Skip to main content

UK Maritime Sector

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 16 September 2021

Before we begin, can I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking? This is line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering or leaving the room.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the UK’s maritime sector.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir George. May I first draw the House’s attention to my declaration of interests? I am also chair of the all-party parliamentary group for shipbuilding and ship repair. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for the debate, and the 16 Members from across all parties in the House who supported the application.

It is right that we meet today, in London International Shipping Week 2021. This is an opportunity to discuss the maritime sector, which is worth some £46 billion to the UK economy, ranging from shipbuilding and ship repair to ship brokerage in insurance, in which we are world leaders. It is an opportunity to speak up for the sector, which we need to do. I am a passionate believer in a bright future for this country, and the sector supports 1 million more jobs than air and rail. Further, 95% of UK imports and exports are transported by ship.

During the pandemic, we took it for granted that we could order on Amazon or similar sites, and that the package would arrive, but few people consider how that package actually comes to their doorstep. I know Mrs Jones certainly does not give much thought to that. However, it is important, and other aspects are in play—48% of our food supplies come through the maritime sector, as does 25% of our energy needs.

The sector is vital to the resilience of our economy and is also a wide-ranging industry. Ports, for example, generate £600 million in private sector capital each year. It is a source of highly skilled, well-paid jobs. There is an important issue here across the industry, which is mentioned in the briefing note I received from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers: we must invest in those skills and ensure that we have not only individuals with the right set of skills, but the right numbers of workers. As the RMT quite rightly points out, its membership is an ageing population. It is important that we focus on that and make the sector attractive to young people as an industry to come into.

Internationally, the sector will be worth around £3 trillion by 2030 and it is a great source of exports from the UK. Indeed, many businesses throughout the UK are providing not only products for the marine sector around the world, but services. My own region, the north-east, has a long tradition of service industries working around the world. When the Dubai flight from Newcastle recommences at the end of November, marine engineers will be flying all round the world to service ships, but their companies are based in the north-east. It is important that we recognise that fact.

The sector’s problem, certainly in shipbuilding and in other areas, is that there is a view among the public that this is a smokestack industry—an industry of yesteryear. It is quaint that we are involved, but the sector is not the future. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. I do not know how we can do this—the debate obviously allows Members to highlight the issues—but we must promote the sector and say that it is not only important to our economy in the present but can be more important in growing our economy in the future. That is where the Government come in; they have a key role to play in.

Let me turn to the shipbuilding and ship repair sector, where there have been welcome moves by the Government, such as the national shipbuilding programme. We have a shipbuilding tsar—the Defence Secretary—and to be fair to him, I think he is committed to this, but does he actually believe that we can be a world-leading shipbuilding nation again? I think we can, with the right support.

It is a mistake to think that there is any shipbuilding industry around the world that is not reliant on the state—either directly owned by the state or provided with huge subsidies. We should not get into the mindset that if we have to put money into the shipbuilding and ship repair industry or help it with finance, that is somehow a bad thing. It is a good thing if we can grow the industry. The Koreans do not bat an eyelid at putting in huge amounts of money, nor do our European neighbours—the Norwegians, the French, the Germans or anyone else.

The other key issues are port infrastructure, which will be important, and skills. I will talk later about research and development, because the next thing that will change radically in this area is the green agenda. This country has an opportunity to get ahead and be world leaders there.

I welcome the national shipbuilding strategy, but we are still waiting for the refresh, which was promised in August. Its main emphasis—this is self-evident to anybody who knows the industry—is that the industry needs a drumbeat of work running through it. The strategy committed to a 30-year drumbeat of work, but we must ensure that that is a reality, and the Ministry of Defence, which is obviously constrained by the Treasury, is still not laying out that clear pathway for the industry. We saw that with fleet solid support ships, which I will refer to later.

There have been some welcome moves in defence and elsewhere, whereby people are looking at how the UK shipbuilding industry underpins prosperity. The Royal United Services Institute study of aircraft carriers said that 36% of the money that went in came directly back to the UK taxpayer in tax and national insurance, and that is not counting the knock-on effect of the local economic boost generated in those areas. We should not just look at the top line when we are considering contracts; we should look not just at the price, but at how that money comes directly back to the Exchequer.

We need a whole-Government approach to ensure that, when we procure ships, we look to the UK. There was an announcement last week or the week before about Border Force’s new cutters. The existing ones were built in Holland, and I think one was built in Finland or Estonia. That is a £200 million contract, and the default mechanism should be to get them built in the UK. If 30-odd per cent. comes straight back to the Exchequer, that is an opportunity.

A throughput of work is important because that allows industry and business to invest. It is a way to draw in capital to the industry. The problem is that the Ministry of Defence is still in competition mode, which no other country in the world is into, so we have a farcical situation with a fake competition going on between four consortia for the FSS contract. We had a great example of how to do it when we procured the aircraft carriers. Yes, there was a shotgun marriage between various UK yards to provide them, but it worked.

Let us look at those contracts. There was a lot of controversy about the cost, but the build was on time, on budget and world beating. There is nothing like it. We should be proud of that. That was an opportunity to get a consortium of companies together to produce world-beating ships, but what did we do? We broke up the alliance afterwards, which was absolutely shocking. It should have continued.

From the point of view of the taxpayer, should we give out contracts to various companies no questions asked? No, we should not, but we should have a partnership approach rather than competition. The partnership approach should ensure that we have a skills agenda and that we get value for money. Also, the partners put their own shareholder capital into the business. I was speaking to businesses this week at DSEI, the defence and security equipment international exhibition. They do that, but they want certainty. We have the strategy in a nice glossy document, but there is an old mindset of false competition. If we can get that drumbeat of work running through the industry, we will be world beating not only in providing great first-rate ships for our Royal Navy, but in being able to compete for work regarding other vessels. That will be key.

