HC Deb 24 July 1963 vol 681 cc1460-1
26. Mr. P. Browne

asked the Minister of Transport what plans he has for helping the British coastal fleet; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Marples

We have already, in the Transport Act, 1962, ensured that coastal shipping has a fair field to compete in and now my Shipbuilding Credit Scheme is available to British coastal owners. I have no plans for other measures of assistance.

Mr. Browne

Is the Minister aware that our coastal shipping fleet has been the Cinderella of the transport system of the country for long enough? Now that he has dealt with roads to a considerable extent and produced the Beeching Plan, is it not time that he dealt with our other chief form of transport? Is he aware that the coastal shipping fleet has to compete with flag discrimination and manning scales which other countries do not follow, and high freight charges to ports? Does he not think it time something was done to help this diminishing fleet?

Mr. Marples

I shall do all I can to assist within reason, but already the fleet is protected from unfair competition by the railways. If our coasters carry larger crews than foreign vessels—although there is no evidence that they do—it is in no way the result of Government regulations.

Our requirements on crew levels are just as flexible as those of foreign countries. Just under 3 per cent. of total dry cargoes is carried in foregin vessels. Therefore, I do not think the fleet is being given an unfair deal at this stage.

Mr. Mellish

Is the Minister aware that the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) would receive a large measure of support on this side of the House? Is he aware that something must be done more than giving the odd. statement we get from time to time? This is an industry which is dying. The Rochdale Report, which is linked with the question of many of the smaller ports, indicates that they would be closed as well. Does the right hon. Gentleman say that in coastal shipping it does not matter what happens?

Mr. Marples

I think it has done very well in those classes of trade for which it is suitable, but in those where it is not suitable there has been a reduction.