asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he is now in a position to make a statement further to his reply to the hon. Member for Fife, East on Monday 27 July 1981 relating to the competitiveness of shipping rates from United Kingdom ports.
My Department is still investigating exporters' complaints about freight rate disparities between the United Kingdom and the Continent in order to determine how widespread they are, how serious for British exporters' business, what causes them, and how they might be remedied. This investigation is being conducted in great detail. The Department's preliminary conclusions suggest that the scale and frequency of disparities vary greatly, both between trade routes and between different commodities on the same trade routes. Where disparities do occur, the main causes appear to be higher United Kingdom port costs and the greater bargaining power of shippers on the Continent, due both to the greater number of non-conference carriers providing competition and to the buying power of large Continental freight forwarders. The preliminary indications are that the stronger competition on the Continent from non-conference carriers is the most important cause, but consultation has not shown with any certainty the relative importance of the causes of disparities, or therefore where the main thrust of any remedial action should be. The investigation is therefore continuing, in consultation with the General Council of British Shipping, the British Shippers' Council, the British Overseas Trade Board and its area advisory groups and the Overseas Projects Board.