I am not talking about only the bigger yards. The Wight Shipyard Company, which recently won a Queen’s award for international trade, is a small company on the Isle of Wight that produces great vessels. Companies such as that should be the first call, rather than throwing contracts open to international competition, because no other country would do that. There is certainly an opportunity to look at that sector for Border Force ships. Again, that would give security to individuals.

We need some joined-up thinking. We need to ensure that the Treasury not only looks at every single contract, but that the work is there for the long term. The easiest thing in terms of the build programme would be to get on and order the FSS vessels. If we did that, we would have a throughput of work in Rosyth and other places, and we would retain skills. An important thing in the shipbuilding report is that if we are to retain skills or get an influx of new skills into the industry, we need a continuation of work. What we do not want is stopgap areas where we are not employing new apprentices and the workforce get older and older. That point was made by the RMT about its members who work on ships. Oversight is needed. What other skills do we need and in what areas? That is a role for Government as well.

I am sorry to interrupt. The right hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point about the skills that we need to create a workforce who can work in the sector. I am interested in his thoughts on retrofitting, because a lot of merchant vessels out there need to be retrofitted with modern technology that allows us to meet our green ambitions. That goes hand in hand with the way in which we want to train a new generation of skilled workers, especially on tackling climate change.

The hon. Gentleman speaks with a great deal of knowledge, and he raises an interesting point. I think the understanding is that we cannot ever compete with the Koreans or others in the far east, because they will do the work cheaper. He knows as well as I do that the country that is doing more retrofitting than anywhere else is Norway. Let us be honest: Norway is not paying poverty wages to its workforce, and it has different overheads from other countries, so if Norway can do it, we can do it, but we need a strategy for that. I will come to green shipping in a minute, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a huge market. New green technology will come in, but a lot of it will be retrofitted to existing vessels.

That brings me to research and development. What we need from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is an R&D fund that is ringfenced for the industry, because that would ensure that we got the innovation we need. One area that I have spoken to several Members about is hydrogen, which will need a large amount of R&D. Some good companies are already doing that type of work, but we perhaps need to provide them with Government assistance and access to capital.

We have some great brains thinking about green technology in shipping, but I fear that we will get foreign investment coming in to buy out some of those companies and to provide the capital, but they will then take all that abroad. What we need to do—it can be done by the Government—is give support to the new technology here in the UK, so that we can retain not just the technology, but the jobs that will be done now and in the future in a host of areas in green shipping, as well as the new technologies that will come through. I accept that some of those might not work, but we should be brave enough to invest. It is not a great scandal if, at the end of the day, something does not work. It is important that that is done, which is why marine research and innovation need to be at the forefront of any initiative we undertake.

We have the maritime enterprise working group, but it remains on a non-permanent basis. I do not wish to criticise the Minister, because he is passionate about the sector, and about aviation as well. If I remember correctly, he is a bit of a plane spotter when it comes to knowing different types of aircraft. He announced the £20 million investment in the clean maritime demonstration competition, which he described as a turning point. That was welcome, and it is great that he did it, but he must get more money out of the Treasury for the sector. If we do not get more money to the sector, we will be at a disadvantage.

The opportunities are there. We talk about the carbon targets that we want to meet, which are good. If we do this right, however, we can get jobs out of it as well, so it is important that we invest now and that we ensure that the talk about net zero and so forth has some real teeth. It would be sad if we had new and innovative companies working in the sector, but the technology went abroad, and we ended up importing it or allowing other countries to develop it. That technology will be very important.

Within this new agenda, we must take a legislative stance as well. We are a world leader in working with the International Maritime Organisation and others on standards and regulations for the future. Those will be new concepts, so ensuring that we have regulations and international governance that are in our favour, not that of the Chinese and others, will be important. I do not underestimate the Chinese in particular, in terms of their wanting to have international rules that favour their industries rather than ours, so it is important that we play a key part in that process.

I will finish where I started. This is an industry of the future. We need to talk more about it, and we need to invest in it. Yes, the private sector involvement is hugely important, but if Government money and strategies can be put in place at the key point, they could be huge levers, not only to lever in more private sector capital, but to grow the sector. Perhaps we just need to say to people, “Just think when you are ordering things—how do they get to your doorstep?” That is the basis of it.

I am a passionate advocate for the sector. It is not yesterday’s industry; this is the industry of tomorrow. What it needs is a direct and clear strategy, and money behind it. Now is the time to provide those things.

It is a pleasure to see you back in your place, Sir George. I congratulate both the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on securing the debate and the Backbench Business Committee on listening to his passionate request for it.

Notwithstanding the UK’s rich and proud maritime history, there is a concern at times that the sector is overlooked and that the lead role that it can play in delivering the Government’s key objectives of levelling up, building back better and decarbonisation is not as centre stage as it should be.

This debate provides the opportunity to showcase the sector and its various facets, such as ports all around the UK, including, in my own area, Lowestoft, the UK’s most easterly port. It serves the southern North sea, which includes one of the largest clusters of offshore windfarms in the world, rich fishing grounds and gas fields in which to store carbon.

Lowestoft has an illustrious maritime past, being the former fishing capital of the southern North sea—a title that it wishes to regain—and the home of two great shipbuilders, Richards and Brooke Marine, although both are sadly long gone. That said, Lowestoft’s dry dock, which is run by SMS Marine, is increasingly busy. In fact, it got the contract for the refurbishment of the UK Border Force vessels. That in itself was welcome, but the point that the right hon. Gentleman made—namely that we really want the actual building of the boats in the first place, which is the important bit—was correct.

New businesses are moving into Lowestoft, such as SSE and ScottishPower Renewables, with operations and maintenance bases in the port. Associated British Ports has exciting plans for the future, and it is vital that national Government provide the right policy framework so that those plans can be realised.

