[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of the UK maritime industry.
I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us the opportunity to debate this most important industry today, and I am grateful to see so many colleagues from across the House present. We have probably gone beyond the point in the year where we should be wishing each other a happy new year, but given that today we are on the old new year, I can wish you, Mr Walker, and indeed those residents in parts of my constituency such as Foula, where they still keep the old new year, a happy old new year. I say that because the people of Foula—like, indeed, people in island communities throughout the country—can maintain their lifestyle because of the dedication, commitment and professionalism of seafarers. Without seafarers, we who live in island communities simply could not exist in the way we do. Of course, that is true of the nation as a whole because the United Kingdom is an island nation.
The UK maritime industry faces a number of fairly significant challenges. Those are not new. We have been on a track that has taken us mostly down—occasionally up—for some decades. I will start, however, with a rare piece of good news. Hon. Members will have heard me speak before about the situation pertaining to the arrangements involving Seatruck, which provides the freight ferry to the Northern Isles that serves Orkney and Shetland. It was announced yesterday that Serco, which holds the franchise for the service, and Seatruck, which provides the ferries, have been able to do a deal that guarantees that the ratings on the ferries will be paid the minimum wage at the very least. It remains to be seen whether the collective bargaining agreement between the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and NorthLink for the remainder of that franchised public service will be extended to those ferry services, but the guarantee is at least something to welcome.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he agree that it would be helpful if the shipping Minister were to announce today that the national minimum wage would be paid to all seafarers across the United Kingdom?
It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to hear that I will have a fair bit to say about national minimum wage and national living wage enforcement, because that is something that has come very much to the fore this year. It came to my attention in particular through the detention of the Malaviya Seven in Aberdeen and its sister ship, the Malaviya Twenty, in Great Yarmouth. Those ships have been detained by the International Transport Workers Federation as a result of non-payment of the crew’s wages. The ownership of the ships is being contested—the case is winding its way through the courts. I am afraid I have to say that the willingness of the shipowners in those cases to leave the seafarers they employ effectively destitute does them no credit. Sadly, it does not reflect particularly well on the wider industry, either.
Where we have seen some progress—the Seatruck case—is however perhaps the low-hanging fruit. As I see it, that is just the tip of the iceberg. As we speak here in London, there are non-domiciled seafarers, principally Filipinos, working out of Scottish ports, being paid significantly less than the national minimum wage but still having retained by their employment agents—also domiciled outside the EU and also principally Filipinos, I am told—some 32% of their wages in respect of UK tax and national insurance. In some ways, that illustrates the absurdity and inadequacy of the current enforcement arrangements. If these men are not here working as part of the UK, why are they paying UK taxes? If they are here working as part of the UK, why are they not given the protection offered to other UK employees and workers?
The more I find out, the more it seems that the situation facing many seafarers working on ships that in some cases have not left UK waters effectively for decades is just as bad as the situation that led the previous Labour Government to set up the gangmasters licensing system. It may be that at some point we will have to take a similar approach on the position of seafarers.
I intervene because it is so often the case that there is not sufficient time at the end to answer all the points made in the debate. The right hon. Gentleman is striking a chord with me, with which I have considerable sympathy, as he will know from our work together in the past. We will do more on this—he can be assured of that—and I hope to say a little more about that at the end.
I am immensely grateful to the Minister for that intervention. I know he has a personal and political commitment in this regard and I am delighted that he was able to offer us that assurance again.
This is not just about the treatment of Filipino seafarers; there is also an effect on UK seafarers. First, because of such employment practices, UK seafarers are excluded from employment opportunities that would otherwise be available to them. That also drives down wages for those who are employed. I am told that Stena Line, the largest UK employer of seafarers, cut the hourly rate of pay for ratings employed seasonally—from June to September—from £8.31 to £7.20, which is the minimum wage rate. That is a graphic illustration of the direct impact on UK seafarers.
The situation has a context. For the Government’s purposes, that context is the maritime growth strategy that they commissioned in 2014. That was a good, comprehensive piece of work, and it was welcomed. If anything, it was somewhat overdue, coming the best part of two decades after the previous piece of work had been done. It made a number of recommendations. The most important was that leadership was required from both Government and the industry, including though a more commercial and responsive UK maritime administration within Government and an industry-led promotional body, with more proactive action to replenish and develop the skills needed to maintain our position as a world-leading maritime sector and effective marketing by the industry and Government of what the UK maritime sector has to offer both domestically and internationally to be strengthened.
I could probably do 90 minutes on the maritime growth strategy alone, but in view of the number of others who wish to take part in the debate, I will concentrate on the one aspect that, to my mind, is probably the most significant: training of seafarers. The Minister will know that since the turn of the century, we have had the SMarT—support for maritime training—scheme, which currently holds something in the region of £15 million. The British Chamber of Shipping tells me that it is looking for a doubling of that. I hope the Minister will look at that, because in terms of Government expenditure that is of course a significant ask, but it could bring significant rewards. I hope, though, that when the Minister engages with the industry in respect of that ask, he will not be shy about attaching some strings to any increase in funding.
I am told that a year’s guaranteed employment is on offer for those who are trained as officers under the scheme. That of course would tackle one of the major difficulties that I hear about consistently from constituents who work in the industry: that officers in particular are trained under SMarT scheme funding, but there is no employment for them once they qualify. There has to be a little more detail. We have to do more than simply extend the cliff edge out by one year, so that a situation in which we currently have training followed by no employment does not then become training followed by one year’s employment followed by no employment.
Indeed, and the hon. Gentleman anticipates my next point. Currently within SMarT training, a minuscule proportion of the fund is allocated to the training of ratings, and even that portion is not being taken up by the industry. When the Minister comes to look at the question of SMarT funding and the training scheme that comes under it, it should not be all about officers; it also needs to be about the training of ratings as well, otherwise we are again only seizing the low-hanging fruit.
My constituents have significant concerns not only about the lack of availability of jobs when the training is concluded, but very often about the quality of the training provided for them. I have been told of one constituent who in five months as a cadet officer was able to speak English on his ship only once. Given that we are talking about predominantly young men who are away from home for the first time, the significance of that as a living experience should not be overlooked.
The Minister and the Government really need to look at the roles of the Merchant Navy Training Board and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the lack of joined-up administration between them. We might then see people getting quality training that gets the taxpayer value for the money that they are putting into it. I do not believe there is any shortage of people looking for a career at sea, but there are obvious and significant obstacles being put in their way. The head of UK shipping for Maersk said that it had taken on 34 cadets selected from 936 applications, which illustrates the demand out there for careers in this vital sector.
