HC Deb 28 November 1962 vol 668 cc391-3
11. Mr. McMaster

asked the Minister of Transport what measures Her Majesty's Government intends to take in the interests of British shipping to persuade other maritime nations to give up assistance to their merchant fleets in the form of direct subsidies and the making of regulations applying strict rules of flag discrimination to their import and export trades; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett)

Her Majesty's Government will continue to employ any method likely to be effective of preventing practices by foreign Governments that restrict the ability of British shipping to compete on equal terms. We must not, however, adopt a cure that will be worse than the disease. I cannot usefully make any further statement as my right hon. Friend is awaiting the further views of the General Council of British Shipping, and the deliberations of the Shipping Advisory Panel will also, I hope, contribute to consideration of policy on these matters.

Mr. McMaster

Is my hon. and gallant Friend aware that, as a result of delay and Government inaction in this matter, we have lost over £200 million per annum in invisible export earnings by the Merchant Navy? Is he satisfied that tramp owners are properly represented on the Advisory Committee?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

Yes, I am satisfied on that point. I do not, however, accept that the Government are in any way responsible for the very difficult position in this matter not only of our British industry but also of the shipping industries of every other country in the world.

Mr. Mellish

But this problem has been outstanding for a long time and all we have had from the Government are certain assurances. What has the hon. and gallant Gentleman in mind as positive action? Is he in consultation with other Governments? This matter is too serious to be left to an ad hoc committee. Are the Government going to do as other Governments are doing for their shipping? Or do they intend to go on ignoring the situation, hoping that it will come out all right in the end?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

We are consulting other Governments, European Governments in particular, in the hope of forming a joint European approach to the problem. It is worth remembering, however, that we have succeeded since the war, under both Governments, in maintaining unity of purpose among the great European maritime Powers.

Mr. P. Williams

My hon. and gallant Friend has done a great deal to get a co-ordinated approach by European nations, but is he aware of the speech made by the First Secretary of State at the Chamber of Shipping annual dinner, in which his right hon. Friend said that in certain circumstances and subject to certain safeguards Britain would retaliate against certain foreign malpractices? What are those safeguards and when will they be used?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

The statement by my right hon. Friend represents Government policy. No useful purpose, however, would be served now by speculating on the sort of circumstances in which it might be advantageous to retaliate.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Does not the hon. and gallant Member realise that one cause of the great unemployment in British yards is the recent obnoxious practice, introduced by the Government, of giving grants and loans to foreign yards in competition with British yards? Will he consult the Prime Minister or other relevant Ministers with a view to abandoning that obnoxious practice so that prosperity may return to British yards?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

This Question is about the shipping industry and not shipbuilding. However, I would take the opportunity of contradicting the hon. and learned Member's assertion that any unemployment has been caused by this practice. So far no orders have been placed through it.

Mr. McMaster

Is my hon. and gallant Friend aware that British owners say that their fleets are going rapidly out of date, and that unless some assistance is given they will not be in a position to compete with foreign shipping when trade revives?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

My hon. Friend paints too gloomy a picture of the modernity of our Merchant Navy. I think that our shipbuilding friends wish that it was not so modern. That is one of the difficulties of the shipbuilding industry.

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