ABP’s plans are focused on the Lowestoft Eastern Energy Facility, or LEEF, which over the next five years should bring significant upgrades to facilities in the outer harbour, creating key capabilities to support the UK’s journey towards achieving net zero. This project will deliver infrastructure that will ensure the port can accommodate the next generation of offshore support vessels. The facility will provide a site that is suitable for operations and maintenance activities, in addition to a quayside suitable for construction support. This is an investment estimated at around £25 million, which will enable the port of Lowestoft to add to the £30 million per annum that it already contributes to the local economy. In doing so, the project will help us to reach net zero, and it complements well the Government’s levelling-up ambitions.

From LEEF, it is appropriate for me to move on to REAF, which is the Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries. In 2018, the local fishing industry came together with local councils, the New Anglia local enterprise partnership and Seafish to produce a report on how to revive the local fishing industry as the UK left the European Union. The report was launched here in the House of Commons in October 2019.

Following the trade and co-operation agreement reached with the European Union at the turn of the year, which, frankly, was a let-down for so many, the strategy has been revised to take into account the setting and policies within which the fishing industry now has to work. Initial funding has been secured to implement the strategy and, while I will not go through the 11 recommendations in full, I will highlight the following features, which complement the aspirations of other maritime sectors and fit in well with the Government’s levelling-up and decarbonisation agendas.

The first is the need to embrace the industry’s whole supply chain, from the net to the plate. The second is the importance of ensuring that it is local communities, local people and local businesses that benefit from a revived industry. The third is the importance of reducing CO2 emissions. The report recommends that all offshore demersal vessels fishing in the southern North sea part of the UK’s exclusive economic zone should, in due course, be restricted to 500 hp. The fourth is the need to invest in supporting port, marketing and processing infrastructure. Finally, there is the importance of attracting and training new entrants to the industry, which East Coast College in Lowestoft will be doing. It has set up a new course.

As I go on about fishing, I see the Minister’s eyes may be glazing over because he is saying, “What has this got to do with me? This is for the fisheries Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.” That highlights the particular challenge that the maritime sector faces, in that it touches on the work of a large number of Departments. The Minister himself is from the Department for Transport. We also have the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is overseeing the levelling-up agenda, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with the fisheries Minister and, as we have heard, the Ministry of Defence when it comes to contracts for the Navy. That is five. That emphasises the need for joined-up and co-ordinated Government, and I hope that in his summing up the Minister will confirm that that is happening.

I welcome the freeport initiative, which I sense the Minister will refer to in his summing up and, in particular, I welcome Freeport East at Felixstowe and Harwich, which is 50 miles down the coast from Lowestoft. However, I express a note of caution and emphasise the importance for Government of not jumping from one intervention to the next catchy initiative, but continuing to see through proven strategies that are already up and running. Like other enterprise zones around the country, the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth enterprise zone, which was set up in 2012, has been very successful. It has an energy focus and is firmly in line with the levelling-up and net zero strategies. It now needs reigniting and that can be done by reallocating the existing footprint of the enterprise zone around Lowestoft port and the adjoining PowerPark. That could create more than 300 jobs, support 40 new businesses and generate between £1 million and £3 million of retained rates.

Earlier in my speech, I mentioned the need for the Government to provide the right policy framework for the maritime sector to realise its full potential. The framework that I would urge the Government to adopt is broadly Maritime UK’s spending review bid. Time does not permit me to go through that in detail, but I believe it is compelling. It will create a large number of well paid, exciting and innovative new jobs right through the supply chain. Those jobs will be in coastal communities where they are much needed and will fuel the levelling-up agenda. Moreover, the strategy will set the UK firmly on a course to meeting its net zero maritime obligation.

In conclusion, it is important to re-emphasise the lead role that the maritime sector can play in the post-Brexit economy, particularly in terms of levelling up and decarbonisation. There is, as I have mentioned, a requirement for joined-up Government and also, I sense a need for maritime-proofing of economic policy. I say that having just read the Salvation Army’s report on the levelling-up agenda, which concludes that coastal communities have not been properly recognised in the place prioritisation that has accompanied both the levelling-up fund and the community renewal fund. I hope the Minister will allay any concerns I have in this respect in his summing-up.

It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Sir George. I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on securing the debate, and thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it.

Such debates are all too rare. That, in itself, is an illustration of what the briefing from Nautilus calls “sea blindness”. One of the biggest difficulties the maritime industry faces is getting the political attention it needs in just about every respect—whether for its own development, for health and safety on vessels, or for minimum wage implementation. It all happens far from sight at sea. This debate is a welcome opportunity for those of us with an interest in the maritime industry to put some of those concerns on the record.

It has been a difficult couple of years for those working in our maritime industry. During lockdown, many seafarers found themselves in difficult situations, caught between different lockdown regulations—testing, tracing, self-isolating—in different countries. In its briefing, Nautilus highlights its survey, which shows that about 11,000 maritime professionals fell through all the gaps in the safety nets; none was able to get assistance from the job retention scheme or the self-employment income support scheme. That statistic illustrates the different way in which the maritime industries work compared to those based onshore.

Both the right hon. Member for North Durham and the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) believe that this is an industry with a future, and I endorse that sentiment. However, I would say that there is nothing inevitable about the UK maritime sector having a bright future; it will require a determined and driven strategic agenda from the Government to ensure that that actually happens.

We have seen the issue at different times over the years. Going back 15 or 20 years, the Blair Government introduced the tonnage tax—a really good, welcome initiative. However, it never really achieved its full potential, beyond getting tonnage to flag under the red ensign, because it was difficult for the Government to get the conditionality attached to it: getting the number of officers trained under the tonnage tax, and then getting the shipping companies that had trained them to keep them on. There was a commitment to train officers in order to qualify under the tonnage tax. After that box was ticked, there was a commitment to retain them for a year, but after that, there was a cliff edge. There was a glut of one-year post-qualification officers.

