None of the steel imported from the United States is specifically earmarked for shipbuilding. Within the limits of the tonnage of steel they are licensed to acquire, shipbuilders are free to procure supplies of the types and qualities they need from any United Kingdom steel supplier.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, firstly, that there are over 2 million tons gross on the order books of the shipbuilding firms of this country, which is 37 per cent. of the world tonnage, but that only 19.7 per cent. of new tonnage is being laid down, which means that 206,000 tons were laid down in the second quarter of the year? Secondly, is he aware that that new tonnage is the lowest laid down since 1945, and that on the Clyde at least there will be considerable indignation if steel allocation is going for the export of tanks before the export of ships because over one-third of that tonnage is for export?
If I were the hon. Gentleman I should not draw conclusions too hastily over so short a period. The shipbuilding industry fluctuates considerably, and I think the period of time with which he is dealing at the moment is far too short.
Yes, Sir. I am glad to say that the steel allocation for merchant shipbuilding will be increased from October next. The precise increase has not yet been settled, but it will not be less than 5 per cent.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question which I have asked him before today but on which I have not received a satisfactory reply, namely, what encouragement is being given to shipowners to place orders for tramp ships?
This question arises out of all the other Questions which have been asked about shipbuilding. I want to know whether consideration is being given to the construction of tramp shipping as well as of tankers and intermediate cargo liners and the like?
The position is being watched, but I cannot say that any special steps are being taken to encourage building along the lines mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. The annual basis for the allocation of steel at the new rate for the fourth quarter will enable shipbuilders to achieve higher production than they have been enabled to reach at any time since the war.
Having regard to the increased steel allocation in the autumn, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the North-East Coast receives its fair share, because there has been some mystery about the steel allocation to the North-East Coast and I want to know whether we shall be all right in future?
I assure my hon. Friend that she need not have any misgivings on that account. I understand that the misunderstandings of some weeks ago have been cleared up, and I am sure that the North-East Coast will have its full and fair share.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the falling off in ship construction which has occurred in the last quarter is due solely to the shortage of steel or whether there is any other reason?
The shortage of steel is really only a minor reason for this falling off in orders. Other countries have begun to take advantage of the fact that our order book is full and, like Japan and Germany, they themselves have started to build to a great extent on their own account.