§ Again considered in Committee.
§ Question again proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of the Personnel for Shipbuilding, Repair, Maintenance, etc., at Dockyards and Naval Yards at Home and Abroad, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1919."
§ 7.0 P.M.
Mr. RUNCIMAN (resuming)
When the Committee was interrupted I was discussing the proportion of skilled to unskilled men that would be employed in the national shipyards, and I was throwing the recollection of the House back to the numbers given by the First Lord. I think I said that the First Lord stated that there would be from five to six skilled men employed on each berth. It would perhaps have been more correct to say that there would be five to six skilled men employed on plating in each berth. That does not mean that five or six is the total number of skilled men who will be employed. It leaves out of account plumbers, joiners, carpenters, and, to some extent, I understand, it leaves out shipwrights. It means that five or six is strictly limited to the category of plating. I do not think we shall be far wrong if we say that the total number of skilled men who will be employed on each berth, instead of being from five to six on plating, will be on all the services which are necessary for the completion of the ship something much nearer a proportion of thirty to forty. It may be even higher in the finishing stages of the construction of the vessels. My right hon. Friend made a comparison of the skilled men in the national yards—whether on this occasion or on a former occasion I cannot recollect—with the number of skilled men employed in the private yards. There he was comparing the number of skilled men on all services in the 325 private yards. It is quite clear that the number of skilled men will have to be enormously increased if there is to be provision for the proper manning of the national yards. Let the Committee not forget that not only have Skilled men to be provided for the national yards, but skilled men have to be provided for every one of the other seventy-three berths which are now being extended in the private yards.
Some criticism has been made during the discussion of the distribution of labour, and the point of it was that there is not now a sufficient amount of skilled labour to secure the manning of even the yards which are now turning out vessels. There will be much less skilled labour available when the extra seventy-three berths are added, and if any portion of the skilled labour is absorbed in the national yards it is obvious that the private yards will go short. Let us apply this test to the position—will it tend to the production of more or less vessels? It is perfectly obvious that concentration of labour and energy is the only way in which you can get a maximum output from the country as a whole, and I would commend to the First Lord the wisdom of concentrating his skilled labour rather than dissipating it. The advantage of using it in the private yards is not only that you already have equipment there and that they know their business well, but that you have a great deal of the upper organisation there. You have not to extemporise it. There is no question of borrowing men from other yards to fill up. The main organisation in the yards remains, and the extensions can go on without any dislocation in the other categories. The First Lord anticipates that owing to the alteration of submarine strategy, there will be set free from repairing docks and yards a certain number of skilled men. He said the number of the heavy repairs had been unforeseen. It was not unforeseen by many shipbuilders and shipowners. They have been painfully conscious since the War began that the repairs of their vessels were being effected on far too small a scale, and that this position was gradually getting worse. It has been obvious for a very long time that the number of vessels which were not repaired, and many of them will not be repaired until the War is over, is so great as to effectively reduce our tonnage to a far greater extent than appeared in 326 the return of submarine losses which appeared from week to week or month to month.
The release of skilled men from the repairing yards or dry docks depends to a considerable extent upon whether the vessels which are being put into the water will require to be repaired to a greater extent and more frequently than the ordinary type of merchant vessel upon which we have depended up to the present. We do not know. We have had no experience of the fabricated ship. We do not know how they will stand the constant knocking about in the Atlantic. We do know whether the sharp angles, of the fabricated ship will tend to that vessel lasting as long as the vessel with finer curves. They are being put together with great rapidity. I do not think even Lord Pirrie will be prepared to prophesy that the repairs of fabricated ships will be no greater than the repairs of the ordinary merchant vessel of the type we have known in the past. Some people hold the view that the repairs will be more heavy. If that be the case there will be no skilled men set free from the dry docks, and the repairing yards, and I say emphatically that the Admiralty and the Shipping Controller are not justified in counting on any skilled men being set free from the dry docks and the repairing yards for the purpose of giving assistance in the shipbuilding yards. They will have to keep the repairing yards going with even greater capacity for output than they have shown up to the present if they are to keep themselves within present requirements.
The more one discusses this subject the more one realises that it all turns on the subject of labour. I observe that my right hon. Friend dismissed somewhat summarily the criticism which has been offered by the Select Committee of Members of this House on the expenditure of the national shipyards. If it were a question of saving the country for the sake of £3,000,000 or £4,000,000, there is not a man anywhere who would hesitate about spending a hundred times that for the purpose. But where my right hon. Friend misses the point is this, that you cannot have an expenditure of £2,000,000 more than is necessary without to that extent actually reducing the total labour supply of the United Kingdom. The point was put with some force by the hon. Member for Gravesend. It is not merely a question of money. It is not the simple 327 question of saying to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "You must not put any obstacles in my way." You cannot get out of the difficulty by a spurt in the flotation of War Bonds Every £1,000,000 which is dissipated represents so much labour. It is difficult to estimate what labour is actually worth at the present time; but I am not far wrong in saying that an extra £2,000,000 spent on these yards which could have been saved means a waste of the labour of 7,000 men for twelve months. Therefore, wasteful expenditure is not a negligible point. It is not a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It becomes primarily a matter for the Minister of National Service, because we are deleting the supply of labour if we allow any unnecessary expenditure to go on in national shipyards or in anything else. When you translate it into terms of labour it becomes quite obvious that the heavy expenditure on these yards has done a good deal to handicap us in other unseen directions, and, so far from imagining that the outburst of energy which brought them forth was all to the national good, I say it has to some extent interfered with our activity in other directions.
The right hon. Gentleman said that when these national yards were completed it was hoped that some of the private yards would be set free for the construction of vessels for the lines and shipping companies whose total tonnage has been so sorely depleted during the War. That is the announcement of a new policy, and I welcome the announcement. It is a matter of the greatest importance. It is a departure from the policy of the Government for the past two years, and a very sharp departure. Let the Committee remember that up to the present time it has been the policy of the Government that no vessel shall be constructed for private account. They have to be constructed for national account. The heads of the great shipping lines over a year ago put themselves into communication with the War Cabinet and urged strongly that if they were to be enabled to hold their own when the War is over, if they were to be able to keep in touch with the outposts of the Empire, and prevent the Japanese and the Americans from taking from us vital services across the ocean on which our trade as well as our Imperial connections depend, that these great lines and companies must be 328 allowed to fill up their gaps during the War, or at all events must be allowed to make arrangements which would enable them to fill up their gaps immediately the War is over. The answer they got to that request was that no such permission could be given. All the vessels to be constructed must be of standard types. None of them could be built for private account, and although the yards were to be free to make contingent contracts when the War was over, it was impossible for any of the companies to make proper provision for the replenishing of their fleets and filling up the gaps created by submarine losses. That has been the policy up to to-day. Now we have a complete change, and I welcome it. I think the Government has adopted the right line. They have adopted the position indicated by the statement of the First Lord. I hope I have not misunderstood it. What I want to make quite clear is this: Am I to understand from the statement he made to-day that he definitely commits the Government to the policy of allowing private shipping companies and lines to fill up the gaps in their fleets as soon as the national yards are in full bearing and that private yards can be set free for the construction of ordinary merchant vessels? I do not think that is an unfair paraphrase of his statement.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I had no intention of committing the Government to that policy. I think my right hon. Friend is carrying his mind to the wording of Lord Pirrie's letter to me and not to what I said. I have looked up the point, and what I said was, "The losses of our higher classes of merchant ships has been great, and some of the private yards will, we hope, in the not very distant future, be able to turn their energies to the rebuilding of the more elaborate of our merchant fleet to be used during the War for troops and similar purposes." That was what I said. I did not intend to announce that as any change in policy, which, as my right hon. Friend knows, would be a matter for the Shipping Controller and not a matter for the Admiralty.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that he did not regard it himself as a change in policy, but it is, in fact, a change in policy. It is a most important departure from the policy which has been in force up to the 329 present. I welcome the change, and I do not think that I misinterpreted the right hon. Gentleman's statement when I said that it will give these companies and lines some chance of holding their own when the War is over, by making up some of the losses to which they have been subjected. The point of the criticism this afternoon really amounts to this, that up to the present the national yards have proved disappointing, that the time in preparing them has been excessive, that the labour available for them is small, and that, so far as we can see, private enterprise has excelled the Government in the production of tonnage. I mentioned the last time this matter was under discussion in the House what had happened on the Tees. There, under the energetic guidance of one of the most enterprising of our young shipbuilders, a yard was started in the month of March this year. By the month of July of this year that yard was actually at work, and before a week or two is over they will be turning out the very fabricated ships which were originally intended for the national yards. Compare that with what has happened in the national yards. Twice, almost three times, the amount of time has been spent on the national yards than has been spent over this magnificent yard on the Tees. The energy which has been put into that private yard is an example for the Government which they might well follow. When I say "energy" I hope the Government will not imagine that they can get out of all their troubles by a mere display of energy. My hon. Friend below the Gangway is a little inclined to think that a display of energy towards one of the essentials, though not the only essential, is good administration.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and if he can only have his candid opinion expressed in regard to the action about these national yards I think he would say that better directed energy could have produced better results elsewhere. But the hon. and learned Gentleman, whom I am glad to see back from naval service (Commander Craig), appealed to us to give credit to the Government for having shown an amount of go and energy which he regarded as absolutely new in his public life. What does that amount to? No one has ever accused the First Lord of being lacking in energy. Those of us who know him and 330 who have seen him know that he has not a streak of laziness in his composition. There is no criticism as to lack of energy. It is as to misdirected energy. There is a general feeling that there ought to be, combined with energy, knowledge, and wisdom. If knowledge and wisdom were put into shipbuilding the output in this country could be increased enormously.
