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Shipping (Us Federal Maritime Commission)

Volume 698: debated on Wednesday 8 July 1964

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Mr. Speaker, with your permission and that of the House, I wish to make a statement.

As the House will be aware, Her Majesty's Government have become increasingly concerned about the attempts made by the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission to apply to shipping of any flag the same sort of regulations as it applies under its domestic law to United States shipping. Our concern is, of course, shared by a number of other maritime countries.

The most recent example of this unilateral regulation is the attempt by the Commission to impose conditions on contracts made in the United Kingdom As I told the House on 1st July, in reply to a Question by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), these matters are now the subject of further discussion with the Americans at Government level. The Federal Maritime Commission has now agreed to an extension until 1st September of the date on which it is requiring our shipowners to comply with their orders on the contract case. This, of course, is helpful. For our part, we earnestly hope that the outcome of our discussions with the United States Government will be satisfactory.

However, it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to safeguard the rights of British subjects, including our traders and shipowners, and to ensure that the proper jurisdiction of the United Kingdom is not weakened or diminished. If, in this situation we did nothing to maintain our authority, it might be thought to go by default. Therefore, in view of the present uncertainties, and to make our position quite clear, we have decided to present a Bill to the House. It will be published today.

Briefly, the purpose of the Bill is to protect the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom from encroachments arising from the imposition by any foreign country on persons carrying on business in the United Kingdom of requirements relating to the carriage of goods or passengers by sea or the production or furnishing of documents or information. One Clause of the Bill will provide—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware, with great respect, that what the right hon. Gentleman is doing is detailing to the House the provisions of the Bill. It is a very short Bill as we know, and he has taken advantage of the fact of making a statement to the House actually to make the kind of speech that he would make on Second Reading.

I do not think that there is anything out of order. When we get to the Second Reading debate everyone can talk about it if they want to.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are not there definite rules in relation to anticipation of debate and such matters?

The right hon. Gentleman has said that one Clause of the Bill will provide something. I do not know how much detail he is going into. I do not think that that can seriously be regarded as an anticipation of the Second Reading speech.

The circumstances are unusual and I hope that the House will permit me to continue.

One Clause of the Bill will provide that where the Minister of Transport considers that measures taken by any foreign country in the field of contracts for the carriage of goods or passengers by sea constitute an infringement of United Kingdom jurisdiction he will make an order applying that Clause to these measures. The Bill will then provide that shipowners carrying on business in this country will be required to notify him of any requirements imposed on them by those measures, and the Minister will also be empowered to give directions prohibiting persons from complying with such requirements.

The Bill also provides powers for the Minister of Transport and other Ministers to prohibit any person in the United Kingdom from complying with demands which encroach on our jurisdiction by the court or authority of any foreign country for the production of commercial documents or information located outside that country.

We hope that Parliament will find it possible to approve the Measure before the Summer Recess. I must stress that the powers given in the Bill are permissive and I hope that a settlement of our difficulties over American shipping regulations can be reached by friendly discussion and negotiation.

Presumably, we shall discuss the details of the Bill when it is presented, and I assume that we shall have ample opportunities for such discussion. Meanwhile, it seems clear that such a Bill is desirable and urgent. The only surprise is that the Minister has waited until so late in the Session before introducing it. There may be many points which my hon. Friends may wish to raise about detail when they see the Bill, but, meanwhile, I can give the right hon. Gentleman an assurance that we shall do everything we can to facilitate its passage through the House.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He is quite right. I think that the Bill is both desirable and urgent. The only reason I made a statement today was that I thought that the House should be given some idea of what the Government proposed to do. We are proposing to act speedily and I thought that the House should be informed as soon as possible.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we on this side of the House congratulate him on his efforts to safeguard British shipowners and shipping? Can he tell us what proportion of world shipping is owned by the countries which he has succeeded in getting together to oppose unreasonable American demands?

The 10 European countries and Japan between them own a great deal more than half the world's shipping. We are opposed to what the Commission is trying to impose on this country. If we can maintain solidarity, and get the Bill passed, we shall be in a much stronger position to resist that pressure.

Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you made a statement about the procedure to be adopted regarding Ministerial statements. You will note that there is no Question before the House now and, therefore, any further discussion will be very limited. In view of the wide range which the Minister has taken today, presumably the Chair would limit the questions of hon. Members who might want to discuss this matter, or question the Minister upon what he has said.

As Ministers have to get your permission before making a statement like this, would it be possible for you to see the statement before you approved it?

Ministers do not have to get permission from me. They have to give me notice of their intention to make a statement, they do not have to get my permission.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the initiative which he has taken. Can he say whether any of the other countries involved are putting through similar legislation?

I am not responsible for them and I cannot anwer that question. I know that a number of European countries have similar legislation.