I want to remind the House what the industry brings to the United Kingdom. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the maritime services sector directly contributes £4.4 billion and 10,000 jobs to the UK economy. Shipping in general produces £11 billion and 113,000 jobs. The Baltic and International Maritime Council’s latest five-yearly report to the International Maritime Organisation states that the worldwide shortage of officers is 16,500, which could rise to 92,000 by 2020. That is the scale of the opportunity ahead of us, as a highly respected maritime nation, if we take the right decisions now for the future of our industry.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak, Mr Walker. I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for securing this Back-Bench debate. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I represent an island. It is well known that the UK is the world’s foremost country for shipping and freight. As some Members might know, the Solent is one of the major gateways for ships coming into the UK. The maritime sector is an issue that lies close to me and my constituents on the Isle of Wight.
Brexit means Brexit. I know that many in the port sector can see direct benefits from leaving the European Union. However, the port services regulation has once again reappeared from the deep, dark corners of the EU institutions. Anyone who has any knowledge about the proposed regulation knows what dangers it poses to our open, competitive and efficient ports sector. I know that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland secured this debate because he believes that the employees in the maritime sector are being exploited, but I think it is important to note the risk to the UK of being tied up in regulations that will substantially damage our thriving maritime industry.
I absolutely agree.
The port services regulation is threatening future investment in the sector as well as jobs. It has been opposed by British port owners, trade unions and Government and Opposition Members. It is unwanted, unworkable and, simply put, unacceptable for the UK. The large dark cloud in the sky relates to whether the UK will be affected by the regulation between now and when we leave the EU.
Today the Minister of State for Transport said at Transport questions:
“we are freed from the clutches of the European Union.”
Before Christmas, the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member, held an evidence session with the Minister. It was then unclear whether the regulation would enter into force before the UK had formally left the EU. It was also unclear whether—heaven forbid—a transitional agreement between the UK and EU might mean that the regulation could apply to us, even though we had left. Is the Minister now saying that these uncertainties are settled, because that does not seem to be the view of the European Scrutiny Committee? Is it possible that the new regulations can commit us before we leave the European Union, and we will then have to change things back?
“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”
So let me utter a few new words. I have opposed the port services regulation since I first heard of it. We will vote against it. We will record our vote against it. When we do so, we will show why. It will take two years, as the hon. Gentleman knows, to come into effect. It is not for me to anticipate when we will leave the European Union, but I want nothing to do with the port services regulation, and I do not want our ports to have anything to do with it either.
I absolutely agree. I am pleased to have that promise. Throughout the referendum I argued that there were many opportunities to be found in the uncertainties that leaving the EU could bring. However, I am not willing to accept the uncertainties that the port services regulation brings. It jeopardises our maritime industry on such a great scale that it must be avoided by all available means. I am fully aware that the Government do not intend to provide a running commentary on ongoing negotiations, but there is one thing we must fight for as we negotiate leaving the EU, which is for the UK to be wholly exempted from the EU’s port services regulation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I was expecting to sum up as the Front-Bench spokesman.
That is fine. I am happy to speak now, so thank you very much, Mr Walker. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing this important debate. I agree with the praise that he has given to seafarers and to the contribution that they make not only to island communities, but to coastal communities in Scotland and around the UK.
The Minister said that the right hon. Gentleman’s comments struck a chord. I hope some of mine will strike a chord as well, and I hope my questions will be answered, although I must give warning that I have many questions, so perhaps saving them might be the best thing to do. This is about the future of the UK maritime industry, and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) said it was about leadership. He is right: the future needs a vision and a plan—for employment, fair conditions, business and safety, as well as to attract young people and, especially, correct the lack of young women in the industry.
To begin with employment and fair conditions, I join the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland in being delighted that there is now an agreement in principle to end the long-running issue about the freight vessel serving the Northern Isles. The new charter basis will allow the wage issue to be resolved and crew members will be paid the minimum wage. The new arrangements come into effect next month, which is to be welcomed. I shall not go through the details, which he covered.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the important question of the number of women employed in the industry, because there is a significant shortage. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) raised the matter of vacancies, training and how much more effort could go into bringing more women into the industry. I have seen in the Humber ports a number of women playing an important and valuable role in the portside industry.
I welcome that comment, and will talk some more about such opportunities.
The wage deal that has been struck adds to the CalMac public sector contractor deal that runs in Scotland; it was named the Living Wage Foundation’s Scottish champion in 2016. Let us be straight about it: fair pay and conditions attract people to the industry and we should support that. All seafarers should have the national minimum wage, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) mentioned. However, while the RMT and Nautilus International have welcomed the actions in Scotland, they have sounded a code blue over the health of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in the UK. They say that it is in crisis over current rates of recruitment and retention:
“In the view of the Maritime unions, it is no exaggeration to say that the MCA is in crisis. At current rates of recruitment and retention it will soon reach the stage where maritime safety is compromised because the regulator simply does not have sufficient number of qualified staff to discharge its core statutory duties, particularly vessel safety surveys and inspections.”
They also say that they are
“disappointed that the Government rejected the Transport Select Committee’s recommendation for ‘an independent review of how the Maritime and Coastguard Agency will successfully take on new responsibilities without a proportionate increase in its resources.’.”
I join them in that disappointment over those opportunities.
While I am talking about the MCA, I want to mention that at the moment it has the final say over ship-to-ship transfers in the Moray firth. I hope that the Minister will take on board the strength of feeling of the communities around the coast in my constituency and those of my colleagues about the order for ship-to-ship, and that he will consider that we have many times called—and still do—for power over that to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
The UK Government will need to get their act together on employment opportunities. According to their own transport figures—this relates to recruitment—more than half of UK seafarers are over 41 years old. Only 3% are women. Women make up only 28% to 30% of uncertified officers and ratings, and the bulk of those jobs are in catering. Men take up almost 100% of the engineering jobs. Brexit will no doubt pose challenges, but we should also consider that a high number of EU nationals are employed. For example, Polish people alone make up 16% of non-UK holders of certificates of equivalent competency for the UK shipping industry.
Things will not be helped, either, by the approach that is taken to looking after cadets. I was involved in trying to arrange the rescue of cadets from the Hanjin Louisiana, when the ship was moored offshore because the company had gone into administration. Four young cadets from Scotland were trapped on board for well over a month, with supplies scarce and not knowing what was going to happen. They were stuck there with limited communication, through email only. The UK Government were slow to get into action and attempt to look after them.
To move on to the maritime sector plan for business, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned, a great deal of the economy is affected by shipping. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) mentioned the complexities that we will face in the future. Peter Karlsen of Norbulk Shipping has said:
“The shipping industry in the UK will view the referendum result negatively, as does most business. It is a potential disruption to trade, movement of goods and labour. We are facing years of complex negotiations to divorce ourselves from the EU.”
“Whether it remains as attractive to foreign investors or entrepreneurs, especially from the EU, to establish and conduct business here is uncertain.”
A lot needs to be done to put confidence into the UK maritime industry.