I am sick and tired of hearing the example of America held up. They have done wonderful things. They have started on virgin soil. It remains to be seen whether their vessels are any better than ours. Our own energy and enter prise are just as great. They have an almost unlimited labour supply in the States which up to the present has not been greatly reduced for Army or other purposes, though I welcome every 100,000 men who come across the Atlantic. There they have succeeded in diverting a great deal of their land service into sea service. Here we have already our shipyards engaged in a vast output of naval tonnage. I notice that somebody sneered at the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert) on the around that when he was a member of the Government the output from the yards was small. Everybody who knows what was done in the first year of the War, largely owing to the skill of Lord Fisher, knows that our output of tonnage at that time has never been equalled. Of course there has been a great drop in the amount of naval work of the heavier kind, and it is diverted now to smaller construction. What America is now doing for smaller vessels we have done in our yards for every type of vessel. All we ask is that when you concentrate on naval service, when taking a complete survey of the needs of all our forces, you should regard our service afloat as being of the first importance to the Empire. Any man who realises the full nature of the War in which we are now engaged knows that it must be either won or lost afloat.
§ Colonel Sir NORTON GRIFFITHS
I cannot help being impressed with the general tone that has run not only through this Debate, but through the previous Debate, which we had at the time the Adjournment was moved. There seems to be an idea on the part of every speaker that the submarine danger is past, but I might ask what would be the position if, as is possible, the coming winter brought us back again to a time when the chart 331 of sinkings went up instead of down, and if we all got as scared as we were last June, when we were appealing to the Government to realise the gravity of the position? It is an optimistic thing to say definitely that those times may never come again. Suppose that we came up against this bad time again, and suppose that instead of a lot of coastal submarines we had far sea-going submarines, which are most difficult to get at and deal with, you would have every Member now sitting in this House begging the Government to go ahead and build ships at Chepstow and elsewhere; and if we were short of labour we would have other industries drawn on to get the labour to man the new yards. With regard to labour, I submit that it has been greatly overdone. For instance, in bridge building in the ordinary course of events we have bridges fabricated, just as you are fabricating the ships. They are all put together and tested here, and they are sent off to South America and other places, and, under the guidance of one ganger, sometimes these bridges are put together and riveted with nothing else but raw native labour. You have certain rules and regulations which govern our movements in regard to labour here, but I am perfectly sure, knowing what is being done to-day and realising that a figure of somewhere about 350 men per berth would be an over-estimate of the amount of labour which you have in shipyards where from 30 to 40 per cent. of the labour is employed in the shops fabricating on the site, that if you allow for 200 men per berth for fabricating ships it would give you all the labour you require, and you would be able to get when your berth is tuned up an output of three ships per berth.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Commander Craig) pointed out the importance of trying to benefit by the past and not being caught out, as we nearly were caught out the last time. I believe in a helpful criticism, but some of the criticism which we have heard is criticism by those on whom mainly rests the fault of not having seen our requirements in the early days. They were foreseen by some. I remember when I was trying to do my little job in France, not in the water or in the air, but somewhere else below the surface, I got possessed with the idea that the submarine was going to beat us. I got leave of absence 332 and came over here and saw the powers that be in the Government, and I pointed out the necessity for the standardisation of shipbuilding, and the hon. Member for the Maldon Division of Essex (Sir Fortescue Flannery), I think, in March, 1916, drew the attention of the House to the wisdom of standardising shipbuilding. I think that it was a month or two before that, when I was so nervous as to the possibilities of danger from the submarine, that I wrote a letter to the "Times" drawing attention to the advisability of the standarisdation of shipbuilding with a view to impressing on the Government the urgency of the matter. Looking at it from a sound practical point of view, I think that the national yards at Chepstow were an undertaking that no Government could have avoided considering. It was absolutely essential at the moment, and when we are criticising now it is well that we should realise this, and that we should make all our criticism helpful so as to aid the Government to pursue a wise course.
The Government took a very wise step in putting at the head of the Shipbuilding Department one of the greatest leaders in shipbuilding, not only in this country, but in the world—Lord Pirrie. I know that the Committee will not think that we can teach him his business, but that we should give him all the assistance which we can give by helpful criticism and by supporting him in every decision which he may take in regard to those yards. On the last occasion on which I intervened, I listened to the speaker who followed me. Then I had to go out to help to entertain some Australian officers and I did not hear the two speeches which followed, but both of them, I understand, rather pulled to pieces my reference to what the First Lord had said with regard to the housing problem. I may have been under a misapprehension as to the Government's ideas, but I got the idea, rightly or wrongly, that the Government intended for the moment to concentrate on ten berths at Chepstow only—leaving Portishead out for the moment. I have gone all over the buildings and hutments to see whether at a pinch there were enough buildings there for that programme, and I came to the conclusion that, judging from what had been done up in the north in other yards, that if we were to put up hostels, which could be converted afterwards into cottages for from 500 to 700 men, with 100 cottages for married men, with the buildings that you have now, you 333 could, at Chepstow, as a war measure, find all the housing accommodation you want and keep ten berths or even twelve going full speed on the fabricating idea. If you are going to develop into fabricating your own material on the site then we should increase that by 150 men per berth. But I do submit that, with the buildings that you have already erected there, and the money spent on them, somewhere in the vicinity of a hundred thousand would see it through as a war measure. I look upon it as a war measure. We cannot say for certain that the War is going to be over next year. It may last for two or three years more. You have all sorts of periods of uncertainty to go through.
There is one point that I want to make clear. Naturally when one does not often speak one picks up one or two papers the next morning to see how much that one has been reported. It is human nature. I found only two or three lines inferring that I was in favour of the nationalisation of the shipyards. I remember that the "Times" had it. My travelling experience in almost every corner of the world, with the exception of the Far East, India, and Australia, tells me that nationalisation of any industry is a curse to that industry. I am absolutely opposed to it in this sense or in that sense. I want to make that quite clear. I do submit, holding those views, that the Government for the time being could not have done other than they did in laying down this national programme as a measure of insurance. I should like to suggest, however, that it would give universal joy and satisfaction if the national yards for the time being could be developed to erect fabricated ships only, freeing the private yards as much as possible to go their own gait. I have heard the cry in several yards that if they had been left to carry on their own policy they might have produced more ships, and I do think, if they could have two or three berths free to them, so long as it did not interfere with the Service, and so long as they built standard boilers, engines, and so on, it would be better for the country. It has been mooted to me by many largely interested in yards which I have visited that, if they could have some assurance from the Government that they intend to treat this as a, war measure, and that it is not the intention of the Government at the present time to develop an after-the-war policy, but to submit that question to the decision of the House at some 334 future date, it would give great satisfaction. I should like to join with others in appreciation of the very practical remarks of the new Member for Graves-end (Mr. Alexander Richardson). I am sure that he will be a great acquisition to this House, but in one or two of his remarks I do not think that he quite realised what was behind the Government when they decided to set up these yards.
Like the hon. and gallant Member who has just addressed the House, I also take no exception to the Admiralty developing these national shipyards in 1917, nor do I approach this subject from the point of view of expenditure, because we realise that ships must be produced to-day regardless of price. We do question, however, whether the Government are rightly utilising the labour resources of the country and putting them to the very best use in concentrating such large quantities of labour, not only upon the construction of national yards, but also upon building fabricated ships at these places. If I understood the First Lord of the Admiralty rightly, he justified the continuance of his present policy on two grounds—first, that there is to be a shortage of skilled labour; and, secondly, that in these national yards he intends to build fabricated ships. These were the two broad arguments which the right hon. Gentleman advanced this afternoon. Before addressing myself to these points, I would draw the attention of the House to the Admiralty management of mercantile shipping. In the earlier part of this year the Admiralty issued a White Paper in which they stated that it was well within the reach of this country, during this year, to build 1,800,000 tons. During the first six months of the year the Admiralty have constructed 760,000 tons, and in reply to a question this afternoon they informed me that during the first six months they estimated to build 870,000 tons. Therefore, their anticipations for the last six months have not materialised. Does the right hon. Gentleman still anticipate that the estimate he made in the earlier part of the year of 1,800,000 tons of mercantile ships will be launched this year, for to do so he must increase his present output by 33 per cent., and for every 100 tons launched during the first six months he must launch 133 tons during the last six months. Our average production during the first six months has only been 126,000 tons. We 335 require 166,000 tons to complete the estimated figure of 1,800,000 tons during the year. I hope that the Admiralty will give us some assurance on this point before the Debate closes, and in judging the Admiralty policy we are entitled to take into consideration their record in this matter. What is their record and their past, and what guide does that give us as to their actions in the future?
