HC Deb 06 December 1927 vol 211 cc1150-4
3 and 4. Mr. JOHNSTON

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) the names of the shipping companies referred to in the last Report of the Imperial Shipping Committee on Canadian flour who combined to charge a freight rate of 19 cents per 100 lbs. of Canadian flour from New York to Liverpool while charging only 15 cents if the flour was American;

(2) whether the British shipping firms engaged in the North Atlantic trade have given the undertaking referred to in paragraph 10 of the Imperial Shipping Committee's Interim Report on Canadian flour freights that they would no longer discriminate by higher freights in favour of American as against Canadian flour?


The shipping companies referred to were those comprised in the North Atlantic-United Kingdom Freight Conference. The hon. Member will remember that the United States rate was reduced because the United States Shipping Board gave what was in effect a subsidised rate. As stated in the Interim Report on Canadian flour, the principal British lines engaged in the trade gave assurances that they would in future quote the same rates from United States ports on Canadian flour as on American flour; and this was done. I understand that the lines represented in the Conference were: Anchor Line, Anchor Donaldson Line, Bristol City Line, Canadian Pacific, Cunard Line, Donaldson Line, Ellerman's Wilson Line, Furness Withy, Head and Lord Lines, International Mercantile Marine Lines (White Star, Leyland, etc.), Lamport and Holt Line, Thomson Line. The United States Shipping Board Services were admitted at a later date.


Has the right hon. Gentleman any reason to believe that there are any other Canadian products which are being discriminated against by British ships?


No, Sir; it is only fair to say this. The question referred to something which happened in 1924, and it is not a case of any desire to discriminate against Canadian goods. The United States Shipping Board, which is a Government undertaking, gave a subsidised rate for American flour, and, if our ships were to be able to compete for that trade, it was necessary that we should be on equal terms with the subsidised rate.


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he can give the freight rate per ton of pigiron from Glasgow to Buenos Aires and from Antwerp to Buenos Aires; and if the Imperial Shipping Committee has made any representations to the British shipowners on the subject?


I understand that the freight rate for the carriage of pig-iron from the United Kingdom to Buenos Aires is the same as the freight rate from Antwerp to Buenos Aires, namely, 22s. 6d. per ton. I am not aware that any representations on the. subject have been made by the Imperial Shipping Committee to British shipowners.


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the Shipping Conferences require any person or association with whom they negotiate to maintain strict secrecy, both as to the fact that negotiations are taking place and the results of such negotiations, and that an individual or an association making a public statement will be disqualified from any subsequent negotiations; and, in view of the importance of adequate publicity in order that combinations of traders may work more effectively, will he submit for the consideration of the Imperial Shipping Committee the desirability of obtaining from leading shipowners a declaration to refrain from such requirements or to in any way penalise exporters who may, either as individuals or in combination, publicly oppose the freight rates now current?


It is no doubt the case that confidential negotiations take place, but I am not aware that exporters are penalised as suggested in the question. If my hon. Friend will furnish me with information to this effect, I will have inquiry made. As regards a reference to the Imperial Shipping Committee, it is open to any representative body of traders to lay any general complaint before the Imperial Shipping Committee.


Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware of the difficulty Which traders have, because of the secrecy which is imposed by Shipping Conference lines, of making representations or having any combination among themselves?


No, I am not aware of that. If there be any complaint by traders, they have the right to go to the Imperial Shipping Committee and formulate complaints. Surely, if the traders feel that they are being discriminated against in the matter of rates or that rates are unduly high, then that is just the kind of case which in the past has been taken to the Imperial Shipping Committee and should be taken to that Committee in future.


Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that, if the Shipping Conference lines would have more publicity among those with whom they negotiate, there would be far less cause of complaint?


In view of the very grave menace to the British export trade which has been revealed in the answer to this question and to others, will not the Board of Trade have a searching inquiry into the whole matter?


No, Sir; surely the body to make the inquiry into these rates, where it is alleged that the rates are unduly high, is the Imperial Shipping Committee, which makes its report to all the Governments of the Empire, and which as a result of the Imperial Conference years ago was set up to deal with exactly these points and to report to the Governments of the Empire. It would surely be extraordinarily unwise to set up an ad hoc inquiry in this country alone, when there is the Imperial Shipping Committee to deal with it.


In view of the fact that a whole range of cases is being brought to the personal notice of the right hon. Gentleman in the House, will he now refer them to the Committee, and call for a report?


If any body of traders presents a case which ought to go before the Committee, they can either take that direct—which they have a right to do, and in thousands of cases have done—or they may ask the British Government to make representations, and there is not the least difficulty in doing that.


What did the right hon. Gentleman mean when he said he would make inquiry about specific cases? Did he make any inquiry into the specific case mentioned in a Debate a month before the House rose?


I cannot answer a hypothetical case like that.


It is not a hypothetical case.


My answer referred to an allegation contained in this question that shippers generally were, or some shipper was, disallowed some rebate by a shipping line if they gave some information. I have no information about that, and therefore I asked my hon. Friend to give me some information; and, if he does, I will make inquiries.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what the Imperial Shipping Committee is? Are they a Government-appointed Committee, and, if not, where do they derive their power and authority?


That question must be put down.

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