That is the challenge facing the Government, and I do not envy them. It is difficult for any individual country to take on companies operating in an effectively global environment. This is probably the best working definition of a global industry. In its briefing, the RMT illustrates some of the challenges affecting the enforcement of minimum wage legislation. This was something of particular concern a few years ago, when I discovered that many of those working on the freight ships going from Aberdeen to Shetland, in my constituency, were deemed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs not to be in its remit for enforcing the minimum wage because the boats operated in international waters. Its definition of international water is being outside the 12-mile limit.

I give credit to HMRC and the Government for having closed some of the loopholes, but we know that many of the jobs advertised will come nowhere near the level of minimum wage protection. The RMT briefing for today quotes some examples of that:

“The expansion of Irish Ferries into Dover is a case in point. Irish ferries pay below the National Minimum Wage to its Cypriot registered ships”.

That is Irish Ferries coming into Dover in Cypriot registered ships—seeing that, one begins to understand the complexity of international shipping. It continues:

“as revealed by recent inspection of the WB Yeats by the Inspector for International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) in France (Irish Ferries have blocked ITF access in UK and Irish ports)”.

It then quotes the pay rates on the W. B. Yeats, Rosslare to Cherbourg, in June 2021. A bar and galley steward gets an hourly rate of £6.47; an able seafarer has an hourly rate of £6.89; both a cook and a plumber had an hourly rate of £7.42; a receptionist earned £7.69; and a bosun earned £9.39. In fact, going back a few years, some of the ships that were operating in the North sea were paying figures that were less than half the lowest figures in the RMT briefing. It shows that, because of the way the industry is structured and operates, enforcement of conditions is a game of regulatory whack-a-mole.

I am grateful to my good friend for giving way. I congratulate him on the work that he has done in the last couple of years to ensure that national minimum wage rates are paid to seafarers. Does he agree that what we would like to hear about from the Minister is a proactive approach to ensuring the enforcement of the national minimum wage?

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is characteristically generous. Others in the House, him included, have been working on the issue as well. It comes back to the first point I made: as a former Prime Minister used to say, sunlight is the best disinfectant. People like us, talking about issues like that, on occasions like this, do allow pressure to be brought bear, which ultimately leads to progress being made.

The right hon. Member for North Durham spoke about the need for a more proactive, and less competition based, approach to the awarding of contracts. In principle I agree with him, and I understand what he is saying when offering comparators from Europe and around the world.

To sound one note of caution, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) knows, we have a difficult recent history of this north of the border. Two ferries are being procured from a shipyard owned by the Scottish Government: the replacement for the Glen Sannox and Hull 802—so called because, although it is now heading towards five years overdue, it still does not have a name. Partnership between Government and industry of the sort that the right hon. Member for North Durham is talking about worked very effectively with the procurement of the aircraft carriers and is something we should be taking seriously. However, the rigours of private sector involvement are needed to ensure that these ferries are obtained on time and give value to the taxpayer, as well as giving longer-term security for the workforce in the domestic shipyards we have left.

We saw this week that, in the tender for the construction of the two ferries to serve Islay and Jura, two of the shipyards tendering are in Turkey, one is Romanian, and one is in Poland. Not a single shipyard in Scotland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom is now being invited to tender by the Scottish Government. That shows that we need to have the strategy that everyone else has spoken about. If we have a gesture here on a difficult news day there, we do not do any favours for the people who work in these shipyards, never mind island communities such as Islay and Jura.

Order. I will call the Front Benchers at 2.30. The right hon. Gentleman has already taken up more time than will be allowed to a Front-Bench spokesman, and there are other speakers trying to get in. There is no time limit, but I would ask him to bear that in mind.

I have effectively, Sir George, covered the material that I intended to cover. With your restrictions in mind, I am happy to conclude.

I now feel obliged to impose a time limit of seven minutes on Back-Bench speeches. That should enable everybody who wants to speak to get in.

It is good to see you in your place, Sir George. I will endeavour to meet your time limit, although as hon. Members know I can talk about the maritime sector till the cows come home.

I would very much like to associate myself with the remarks made by the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who has set out as good an exposition as any of why we need to prioritise shipbuilding and the maritime sector. I agree that we often do not celebrate the sector enough. It is very telling that, through the horrendous couple of years of the pandemic, the supermarket shelves stayed full. That is because our maritime sector kept going. I suspect that it is only when things start to go wrong that people start to realise its importance. In that respect, we had something of a stay of execution when there was a slight difficulty in the Suez canal; I do feel that we are perhaps still yet to see the out-turn of the difficulties created by that.

It is great pleasure to contribute to this debate as chairman of the all-party parliamentary maritime and ports group and during London International Shipping Week. We have had a lot to celebrate in the ports sector this week: only yesterday, we heard confirmation from DP World that it is investing a further £400 million in a new berth at London Gateway, and Forth Ports are due to invest a further £1.2 billion in new port facilities at Tilbury3, following hot on the heels of Tilbury2, which I can tell the House took just under a year between planning permission and the ships arriving. That shows how dynamic the sector is. If only our public sector procurement could deliver things as quickly.

That success is very rarely celebrated. I know that I am preaching to the converted when I address all this to the Minister, who has taken on the brief with characteristic ambition and gusto; he is much respected in the sector, and we hope he continues to do the job for quite some time. Could I just ask him to switch his phone off, perhaps?

The right hon. Member for North Durham referred to the fact that maritime is seen as a smokestack industry. When it comes to how public policy makers see the sector, I could agree with him more. They generally do not see it as part of the future, yet it is an intrinsic part of our present. We cannot talk about global Britain or the importance of trade if we do not actually value the means by which we secure that trade. We really do need to make sure that we champion the sector more.