We all recognise that this is a question of labour, but I think the Committee have not yet fully appreciated the extreme shortage of labour which exists in the yards to-day. In February last we were told from the Front Bench that some 20,000 men were to be returned to the shipyards to the Army. During that period only 12,000 men have been returned. Seven thousand of these men have gone to the yards and 5,000 of them have gone to the engine shops. At the same time the National Service Department have withdrawn 5,000 men from the shipyards. Therefore, there has been an addition of 7,000 men. On a recent visit to my Constituency I spent considerable time going through the yards on the Clyde and endeavouring to encourage the men in that shipbuilding area to increase their output. I found large quantities of plates lying in the yards waiting for men to rivet them together, and I have been assured that the same position exists to-day. There is a-large shortage of labour, reckoned to be about 10,000 to 20,000 men, in the present yards. In addition, there are thirty-seven private slips which are being constructed to-day. Fourteen of them are complete, and seventy-three are presently under construction. The First Lord of the Admiralty will agree that it is not an exaggerated figure when I say that 350 men will be required for each slip. Three hundred men are required in peace-time, and 350 men to-day, taking into consideration the physical fitness of the men in the shipyards at the present time. If the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that figure of 350 men for each slip, he will require to find for the present yards a further 25,000 men for the seventy-three slips. In addition, there are the numbers of men who are required for the engine and boiler shops. I am aware that the engine shops have been extended during the last six months, but the boiler shops have not kept pace with the extension of the engine shops, and from the information that I have received—and I have 336 taken the trouble to verify my figures—there will be required in the coming months a further 8,000 men for the boiler and engine shops. Taking these three factors into consideration—the present shortage in the shipyards of some 25,000 men, the numbers of men required for the seventy-three slips presently under construction, already a further 25,000, and an additional 8,000 men for the engine and boiler shops—we have a total of some 43,000 to 53,000 men required for the private yards in this country. I think we are entitled to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty either to refute these figures and to give the reasons why he refutes them, or, if he accepts them, to tell us how this labour is to be provided. We are as anxious as any member of the Government to see a larger construction of ships during the coming months, but we question whether the Admiralty are directing the available labour and putting it to its best use. The question as to the number of skilled workers who are required has been raised this afternoon, and it has been stated that the number of skilled to unskilled men required on these fabricated ships is one to forty. I believe that the number of skilled ironworkers on the fabricated ships will be much less than on the ordinary ships, but so far as the joiners, the carpenters, the electricians, and various other types of tradesmen are concerned, you will require as many skilled workers on these fabricated ships as on the ordinary type of ship.
Sir N. GRIFFITHS
Has the hon. Member taken into account the skilled labour which is employed in the engine shops?
§ 8.0 P.M.
If you are going to construct part of the ships in the engine shops, you will require to divert the labour from the shipyards to the engine shops. The First Lord of the Admiralty told us that in constructing a fabricated ship on the slip in the yard he would only require one skilled worker to every forty unskilled workers. I was endeavouring to show that, while believing there would be a reduction in the number of skilled ironworkers, the numbers in the other trades would not be reduced. He told us that one to forty was the figure. Is he quite certain of that figure, and, if he is not certain of it, I would ask him whether it is wise to quote it to the House. It is necessary for the Admiralty to carry with them the skilled workers in 337 these yards. I have recently visited these yards, and I am anxious to put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. I found, when speaking to these men, that I was constantly heckled by them on this point. They said to me, "There are men employed at the Admiralty who are not sympathetic towards trade unions." I desire to make that statement in this House to the First Lord of the Admiralty. It was pressed on me at many meetings that there were-men at work at the Admiralty, advising the Admiralty, who were hostile to the trade union movement, and I am bound to say this, that that fear and that impression in their minds does tend towards that lack of hearty co-operation and sympathy which I am sure the Admiralty are anxious to secure and which I, with such ability as I possess, endeavour to secure.
I have no knowledge of the men who are employed by the Admiralty, but I am sure the Financial Secretary would think me lacking in my duty as the Member for a large shipbuilding centre if I did not convey to him on the floor of this House the opinions of my Constituents, expressed to me, at a time when I was endeavouring to do what I could to secure an increased output of mercantile ships. Whilst speaking on the question of the shortage of labour, I desire to ask the First Lord this question: How far has the increase of the United States Army in France influenced the policy of the Government? Are we under an obligation which we are in honour bound to fulfil to maintain our numbers in France at a certain strength? I agree that if we are in honour bound to maintain a certain number of men in France they must be maintained, but in view of the large numbers of men who have crossed the Atlantic and who are now by our men in France, how far has the policy of the Government been altered by that striking event? The men in the shipyards are questioning about these things. They see these large numbers of men coming from America, and they know that at the same time the National Service Departments are taking from the yards pivot men. This morning I received a communication from the North of England in which a large employer, whom I do not know personally, told me that some of his skilled draftsmen 338 and others were being taken from his yard and transferred to the Army. I agree that public sentiment and military necessity demand that the young fit men should be taken from civilian life and passed into the Army, but it is being carried further than that, and many of these men who are being taken, and who have been taken, and who are not being released, would, in my opinion, be of far more use in the shipyards than in the Army, and I am supported in that contention by the speech of the First Lord this afternoon. He told us that his great trouble in the shipyards was a lack of skilled men, and he said, if I understood him aright, that he had a plentiful or a fair supply of unskilled men. Therefore, if he can get 1,000 skilled workers from the Army, he will be able to find, say, 20,000 or 30,000 unskilled workers who will be able to work with these skilled workers. If that is the case, and in view of the welcome improvement in the military situation in France, surely he might bring further pressure to bear to secure the release of these men and so enable them to put forth their best efforts at the spot where their knowledge is of the greatest use to this country.
The First Lord endeavoured also to justify the continuation of the national shipyards on the grounds that these yards will build fabricated ships. I have been in communication with shipbuilders, and I have an assurance that there are to-day in the country 150 slips which can build fabricated ships. If that be correct, and my information is from one who is well qualified to advise me, we have to-day in the country the very slips which the First Lord is anxious to secure and which he is pressing to complete at the national shipyards. He has to-day 540 slips, when the seventy-three at present under construction are completed. He proposes in his scheme to construct a further thirty-two. In other words, all he proposes to do is to increase our available slipway accommodation by 6 per cent. That is the total extension—540 private slips, thirty-two slipways in the national yards. If my figures are correct, and I think the First Lord will find that they are very close to the actual figures, the number of slipways he is constructing is small enough, and they are to be constructed at a time when every available man should be utilised in our private yards, where there is to-day a great amount of material only waiting for the labour to rivet the plates together, 339 and it is from that point of view that I press the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this matter, not on any ground of expenditure, I can assure him, but rather from the point of view that we should put our labour to the best use, so as to secure the greatest possible increase of output at the earliest possible moment. Do not let any judgment taken in 1917—a judgment which, in my opinion, was a right judgment—bind our action to-day. If the First Lord changed his policy to-day it would not be any sign of weakness, but rather of strength—rather the sign of a Minister who, faced with ever-changing conditions, was prepared to face some passing unpopularity so as to secure for his country the greatest available number of ships at the earliest possible moment.
§ Sir R. BARRAN
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I am in full agreement with the last expression of my hon. Friend who has just sat down. I think we ought to have, before this Debate closes, a definite reply to some of the problems that have been brought out during the Debate, and with a view to making sure that we get a reply that will be satisfactory to the Committee, I propose to move a reduction of the Vote by £100, so that it will be possible for the Committee, if they so desire, to take a Division on the point. I think the Committee ought to concentrate its attention on the present position, and had the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert) been present I should have criticised the attack that he made upon the First Lord. In the early part of this Debate, I think, the Committee was in danger of looking at this problem from an entirely wrong standpoint. The main point that was brought out in the right hon. Gentleman's first speech from the Front Opposition Bench was a sarcastic complaint that the First Lord of the Admiralty had not produced the ships in the national shipyards as quickly as he promised, and that he had not produced them in the numbers that he promised. There was also in the early part of the Debate an attack upon the Admiralty for the whole policy of the establishment of these national shipyards. I want to criticise the present attitude of the First Lord of the Admiralty, but I should not feel justified in doing so without first expressing my appreciation of the wisdom of the 340 Admiralty in originally designing and commencing these national shipyards, and neither should I feel inclined to criticise unless I bore a tribute to the energy and the enthusiasm with which all those who have been connected with those ship yards have taken up the work in the national interest. I am going to deal with that criticism that the Admiralty has not produced in these shipyards up to now any ships, and that you cannot see in the immediate future anything like the numbers that were originally spoken of. What I want to say is that that is entirely to the credit of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and I think this ought to be brought out very clearly. Originally, the position with regard to these national shipyards was in every respect wholly different from what it is at the present time. The submarine menace was greater, the output in private shipyards was smaller, the number of men required for the Army was nothing like as great as it is at the present time, and the labour difficulties, although some say they might have been foreseen, had, at any rate, not materialised at that time. It is all very well for hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken to emphasise the point that some advisers told the Government at the beginning that the national shipyards were a mistake. It is usually the case in Admiralty matters, in ship building matters, even in Army matters, just as it is in the ordinary walks of life, that there are two schools of thought, and if the Government take the advice of one they obviously go against the advice of the other. I am wholly of opinion that the Government at that time were wise in establishing the national shipyards. I am equally sure that, looking at the condition of the country nearly a year later, when they saw something like 500,000 men taken to join the forces, when they saw the difficulties that they were faced with in labour matters, the certainty that they could not use German prisoner labour for the building of ships, the certainty that there would be trade union difficulties—
§ Sir R. BARRAN
In my view it is an absolute certainty that you cannot use German prisoner labour for the actual construction of ships. I am sure that the majority of the people of this country would not trust German labour on the one 341 hand, and I am sure that the labour world would not consent to it on the other hand. Those items have entirely altered the situation. Then the last speaker alluded to the fact that we have not got the men from the front, and, as far as we can see, there is no probability of getting the men from the front. All these considerations entirely alter the situation. But there is another consideration—that is, the consumption of coal. It has not been alluded to in the Debate, but the establishment of new shipyards means a large increase in the consumption of coal. It is a fact to-day—I had it put before me only this afternoon by hon. Members of this House directly connected with the steel trade—that in many of the engineering works of this country they are not at the present time getting their full output owing to the shortage of coal. It is quite clear that in the production of power the more you spread yourself over a wide surface the less economical is the use of power. If we largely extend our shipbuilding operations by the addition of these shipyards, we are courting a further difficulty in addition to raw material and of labour in the supply of coal. The point I want to put to the First Lord of the Admiralty, and which, I think, ought to be pressed upon him, is: Are we in the three national shipyards which have been planned going on with the maximum of output, or are we going on with the minimum output consistent with the supply of labour that is required for the slips that have been put down in the private yards? The figures have been alluded to several times—that the Government have advised shipbuilders in this country to put down another eighty-seven berths. These have been put down after consultation with the shipbuilders, and largely on the advice of the shipbuilders. To some extent they have been put down on the responsibility of, and I dare say with funds provided by, the Government.
