubt that the Germans, particularly, utilised their merchant shipping in- dustry for purposes not connected with trade but connected with their war preparations and that, so long as they are in a position to go on doing the same thing, there will be a repetition of what is happening to-day. I look forward to a time when we shall once again build up our shipbuilding industry, and I believe, if our post-war shipping policy is a sound one, a large proportion of those now working in the shipbuilding industry will be able to continue working in that industry. I realise, however, that difficult times are ahead of us and that there are many hard problems ahead of us. It is essential that there should be peace in the shipbuilding industry and that the Government should do all in their power to help the Mercantile Marine.
The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) made what I regard as three fundamental points in his speech. He said, first, that we must assist the Mercantile Marine to re-establish itself after the war. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House agree that that is the primary duty of Parliament and of the. people of this country. My hon. Friend went on to make the point, with which the hon. and gallant Member for North Newcastle (Sir C. Headlam) agreed, that there must be continuity of employment of our shipyards, at high level. That is fundamental if we are to have a prosperous shipping industry in this country. Finally, my hon. Friend said that the volume of tonnage to be employed in the post-war years must necessarily be related to the volume of trade.
That brings me to a point with which I wish to deal. It is the question of the volume of international trade that we shall have when the war is over. As the hon. Member for Seaham quite rightly says, it is upon the volume of that trade that the volume of our shipping will depend. I do not think we can begin to assess the volume of that trade at present. We cannot even assess the volume of our own international trade. It is true that some people say that we shall have to export something like twice the volume of merchandise after the war, as compared with our exports before the war, but I do not think we can even begin to assess that, until we know how we stand under Lend-Lease and what terms the Government of the United States will insist upon in order to release us from the agreement not to export Lend-Lease material. Are they, for instance, going to insist upon the terms which I have heard talked about in connection with the Ottawa Agreement, which are going to affect the volume of international trade when the war is over? We do not know how far these shackles upon international trade are going to be reduced by the great countries of the world.
The President of the United States, a few days ago, told us that the United States, when the war is over, will set to work to export its unemployment abroad by trebling its exports. How far our shipping is going to benefit from that will depend upon how far they will facilitate imports by reducing American tariffs. There is another point, too. I think we have to consider more seriously the ability of British industries to compete effectively in the overseas market. One knows that, in the inter-war years, British industry, by and large, was more concerned in protecting its investments in obsolete plant than in taking part in the technological improvements which led to such tremendous increases in the output of workers in the United States, Germany and Russia. I am, frankly, very pessimistic about the future of British industry at the moment. In almost every industry with which I have any contact, I find that industrialists are talking about setting up all-embracing trade organisations to bring about price-fixing. If you start price-fixing, it means that those prices are fixed upon the high-cost producers and not on the low-cost producers, and that was why I was horrified to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite talking about fixing minimum tariffs. If you fix minimum tariffs, they must be based upon high-cost shipping and not upon low-cost shipping.
There is another aspect of this question of international trade. What are the British Government going to do in order to increase the export trade to the British Empire, that is to the Colonies and India? Are they really going to set to work to raise the standard of living of the native populations of those countries? That is the one way—and I think the hon. Member for Seaham will agree with me—of really expanding the export trade of this country. If we do it properly, I believe it will enable the Empire to absorb not only the exports of this country, but the exports of industrial Europe as well. We have to be thinking of that if we want a peaceful world after the war is over.
The prosperity of our shipping, too, depends not only on the volume of exports, but also on the conditions under which we are going to compete with the merchant fleets of other nations, and particularly that of the United States. The hon. Member for Seaham dealt very fully with that question, but how we are to compete with the United States will depend, to a very large extent, upon whether the United States wants to send its increased exports overseas in its own bottoms or not, arid whether it is going to subsidise its merchant navy for that purpose. If the United States Government subsidise their merchant fleet, what are the British Government going to do? Are they going to subsidise our merchant fleet as well? If they do, it will raise the question of the financial contribution that the British people are to make towards the re-establishing of an effective and efficient British Mercantile Marine. Also, there is the question of the replacement of the specialised ships which have been sunk during the war. There is a wide gap, as I understand, between the insurance and depreciation of these ships established at 1939 levels and replacement costs to-day. That was dealt with by my hon. Friend opposite and the question we have to consider is whether the British Government are going to fill that gap.
If the British Government subsidise the running of the Merchant Navy after the war, and finance the bridging of that gap in some shape or form by low-cost credits, it will raise in a very acute form the question of ownership. Is the British Merchant Navy to be owned by the State? Is it to be privately owned, or owned by a partnership between the State and private enterprise? I do not prejudge the issue at all. The question of State ownership is not a matter of principle but of expediency. Many speeches have been made during recent months particularly by people with shipping interests in which they have said that private enterprise in the United States in things like telephones, air lines and broadcasting has proved itself far more efficient than State enterprise in this country. In making those comparisons they are doing a very dangerous thing. We have had three reports recently, one on building in the United States, making comparisons with this country, another on textiles and another on mining, which the Government dare not print in full. Those prove conclusively that private enterprise in the United States is far more efficient than private enterprise in this country at the present moment, or than it was in the pre-war years. The Textile Report discloses a shocking state of affairs.
Finally, there is the danger that, before the war is over, the seeds of the next war are already being sown. I am pessimistic enough to think that that is actually happening. If that is so, it is vital that in relation to shipping and shipbuilding we should see to it that we are not going to be caught napping again. I say, without any hesitation at all, it is the responsibility of the State to maintain a strategic reserve of ships. We cannot expect the shipping industry to do that. Therefore, it is also the responsibility of the State to keep a strategic reserve of men as well. If the State does that it must see to it that, if those men cannot be employed at sea, they are given occupations ashore that bring them in an equivalent remuneration to that which they would have if they were, for instance, commanding ships on the sea. These men must not be allowed to rot in idleness as they were allowed to do between the two wars.
Then there is the question of shipbuilding. Shipbuilding wants continuity and a steady volume of building, but we must also have a strategic reserve of shipbuilding if we have to face a third world war, as well we may. We cannot allow private enterprise to do what it did between the two wars through the National Shipbuilding Securities. It was antisocial and against the real interests of the community to allow National Shipbuilding Securities deliberately to destroy the shipbuilding capacity of this country. The Government must be responsible for the cost and the maintenance of any strategic shipbuilding capacity it is necessary to keep in order to enable us to be prepared for any future war, which, please God, will not come.
The question of the efficiency of the British shipbuilding industry has also been raised. In considering what I was going to say to-day, I looked at the figures of the whole of shipbuilding at the end of 1938, when, I think, £3,500,000 worth of foreign shipping was being built in this country and £6,500,000 of British tonnage was being built for us abroad. Surely, the answer to that was given by the hon. Gentleman opposite when he talked about the modernisation of Swedish and Dutch yards. The shipbuilding industry has a very heavy responsibility upon it to see that it is thoroughly up-to-date and modernised and is efficient in its methods. It is obvious from what has been said that high wages in this country were not responsible for the inability of the shipping industry to compete.
What the British shipping industry has suffered from is what almost all British industries were suffering from between the wars, and that is, they have been more concerned to preserve the value of their investments in obsolete equipment than to go all out for that technical progress, which is essential if we are to compete in the new world. I am horrified at the suggestion that we should dictate to the Swedish and the Dutch shipbuilders and tell them that they are not to compete with us. There might be a case for preventing the German shipyards from working. I do not commit myself to that at the present moment. It is a thing that I would dislike doing when things have settled down, but I am sure that every one of my Friends on this Bench would fight any attempt made by the British Government to impose terms and conditions upon Swedish, Dutch, Norwegian or American shipbuilders.
While it is fitting that this House should discuss the future of its most important industry, it cannot be denied that the present outlook makes for uncertainty. Nevertheless, two important principles laid down last month by the Minister of Shipping have been received with satisfaction. He declared that the British Mercantile Navy must be as large as it was before the war, and as much larger as enterprise and efficiency could make it, and further, that the shipbuilding industry must be an instrument of national safety and capable also of entering actively into the export market. In regard to the first principle, it might be added, as was said recently by the chairman of the Baltic Exchange, that it is no use to begin at the wrong end. For this country, we must have trade and unless we have that trade we cannot employ our ships and our seamen. That is a primary fact which is apt to be overlooked.
The General Council of British Shipping have further stressed that to contemplate the permanent operation of a large volume of war-built vessels after the war would invite disaster both to the marine and the shipyards. The Council emphasised that the war might end with a surplus in some types of ships and a shortage in others which had upset the balance of world ownership. It advocated a division of the surplus into two classes, (a) strategic or break-up reserve and (b) commercial reserve—the (a) reserve to take off the market those ships which are, or become, surplus and (b) reserve to be formed of those ships which from their quantity expectation of employment would be regarded as marginal tonnage. To-day no one can foretell the volume of overseas trade and so final adjustments must be deferred. The Council add that the industry is prepared to play its part in making such a scheme workable. The Minister of Shipping admitted only last month that the world would be left, to use his own words, "with a prodigious surplus," and he gave an assurance that his Ministry was moving, and would continue to move, until a satisfactory statement of this very serious problem was reached. Is it possible that this afternoon we may have information on the subject from the Parliamentary Secretary?
There is also the still more important problem of replacement, for special trades cannot exist without specialised ships, and ships built in stress of war for wartime carrying purposes will be of no avail. The disparity between war risk insurance recovery and the cost of new building has widened as time has gone on, and as the war draws to an end this problem becomes more urgent. As a result of recent consultations between the Ministry and shipping interests, will it be possible for the Parliamentary Secretary to give to the House an assurance that the problem is being faced and met? It is an urgent and paramount need that specialised ships should be built at the end of the war for special trades.
Further information in regard to shipbuilding would also be of value. In May of this year, at the Conference at Newcastle of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, at which the Parliamentary and Financial Secretaries to the Admiralty and the Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy were present, it was stated after the meeting that the whole position of the post-war reconstrucion of the shipbuilding and ship repairing industry had been considered by the Confederation, which had been assured that the Board of Trade had delegated to the Admiralty the problem of the reconstruction of the shipbuilding and ship repairing industry. That is not an entirely encouraging prospect for the Mercantile Marine, for the Admiralty cannot have a long-established knowledge of the construction of merchant ships. It is not unfair to recall the case of the passenger liner Naldera in the last war. When completing on the stocks on the Clyde, she was taken over by the Admiralty. First, she was altered as an auxiliary cruiser, then as a fast cargo ship for foodstuffs, next ordered to be completed as a troop ship, and then altered into a hospital ship, and, finally, an aircraft carrier. The Armistice intervening, she was handed back to the owners, whose marine superintendents remarked sardonically that she had been everything except a submarine. Subsequent completion for the mail and passenger service cost about £2,000,000—a colossal cost for a ship, especially in those days, of less than 16,000 tons. That is an instance of how taxpayers' money may be wasted, and one wonders how many cases of extravagance in conversion and building in this war have occurred. Can we have an assurance as soon as possible that at the end of the war the Admiralty will revert to its own function, namely, that of controlling ships of war and that the building of merchant ships will be again in the hands of commercial shipbuilding yards who know so supremely well the art of passenger and cargo ship construction?
I might add that it is a matter for regret that on account of the unavoidable necessities of war, so many skilled men will be withdrawn from the shipbuilding trade to man the repair ships needed by our fleet in operations in the Far East. Further, in respect to shipbuilding, I would add that in my belief the demand for faster cargo, so-called, tramp steamers is not well founded. U-boats and convoys will happily have disappeared and the in- creased engine power will prove uneconomic and unprofitable. There is little desire for increased speed from merchants whose cargoes are carried and without whom the ships would not exist. British merchant ships carry many cargoes—grain from Odessa, case oil from Batoum, jute from Calcutta, rice from Burma, sugar from Java, hemp from. Manila—and through the vicissitudes of the market many of those cargoes, unsold when loaded by the merchants at port of loading, may still be unsold as the steamer approaches the port to which she has been directed "For orders" to discharge. Wherein then is the need for increased speed? Speed will always be a factor for express passenger liners but it is a different matter for the carriage of cargo.
I have stated before in this House my belief in private enterprise for our Merchant Marine. During the European and Japanese war there must be control which may be relaxed in stages as Europe is rehabilitated and refitted. But shipowners and ship liner companies are now busy with their own plans, for each trade is entirely different from that of its neighbour and requires, for planning purposes, the active co-operation of consumers and producers in each service. How could it be possible that so large and intricate a planning scheme could be evolved by civil servants and technicians with no previous experience of shipping and trade? Shipowners also hate the idea of subsidies for, with subsidies, must come further control which they equally hate. They have had to give up markets because of concentration on carrying for the war, and our export trade has shrunk to a mere shadow. They have now to get those markets back and also to find new markets. Can it be done? Of course it can, for there is as much enterprise and initiative among the shipowners and industrialists of this country as ever there was. But let the Government do its work, which is to prepare the international field, to endeavour to prevail upon the Governments of other countries to abolish subsidies and to erase tariff war, and then to stand aside and to keep a watchful eye on the interests of its own nationals.
In that respect, I have no desire to be vague but to ask what are the Government's intentions in regard to the release after the war of British shipping. Is the present arrangement to stand by which the release of British ships will not take place until six months after hostilities cease whereas Allied shipping will be free immediately after the war ends? We should have an answer to that question. British shipowners consider three points essential: That British shipping should be released not later than any class of shipping under any other flag; that it suffers no disadvantages with foreign and Allied shipping; and that shipping of all flags should bear a proportionate burden of the work of reconstruction. These are reasonable requests to which I hope Members of all parties in the House will give their support.
Finally, I would say that I do not see a good prospect for the successful resumption of our overseas commerce and postwar export trade unless we again renew that machinery which in the past has helped to make great our Mercantile Marine. Who can take the place of those experienced shipbrokers and chartering agents who, under the present system of Government control, are now in disuse? The great Shipping Exchanges in our large cities are now idle and deserted, and the longer that continues the more difficult their revival will be. The routine of Government Departments is not adapted to the conduct of overseas trade. Only those who have a life experience of the many technicalities of world trade will be able to help restore prosperity to our Mercantile Marine, providing also good and continuous employment for the splendid and courageous seamen of our Merchant Navy.
I think the word "negligible" is too strong, but those who have been used in the past to the carriage of cargo, know that speed is a small factor in it. There are many needs which merchants have in regard to the ships they employ, but speed is not among the important factors.
It seems to me that the business of this House this week has been properly ordered, for shipping has come, as it ought to do, before the consideration of social service and insurance to-morrow and the following day. It is obvious that national industrial welfare comes first; before we can have our boasted Beveridge benefits, we must have prosperity for our shipping, our farms, and our mines. In my opinion it is just sheer idleness, just nonsense, to expect otherwise. People talk nowadays of a paradise. We will not get even a fool's paradise unless we attend to our overseas trade in proper fashion; what we shall get will be just plain purgatory and not paradise at all. In the discussions to-morrow, I imagine those well-informed gentlemen aloft who take notes of our proceedings, if they have any imagination at all, will mark well as the moving finger writes, that first things come first. Trade and industry must succeed and prosper before we can talk with any sense at all of social insurance. Shipping, of course, is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, of all vital overseas trade.
It has always been a mystery to me why the three main industries by which "we live and move and have our being"—shipping, mining and agriculture—have been the most disregarded in political matters in this House ever since I can remember. We do not live by selling dolls' eyes from Birmingham, or cosmetics, or ladies' silk stockings; we live by the things that we eat and have as necessaries of our life. We can limit our wants—and we want a lot—but we cannot limit our needs. Our needs are shipping, mines and agriculture. Consequently, as has already been remarked, we have had booms and slumps, feasts and famines. The worst of it is that the speculator invites himself to the feast—this is sometimes called "watered capital"—and when the slump comes that makes the slump all the worse.
Of course, as has already been noted, wars accentuate these conditions. There is no need for me to tell the First Lord of the Admiralty that ships are munitions of war. In this island home of ours, the most important munitions of war are our ships. They are essential to us but, unlike all other munitions of war, they do not take the form of a Guy Fawke's firework to be blown away, and that is all there is to them. The ships remain for 20 years afterwards. So there is a need for planning. I welcome the temper of this Debate, for we sit here not as political antagonists and extremists to-day, but more like directors considering the pros and cons for the good of our country in the future.
