§ 45. Mr. RONALD McNEILL
asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to a circular recently issued by the chairman of the South Metropolitan Gas Company, in which complaint is made that whereas the Government pay from 3s. 6d. to 4s. per ton for steamships requisitioned for Government use, they charge no less than 10s. per ton to traders for the use of interned enemy ships, thus setting a bad example to shipowners, which tends to keep up the price of freights and, consequently, the price of coal to the consumers; if he will say who is responsible for fixing the prices for the use of interned enemy ships; and why the prices are fixed at a higher rate than those paid by the Government for the use of commercial vessels requisitioned for His Majesty's service?
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
I have seen the circular issued by the South Metropolitan Gas Company. The rates of freight charged for the interned steamers are settled for each voyage by the managers at Newcastle with regard to the state of the market at the time, and the managers act tinder general instructions from the Admiralty and Board of Trade to the effect that the rates for the interned steamers are to be below rather than above the market rates and lead the market in a downward direction. It was not considered practicable to follow the procedure laid down for fixing the rates of hire in the case of commercial vessels requisitioned by the Transport Department of the Admiralty.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, as a matter of fact, the figures given in the circular were or were not correct?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
If the circular was intended to convey the impression that 10s. is the rate now being paid for the use 172 of interned steamers carrying coal to London, the circular was incorrect. At one time the rate did average 10s., but it has been much below that for a long time past.