Orders of the Day — British Shipping (Assistance) Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th July 1939.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr David Maxwell Fyfe Mr David Maxwell Fyfe , Liverpool, West Derby 12:00 am, 19th July 1939

It applies to all liners which choose to make this application to make use of this machinery. The hon. Gentleman said these provisions were very vague. I have now read them and, in fairness to the argument, which I know he wished to present fairly, it is difficult to find more express or more inclusive words to embrace the various problems which meet the shipowner to-day. I want to deal with a point that the hon. Member made on the other aspect of the case. The obligation that is placed on the tramp section of the industry is to continue the operations which were brought into being by the committee which administered the subsidy between 1934 and 1937, and it emphasised again and again that this is an international matter and that the committee must take every step that is possible to investigate the international complications and again report to the Board of Trade. To object to that as a practical method of dealing with the problem of tramp shipping is again to go very far from the actualities of the industry.

I would ask the House whether there are not some conditions which we are all agreed should be attached to any subsidy. One is that there is proof of unfair foreign competition. I ask hon. Members, irrespective of party, with regard, on the one hand, to the trade between India and Japan, where Japan has now, I think, 73 per cent. of the whole trade—63 per cent, of Bombay and 73 per cent. of Calcutta trade, where she had practically none before the War—can anyone say that deliberate national action on the part of Japan can be excluded from that? Can anyone say that deliberate national action—it may be from the most excellent motives—on the part of the Russian Government is not responsible for the fact that so much of our imports from Russia are carried in Russian bottoms? Can anyone say that there was not unfair competition in the American lines in the Pacific? For three years I have been pleading for consideration of that matter.

If that is the position, if unfair competition is established, if it is established that a vital national interest is attacked by that competition and, finally, it guarantees are obtained for the efficient running of the industry to which it is suggested that subsidies should be given, who can object in the present state of the world to that subsidy being put forward at the present time? The hon. Gentleman said he would add a further condition —the exclusion of private gain. I ask him to consider at the moment, dealing with the question, which I know is so much in his mind, that to-day we are short of ships, that, as he knows as well as I do, instead of 196,000 in our Mercantile Marine we have only 161,000, and we have 20,000 fewer fishermen to come into service if war were to start to-morrow, is there not before the House ample evidence of the necessity of swift and immediate assistance being given? I am sure he will allow me to combine with that an appeal for those in the industry who are out of work in Liverpool, which I know so well, and in other ports which hon. Members know just as well, and, tacking on to it the requirements of our national safety and assistance for those who are out of work, I have no shame, but pride and gratification, in supporting this legislation.