I am not a devotee of planning; I do not think it is the be-all and end-all of everything, but I think it is essential to plan with this in our minds, that shipping is the key industry of this country. Unless it swims, we sink. My slogan to-day would be "New ships for old" as the first objective of our programme, and a 20 per cent. depreciation allowance would be, of course, an inducement there. I suggest that we make up our minds from the beginning that no old ships should be sold to foreigners. We know what happened in the last War. We know that Dutchmen and others who had never bothered about a Plimsoll line and worked, with their families, three men short of the number we had to work with on the same kind of boat, came up our rivers without pilots. We have to stop that sort of thing. We are the "saps" of the family of nations, we English, and we ought to be harder of mouth in this respect. We should have no buying of ships from other countries, such as Sweden, and even our Allies.
A lot has been said, but not a word too much, by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). I would never have any dealings at all except temporary leases of ships which we might require—just rent them, nothing more. We had enough at the end of the late war of the German boats that were sent over here as part of reparations, and we know that this did infinite harm to our shipbuilding industry. If our Allies have more ships than they can manage, and we need them, then we will hire them for temporary purposes only.
Another point is that the trade routes, from which we were ousted by subsidised shipping, ought to be restored to us, and that right early. Now the Navy could, I think, help us in the provision of regular work and, when industry is slack, order a small number of additional ships, and also repairs and outfits could be fixed up in the shipbuilding districts when times are slack—the Tyne, the Wear, Liverpool, Belfast and the Clyde—these refits and repairing jobs could be done to keep the men busy and help the youngsters to learn a skilled trade. Much has been done during the war by the Government in equipping shipyards.
The House will remember that after the Barlow Report £6,000,000 was expended in better equipment for our shipyards. A great deal has been done in our yards, for which we are all grateful, but there is an urgent need in the immediate future for more docks, particularly in the North East. I believe there are no more than five or six docks on the North East coast, and they are too small. They were all right for the seagoing vessels of 7,500 tons, but now that tonnage has increased to 10,000 tons, there is not enough space, and there is a great deal of time lost in waiting for turns. These docks ought to be extended to accommodate the larger vessels.
The problem of our foreign trade is urgent, of course, but it is not insoluble. After all, the United Kingdom is the world's largest and best importing market. I was born and bred a Free Trader, and if the world was wise I should wish for Free Trade again. But we have to take things as they are, and be realists, and I suggest that we should make bargains that we can enforce in favour of our exports. I know we are not out of the wood—the Bretton Wood—yet. One does not know, unti after certain things have happened across the Atlantic in the near future, what our Imperial policy will be, but as soon as we do know, there will be some plain speaking in this House in regard to international trade. But if we insist on our rights and demand that the Government should see fair play, I think we shall be all right. Any Government that does not stand for fair play will have very short shrift in this House. I am sure that in this shipping matter we shall come to our desired haven, but there must be planning and the Government must back it, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Sea-ham, by providing cheap money facilities. The hon. Member said the Government would have to see what was being done with the money. They will have to be in the same position as the bank manager, who, when you require an overdraft, wants to know what you want the money for. It is not likely that the Government will give financial assistance at a low rate of interest unless they know that the money will not be lost completely by them as well as by the shipowners.
I believe that the Government can meet our shipping difficulties by providing cheap money at low rates of interest over long terms. We have done astonishingly well in planning in this war, mainly because we have taken experts from private industry and put them in control. That is true. I know some of these experts, who come from the North, as one might expect. Some of them are in this House. But that cannot continue. It will not be possible for Lord X or Y or Z, who is perhaps now controlling A or B shipping line, to remain in control after the war. These experts will have to go back to private enterprise. I am glad that we have had this frank, fair and reasonable discussion on this subject, which is of paramount importance, to-day, and I shall be glad to hear what the Minister has to say on behalf of the Government.
I have listened with interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay), and I am glad to note that he has recognised that if we are to have a new shipping policy in the future some of his old friends will have to walk the plank. He mentioned Lords X or Y or Z—I do not know their real names—and showed by that that he was seeing a little more of the light now that he is coming not, perhaps, to the winter of his political career, but to the autumn of his days.
I would ask the hon. Member to give way for a moment. I am within the recollection of the House in saying that I never suggested that these experts, who had done such good work for the Government, were going to walk the plank. That is not what we do in the far North, although it may be a practice in Hull. No such thought has entered our minds. These men will go back to their pre-war jobs, with our grateful thanks for what they have done.
My hon. Friend referred to some of his guinea-pig friends and suggested that some of them were members of the Peerage. If they wish to have any part in shaping our shipping policy in post-war years they will require more qualification than that. As I have said, I am glad that my hon. Friend is seeing a little more light. I regretted, however, what he had to say about some of our Allies. He referred to the shipping of Holland and other countries and "swung the lead" to try to hit some of those with whom we would rather be friends than enemies. I would ask him: Is his own house in order? How many tramp steamers have come from the Tyne with insufficient sanitary arrangements and room for their crews? No thanks are due to the Tyne for any improvement that has been made; the thanks are due to those who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), and others in the Seaham Harbour area, have focused the attention of the country on what the Merchant Navy and its men have done during this terrible war. No thanks to the River Tyne, or to my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, for what the Maritime Board have done in trying to make living conditions on some of our tramp steamers more tolerable—
There is a letter in "The Times" this morning from some of the friends of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, in which they say that they were not without sin:
He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone …
My hon. Friend has been doing some stone-throwing to-day. What is to be the policy in post-war years? We shall be short of merchant shipping while the United States will have too many ships. We shall refuse to allow Japan to try to rule the waves by subsidies. There is no need to worry much about Germany, because she will not have any ships left. We shall need a policy, and I am glad that this day has been set aside for this Debate in order to impress upon the Government that there must be a policy, not simply for ships but also for greater comfort and accommodation for seamen, and greater encouragement for the younger generation in our seaport towns. They must know that it is worth their while to volunteer for one of the noblest tasks of mankind. Here, I am doing a little special pleading, but Kingston-upon-Hull is worth it. The third port of Britain will want special consideration
when it comes to rehabilitation and rebuilding. Opposite to the constituency which I represent, the area has been denuded of small ships, and we want them back. I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to intervene in this Debate for a few minutes. I ask the House, as a Council of State, to see that we do not allow our Merchant Navy and seamen to be treated as they were treated after the last war by a hard-faced Parliament. We must not only rehabilitate our Merchant Navy and restore it to its once-proud position, but we must see that our seamen get a square deal and encouragement for their sons to follow in their footsteps.
I should like to pay a most sincere tribute to the officers and men of the Merchant Navy for the magnificent service that they have rendered during the war. They have suffered the most brutal treatment from our enemies, their ships have been sunk and they have been machine gunned in the water and mutilated and had to undergo quite unnecessary privations in rafts and boats, and their first action on returning to this country was to sign on again arid go back to the sea. All honour to the officers and men of that Service. There are many important and very difficult problems for which a solution has to be found, but none more important than the future of the Merchant Navy and the shipbuilding industry. We rely upon the Merchant Navy in peace and in war. It is in fact our jugular vein which feeds the whole economic structure of our country. During this war, much more than in the last, the Merchant Navy has been very badly damaged; in fact, it has been crippled, not merely because of the immense losses it has sustained—they are serious enough—but because this intricate machine, with its many component parts and ships of every different type, has been adjusted for the prosecution of the war.
In 1941 we came to an agreement with the United States that we would primarily build combat ships, while the United States would build merchant ships for use in the transport of every conceivable war material and personnel for the prosecution of the war. As a result of that, not only have we to-day an immensely reduced tonnage—some 10,000,000 or 11,000,000 —but we also have a completely unbalanced Mercantile Marine. We have many 10,000-ton ships, built by the United States, which are quite unsuited for most of the trade routes which we shall use after the war. They are very expensive to run and their repairs also are very expensive. They are not suited to our needs in peace time. We have, on the other hand, a great deficiency in smaller and special ships. I refer, for instance, to those employed in the timber trade to the Balkans, the grain trade to the Danube, the fruit trade with the West Indies, trade up the River Plate, where we are confined to a certain draught, the timber trade with North Russia, and so on. We have not got those ships now.
We rely upon our Merchant Navy for our prosperity. We rely upon it to build up, to maintain, and even indeed to improve our standard of living. We depend upon it being efficient and sufficient for our imports and exports in all parts of the world. Owing to this agreement in 1941 the United States increased their merchant tonnage from 7,000,000 to 22,000,000 tons and, no doubt, before the end of the war they will have increased it by many more millions. It was a very good thing for the United States, with their immense potentialities in material, man-power and shipyards and their facility in mass producton to carry out this construction of merchant ships, not only to replace the immense losses of the Allied nations but also to build up a sufficiency of merchant ships for the successful prosecution of the war by the Allied nations.
It is very important to remember what, happened to the Merchant Navy between the two wars. It is a true but a very unpleasant fact that after the last war there was a progressive decline in our merchant fleet. We had held a preponderating position as the carriers of the world for a very long time. We have lost it. No doubt, that was partly due to the natural growth of the merchant fleets of foreign Powers, but the main factor was the direct and indirect subsidies by which certain foreign countries built up and fostered a totally uneconomic shipping with which our shipowners could not possibly compete. Our Government would not meet subsidies by subsidies, which was the only weapon which would bring the foreigners to their senses, and our shipping went down and down. Japan swept us out of the trade with India and the Far East, the trans-Pacific trade was captured by the subsidised ships of the United States, and in many other cases our ships were swept to a greater or less degree off the trade routes by subsidised vessels. It was not until the tramp section of this great industry was practically down and out that the Government at long last, but too late, gave it a subsidy of £2,000,000 to operate for two years. It was no answer whatever to the immense subsidies given to foreign merchant fleets. The Government gave to the sugar beet industry £8,000,000, four times as much as they gave to the much more important industry of shipping. The countries involved in subsidies are the United States, France, Italy, Germany and Japan, and by these means they increased and developed their merchant fleets and shipbuilding industries and invariably at our expense.
Another factor is the reservation of the coastal trade of foreign countries for their own ships. The countries involved are the United States, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany and Japan. Algiers is taken as part of metropolitan France. The whole of the Marseilles-Algiers trade is kept for French ships as a coastal trade. So lucrative is that trade that the French ships can offer freights so low that no British shipping could possibly compete, and it was ousted from it altogether. The whole of the coastal trade of the United States is reserved to American ships. Any cargo taken from any port on the East Coast of the United States through the Panama Canal, or even round Cape Horn, to any port on the West Coast is considered to be American coastal trade. That operates very seriously against our shipping. Within the last two years our Government have agreed that the coastal trade of China shall be carried out entirely by Chinese vessels—that trade which was built up by the enterprise and iniative of British ship owners. That is another factor operating for the decline of our merchant shipping.
Then there was the "scrap and build" policy—a most deplorable blunder, a defeatist policy. If ever there was a rotten policy that was one. Shipowners were to scrap two ships and build one. Is it any wonder that at the opening of this war my right hon. Friend the First Lord and the Noble Lord the Minister of War Transport were at their wits' end to know where to lay their hands on merchant ships? As a result of all these factors the shipping industry was badly crippled, almost swept off some of the trade routes of the world and seriously damaged in others, our ports were choked with derelict and unusable ships, their crews were out of work, our shipyards were closed, their areas became depressed areas, and hundreds of thousands of men were thrown out of work.
Of the yards which remained, some 60 in number, in this country and Northern Ireland which had an output of 2,000,000 tons, they were never fully employed. That was hardly the way to remember the immense services rendered by the Merchant Navy during the last war. It was hardly the way to show our realisation of our entire dependence upon this great sea service for our existence and prosperity. That is what happened between the two wars. I have not overstated the facts. Are we going to allow the same things to happen again? Of course, the answer is "No." I would, therefore, ask the Government what their policy is in order to show our gratitude to this great sea service in a practical manner, and also to show that at long last we realise the transcending importance of our Merchant Navy for the future prosperity of our country. Is their policy to take practical measures not only to rebuild our Merchant Navy in all the component parts that we require, but to take steps to ensure that our shipbuilders and shipowners can compete on fair and equitable terms with the foreigner, which they were not able to do before the war. Will the Government really back up our shipping industry? The question of continuous work for our merchant seamen is of the utmost importance. A proposal was sent to the Ministry of War Transport on that subject in March, 1941. I wonder whether we shall be informed what the Government are to do about it. It is essential that there should be good, permanent and continuous employment in our shipyards by collaboration with the First Lord of the Admiralty, the President of the Board of Trade or the Ministry of War Transport.
What is the Government's policy to prevent happening once more what happened between the two wars? How do they propose to deal with the question of foreign subsidies? I have not a terrible lot of faith in agreements. I think it is true to say that we, in this country, faithfully carry out our agreements, but it is common knowledge that other countries do not; they get round them. We might agree that we are not to have subsidies. What do the Government propose to do if another country does not fulfil the agreement? Presumably, it will apply only to the United Nations. Can the Government do anything with regard to the reserved coastal trades? All the ports and coasts of the British Empire are thrown open to the ships of every country. We give everything, but we receive nothing. We hear a great deal about the freedom of the seas, but I am never quite certain what it means. According to those countries which reserve the coastal trade for themselves, apparently it means that, while they do that, they expect to have the coastal trade of every other country free to them. Something ought to be done about that position.
I have already referred to our reduced tonnage and to our having an unbalanced Mercantile Marine, and to the enormous surplus tonnage which the United States have at their disposal. After the war there will be a transition period—I do not know for how many years—in which we shall be building our Merchant Fleet once more and building, not only mass tonnage, but the types of ships required for particular routes and cargoes. Owing to the shortage of tonnage in our Merchant Fleet we shall, during that period, have to make use of some of the surplus tonnage held by the United States. Most of it consists of 10,000-ton ships built, not for purposes of peace trade, but for the transport of war materials. They are not ships that our shipowners desire to use for longer than is necessary, but we shall have to have some of them We roust, however, be careful that we do not, by taking too many of these ships, which are uneconomical to run, damage our own shipbuilding industry. We must get that industry going full speed ahead and must not, by taking a large number of these 10,000-ton ships from America, jeopardise our shipbuilding industry.
Then there is the question of replacement of our shipping losses. The Government took over ships from the owners, the tools of their industry, for the purposes of the war. That was quite right, and it was necessary to do so. What is the Government to do to help the shipowners replace the losses? Some owners have lost the whole of their fleets. Many of the others have lost 50 per cent. The industry is millions of pounds down on the amount of money required to replace the ships. They have not sufficient to replace more than one half. The Government give 5 per cent. for profits and 5 per cent. on the cost of the ship for depreciation. That does not leave them anything like enough for rebuilding.
I have said so—5 per cent. for the profits and 5 per cent. for the hire. What are the Government going to do about it? Will they let shipowners have cheap money, provided that they keep their own money in the industry? It is essential that the shipowners should know what the Government's policy is.
How are the Government to deal with the question of the rebuilding of the required tonnage and how will they ensure regular work in shipbuilding? Then there is the question, which has already been raised, of what is to be the position of the Mercantile Marine of the Axis Powers after the way in which they have conducted this war. Are they to be allowed to build up their shipping, as they did after the last war, with subsidised ships, or even without subsidies, after their inhumane treatment of our seamen? Our merchant seamen will not forget that and will never agree to the Axis Powers being allowed to build up their shipping industry once more. I ask the Government whether they will make public the arrangements that they have made with regard to the utilisation of Allied shipping. We had to fall back on that owing to our own shortage. What did the Government pay for the hire of these ships, what wages did they pay, and what did they do about replacements? Nothing has been made public about it, but it is common knowledge that the Government paid a far greater amount to Allied nations than to our own people. Can we also have the agreements affecting British shipping which were made with other nations and are still operative? It would be a good thing if the British public knew what these agreements were. Not long ago the Minister of War Transport went to the United States to consult the American authorities as to the disposal of their surplus tonnage. I understand that, prior to going, he did not take into consultation any of the shipowners of this country. Our shipowners are a little anxious and nervous because they do not know what agreement was come to by the Minister of War Transport. Could the Government give more information about it?
