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Shipping Companies (Reserves)

Volume 390: debated on Wednesday 30 June 1943

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asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport whether his attention has been called to the accounts of the ship liner companies and their accumulations of profit and, in particular, to the recently published accounts of the Ocean Steamship Company, Limited, which has a nominal capital of £425,337, with, in addition, accumulated reserves which have increased from £5,390,241 in 1939 to £9,676,283 in 1942; and whether he proposes to take any steps to reduce freights or revise agreements which permit of such increments?

My Ministry receive and scrutinise the published accounts of the shipping companies. In determining rates and conditions of hire, however, and for other financial purposes, we take all relevant information into account, and do not rely on these Accounts alone. If my hon. Friend will look at the accounts of the Ocean Steamship Company again, he will see that the increase in reserves to which he draws attention includes the insurance money paid for ships which have been lost. I am sure he will agree that adequate reserves should be held for the replacement of tonnage after the war. In general, the present arrangements are designed to allow a reasonable return to owners for the use of their ships, but the rates of hire are subject to revision from time to time, and I should like to assure my hon. Friend that, in the future as in the past, the whole matter will be very closely watched.

Is my hon. Friend aware that after the last war there was a sense of horror among people when they saw the great fortunes left by shipowners, that figures of this kind, unless carefully checked, might lead to a similar situation after this war and that it would be considered a great reflection on his Department unless a careful check was kept?

My hon. Friend may be assured that fortunes on the scale made after the last war are not now being made. With regard to these figures, we must remember that the shipping companies show their fleets in their accounts at a depreciated value when they have been written down year after year, whereas they insure them at their full replacement value.

Are we to understand that my hon. Friend is doing everything possible to prevent any impairment of the capitalist system?

My hon. Friend may understand what he likes, but I think, if he examines the thing, he will see that this is a pretty fair arrangement all round.

Is the hon. Gentleman sure that there will be adequate employment after the war in shipbuilding and the Merchant Navy?