HL Deb 09 April 1964 vol 257 cc239-41

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough owing to illness, which we all deplore, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in his name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the present position following negotiations of British shipping interests on the Atlantic with the United States authorities.]


My Lords, before my noble friend answers this Question, I know I shall be speaking for all your Lordships when I say that we were very distressed to hear of the noble Earl's illness. No one is held in higher affection or respect in this House than is the noble Earl, and I am sure it will be your Lordships' wish that we should send him a message hoping that he will recover soon and be back with us before long.


My Lords, as we have had that statement from the Government and from the official Opposition, may I add, from the Liberal Party and, if I may, from other Peers, our endorsement of it and say how much we miss Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, one of the most assiduous attendees in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, may I express my thanks to the Deputy Leader of the House for the comments he has made, and to the Leader of the Liberal Party? We all appreciate those sentiments very much. Lord Alexander of Hillsborough is a man who is warmly respected in all parts of the House. I have a deep affection for him, acquired over many years of personal work with him. I should like to say how grateful we are for the suggestion of the noble Viscount that a message should be sent from the whole House wishing him an early and a complete recovery.


My Lords, I do not think I can do better, in answer to the noble Earl's Question, put by the noble Lord, than to repeat the Answer given by my right honourable friend yesterday to a number of Questions in another place. On March 20 the Federal Maritime Commission issued orders that shipowners and traders should break their existing dual rate contracts and sign new ones, in terms later to be pronounced by the Commission. These orders purport to apply wherever in the world a contract was negotiated, whether or not either party to it is American, and whether or not American goods or ships are in volved. Organisations representing traders and shipowners in this country, after consulting the Government, have advised their members that contracts executed in this country should be left in force. This assumption of a unique right on the part of America to control commercial practices throughout the world is so clearly objectionable that I cannot believe the Commission realises what it is trying to do, especially as in this particular matter the practical issues may not be of the first importance. A Note will be sent to the American Government.


My Lords, we are much obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary for the statement that he has made. It certainly was a shock to all of us, irrespective of Party, that the American Federal Mari time Commission should have taken this step. I am inclined to think that they probably took it for mistaken reasons, not realising the consequences that would emerge. I would suggest to the Government that they should not be afraid to speak frankly and firmly to Uncle Sam, who is not a bad chap really —and I am very fond of the Americans.

If the Government speak firmly, frankly, clearly, and intelligently, it looks as though it will have an effect on the policy of the American Administration. In any event, I hope that the Government succeed in all their efforts to stop this rather unwise, even foolish, effort to interfere illegitimately with British, shipping.


My Lords, it is a great pleasure to me to find myself at one with the noble Lord for the second time in two days. I completely agree with him that this is a matter for complete honesty and forthright speaking.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it has not nitherto been the case in international law that the law governing the contract is the law of the place where it is made? If that is so, how does this present effort of the United State; fall into line with the efforts they are making in other directions and through other departments for obtaining a rule of law throughout the world?


My Lords, that is a matter which, to me, as I am not a lawyer, either national or international, is one of great puzzlement and one which I think requires further study before I can give the noble Lord any sensible answer to that question.

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