All these questions of shipping are not merely questions for this country. They are questions for the British Empire. If we can only get the British Empire to work in collaboration with us in this matter, it will make all the difference in the world. I have no doubt that they are working towards that end, but there must be that collaboration. This is an Empire matter and not merely one for this country. We rely upon the Empire immensely for the increased trade which we require. We have to get back somehow or other the trade of the world, and the first step in that direction is to work in collaboration with the British Empire.
I come to the very important question of the welfare of our British seamen a shore. It is most important. I hate making any personal reference on the Floor of this House, but I happened to be chairman of the London Port Welfare Council for some years and I did my best to get help, but the Government would not give us a penny piece. We had to go round with the hat and beg for money on behalf of the merchant seaman. That is why I take a special interest in this matter. The work was ultimately taken over by the Ministry of Labour and, during the war, the welfare of our men ashore in this country has been looked after by combined efforts between the industry and the Ministry of Labour. The arrangement has worked most satisfac- torily, and the Minister of Labour is to be congratulated on his success in providing welfare for the merchant seamen in this country; but there is the welfare to be considered of our seamen outside this country. It comes under the Noble Lord the Minister of War Transport. I am told that our seamen complain and make very adverse criticism of the welfare arrangements provided for them abroad. I trust that the Minister of War Transport will look into she matter and will take steps to remedy the position. There is also the question of what is to happen to that welfare after the war. It has been suggested that it should be taken over by the British shipping industry, to be run on a joint contributory basis by the owners on the one side and the employees on the other. That is a suggestion which I believe finds favour in the shipping industry. At any rate, it is a matter which is well worth considering, to see whether it can be done.
There is the question of the Board of Trade's statistics, to which I wish to draw the attention of the Government. As issued to-day they are false and misleading. For instance, the tonnages of passenger and cargo ships are muddled together and they are all given as cargo. Passenger ships are not given at all. The whole of the tonnage is regarded as having been primarily employed in the cargo trade. I refreshed my memory by having a look at the matter yesterday. Global figures of gross tonnage are used in the Board of Trade statistics, as in other countries, including a country which builds very large passenger ships, thus disguising the fact of a deficiency in cargo ships. For example, the Queen Mary, of over 80,000 gross tons was posted, every time she came to this country, as having 34,000 tons net cargo. As a matter of fact, the Queen Mary can only carry 1,500 tons of cargo and she has never done that. What a misleading and false statement to put in the Board of Trade statistics, which are used as a basis of British calculations. When a ship has one ton of dead weight cargo on board, all the net tons of that ship are calculated either as entering or clearing a port with cargo. That, of course, is a very false statement.
There are other things that I could mention in regard to this matter of Board of Trade statistics but I have been speaking for so long that I will not go into them. I hope that the whole matter will be looked at again. A committee consisting of civil servants was set up to inquire into the subject of Board of Trade statistics, and it issued a Report in 1936–37 which has never been published. Why not? Will the President of the Board of Trade, to whom the Report came, publish it? It is high time is was done, because the statistics are no use at present, being false and misleading and no change was made after the receipt of the Report.
It was stated in another place that there were waste and overlapping in the issue of comforts to our merchant seamen. That statement was false and incorrect. I happen to know something about it. Again I must introduce what I dislike very much, a personal note. I happen to have started and run a fund for comforts for merchant seamen for nearly five years. Since February, merchant seamen have had issued to them 15 coupons, of different value. Each coupon provides the merchant seaman with a certain quantity or type of woollen comfort, but no merchant seaman to-day or since last February can acquire more comforts than his 15 coupons will give him. Prior to that arrangement Board of Trade regulations existed and they were adhered to, at any rate by my organisation and the Merchant Navy Comforts Service whereby no comforts were provided except on the written authority of the master, chief engineer or a chief officer, and then only in the quantities which were specified as being necessary. The only exception to that was in the case of an ocean-going ship away from this country for a long time. Woollen comforts naturally wear out, or they may be blown overboard from a clothes line. The master of the ship may then provide others from a small reserve which he has on board. They are under his charge and only issued on his authority, yet the statement was made in another place that there were waste and overlapping and the Merchant Navy Comforts Service was specified by name as an offender.
The person who made that statement has been challenged to produce evidence to substantiate it, but he has not done so up to the present. I consider it was a most monstrous statement and one which will do much harm to the welfare and to the comfort of the merchant seamen at sea. I am therefore very glad to have had this opportunity of stating the facts in this matter, because the Merchant Navy Comforts Service has been of inestimable value to the seamen in many ways, not only by the issue of comforts but with the emergency sea rescue kits, hospital service, prisoners of war packing centre, etc. To accuse this extremely efficient organisation of wasting comforts is an absolute negation of the facts.
I am in the hands of the House. I am intervening rather later than at first was intended. I think it will be for the general convenience of the House if I speak at this moment, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport winds up the Debate. I welcome tremendously the spirit of the contributions which have been made in the Debate. The speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Colonel Greenwell) showed very great knowledge; even though some of his statistics were put from a different point of view from that of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), they were nevertheless the kind of statistics which we shall have to study most carefully for our help and assistance. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham gave an exposition of the situation as he sees it. With a very great part of his analysis of the position I can agree right away, because a great deal of it was factual and could not be controverted. Now and again, of course, he just wanted to pull my leg a little on old controversial questions such as the speed of ships, but, broadly speaking, much that he said will be very helpful to us in our study of the situation, and I therefore welcome the spirit in which the Debate has opened.
I think the House would expect from me to-day something which would be in two main channels. First, I would use the occasion of this Debate for some appreciation of the work which has been accomplished by the shipbuilders during the war, and then make definite reference to the future of the industry, leaving the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport to speak more particularly on shipping industry questions. While it would be wrong to assume that we are at the end of real danger of attacks on our shipping, especially by U-boats and mines, I think we have now reached a stage of the war at which we have good reason to hope that the worst of our shipping problems are over, and where it is possible to appraise what has been accomplished in our shipbuilding industry. I would like to pay a tribute to the management and workers in the industry. They have done a very great job in this war. The work, too, has been supervised at the Admiralty by the Controller of Merchant Shipbuilding and Repairs, Sir James Lithgow, who has very often been criticised, but who has done a great job in this war with the help of Sir Amos Ayre and Mr. Lawrie Edwards. We have come through a time, quite apart from the very great assistance we have had from the American and Canadian yards, when but for the work of our own shipyards we could not have survived. At one time, I remember, we placed an order for 60 ships in the United States of America. I do not know whether we could have got through without that assistance. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham Harbour has already paid tribute to the shipbuilding effort of America.
I want to emphasise to-day how very much we owe to our industry for its contribution to the situation. In addition to its peace-time responsibility for the building, repair and maintenance of the ships of the Royal Navy, the Admiralty has assumed in war-time the responsibility of building and repairing merchant ships so that a proper balance might be kept between the needs of warships on the one hand and merchant ships on the other. In this war new construction of warships has had to be rapidly expanded in a number of ways, and always in the light of the changing circumstances of the war. Within a few months of the opening of hostilities came the fall of France, the entry of Italy into the war and the immediate increase in the threat to our shipping. These made it imperative rapidly to increase our fleet of escort and minesweeping vessels; to provide the large number of small patrol and mosquito craft required in these circumstances for the defence of our coast and for raids against the enemy; to maintain and to build up the offensive strength of the Fleet, in spite of the heavy losses necessarily incurred by a Fleet fighting first for its life, and then to gather the strength to overcome powerful enemies; and lastly, to provide landing craft of the most varied types and sizes, all novel to the shipbuilding industry, but which have made possible the invasions of North Africa, of Italy and of France, and have themselves caused the tide of war to turn in our favour, for upon their success the defeat of the enemy undoubtedly depended.
I want to give some details which have-not been given before which will give the House some idea of the immensity of the naval shipbuilding accomplished by the United Kingdom in this war, I am giving the figures from September, 1939, up to the end of 1943. Of major war vessels, including battleships, cruisers, monitors, fleet and escort aircraft carriers, destroyers, submarines, frigates, sloops, corvettes, fleet minesweepers, fast cruising minelayers and large depot ships of various kinds, we completed 634 with a total standard tonnage displacement of 1,183,501. Of mosquito craft, including motor gunboats and torpedo boats, various types of motor launches and motor minesweepers we produced 1,260, of a tonnage of 120,358. Of other naval vessels, including landing craft of all descriptions, armed trawlers and miscellaneous types, we produced 2,729, of a tonnage of 334,919. These figures compare very favourably with the output of the last war.
My hon. Friend has often said that. I know he says it with great sincerity. I must say that my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham had a very general charge to make which I thought was justified, in that a good many people of different outlooks had some responsibility for the neglect of the shipbuilding industry over a period of 20 years. I certainly remember when representatives of the shipbuilding industry came to this House, and saw as many Members as they could and implored their help. Only when Parliament did not supply the help was National Shipbuilders' Security, Ltd., brought into existence. We must be careful, as I am sure my hon. Friend is, when we are criticising, to make that criticism just.
However, if I may return to the figures, I want to put before the House this comparison with the last war. In the first year of the last war we produced 114 naval vessels totalling 316,000 tons. This time, in the first year, we produced 231, of a smaller tonnage—144,000. In the second year of the last war we produced 548 vessels of 514,000 tons. In the corresponding year of this war the figure was 914 vessels of a tonnage of 452,000. In the third year of the last war the number of vessels produced was 502, of just about 400,000 tons. In the third year of this war the number was 960 and the tonnage 509,000, or more than 100,000 tons more. In the fourth year of the last war 490 vessels were produced of a tonnage of 366,000. In the fourth year of this war we produced 1,984 vessels, of a tonnage of 590,000. I emphasise that this was done with fewer yards, slips and workers, and I think it is an amazing result. I would particularly draw the attention of the House to the striking rise in numbers and tonnage of the naval vessels produced in the third and fourth years of this war. Many of them had to be of types of small tonnage which we were absolutely dependent upon to mount our offensive power.
Side by side with this great programme the repair and maintenance of vessels already on active service has been carried on, and in making estimates it must be remembered we have sustained considerable damage in this war as a result of four of the worst Atlantic winters we have ever experienced. We have also had to maintain the Atlantic convoys and the convoys to Russia, which also led to very heavy damage because of the weather. Apart from repairs, the development of new forms of attack and defence, both by ourselves and the enemy during the present war, has required the fitting of a great deal of additional armament, both in new ships and in those already in service. Defences against the magnetic and acoustic mines are two outstanding examples of this. Changes in warfare have also required a large amount of work in converting vessels to carry out entirely new functions. Although one hon. Member had some little satire to offer about the actions of the Admiralty in the last war I must say it would have been quite impossible in this war to have performed the varied functions we have been called upon to perform unless we had been able to have the craft properly converted in our yards.
Our production of new merchant ships has been limited by the need for producing every other weapon of war. In the earlier stages of the struggle our first need was for fighting ships, aircraft and tanks to defend this island against an enemy flushed with victory and at our very gates. The programme of new merchant ships, sorely though these were needed, had to be governed to a considerable extent by these urgent naval needs. Nevetheless, at a very critical stage of the war, the labour available in the contract shipyards was divided as follows: naval construction repairs and conversion, 55 per cent.; merchant construction, repairs and conversion, 45 per cent. The aim of the new merchant ship construction was to get the maximum importing capacity for a given productive effort, and, as the House knows, this was achieved by building the standard tramp of about 10,000 tons deadweight. The design of these standard tramps has been modified in the course of the war to adapt them for special cargoes like tanks, aircraft and other bulky munitions which they have been required to carry in increasing quantities. I would also say that the actual speed of the standard tramp has been raised a little since the commencement of the war. I would not give the speeds at being quite so low as my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham said this afternoon. He said that they had a speed of about nine knots, which in certain conditions dropped to six or seven. As a matter of fact the speed of these ships is about 11½ knots, and in circumstances such as those to which he referred this would drop to 10 or 9½ knots, which is rather better than the figures he gave.
I do not intend to quarrel with my right hon. Friend, but I would point out that I was merely quoting what is said by the shipowners who have to work the ships, and they are the best judges.
I have no doubt that in putting their point of view they turn a little to left or right in order to emphasise their point, as a caricaturist does when he puts an argument in pictorial form. In addition to producing the standard tramp it was necessary to produce a considerable number of ships required for specific war purposes other than the main programme of imports. Examples are refrigerator ships and vessels designed for shipping bulky and heavy cargoes like railway locomotives and small craft of various kinds. Some indication of the magnitude of the effort put into merchant shipbuilding of all types in this war is given by the figures and tonnage of the ships constructed, which I am now going to put before the House. The House has not had these before. In the four months from September to December, 1939, we completed 56 vessels, of a gross tonnage of only 243,000. In 1940 the number of ships completed was 182, of a total tonnage of 810,000. The number in 1941 was 236, of a tonnage of 1,158,000. In 1942 the number was 259, of a tonnage of 1,302,000. In 1943, when we were beginning to get back to some other work, the number was 237, of a tonnage of 1,204,000. That means that the tonnage of merchant vessels launched in the four war years 1915–18, 3,770,170, was a goad deal less than the tonnage we launched in the four years 1940–43. Then the tonnage was 4,415,668, in spite of the fact that we had fewer yards and slips and less labour available than in 1918, and in spite of the blackout and air raid damage to the workers' homes. During the course of the war, however, we have been enabled gradually to increase the proportion of faster ships in the programme of merchant construction and, in addition, to undertake the programme of standardised cargo liners of 15 knots, on "austerity" lines, which are proving satisfactory.
With the change in the war situation and the increasing attention which we are now able to devote to the Far Eastern theatre, we can contemplate the termination of the programme of standardised types, and have already begun to turn to the production of vessels more suited to the somewhat different services likely to be required during the remaining stages of the war. For example—and this is another point referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham when he mentioned the Mediterranean, Black Sea and other ports—we require smaller cargo vessels capable of using Mediterranean and other Continental ports, and for the Far Eastern war we require faster ships of the cargo-liner type, and also we shall require for that war some specially designed coasters. These vessels will produce a better balanced fleet—one of those things to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred—and will also be better suited to special trades after the war. For the present, however, control of shipbuilding and ship repairing by the Admiralty must necessarily remain. In order to obtain the maximum carrying capacity for essential food, raw materials and munitions and the mounting of our military offensives our first objective on the merchant shipping side has naturally had to be, during the war, to keep ships already afloat in a state of sea-going efficiency. So far as possible, repairs have had to be undertaken during periods in harbour loading and unloading. In addition to normal running repairs, which are inevitably increased when the period of turnround is cut down, a very heavy load of repairs was caused, as I have indicated, by harsh weather suffered by convoys crossing the Atlantic in high latitudes not normally used in peace. There was also very heavy damage from U-boats, mines and aircraft.
I should like to give the House an indication of the kind of task that ship-repairing yards have had to tackle. At one period the average number of vessels under repair was 431 with an average tonnage of 1,693,000 tons, and I would say that, judging by my experience, there were very few weeks indeed when 750,000 to 900,000 tons of shipping were not returned to sea for use from the hands of the repairers. These figures exclude hospital ships, troop ships and any ships under 100 tons and any repairs costing less than £100. There have also been extensive conversions to merchant vessels required for special purposes. Many vessels were needed for auxiliary naval service for carrying the great armies round the Cape for the earlier African campaigns. The combined operations against Madagascar, Africa, Sicily, Italy and, above all, Normandy, have called for many ships fitted in complicated, curious and ingenious ways. The war has required the fitting in many merchant vessels, as in naval vessels, of armament and equipment designed for protection against the various new forms of warfare used by the enemy.
So much for the tale which I thought I ought to give to the House of our shipbuilding and repair from the beginning of this war to the present day. I think the House will agree with me that it is a tale worthy of the best traditions of an industry which is, perhaps, the most vital of all the industries of this great maritime nation. In spite of the immensely greater complexity of the modem warship and the much larger amount of work per ton, and in spite of the blackout and the air raid damage to yards and workers' homes, which many of us, perhaps, begin to forget—there were many blitzes in Liverpool, on the Clyde, in Hull and in the London yards—
—I consider that the output of the workers, far surpassing that of the previous war, when there was a larger volume of yards and more workers, is a very great tribute to them. I would point out that the production of tons per man on the naval side is not markedly different, with all the radar and extra machinery which takes so much longer, It is a very different position from what it was when warships were not so complicated, and yet there has been very little difference in the output of tons per man in warships. The production of merchant vessels shows a substantial rise in the output of tons per man. These results are due partly to improved methods of construction. Nevertheless, they are greatly to the credit of all concerned, and I think it is the duty of Parliament and people to secure that the future of the industry which has served the country so well, and of those who serve in it, shall be prosperous and stable.
