HL Deb 27 June 1990 vol 520 cc1615-7

2.51 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose to support the package of measures proposed by the Commission of the European Communities to sustain the merchant fleets of the Member States of the Community.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the Commission's package contains a number of proposals. We are not convinced of the case for a Community ship register but support those proposals linked to the single market objectives.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Viscount for that Answer. Does he not recognise that the package of measures put forward by the Commission goes far wider than the issue of cabotage and the single market, important—indeed vital—though that is? Am I to understand from his Answer that, apart from the question of the Community register, which in my respectful submission was inserted rather too prematurely, the Government support the other proposals which are outlined by the Commission?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the Government support the proposals to ease the transfer of vessels from one EC register to another, the proposals for the mutual recognition of seafarers' certificates and the proposals to increase the effectiveness of port state control. We also support the need to make progress on cabotage liberalisation.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, is the Minister aware that this subject is currently being studied by a sub-committee of the European Communities Committee of your Lordships' House? The sub-committee will be taking evidence from the department and hopes to report before the Recess. Is it not a good idea to wait until that report is available?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, that is a very interesting suggestion. I was about to tell the House what your Lordships' European Communities Committee is doing at the moment. It is holding an inquiry into the Community's proposals. As the noble Lord said, it is now in the process of hearing oral evidence from interested parties. I am sure that the House looks forward to reading its considered report and possibly debating it in due course.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove:

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allen, for drawing the attention of the House to the work of the sub-committee. I assume that it will receive evidence from NUMAST, which is much concerned about some of the proposals but welcomes many of them. It is especially concerned that we should maintain a British merchant fleet and that we should learn the lessons of mixed fleets from the disaster of the "Scandinavian Star".

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am sure that the sub-committee will be hearing evidence from all interested parties. I should tell the House that the Government consider the shipping industry to be an important contributor to the economy and to defence. Shipping related activities are a major part of London's financial strength. The House will be aware of the joint working party which has recently been set up under the chairmanship of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport and Sir Jeffrey Sterling. This will establish a common understanding with the industry of the present position and options for improving its competitive position.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, in the event of other European countries not being prepared to give guarantees about the reservation of their coastal trade to their own shipping—guarantees on cabotage—will the Government be prepared to consider making a unilateral decision to reserve such shipping facilities, including offshore facilities, to British ships in order to concentrate the mind, if only that, of other Community countries.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, it is now generally accepted that cabotage should be liberalised. The focus of discussion has moved from the question of whether to questions of how and when.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that the results of the last Transport Council were extremely disappointing in that nothing moved forward except general ideas of principle? Does he further agree, whatever may be the outcome of your Lordships' Select Committee examination of this matter and whatever may be the outcome of the working party set up by the Secretary of State for Transport, that the industry is languishing, that it is an industry which must not be allowed to go on languishing and that urgent action needs to be taken at Community level? In that respect perhaps the House might receive from the noble Viscount an assurance that speed is regarded as of the essence.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am quite happy to give that assurance and to assure the noble Lord that the Government are doing everything they can. But I cannot answer for any body other than the Government.

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