HC Deb 16 March 1960 vol 619 cc1290-2
28. Mr. Awbery

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware that flag discrimination against British shipping still continues; what means he is using, in collaboration with the shipping industry and other countries, in opposing such practices; and what machinery has been established for continuing consultation on this matter with the United States of America and other European Governments.

Mr. Marples

Yes, Sir. I am well aware that flag discrimination is one of the most serious problems now confronting British shipping, and Her Majesty's Government oppose it by whatever means are considered most effective in each case.

We are in constant consultation with other European Governments through the Maritime Transport Committee of O.E.E.C., on which the United States is represented. In addition, I hope that informal arrangements for continuing talks between the European countries and the United States on these and other shipping problems will shortly be established.

Mr. Awbery

This is the most vital industry in the country. A few years ago, 50 per cent. of the shipping of the world was controlled by this country. The figure is now 17 per cent. These regulations are necessary, and it is vital that the nations concerned should consult each other with a view to bringing about uniformity in the running of our ships.

Mr. Marples

I wish that consultation was able to get rid of flag discrimination. I should be very pleased if it was, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that far more than consultation is needed. It is very difficult, patient, uphill work because we have very few cards to play. We rely on free trade, and others have the power to restrict us.

Mr. Peyton

Will my right hon. Friend consider urging the British shipping industry to ventilate its problems a bit more sharply than it does, and make public opinion both here and in America very much more sharply aware of its problems? Perhaps he will suggest, as an example, that our industry should follow the example of the flag of convenience owners who employ a vast hoard of highly-skilled public relations people who do not hesitate, and who do not lose an opportunity, to put their point of view.

Mr. Marples

I shall certainly put that view to the shipping owners in this country, but it is much easier to define the problem than to define remedial measures.

Mr. Shinwell

What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by taking effective measures? Does he regard the association with O.E.E.C. as effective? Is he not aware that the principal offender in this problem is the United States? If the United States Government responded to the request made by the European and other maritime nations, they could bring pressure to bear on the shipping interests of the United States to end this deplorable state of affairs.

Mr. Marples

I do not dissent from that. I disagree in a friendly way with what the United States is doing. What I have said is that it is difficult to propose effective action to make the United States not indulge in the discrimination in which it does indulge. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that if he has any constructive suggestions to make I shall listen to them with a readiness and willingness not always manifest in some other quarters.

38. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Transport if he has yet received a resolution from the Chamber of Shipping of the United Kingdom expressing concern over discrimination against British shipping by foreign Governments, and appealing for international agreement on equal trading opportunities; and what reply he proposes to make.

Mr. Marples

Yes, Sir. I have received copies of a resolution passed by the Chamber of Shipping at its Annual General Meeting on 25th February, 1960. I am in constant touch with the shipping industry concerning flag discrimination, which is certainly one of the most serious problems now confronting British shipping.

Mr. Rankin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at the annual meeting of the Chamber of Shipping, Mr. Hugh Hogarth, the new vice-president, stated that the shipping industry could no longer stand alone? In view of that public declaration, is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman himself, as the responsible Minister, got amongst them to find out why they cannot stand alone, and to see what he can do to hold them up?

Mr. Marples

I was amongst them yesterday, asking them for their suggestions as to which way I could help.