HC Deb 18 December 1945 vol 417 cc1124-6
The Minister of War Transport (Mr. Barnes)

With the indulgence of the House, I wish to make a statement on the control of merchant shipping and certain related matters.

The Government have decided that dry-cargo ships other than those employed in trooping or other direct military or naval service shall be released from requisition on the termination of voyages after 2nd March, 1946, when the present charters expire. But it will be necessary, in order to secure the best use of our limited shipping resources, to keep control, in a different form, over its employment. The Government desire to restore responsibility and initiative for the operation of shipping to the shipping industry to the fullest extent practicable in the circumstances envisaged after 2nd March, but must continue to ensure that sufficient tonnage is available to lift essential imports into this country and for other purposes necessary to our economy and security. The form of control will be appropriate to a transitional period and will be relaxed as circumstances permit. No new powers will be needed. The power to control voyages by licence already exists. The Government will reserve the right to exercise the power of requisition if circumstances should require and the necessary power will remain in being.

The form of control proposed will call for full co-operation by the shipping industry with my Department, and I feel sure that this will be forthcoming in the difficult period of transition just as it has been during the war. As already announced tankers will be released from requisition as they complete their voyages after the end of this year. They will remain subject to control by licence thereafter. Passenger ships and other ships employed directly in military or naval service will remain under requisition so long as trooping and other military and naval requirements make this necessary. I also propose to adjust the terms on which Government owned ships will be offered to British shipowners. As soon as the details can be completed, the new scheme will replace that described in Command 6357.

Sir Arthur Salter

Will the Minister say whether this new form of control of cargo ships will be of a positive or negative character? Will ships be directed to go into, say, the wheat trade of the North Atlantic?

Mr. Barnes

It will be directive rather than negative.

Major C. Poole

Can the Minister say, in view of the fact that there will still be large tonnages of Government traffic offering to the Middle and Far East for the maintenance of our Forces there, what steps it is proposed to provide to ensure that, with the abolition of full chartered ships, the Government are not called upon to pay very heavy charges for the carriage of these commodities?

Mr. Barnes

It contains every safeguard. If the hon. and gallant Member will read the reply, he will find that all military and Service requirements are adequately catered for.

Mr. Callaghan

Can the Minister say whether the operation of the Merchant Navy Reserve Pool will be affected by this scheme?

Mr. Barnes

No, Sir.

Mr. Haworth

Can the Minister say what will be the position of coastwise shipping, in view of his statement?

Mr. Barnes

That is covered by the general statement. The provisions I have indicated would apply.

Mr. McAllister

Would the Minister tell the House how far the new control will provide for decent conditions for the Merchant Navy, both in coastwise and other ships, and will he see that the conditions conform to those laid down in the International Seafarers' Charter?

Mr. Barnes

That hardly arises from the statement which I have made on general shipping policy. Those are matters which will be more adequately covered by the machinery of the National Maritime Board.

Major Poole

Will the Minister say whether the monopoly largely enjoyed by Messrs. Hogg, Robinson and Capel Cure in respect of the handling of Government traffic by civil freight will continue to operate now?

Mr. Barnes

I am not sure that any such form of monopoly as that to which the hon. and gallant Member refers will be affected by this. If he wishes to draw my attention to any particular form of control I shall be happy to investigate it.