HC Deb 09 November 1937 vol 328 cc1576-8
35. Sir Arnold Wilson

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is satisfied that ships on the British register which have obtained provisional registry as British ships in British possessions overseas, or in the Dominions, or at British consulates abroad can in time of emergency be effectively controlled?

Mr. Stanley

Yes, Sir. Provisional certificates, which are only granted at foreign ports, have the effect of a certificate of registry, and ships so registered are capable of being controlled in emergency in the same manner as ships whose registry has been completed.

Mr. Craven-Ellis

When these companies are of foreign ownership, would it not be possible for them to throw over their British registration should an emergency arise.

Mr. Stanley

I do not think it would be in the public interest to disclose the steps which would be taken on the outbreak of an emergency, but the experience of 1914 confirms our belief that we can, in fact, exercise effective control over these ships in time of emergency.

Mr. Logan

Is it not a fact that it is not British labour on board at all?

Mr. Stanley

That, of course, is not true of all the ships that get provisional certificates.

36. Sir A. Wilson

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the present requirements as regards personnel of British ships apply to ships which have obtained provisional registry as British ships in British possessions overseas or at British consulates abroad; whether it has been brought to his notice that in the great majority of ships recently so transferred the proportion of British officers and men is very small; and what steps he proposes to prevent their re-transfer to foreign registry so soon as the use of the British flag ceases to be of commercial and political advantage to their alien owners?

Mr. Stanley

The provisions of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, and of the Merchant Shipping Acts, as to the employment of British personnel, do not apply to ships granted provisional certificates at foreign ports. It would obviously be impracticable to comply with these requirements in such cases. With regard to the second part of the question, I would point out that any measure restricting transfer from British to foreign registry, would discourage access to the British Register, and so reduce the number of ships on the Register. Any such measure might well be detrimental to the national interest, for past experience has shown that ships on the British Register can, in times of emergency, be effectively controlled by the Government.

Sir A. Wilson

Does my right hon. Friend think that a British ship which is exclusively, or almost exclusively, manned by foreigners is likely in an emergency to be of great value?

Mr. Stanley

Yes, Sir. The experience in 1914 disclosed a number of instances where they were controlled, and were of great value.

37. Sir A. Wilson

asked the President of the Board of Trade what is the nature of the effective action taken to prevent provisional registration under the British flag as a temporary expedient and from what date it became effective; and whether he proposes to take steps to amend the law in view of the abuse of the privilege of British registry during the past 15 months?

Mr. Stanley

On various dates between 22nd August and 7th September last, instructions were issued to British Consuls and Registrars of British ships abroad to scrutinise carefully all applications for British registry and to refer to the Board of Trade before granting any certificate of registration. For the reasons explained in my answer to the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis) on 28th October, I am not prepared to propose alterations in the existing law of registry.