The point we have to press on the First Lord is this: will he give this Committee an assurance that until all those slips in the private yards are properly manned, and turning out their full quota, no extension will take place in the national shipyards? There are in connection with the Chepstow shipyards a certain number of ships being built at the present time. May I for a moment allude to the present position on the Wye and on the Severn? There are practically three sets of slips. Since the latest of them was started a 342 considerable amount of work has been done, but there I venture to suggest no work has been done so far which would materially depreciate if they were at the present time to cease to continue that work. At the second, I take it the next largest of the works, they have committed themselves to a considerable expense, but even there I do not think it will be disputed by any body of practical men, if such a body were to go down to examine the operations, that that shipyard could be run on a very small number of slips at the present time without any deterioration in the work that has been done there. Then you come to the third largest, known as Finch's yard, which has been taken over from a large shipping combine. It is an open question as to whether it is wise to extend that at all beyond the slips where ships are already being built. The First Lord has pointed out to us a very serious position in the ordinary private shipyards beyond anything that we had to contemplate before he made his speech to-day. He has told us that, although the amount of ship-repairing at the present time is decreasing, owing to the submarine danger having gone further afield, and not now being so near to our shores, there is for the moment a smaller amount of repairing in our shipyards. But the First Lord of the Admiralty gave no indication whatever that it was a permanent arrangement, and I venture to say that if he had prophesied that that would obtain in all the remaining months of this year, this Committee would have hesitated to take that view, because nothing is more uncertain than the methods of warfare of our opponents, and nothing would be more unwise from a commercial point of view than to take an action which might be falsified any day by an alteration of tactics on the part of our enemies. In addition to this, the First Lord has told us that we are to be responsible for an enormous amount of repairs and refitting to American ships in British waters. He has given us no idea to what extent that will be. I think it is reasonable to suppose that the amount of repairs and renewals that will be required for the large fleet of American boats which he spoke of as coming over to British waters will more than make up for the smaller repairs of our own disabled vessels owing to the submarine menace. The whole of this is cumulative, and we are coming down to the question, Where is the 343 First Lord of the Admiralty going to get the labour for the eighty-seven slips that are generally being put down in the private shipyards? Only a little more than a dozen are down at the present time.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA was understood to dissent.
§ Sir R. BARRAN
The statement has been made several times to-day that only fourteen of these slips are now occupied, and up to now that has remained unchallenged. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us. At any rate, I think I am right in saying that a very large number of these slips are still unoccupied.
§ Sir R. BARRAN
The repairing in our private yards is going to be very heavy. Supposing that is balanced by the smaller shipbuilding programme which may be necessary because of America coming in, that still leaves labour to be supplied for the remainder of those eighty-seven slips. The First Lord has not dealt fully with that question, and has not explained to the Committee the number of men who will be required for that, nor has he given any indication whatever where that labour is to be recruited from. It is very evident that it cannot be recruited from this country. Anyone engaged in engineering or any other kind of trade knows perfectly well now that we can get no labour except by taking it from our neighbours or our competitors. It is quite clear that with the extraordinary shortage of labour there is at the present time in agriculture you cannot draw any further labour, even unskilled labour, from the agricultural districts for the shipyards; and it has been shown to-night that, whereas we are drawing a certain amount of labour from the front to put back into the shipyards, at the same time National Service is actually taking men to-day—I do not know whether large numbers from the shipyards, but men in large numbers from the engineering works. And it does not really matter whether they are taking men from the shipyards or the engineering works; they are taking men to-day for the Army from the engineering trades of one kind or another, which must come down to shipbuilding.
Now we are told that you have got 6,000 Royal Engineers at Chepstow whom you can employ in these yards. The problem comes, supposing you are going to 344 take these men out of khaki and put them into the labour market, are they better employed in the yards of Chepstow, or in the private shipbuilding yards where you have arranged for these eighty-seven new slips! It is quite well known that those 6,000 men are a negligible quantity as compared with the labour that you will require if you are going to have the whole of these shipyards full. What is the real advantage to the ship-building of this country in going on full speed at the present time with all the work in connection with the national yards? I venture to suggest that the prisoners of war labour could be very much better employed, possibly, in providing housing accommodation. I venture to suggest that the skilled men amongst the engineers could also be very much better employed in the private shipyards, and I mean by that that they would be likely to produce a large output of shipping from those yards at a very much earlier period. If six months hence we find it impossible when all these slips are ready, both in the private and national yards, to provide labour for the whole of them, is not the labour that is going on in the intervening months in pre- paring them being wasted compared with what it would be if it were at once transferred, or the greater part of it, to pressing forward the work in private yards? It seems to me that if the First Lord of the Admiralty would look carefully through the policy of the last few months, and would say to himself, "I have not had skilled labour and I have not had unskilled labour suffìcient to equip these national shipyards, and therefore I have found it advantageous to turn to work that originally I expected would go into those shipyards," and if he would go a step further and say, "If I were to turn what- ever labour I have available at the present time in erecting those slips at Chepstow into the private shipyards, I should be expediting the output of ships more than if I leave them on these national shipyards," and if he were to say that no work should go on further with those shipyards except such as can- not be stopped without serious deterioration to the work that has been already done, then, I think, we should get the policy of reducing the work in those national shipyards to very small dimensions, indeed. I think that is a policy which would commend itself to the House of Commons.
345 If the First Lord is not prepared to adopt that policy, and to say to us, "Now we propose to slow down the work of these shipyards as much as possible," then I think he ought to justify, in a way he has not attempted to do at the present time, his carrying on these shipyards in any extensive manner by showing this Committee from where and at what period he expects to get labour, not to carry them on, but labour first of all to man the shipyards that have been arranged for. There is another advantage in taking this course. If it should turn out that the American shipbuilding, with our own shipbuilding as otherwise arranged outside the national shipyards, is unable to solve the shipping question; if it should prove that we are still unable to get large numbers of men back from the front, and that in order to get victory we must leave our men there, then after the War we should be faced with a very less serious position than if we proceed with an enormous expenditure upon the work. I do not criticise the expenditure at all. I do not criticise the question of their going on without putting estimates before this House, any more than I did the policy of the Ministry of Munitions in doing similarly, when it was necessary to get guns manufactured, which was then the great essential. But the more we curtail the programme of national shipbuilding at the present time the easier will it be to solve the difficult problem afterwards of what we are going to do with these shipyards. The one which is close to an old shipyard can easily be taken over very much on the present lines, and on those which it was possible so to do before the Government took it from the private individual. If they were to adopt the course that has been suggested and only go on with the others to a very limited extent, there would be no real problem afterwards as to what to do with Government shipyards which were building merchant shipping. With all deference to a former speaker, I would point out that there is a very large difference in the Government having a large output of warships and having a large output of merchant ships. The latter will undoubtedly, after the War, create a very difficult position, as many difficult positions will be created by the establishment of national factories. I am not opposing it on that ground.
I am quite prepared to face that difficulty, if need be, but I do not think we need augment that difficulty at the serious 346 risk of putting the labour we have available, or the labour that we can make available into the wrong channels. I should like to urge upon the Financial Secretary of the Admiralty, before we come to vote upon this question, to give the Committee some indication as to what is to be the attitude of the Government. Are they going on at full speed with every slip they can, with this enormous expenditure, or are they only going to do such work as will save the work that is being done from being lost, and throw the whole of their resources into those lines which undoubtedly will give us the largest output of shipping?
Before this Debate closes I should like to inform the House of the position, so far as the Labour party is concerned and its attitude to the Government. It is quite true to say that on another policy there is some division in our ranks, and there are two sides to this question of national shipyards. But I can assure my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that he has got a unanimous vote behind him so far as the Labour party is concerned. There is absolutely no division at all in our ranks upon this question of national shipyards. One of the hon. Members on the Back Benches, a few minutes ago, spoke about difficult relations between the trade unions and the Admiralty. So far as I know—and I know in days gone by there was some little difficulty between organised labour on the one side and the Admiralty on the other—but now, so far as the Parliamentary Secretary is concerned, I can assure the House, and the country in general, that the right hon. Gentleman has always been a sympathetic admirer of organised labour, and has always done his level best to help us in every direction. So far as I know, at the present time there is absolutely no difference at all between organised labour and the Admiralty. The latter has met organised labour in every direction, especially where the working was under the practical control of the First Lord and the Parliamentary Secretary, in connection with what I would call our present national shipyards. Where my hon. and gallant Friend got his information from about some little difference of opinion, and that labour was aggrieved because there was some person or persons at the Admiralty opposed to organised labour, I do not know. What he says may be true. There may be one or two individuals 347 at the Admiralty who do not look with a favourable eye upon organised labour, but so far as the First Lord and the Parliamentary Secretary are concerned they are absolutely with us from the organised labour point of view.
I am not at all surprised at the way the Government have been hammered this afternoon from various parts of the House. What I have heard this afternoon from various Members on both sides appeals to me this way, that in the very near future there is likely to be a deep-rooted conflict between those who have spoken this afternoon and those they represent and the party which we represent. Hon. Members have shown very clearly, so far as they are concerned, that they are absolutely and entirely opposed to national shipyards, or national anything else. I quite understand that. They take a different point of view. Their interest is not our interest.