I have already indicated that we are fully conscious—and I thought that more than ever when I listened to the speeches from all sides of the House to-day—of the difficulties of passing from a state of war, in which the demands for shipbuilding are necessarily abnormal and urgent, to a time of peace when they are hound to be less, if for no other reason than that naval work will make so much less demand upon the resources of the industry. Nevertheless, the reconstruction of the British Merchant Navy will call for a continuing effort on the part of the shipbuilding industry for some time to come. Apart from the vessels required by British shipowners, we can surely, I think, look forward to a considerable volume of orders both from our Allies and from other foreign clients. Once the losses caused during the war to particular classes of ships have been made good, the volume of shipbuilding required to maintain world tonnage will inevitably be much less than the present world output of ships.
I agree with the figures given to the House this afternoon that for a tonnage output of 2,000,000 tons on a ten-year programme and a 20-year life of a ship you would want to produce half that rate in order to have a long, stable programme for a given number of workers and yards. We must not, I think, be led into making over-optimistic statements about the future without taking all these factors into account. I hope, however, with the Minister of Transport, that the shipyards in this country may look forward to maintaining a British merchant fleet, surpassing in efficiency and even in size our pre-war merchant fleet, and that we may continue to build, in addition, considerable tonnage on foreign account. Nevertheless, we cannot expect that the shipbuilding industry will continue to be employed at its high war-time level for more than a comparatively short period after the war with Japan ends. It will be the aim of His Majesty's Government to reduce to a minimum the fluctuations of the demands on the shipbuilding industry, and examination of the various means by which this aim can be achieved is now being undertaken, including the fitting in, in the most flexible manner possible, of the naval programme with the merchant programme.
Such an adjustment in naval building for this purpose, however, might prove difficult, because the very principle implies a long-term naval programme, with complete freedom to the Admiralty, subject, of course, to the Cabinet's consent, to accelerate or retard it as required, but, as Parliament, rightly I think, always wishes to, and does, control naval building in peace-time, such a long-term programme may be difficult to achieve. Nor must we over-estimate the share in the peace-time production of our shipyards of naval shipbuilding, although there is no doubt that it can be a very substantial help. If it is used it can be very useful indeed in enabling us to keep proper cadres of skilled men of the various grades to work in those yards.
At the request of His Majesty's Government, the Shipbuilding Conference and the General Council of British Shipping have been considering the problem of the transition period during which it is desirable that there should be some centralised control of the ordering of new ships. The joint committee appointed by these two bodies has produced a valuable report, which accepts the necessity for a continuance of licensing new construction during this transition period. His Majesty's Government agree with this view. In full consultation with my Noble Friend the Minister of War Transport, and with the approval of His Majesty's Government, it has been decided to establish for the new phase, in place of the present war-time committee, a Shipbuilding Committee to advise the Minister and myself on all matters relating to priorities for building as between different types of merchant vessels and on the allocation of shipbuilding facilities between British, Allied, and neutral shipowners who may be placing orders. The committee will endeavour to promote co-operation between shipowners and shipbuilders in the ordering of new tonnage, and in arrangements for the well-being, efficiency, and stability of the shipbuilding industry. The committee will contain representatives of the Admiralty, the Ministry of War Transport, the shipbuilding industry, the shipping industry, and the shipbuilding operatives. We regard the establishment of this committee as an important step towards ensuring the well-being of both the shipbuilding and the shipping industries.
This matter of the new Shipbuilding Committee is extremely important, and I think we might venture on some elucidation of it. Am I to understand that the committee has actually been appointed? If so, how is it constituted—from shipowners represented by the representative organisations like the Chamber of Shipping, the Shipbuilding Council, and the Research Council that was recently established; or is it a body with at any rate some independent ship- builders, and with the very best scientific research relating to shipbuilding available? If it is made too rigid and too official it will not get very far.
The personnel of the committe has not been selected. The appointment of the chairman, who will not be a shipbuilder or a shipowner, will be in the hands of the Minister of War Transport; and he will select whoever he likes from the shipping side, whereas I shall select, in consultation with my colleagues, people from the shipbuilding side. I should mention that, for the first time, we are including two representatives of the shipbuilding workers. I shall take note of what my hon. Friend has said, although, naturally, at this stage I do not want to bind myself on any particular point.
I do not think this is the body on which that representation should be given, but anything that my hon. Friend has to say on that point should be addressed to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. The National Seamen's and Firemen's Union and kindred organisations will have their representation on bodies dealing with shipping welfare.
I should like to say something here about what has been done during the war to modernise our shipyards, which is a matter of fundamental importance from the point of view of efficiency. This will have an important effect on their ability after the war to meet the needs of the shipping industry and to keep their place in the forefront of the world's suppliers of shipping. During the war, the Admiralty have sponsored the extension of both hydraulic riveting and of welding. The development of welding is especially important, and has of course been very largely stimulated in the United States. In this country, the Admiralty has assisted in providing welding equipment by grants amounting to about £1,500,000. Special courses of instruction and training have been arranged for those in the shipyards engaged in welding work. The development of welding technique has been watched and helped by an Admiralty Ship Welding Committee, on which the Classification Societies, the Institute of Welding, and other interested bodies are represented. I believe that the service rendered to the industry by this body has been of great value. The Admiralty has also assisted in the provision of other forms of modernisation, like improvement in lay-out and additional cranes and machine tools. Grants amounting to some £5,000,000 have been made for this purpose. The total sum spent by the Government and the Industry itself in the whole of this modernisation of our yards and the related engineering establishments will exceed £10,000,000.
Apart from these forms of direct assistance, I should leave the picture incomplete if I made no reference to the provisions in the Finance Acts which have been designed for the assistance of industry in general in the post-war period, and in which the shipbuilding industry will share. In addition, there is the initial allowance of 20 per cent. for depreciation which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has proposed for plant and machinery required for post-war re-equipment, and the corresponding allowance of 10 per cent. for new industrial buildings. I would also draw attention to the Chancellor's recent announcement that he will, in due course, submit to Parliament that the 20 per cent. initial allowance shall apply to ships ordered now and to ships at present on offer by the Ministry of War Transport for post-war delivery. The announcement was made in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend who is just, I think, about to interrupt me.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, so far as I can make out, the shipowners do not think a great deal of the concession, and do not believe that it will really be very helpful to them?
That may be so, but when it is taken into account with the other concessions made to them by way of sharing in the benefits provided for industry generally, the total is pretty substantial. I am sure that what has been said about the tonnage question will be most carefully studied by my Noble Friend the Minister of War Transport, in conjunction, no doubt, with the Treasury. It would be quite wrong for me to take any line this afternoon which would indicate that there would be any special subsidy or anything else of that sort at the present time.
It is a well-known fact in the shipbuilding industry that the Gov- ernment have handed over to the shipbuilders about £5,000,000 worth of cranes and machine tools. The shipbuilders, the Lord Aberconways and others—are they to get all that £5,000,000 when the war is finished? Is that the plan?
I think there are differing conditions in regard to different pieces of equipment which have been covered by such jobs, but the yards themselves, into which this plant has been put, have certainly done a very great job for us and for the country, and it was necessary for us to put the equipment in so that we could get delivery in time of what we needed. Perhaps my hon. Friend will raise the facts about each one of these things at some other time.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, can lie say if they are to get that money as a present, because they have been good and faithful servants and have done a great job for the country? Because of that, are they to get a present of £5,000,000? Is that what the right hon. Gentleman is saying?
I expect there is not much doubt that a good part of this sum will find itself related in the balance-sheets of the firms concerned. I have not the figures at the moment and I do not want to commit myself on individual transactions.
Why does my right hon. Friend say that these figures will find their way into the balance-sheets? Surely, they will be ploughed back into the industry for its expansion and development?
Is it not the case that this money, which has been used for the re-equipment of shipbuilding plant, has not been given, as my hon. Friend opposite seems to think, to the shipyards, but that it will remain the property of the Admiralty, and that bargains will still have to be made about how these improvements are to be paid for by the shipbuilders in future?
I said I did not want to commit myself in regard to a particular transaction. We have done our best for the industry as circumstances required. In the case of some yards, there has been a more or less joint arrangement, under which, in order to get something which we wanted, as well as to make the yard efficient, we have both contributed. But it would be impossible for me to answer my hon. Friend on these details about different yards in this way.
I know this is a private row, but it is one in which the House may be interested, and I would direct the attention of my hon. Friend behind me to the fact that the "Queen Mary" and the "Queen Elizabeth," in which he was so vitally interested, both managed to get a subsidy. We must not be too particular. The whole question is this—Whether it is a financial payment, or the re-equipment of the industry, is it going to be wisely and rationally used for the benefit of the shipyard, the workers and the nation?
That is exactly my point—whether it is going to he advantageous to the worker, as well as to the employer. Up to date, just as in the last war, all that machinery goes to the employer, without any consideration for the worker. If the worker is put on unemployment, he will get 24s. a week, after all this boasting about the wonderful things he has done. That is why I wanted to get in before my right hon. Friend—so that he might be able to answer the point I put to him.
My hon. Friend has revealed the difficulties to the House. At one moment, he was asking us to take every possible step to help the industry, and, when I announce that we have spent £5,000,000 of Government funds during the war, the question is raised about how we have done it and whether we put special conditions upon it. I must say at once that help of this kind is needed. Modernisation of the industry is required, if efficiency is to be attained for competing in the markets of the world. That is the first thing to be considered, and all I can say in present circumstances, as a Member of the Government, is that the more that kind of thing has to be resorted to, in the general interests of the community, the more insistent becomes the claim of the community, which provides the money, for general control.
I think that what I have said to the House will demonstrate that the future welfare of the shipbuilding and shipping industries has, by no means, been lost sight of by the Minister of War Transport and myself in the midst of the pressing and urgent problems of meeting our wartime needs, The future of the industries will have our continuing and increasing attention as time goes on, but, at the present time, there are, inevitably—and I think it has been frankly recognised by hon. Members taking part in the Debate—many unknowns and many imponderables. Results may come which are imponderable now. We cannot tell, for example, what losses of shipping we may yet have to endure before we reach the end of this most costly war. I have warned my hon. Friends that we have not necessarily finished with the U-boat war. We still have the Japanese war to complete, and I do not object at all to the hon. Member for Seaham saying that, in fact, the surplus of American tonnage may yet be affected by losses still to be sustained. No Government, despite all the eloquent pleas about the size of our Navy, can say what size Navy we shall require after the war. I am quite sure many things will be said, in the pressure for a reduction of taxation after the war, and many wonderful reasons will be given, why we should not maintain a war-time size Navy.
Nor do I think there is anybody in this House who could so precisely judge the possible course of international trade, as to be able to formulate, at this moment, a very long-term programme of merchant shipping. You might have a long-term programme of a minimum quantity, but certainly any long-term programme on a full basis would have to be integrated with the naval programme, and no one could guarantee at this moment what this House will vote. As for the future of our international trade, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport, who will speak later in the Debate, will have something more to say. The House may rest assured that the Government will lose no opportunity of furthering co-operation between the maritime nations, with a view to removing obstacles to an orderly development of that trade, upon which depends, not only the future prosperity of the shipbuilding and shipping industries, but the basic industries of coal, iron and steel and engineering, and upon these in turn the standard of life of our people must largely depend.
These difficult and intricate matters will require good will and the fullest co-operation from the industry and from Parliament. Many Members in the House are in touch with different aspects of the problem, and have indicated not only their interest, but their technical knowledge of it, already in the Debate to-day, and we shall listen to their contributions. I can assure them that my Noble Friend and myself will study them and lose no opportunity of positive action for the future well-being and prosperity of the shipbuilding and shipping industries.
I want always to keep in my mind, and I feel sure that hon. Members of the House will want to keep in their minds, too, the tremendous debt we owe, not only to the men who have served so gallantly at sea, but to those who have carried on this industry, in spite of its very serious initial handicaps, through so difficult a period.
I have only two matters to bring before the House but I wish first to associate myself with what has been said by hon. Members about the superb conduct of the officers and men of the Merchant Navy. I say that because, only two days ago, I completed a short history of the Battle of the Atlantic, which has not yet seen the light, and I found it extraordinarily difficult to find words to do justice in what I wrote to what the men of the Merchant Navy had done. There will be no stone memorial to these men but posterity will find a much more fascinating memorial in those pages of history which deal with D-day, because D-day was only made possible by the officers and men of the Merchant Navy.
My first point concerns the transfer of flags. I first came up against this point during the Spanish Civil War when some of our officers had to board steamers flying the Red Ensign. Their reports were very disturbing. They boarded some of these ships and found nobody on board who spoke English. The vessels were in a terrible condition and stank to high heaven. There were no lifeboats or lifesaving apparatus. They interviewed the captain and told him that they would report him. He just laughed at them; he could afford to laugh. When I inquired how this could happen, I found that a ship could sail from a port in the Black Sea under one flag, and stop at Constantinople for an hour, during which time the master went up to the British authority, signed some papers, returned to his ship and showed the Red Ensign. I asked who allowed this to be done and I was told—I cannot say that this was right—that all that was required was that one or more persons should be domiciled in London, who had an interest in the company and that that was enough to enable a change of flag. I was also told that it was a matter which no one wished to raise, because it was so useful to us in war time. The transfer of flags was made so easy that we could acquire any amount of shipping in war time. I suggest that the Red Ensign does, and should, stand for something in the eyes of the world, and that this business is really an affront to the flag and does besmirch the reputation of officers and men of that great Service, the Merchant Navy. I hope that, however expedient it may be for war, this business will be discontinued and that we shall not find ships, with nothing British about them at all, roaming the seas under the Red Ensign.
The second point follows from that. We hear a good deal about shipping and the state of shipping after the war. There will be a shortage of shipping at first, but, sooner or later, there will be ships passing on to the disused list which cannot meet our rules and regulations. If what happened before happens again, these ships will be bought by small shipping companies or syndicates in foreign countries where the standard in regard to shipping is not so high as ours. We who have been at sea have seen this sort of thing happening. These people will pick up a crew on the riverside and find a master and mate, probably with a slightly murky past. They do not spend a penny on paint, stores or boats; they load the ships below the Plimsoll line, and send them off. When the ships can no longer stagger from port to port, they disappear by act of God, which is a polite way of saying that an engineer opens a stop-cock, and then the insurance money will be paid. That has happened in the past. I do not suggest that we can interfere in the case of coastal shipping, which is a matter for the countries concerned, but we should be able to interfere if these ill-found ships go to the ports which are served by the ships of countries on a high standard. They offer to carry cargoes at a far lower price.
We hear a great deal about international agreements and that we are to have international agreements on this or that. I suggest that this is one of the things on which we should get international agreement. We could, perhaps, force some countries to accept agreement. When I have suggested this, people have asked me: If an agreement is signed, how can you enforce it afterwards? If a ship arrives at a port, and is refused entry or permission to discharge cargo, the owners of that ship will very soon put their house in order. I do not think it impossible to enforce some standard in regard to a ship's sea-worthiness and all the rest of it. These are my two points and I would very much like to hear what the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the Debate will say on them.
I would add this little point about the Merchant Navy in the war. Everyone is loud in praise of the Merchant Navy during the war, but after the war they are forgotten. If there is any Civic luncheon or ceremony, or anything to do with old comrade, or a church service, the local authorities always invite representatives of the Army, Navy and Air Force, the Church and public bodies, but how often do they invite representatives of the Merchant Navy? It may be that most mariners who have spent their whole lives at sea, when they retire to their garden and telescope, want to be left alone. They do not very often take a great part in the local life, and their neighbours do not know of their great achievements. They are forgotten. The sailors of the Merchant Navy do not wear uniform, and it must be remembered that they would hesitate to accept an invitation to take part in a parade or church service where everyone else would be in uniform. But I am sure that no master mariner would refuse an invitation to represent his great Service if asked to do so. He would be proud to do it. With regard to the merchant seaman, I know that he is distinguished only by a little silver badge, but that silver badge often represents much greater service to the country than the most brilliantly be-medalled uniform.