Of course, there are questions: what is to be done about freedom of movement, migrant workers, a customs union, and rights to operate in domestic trades of EU members who maintain flag-based cabotage restrictions? Will there be slower turnarounds that affect volume? I could go on and talk about employment law and contract. There are many questions but no answers yet and the clock is ticking. Of course in Scotland our preference is to stay in the single market and maintain a customs union. That is what we should do.
I want to conclude with some points about the MCA and safety. There is a long-running issue in the west of Scotland in particular as to emergency towing vessels. Two are required in the north of Scotland. One should be berthed in Stornaway to cover the west coast, the Northern Isles and, in particular, the Minches. We have had near things with the MV Parida, the oil rig the Transocean Winner famously coming to ground off the coast, and even HMS Astute, a nuclear submarine, running aground off Skye. We need to make sure that action will be taken, and there will not be another six years of ignoring communities and their representatives.
I want to finish with some questions. As to the towing vessels, when will the UK Government stop ignoring the needs of the people who work and live in, and know, the west of Scotland, and the many warning incidents that have been racked up, each edging closer to the possibility of a disaster? What lessons will they learn from the Hanjin Louisiana incident, and will they ensure cadets’ rights under the maritime labour convention the next time such an incident occurs? Would they take action or make representations to shipowners and flag states if there was evidence of seafarers being mistreated, or of the contravention of MLC-ILO measures? What plans do they have to tackle the recruitment and retention problem in the MCA? What initiatives are they taking or have they planned with respect to the incredible age and gender imbalance in UK shipping?
I am very pleased to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Walker. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing the debate. I am pleased to follow the Scottish National party’s Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry).
I have a number of shipping connections, although none are required to be included in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. However, it would probably be worth noting that I am a member of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights and co-chair with Lord Greenway of the all-party maritime and ports group. I was Shipping Minister from 2007 to 2009 and am a younger brother at Trinity House, whose royal charter dates back 500 years and which has a statutory duty as the UK’s general lighthouse authority. It is ably led at present by the excellent Captain Ian McNaught, the deputy master.
I know that the Minister is visiting Harwich in February. Trinity House keenly anticipates his visit. The organisation is undertaking a fleet review process at the moment. The Minister knows how important it is to have proper assets around our shores to carry out not only the statutory work but the emergency work of the lighthouse authority, to mitigate the risk of disaster in our waters. The visit will be most welcome. I hope that it is locked into the Minister’s diary and that parliamentary business will not get in its way.
My final shipping connection—apart from having been born in the great shipbuilding city of Glasgow—is that my previous constituency of Poplar and Canning Town, as well as my present one of Poplar and Limehouse, contained the first purpose-built docks in London and were a key part of London’s docklands for centuries. Much of it is now occupied by the Canary Wharf estate, which is important to our modern economy as the docks used to be.
Apart from the importance of the role and wellbeing of the general lighthouse authority, I will make two points, neither of which will be of any surprise to the Minister. First, the UK Chamber of Shipping has set out in its “Blueprint for Growth” after Brexit—I am sure the Minister has read it—six key points that it believes are necessary to ensure a bright future for the UK’s shipping industry: preserving the existing ease of doing business—Dover is one port that has made representations about the problems and disruption that border controls and customs changes could have—ensuring business has access to the world’s brightest talent, as already mentioned by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland; reforming domestic maritime policy to put the UK on the best possible footing; promoting the red ensign, and hence the UK register; ensuing a visa regime that works; and tonnage tax flexibility.
Part of the blueprint is the Chamber of Shipping’s campaign to help create thousands of jobs in shipping through the SMarT Plus scheme that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, which is supported by Nautilus UK, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and others. The Minister knows that the industry trains around 800 cadets every year, although the Chamber estimates that that could be 1,200 if shipowners committed to employing cadets after training. Some, such as Shell and Carnival UK, have already done so.
The Chamber of Shipping’s figures make positive arguments. First, in the ‘90s SMarT money covered around 50% of training costs; it is now a third. Secondly, the economic value of a seafarer to the UK economy is about £58,000, which is up to £17,500 higher than the national average. Thirdly, it concludes that the Government’s £15 million investment delivers a £70 million annual yield that could be scaled up significantly; we have the candidates and the industry needs good-quality trainees. Increasing that investment would be a win-win for the UK and for shipping, both internationally and domestically.
Last year the former Lord Mayor of London, Lord Jeffrey Mountevans, championed all matters maritime, ports and shipping, given his personal and professional connection to the industry. I know the Minister attended many events with the Lord Mayor, so I need not remind him of those campaigns, but I would be grateful for his comments on them.
The Minister has a good standing within UK shipping. He was previously the Shipping Minister and knows the industry well—and the industry knows him. I know he is also aware of the various welfare organisations, such as Seafarers UK, the Mission to Seafarers, the Apostleship of the Sea and the International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network, among others. I hope that he will commit to continuing to work with and support their efforts in looking after seafarers.
If he is still Shipping Minister in September—I certainly hope he will be—it will be great to welcome the Minister to attend the Merchant Navy Day memorial service on 3 September at Tower Hill; I am not an organiser, but it is taking place in my constituency. The national memorial commemorates the tens of thousands of merchant mariners who died in the first and second world wars and the Falklands war. For their families, there are no graves to visit; that is their loved one’s resting place.
In conclusion, shipping moves 95% of the country’s international trade and supports 250,000 jobs. It is a vital industry that, because it is now mostly conducted at huge container ports on our coastline, is invisible to the majority of the population. That does not mean it is less important, but the opposite. The lack of public awareness means that Government recognition is absolutely essential. I look forward to the Minister confirming that it will continue to receive that recognition.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing this debate on such an important subject. I declare an interest as the honorary vice president of the Society of Maritime Industries.
It is not as widely recognised as it should be that maritime industries are a key sector in the United Kingdom. The maritime sector gets less attention and, arguably, less Government support than aerospace, despite being a bigger contributor to the UK economy and a sector that creates high-skilled jobs and employees. The right hon. Gentleman has already given us all of the figures.
I pay tribute to employers, such as BAE Systems in my constituency, whose trade union I meet regularly, and which is taking on a further 50 apprentices in 2017 in its maritime operations in Portsmouth, after taking on 82 last year. There are others nearby, such as Lockheed Martin, which is active in the naval defence sector and recruits from Portsmouth schools and colleges. A university technical college is opening in the area in September, which is heavily supported by leading local businesses and the Royal Navy, and will focus on maritime engineering. I hope that everyone in Portsmouth will back that great initiative and make it a big success.
I welcome the announcement to draw up the national shipbuilding strategy. I read Sir John Parker’s report with great interest and I am pleased with the amount of detail in it. He is right to recommend that we use the Type 31 programme to maintain capability away from the Clydeside, and so avoid putting all of our eggs in one basket. That will mean that the Type 31s can be built while the Type 26 programme is ongoing in Glasgow. I called for that in the House last year, and I hope that the Ministry of Defence will follow up on that suggestion. It is vital that we get this right when the Government respond to Sir John in the coming months.
