HC Deb 25 April 1939 vol 346 cc953-5
26. Mr. S. O. Davies

asked the President of the Board of Trade the number and tonnage of British ships which have been sold to foreign companies since 1st January, 1938?

Mr. Cross

The number of ships of 100 tons gross and over registered at ports in the United Kingdom which have been reported to the Registrar-General of Shipping and Seamen as having been sold to foreign owners during the period 1st January, 1938, to 20th April, 1939, is 210, the gross tonnage of these ships being 539,000 tons.

27. Mr. Dobbie

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he has any information in relation to the foreign ships trading between the Argentine, this country, and the Continent, their owner ship, and the length of time in the possession of their present owners; and how many of them have been sold by British owners?

Mr. Cross

I regret that this information is not available.

31. Mr. Bellenger

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether approval was given by his Department before the sale of three steamers to Germany was finally concluded by the Alpha and Apex shipping companies?

Mr. Cross

No, Sir. The Board of Trade have no power to approve or prohibit the sale of British ships to foreigners. As was stated in answer to questions on 18th April, representatives of the Alpha and Apex Steamship Companies were informed that the Board of Trade would prefer that ships of this kind should, in present circumstances, remain under the British flag.

Mr. Bellenger

Has the hon. Gentleman seen the statement which was issued by the late owners of these vessels that, before the contracts were exchanged for the sale of the vessels, official approval was given by his Department, and, in view of that statement, would it not appear that the Board of Trade have themselves been a contributory factor in selling these ships to a foreign nation?

Mr. Cross

No, Sir; no approval was given. On the contrary, it was stated by my right hon. Friend that he much, preferred that these ships should not be sold so that they left the United Kingdom Register and passed into foreign hands, and indeed these people were informed that, if they wished, they could submit these three vessels for inclusion on the Register of owners who wished to take advantage of the scheme for redundant tonnage already announced by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Attlee

In view of the reply to this question, and to question number 26, are the Government going to take any power to prevent our Mercantile Marine being sold in such great quantity at this time to other nations?

Mr. Cross

My right hon. Friend has already announced, as the right hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware, that, as a condition of subsidy to the shipping industry, owners will be required to give options upon vessels intended to be sold off the United Kingdom Register, and we hope that we shall soon have these powers—and the sooner the better—in order to prevent these ships being sold abroad.

Mr. Shinwell

That does not amount to a prohibition, but merely affects the granting of financial assistance. The owners who do not want financial assistance are free to sell their ships.

Mr. Cross

That covers the whole of the Merchant Navy.

Mr. Benjamin Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman state categorically to this House that the statement made by the previous owners of these vessels as reported to the Press is untrue?

Mr. Cross

I should want to have notice of the precise notice in the Press to which the hon. Member is referring. I really cannot give a categorical denial of that kind without knowing what I am denying.

Sir Nairne Stewart Sandeman

Does my hon. Friend know of any negotiations pending for the sale of ships to foreign Powers?

Mr. Cross

I should require notice of that question.

Mr. Mander

Is it not the case that when the question was put down, the statement made by the directors of the company was well known to the Board of Trade as well as to the Press. Is there any reason why we cannot have a straight answer as to whether the statement is correct or not?

Mr. Speaker rose

Mr. Bellenger

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at an early date.