I suggest a change of heart in the country. I know that a change of heart cannot be effected by legislation, but Members of this House can do a great deal to bring about that change of heart. If an hon. Member of this House knows that some public affair is to take place in his constituency, and he says, casually, "By the way, who is representing the Merchant Navy?" I am sure that the words would act like magic. What is more, I am sure that he would not have to ask the question in two or three years' time. Nothing would give greater joy in my own Service than to see a change of heart on this question of recognising in a public way the really marvellous work done by the Merchant Navy during this war, and, for that matter, during the last war.
Let me preface my remarks, by a reference to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), so that the idea will not go out that the Cunard Company received a grant in money from the Government, in the same way as the Government have given a present of £5,000,000 to the shipbuilders in machinery, and so forth. All that the Government did was to stand guarantor for that amount of money. The company did not get a present of anything. That was entirely wrong. Even supposing they had, it ill became the hon. Member for Seaham to raise it at this juncture, because the "Queen Mary and "Queen Elizabeth" were good investments for the British Empire.
The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) is distressed about the treatment that may be meted out to the shipowners. He fears that the same treatment may be meted out to them, as was meted out last time. What treatment was meted out to the shipowners at the end of the last war? It is on the tapis at the moment, that the Labour Party are in favour of reparations. Well, there were reparations after the last war which took away the entire navy from the Germans, and the Germans sank that navy in Scapa Flow. But it did not end there. The Government of the day took away the entire merchant navy from the Germans. Was that a present to the workers of this country who had won the war? No, it was a present to the shipowners. The shipowners got the German mercantile marine for £5 per ton, and neither on the Clyde, nor the Tyne, nor anywhere else in Britain could we build under £28 a ton. What happened? The whole of industry in Britain was thrown out of gear—not only shipbuilding and engineering but mining. Poverty was rampant in the land as a result of reparations, and we are bound to get that again if we have reparations. I have had a meeting with the executive of my union this week and we are determined to do all we can to see that this does not happen again.
I have waited until the First Lord had spoken, to put in a few words. The engineers, in particular, are up against the question of redundancy already. These are the men to whom the First Lord of the Admiralty was paying great tribute, telling us about the wonderful work they have done. And so they have. They have built the finest ships that ever sailed the Seven Seas, and the finest pieces of engineering that were ever produced are in those ships. The Sea Lords, whose business it is to see that the ships are completed according to specification, also say that there never was finer machinery put into ships in the history of the world. The Americans declare the same. The Americans who came over here have gone back to America and warned the Americans, "This is a challenge to you. The British engineers are producing the machinery to drive those ships with less space, with less up-to-date machinery, and under blackout conditions, better than you are doing in America."
I appealed here a year ago against visitors to the yards speaking to the men. The men resent it. They are told that they are doing great work, but it is often forgotten that they are working under adverse conditions, and our shipyards are the worst, as far as consideration for the men is concerned. Is the House aware that we had not a canteen in a shipyard on the Clyde before this war? Is the House aware-that the "Queen Mary," the "Queen Elizabeth," and all the great battleships are built out in the open air with no protection whatever? That is not the case in France, in Holland, in America, or in Germany. When the blitz came to the greatest shipbuilding yard in the world in Clydebank, it dispersed those men, and they are still away. Four years of that they have had—driven from home.
The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests"—
but the Clyde worker has nowhere to lay his head. Then we hear what wonderful men they are. What have the men in the Army and the Navy and their officers been saying? That all this talk about the wonderful things the workers are doing, and all the promises that are being made to them, stink in their nostrils. That is the language of the officers as well as the men.
They are fighting for us, and no men ever fought better. Do you think the men in the shipyards will be quiet and carry on as they have been doing, after all these years of trial and tribulation? The language of the First Lord of the Admiralty is, "Stand by us, because we are fighting the Germans." In the midst of all that there comes the statement from the Minister of Labour about redundancy and unemployment. That is what is offered to the men in the Forces, in the workshops, and particularly to the engineers who are providing our aeroplanes, guns and ships. They are being paid off at the rate of 24s. per week, and the Minister of Labour has the hardihood to say that if that is not enough they can seek public assistance. I have seen workers who would not go to an employment exchange because they considered it a disgrace, but eventually those same men have been only too glad to go before a public assistance committee. We, who claim to be descended from a hardy intelligent race, have been reduced to charity. There is a picture for you. Is that what we have fought for?
I want to warn the House that engineers—and I can speak authoritatively for them, at any rate—will not stand for this 24s. a week. We have decided that unanimously. We will not have it from any Government—Coalition or not. To the workers, "a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet." Ever since 1918, I have included in my election address the words, "Work or full maintenance." After all, full maintenance for the engineer is not so much. I can hardly get some of my colleagues in the House to believe me when I tell them that men of the engineering industry, upon which the Government in the country have depended so much, are paid only is. 11½d. per hour. That is the rate they receive for a 47-hour week. There is no overtime.
We demand from the Minister of Labour the same amount, whether a man is working or not. That is the Socialist position we have taken up. That is what we have promised our folk to try to achieve. That is what we want for those who have honoured us by electing us to sit on these benches. Some may try to camouflage the issue as best they can, but we shall do our best to draw aside that curtain of camouflage, and show the real position in all its hellishness. What could be more hellish than to say to men who have worked as they have never worked before, to men who have fought, and who are prepared to die for their country, that they shall get this mere pittance of 24s. a week for all they have done? We have been promised a new world, but that new world cannot be realised if there is poverty. We are quite able to guarantee to all our people a comfortable livelihood, so that they will be independent, and will have no need to go begging, cap in hand.
I hope the First Lord and the Parliamentary Secretary will view this situation in all its seriousness. They know perfectly well that employers have turned men off overtime, against the wishes of the authorities. Why are employers doing that? A new situation arose with the introduction of the Essential Work Order. Hitherto, managements had a most powerful weapon in their hands, in that they could sack a man when they liked. Now they have lost that power. They have not been able to adjust themselves to the handling of men since they have lost the power to sack them. So, it has become very awkward for the "gaffers." When this idea first came across, many of the managements told their foremen to stop overtime. They did not tell the workers, the shop stewards or the shop committees. The foreman was delighted to be in a position to tell them, "No more overtime for you." He was getting a bit of his own back. [Interruption.] In the midst of our fight I worked all the overtime I could get, because I had to, and that is what the workers are doing. They do not want to work overtime but they have to to get the bawbees.
I want to warn the House very seriously. I see some hon. Members smile who never knew anything about the business and who have been hanging on to the trade union movement all their lives. We cannot get apprentices. Not an apprentice for the last four years has come from the High School at Clydebank. The man who built the "Queen Mary" and the "Queen Elizabeth" and has been responsible for all the big battleships that have been built at John Brown's for 34 years, came from the High School at Clydebank. Innumerable foremen have come from that school—but none in the last four years. They are coming from the poorest districts. That is accounted for by the uncertainty of employment and the poor wages paid. It is not only the engineers now. There are no apprentices going to be riveters. There are 3,000 riveters, and there used to be 30,000. We have to face the world in competition. If you let all that ability go by the board, it is a black look-out for Britain. I have done my best to warn the House and to warn the Labour movement of the road that they are travelling at the moment.
I am sure the House realises the hon. Member's sincerity and we all appreciate his point that, unless an industry can attract apprentices, it has a black future. I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) said. Up to now the Debate has been very encouraging, because every speaker has approached it with a sense of reality and with a view to having continuity of employment in the shipyards, which will be the result of a well-thought-out policy in regard to shipping. It is one thing to design a ship with ideas divorced from the requirements of that ship. In actual fact ships are all built to meet the requirements of the traders and of our export and import trades. Therefore, all this business of shipbuilding and shipping is dependent upon our recovering our trade and being able to build the tonnage which is essential and is fitted for that particular trade. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) warned the House that there was going to be trouble in one way or another. A better way of approach, I suggest, is to thank the First Lord for having made the announcement of this Committee on which there will be representatives of the workers in the shipbuilding industry. I hope that, with the co-operation—which is spreading—of the works committees and the production committees, that spirit will enable the real interest of the workers to be looked after, because their leaders will become aware of all the problems involved, and we all recognise that without the highly skilled work of British engineers, it is impossible to turn out ships which can compete in the post-war world against all the difficulties that confront us.
The shipping industry is, probably, the most complex one that there is, and it is one in which this country has been predominant because of the unfailing supply not only of men qualified to build ships but of men qualified to sail them, when they are built. As long as we have officers and engineers of the type and character that we have always had, the less we talk about subsidies and the more we state what we are out to do, having based it on knowledge, the better it will be. We have lost 26,000 officers and men during the four years of the war, but there never was an occasion when the Minister of War Transport asked for crews that they were not forthcoming in ever-increasing numbers. Indeed, there was such a rush to serve in the ships that carried the expedition on D-day that there was a great surplus of men. That is a magnificent spirit and everyone connected with the shipping industry feels that it imposes on us a definite obligation to see that, when the time comes for those who have been serving with the Merchant Marine and with the fleet to go back, suitable jobs shall be there for them. That depends on the trade of the country, especially the export trade, being stepped up at least 50 per cent.
The First Lord gave certain figures which I am sure the country will profit by knowing. I suggest that the time may have come when the curtain of security might be lifted a great deal more. I think the security people have done great harm to the country in the attempt to provide against possible ills, because the country does not know the achievements of our seamen and shipbuilders. I think it has a right to know them, and as long as we insist on blacking out all those achievements we do a great deal to depress the people who have done wonderful work both at sea and in the shipyards. I happened to go to Clydebank a day or two after the blitz. As the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs said, shipbuilding is carried out mostly in the open, but he did not say, because I suppose he thought it was not for him to say, that even more wonderful was the fact that when some urgent work was being done, although the men had lost their homes in many cases, the percentage of absenteeism after the heavy blitz was hardly noticeable. That shows a spirit that we all ought to recognise and remember.
There was a matter with which the First Lord dealt, and on which I wish he had been rather more emphatic. He said that he could not pledge any future Government policy in regard to the size of the fleet in peacetime. I feel it is essential that this House should have a policy on which any Government of any colour can depend. I should have thought that at this stage of the war there was no hon. Member who wished to go back to the period when we were scrapping ships right and left, and to such a period as that when, in celebration of the Jubilee of his late Majesty, we did more to produce war and the attack on Abyssinia than any other single act of ours. It is a fact that, when the Italians came here and saw the nakedness of the land, the few ships we had and the condition of the ships in review at Spit-head, they made up their minds to take aggressive action against Abyssinia.
It is essential that we should have an announcement before long on the minimum strength of the Services, and that the work of the yards should be so arranged that those which are capable of building only destroyers can be certain of having a certain quota of destroyers and so keep their skilled men and their cadres employed. That will be a difficult problem. The tendency will be to say that, as we have so many destroyers, we will not build for so many years. That will be grossly unfair to the yards that specialise in them. Yards that had not specialised in them have been building them, and they should revert to their normal types of construction.
On the question of welding machinery, the help that has been given by the Controller to all concerned has been invaluable and the history of the mutual cooperation between the Admiralty and the shipbuilders on the naval side, when it comes to be written, will show the remarkable way in which ships have been turned out, despite all their complications. The modern destroyer is a collection of gadgets such as the world has never seen. Improvements are perpetually being made, which means that, unless we have highly skilled people both supervising and doing the work, we cannot deliver the ships in sufficient time. I believe it is essential that the balance between merchant tonnage and naval tonnage shall be so arranged that, when it looks like slackening down on the one, work can be given to the yards of the other. I would like the First Lord to take this practical point into consideration. Some yards which are building fast ships for the Navy, are expert in turbine construction. That turbine work can be used as machinery for some merchant ships, and it should be possible to keep the skilled men employed on turbine work so that, when it was not needed for naval ships, it could be fitted into merchant ships.
The whole question of the shipbuilding industry in this country requires consideration as a long-term policy, and this again involves this House making up its mind about the minimum requirements for naval construction. The committee announced by the First Lord will do an enormous amount of good in regard to merchant construction, but I would ask the First Lord to recollect that it is not much use holding out the possibility of the Japanese war continuing so long as to prevent shipowners putting down new vessels of the type they want, because they will only be delivered in two or two and a half years. Probably the experience of the war has been such that we can economically achieve speed in construction in a way that we could not do in pre-war days. That may mean that with better davits, and cargo-lifting devices, the turn-round in ports will be shortened, and, where there were five ships to a trade, it may be possible to carry out that trade with four ships. There is, however, something more than that. It is vital that the Admiralty should let up a little on purely war considerations and take more fully into account the requirements of the British Merchant Marine in, say, 1946, because, in order to be ready for that period, the ships have to be laid down now.
I made it clear that the turnover to the different types has only just begun, and I hope that the committee which I have announced will assist in that direction. At the same time, I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want me to make a statement which would interfere with our interests in the Eastern war.
I quite recognise that that comes first, but I would like to point out to the First Lord that the enormous amount of American tonnage of the Liberty type will be quite useless to the British, and that the type of the Victory ship is more suitable for our post-war trade. I do not know to what extent that has been taken into account, but we are very tied up with agreements with the United States and other countries about the replacement of tonnage for Allied shipping. For instance, supposing a Norwegian ship is sunk, there is an arrangement that they can choose the type of tonnage to replace it. I do not quarrel with that, but we do not want to find ourselves, at the end of the war, equipped with ships inferior to other people's.
Another point of importance is in regard to the work that must be done if we are to keep our trade in China, India, the Baltic and elsewhere against the competition which it will undoubtedly have to face. The accommodation that has been provided for British crews in some ships has been appallingly bad. I believe that everybody recognises that now, with proper ventilation and heating, we can provide quarters for crews in a given space that, will not interfere with the cargo-carrying capacity of the ship. We cannot expect men of the type we shall employ after the war to tolerate some of the conditions that existed before. If the First Lord has Shad the opportunity of going over a Swedish or a Dutch ship, he will have found that the design was a considerable advance on some of the designs of British ships. We ought to feel, after the war, that whatever type of ship we build for the British Merchant Marine, not only will they be suitable for the trade they will have to carry, but worthy of the men who will have to serve as crews.
I would like to support what the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir W. James) said about the right to carry the flag. That is a matter which has caused grave misunderstanding all over the world. This is a good opportunity to revise the regulations and to see that the Red Ensign is flown only by British Empire ships, and that those ships conform to all the necessary conditions.
There is one other matter. I think it was the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) who mentioned a point in regard to the discharge of crews. That is a matter which will have to be altered. Most shipowners recognise that fact, and indeed it is not the practice in liner companies or cargo liners to discharge your deck and engine crews, and to have the men sign on, time after time, for one voyage after another. It has been the practice in some tramps to discharge the crew and take the chance of signing on a fresh crew. I believe it is absolutely necessary, considering the number of men for whom we shall have to rind employment, that the conditions of the service should be highly attractive. I am sure we ought to have more ships like the "Conway," the "Worcester" and other establishments of that kind, so that boys, and the youth movement which we all want to help, shall be encouraged to come in. The parents should understand that the conditions of service in the Mercantile Marine are such as to attract boys of every class and kind who like adventure and want to have a chance of a successful career.
Not only have we to encourage the spirit of adventure in the boys to grow up in the Mercantile Marine, the spirit of adventure is necessary for the British merchant. He must be bold, He has to throw his hat over the fence before he jumps it. That means going back very largely to the old merchant adventurer type of Elizabeth's time. We are not going to regain our export trade by sitting in the House of Commons and talking. We have to give confidence to the merchant that, if he goes out, we will back him up in this House and that the carrying trade under the British flag will be adequate for all requirements.