Given the growing uncertainty in the world, it makes sense to get on now with the commitment in the 2015 strategic defence and security review to expand the basic number of ships available beyond the 19 at frigate and destroyer level, which is already a bare minimum. Of course, I would like some of the Type 31 work to come to Portsmouth, but whatever happens, I pay tribute to the staff in our naval base, who still carry out vital skilled work in ship repair. Minehunter refit work is going on in the ship hall, which HMS Quorn and HMS Atherstone have recently entered. Work is being completed on HMS Brocklesby before it returns to service later in the year. That work is less high profile than that which is being done to bring our new aircraft carriers into service, but it is no less important; every part of the Royal Navy, and the industrial sector that supports it, plays a vital role.
Portsmouth is a vital civilian port, too. We import 70% of the UK’s bananas, which is no joking matter as it is a trade worth millions to our port. The long and difficult history of banana tariffs ought to be a warning sign of the complexity of trade deals post-Brexit; it might make life easier, but it might not. As a ferry port, we are the second busiest cross-channel port after Dover. When I hear news about disputes causing delays to people getting into Dover, which seems to be frequently, I often think that Portsmouth is open as a port, and that travellers could avoid a lot of heartache by travelling with us. Anyone who wants an easy, reliable and friendly way to the continent should look no further than Portsmouth.
While I am pleased to see initiatives, such as the national shipbuilding strategy and the maritime growth study, we have to make sure that Government support is sustained. This vital, strategic industry must be protected in the coming uncertain years. I look forward to the Government’s committing to that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I note what you said about my having five minutes to speak; I was rather hoping to have a minute for each year that I served as a merchant seafarer, which was 17—but that would be pushing it.
I do not have as illustrious a list as the former Shipping Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), but I want to declare an interest on the record as a vice president of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. I pay tribute to the lifeboats, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and all of the volunteers who keep our seas and coastlines safe. I am also a former member of the National Union of Seamen. I think I am the only Member here who speaks as a former member of both NUSs; I was a member of the students’ union and the seafarers’ union, which then became part of the RMT. That was a pleasure.
I will concentrate my remarks on some of the issues raised by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) who initiated the debate, of which I am proud to be a co-sponsor. He is right to talk about the pay discrimination that exists in the United Kingdom’s coastal waters. On the route to Ireland from my port community of Holyhead, there are Irish shipping companies—members of the European Union—that pay less than the minimum wage. I have an awful lot of respect for the Minister. I will come on to energy issues in a minute; we work together on a number of issues. He will be as disappointed as I am to know that people are paid below the minimum wage in British coastal waters.
I will move on to the value of port communities to United Kingdom plc and our economy. Some 120 commercial ports in the UK deal with 95% of the exports and imports of our island community of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is difficult to quantify the number of related jobs, but I wanted to talk about some joined-up thinking—and I know that the Minister will concentrate on this. We want a transport system in this country that is fully integrated for road, rail, sea and air. Ports provide a huge catalyst for jobs in their communities. They provide more than 100,000 jobs in the port communities of Britain.
As a red duster man, my hon. Friend knows what it is to go down to the sea in ships. He has my respect for that. He mentioned Northern Ireland. I am keen to ensure that this debate does not exclude the reality of the situation in Northern Ireland, where in ports such as Kilkeel in South Down and Strangford we have a real recruitment problem. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be appropriate for the Minister to liaise with the Administration—which I hope pertains—in Northern Ireland over non-devolved matters relating to maritime training?
Absolutely. I am sure that the Minister will pass that on to his colleague in the Northern Ireland Office.
My hon. Friend mentions Northern Ireland. Related to the issues I want to talk about is the potential for energy development in our country. The ports are key to that. In Belfast, for example, there is DONG Energy, which has a big operation with the offshore wind sector. I was pleased to hear the announcement today from the Government about the Swansea bay tidal project. We need to be training highly skilled seafarers to do the support vessel work that is needed around our country. Our coastal communities also depend on growing leisure and tourism, with millions of pounds of revenue and potential future revenue. We need safe training for people to go out in ships, whether on the coast or in the deep water sector.
I want to link ports with not only wind but the potential for tidal energy. We have an opportunity to be pioneers. As an island community, we have regular tides that come in very predictably, and we need to tap into that. When we talk about these projects, it is about not only the location they will be in but the whole maritime industry of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
This industry creates vital jobs in communities. My own port community of Holyhead is the busiest seafaring port on the western seaboard. I will stray slightly into Brexit. I am concerned, as people who live in the communities on the west coast and the gateways into Wales and the United Kingdom from Ireland are, that this issue has not had sufficient attention. We talk about the important land border, but there are sea borders as well. I do not want to see additional barriers on Welsh ports and British ports if we go for full Brexit.
We need a common travel arrangement. We need arrangements between the communities of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, so that we have a strong maritime industry and so that businesses that are dependent on our ports know there will be no additional costs. We need to continue to generate that revenue for the future.
I know we are short on time; I would have taken 17 minutes if you had allowed me, Mr Walker. British seafarers are the best seafarers in the world. They should have proper training facilities and proper wages that reflect our proud history and the potential for a proud future.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Walker. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for securing this timely debate.
Wales exported £11.8 billion-worth of goods last year —an increase of £31 million from the previous year. As a net exporter, Wales’s economic, social and security interests depend on a resilient maritime industry. With 53.7 million tonnes of goods passing through Welsh ports annually, a thriving maritime industry is an essential mechanism for the workings of our economy.
A range of concerns need to be addressed to ensure that a healthy maritime industry is able to flourish, but I will focus my comments on two issues. As the proud mother of a female seafarer, I will discuss the current situation for women in the industry. I will then move on to discuss something that is equally important, given that I am the mother of a female seafarer, which is the safety issues faced by those working in the maritime sector.
Like other Members, I had quite a bit prepared about training. Women have been mentioned as an underused resource in the maritime industry. I will concentrate my comments on women. We need to look at barriers holding women back from entering this sector as a career prospect. I propose that we look at what is preventing them from not only looking at this area but gaining the certificates for higher salaried and higher status jobs. I propose that the Minister considers within that issues related to the facilities on board for female crew members; safety for women in seafaring, including internationally; attitudes towards women; and careers advice for women.
I will rush ahead, because time is of the essence, to the issue of safety. The £38 million of cuts faced by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency last year, coupled with pressure from shipowners who demand a more commercially friendly safety regime, risks jeopardising the lives of British seafarers. The International Transport Workers’ Federation estimates that 2,000 seafarers lose their lives working at sea every year. I estimate that the number is higher than that, but that is what is recorded.