From that standpoint the major part of them, as everybody knows, have lived upon rent, profits, and interest, and when the major part of this House live upon rent, profits, and interest, it is perfectly evident that we are bound to come into conflict with each other unless some means or methods are devised to bridge over the difficulty, which may not exist at the present moment, but which is bound to exist when this terrible struggle in which we are engaged is over. Not all the speakers, I am pleased to say, have taken this attitude. One or two hon. Members who have spoken have taken up the view of the Government in relation to the national shipyards; but the major part who have spoken have certainly taken up a hostile attitude. Not, they say, on the ground of expense. On principle they do not care for the policy, because, it appears to me, they think that this scheme is going to enter into competition with private enterprise. Naturally so! In my humble judgment, as a matter of fact, if it had not been for our present national shipyards I am one of those who is convinced that private enterprise would have been bleeding us a good deal more than we are being bled to-day. Private enterprise would have been exploiting the public in every direction. It is in consequence of the work that has been done in our present national shipyards that that exploitation 348 has been prevented being much more deep than it is at the present time. Another thing I have been surprised at. Not one single Member has said a single word against the work which has been done in our national shipyards.
It is all the same thing: the Royal dockyards if you will. Not a single Member has in any shape or form condemned the work which has been done in our Royal dockyards, neither upon the ground of speeding up, or expense, or anything else. I believe that if there was a proper investigation as to the way in which the work has been done in our Royal dockyards during this War, the way in which it has been speeded-up, and in relation to the workmanship—
Yes; and in economy in the working the work will bear very favourable comparison with any work done in any private enterprise at the present time. The only quarrel that we have ever had with the Government, so far as the Royal dockyards are concerned, is some difficulty in convincing them of the necessity of paying what we call the recognised rates of pay. The reply to that has always been that, in consequence of the privileges which are given to men working in the Royal dockyards, it compensates them for the loss of wages that is inflicted upon them on account of receiving less than what is paid under private enterprise. Therefore, I think we cught to be highly gratified to know that although there has been some opposition to the national shipyards there has been no opposition for the policy adopted in our Royal dockyards. It has been said that the work done in the private shipyards has been speeded up, and that may be true; but if it is true about the private shipyards, it is also true about the Royal dockyards. Is there anybody in this House or outside of it who is prepared to say to the Government, "Please hand over to the Royal dockyards the private enterprise "? I do not think there is, for there is not a man courageous enough to put forward a proposition of that kind.
I know there has been a big demand outside this House at trade union congresses 349 to press the Government to take over all the private shipyards, and that has been one of the causes of the quarrel. May I point out that during the whole of this War there has not been a single strike in any of the Royal dockyards or in any of the yards under Government control? Why is this? It is because they know they are working for the country and not for private individuals, and because they know that whatever profit is made goes to the common good. That is why organised labour has been impressing upon the Government the absolute necessity of taking over the private yards, because under Government they know they are not only working for themselves but also for the nation, and they also know that private owners are making huge profits.
I would like to draw attention to another fact, and it is that so far as the Chepstow yard is concerned we have only had one trouble and that has now been removed. In the early stages of the development of the national yard at Chepstow no doubt the Government thought they were going to run that yard on military lines, and that it was going to be manned and superintended by the military. The intention was to engage a large number of soldiers in the construction of ships and to pay the rate paid in the Array. [An HON. MEMBER: "And prisoners of war!"] I am not quite sure that you can get prisoners of war to work side by side with trade unionists, but, nevertheless, I know that prisoners of war have been doing the heavy excavation work, to which no exception has been taken; but if German labour was engaged upon the construction of ships at Chepstow I do not think it would work well, and the Government would be well advised to keep it out. The only quarrel we have had is because the Government intended to run this dockyard on military lines, but that difficulty has now been removed, and there is no difficulty whatever now between the Government and the men working in those yards.
It does appear to me that, perhaps, some money has been spent that might have been avoided; but can anybody tell me even in private enterprise when they start digging and delving that they know whether they are going to gain out of it or not, or whether they are going to lose a few hundred or a few thousand pounds? When you construct a coal mine you often have anticipated getting coal after expending 350 a few thousand pounds, but all kinds of difficulties are sometimes encountered, and frequently thousands of pounds have to be spent over the original estimate. Very few buildings, even when contracts are given out and you have the assistance of quantity surveyors, are erected without encountering all kinds of difficulties, and, therefore, I am not surprised that the Government could not properly estimate the amount of money that was going to be expended in laying down the foundations of these slips.
I believe they have done their best to keep down expenditure, and, at any rate, I have never found that they have been very extravagant with workmen's wages. They may, perhaps, have been extravagant with regard to salaries, but never in regard to wages. So far as the labour engaged in the Royal dockyards is concerned, the managers and foremen extract every ounce of social labour in the same way as employers do in private yards. May I remind the Committee that, so far as gun making is concerned, if you take the Infantry guns made at Enfìeld and those made at Woolwich, and compare the price either of guns or bayonets made at those two places with those made at the Birmingham Small Arms or at the East London Small Arms Factory, you will find that they are made very much cheaper in the national workshop? Therefore we have every faith, so far as the Labour party is concerned, in national shipyards. Perhaps in the initial stages there has been more money expended than was anticipated, but I believe that they will come out all right in the long run. There has been some talk that when the War is over these national shipyards should be handed over to private enterprise. I hope not, and I should like to ask anyone to give any reasons why they should be? I would like to say that if the Labour party are as strong as they are to-day they will do their level best to prevent that, and if we are strong enough I am hoping that we shall not only maintain the national shipyards and the Royal dockyards, but if there is any chance we shall "pinch" the private yards.
Of course, I mean with a reasonable amount of compensation, because I believe the private shipyards ought to be under national control, and for that many of us in this House, including myself, have been working for the 351 last thirty-five years. I do not mean to say that we have made very much headway, but it is not our fault, but the fault of those outside who do not understand our principles. I believe they are beginning to understand them now, and if they do not understand them fully at the next election, at any rate, I believe they will at the election after that. Therefore, so far as the Labour party is concerned, we are absolutely unanimous in backing up the Government policy with regard to national shipyards.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I desire to support the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for Leeds (Sir R. Barran) to reduce the First Lord's salary. I am quite sure, although he has not been very long in the House, that he will understand that it is not done with any wish or intention that he should enjoy less of the emoluments of the office in which he worked so hard and in connection with which he does so much good work, and as I shall, in the course of the few remarks that I make, disagree with him very strongly on many points I hope he will allow me very sincerely to congratulate him upon the record of success that he was able to give in the early part of his speech with regard to the sinking of submarines and the position in which we stand, particularly with regard to the world's tonnage. I should like to say—I do not think it has been said publicly in this House yet—with regard to the successful attack upon Zeebrugge and Ostend, which, no doubt, has done much to improve the position, that although he may not be responsible himself for all the details of the attack, yet the First Lord is justly entitled to have credit for the good work of his Department, as I think he must also be prepared—and I am sure he will agree to take responsibility for all matters of administration in regard to which we disagree from him. I do not propose to follow those who have criticised the Admiralty with regard to the sites of the national shipyards. I have never criticised the sites of these shipyards, and since I have had the privilege of visiting them by the courtesy of the First Lord, I have no support to give to those who take the view that we ought to criticise severely the decision of the Government twelve months ago when they found themselves in an emergency with regard to national defence and 352 national shipbuilding. Although I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman who said that any energy and any plan was right and good so long as it was energy, yet I do agree that there were difficulties then which might well have turned their attention to any possible increase in the amount of shipping. Nor do I think that I shall fall foul of the hopes of my hon. Friend who has just spoken (Colonel W. Thorne), as I do not at all intend to take up any position in this Debate as regards national or private enterprise I do not think it is a point that we ought to urge at this stage in the War and in view of the national emergency. The only question which is of supreme importance at the moment with regard to the building of merchant ships is whether or not we are making the best use of the labour at our disposal. I would remind the Committee of the words used by the First Lord of the Admiralty itself, I think in his first speech in this House, when he put to the House a question which he immediately answered himself with entire satisfaction to the House at that time. He saidIt may be asked, 'Why build new yards when the existing yards are not working to their full capacity?'He went on:The answer to that question is very simple and very straight.'It was this:We will not use the national yards until the existing yards are worked to their full economic capacity.9.0 P.M.
I contend that when he spoke of the full economic capacity of the existing yards he referred to the possibility of a proper economic extension of the existing yards, and I think that view is borne out by the fact that subsequently the Admiralty sanctioned their extension to the extent of at least eighty-seven slips, of which fourteen have now been carried out. All we ask for at this stage is that the very solemn, straight, and simple pledge which he gave to the House of Commons and to the country should be carried out. I do not ask this from any pedantic preference for the carrying out of pledges. I agree that it may not sometimes be possible. There may be national circumstances which make the carrying out of a pledge or promise impossible. The country would excuse a change of policy if it were clearly proved that it was in the national interest that the change should be made. I contend 353 that this promise should not only be kept as a promise, but should be kept because it is still the soundest and best economic policy. Having only a certain supply of labour and only a very limited supply, the intention then was the right intention and should be carried out now. One is bound to wonder at the continual changes of policy with regard to these national shipyards. I am not going to labour that—first the intention and then the abandonment of the use of prisoners of war and the abandonment of the use of military labour—but I would draw attention to the fact that the Controller of Merchant Shipping visited these national shipyards for the first time in June—it has become fashionable to visit shipyards of late—and he made a statement to the Press immediately afterwards giving his view with regard to them. He concluded his statement by directly giving the country the information that no work would be carried out on those slips and no keel would be laid until the yards were completed. On that statement a question was asked in the House as to whether or not that included the housing scheme. That was 10th July. Since then we have heard by rumour, and we have had it confirmed in the House to-day, that another change of policy has taken place. Two slips are to be immediately employed and keels are to be ready as soon as possible upon two slips at Chepstow. That, to a certain extent, is a departure from the pledge to which I have already referred.
