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Soviet Freight Charges

Volume 375: debated on Wednesday 20 October 1976

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2.50 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they can report on the representations made unanimously by interested European countries, including Great Britain, to the Soviet Union on their unrealistic freight charges for shipping.

My Lords, the United Kingdom has taken this matter up with the Soviet Union in the Anglo-Soviet Joint Maritime Commission and I understand that a number of other European countries have done likewise in bilateral discussion. My Ministerial colleagues have discussed the issue with a number of Ministers abroad, and official multilateral consideration of the question is continuing in Western international shipping fora. At the same time there have been contacts at commercial level.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for at any rate quite a lot of information, may I ask him when he thinks it likely that we will really hear that something has happened?

My Lords, this is a long-term question of negotiation. The noble Baroness will recall, because she asked a Question about it, that in July there was a conference in Leningrad, at the commercial level. At that conference the Soviet shipowners expressed their desire in principle to work within shipping conferences. We believe this to be a helpful approach and we have noticed some recent evidence of apparent Soviet willingness to reach a commercial settlement in some areas; an example is the negotiation last month by the Russian Baltatlantic Line of membership of the shipping conferences on the North Atlantic.

My Lords, again I thank the Minister for that information. May I ask him to say when he thinks it would be suitable for me to table another Question, bearing in mind that unless one keeps on putting down Questions things fail to proceed?

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that her Questions are welcome. I suggest that, as two important meetings in this connection are to be held in November—I think on the 2nd—some point after that date might be an appropriate time for her to ask another Question.