There is a terrible shortage of certain types of refrigerating tonnage at the present time and very little is being done to replace it. We shall have other nations jumping into that refrigerating trade before we are ready. It cannot be denied that a great number of the ships we have are being worked very hard during the war and are deteriorating at a far greater speed than is normal. Therefore, the obsolescent tonnage under the British flag is far greater than under other flags, and any assistance or help that can be given to replace that tonnage can best be found if the Government will agree to one simple measure. I do not refer to subsidies but to a simple policy of applying to the shipping industry the same conditions as the Government apply, in a modified form, to agriculture, through the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. The credit of the country must stand behind the shipping companies so that if they want extra money to build proper and up-to-date tonnage, they can have it. I agree completely with the hon. Member for Seaham that the Departments concerned must obviously be represented to see that the money is properly spent. If that is what the First Lord meant when he talked of control, I entirely agree. I am convinced—and I hope hon. Members on the Labour benches will permit me to say this without interruption—that the history of nationalisation of shipping has been most disastrous wherever it has been tried. The United States lost £600,000,000 after a comparatively small experience of it, Australia lost £12,000,000 and Canada lost £19,000,000.
If the hon. Member wants controversy he can have it. The figures that he has given do not tell the case properly with regard to this matter. The hon. Member will remember that the United States and Australia utilised shipping as they utilised certain other developments in transport, for the purpose of opening up new areas and for various other commercial advantages. That has to be taken into account.
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member, but I am sure that we can all look the matter up. The fact remains that they all had to give up the process. If we want flexibility, rapidity and courage it is not the slightest use having bureaucratic control, because a Government Department cannot snap into a new situation. It is terrified of the Treasury and of the House of Commons. If any hon. Member puts down a question, that seems to be a sufficient reason for a Department to stop doing anything, in order to give an answer.
We have come to a stage in the conditions of this country, in which, as a precedent to any social reform, or any recovery of that level of prosperity that we all want, we must now come to some definite arrangement that whatever the result of the General Election we shall see to it that there shall be an adequate naval force, and an adequate Mercantile Marine on a long-term policy. It is not the slightest use planning for the British Mercantile Marine unless we plan for 20 years, but under our system of five-yearly elections something might be agreed to by one Parliament, which would be cancelled by the next. That would be fatal to the development on proper lines of shipping in the British Empire, and to our trade. We cannot go on in war-time without an adequate Merchant Marine, so I hope this House will treat the subject of shipping and shipbuilding as part of the defence of the country and try to have a common policy, agreed among all parties. That would give confidence to the shipowners, work to shipbuilders and, I hope, some degree of certainty in the minds of traders that they can go forward, in the knowledge that their goods will be carried safely and surely under proper conditions to all parts of the world; and that our ships will bring back to this country, under the same conditions, those things which we must have if we are to continue to live.
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). One thing which he said I am bound to say surprised me and it was that the accommodation in Swedish and Danish vessels, particularly coasting vessels, was much superior to that in British vessels.
I am sorry if I misunderstood my hon. Friend. I thought that was what he said. I should find it very difficult to believe that the new tonnage built in this country is in any way inferior to the new tonnage built abroad. I agree that the old British tonnage was inferior in accommodation to the new foreign tonnage, but I think the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport can confirm as a fact that the foreign tonnage that we have used since the outbreak of war in almost every case has been found to have accommodation inferior to the British tonnage, comparing like with like.
Certain qualifications which new tonnage ought to have were mentioned by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), and one of them was that there should be fast ships. I would like to suggest that it is not always desirable to build fast merchant ships. In war-time it is, of course, of great advantage, but in peace-time speed must be paid for. To go faster means burning more fuel, and it is not all commodities that get any advantage from being carried fast. The British Merchant Marine was built up on the export trade in coal, and I do not think it really matters in the least whether coal is carried from this country at five, ten or 15 knots, so long as it gets there regularly. The House would be well advised to be on guard against assuming too easily that fast ships are necessarily what is required for every section of the trade.
I will not repeat all the arguments that have been put forward on the need for replacing British merchant ships, but would point out that in a well-managed shipping company with, say, 20 ships, the owner would hope to have one ship of each age each year, the oldest ship being broken up and replaced. The average age of the fleet would be 10 years. The average cost similarly would be half the cost of a new ship. The Ministry has not allowed owners to insure, for war risks, for more than the 1939 value., Therefore, we see that these 20 ships were insured for the value of 10 new ships. If these 20 ships by ill chance are all sunk, that particular shipping company cannot replace more than 10 new ships. They will, of course, have the same value of shipping but they will have 10 new vessels instead of 20 of average age. That is, while the same amount of money is employed, this fact alone will reduce the number of ships under the British flag. Reference has already been made to the substantial rise that has taken place in the cost of building. Owners are not allowed to insure for more than the 1939 value, plus a certain amount called the "kitty" money, which is paid into a frozen account only for payment in the event of rebuilding. It is quite certain that, the amount of insurance money plus the "kitty" money is not sufficient to allow shipowners to replace equivalent with equivalent at the present time owing to the increased costs.
The Parliamentary Secretary, who I am sorry to see is not here at the moment, misled the House earlier—I think, possibly, unintentionally. In reply to an interruption from the other side of the House he said that shipowners received 10 per cent. on their capital for the hire of their ship, 5 per cent. depreciation and 5 per cent. profit. It is not so. The rates of hire have been drawn up on estimates to give him, and are intended to give him, 10 per cent, but from inquiries I have made I think it is very unusual, in fact, for the shipowner to receive that sum. Costs are rising; rates of hire always lag behind a rise in costs, and in so far as the Parliamentary Secretary inferred in his reply that the shipowners are getting 10 per cent., I think it is more likely they get 5 per cent. depreciation, plus about 1 or 2 per cent. profit.
The Parliamentary Secretary will be replying to the Debate this evening. I am bound to say that his speeches in this House for the last two or three years have been concerned with much detail on trivialities, and much vagueness on essentials. It may be difficult for the Minister himself to be precise or concise in his views, or in his speech, but that does not alter the fundamental difficulties facing the shipowners and those responsible for the shipping industry. It is no use having elaborate plans for accommodation, if there are no ships and no seamen to enjoy those amenities. It is no good planning for clubs ashore, and continuity of employment, if the industry is to be allowed to dwindle. I sincerely hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us a little more precise guidance on the intentions of the Government.
If I might turn to the present war-time troubles of the industry, I would say there are many of these which cannot be avoided, but some which I think could be mitigated. The first of the troubles which shipowners compete against at the present moment is the Finance Department in the Parliamentary Secretary's Ministry. I do not know how many hundreds or thousands are employed there but they have certainly concocted, and they certainly work, one of the most elaborate and confusing systems of accounts that could conceivably be imagined. I have myself, within the last week or two, several times read a recent circular from the Finance Department of the Ministry. I am still completely unable to discover what it is intended to convey. As might be expected, having involved themselves in a thoroughly complicated system they are as a result months and years behind in their payments. There was an original department called the Costs Investigation Branch in London. It split itself into three or four, and sub-divided itself still more, and it is the case that claims sent to that branch 18 months ago have not yet been finally dealt with. It is difficult for those engaged in the industry, who are short of staff, and have inexperienced staffs, often a lot of young girls, to work a complicated system like this, and still more difficult for them to remember why something was done 18 months previously when a claim was put in.
There are various illustrations I could give, and this is one. Certain charges on account of shipwrecked crews were payable by the Government under agreement. The responsible Department of the Ministry dealing with the question was at Blackpool. The story of what happened is this. The claim came into the Ministry and was paid by this Department in Blackpool. The Department sent the claim by post to the shipowner. The shipowner took a cheque to the nearest Board of Trade shipping office, paid the cheque in, and got a receipt from the shipping office. He then sent this receipt back to Blackpool, to the same Department that had sent him the demand, and they refunded the amount. It is fantastic that anybody's time should be wasted in such a way. I understand that that has now been stopped, but there are plenty of other examples just as bad. Recently there has been introduced a monthly operational schedule, which requires shipowners to write and send telegrams on the very congested overseas telegram service, requiring certain estimates. This is in order that it may be perfectly certain that the Ministry of War Transport is not losing a penny or twopence in carrying supplies for the Ministry of Food or the Ministry of Supply, although it does not matter really, as it is all paid by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the end. This causes a certain amount of irritation and is again a waste of everybody's time.
But the important thing is the post-war situation. Shipowners, like all other sections of the country, are prepared to stand anything that is necessary in war-time, but they do expect to get from the Ministry of War Transport support in any efforts they may make to establish or reestablish British shipping after the war. We have all seen in the Press reports of what I might call commercial major-generals careering about the country in the areas under the control of General Eisenhower. They are dressed up as senior ranking officers, but in fact are said to be carrying on commercial work. But I understand that General Eisenhower has no objection to commercial people going, obviously not to the front zones but to the back zones, to restore the wheels of trade in the liberated territories, provided they do so honestly in a bowler hat and do not masquerade as major-generals. As far as the Mediterranean area is concerned, I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether any British civilian representative has yet been allowed to go there to try to start up British shipping interests for the post-war period and the present period. I would like to ask whether Dutchmen, Norwegians and other nationalities are not already there. If that is so, I would like to know why there are no British representatives there, and why they have been prevented from going there.
Another post-war point arising out of the present position is that I believe that when North Africa was liberated, certain French ships were found in the ports as they were occupied. These French ships were, quite rightly in my judgment, unwilling to go to sea without marine and war risk cover. War risk cover was arranged through His Majesty's Government. I do not think that the Government ever provide cover against marine risks. A suggestion was made that British insurance companies might be allowed to cover this. It was greeted with a horrified protest: "This will be trading with the enemy." These ships were manned by Frenchmen; they were about to take part in the efforts of the United Nations, to sail the seas facing the same dangers as our own seamen faced. It was a little absurd to suggest that this would be trading with the enemy. I think—I hope I may be contradicted—that that situation still stands. As a result, the shipowners got together in North Africa, and formed some sort of mutual insurance pool. They had no experience, they had no fund to meet a quick claim, they had obviously no wide cover to spread their risks. As a result, the premiums were pretty high. That did not really concern them, because the premiums were met, in so far as the ships were trading for His Majesty's Government, by His Majesty's Government.
Now there is a flourishing insurance system among these shipowners, which has been set up, paid for, and encouraged by His Majesty's Government. It will simply compete with the British insurance companies after the war. I believe that that has already happened as regards the French, and that it has not yet happened, but is about to happen, as regards Italian ships. If the Italian ships are trading on behalf of the United Nations, surely it is not the job of His Majesty's Government, or the Ministry of War Transport, to prevent legitimate British insurance covering these ships, bearing in mind that insurance is one of the most important of the exports which, we are all told, so much is to be done to increase after the war.
One of the most important problems of British shipping after the war has already been lightly touched upon to-day. That is the question of how, given it has the ships and given the trade, British shipping is to be made able to fulfil its role efficiently. At present shipowners are ordered to send their ships to a port to load cargo, often of warlike stores, and to take that cargo from one port to another. There is often waste of tonnage, and often an unsuitable cargo is loaded on the ships. I do not blame the Ministry for that—it is inevitable in war. But brokers and agents, who in peace-time collected and shipped the immense range of cargoes carried in British shipping, are as a result largely unemployed. I believe that in peace-time these brokers perform a useful function. Will the Ministry allow shipowners once again, after the German war, to employ their own agents and brokers to supply the cargo? This does not involve the shipowners at all, and they can remain on requisition or not.
If the Ministry do not allow these brokers to start again, two things will happen. In the first place, the brokers will not be able to re-employ their men when the men are discharged from the Forces, and, in the second place, when decontrol comes British shipping will be severely handicapped, through not having an efficient organisation in the ports at home and abroad. Take the liner trade, for example. Instead of the Ministry directing the ship "A" to go from one port to another port, the Ministry would say to the line in question, or to the conference in question, "You can load so many ships on your line in a given period, and if there are any extra ships belonging to you they can go to the people next door, and vice versa." The conditions can be settled at the start of the scheme, and relaxed as the tonnage position eases. This was the policy at the beginning of the war. My suggestion is that it should be restarted, in order that the firms can get going again, so that British shipping may be efficiently served after the war. I could go into a lot of detail about tramps and other sorts of British shipping, but mutatis mutandis, I think the same sort of arrangements could be applied.
We have been talking about post-war employment of seamen. This country owes much to the devotion to duty of the men of the Merchant Navy. The industry hopes to provide continuity of employment after the war. I hope that the manning pools at present in existence will be continued after the war so that the men, when they come ashore, can go into the pool and contine to draw wages until another ship is ready for them. I am a little disturbed that the proposals for the Social Security scheme, which we shall be debating later this week, make no provision for the exceptional position of the Merchant Navy. The shipping industry cannot both run its own unemployment pool and be expected to pay for the general unemployment pool under the Social Security plan. It would be a very retrograde step to return after the war to the method of signing men off, dropping these pools. I hope that when the Social Security proposals are fully developed, attention will be paid to this matter; and that the Ministry of War Transport will be the watchdogs of the industry.
It we are to repay the debt we owe to these seamen, and establish an efficient Merchant Service, if the industry is to contribute towards this post-war export drive to which we are looking forward, this industry, half of whose tools have been lost during the war, must be given a fair deal. Nobody asks more than that. I am confident that, given that fair deal, the industry is competent to meet any rivals, and to give fair and good service to the community.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) has left. Keeping the non-controversial character of the present House of Commons in the background, he trailed his coat on the question of the nationalisation of shipping. I have not heard any speaker to-day advocate the nationalisation of shipping; but, so far as I can see, the House is coming down to the questions of who is going to milk the cow, and which cow is going to be milked. My hon. Friend opposite said that he was not at all opposed to granting credit facilities. He mentioned agriculture, by way of argument. I am not opposed to granting credit facilities even to distressed shipbuilders. We shall have this consolation, that when the credit facility is granted, it will be the credit of the State, and before the owners wind up the business they will have at least to consult a Government Department.
If the shipping industry, instead of tying itself to, the Bank of England, had been permitted to use the credit of the State, I am satisfied that National Shipbuilding Securities would never have seen the light of day, because one of the paradoxes of that organisation between the two wars was that, in connection with one shipyard on the Clyde which they closed down, they borrowed the money with which to pay off the bank from the very bank to whom the shipbuilding firm owed the money. To simple fellows brought up in the industry, it was difficult to understand what was implied in that. A meeting of the citizens was held and a financial explanation given, and one of the banks to which the firm was deeply indebted advanced the money to National Shipbuilding Securities to pay them back again. We were then told that Shipbuilding Securities would take over the yards on an undertaking that it would be on a repair and maintenance basis, but that never materialised, as we were caught by the beginning of the war and this shipbuilding establishment, one of the oldest on the Clyde, dating back to 1830, was dismantled. There was nothing they could do about it, and there was nothing anybody could say to Ship- building Securities about it. To hon. Members who are always asking for credit facilities for this and for that I would say that it is only the complications of the system of which they are in favour which compelled them to do these things. If it is necessary for the wellbeing of the community that the State should give credit to any industry, I am quite willing that the credit of the State should be placed at the disposal of that industry.
I heard the First Lord make the statement that an Advisory Committee is being set up, I presume, to function after the war, and apparently to advise the shipbuilding industry how to conduct its business. For the first time shipyard operatives are to have two representatives, but a chairman has still to be appointed. May I ask for an undertaking, at this stage, that the chairman of that Advisory Committee will not be nominated by the banks and will in no way be connected with them? I think this is essential, because of the unfortunate position in which the industry found itself in between the two wars.
I was interested to hear the hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepools (Colonel Greenwell) say they were all a happy family down there, and that the relationships between the unions and the employers were all that such relations should be. I remember when that used to be the case on Clydeside. I presume my hon. and gallant Friend is dealing with a family business. We do not deal with family businesses now, but, in the main, with businesses whose managers, and even the chairmen of the companies, are appointed by the Bank of England. One of the biggest shipbuilding concerns on the Clyde has as its chairman a chartered accountant nominated by the Bank of England, and practical, trained shipyard managers have, I presume, to work under the direction of the chairman. I would give this advice to my hon. and gallant Friend who, I assume, is still interested in the managerial side of the industry. He said a word in favour of the retention of the works committees. They can only be a success provided that both management and committees understand exactly where their functions begin and end.