The position with regard to the essential number of men for the carrying out of the programme of shipbuilding with a view to reaching that very rosy but by no means unattainable standard of 3,000,000 tons in one year has been often discussed in this House, and we were promised no longer ago than March that 20,000 men would be returned to the shipyards—I presume it was also intended to make good the deficiency in the marine engineering works—from the Army. As a matter of fact, some 12,000 men have been returned. A number of men, I think roughly equivalent, have been withdrawn either from the shipyards or from the marine engineering works, and I do not hesitate to say that at the present time the net result is that the increase from the time that the promise was made is negligible. If that is so with regard to the existing yards, what about the extension of the existing yards? 354 Eighty-seven extensions have been sanctioned. Fourteen were completed a fortnight ago. I do not know how many since. Seventy-three are to be completed. When they are completed, they will, on the estimate given to-day, require, approximately, 20,000 men to man them if fully worked. You, therefore, have the 20,000 originally estimated to be required for the normal requirements of the shipyards; you have another 20,000 ultimately required for the extensions of the shipyards, and you have the 10,000 for which you are now asking for the national shipyards—altogether 50,000 men. So far as I am concerned, it is solely on that ground that at this stage, I support the Amendment to reduce the Vote, and I hope the Committee will take the view that, in face of the pledges given, of the labour position and of the economic and national advantage, it would be a very serious mistake indeed to deprive the yards of their requirements, to fail to keep the pledge of helping them to carry out the extensions which the Admiralty themselves have sanctioned, and thereby to diminish the output which the existing yards are capable of producing.
With regard to these extensions the First Lord referred to housing. May I ask him whether, when he said that wherever additional labour was required houses would be required, was not that in his mind, and was not that in the mind of the Admiralty when they sanctioned these extensions? Were these extensions sanctioned, the work put into them and the labour engaged with regard to them, without any regard to housing facilities? I cannot believe that. I cannot but believe that when the Admiralty sanctioned these extensions they knew—if they did not know, a very serious charge can be laid against them—that either by existing housing or by placing of hostels in the neighbourhood where the men themselves could readily be found, economic and profitable use could be made of these sanctioned extensions. We have been told that at the national shipyards there are at present about 7,000 men in khaki—Royal Engineer men who can, by a change to the civilian garb, be used for the work of producing ships practically at once. In view of the promises and of the pledges that have been given, what is the justification for retaining these 7,000 men at Chepstow, Portbury, and Beachley when the Admiralty are pledged to a supply of men for the existing yards and 355 their extensions? I know it has been said to-day that unskilled men have been offered to the shipbuilders and have been refused. I should like to emphasise the criticism on that statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dews-bury (Mr. Runciman). The First Lord would hardly like to ask the Committee to believe that of the men who are at the national shipyards at present, many of whom are skilled men, many of whom are semi-skilled, and many of whom they intend to make semi-skilled, and, indeed, are now making semi-skilled by schools for pneumatic drilling—I do not believe he wishes us to understand that the shipbuilders of this country are still crying out for men, and yet are refusing that type of labour in their own yards. That is asking us to believe more than I personally can accept. The First Lord will admit that the shortage is largely in riveters. The capacity of riveting is really the measure of output in structural work, just the same in the national yards as in the ordinary yards, and the riveting done in proportion for the fabricated ships is, as we were told on the authority of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Alexander Richardson), roughly not more than 15 per cent. of the amount of the work which has to be done in the riveting of a ship. Wherever that riveting is done, men have to do it. Labour is required for the riveting of the frames and other parts of the ships beforehand wherever it is done. Therefore, it is hardly fair to deduct the labour put into riveting at the bridge builders from the total amount of labour which is required in the shipyards.
Sir N. GRIFFITHS
Does the hon. Member realise that the work done in the shipyards is of quite a different character from that when you assemble the material and put it together? The shearing, the punching, the fixing of the templates, and that kind of thing is quite a different class of labour.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I am by no means an expert like the hon. Member, but I am quite aware of those elementary facts. I was referring at the moment to the real shortage which has to be faced throughout the country at the present time, and I was submitting that riveting is really the rock on which the ship of labour, so to speak, is split. I was submitting that a certain amount of riveting is done in preparing the frames, and that wherever 356 it is done you must have riveters for it, therefore it is not fair to deduct from the supply of labour the amount of labour which has been put into these ships before fabrication takes place. I feel very strongly that the Committee of the House of Commons in Supply ought to assert itself in this matter of control, not so much of expenditure as of the very best use that can be made of the available labour in this matter, which affects the safety of the nation and the well-being of us all. If there is a Division, I shall most certainly support the Amendment unless the Government are prepared to take one of two courses. The position of some of us in regard to voting will turn largely on whether the Government are prepared to take one of two courses with regard to the national shipyards. The first is, that there should be an inquiry into the whole question of the labour for shipyard work throughout the country, including that for the national shipyards. That may be thought by the First Lord and his advisers to be a humiliating course. If that be so, I offer a second alternative, which has already been advocated by the hon. Member for North Leeds (Sir R. Barran), namely, that there should be a limitation of effort in regard to the national shipyards until the experiment—it is an experiment—is proved to be a success. You have at Chepstow the possibility of carrying on your experiment with six slips, and you need not necessarily postpone all work at Beachley and Portbury. I would strongly urge the Government to consider whether they could not accept one of these courses. No harm can come from proving an experiment which as yet has not had satisfactory proof, thereby justifying the belief that they can, without unduly drawing on labour, really make a success of this experiment.
There has not yet been any great success with regard to the shipbuilding programme of this country since the Debate which took place in March. We were told to expect great things from the appointment of the new Controller of Merchant Shipping. I would desire to say no word which could in any way be construed as disrespect of his very great qualities and achievements, but I must say of the First Lord's principal officer in shipping that, in regard to this matter of controlling and advising on the national shipping of this country, he is still on his trial. Only two or three months have elapsed since his 357 appointment, and the figures of out-turn since his appointment have not consider-ably increased. They are still far below what we have a right to expect. We believe the reason of that is that labour is deficient in the yards and in the marine engineering works. It is true, as some have said, that there is no shortage of steel or of raw material. There is a shortage of labour. I would remind the Committee of the elemental fact that, in the case of engines, steel is no good unless you have labour to convert the steel into the engines that are required for the ship. There is at the present time a great shortage of skilled labour in the engine works. I am informed that the rate of construction of engines is falling behind the construction of hulls, and that we shall probably shortly have a serious shortage in engines, and thereby the whole progress of shipping will be delayed. I therefore earnestly appeal to the Government, when they see that there is a very serious view held in the House and in the country, that without abandoning the whole of their scheme they should give the House some undertaking that in the matter of housing—and in the matter of the use of all the men they have available—they will stay their hand, postpone the larger part of the experiment, proceed only with a portion of it, and release the men who are thus spared to give to the yards which are so badly in need of them. If they do that they will have an opportunity, if they prove their experiment a success, to develop it at some future time, and they will have done much to help those who honestly desire to help the Government and not to hinder it, and do much at the same time to increase shipbuilding in this country.
§ Mr. WILSON-FOX
While I am in sympathy with a great deal which has fallen from the hon. Member, in whose company I had the pleasure recently of visiting the shipyards, by the courtesy of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and also with what fell from the hon. Member for Leeds (Sir R. Barran), I certainly should not feel justified in supporting the Amendment. Anyone who has listened to the Debate must have realised that we are dealing with a very difficult and very complicated subject which is capable of being approached from very many different points of view. I certainly feel that it is not possible for a private Member to feel absolutely certain of his own opinion, because it is impossible that he can be 358 fully acquainted with all the relevant facts. The most I should feel justified in doing is to suggest views for what they are worth, and to accept the position that responsibility for the decision must rest with the Government. We must trust someone, and I am prepared to trust the judgment of the Government in this matter, feeling sure that they will consider all such helpful suggestions as have been made to them in the Debate. A great many of the suggestions I do not think were intended to be helpful, and I think also that exhumation of the past is not very profitable at present. I am concerned far more with the present position and what is to be done in the future than with attempts to fix responsibility for decisions which were taken twelve months ago, when circumstances were entirely different. When the milk has been spilt we cannot save it. The most we can do is to try to prevent any more being spilt, and that seems the only reason for reverting to the past at all.
Though very little allusion has been made to the conduct of individuals other than the First Lord himself, I greatly regret that the name of General Collard was introduced at some length the other evening and has again been mentioned to-day. In time of peace it is unfair, and in time of war it is equally unfair, and positively dangerous, to single out subordinate members of the administration and to attach praise or blame to them—certainly blame—in this House. One is apt to do more than one knows. Very few people realise the extent to which the country is indebted to the initiative, the energy, and enthusiasm which has been displayed by men of the type of General Collard, who have done their best in most difficult times to speed forward the work of the country without regard to self. The other evening it was hinted that the work of General Collard at an unnamed place—I think the name slipped out once by mistake—was condemned, and it was suggested that what he was doing in these national shipyards was probably going to be a failure because of the failure in which he had already been involved. I have had an opportunity of visiting that unnamed place and seeing a number of reports in connection with it, and examining a number of witnesses concerned in it, and so far from it having been a failure I am certain it has been of the utmost benefit to our military adventures, and I am also prepared to believe that when the 359 history comes to be written, and all the facts are investigated, quite contrary to expectation it will probably be found that, even on financial grounds alone, the work which has been done at that place has been fully justified. Therefore, I am quite certain General Collard ought not to be condemned in advance because of these rumours in regard to this unnamed place.