I lose the will to live when I have meetings with public policy makers in my constituency, which is, as I often call it, the port capital of the UK. It is the fastest growing port in the country, yet I still have to tell them that the ports are our future and ask why they are wasting time prattling on about spending money on creative industries, which frankly are never going to contribute as much to the wealth of this country as the maritime sector does.

As Great Britain, it is part of our DNA that we are a maritime nation, but sometimes we say these things and then realise there is not very much to back them up at all. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) put it very well when he talked about how the sector touches on various Departments, because one of the tragedies in how we get things wrong in government and policy making is that so many of these things are siloed. We plonk maritime in the Department for Transport, which has to deal with providing infrastructure for how we get around the country, but maritime is at the heart of how our economy functions in an international way, as well as of employment. We need to get better at making sure that we deal with all those things.

I will make just a couple of final points. First, I totally endorse what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) said about seafarers. I also say gently to the Government that we are very good at lecturing other countries around the world about poor working conditions, but we look the other way when they exist in our sphere of influence; there are many complex reasons why that might be the case, but we must value seafaring and make sure it is adequately compensated. I give my personal thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister for finally getting the cruise sector moving, a sector that has obviously been hit very badly during the pandemic.

I have one final ask before I sit down. I endorse the comments made by the right hon. Member for North Durham about the need to foster investment in new technologies, particularly if net zero is going to mean anything, so I particularly encourage the Minister to look at Windship Technology, which I am hugely excited about. I think it could offer such a big future to this industry, but that technology and innovation is in every danger of going elsewhere if we do not do our bit to support it. I could go on for much longer, but I will sit down now.

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and to add a Northern Irish perspective to the contributions that have already been made. First, I thank my friend the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) for his contribution, and for setting the scene for us so very well.

Northern Ireland can be proud of its maritime heritage and excited about its maritime future: from the construction of ocean-going liners to fighting ships for our armed forces, facilities to build offshore wind farms, cutting-edge technologies designed to secure carbon-neutral status for the United Kingdom’s maritime sector, and the tradition in my own constituency of Strangford of a sustainable fishing industry, providing fresh, healthy seafood and, importantly, good jobs.

Companies such as Harland & Wolff are synonymous with the maritime sector in Northern Ireland. The shipyard’s huge cranes continue to dominate the Belfast skyline as the company celebrates 160 years of marine manufacturing. I well remember, as an 18-year-old in the mid-1970s, guarding Samson and Goliath as a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. That was one of the roles we had to do, because it was so important to ensure that there was no terrorist attack on those cranes. It is superb to see Harland & Wolff exhibiting at this week’s Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition here in London. I very much look forward to the Ministry of Defence rewarding that shipyard and its partners with future contracts for new ships for the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which as well as delivering the finest ships for the nation would help achieve the Government’s goal of levelling up the UK’s economy, as the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) mentioned. It is very important to remember that this would provide a much-needed boost to the entire economy of Northern Ireland.

In many ways, Northern Ireland and Belfast share a special bond with Scotland and the shipyards of the Clyde, but surely—I say this very gently to my colleague and friend the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens)—there is something not quite right when the latest HMS Belfast is being built in Glasgow. Artemis Technologies is a relatively new company on the maritime scene in Northern Ireland, but last year it was awarded a significant UK grant to research and develop zero-emission ferries that will revolutionise the future of maritime transport, so we need to be efficient in moving forward and be visionary in what we foresee for the future.

Artemis leads a Belfast maritime consortium that brings together the best in Northern Ireland’s academia and other partners, including Belfast Harbour port authority. This kind of consortium is not unique to Northern Ireland. The Kilkeel Harbour network works collaboratively, based—as the name suggests—around Kilkeel harbour in my neighbouring constituency of South Down. That network brings together boat builders, marine engineers, ship painters and various other ancillary businesses. Over the past 18 months, it has created new employment against a background of what we know have been very challenging circumstances.

G. Smyth Boats is one of the companies in the network with an order book stretching for several years. It supplies small fishing vessels to customers throughout the UK, Ireland and beyond. The hon. Member for Waveney is absolutely right to say that the maritime sector stretches further than the big ships and container ships—it goes as far as local fishing communities, such as mine in Portavogie and Kilkeel, where this development will happen in a bigger way. Indeed, the latest new-build from G. Smyth Boats will be launched this week.

The network has the fishing industry at its core, and the fishing industry is at the core of my constituency of Strangford. In May, my party colleague and Northern Ireland Executive Minister Edwin Poots MLA published the “Fisheries and Seafood Development Programme”, which is probably the most extensive review of the sector carried out in the United Kingdom in recent times. It is very important to us. The Minister recognises the importance of it, and so do I. The FSDP does not hide the challenges facing the fishing industry: an ageing fishing fleet, and the need to build new ships and recruit fishing crew. Nevertheless, the opportunities more than outweigh the challenges. The report advocates investing £100 million in fishing harbour infrastructure to help create a place where we can build those boats, not only for Northern Ireland but for the United Kingdom, Ireland and far beyond. The predicted timeframe for the delivery of that infrastructure fits neatly with the future negotiations between the United Kingdom and the EU, whose stated aim is to secure enhancements to the UK’s share of fishing resources within UK waters.

Delivery of the FSDP’s recommendations needs support from central Government, and I am keen to hear the Minister’s thoughts on that. I suspect he does not have direct responsibility for it, but have the discussions that the hon. Member for Waveney referred to taken place? That is important, as there are different sections and Ministers have different roles to play.

The first part of the £100 million UK seafood fund was revealed last week, with £24 million of investment for cutting-edge science and fisheries research—the two together. It is important that those overseeing the fund and applicants to it consider the practical application of the projects to ensure we cover all the necessary maritime requirements. Too often, we see such funding being taken up by academic projects that might be important but have no practical application to the industry. They just have a visual impact on the maritime sector and the fishing sector in particular, for which they have allegedly been designed.

