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Exiting the European Union (Merchant Shipping)

Volume 683: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2020

I beg to move,

That the draft Ship Recycling (Facilities and Requirements for Hazardous Materials on Ships) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, which were laid before this House on 15 October, be approved.

The United Kingdom has already introduced European Union exit legislation on ship recycling. Last year, we laid the Ship Recycling (Facilities and Requirements for Hazardous Materials on Ships) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 to ensure that legislation in this area would remain legally operable once the UK had withdrawn from the EU. The agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU includes a protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland. A provision in article 5(4) of the protocol and annex 2 specify that certain provisions of EU law will apply in respect of Northern Ireland. The EU ship recycling regulation is one such provision listed in the protocol and, as a consequence, will have some effect on ship recycling facilities in Northern Ireland.

The EU ship recycling regulation transposed key parts of the Hong Kong convention on the recycling of ships into EU law. The provisions apply to ship recycling facilities in the EU and to EU flagged ships above 500 gross tonnes. The main provisions of the EU regulation have applied since 31 December 2018 and include rules about authorising and permitting ship recycling facilities, requirements needed for the EU to record a facility on its list of approved facilities—the European list—and a requirement that all EU flagged ships must be recycled at an approved ship recycling facility, according to a certified ship recycling plan.

The EU regulation also requires that all new EU flagged ships must carry a valid inventory of hazardous materials and that existing EU flagged ships and ships registered to non-EU countries calling at European ports must carry an inventory of hazardous materials by the end of 2020. Under the 2019 regulations, EU flagged ships would need to use an approved ship recycling facility on a United Kingdom list of approved facilities instead of the EU’s list. The 2019 regulations also ensure that necessary functions of the EU Commission are transferred to the Secretary of State.

The draft regulations will amend the 2019 regulations made under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which in turn amended the retained EU ship recycling regulation and the Ship Recycling Facilities Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015, to make two substantive changes. First, the regulations amend provisions that affect ship recycling facilities in Northern Ireland to reflect our obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol. In particular, the regulations will

“require the joint competent authority for ship recycling facilities in Northern Ireland to notify the Secretary of State of any change of circumstances”

concerning their facilities. The Secretary of State must

“notify the European Commission of any change of status regarding ship recycling facilities in Northern Ireland”,

and the regulations prevent ship recycling facilities in Northern Ireland that are not on the European Union list of approved facilities from recycling EU-flagged vessels. The impact of the protocol means that existing arrangements for those facilities will remain the same after the implementation phase.

I would like a point clarified. The Minister referred to Northern Ireland and the protocol, and to the change and differences that there will be between there and the mainland. What discussions have taken place with the Northern Ireland Executive and Ministers there, so that we have clarity for them and for us all?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We have been in dialogue with the Northern Ireland Executive and they are content with the regulations.

The draft regulations will incorporate requirements on existing UK ships and non-UK ships calling at UK ports to carry an inventory of hazardous materials. Ships typically contain quantities of hazardous materials ,and by the end of 2018, EU ship recycling regulations already required new ships to carry a list of those hazardous materials. Existing ships must also carry such a list from 31 December 2020.

Ensuring the safe and environmentally sound dismantling and recycling of ships at the end of their operational life has been a concern for a number of years. Many ships are currently dismantled on beaches in Asia, with little regard for human safety or protection of the environment. It is important that we continue to have an effective ship recycling regime that protects public health and the environment. The changes in this instrument will ensure that environmental law continues to function at the end of the implementation phase. The draft regulations are a vital part of demonstrating that the UK is implementing its commitments under the Northern Ireland protocol. They are fully supported by Government, and I commend them to the House.

