Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Irish Sea Freight Charges.

3.

asked the Minister for Transport and Power if, in view of the recent statement by the secretary of the Irish Exporters Association that the Irish Sea is the dearest stretch of water in the world for many exporters of small cargo, he will state the freight charges per ton on the Irish Sea and for comparable distances between the United Kingdom and continental Europe; if he will meet the industrialists concerned; and if he has any plans to remove this obstacle to increased employment.

It is recognised as an inevitable feature of transport generally that charges for small lots are relatively higher than those for large consignments. On the more general question, I have no evidence to support the view that the level of freight charges on the cross-Channel routes is excessive. On the contrary, the information which I do have goes to show that, with the prevailing intensive competition and the rapid adoption of the most up-to-date methods of carrying and handling, rates for industrial goods have fallen. For instance, the B & I Company's average freight earned per ton has fallen by about 20 per cent since 1960. Such a reduction in a period when costs and charges have been increasing is quite remarkable.

Cross-Channel freight charges are now determined solely by competition and by negotiation between the parties concerned and charges vary with the nature of the commodity, the volume and regularity of traffic offered, the mode of transport used and the extent of the fringe services provided. A similar position obtains between Britain and Continental Europe. In these circumstances no valid comparisons on the lines sought by the Deputy are practicable, nor do I accept the sweeping generalisation that "the Irish Sea is the dearest stretch of water in the world".

As regards complaints by industrialists about freight charges, I must draw the Deputy's attention to the existence of the National Shippers Committee which, following a recommendation by the tribunal of inquiry into cross-Channel freight rates, was formed in May, 1960, at my instigation. The Committee's terms of reference include the examination of problems connected with freight rates. Industrialists are represented on the Committee through their associations and the Committee would seem to provide a suitable channel for examining complaints of the type mentioned by the Deputy and, if necessary, discussing them with the shipping companies.