The decision which was taken in March, 1917, to make these national shipyards, was taken in time of grave national peril, and I think as was suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Sir Norton Griffiths), that even on grounds of insurance alone, the Government was fully justified in taking that decision. There was only one thing to be done at that time, and it was to provide as quickly as possible for the largest production of ships that the Government could command. They believed they had sources of labour at their command which would enable that work to be carried to a successful prosecution, and so long as they believed that, I am prepared to say they were right in taking that decision, and if that decision was right at the time the fact that circumstances have since changed does not make that decision now wrong. The point now is what are we to do with these shipyards now their construction has been commenced? I do not think the scale on which it was proposed to carry them out was either reprehensible or extravagant in the circumstances. I have no criticism to offer on this point, nor am I competent to offer it. I think there was unpardonable delay in the preparation of estimates. No one would have expected estimates correct to the last shilling to be prepared in a hurry, but there might have been approximate estimates very much sooner than they were prepared. I do not think it could possibly be right for a great Government Department to embark upon the expenditure of millions and to have no estimates available for, I think, six months. That is a situation which, I think, should not be allowed to recur. It certainly reflects on the business and financial side of the Admiralty.
It has been my business in the course of the last year, under the presidency of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Samuel), to review a number of these enterprises which have been entered upon by the Government on a very large scale, and I think the country really is to be congratulated 360 on having had at its disposal in this time of great national crisis a certain number of men who had the wisdom and the foresight to see that great enterprises would be required and would have to be carried out if this great War was to be carried to a successful conclusion. The way in which the War has been carried on on the home front has certainly saved us from national disaster, and no praise that we can express can be too much for the vision and the foresight displayed in those dark days by men like Lord Kitchener and the Prime Minister, who saw what was wanted, had the courage of their convictions, and were determined to carry through these enterprises which were really required. While I recognise that they were right to take that attitude, I have come to the conclusion, from what I have seen in connection with the financial and other sides of these enterprises, that there is an absolute obligation on the Government to review their position in regard to them in view of changing circumstances from time to time. It is not a confession necessarily of mistake to change your plan when circumstances change. It often requires—it generally requires—greater moral courage on the part of those who have drawn up the plan to abandon or restrict the enter- prise than was required when they first initiated it. As was said by the hon. Member for Gravesend in that excellent maiden speech to which we listened to-day, every business man knows that when you have made or contemplate a loss the sooner you cut it the better, and that is a principle which can be applied with advantage to many of these undertakings to which the Government has been committed. It is, of course, annoying to those who have devised the plans, and heart- rending to the subordinates who have carried them out, to have to abandon or cut down their pet project. But these considerations do not absolve the Government from responsibility if it fails to take all the necessary measures to see that the course it is pursuing is the right one. Take the case of these shipyards. We know that nearly £4,000,000 sterling has been expended on the yards alone, and we have reason to believe that if they are to be placed in a position to become permanent shipyards in time of peace, with civilian labour, another £4,000,000 will have to be spent in providing housing accommodation. That is £8,000,000 in all. It is a very vast enterprise. If it will 361 be possible to postpone or restrict it should be considered, remembering the enormous programme of shipbuilding and the laying down of slips which is being carried out in America, and the great extension of shipyards that will go on in this country. It can hardly be that the whole of that provision of shipyards, and also provision on Government account, can possibly be required for many years after the War.
That being so, we should review our commitments and consider our position. The fact that the labour originally contemplated as available will no longer be available will alter the position in the future, and on that ground alone I suggest it is only right that this programme should be reconsidered. There are two factors in this case—that of labour, of which we have heard a good deal, and that of time of which we have heard less. The fact that a considerable time will have to elapse before the full programme can be carried out, and ships on a large scale be produced, combined with the changed conditions of the War, the brighter and better outlook we now experience, points to the necessity of reviewing the situation. The question is, What in these circumstances should be done? If the yard about which there has been so much discussion—Finch's yard—can be abandoned, I think possibly that would be the right course to take. The hon. Member for Leeds suggested that Chepstow should be carried on as rapidly as possible, that at Beachley, if the undertaking be not abandoned, work shall be carried on slowly, and that Portbury should not be proceeded with.
§ Mr. WILSON-FOX
I have not professional knowledge as to the site, but as an amateur I looked at the place and felt it was a reasonable site for the purpose for which it is intended, and therefore I suggested it should be proceeded with. It is very near completion. Ships could be produced very soon, and in the circumstances I think it is well worth while to complete it. If we desire to dispose of it after the War for the purposes of a private enterprise, if would be a yard of reasonable dimensions which could probably be sold, so that the loss on construction might not be very great. These are the reasons which make me think it 362 would be better, particularly as a business question, to proceed with the yard at Chepstow. I am afraid that, in the way we are going on now, we are adding unnecessarily to the large menagerie of white elephants we are bound to possess after the War. In the famous case of Loch Doon, which was also inquired into by the Committee of which I am a member, the Ministry for Air took its courage into both hands, killed the elephant, and sold the skin. That is a thing for which they certainly deserve great praise. I hope that some of those other elephants will be treated in the same way, and if we cannot sell them so as to make a profit out of them I trust that the Government will not hesitate to kill them, and if they cannot make a profit out of the skins they may, nevertheless, get something if only from the sale of the horns and hoofs. I simply ask that the Government should consider such suggestions as those which I have made, and that they shall consider them carefully in the light of existing circumstances. I certainly do not propose to follow my hon. Friend into the Division Lobby against the Government.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Neither Lord Pirrie and his staff, nor the First Lord, have reason to complain very much of the volume of this Debate to-day. The tendency of every speech has been, speaking generally, to appreciate the situation with which we were confronted thirteen months ago, and to meet considerately those charged with the very grave responsibility of endeavouring to meet that situation. The First Lord, in his opening statement to-day, recalled to mind the grave and alarming situation which existed when, thirteen months ago, the War Cabinet agreed to a figure representing new merchant tonnage output, the realisation of which was deemed essential if the situation was to be effectually handled. Thanks to the tireless ingenuity of the anti-Submarine Department of the Admiralty and thanks to the pluck of the sailors in putting into execution the expedients against the submarines which the Department devised, we find ourselves to-day confronted with a situation still troublesome, still to be unceasingly watched—and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) in that respect—but not having within it the grave menace of thirteen months ago. I 363 ought, before I leave that situation, to remind the Committee that the figure which we had to work to if we were to control the situation was fully concurred in by the Shipping Controller, Sir Joseph Maclay, though it was not he, but the then Controller of the Navy—the post was at that time held by the present First Lord—and his advisers, who told us deliberately that the figure could not be realised without the establishment of the national yards. Broadly, the sense of the Debate to-day has been this: that although we did quite right to take time by the forelock thirteen months ago, although we also did quite right not to let matters drift until they were beyond remedy, and although we did quite right to lay our plans to meet the alarming situation that then confronted us, some critics say, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert) amongst them, "These plans should have confined themselves to the development of the private shipbuilding resources of the country." That is one class of criticism. They say, "The plans should not have involved the establishment of the national shipyards." My right hon. Friend has no faith in the national shipyards, but he has great faith in Lord Pirrie. As late as 28th July Lord Pirrie told us:I am decidedly of the opinion, even in the light of all the helpful criticism which has been made, and looking at the question in a more deliberate way than was then possible, the decision taken by the Cabinet was absolutely correct.He goes on to say:The necessity for the national shipyards is even of more importance at the present day than in 1917, when it was felt something must be done with a view to furthering production.And, finally, he says:In my opinion, the undertaking on its present basis is a wise and prudent undertaking which will be of immense benefit to the country in the continuance of the War.I emphasise that because, so far as my right hon. Friend (Mr. G. Lambert) is concerned, it is quite clear that these shipyards will be no manner of use to us during the War. He says, "It is not a war provision; it is not an emergency provision; you will get nothing out of it during the War." Therefore I emphasise the phrase used by the greatest expert in shipbuilding in the country, who says that the scheme has his entire concurrence and that it will be of great use to us in the continuance of the War. My right hon. 364 Friend's view is that it will not be of any use during the War, that it will eat up labour—and here he is by no means single in that view—that it will eat up material, and that it will eat up energy which ought to be better employed. As against that I am entitled to quote Lord Pirrie.
