HC Deb 25 February 1919 vol 112 cc1627-9W

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Shipping Controller what proportion, approximately, of the total imports of the nation in 1918 were made on Government account; if it is the fact that these Stats imports were carried by his Department at cost price; and, if so, how it is proposed to protect the public from the high private shipowners' freights, which will increasingly apply to our imports as the State carries out the Government's policy of ceasing to control supplies and shipping?

Colonel W. THORNE

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Shipping Controller (1) by how much the newly-announced North Atlantic conference freight rate of one dollar per 100 lbs. exceeds the Government rate charged by the Ministry of Shipping;

(2) whether, seeing that his Department is now carrying North Atlantic supplies for the nation at cost, namely, 42s. 6d. per weight ton, and that the North Atlantic shipping conference rate is now more than twice the Government rate, in the event of the Food Ministry ceasing to buy and import food, the nation would cease to enjoy the benefit of the low Government freight on food and would be subjected to the much higher rate now charged by the shipowners; and what steps the Government proposes to take to prevent such an unnecessary increase of price?


asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Shipping Controller whether the rates charged by the Ministry of Shipping since they took control in 1917 has been greatly less than that charged by other shippers; and will he take some steps of an effective character that will stop this exploitation of the workers?

Colonel L. WILSON

During 1918, approximately, 85 per cent. of the imports into this country were for Government account and were carried at rates based upon cost, the balance of private cargo being carried at market rates. The elimination of munitions and other war traffic upon the cessation of hostilities led to an immediate increase in the amount of space available for private cargo, with the result that the commercial rates of freight were considerably reduced. The reduction in the case of the north Atlantic trade was from 616s. to about 94s. The corresponding decrease due to the absence of war risk in the Government rate, which still applies to all shipments for Government account, was from 82s. 6d. to 42s. 6d. There is good reason for hoping that as the process of liberation is carried further the effect upon the freight market will be downward in tendency as a free tonnage market is restored.To limit freights by direct action in favour of private imports would merely enhance importers' profits without protecting consumers, and any unnecessary interference with the return to a free freight market might defeat its own object.