Can I ask my hon. and gallant Friend, or the Minister, to say that, when the future of the shipbuilding industry is discussed, they will try so to revise the shipbuilding and engineering trades agreement that it will make provision for these committees of workers within the workshops? If there has been one fruitful source of unofficial stoppages in the industry, it has been that self-same shipbuilding and engineering agreement. In the first place, it was drafted by lawyers and it was not understood, except by lawyers, and, if I may say so, my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Supply was one of the devils behind the piece. I am not blaming him; he is one of the men from the Clyde area of whom we are proud. He is a product of the office of Thomas Piggott, of West George Street, from which the shape of the industry of that part of the country was organised. But that agreement has been deliberately designed for procrastinating purposes. It is all very well for particular union officers to discuss, within the four corners of the agreement, any questions which arise, but if the yard committee fails to agree with the management, there is a local conference. Failure to agree there means a central conference, and failure to agree at the central conference means a grand conference, that is, a national conference.
Surely, my hon. Friend is not trying to give the House the impression that the works committees have nothing whatever to do with the procedure agreement? There never were works committees instituted by the management for dealing with wages and the like. They were for internal conditions of day-to-day life in the factory, and my hon. Friend's remarks are quite beside the point.
To be more accurate, I will read the note I made. "That understanding could only come if the shipbuilding and engineering trades agreement is re-examined and remoulded in the light of our war-time experience."
We can talk this over very much better than across the Floor of the House. I know something about the shipbuilding and engineering trades agreement, as I was one of the fellows who was emptied out into the street on the agreement. I was there at the negotiations and was an hon. Member of this House to sign it on behalf of the workers. All I am asking is that, in the light of our experience gained during the war, if we have gained any experience, we should revise that agreement by which all the relationships between the organised workers in the industry and their employers are determined and governed. My hon. and gallant Friend said earlier that the works committees had come to stay. I want their functions defined. I do not want a works committee which will convert a small industrial dispute into a political issue, I do not want to place more power where it ought not to be, but I want to regularise it and place it within the four corners of all that governs the relationship between employers and employed.
I have worked in this industry for 25 years. I know some of the tricks of the trade, and I also know that the shipbuilding and engineering trades agreement, just as in the case of the building trades agreement, has been designed to make speedy decisions impossible. Whether deliberately or not, the fact remains that we have had sufficient experience of both these agreements to realise that procrastination is the intention. If it is not the intention, it is the result, and I have known dozens of small disputes which grew out of all proportion to their importance simply because people were stone-walled from the beginning. If the local shop steward interviewed the management, there was no agreement; if he brought in his district delegate, there was no agreement. The district delegate applies through the association to the local employers' association for a local conference. There is still no agreement. The matter is then referred to a central conference.
I am suggesting, in the light of our experience, that if these works committees have to be retained, they ought to know exactly where they come into the scheme of things. It is no good saying that they have nothing to do with the interpretation of the agreement. When they try to bring some little point to a conclusion, the employer puts his thumbs into his waistcoat and says, "Our procedure has already been laid down for settling these disputes." The employers will do nothing until such time as the matter has gone through that process. If the works com- mittees do not know that, it is time they did. That is one of my grievances against the shipbuilding industry, and I was in it long enough to realise that some people, possibly the least concerned, dictated all that there was to dictate in that industry. I know a firm on the River Clyde who, during seven years of depression, built no ship but retained every member of their technical staff and the head foremen and paid them their wages. Across the river was another of these concerns controlled remotely by people who were under no social obligation to the district, and the moment depression arrived they swept out everybody except the two managers. I want to avoid that sort of thing in the future.
I hope that shipbuilding employers will not serve notice on their workmen to the effect that on and after a certain date the wage packet will be reduced by 12s. 6d. a week. It may seem strange, but I do not think that the standard rate of wages of time-workers in the shipbuilding industry has been increased since 1914. The standard has remained practically the same and everything which has been added has been in the nature of a special award, a special bonus or something of that kind. If they go on with special awards the pay ticket will be a long one, but there has been no increase in the standard time-rate of wages. In view of all the developments in the industry, at least a standard minimum ought to have been established long ago.
I want to say something on the Admiralty's attitude towards welding, and the Ministry of War Transport is involved in this as well. Men who have spent a lifetime in shipyards are being discarded as redundant, while men who have been dilutees and trained as welders are being retained in their place. The man who ought to have become a welder was a cocker or a riveter. They have created a new class of labour in the shipyard. They are competent men who can do something which is a godsend to the shipbuilder—they can read blueprints. As we go from war to peace, there will be a time-lag and possibly some disturbance. I am trying to anticipate some of the things which will cause disturbance and to indicate them, both to the Admiralty and the Ministry of War Transport.
There is another thing I would like to say about the shipping side. The Minister of War Transport, despite advice from people who know something about it, has persisted in what, to my mind, has been a policy of sheer waste in connection with the building of troopships and hospital ships since the war began. I had the temerity to take this matter up with the Ministry, and I am sorry the Parliamentary Secretary is not now in his place. I had not intended to say anything more about it, but in the meantime things have got progressively worse. During the last war part of my job was to fit out transports and repair Government ships. We found that in the shipbuilding industry men required for fitting out troop ships and hospital ships are employed as dilutee shipwrights and electricians. I have had an explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary and I know that he would, at no time, try to mislead me, but whoever put up the scheme led the Ministry of War Transport up the garden. We have brought house-building firms into shipyards to fit out troop ships. Their men are brought in at a different rate of wages from that prevailing in the shipyards. The answer I got was that the shipbuilders could not cope with the work. That was not true. The real truth was that the shipbuilders could not be bothered. There might be all sorts of conditions imposed upon contractors. Shipyard men, under the jurisdiction of the shipyard foremen, were working at the end of the boat, joiners were working with a building firm amidships, and others were working down the hold under another contractor, and they were all earning different rates of wages.
I am awfully sorry to have to deal with this case, but it is not getting any better, and I do not suppose it will until such time as the need for this sort of thing has passed. One sees building firms in Glasgow advertising in the newspapers that, with much regret, they cannot keep ordinary clients going because they are engaged on important war work. I can say without fear of contradiction that they could take men away from such work and put them out of the way: Who is paying? The Ministry of War Transport. If they made any inquiry on the spot the people sent to the factory were so involved in the muddle that they could not do other than report back that everything in the garden was lovely.
I am rather afraid—and I say this more in sorrow than in anger to my good Friend—that many of the staff of that Department are pretty much the kind of staff at the Ministry of Food at Colwyn Bay, where the soap division wanted to know what soap was used for in launching a ship and, after they had been told, calmly suggested that the ship should be launched with graphite. In the first place, there is not sufficient graphite in the country, and if there were it would cost more than the ship. I am not surprised, because nearly every Ministry, if it is not manned with people who do not know what they are doing, is manned by people who have no sympathy with the work they are called upon to do.
I only hope that the standard which has been set for the comfort of the seamen by the Ministry of War Transport during the war will be maintained after the war, but I think that, even at this late hour, an inquiry into the method of fitting out troopships and transports would not be wasted. I am speaking with intimate knowledge of the Clyde, and I presume that what happens in other parts of the country is exactly similar. As a consequence, I would appeal to my hon. Friend to have another look at this and, if need be, use some of his abundant energy to go and see for himself. If he wants any technical advisers and will let me know I will supply fellows who have no axe to grind but who at least know that industry inside out, and will be prepared to give the necessary guidance.
The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) prefaced his remarks with an agricultural simile. He said it was important to know who was going to milk the cow. I agree that it is vitally important to know whether the State or private enterprise is to be the milkmaid, but surely the question before us this afternoon is that if the cow fails to produce the milk, the poor milkmaid will sit disconsolately beside her pail. I intervene in this Debate extremely briefly, and with great diffidence, because I have seen this afternoon Admiral after Admiral firing his broadside and, moving amongst such a majestic line of capital ships, I, alas, cannot even claim that my little barque is maimed by able-bodied seamen, for I cannot claim that even a single barge reaches my constituency, nor that a single mill chimney is reflected in the murky waters of the Manchester Ship Canal. I only intervene briefly because I feel that the whole question of our sea trade is one so vital to this country that we cannot remain a great nation unless we have a flourishing Merchant Marine.
I would like to support and reinforce what was said by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). It is certainly not to our national credit that we allowed our Merchant Marine to decline so much between the wars. We remember that during the last war we came within three weeks of disaster, and in this war, I would hate to think what would have happened if at any time German submarines had been able to suspend the flow of supplies from the factories of the United States. All our efforts in the Battle of Britain would have been in vain—we should have been starved out. I wonder also if our Russian Allies ever think what would have happened at a crucial period on the Eastern front if the Germans had been able to stop supplies going to Murmansk. If, at the crucial moment in the Battle of Stalingrad, the Russians had been swept back by superior tanks and munitions, indeed the situation would have been serious. Nor do I think it is sufficient to realise how much we owe to the coastal traffic of this country. I myself have had the privilege of travelling in a coastal convoy. Until then I did not realise that neither London nor the south coast towns could have existed unless those convoys had brought coal day after day, night after night. They ran down E-boat alley and, going further south, under the long-range guns of the Germans.
I feel that experience in this war has taught us that we must maintain a strong Merchant Navy for two reasons. The first is that the country must have the ships to bring in imports and to take away our manufactured exports. Secondly, as one speaker said, we rely on the Merchant Navy to provide a trained reserve of men for the Fleet in time of war. Now there is a problem which will face us in the immediate period after the war. Two points arise. Firstly, there will be the Japanese war. When we realise the many thousands of miles across the long waters of the South Atlantic and the Pacific which our convoys will have to travel, we see what a great strain that long line of communications will make on our ship- ping. Secondly, we must not forget that we shall have to supply Europe with goods, a Europe long starved by the Germans of all essential supplies for manufacture and for food. Who can do this? Surely the Merchant Fleets only of two navies—those of the United States and our own.
What about the United States? I saw in the papers the other day that one of our Ministers stated that production had risen in America during the war by 80 per cent. I do not know what will be the result of the Presidential Election, but one thing seems certain to me, that the political trend in America is against the doctrine of public works which the democrats employed during the slump. What is the alternative? If public works are discontinued, that increased measure of production will only give employment to the workers of America if America embarks on a new big export drive. The President himself has said that America is to be equipped with an up-to-date Merchant Marine to play its part in the post-war world. Very different is our situation. We neglected our Merchant Navy between the wars and, in spite of that neglect, we relied on it to provide a vast sum each year in the form of invisible exports. In this war we have suffered tremendous losses, and now we are told that after the war, if we are to maintain our standards—the social services, the new schemes of insurance which Parliament is about to pass—we shall have to double our exports. Therefore, more than vitally necessary to us will be our Merchant Navy.
I come quickly to my final point. I believe the Shipping Council has laid its plans before the Government and proposes that there shall be an operating fleet, that those ships which are not suitable for immediate operations shall be put into reserve, a reserve of ships which may be used in time of necessity, and another reserve which is destined for immediate break-up. The Shipping Council at the same time propose to etner into discussions with the various categories of ship owners in other countries—liners, tankers, etc.—to regulate traffic. I would submit, however, that that does not really solve the problem. If we are to double our exports, we shall not have to be content with stabilising the position. We are, in fact, selling shipping services overseas, Anybody who has studied the situation even, cursorily will know that different types of ships are required for different types of occasions; that, for instance, luxury traffic across the Atlantic requires great fast liners or smaller cabin liners, and that tankers depend on their speed because, very often, petrol evaporates in passage and, therefore, speed counts. I would say that if we are to increase our shipping services, our Merchant Fleet must be equipped with the most up to date vessel obtainable. We can only do this by finance, by having money available to help the shipping industry. I would like to suggest that the Government should guarantee a shipping reconstruction loan, that the members who would administer the money should be able to examine the books of any particular company coming for money, should be able to ask for appropriate security, and obtain certain rates of interest. I believe that only by those means shall we be able to get the money to build a really up-to-date, suitable and practicable Merchant Marine. I promised to sit down at twenty minutes past five, so I end by saying that if we are foolish enough once again to flout the lessons which history has taught us and to neglect our Merchant Navy, then fate may not be so kind to us as it has been in the past. We have learned in two wars the bitter lesson of neglecting our merchant seamen; surely now is the time to realise, following that lesson, that if the Red Ensign is to be carried on the oceans of the world, our Merchant Navy must be considered a first priority. We must have the requirements of work, allocation and raw materials. Given these three things, I am sure that the Merchant Navy will resume its ancient role in our history.
I begin by expressing my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Kerr) for the very admirable and lucid speech he has just delivered to the House. I think we are all agreed that we have had a most valuable Debate, and that we ought to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Colonel Greenwell) on initiating it, and upon making such a notable contribution to it. I shall not be able to answer every question I have been asked, and that is particularly so in the case of my hon. Friends the Members for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) and South Aberdeen (Sir D. Thomson). I would like to say that I will look into the business of fitting out ships by building firms, and that if my hon. Friend who raised the question will give me any further information I will use it and perhaps accept his invitation to pay a visit to the spot. On the question of whether we allow commercial representatives to go abroad or not, we do, in fact, allow them when other nations do so, and some have gone. On the point raised about insurance, it was only for a short time that the French were prevented from insuring in London. They preferred later to insure themselves, as they usually do. As regards agents, we want to see them established as soon as possible, and we shall do all we can to help.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) spoke of the part the Merchant Navy has played during this last year in the invasion of the Continent. I think it would be desirable if, speaking for my Ministry, I added a little to what has been said. For the Merchant Navy it was a very different operation from others in which they have previously, with such glory, taken part. It was a very different operation for my Ministry. Every detail of the administration was completely different. In this operation we had to manage 30,000 seamen, out of 70,000 volunteers, from one central office. I have heard nothing but praise from the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy for the arrangements which were made for personnel, convoys and supplies. It is true that letters were sometimes not delivered as quickly as we would have liked but up to the present time we have delivered something like 2,000,000 letters, of which relatively few have gone astray. On the whole those who organised that central office did a splendid job, all the more noteworthy because it was thoroughly international in its scope. Besides Americans—because there was a large number of American ships—there were Norwegians, French, Greeks, Dutch, Belgians and Poles, all taking their part. The whole scheme was only possible because from first to last there was the most complete and harmonious co-operation between the Government Departments, the representatives of every nationality, owners, officers and men. There were many difficult and contentious questions to be settled, but in the settling of them these diverse elements all came to form one united and enthusiastic team. I would like to say a special word of gratitude to those who helped to make this great enterprise such a success, in spite of the rough weather and the stupendous difficulties which it caused.
I would add a word about coasters, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham referred. They have had a most exacting war. In the first year they carried 1,000,000 tons of coal a month to France. They mounted and supplied the Expeditionary Force to Norway. They evacuated Dunkirk, and later bore for many months the brunt of the enemy's attack on shipping. They went through E-boat alley, down the Channel among the magnetic mines, yet they kept their convoys going and carried 30,000,000 tons of cargo every year. They sailed across the Atlantic to take part in our amphibious operations, in the Mediterranean, North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, and the rest. This year, in Normandy, they surpassed every effort they had made before. The normal allowance for breakdowns of various sorts is 10 to 15 per cent., but on D-day less than one per cent, of the British and Allied coasters failed to keep their appointed convoy stations. They piled their decks high with military equipment, and carried two or three times their normal complement of personnel. They lay for days in open anchorages in dirty weather, swept from their moorings in darkness, facing difficulties and discomforts of every kind. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) said, as the Government have often said, that the nation owes a debt of gratitude to the men in our coasters and in our Merchant Navy which it will not easily repay. What can be done to meet it? Some hon. Members to-day, and officers and men themselves, have supplied one answer. The nation, they say, can assure to seafarers better conditions of living and working than they had in times gone by. Mr. Charles Jarman, of the National Union of Seamen, says:
We want minimum standards of employment and welfare established for seamen, redeeming the lavish promises made to them by everybody, from the King downwards, who has paid tribute to seamen's service in this war.
In fact, many improvements have been made for officers and men during the course of this war and, of course, seafarers want to keep in peace-time what has been recognised as right and proper for them during the war. But they want more. They have embodied their demands in what is called an "International Seamen's Charter," to which reference has been made to-day. That Charter, adopted by the officers' and men's societies of a dozen maritime countries, is to be submitted, I understand, to the Maritime Commission of the I.L.O. Although it has not yet reached me officially, I think I may say that the Government regard it as a most important paper. Perhaps it will be right if I make some comments on some of the matters with which it deals, from the British Government's point of view. I preface my comments by saying that the question of seamen's conditions is now considered, I believe, in a genuinely sympathetic spirit by everyone concerned. I remember a statement made by the President of the Chamber of Shipping this year, in which he said:
Profit will not be extracted and maintained at the expense of low wages, poor accommodation, inadequate leave and long hours of duty.
