HL Deb 08 July 1964 vol 259 cc1037-40

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to repeat a Statement which has just been made by my right honourable friend the Minister in another place. It is as follows:

"As the House will be aware, Her Majesty's Government have become increasingly concerned about the attempts made by the United States Federal Maritime Commission to apply to shipping of any flag the same sort of regulations as they apply under their domestic law to United States shipping. Our concern is of course shared by a number of other maritime countries.

"The most recent example of this unilateral regulation is the attempt by the Commission to impose conditions on contracts made in the United Kingdom. As I told the House on July 1 … these matters are now the subject of farther discussion with the Americans at Government level. The Federal Maritime Commission have now agreed to an extension until September 1 of the date on which they are requiring our shipowners to comply with their orders on the contract case. This of course is helpful. For our part, we earnestly hope that the outcome of our discussions with the United States Government will be satisfactory.

"However, it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to safeguard the rights of British subjects, including our traders and shipowners, and to ensure that the proper jurisdiction of the United Kingdom is not weakened or diminished. If we did nothing in this situation to maintain our authority it might be thought to go by default. Therefore, in view of the present uncertainties and in order to make our position clear we have decided to present a Bill to the House. It will be published to-day.

"Briefly, the purpose of the Bill is to protect the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom from encroachments arising from the imposition by any foreign country on persons carrying on business in the United Kingdom of requirements relating to the carriage of goods or passengers by sea or the production or furnishing of documents or information.

"One clause of the Bill will provide that where the Minister of Transport considers that measures taken by any foreign country in the field of contracts for the carriage of goods or passengers by sea constitute an infringement of United Kingdom jurisdiction he will make an order applying that clause to these measures. The Bill will then provide that shipowners carrying on business in this country will be required to notify him of any requirements imposed on them by those measures, and the Minister will also be empowered to give directions prohibiting persons from complying with such requirements. The Bill also provides powers for the Minister of Transport and other Ministers to prohibit any person in the United Kingdom from complying with demands which encroach on our jurisdiction by the court or authority of any foreign country for the production of commercial documents or information located outside that country.

"We hope that Parliament will find it possible to approve the measure before the Summer Recess. I must stress that the powers given in the Bill are permissive and I hope that a settlement of our difficulties over American shipping regulations can be reached by friendly discussion and negotiation."

My Lords, that is the Statement.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the Minister for giving us a copy of the Statement which I have read. I think this step taken by the Government is one that all Parties ought to welcome. The proposals that were being made by the Maritime Commission in the United States struck me as being most unreasonable in trying to maintain a proper and fair basis of international trade, and I am glad that the Government have been having proper discussions. Whatever has happened in the discussions, which we hope will be successful, in the meantime I think it is right that conditions should be laid down by Statute which will be of assistance to our own traders in this country in case conditions are applied to them which are internationally unfair and perhaps particularly reprehensible in the case of a maritime nation like ourselves


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, whether Her Majesty's Government have taken this matter before the NATO Council—because it is a dispute between two allies within NATO—to seek their good offices to try to resolve this dispute?


My Lords, before I make any further reply I will just answer that question. So far as I am aware, this question is not before the NATO Council because it is a matter which is not just a bilateral dispute between two allies within NATO but affects most of the maritime nations of the world.


My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough has indicated, we are not unsympathetic to the Statement that has been made. What I am still in some doubt about is whether the Statement and the intended legislation will be effective in persuading or compelling the Maritime Board of the United States to modify this policy. How far are the Government able to go in causing that modification?


That, of course, I am quite unable to say, because, quite properly, we are not able to force our views on the Maritime Commission, any more than we see why they should force their views on us. I should like to make it perfectly clear, appreciating as I do the generous words used by the noble Earl who leads the Opposition in welcoming this Bill, that it is a Bill designed specifically to protect our own jurisdiction and is in no sense intended to be some kind of act of aggression. I should like to make that perfectly clear. The intention, and what we hope will happen, is that it will certainly enable shipowners to establish before United States courts that they have, and are under, a duty to the laws of their own country, this country, and are liable to penalties if they do not comply with them. It is hoped that this will certainly strengthen their hands.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord for his Statement. Can he tell us whether multilateral action is being taken? After all, we are a maritime nation, and have been for many centuries, and we have many alliances and agreements with other nations in a similar position. Is the Government acting unilaterally in this matter with a view only to America, or will they take into consultation and, if possible, agree with, other maritime nations?


My Lords, I can answer that quite simply by saying that the terms of the Bill will be such that it will apply to any nation. I must confess that the thinking behind this includes America at the present time, although we certainly hope that the provisions of the Bill will not have to be used and that we can achieve our object by more friendly means than that. But it does, in fact, apply to anyone.


My Lords, following on Lord Rea's question, can the noble Lord say whether similar legislative action is contemplated by the other great maritime Powers with a view to uniformity of action in this matter?


My Lords, that at the moment I cannot say. I imagine that before lone we shall have some discussions on the Bill when it comes before your Lordships—discussions to which I shall look forward. I will see what I can do to find that out by that time.