Competition in the marine space is growing. The maintenance of a sustainable and economically viable fishing industry is important to me, as it is to all my constituents. Marine protected areas and their highly protected cousins can also displace the fishing effort. Again, we are looking at the impact on the fishing sector of the central Government’s priority for more wind energy from offshore sites.

Recent headlines about a national shortage of haulage drivers struck a chord with me, as I have lobbied the Government over many years on recruitment and retention. I asked a question at business questions today and, to be fair, I was fairly encouraged by the Leader of the House’s response on what the Government are doing on that.

As an island nation, we depend on the sea for trade. It would be remiss of me not to refer briefly to the United Kingdom’s vital maritime trade lines—namely between Northern Ireland, Scotland and England—and the impact on them of the protocol that the Government negotiated with the EU as part of the Brexit deal. Much has been promised to resolve the issues relating to the sea border created by the protocol, but actions speak louder than words. I was encouraged by the Prime Minister’s answer yesterday to the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood), but I would like to see actions, not just words. There should be no restriction on maritime trade on any trade between the islands of this great nation.

Our maritime heritage is important. We have much to look forward to, be proud of and learn from. It provides us with a tremendous foundation to ensure that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can once again resume a role at the pinnacle of the global maritime community, where we were in the past and can be in the future.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on securing the debate. It is curiously unique that we have not had many of these debates, but, going back through Hansard, we find that, all too often during London International Shipping Week, the topic is ignored. As a former shipbroker who worked in Singapore, then London and Nigeria, I really do believe I have seen some of the finer sides of the UK shipping industry and what it means to our economy.

I must start by saying what a fantastic opportunity this is to get together in this Chamber and see the common-sense agreement across the House about the value of the maritime sector—in coastal communities, ports, infrastructure and pay—and what needs to be done across the country to see it thrive.

I pay particular tribute and attention to the shipping services of this country. Although a significant proportion are based in London, I hope that colleagues will also reflect that across all four corners of the UK there are burgeoning businesses benefiting from the UK’s leading shipping services, whether that be in accountancy, arbitration, classification, consultancy, education, finance, insurance or legal—it is all based here. Be it in Singapore, Nigeria, Geneva or the middle east, people always talk of the UK as the capital of the shipping industry. This is something that we need to protect, not be complacent about; we must reflect on that and recognise that if we do not compete, if we do not challenge those around the world, we will lose our status.

I hope my hon. Friend the Minister recognises that this is a debate not for us to have a go at him, but for us to encourage him. We know him to be a highly energetic Minister to whom we offer a great deal of support to take this issue up. We also have what I believe to be a very ambitious maritime strategy, the 2050 strategy, which touches on several of the right points that have been raised in the debate. The third or fourth point in that report states that if we are not turbocharged and are not active in supporting and securing businesses in the UK, they will move abroad. Singapore and Geneva are competing every day to take businesses away from this country to be based in theirs.

Therefore, we must recognise the need to point out our failures, where necessary, to support our successes where available, and to look for opportunities that Government policy can support. The right hon. Member for North Durham talked about research and development, and I am so pleased that he did. We have rightly committed 2.4% of GDP to research and development in our manifesto, as Government policy. We talk about the invention of the telephone; I think now about the inventions we can put hand in hand into shipping services to allow us to tackle climate change, to look at the new inventions that will help us create a truly 21st century and green maritime sector that can be traded not just across the UK and our coastal communities, but across the world to be used by others.

I am particularly delighted that the right hon. Gentleman also talked about Norway. We are not necessarily expecting the UK to be building oil tankers and container ships, but we must look to try to retrofit vessels with new, high-end technology that allows us to capitalise on the work of the International Maritime Organisation and its ambitions for carbon neutrality by 2040. It is eminently possible and should go hand in hand with our levelling-up agenda.

We are home to companies such as Lloyd’s, the Baltic Exchange, Platts and numerous brokerages, two of which I have served with. I think they were probably rather pleased to see the back of me. However, there is a sense that this is an industry that is open to people from all walks of life. In some cases, there is no requirement for a degree, it can be entered into at any stage. When we talk about the levelling-up agenda, it is something that we must recognise as eminently achievable and that allows us to attract more people.

I have a few pleas to the Minister. We need to look at tax regulation and incentive schemes. We need to look at how our maritime flag is used both in the UK and abroad. We need to look at how we can champion maritime security. We need to talk more about supply chain resilience. We also need to think about how to get more people into maritime colleges. I am very pleased to say—and there will be an invitation to follow—that Noss on Dart in my constituency is setting up a maritime college within South Devon College, with the express purpose of getting people into the maritime sector at every level. There are opportunities coming up, and I would say there is broad thinking in further education colleges about how we can support this sector.

We have the history of being a very strong, globally leading trading nation with an extraordinary maritime history. We must return to that thinking, because it will help us in our ambitions of global Britain. It will help us in our ambitions as we join new organisations like the comprehensive and progressive agreement for transpacific partnership, which I hope we will be doing next year. It is perfectly fair to think of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) as Helen of Troy—she could launch a thousand ships. That is what we should be aspiring to do in the years to come.

The motto of the Baltic Exchange is, “Dictum meum pactum”—my word is my bond—and we must be very conscious that there is huge opportunity for us to develop the sector, to support it, to grow it and to encourage people to enter it. We can, once again, rule the waves.

As always, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir George. I think you are the first Chair in a Westminster Hall debate taking place during a reshuffle who is not of the governing party, so I do not need to send you good wishes for the reshuffle. I see that the Minister is still in his place, which I think we will take as good news for now.