I would like to highlight the case of six Russian crew members who lost their lives on 27 November 2011 when the 34-year-old general cargo ship the Swanland registered in the Cook Islands sank in the Irish sea, 12 miles off Pen Llyn. The 300-hour search and rescue operation demanded that the courageous RNLI volunteer crews of Porthdinllaen, Abersoch, Trearddur bay and Holyhead were called out in atrocious weather conditions. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch’s investigation into the wreck of the Swanland found that maintenance and repair had lacked focus and oversight, and that the cargo of limestone was loaded dangerously.
There is, of course, a great deal of good practice in the industry too. The RNLI has done excellent work in recent years with the man overboard guardian system for commercial fishermen.
Forgive me, but my daughter is also one of the crew at Porthdinllaen, along with three others; they are an increasing number. I pay tribute to Mike Davis, the cox of Porthdinllaen, who has been outstanding in encouraging young women to join the RNLI.
The RNLI’s latest campaign, in partnership with the Welsh Fishing Safety Committee, will promote the general use of personal locator beacons on lifejackets, which alert rescue services within one minute of a seafarer going into the sea. That has potential for rescuing people and, of course, in tragic incidents where seafarers die, it enables families to recover the bodies of their loved ones. That is a very important initiative, and we should support it. That initiative and many like it increase crew safety and save lives, and the RNLI is to be congratulated for the wide-ranging work the charity does.
It is crucial for the safety of the thousands of men and women who dedicate their lives to work at sea that we do not allow UK shipping companies, or indeed others, to erode safety regulations once the UK leaves the European Union. We must ensure that safety standards are not only upheld but updated and strengthened, to ensure that the lives of seafarers are protected. I therefore call on the Minister to review the issues I have outlined and commit to making the UK shipping industry more diverse, safer and fairer for all those who work at sea.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, and to follow the excellent speech by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who led the debate. Much of what I was going to say has been said, but perhaps in different words.
I speak as a member of the RMT group of MPs. What I will say is largely informed by what the RMT thinks, with which I agree. I urge the Minister to ensure that he consults on all occasions and on all matters with the trade unions properly, including not only the RMT but Nautilus International—I have its excellent “Charter for Jobs” report with me.
There are serious concerns about the declining number of UK seafarers, which has fallen by 60% since 1982. The number of ratings has fallen by 25% in just the past five years, so there is undoubtedly a problem with not only the seafarers concerned but the young people who we should be recruiting and training to be the next generation of seafarers.
It is a matter of national security to have a substantial and sufficient body of seafarers who are UK nationals, home-grown and home-based, and whose personal loyalties are to the UK. That is not in any way to denigrate foreign workers; nevertheless, it is significant to have a majority and a large body of home-grown seafarers whose primary loyalty is, naturally, to their own country. The major factor in that decline has been the employment of foreign nationals from poorer areas of the world, who are often paid pitifully low wages, which has been driving down wages and terms and conditions across the maritime sector. Employers are effectively discriminating against and exploiting foreign workers, as well as undermining the jobs market for British seafarers.
These concerns were taken up in the independent Carter review, which concluded that such discrimination must be outlawed and that the then Government—the previous Labour Government—should commit to a timetable for achieving that. The RMT remains committed, and rightly so, to the enforcement of the minimum wage for all seafarers, which should be just what it says: a minimum, not the normal pay for all. Properly negotiated pay rights for UK seafarers would be higher than that, but the minimum wage would at least provide a basic wage for all seafarers. The unions are urging the Government to form a working group to look at reform of the visa and work permit system as it applies to the UK shipping industry.
Proper training is necessary for UK ratings, supported by public funding and with proper marine apprenticeships. The new Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships should be designed and built in the UK to supply the UK market. Rebuilding a British shipbuilding industry would be a very good idea.
Employers will no doubt complain about the excessive cost of higher pay, safety, security, training and so on, but labour costs for shipping are a small proportion of the total cost and amount to between 2% and 3% of the total cost. Providing good and proper pay with proper training and security for all workers would not add massively to overall shipping costs. It is time to listen to seafarers and their representatives to make sure there are sufficient UK seafarers for our long-term shipping needs and for national security. They should all be properly paid, properly trained and kept safe in their work. Government action is necessary to ensure that happens.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing this debate.
I thought I would take only a moment or two to discuss seafarers, but the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) goaded me with her interpretation of the national shipbuilding strategy, so I will say something about that, although I doubt whether I will take five minutes.
On the principal issue of seafarers and the national minimum wage, I welcome the Minister’s remark that a chord has been struck. I want to take this opportunity to applaud the actions of the Scottish Government, in particular the Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf, who shares a constituency office with me. He knows that I have been on at him about this issue for a while. It is good that a deal seems to have been secured, or at least an agreement in principle, that will ensure that the services operated by Seatruck, which is contracted by Serco Northlink, will now pay its employees the national minimum wage. Many of us in the House today have been concerned about the ill treatment of workers in the maritime industry.
Representatives from various agencies deserve great credit for working hard to find a solution to a complicated situation, including Transport Scotland. I have not been a fan of Transport Scotland for many years, because I was a trade union activist who had to deal with it when I was employed by Glasgow city council. This is a rare occasion when I applaud it for dealing with the matter.
It was manifestly disgraceful that seafarers were being paid as little as £4 an hour—I think the actual figure was £3.66 an hour. I hope the Minister will announce a legislative timetable for ending pay discrimination in the UK shipping industry, which the RMT union has called for and which the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) emphasised. It is not right that shipowners have been cutting the wage bill because they can discriminate against seafarers by paying them less than the statutory minimum wage.
If practices that we have heard about today took place on dry land, the enforcement agencies would be acting almost immediately. I hope the Minister will tell us what discussions are taking place with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to address the situation and ensure adequate enforcement, because the out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude must be replaced with action.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth South goaded me with her comments about the national shipbuilding strategy, which contrasted with the excellent remarks by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who, like me, is proud that he was born in the great city of Glasgow, the home of world shipbuilding.
Sir John Parker’s report does not say that shipbuilding should be moved from elsewhere; it caveats that position. There is a flaw in the report where it says that different ships and different Navy ships have been built concurrently on the Clyde. That was the case with the Irish shipbuilders, where my father worked when they were building ships for the Royal Navy and the Malaysian Navy at the same time.
There is shipbuilding on the Clyde because of the tenacious campaigning by the trade union movement over decades to ensure work on the Clyde. I hope we will continue to build ships there because we are the best shipbuilders in the world.
It is always an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I declare an indirect interest, because if I did not, I suspect my father would be upset with me. For more than 30 years he was a full-time trade union officer for the National Union of Seamen, which is the maritime branch of the RMT. I am a member of the RMT parliamentary group and a very proud member at that.
It is scandalous that we have this problem. The number of UK seafarers has fallen by a whopping 60% since 1982. This is not an issue that has only just come about; it has been an historical issue. However, the number of UK ratings has fallen by a further 25% since 2011 and now stands at about 8,800.
