HC Deb 09 March 1960 vol 619 cc417-8
42. Dame Irene Ward

asked the Minister of Transport whether, in the interests of the British Mercantile Marine, he will reconsider the sale of the Government-owned s.s. "Empire Fowey", formerly s.s. "Potsdam" of Norddeutscher Lloyd and the s.s. "Captain Cooke" to any buyers, foreign or otherwise, and sell them for scrap.

Mr. Marples

These ships have recently been advertised for sale. When offers are received the question of disposal will be considered in the light of all circumstances, in which the interests of the British Mercantile Marine will, of course, not be overlooked. The decision as to the "Captain Cook" will, however, rest with the New Zealand Government who hold the financial interest in this ship.

Dame Irene Ward

While thanking my right hon. Friend for just a gleam of hope in that Answer, may I ask him whether he thinks that the present position is likely to help him in arguing the case for British shipping with the United States of America shipping lobby? Is it not an important matter to be taken into account when we are putting our case to the United States about difficulties of British shipping if a British Government behaves like this to our British shipping interests, which are utterly opposed to the decision of my right hon. Friend?

Mr. Marples

It grieves me to disagree with my hon. Friend, but the point is that British ship-owning firms are interested in the purchase of these ships.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, generally speaking, shipowners and ship builders are opposed to the selling of these ships to foreign owners because there is a danger that they will be disposed of to countries which are operating under flags of convenience and discrimination? Is not that a dangerous policy for the Government to adopt? As these are very old ships, would it not be better to break them up?

Mr. Marples

I do not think so, because it would be wrong for this country unilaterally to start a process of scrapping which would merely help competitors who would not scrap. I am sure it would be unfair to our own Mercantile Marine and, as they have expressed interest in buying these ships, I am sure it would be wrong to sell them for scrap when a British firm of shipowners wanted to buy them.

Dame Irene Ward

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If a decision is not arrived at shortly, may I give notice that I shall raise the matter again?

Mr. Speaker

No, it would not be in order so to do at this moment.

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