I thank the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and everyone who has contributed to this excellent debate. It has been very enjoyable listening to everyone. Of course, a debate such as this would not be the same if I did not mention that I am still proud to represent the Govan shipyards and the workers there, who are the undisputed greatest shipbuilders in the world. I am pleased that BAE Systems is now looking at shipyard investment and at ensuring that it can build ships more efficiently at the Govan site. That is something that I hope the Minister will take cognisance of, because many of us believe that the Government have a role to play in providing finance and helping companies to invest in their shipyards so that they can compete—not just for defence contracts, but for contracts elsewhere.

I very much agree with the right hon. Member for North Durham about the fleet solid support ship contracts. A number of us in the APPG have been chipping away at the issue for a while. I have always found it quite fascinating that we were told they were not defence ships, because I have tabled parliamentary questions to ask what weaponry there would be on fleet solid support ships. I have received a long list, so I am bewildered as to why they are not designated as defence ships, but it seems that progress is being made.

I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for his charitable interpretation of the CalMac ferries situation, because my personal view on that is probably not repeatable in Hansard. Those of us who advocated remaining in the EU, such as the right hon. Member and me, have always felt—I certainly have, as someone from a public sector background —that one of the weaknesses of the case was the EU public procurement rules. It would help if the Minister outlined whether the Government are looking at the procurement rules and perhaps making it easier for local authorities and public bodies to provide contracts to local suppliers in various situations.

I want to associate myself with the comments made about seafarers, because it really is important that the national minimum wage is now enforced. Many of us were grateful that the Government changed the rules so that the national minimum wage would apply. It is now important that that is enforced, because the RMT, in its excellent briefing, has already given us examples of where it is not being enforced, and where seafarers are not being paid the national minimum wage. I recognise that the Government produce a list every year, and it certainly would not surprise me if some of the shipping companies appear on that, but perhaps the Minister could outline what work his Department and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are doing to ensure that there is real enforcement.

The maritime economy is very important both to the Scottish economy and that of these islands. It is estimated that the direct value of the maritime economy to the UK’s gross value added was £46.1 billion in 2017, supporting 200,000 jobs directly and 1 million jobs both directly and directly. Shipping alone contributed £6 billion to the economy in 2020, representing 19% of all transportation, and the UK’s shipping fleet is the 24th largest in the world. Some £9.9 billion of the GVA is added to Scotland, with 41,000 jobs directly supported. Apart from the seafarers’ situation, workers in the maritime sector are usually highly skilled and well paid. According to Maritime UK, they are 42% more productive than the average worker. Pre pandemic, the sector was predicted to grow by 15% between 2018 and 2023, but obviously that has been disrupted, and the true level of growth remains to be seen.

It is also important that we should recognise the value of Scotland’s maritime economy and marine environment, and protect the environment while growing that economy in a sustainable way. Scotland has 60% of the UK’s fishing waters and an abundance of marine resources. It is important to treat those as national assets, to be protected, developed and enhanced, not just for this generation but for future generations.

Scotland included shipping, defence and marine tourism in its previous national marine plan. That will be developed into a maritime strategy, and a dedicated agency will be established to put Scotland’s marine assets at the heart of the blue economy. The Scottish Government have pledged support for the growth of sustainable marine tourism to turnover of more than £0.5 billion by 2025.

There are great opportunities to explore greater maritime trade with the UK, and we should be ambitious to increase direct trade with the European Union. I want to see that 102% rise in direct shipping to France since the Brexit barriers were put in place, because the EU sees it as harder to ship through England to Scotland. Brexit has led to direct shipping and ferry routes to Spain and Calais.

We ask the UK Government to commit to serious and sufficient investment in the maritime sector. Historically, the UK Government have not included international aviation and shipping in their carbon budgeting—although they have changed that now, which is important, as I am sure the Minister agrees. It is important to include shipping emissions, as they can make up 3% of carbon emissions every year. Decarbonisation should be a key part of investment in the maritime sector going forward.

I congratulate all hon. Members on their fine contributions today on the maritime sector. As someone who represents a great shipyard community, I will support other hon. Members in ensuring that we have a thriving maritime sector going forward.

It is terrific to see you in the Chair, Sir George. I am sure all hon. Members echo that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) is one of the most effective operators in this Parliament at holding the Government to account, but he also always keeps his eyes on the horizon and has vision in what he talks about. The maritime industry does indeed have a very bright future for our country, and I congratulate him on leading the debate.

I was going to make some remarks about the reshuffle, but the hon. Members for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) have stolen all my lines. I will just say to Government Members, “Hope to God that your phone batteries last the day for you all.”

To be discussing the maritime sector in London International Shipping Week is a great honour. I pay tribute to everyone in the maritime sector, which played such a crucial role in getting this country through the pandemic and will continue to do so in the months ahead. We have had an inspiring and enjoyable debate—the House at its best.

The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) always sticks up for the people of Suffolk, for Lowestoft port, for fishing and for the technology to come. I wish his beloved Ipswich Town all the best—I think things will pick up for him this season.

For the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), Orcadians may be crofters who can fish, and Shetland Islanders may be fishermen who can croft, so he has a lot to say, and he says it well. However, I want to make the serious point, in relation to Nautilus, that we do not discuss the maritime sector enough in Parliament. As for the RMT and the Irish Ferries ship, the W. B. Yeats, I remind hon. Members that Yeats wrote a poem called “The Indian to his Love”:

“Here we will moor our lonely ship… how far away the unquiet lands”.

We will make unquiet lands for Irish Ferries while it pays its workers below the minimum wage. All of us in this House should agree on that and highlight it every time, as the RMT does. It is not right not to treat its workers with dignity and respect. The right hon. Gentleman will be happy to know that I have just booked my summer holiday in his village—I let him know so he can go on holiday, too.