Labour does not oppose the regulations, for the sake of a smooth transition for the maritime sector, but we have continued and serious concerns about Northern Ireland, the maritime industry, and UK-EU co-operation after Brexit. Under the amended regulations, the Government will set out a list of ship recycling facilities for UK use in Northern Ireland. The EU will also have an approved list of facilities in Northern Ireland. Those lists might end up overlapping, depending on the separate decisions of the EU Commission and the UK Government. It beggars belief that we might end up with a dizzying mess of two confusing and conflicting lists of facilities that are able to carry out the same work in Northern Ireland. Would it not be easier to negotiate with the EU privately about the list and any potential changes, rather than publishing our own list?

The amendment to the regulations highlights wider issues about Brexit and Northern Ireland. The continued Government mishandling of negotiations has led us to a place where last night, the Lords had to step in and remove illegal clauses from the United Kingdom internal market Bill. The Government have wasted vital time needed to prepare, instead having a needless row with the European Union over a deal that has already been done. Rather than tying up these remaining loose ends and accepting the Lords amendments, today we hear that the Prime Minister is continuing to threaten to break the law, setting back trust and the chances of a deal.

Across the wider maritime sector, the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact. We have already lost at least one international ferry route from Hull to Zeebrugge, and more international routes are under pressure. An estimated 1,200 maritime jobs have already gone since the start of the pandemic. Labour has asked the Government to step in and protect those vital parts of our international freight and travel infrastructure. This sector needs certainty. We need the Government to publish a clear road map for the implementation of the remaining elements of the protocol, which comes into force in less than two months.

I stress that Labour does not believe this country should be in a situation where Northern Ireland is treated differently from the three other nations. The amendment is proof that the Government have failed in their basic responsibility to achieve equivalence across the whole of our United Kingdom.

As we have already heard, while Northern Ireland will continue to operate ship recycling facilities that can accommodate EU vessels, the other nations of the UK get no such assurances. Scotland will be doubly disadvantaged now due to that and Westminster’s historic failure on ship dismantling. I will come on to more of that in a moment.

Regulatory de-alignment of the rest of the UK is clearly possible and therefore could cut off our ship recycling yards, while Northern Ireland will continue to operate under the EU’s strict standards. There is no guarantee of the same elsewhere across the nations of the UK. Even for normal vessels, ship breaking and ship recycling is a dangerous and potentially environmentally hazardous activity. We are already seeing, through the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, the Government’s willingness to launch a race to sink standards. What does that mean in this context?

In Scotland, we already have dock space blocked up with the rusting, decaying radioactive hulks of nuclear submarines in Rosyth naval dockyard. The UK Government and the Ministry of Defence in particular have a very poor record on the environment, despite what the Minister tries to say, both generally and in regard to nuclear waste management. The SNP stands firm in demanding that Scotland becomes neither a dumping ground nor an under-regulated chop shop for UK and US nuclear programmes. For nearly four decades, seven out-of-date nuclear submarines have been sitting in Rosyth. They have yet to be dismantled, let alone appropriately disposed of.

It is unacceptable that Scotland, a nation that rejects nuclear weapons of mass destruction, is used as both a storage facility and a dumping ground for active and decaying nuclear submarines. The people of Scotland now need the powers of independence to make our own environmental and regulatory choices.

I thank the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry). I can assure them that the regulations will ensure that we meet our obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol, and continue to combat environmental pollution and enforce safety standards in the maritime sector. We have provided significant support to the maritime sector throughout the pandemic. We heartily recognise it is important and we thank the maritime sector for its contribution to our economy.

The regulations we are discussing tonight only make changes to ensure the functionality of EU retained law in the UK statute book after completion of the implementation phase with the EU. Consequently, our safety and environmental standards, which are among the highest in the world, will continue to be comparable to those applying in the rest of Europe. Protecting the environment from all kinds of shipping pollution and ensuring that ship recycling is undertaken in a responsible manner is vital to broader Government commitments to environmental standards and shipping safety. I hope the House agrees that the new regulations will be essential in ensuring that UK legislation on ship recycling continues to work effectively once the implementation phase is over.

Question put and agreed to.