HL Deb 09 March 1915 vol 18 cc628-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the short Bill to which I ask your Lordships to give your approval this evening is an emergency measure and is to have effect only during the continuance of the war, the object of the Bill being to make quite clear that no British ship may be transferred from the British Register to a foreign flag without the consent of the Government. During the periods of peace ships can be sold to foreigners like any other commodity and are merely regarded as being removed from the British Register and transferred to that foreign country. But it has been brought home more and more as the war proceeds that it is necessary to exercise a very strict control on the transfer of British ships to any foreign flag. We do not want, by allowing transfer to a neutral flag, either directly or indirectly to offer advantage to our enemies.

This Bill is merely an extension of an Act already in force which was passed some months ago to prohibit the export from the United Kingdom of any British ship. It is an extension because it not only prohibits the transfer of a British ship from any port in the United Kingdom but also from any abroad, except subject to the consent of the Government; and when it is in operation instructions will be given to our Consuls in those foreign ports to see that it is strictly enforced. Anybody who attempts to transfer without such consent will be subject, as may be seen in a clause in the Bill, to a severe penalty. By the schedule, British India and our Dominions are excluded from the Bill, but concurrent legislation is being passed to the same effect in each of those parts of the world. The Bill is necessary to make the legal position quite clear. It will have but little effect in practice because the Board of Trade last December issued a notice to all owners inviting them to state whether they had in contemplation the sale of any ships, and the Board of Trade found that owners have been most willing to recognise the necessity during the war of a strict restriction of transfer. Therefore very little trouble has ensued. Speaking generally, I may say in regard to this Bill that no hardship will fall on the shoulders of a British shipowner during the continuance of the war by this restriction. The Bill has already passed through all its stages without amendment in another place and with, indeed, little discussion; and I would ask your Lordships not only to give it a Second Reading this evening but to allow it to pass through its other stages.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Islington.)

On Question, Bill read 2a.

Committee negatived: Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended) Bill read 3a and passed.