That is a very important declaration, which I warmly welcome. The Government approaches the question of improvements in seamen's conditions with a warm desire that they may be swift and real. They did a good deal of work on the subject before the Charter was ever produced. Let me take some of the matters with which that document deals, and say that I fully share the view expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools that the international regulation of conditions is to be desired. If our conditions are what we want then international regulation must be to our advantage. But I am speaking on these matters primarily from our British point of view. As to safety at sea, for some time my Ministry have had what we call a working party engaged on making plans for improved safety regulations in time of peace. As everybody knows, there have been great advances during the war and we are working out how these can be consolidated and put into peace-time regulations.
A Committee under Sir Henry Tizard is working at the application of Radar for the improvement of ships' safety and other radio aids to navigation. Another Committee is working on constructional questions—fire prevention, navigational equipment, meteorological services and so on. We hope to improve the practice in all these matters. We believe also that an international agreement will be required when the war is over, and we shall be ready to help in making it when the time comes.
Secondly, there is the question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) of what is called, for short, seamen's welfare. The I.L.O. adopted a recommendation on the subject in 1936. The British Government accepted that recommendation, and throughout the war they have sought to help both British and Allied seamen in accordance with the principles it laid down. They have had welfare committees for seamen in every port, there has been large-scale provision of hostels, and more than 150 merchant navy clubs have been set up around the world. Some time ago my Noble Friend, in co-operation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, set up a committee to report on certain difficult issues involved in seamen's welfare. That committee is about to present its report, and it would be inappropriate for me to deal in detail with the matter to-day, but I hope means will be found to get in peace-time what is needed.
May I say a word about accommodation—the crews' quarters in their ships. "Your ship is your home" is one of Mr. Jarman's slogans. He has recently demanded that the old system of "building a ship and then putting a hole in the deck for the crew," shall be abandoned for good and all. I do not think there are any ship owners who will not accept that view. Not long ago a British owner told me that some time before the war he built some vessels which embodied most, if not all, the proposals in the Seaman's Charter. The quarters were amidships; the sleeping rooms were separate from the mess-rooms, the sick rooms, washing, sanitary and gallery arrangements were all that the charter asked for and, he said, none of the difficulties that had been foreseen had arisen. On the contrary, the improved accommodation had beeń an excellent investment for the firm, because they got and kept crews who were contented and on whom they could rely.
I said in the Debate a year ago that in the ocean tramp or cargo liner of 7,000 or 8,000 tons the crew space represented roughly 5 or 6 per cent. of the total tonnage, and the difference between good and bad accommodation was about 1½ per cent. No one would now let that obstruct our progress. In fact British standards were greatly raised by the Board of Trade regulations of 1937, and in many ways we have gone beyond them in the tonnage built during the war. Some of the charter's new demands are already met, and I hope that others will be when the war is over. One of the most important points concerns the galley—where it is put, its equipment, refrigerators, and all the rest. That is important to cooks, stewards and all the crew. On all these matters, we have another working party considering in the greatest detail what can usefully be done. They are considering again not only what should be put into the revised British Regulations but into an international agreement on the subject if one were made.
Last year I told the House something of the plans that were being made for the training of boys who want to go to sea. That work is done by the Merchant Navy Training Board, in which spokesmen of the Ministry of Education and of my Ministry work together with representatives of the shipowners, officers and men. It has been pushed forward in the last 12 months and they have now made plans for the training of navigating officers and deck hands. When they come into effect, they will mean an almost revolutionary change. They will mean a regulated entry into the industry of boys of the right age, of adequate physical fitness and satisfactory character and with a proper standard of education. No others will be admitted. They will give to every boy a period of pre-sea training in a residential college. For ratings it will be six months and for cadets nine. The plan will ensure encouragement for continued study, under supervision, when they have gone to sea. They will offer an equal opportunity to every boy, whether rich or poor. They will open the ladder of promotion from the bottom to the top. I cannot read the Board's report—for which we are much indebted to representatives of the industry—without feeling that it is not only a practical but also an imaginative and an inspiring piece of work. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Education shares that view and has authorised me to say that, if the scheme, with or without variation, is agreed upon, it may be assumed that grants will be available on a scale certainly not less favourable than that for schemes of training for industries on land. My Ministry and the Ministry of Education will be ready to start practical conversations on the subject with the Training Board as soon as it seems a useful thing to do. The Training Board are now beginning to work on plans for the training of boys for the engineering and catering departments of the Merchant Navy. They are no less important than the rest.
I have spoken of the galley. Who in a ship is more important than the cook? The food supply is now generally good, but often the cooking leaves much to be desired, and so does the training of the cooks. I was a little while ago at one of our training courses for Merchant Navy cooks. One of my colleagues said he did not know whether we should be able to hold to this advance when the war was over, of six weeks training instead of two. I asked the director if he thought it would pay its way. He said it was worth it, but it ought to be at least three months. I asked the instructor what he thought. He said it was useless, it ought to be a year. I have a feeling that there is here a big piece of work to do and one of real importance to the Merchant Navy.
I can only mention one other matter concerned with seamen's welfare. That is, the plan of the National Maritime Board for what is called continuous employment. My Noble Friend asked the Board to draw up a plan some time ago under which the advantages which seafarers have had from the Merchant Navy reserve pools should be continued in time of peace, and they prepared, a scheme under which the majority of the personnel of the Merchant Navy would be, so to say, established—permanent jobs, fixed holidays with pay and other privileges as long as they chose to stick to the sea. That plan had to be dovetailed into the general plan for social Security and, of course, we could make no progress until the Government's decision on the social security plan was known. Now that the White Papers have been published, it is clear that some of the purpose of the scheme will be accomplished by the Government plan itself. Seamen will share the general advantages which all citizens have under the social security plan. The provision of holidays with pay has, I hope, been settled by a separate agreement with the National Maritime Board.
If my hon. Friend had waited for another sentence, I was about to say that the essential purpose—that of providing the "established" officer and seaman with a permanent job—has yet to be accomplished. Hon. Members will see that it must be fitted into the general social security plan and that it would be difficult to give to one industry, even the Merchant Navy, concessions which others had asked for and had been refused. We are already in touch with the Board on the subject. My Noble Friend has seen them, and he hopes that a workable and satisfactory system may be evolved.
I make no apology for having said so much about the work we have done on matters connected with the Seamen's Charter, but we cannot repay our debt to the Merchant Navy by ensuring good conditions unless we also ensure that they have ships to sail. What have the Government done, and what do they propose in order to fulfil the pledges given that this country shall continue to serve the world with a large and efficient Mercantile Marine? How do they intend to avert the disasters which befell the Merchant Navy after the last world war? The House will recall that a few weeks ago we laid a White Paper which contained an international agreement on the principles by which a continued control of merchant shipping can be carried on during the transition period from war to peace. The making of that agreement is a very considerable and significant achievement. It provides that the present control of Allied shipping shall be absorbed into a new international control; that it shall continue through the transition period, that is to say, until six months after the end of hostilities with Germany or Japan, whichever is the later; and that, during this period, the shipping of every signatory country shall be used as a common pool to fulfil the common tasks of defeating the aggressors and of carrying out the tasks of reconstruction. The agreement sets up an international organisation, the United Maritime Authority, to operate the shipping and to supervise the general working of the control. Some of the nations which have signed will have too little shipping. Others will have more than they need for themselves. It is plain that there might have been a serious clash of interests, and if any nation had broken away, it might have hoped in a period of shortage, to earn fantastic rates. Yet these nations have all agreed to stick together till the job is done. They have agreed that, if there should be a surplus of shipping not required for essential jobs, ships should only be released for free commercial trading on a mutually acceptable basis which is fair to all. I think that that fully meets the preoccupation of my hon. Friend the. Member for Kirkdale (Sir R. Rankin). No one will get a flying start.
In making this arrangement, the maritime nations have subordinated their short-term, national, conflicting, sectional interests to the general, broad, international interests which they all share. I believe it will be a great advantage to the world, and certainly it will be an advantage to Great Britain and to our Merchant Fleet. Since the agreement was made two months ago the Planning Committee for which it provided has been set up. The institutions have been organised, and the first meeting of the Executive Board will be held in Washington in a few weeks' time.
It is open to her to come in, and we hope she will. One of the advantages of this control is that it will give us here a longer time to recover from the losses and wear and tear of war. We have lost many ships; many others are obsolescent and some were obsolescent when the war began; and these must be replaced. My Noble Friend has said that our Merchant Navy must be at least as large as it was before the war, and so much larger as British enterprise and efficiency can make it. How can that be done? Many of my hon. Friends, with this in mind, have raised the question of surplus tonnage which the United States will have when the war is over. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham will believe me when I say that the point has not escaped my Noble Friend's attention.
Does my hon. Friend know what to do about it? No hon. Member will expect me to say to-day how this problem will finally be solved. No one in the world can say how it will be finally solved, but I will say this. We have solved during the war, by consultations with the United States, very difficult problems of conflicting interests, and I have the fullest confidence that we shall solve by consultation whatever shipping questions there may be between us when the war is won. On our side we are resolved to understand the American point of view. I am certain that they are resolved to understand ours, and that we shall go into our peace-time co-operation without a sense of grievance on either side.
If my hon. Friend means, has my Noble Friend had conversations, of course he has, but formal negotiations are not yet opened, and I do not know how they could be at this stage of the war.
My hon. Friend said that nobody ought to expect an answer to-day, but can hon. Members at least hope that his Noble Friend will take into account the views that have been widely expressed in the House to-day?
I will transmit both the hopes and the views of my hon. and gallant Friend. Quite apart from the question of American tonnage, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington and other hon. Members painted a gloomy picture of the future prospects of British shipping.
No, not my hon. Friend. Unfortunately, I am prevented by security considerations from giving figures of tonnage in the Merchant Navy now, or about the tonnage which we shall have when we settle down to normal peace-time conditions. I can only assure my hon. Friends in general in very emphatic terms that our position as compared with 1939 will be much less unfavourable than they have feared. We shall have some ships to trade with when the war is over. Similarly, I cannot accept what has been said by one or two of my hon. Friends about financing the replacement ships that must be built. Some pessimistic and extravagant things have been said. I can assure the House that they would not be endorsed by responsible leaders of the shipping industry. The general policy which the Government have followed on capital remuneration and insurance values has justified itself a thousand-fold. There are problems which are not yet resolved, which cannot in the nature of the case be resolved, at the present time.
Broadly, the situation is not so bad. The prospect for replacement of post-war shipping is not too gloomy considering the experience we have been through. I am fortified in that view by the articles of a shipowner whose company's experience, of course, is not typical of the whole industry, but for whom everyone who knows him has a high regard. I refer to Mr. J. R. Hobhouse, who said that very large funds have accrued to the shipping companies as payments for lost ships under the War Risks Scheme, and that he thinks a good start can be made if the cost of shipbuilding does not rocket. I recall another piece of evidence, a special report by a correspondent of "The Times," who made inquiries on the Tyne. He came back and said that the shipbuilders on the Tyne were quietly confident about the future. It is, in Mr. Hobhouse's opinion, with ships of the passenger-cargo and cargo-liner type that there are the geratest proportional deficiencies.
I was quoting an independent expert, a correspondent who went on behalf of "The Times" and made a special inquiry. I was saying that it was passenger-cargo and cargo-liner ships which show the greatest deficiency, and it is most urgent in the national interests that we should replace them. It is therefore important that the Government have taken other measures, and some of them were mentioned by the First Lord this afternoon, to help in their replacement. Shipowners of that class can certainly be helped by the improved efficiency of our shipyards, of which the First Lord spoke. The Government have decided, as my Noble Friend announced, to relax the conditions on which licences to build new vessels can be granted. Licences can now be given for smaller ocean tramps, for intermediate cargo liners, for passenger liners and other vessels which will serve essential war needs, but which will be particularly useful to us when peace returns.
The Government have decided to set up a Shipbuilding Committee, which my right hon. Friend announced and which has had, I think, a very good reception from the House. They have helped to set up the Shipbuilding Research Council which, of course, will have a Government grant. The field for this work is literally immense and its results can hardly fail, even in the early future, to improve the technical perfection and the working efficiency of our ships. Another Government decision is the Chancellor's concession of 30 per cent. depreciation. Within its limits that must materially assist the shipowners concerned. There is one other piece of Government war-time action of a very different kind. I hope the House will not think I am frivolous in mentioning it. It relates to what the Minister of Food calls disinfestation. It is not commonly understood that rats destroy food and other things which have to be imported to the value of £50,000,000 a year. If we could save it, that would be a major item in our international balance of payments. Also, insect pests add a very great deal to the total.
If we save it, it will be an invisible import. During the war the Ministry of Food have proved that the loss from insect pests can be virtually cut out, and that prolonged campaign might well exterminate the rat completely. The Ministry has shown that by a single, inexpensive process a ship can be freed from rats, from insects in the holds, from the so-called social insect pests in the crews' accommodation—the cockroach and the homely household bug. The Government are considering how the work done by the Ministries of Food and Agriculture can best be carried on in times of peace. My Ministry are considering how ships can be made rat proof in construction, as we believe they can. We believe that "Glean Ships for Clean Cargoes" would be a gilt-edged asset for the Merchant Navy and it might be a magnet to foreign traders and British importers with goods to move across the seas.
There is one other point on which Government policy is very firm and very clear. The United Maritime Authority of which I spoke has a limited mandate. Its institutions have been created for a specific time. The Government do not intend that when that mandate has expired that shall be the end of all international co-operation in maritime affairs. They are resolved to work for general agreements on fair conditions in international shipping trade. They want to cut out the practices which sullied and distorted shipping before the war. It is too early to start negotiations now and I cannot go into detail, but the Government are confident that, with our Allies, they will, in due course, succeed in making an agreement. We are confident that there are sanctions by which such agreements can be enforced.
The Government have given the strongest pledges about the future of shipping and shipbuilding. Those pledges have recently been renewed by my Noble Friend and by the First Lord this afternoon. As I have shown, the Government are working hard and are taking many measures to ensure that their pledges shall be fulfilled, whether it be about the conditions of officers and men or the replacement of ships that have gone down; they have taken, and are taking, practical and vigorous action in many fields. Of course, in every discussion on shipping, the fundamental question is always Will there be an adequate volume of international trade?
Efficiency is not enough. There must be cargoes. Many hon. Members have put this afternoon the point that was put with great force by a leading shipowner. He said:
It cannot be too strongly emphasised that the size of the British Mercantile Marine must ultimately depend upon the volume of international trade.
I shall not greatly comfort my hon. Friends with a didactical declaration that there will be trade to carry, but I think, in fact, there will. My Noble Friend is no mean judge of these affairs. He said recently that more passengers than we had ever seen before will want, in the future, to travel by sea and he expressed a considerable confidence in the future of trade for cargo vessels.
Every hon. Member will agree that the promotion and extension of international trade depends upon the fundamental general policy which the civilised Governments of the world pursue. It far surpasses the competence of my Ministry or even of that over which the First Lord so ably presides, but perhaps I may say that the Chamber of Shipping, at its annual general meeting this year, adopted a resolution welcoming the action taken by His Majesty's Government to further the principles of the Atlantic Charter and declaring that those principles were indispensable to the happiness and the prosperity of the world. Of course, that is true. If the principles of the Atlantic Charter are applied we shall get rid of slumps and wars, which have been an unmitigated disaster to British shipping in the last 30 years.
In applying those principles we shall always be face to face in a thousand different fields with the issue which the United Maritime Conference had to face: Shall we pursue our narrow, short-term, sectional, national interests, which may be in conflict with the interests of other nations, or shall we pursue instead the long-term, over-riding, common, international interests which all nations share and which they must promote by common action? The answer of our Government is clearly that the Government are resolved to do everything in their power to ensure that in these great matters the long-term common interest shall prevail. On whether they succeed, the future not only of British shipping but of western civilisation will depend.