The hon. Member for Thurrock is a proud champion of the all-party group and could launch a thousand ships from her constituency alone. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is not in his place, talked about Belfast and its maritime heritage, but also its future—zero emissions, ferries, ships, and the fishing industry in his constituency. I will put in a bid for the port of Foyle as well. It is underutilised, and we could see more cruise ships stopping there.

The hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) talked about education and the leaders of the future. We need the agglomeration in our ports, getting people into well-paid jobs that can be equivalent to level 5 without the debt of a degree. He used his experience in brokerage to highlight that really well.

Seafarers and the maritime industry have kept this nation fed, fuelled and supplied, often at great personal cost. I spoke to the industry this week. Mareel at Holyhead crews vessels across the world, and then there are Holyhead Towing crews as well. They have operatives across the planet who have not been able to get home. They have stood by their posts to make sure the British shipping industry works.

Revitalising our maritime sector would unlock tens of thousands of green jobs across the UK. That could be the stimulus to regenerating our often overlooked coastal communities and provide the opportunity to renew the many towns and villages dotted along the coastline. I speak frequently to those in the sector. They tell me how keen they are to make the changes needed to develop, innovate and change for the greener. However, the Government need to fund and support that radical transformation.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham mentioned the £20 million for the competition—that is great, and we welcome it—but that must be a vanguard for what we need to do in future to ensure that we have good strategies to turn what we have got into what we need, to get what we want. That is what we have to do with the agglomeration of our maritime industry around our coasts and our component islands.

Another thing I call on the Government to do is turn the tide on, so to speak—if you will pardon the pun, Sir George—with financial backing for the shipbuilding industry. What all the biggest shipbuilding nations today have in common is either financial support for the industry or Government subsidies. We have heard some fantastic contributions, but why do the Government provide backing to the car industry and not the maritime sector, which had just £3 million committed this year, in one competition? Government must do more to attract investment by backing home shipbuilding credit guarantees and loans.

Decarbonisation and rebalancing of the economy are possible, and UK maritime, with its wealth of talent and expertise, has shown time and again its ability to generate enormous value. Shipping will be key to the journey to net zero by 2050. We cannot get there without decarbonising our shipping. The Government recognise that and have put maritime in their “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” as an industry difficult to decarbonise.

I am sure the Minister will make much of the clean maritime demonstration programme today, but while the investment is welcome, as I have said, we need more. This could be a fantastic opportunity for our country, as currently there is no clear global leader setting the pace to develop these technologies. If we are prepared to act fast and invest in the UK, we can become a scientific and green technological superpower—the hon. Member for Totnes said a 21st-century superpower—bringing jobs and prosperity to our neglected seaside communities and once again making our maritime industry world leading.

There is no time to lose. We have a moral duty and an environmental obligation to control pollution and reduce emissions. We must make a fair transition to green technology and to automation, but this must also be a just transition, ensuring that our seafarers and maritime professionals can avail themselves of the new opportunities. Government must do more to develop the sector, support the creation of new training and employment opportunities, and incentivise shipowners to commit to providing opportunities for employment for UK seafarers. I will always be an advocate for more investment in our maritime sector, which will enable us to become the vanguard of the green maritime industry.

It is very good to see you in the Chair, Sir George. It is also a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), who always manages to quote poetry in his speeches and make me feel a very flat speaker in contrast.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on securing this truly timely debate on the UK maritime sector. He speaks with enormous enthusiasm, experience and expertise on the matter, and I am grateful to him for everything that he has put before us today. I entirely share his passionate enthusiasm for the sector and agree that it has a very bright future. I thank him for his comments. As it happens, I agree with a great deal of what he said—not quite everything, but a great deal.

That is a good and timely point. The Government will be relieved to know that we do not agree on quite everything.

I can think of no better moment to discuss this issue than during London International Shipping Week. The right hon. Member is absolutely right that, to quote another of his phrases, the maritime sector is not some “quaint” industry that plays a historic role in our past. This is very much an issue of the present, as we see in London International Shipping Week, which is the second-biggest international gathering this year, I understand, after COP26. It is the highlight of the maritime year and shows that not just the capital but the whole of the UK is the best place in the world to do maritime business.

Maritime business is very varied. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) rightly pointed out, services are a major part of it as well. It is, of course, seafarers and shipbuilding, but it is also the much wider services side of things. He is quite right to draw attention to that.

I reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) that he need not fear: the maritime sector is not overlooked and never will be, certainly for as long as I am in this position. I appreciate that I do not know how long that will be, as everyone would say. Perhaps the greater reassurance is that, for as long as the Prime Minister, for whom this is also a major priority, is here, the sector will not be overlooked.

I start with the issue of decarbonisation, which has clearly been a major part of the debate today. I would suggest that this country is leading the way on this. We have announced the winners of the clean maritime demonstration competition, a £20-million fund to develop novel zero-emission technologies. It is the biggest competition of its type that the Department for Transport has run, so I ask hon. Members to bear that in mind. The right hon. Member for North Durham mentioned hydrogen; my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) mentioned Windship. They have asked for demonstrators, essentially. That is what we are seeking to do: to decide and demonstrate what the likely technology is going to be.

We can disagree—we will have to agree to disagree—on whether this is turning point, but I suggest that it is a welcome way forward. I know that hon. Members all accept that, and London International Shipping Week is a great time to showcase the competition. It shows the innovation that is required and that exists, and it also the investment that we are putting into it from both industry and Government—it is key that it is a partnership. We hope that the demonstrators will be a springboard for bolder projects that are yet to come.

It is absolutely clear that there is no shortage of ambition in the sector with regards to greening the sector. That is important for the two reasons that hon. Members have stated: for emissions, clearly, but also, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) said, for protecting the environment—cleaner in both senses. He is quite right to draw attention to that, and I am grateful to him for doing so.

I will spend a little bit longer talking about shipbuilding, which has been a major part of today’s debate. