HC Deb 22 April 1964 vol 693 cc1302-4

The following Questions stood upon the Order Pager:

68. Mr. A. J. IRVINE

To ask the Minister of Transport what recent proposals have been received from the chairman of the United States Federal Maritime Commission for discussions about shipping contracts.


To ask the Minister of Transport what answer he has sent to the request of the chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission for a meeting to discuss shipping matters; and whether he has discussed this invitation with the other countries cooperating with the United Kingdom in opposition to the demands of the Federal Maritime Commission.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will now answer Questions Nos. 68 and 69 together.

The Federal Maritime Commission has offered to discuss, amongst other things, the shipping contracts which have caused the recent difficulties. This approach is at present being considered by the Governments concerned. It is too early to say what the outcome will be, but I am hopeful that it will be possible to reach a settlement which will be satisfactory to all concerned. I am keeping in close contact with our ship-owners and shippers.

Mr. Irvine

While thanking the Minister for that Answer, and recognising the need in this connection to keep in line with others on the points which arise, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he agrees that there is no objection or inconsistency if, at the same time, he makes it perfectly clear to the chairman of the Commission that the British view is that it is unacceptable to us for the United States Commission to insist that contracts entered into by British shipowners shall in future be governed by the law of the United States?

Mr. Marples

That position has been made quite clear by Her Majesty's Government to the American Government. But, having achieved agreement between 10 European countries, plus Japan, which gives us well over half the world's shipping, it is obvious that we must maintain that solidarity. It gives us strength and we must not throw it away by acting unilaterally. At the same time, we have let our view be known.

Mr. Shinwell

Can we be assured that the Government will not weaken in their attitude on this very important matter? The shipowners are not prepared to make any concession whatever. Does the Minister understand that? May we have an assurance from the Government that they will not weaken on this issue?

Mr. Marples

Having told our ship-owners several times in the past that they must not comply with orders from the United States. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall stand firm on this point of principle.

There are two real issues here. The first is that we must stand firm on the point of principle that no one country—the United States, the United Kingdom, or any other—can unilaterally impose on foreign countries their own law. It applies to this country as well as to America.

Secondly, we must keep our newly found solidarity with 10 European countries and Japan because then we shall operate from a base of strength. Having tried fairly hard myself forward-a-half to three years to bring this about, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I will not cast it away lightly.

Sir C. Taylor

Having answered Questions Nos. 68 and 69, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will answer Question No. 65, also?

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Fernyhough

Would not the Minister agree that the United States are already making unilateral decisions about British shipping inasmuch as they have intimidated every British shipping line in taking cargoes to Cuba?

Mr. Marples

That is entirely another question. They have not really intimidated them. British lines are free to take cargoes to Cuba if they so wish.

With regard to cargoes to America and the action of the Federal Maritime Commission, the immediate threat of fines and penalties has been removed. Therefore, this country has given nothing away at the moment.