I represented the UK at Transport Council when this was discussed last October. I have also met the European Parliament rapporteur, the hon. Gentleman’s socialist colleague, Knut Fleckenstein. My most recent discussions were on Wednesday this week at the all-party maritime and ports group chaired by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick).
The previous shipping Minister indicated that the Government would be able to use domestic regulation to counter these regulations if they were passed in Europe, but the details of how it would be done remain unclear. Will the Minister reassure us that he has a clear plan of action to protect the UK’s interests and block any regulations that damage port business and threaten workers’ interests in my constituency?
Our position is quite clear: competition between ports is the best way to ensure efficient operation within them. I am pleased that the general approach is better than the Commission’s original proposal. We have the competitive market exemption and more discretion on issues such as pilotage. I would certainly be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss particular issues affecting Port Talbot, which is one of our most important ports.
What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland and what representations has he had from Northern Ireland ports about these regulations? Can he give an assurance that ports will be prevented from having to disclose the commercial information that these regulations will require so that the commercial operations can remain?
I had unanimous support for our position that this is designed to fix a problem that we do not have in the United Kingdom. However, there are problems in other European ports, and cross-channel business and business across other seaways is important to the UK as an exporting nation. It is important to get a reasonable conclusion to these discussions, which I expect to happen under the Dutch presidency next year.