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British Merchant Shipping

Volume 33: debated on Monday 6 December 1982

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asked the Minister for Trade, in view of the decline since 1975 in the British merchant shipping fleet and its trained manpower, whether he is satisfied that in any serious attack upon the defences of the United Kingdom by any hostile power the remaining fleet will be able to deal with imports of food and essentials during any period of hostilities; and whether he will make a statement.

The United Kingdom merchant fleet's adequacy for defence purposes is kept under review; it still suffices for all planned requirements. The ability to supply imports is also subject to review; an attack of the kind envisaged would be likely to involve NATO, and there are plans for pooling the Alliance's ocean-going merchant fleets in such circumstances for the benefit of all its members.


asked the Minister for Trade what was the size of the British merchant fleet in 1972; and what is its present size, in terms of numbers of vessels and total and gross tonnage.

The information requested is as follows:

United Kingdom registered merchant ships (500 gross registered tons and over)
NumberGross registered tons (thousands)
End December 19721,79826,940
End September 19821,03020,229
The figures include passenger vessels, container ships, cargo liners, tramps, bulk carriers and tankers. They exclude Government owned vessels, offshore supply vessels, non-cargo or passenger-carrying sea-going vessels, sailing vessels, dredgers, river and other non-sea-going vessels.


asked the Minister for Trade how the size of the British merchant fleet has changed in the last three years; and if he will make a statement.

The United Kingdom merchant fleet dropped from 41·7 million deadweight tons in September 1979 to 32·2 million deadweight tons in September 1982. The Government wish to see a thriving merchant navy and are very concerned at the continuing decline of the United Kingdom registered fleet in the face of depressed world shipping markets.


asked the Minister for Trade what measures he proposes to prevent a further decline in the British-owned merchant fleet.

The Government are continuing at home to pursue their economic and fiscal policies, including the control of inflation, and internationally to maintain free access to shipping routes. In addition, I am currently considering detailed representations and proposals from the General Council of British Shipping and the maritime unions.