Another form of criticism says in substance—and my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Mr. Wilson-Fox) is one of those who use it—"You may have been right, and you probably were right, to meet the situation of thirteen months ago not only by an extension of the existing private shipyards of the country, but also by establishing the national shipyards." As regards the latter, this class of critic says, "The situation having in the event been, happily, appreciably affected for the better, is there any reason for you to continue your national shipyard scheme along the original lines of development?" Further, it is said, "Even if there were good reasons to pursue to the full the original scheme, is not its utility rendered nugatory and barren by the alteration of the labour policy originally contemplated?" I am not taking the slightest exception to these criticisms. As regards both these questions, I think the First Lord answered them by anticipation in his opening remarks. The First Lord showed, and reference to the OFFICIAL REPORT will show hon. Members, that though the situation has happily, and indeed strikingly, developed in our favour, the national yards will still play a very important part in the replacement of tonnage lost as a result of enemy action. And here he has Lord Pirrie with him, as I have shown. On the second point—that, as we have changed our labour policy, the whole bottom falls out of the national shipyards scheme, and that we shall have to draw upon labour which is all too little for the needs of the private yards—the First Lord showed that the possibility of using German-prisoner labour for assembling the ships still remains a policy. We may or may not go on with it. The continued teaching of the Royal Engineers to use pneumatic tools, which has been going on for some time, is still going on. These two facts and the fact that the men are transferred to W Reserve if engaged on ship construction, and the third fact that a smaller proportion of skilled men, comparatively speaking, is required for assembling the ship contemplated than is required for the 365 ordinary type of ship, enable us to say that, after all, though we felt compelled to change our labour policy, we shall still be in the position to execute the construction of these ships to a large extent by labour additional and surplus to the labour available for the private yards. As regards the proposition that the proportion of craftsmen will be small, the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman) was greatly concerned. He pooh-poohed the idea that you can construct a fabricated ship with the small proportion of skilled labour which the First Lord stated. I think he misconceived the plan of Lord Pirrie and of the First Lord. Let we re-state what the First Lord said:I am advised by those experienced shipbuilders who are concerned in the running of the national yards that they look to the day when only four or live really skilled men will be necessary for the plating on each ship.He had previously called attention to the continued teaching of the engineers. He said:In recent months, on the initiative of the Admiralty, steps have been taken, with the full accord of the trade unions, to encourage the training of men in pneumatic riveting, and it is by that means that the Comptroller-General assures me that he expects to overcome the difficulty as to the adequacy of skilled labour in the private yards, as well as in the national yards. I wish it to be clearly understood that we are going on with that training.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I will deal with that point later. These men will be transferred to W Reserve and there will be a steady flow of men to W Reserve who have been taught the use of pneumatic tools for riveting and drilling. I think the right hon. Member for Dews-bury rather misunderstood this point.
§ Mr. FRANCE
Why cannot the men who have taught riveting be supplied to the other yards in fulfilment of the pledge that they should be served first.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I have here a return showing the net increase of men in the private yards during the first six months of this year.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The net increase in the private yards not for merchant 366 shipbuilding only but additional labour on ship construction and repairs of all kinds from January to June, 1918, was 18,750.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is the present shortage of skilled and unskilled labour in the yards, taking into consideration the seventy-three new slips under construction?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
It is quite impossible for me to give them offhand. I cannot carry these figures in my head, and if I do not give them precisely I may be charged with having mis-stated the facts. I will not do that.
Has the right hon. Gentleman or has he not made any estimate of the present shortage and the potential shortage before the seventy-three slips under construction are finished?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I have not an estimate with me, and it would be far better if the hon. and gallant Member would put his question down and I will do my best to answer it. As regards slips extensions, how can I tell what number of men will ultimately be necessary for them, or how much they will be each? We have got eighty-seven new berths sanctioned. Up to the 30th June seventeen of these were fully completed, and a further nine are 80 per cent. completed. How can I say how many men will be required, and when they will be wanted? So much for the general question. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Moulton asked three questions. The first was what tonnage output will be given by the national shipyards within the next two years. It is quite impossible to say. To use the phrase of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Alexander Richardson), in a powerful and highly-informed maiden speech, to which we all listened with great pleasure, if not with complete agreement, "It is ships we want, and it does not matter when or how we get them." My right hon. Friend heard that Lord Pirrie hoped to lay the first keel in about a month's time in the national yards, and that the other slipways will gradually come into production about one every third week, as is considered desirable. But, of course, we want expedition; and it may be more expeditious to mark time at any given moment. I cannot say. If the nation's necessities at the moment can be more rapidly met by the private yard 367 my right hon. Friend cannot object, because he is all for the private yards and all against the national yards, To give an illustration of the difficulty of saying what would be the amount produced during the next two years I may refer the right hon. Gentleman to an answer which I gave yesterday to the hon. and gallant Member for Greenock.The hon. Member asked the First Lord of the Admiralty what priority is given for machines and material required for the national shipyards; and what priority is given for machines and material in private shipyards?In reply, I said:The class of priority given for machines and material for use in the shipyards varies with the date at which such machinery and material is required. No preference is given to the national yards in the supply of plant or material. On the contrary, it has always been, and always will be, the rule that orders for plant for private yards shall receive priority both as to machinery and material over orders placed for the national yards—This is the point I want to emphasise, which shows how impossible it is to forecast these matters—in fact, cases have occurred where machinery was ordered and built for the national yards, and such machinery has been diverted to the private yard."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Monday, 29th July, 1918, col. 53.]How can I say what they will be doing at any particular moment?
My right hon. Friend asked me what is to be the after-war policy of these yards. I suppose when he asked that he forgot the answer which I gave on the 15th November, 1917, to the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. G. Terrell). I was asked if I could state the policy of the Government as to whether it is intended to continue to work the new national shipyards as a national enterprise after the War or whether it is proposed that they should be disposed of as soon as the present emergency is over. The answer given is the answer to the question put to-day by my right hon. Friend:I am glad my hon. Friend has asked this question as it enables me to define more closely and to correct in some respects the reply I gave yesterday to a similar question which he then put as supplementary to a question on the Paper. The necessity which led up to the construction of national shipyards is essentially bound up in the urgent requirements for merchant shipping consequent on the present War, and until this emergency is over the Government is unable to give any definite assurance as to the policy to be pursued in connection with these yards after the conclusion of hostilities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1917, col. 578, Vol. 99.]368 The hon. Member for North Leeds (Sir R. Barran), the hon. Members for Morley (Mr. France) and Tamworth (Mr. Wilson), put the position, "In view of the altered conditions, do you want to go forward with these national yards on the original scale? Can you give an assurance that you will cut down, if not entirely, at least in part, the original proposal?" On behalf of the Government, the Admiralty, and the Controller-General, I may point out the situation may develop for the better or it may develop for the worse. We shall have to meet it as it arises, and we shall meet it, as far as our ability and knowledge permit us, with promptitude, efficiency, and, I hope, with due regard to the charge on the public purse. Beyond that I can give no further assurance.
One other point. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Greenock said that it had been suggested to him—he did not associate himself with it—that there are men at the Admiralty who are hostile to trade unions. I was extremely sorry to hear that. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who know the relations between Lord Pirrie and his men know that they are of the most cordial character. So far as I am concerned, responsible as I am generally to the Board of Admiralty for labour, I spend very much of my time meeting trade union representatives, many of whom, I am proud to know, are my personal friends. I am very much obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South West Ham (Colonel Thorne) for the testimony he has paid to that effect. The third question of my right hon. Friend was, What is your additional housing scheme going to cost? On that it is my duty, as Financial Secretary, to deal, as far as I can, with the finance involved in the undertaking generally. The expenditure sanctioned by the Treasury on the 6th February, 1918, was the gross sum of £4,082,329. But there is a credit of £195,000, the residual value of contractors' plant, which will be available for other work on the completion of the shipyards. The net amount of the estimate sanctioned, therefore—a figure which is very familiar and which is quoted in the seventh paragraph of the Fourth Report of the Select Committee—was £3,887,329. But it is also stated in that paragraph that that figure is exclusive of the cost of the land and the compensation to be paid to the Standard Shipbuilding Company, which, as the Committee knows, 369 includes the taking over of Finch's shipbuilding yard. In the Debate on the 10th July I said that I hoped to be in a position to state to-day that both those matters had been disposed of, and that I could give precise figures to which we should be committed over and above the estimate to which I have referred. Negotiations are not completed, and although I am anxious to give the Committee in the fullest possible manner a statement of the over-all commitments on the whole of the undertakings involved, it is manifestly impossible for me to do so, or to mention anything in regard to the negotiations about these matters. Of the original gross estimate of £4,082,329, we have incurred liabilities up to the 30th of June to the extent, roughly, of £3,150,000. As I explained to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Greenock, on the 17th July, of the liabilities we have liquidated, roughly, £1,340,000. On the original gross estimate, so I am advised, we have still at our disposal, roughly, about £900,000.
There have been some modifications of the original estimate, however. We originally proposed to construct a wet basin at Beachley, the estimate being £557,486. That work is included in the original estimate. Lord Pirrie advised the adoption of the Portishead Dock for fitting out, and this will mean a net saving of something like £400,000. As regards housing, there was originally proposed housing accommodation for soldiers and others who would be employed in the national shipyards, and that was estimated at the figure of £320,110 for hutting accommodation. As I tried to explain on 10th July we shall not require all that hutting accommodation because of the change of policy under which a number of married men will require accommodation for their families. That saving on house accommodation amounts to £120,000, leaving a saving, together with the saving by the adoption of the Portishead dock, of £520,000. But, on the other hand, there remains the additional accommodation for the men and their families as the result of the changed labour policy. We estimate that we shall require for these yards 10,000 workmen, and the hutting accommodation we have already got would enable us to house 7,500 civilian workmen, therefore there remains 2,500 men to provide for. Cottage 370 provision is contemplated for 2,080 of these men and their families, and that involves an additional expenditure estimated at £1,282,500. There would still be 420 to be accounted for, and we think that probably they would be accommodated as lodgers, and the new housing expenditure is estimated at £1,282,500, as I say. If we abate this figure by the saving of £520,000, we get a net additional expenditure of £762,500. That figure has to be added to the original estimate, plus the cost of the land and the standard shipbuilding property. I think this makes the story complete. I have only one other word to say, and that is as regards the Royal dockyards. I have been associated with the Royal dockyards for many years, and many of the employés I claim as personal friends. I wish to pay a tribute on behalf of the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Board, to the men of the Royal dockyards, who were so generously referred to by the hon. Member for South-West Ham earlier in the Debate, for the devotion and the loyalty with which they have met the long strain of the War, and I thank them on behalf of the Admiralty, of this Committee, and of the country, for their loyal services. I think I may now ask the Committee to give us the Vote.
§ Lord E. TALBOT (Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury) rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Sir R. BARRAN
I do not propose to press my Amendment to a Division, and I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That a sum, not exceeding £900, be granted for the said Service," put accordingly, and negatived.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.