HC Deb 27 April 1967 vol 745 cc1816-8
Q1. Mr. Grimond

asked the Prime Minister what steps he proposes to take to restrict or control the use of flags of convenience by ships trading with the United Kingdom; and if he will place in the Library a copy of his public statement made on 29th March on this subject.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

We have no immediate proposals on this issue, Sir. But Her Majesty's Government have consistently maintained that there should be a genuine link between a ship and her country of registry. As to the second part of the right hen. Gentleman's Question, I was answering questions at a Press Conference without a prepared text and the right hon. Gentleman must therefore rely on newspaper accounts of my remarks.

Mr. Grimond

Has the Prime Minister any evidence that the accident to the "Torrey Canyon" was due to the fact that it was sailing under a flag of convenience, or was alleged to have been? Will this matter be investigated in whatever inquiries are made into this unfortunate wreck?

The Prime Minister

We must await the report of the inquiry which has been conducted by the Liberian Government while still reserving our position as to whether a further inquiry is necessary under our own auspices. That will be the time to consider those questions.

Mr. Hector Hughes

As to compensation, does my right hon. Friend realise—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is the next Question which deals with compensation.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

Has the Prime Minister's attention been drawn to the allegation that the British flag has been used as a flag of convenience by foreigners trading with North Vietnam?

The Prime Minister

I think that that point arose in Questions yesterday.

Mr. Maudling

If, as appears from newspaper reports, the right hon. Gentleman thinks that there is some connection between flags of convenience and the "Torrey Canyon" affair, will he make sure that this evidence is made available to any inquiries which take place?

The Prime Minister

This was in the course of a long Press conference, and I was very much pressed on this question. I said what I felt. Many people in the past, not least our own seamen's union, have often made the point about flags of convenience to us. I thought it right to say this. I have no evidence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I have no evidence as yet as to the exact mistake made in navigation, or whether that was related to its being a flag of convenience ship.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Whatever the flag, is not the bombing of ships in Haiphong harbour a most dangerous escalation of the war and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is ingenious, but the Question is about flags of convenience.

Mr. Noel-Baker

On a point of order. The ship which was bombed in Haiphong harbour was carrying the British flag. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) suggested that that was an abuse of the British flag. I was asking whether, whatever the flag, the bombing of ships in Haiphong Harbour was a dangerous escalation of the war in Vietnam.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I fully understood the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question and made the comment which I thought right.