asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been called to the fact that wheat purchased on behalf of the British Government is being brought to this country in Greek ships; whether there is any reason for this step; who carries out the chartering of these vessels; and how many foreign vessels have within the last year been chartered on behalf of the Government for Government work?
In answer to a question by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chertsey (Commander Marsden) on 22nd November, I explained, with regard to the wheat to be shipped from the Danube, that as between 20 and 30 British owners, including owners of ships known to be laid up, were approached, but either had no suitable ships in position or were not anxious to charter them for the Danube trade, it was necessary to obtain foreign tonnage to ensure lifting the wheat before the Danube navigation risks on account of ice became too great.
In that answer I stated that, the most urgent requirements having been covered, chartering was to be confined to British ships. One extra ship was recently found to be required for the Danube. The Government chartering agents tried for several days to obtain a British ship ready to load by the required date, and a direct approach was made to the Chamber of Shipping. It was impossible to obtain a British ship, and it has been necessary to charter one further foreign ship. As regards the Black Sea requirements, where the same considerations of urgency do not apply, no foreign ships have yet been chartered, and British ships will, it is hoped, be able to carry the whole of our requirements. The chartering is being carried out on behalf of the Board of Trade by Messrs. Lambert Brothers. No other foreign vessels have been chartered on behalf of the Government within the last year. The charters for the Defence Services, of which I gave particulars on 22nd November to the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Day), were of British ships. Since the chartering of ships for the Rumanian wheat is still proceeding, it would not be in the public interest to give information as to freight charges.
Was the reluctance of British shipowners to tender for the transport of grain from Rumania attributable to the risks involved in the Mediterranean transport, or was it due to the freight charges?
I think it was due to the fact that it was likely to be a single voyage, and that it was not worth the owners' while, in many cases, if the ship was laid up or out of condition, to accept a charter.