Pay discrimination is outrageous, but before talking about that, I will talk about people coming into the industry without being trained. That is scandalous, especially when we have a deal under the tonnage tax, the SMarT scheme—the support for maritime training scheme—which makes it a requirement for companies to train ratings and officers, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) mentioned. It is scandalous that we are not doing anything about that.
Since coming to this place in 2010, I think I have met every Shipping Minister, along with Steve Todd, the senior assistant general secretary of the RMT, and on one occasion the then general secretary, Bob Crow. Shipping Ministers always say, “Yes, this is an issue. We’re going to deal with it,” but they do not deal with the problem. It is not even party political. Although the previous Labour Government at least commissioned the independent Carter review, I am ashamed to say that we did not do anything about a timetable to implement its recommendations. That was scandalous. I am not being party political, because we have to be honest. It is time for the Government to act.
The situation in my constituency is just grotesque. P&O North sea ferries run out of my constituency in east Hull, with a hugely declining number of UK ratings. The company is paying £4.70 an hour to Spanish and Portuguese seafarers, more than 300 of whom are employed on those routes, although the minimum wage is £7.20 an hour. That is scandalous. When I speak to the company about the situation, it tells me that it is not making much profit. Well, as my father always reminds me, we do not see many skint shipowners. [Interruption.] The Minister is wondering what I said: I said “skint”. I am told that shipowners do not have much money, but I think that the opposite is true. The reality is that there are an awful lot of unemployed seafarers in my constituency, people who are keen to be employed, but there are not many skint shipowners.
In the short time that I have left, I want to just mention that we are doing great things in Hull. Siemens is investing in offshore wind, and Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, has written to the Health and Safety Executive to raise the issue that some employers are looking particularly for seafarers to go into the industry. We therefore have a real opportunity to do something about this now. We hope that a cruise terminal will be opened in 2022. We will need more seafarers to manage that terminal—I nearly said to “man” it, and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) would have been unimpressed if I had. Let us just get on with it and deal with the issue. The situation is scandalous. It needs sorting out.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for initiating the debate. I confess that before my election, I had little real knowledge of the modern industry, but I have been steadily learning from my contacts and visits to Forth Ports Grangemouth. I have also attended trips on to ships with the local seafarers mission, which I cannot praise enough for doing such a fantastic job in supporting workers, and I have had talks with and briefings from the RMT and Nautilus, as well as haulage contractors in my area. I am grateful to all those bodies for assisting me during the past 18 months.
Grangemouth is of course Scotland’s largest container port. It is also Scotland’s largest port, with the site covering 386 acres. Grangemouth lies at the centre of Scotland’s industrial heartland. It is situated midway between the main Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and is served by the M9 motorway, with links to the national motorway network, and is also well rail-linked.
Approximately 9 million tonnes of cargo are handled through the dock facilities each year. With about 150,000 containers and as much as 30% of Scotland’s GDP going through the port, it is the UK’s largest feeder port and the only one that exports more than it imports. Locally, Forth Ports employs some 200 people within the port and supports a further 1,000 jobs within the port estate. Therefore, the industry’s significance to my constituency cannot be overstated, although it may often be overlooked by those driving past the gates.
Almost no topic can be debated nowadays without some reference to the issues surrounding Brexit, and this debate is no exception. The maritime industry plays a major role in helping to facilitate the wider freedom of trade in goods. Given the volumes and patterns of freight, leaving the EU will have implications for the shipping sector. One specific concern is about UK flag ships losing their right to operate in the domestic trades of those EU member states that maintain flag-based cabotage restrictions. The economists Oxera have said that changes to the costs of trade with the EU are
“likely to affect the volumes and patterns of freight activity at ports, while the need for new customs checks on imports and exports is likely to cause considerable congestion at UK and mainland European ports.”
Given the nature of the work at Grangemouth, that is a real concern, although any negative impact could clearly be mitigated through European economic area membership or free trade agreements. The industry’s importance to our countries’ ability to trade worldwide and not just with Europe is key, especially with more than 90% of all trade being handled through our ports. Given that we are an island nation, that is not likely to change, but it leads to questions about how it is done and the role of seafarers, without whom that trade just would not be possible.
The role of seafarers is perhaps the most concerning aspect of the maritime industry. Since 2011, the number of UK ratings has declined by 25%, while the number of UK seafarers has decreased by some 13%. That portends a very serious risk of loss of skills and may even threaten the viability of our home-grown industry, unless training and employment rates improve significantly. That skills deficit is set to be compounded further by future retirals of an increasingly ageing workforce. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the work of the RMT and its SOS 2020 campaign to highlight that threat to the UK seafarers skills base.
While we face that decline in skilled seafarers, there is in fact a global surplus of ratings, with many of the ratings in the international shipping industry coming from cheaper-wage economies. That is compounded by exploitative practices by some operators, which abuse the complexities of the national minimum wage regulations and pay scandalous rates of pay to some seafarers. That has been much commented on today, so I will just add my disappointment that many seafarers are not receiving a fair wage. Confusion and complexity surrounding the NMW needs to be addressed by the Government. In particular, the meaning of the term “ordinarily working in the UK” needs to be made crystal clear. I would welcome hearing from the Minister how that can best be achieved and how the situation whereby there are current cases of two people working on the same ship and doing the same job but being paid different amounts based largely on nationality can be addressed.
My trade union contacts have flagged up with me the following issue, which highlights the point succinctly and demonstrates the international dimension. The Norwegian international flag register is the second register for Norway. It is not allowed to cabotage in Norway and does not pay tax there. I am told that these ships are among the worst offenders. The majority of these ships operating from Aberdeen stay in the UK permanently, with some not having left for more than 10 years. They have on board Norwegian nationals who receive Norwegian rates of pay, but non-Norwegians are employed on what has been described to me as “peanuts”. The fact that such issues can be so clearly identified must mean that solutions are not beyond conception. I look forward to the Minister’s summing-up.
Thank you very much, colleagues, for your conciseness and your co-operation. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) could have had two minutes, but she would prefer to ask the Minister a question. It will obviously be up to the Minister to decide whether to take that intervention, but I know that the hon. Lady would like to ask a question as opposed to making a speech. The Front Benchers will have 11 minutes each, which will allow the mover of the motion to have two minutes at the end.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. This has been a very full debate, with many important contributions. I pay particular tribute to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for securing the debate. I was going to say that Opposition Members welcome it, but judging by the tone of the debate as a whole, I think it is welcomed right across the House, and I look forward to what the Minister will have to say at the end.
I would like first to give credit where it is due. I very rarely give credit to the Scottish Government, but I will on this occasion. I welcome the announcement by the Scottish Government of changes to the charter agreement for the two Seatruck vessels operating between Aberdeen, Shetland and the Orkneys.
