asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he envisages the ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service continuing to be registered as British merchant ships.
Over a considerable period, the evolving pattern of the Royal Navy's operations and commitments has increasingly tended to distinguish RFA vessels from commercial shipping. It would seem right to reflect this in the status of RFA ships. My Department has therefore issued a consultative document today, proposing that RFA vessels should cease to be registered as British merchant ships for the purpose of the Merchant Shipping Acts, but instead should operate as Government-owned vessels on non-commercial service. This proposed change in the status of the ships would not involve any change in the present conditions of service of RFA personnel. The ships would no longer be issued with international safety convention certificates but the Ministry of Defence would accept responsibility for their safety following surveys carried out on its behalf by the Department of Transport and by Lloyds Register of Shipping as at present.There will now be consultation on the proposal with the trade unions involved and with official bodies in the shipping industry. Copies of the consultative document, entitled "Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service—De-registration of Ships", have been placed in the Library of both Houses.