However, I have to be fair: we have heard a lot about maritime companies paying less than the national minimum wage. On Scotland’s only commercial maritime freight link to the continent, the hourly rate paid to Lithuanian seafarers can be as low as £1.64. Justifiably, we get angry when we hear about modern-day slavery on ships in the far east harvesting prawns, but we are prepared to see £1.64 an hour paid within our own waters, so I think that although a great job has been done, there is much more to do.
I am simply pointing out that the company is operating in our waters and that we need collectively to do something about it.
We are an island nation, a net importer, and we are now leaving the European Union. We have the largest port sector in Europe in terms of tonnage handled and, as has been said, we have millions of ferry passengers every year. Our economic, social and security interests will depend more than at any time since the second world war on seafarers and a resilient UK maritime skills base. It is probably worth putting this in context. At the time of the Falklands war in 1982, the UK had a strong merchant naval sector; we employed 58,000 UK seafarers. That figure has now shrunk by almost 60% to 23,000. That is the context in which we are working.
Sub-national minimum wages continue to blight the lives of seafarers working on UK domestic and short sea journeys. I have seen figures alleging that at least eight operators along 11 short sea routes to and from the UK are underpaying more than 800 crew. In my own area, on ships crossing from Newcastle to Amsterdam, DFDS pays its staff £2.93 an hour—less than £3. I took a recent weekend trip to Amsterdam, which I really enjoyed, but quite honestly, if I had known that—well, I feel really uncomfortable about it. As a result of this debate, I will be writing to DFDS and other companies to say that it is simply not acceptable.
At present, passengers and businesses are travelling on Condor Ferries to the Channel Islands on vessels crewed by seafarers earning as little as £2.40 an hour. On freight-only ships, the pay is as low as £1.64 an hour. That is not acceptable. Prior to the national living wage increase for over-24s last April, it was estimated that 8,300 ratings were working the UK shipping industry for rates of pay below the national minimum wage. That was in April last year; the figure is now considerably higher than 8,300. Increasingly, companies are recruiting outside the UK to crew their ships with non-UK seafarers, particularly ratings, in order to profit from these sub-national minimum wage rates.
This is not a new problem. It has to be said that this goes well beyond the current Government. Beyond the simple injustices, we can see the cost of not having acted in the past. This legalised exploitation has systematically undermined maritime jobs in the UK, damaged the skill base and driven up unemployment rates in seafarer communities across the UK. Since 2011 alone, the number of UK ratings has fallen by 25%. If we end the pay exploitation in shipping, we can help to reverse the decline of our merchant navy. This need not be a party political issue, but one of sense, fairness and humanity.
There are three points that I would like the Minister to take forward from this debate. First, he has already committed to review the application of pay legislation across the shipping industry imminently. However, as we have already heard, that has already happened—the Carter review did it—so this is just a case of setting a timeframe and getting it implemented. Secondly, can the Minister give a date for when we can expect publication of updated guidance to HMRC on enforcement of the national minimum wage for seafarers? Thirdly, when will he publish the outcomes of the review of the existing protections in part 5 of the Equality Act 2010 against nationality-based pay discrimination for seafarers? That work was completed in April last year, yet 10 months later it has still not been published.
However, as we have heard, pay is only part of the problem and part of the solution. More than 70% of deck and 74% of engine ratings are now aged over 40. We are heading for a shortfall in trained and skilled seafarers. If we take no action, that will be filled by non-UK staff. The Select Committee on Transport warned over two years ago that the Government needed to act on funding, on approved standards for maritime apprenticeships, on the take-up of apprenticeships in the industry, on setting annual statutory targets for seafarer training and on including the number of trainee ratings in annual seafarer statistics. We would like to know from the Minister when we will get some action on that.
One area of maritime growth where the Government have not dragged their feet is on the recommendations to make the UK shipping register more commercially responsive, in the form of a Government corporation. I would gently point out to the Minister some other areas where this and former Governments have rushed to privatise—the rail industry, the energy industry and the water industry come to mind. Recent attitude polls among the electorate now show that the majority of our constituents—in some cases over 90%—want to see those decisions reversed, because they see formerly Government-owned, privatised industries making massive profits, but customers paying massive bills and getting a poor service. I would gently ask the Minister whether he will properly and carefully consider the costs and benefits of transforming the UK shipping register, fully consider all the options and also promise that this House will be given time to scrutinise those options?
Before closing, I wish to press the Minister on leaving the EU. At the moment we know nothing about the Government’s wider maritime priorities, at a time when we need a clear direction on maritime issues that would inform the Brexit negotiations. How will any changes to the single market affect shipping and seafarers? Will there be customs checks? Will there be tariffs? Is his Department feeding into the Brexit negotiations on these matters? If it is, will he tell us how?
In closing, I hope the Minister can elaborate on his Government’s plans for Brexit, or at least recognise that maritime is an exceptional issue that needs to take precedence. He must also assure the House about the future of the shipping register, along with the timeframe and process for any reforms. Will he outline his priorities for seafarer training and skills, and say whether he will set targets for recruitment? Finally, I look forward to him addressing the key point to come out of this debate about seafarer pay and conditions.
With great pleasure, Mr Walker. As I looked around the Chamber during this debate, I felt spoiled for choice because so many of my favourites are here. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) springs to mind, as does the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner), the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and, not least, yourself, Mr Walker.
Among those favourites stands proud today the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who introduced the debate. He worked with me in Government and I know that he cares as passionately as I do about this subject—unsurprisingly, given the people he represents. When he introduced the debate he was right to emphasise the significance of the maritime sector to our economy, as well as to his constituents. The sector contributes £13 billion to the United Kingdom. It supports more than 100,000 jobs in thousands of different businesses. Just as much as that, and perhaps more, it is an area in which Britain—indeed, the United Kingdom—stands proud, because the quality of what we do in the sector is world renowned and widely admired across a range of services.
As has been said repeatedly, this is not the first time that I have done this job; it is my second visit to the Department for Transport as Shipping Minister. By the way, all ministerial jobs are visits—no more than that—as it is very important to recognise. None the less, when I was there the first time I initiated the maritime growth study to which the right hon. Gentleman and others have referred. He was very generous about it too, if I might say so. The reason for the study is that it seemed really important that we had a stocktake of our maritime circumstances and our maritime future. However, since then we have had the debate on the European Union. I will not digress by saying that the result was, for me, a dream come true, but it certainly changes our maritime future. It is therefore important that we review that growth study. I have put into place a stocktake of the study itself, which is currently taking place, so that we can consider its very helpful recommendations in the context of Brexit.
I just share it widely. On the point about embracing that opportunity, as he sees it, the Minister will be aware that the Humber is the UK’s busiest trading port. That is something that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) will be equally as proud of as I am. It really is critical to hundreds of directly employed jobs and thousands of indirectly employed jobs as well. There is a sense that ports and maritime have been somewhat left behind in the past. Is part of this opportunity about putting ports at the heart of industrial strategy for the UK going forward?
Yes, that is a very well made point. The hon. Lady is right to say that we perhaps understated the significance of the maritime sector. This is a point that the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for maritime and ports and former Shipping Minister, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, made in his contribution and has made previously. Part of the role of the Shipping Minister is to champion the sector; to speak loudly and repeatedly about its significance. The hon. Lady is right that it does not just affect the places where our ports are situated; it affects the whole of our economy. Some 95% of the goods that we purchase from abroad, and the things that we send to foreign countries, go through our ports. As the representative for Grimsby, she will know how important that is.
I was a bit disappointed that I was not listed among the Minister’s friends earlier on. There is a serious point that I want him to answer. Now that we have talk of an industrial strategy, will the Minister, who is in the Department for Transport, liaise with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that both Departments know about this so that we have joined-up thinking when we talk about ports being the catalyst?
We are already doing that, but these debates must have a purpose, so I reassure the hon. Gentleman that I will personally meet Ministers on exactly the issue he has raised, and in the fashion that he has described. It is important that the industrial strategy takes full account of the significance of the maritime sector, as has been said. As he spoke earlier I thought to myself for a moment, given our great history, that he has forgotten more about energy than I have ever known, but then I thought, as a former Energy Minister, that was a tad too self-deprecating.
Let me highlight the key issues that have been raised, which fall into the following categories. First, there is the maritime growth study, which I have mentioned. That was a very important piece of work and I am immensely grateful to Lord Mountevans for leading it and to others who took part. It provided a series of recommendations that will inform future policy, but as he and others acknowledged, it must be a living document. The great risk with such exercises is that the document is published, the work is done, there is a great furore around its publication and then a year later people think, “What on earth was that study?” In order to give the document continuing relevance, it needs to be regularly updated, which is precisely what I am doing through the work I just described.
The points made about the flag—as highlighted by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass)—and tonnage tax should be pertinent to that review of the study. We can do more with tonnage tax, particularly on recruitment and training, and we need to do more, as has been acknowledged by the Government and those with whom we work, to make the flag more attractive. There has to be an offer in respect of the register that goes beyond simply raising the flag and includes a range of services that we can provide to make it more attractive. We are committed to that.
Secondly, the issue of ports was raised. We may have emphasised ports insufficiently. At the risk of adding contumely to our affairs, I disagreed to some degree with the Opposition spokesman on this issue; the ports are perhaps the best example of how private organisations investing heavily, being responsive to changing circumstances and being very efficient and competitive, compared with their European counterparts, can make a significant difference to the sector. The fact that we have private organisations—not wholly, but for the most part—running our ports is testament to what can be done when private and public interests coincide.
However, we should not be complacent. The shadow Minister is right that we need to look at the new challenges that our ports face, because they work in an extremely dynamic sector and more can be done to support them. We certainly should not have the port services regulation. As I made perfectly clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, we will not have it as we do not want it and will fight it at every opportunity.
The third issue that was raised was skills and recruitment. I share almost all the views that permeated—indeed coloured—this debate, begun by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. I think that we are doing too little on recruitment and that we need to do more on skills. As Members will know, I was the apprenticeships Minister when the coalition Government first came into office. I am proud of our work on revitalising apprenticeships, but I take the point that was made. More can be done, and in my discussions on the industrial strategy I will raise the continuing importance of training in this sector. We need to recruit and train more British seafarers. It is as simple as that. Throughout this short debate Members have made the point that there has to be a career path for those seafarers. It is not enough simply to recruit people at different levels; there has to be a career path so that people can build their life in seafaring. That is a good thing and something of which we should be proud.
The Minister made two interventions on earlier speakers, and I am really pleased that he has now taken two interventions from me. Sea cadet units across the United Kingdom were a fertile breeding ground for people for both the merchant navy and the Royal Navy. Will he do more to train youngsters up in those facilities? He will also be aware of early-day motion 516, which has been suggested by the unions. Will he work with the unions and others to ensure that we have a proper campaign for skills and safety at sea?
Indeed I will. I recently held a roundtable meeting, which the unions attended, on precisely those matters. I have discussed recruitment with the trade unions, and I welcome the excellent briefing produced by my trade union friends. When I first became a Minister, I said to my officials, “I want to meet the unions regularly,” and they looked slightly nervous about it. During the course of those meetings, a union representative—I will not say who—said, “We never got this much out of Labour.” I can assure the hon. Gentleman—and particularly the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), who called for this specifically in his contribution—that I will continue to work with the trade unions in exactly the way in which he has described. It is vital not only that we recruit people, but that we train them appropriately and allow them the kind of career opportunities that he called for.
Yes, I am happy to do that, perhaps under the auspices of the all-party group, which I have already met, but I am happy to meet again. That would be a useful vehicle for precisely that kind of discussion.
The fourth area that the debate touched on—this was referred to by a number of hon. Members—was what might be called the welfare and conditions that prevail in the maritime sector. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that the conditions are appropriate. Some alarming claims have been made today, which I take very seriously indeed, particularly if people are not being paid the appropriate wage and if the circumstances and conditions in which they are working are not adequate. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) about the need to attract more women and getting the conditions right to allow us to do so. I hear what has been said about the importance of safety, and that is a fundamental concern for all of us who care about the sector. We will take this further. As a direct result of the debate—perhaps it will happen in the discussions that were just described—I am very happy to consider what more the Government must do. The work I am doing on the maritime growth study should fill some gaps and allow us to consider what more can be done on recruitment, as well as how we can approach skills in a fresh way and how the terms and conditions that apply across the industry can be improved.
The debate has served a useful purpose in allowing me not only to be the champion of the maritime sector, but, I hope, to be able to emulate the best of my predecessors, such as the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, and leave some kind of legacy. I want to do that on behalf of our ports and the towns in which they are situated, our ship owners and our shipbuilders—we build ships and boats in this country, and shipbuilding is something of which we should be proud too—and fundamentally and most of all, what is dearest to my heart, on behalf of our seafarers.
We have had a truly excellent debate. Although we have had contributions from 15 right hon. and hon. Members, including the Minister, we have managed to cover the full range of areas, instead of each of us standing up and piece by piece repeating what has already been said. I hope that we will see the debate as not just an event in itself, but the start of a process, and that the Minister will make good on his undertakings this afternoon, both on the prioritisation of policy work and on his continuing engagement with parliamentarians. It is clear that there is a common and shared interest in all parts of the House. For me, it is a matter of some satisfaction and relief that the debate has been as well attended and productive as it has been.
I confess that this is the first time I have sponsored a Back-Bench business debate. When I was last a Back Bencher, there was no such thing as the Backbench Business Committee. I got a bit of a telling-off from the Committee because apparently I did not fill in the form very well. Those things are important; I took its criticisms to heart. When the opportunity arises for a reprise of this debate, I will be able to pray in aid our excellent proceedings this afternoon to ensure that we can keep the issue on the Floor of the House and at the front of public attention, because that is where it belongs.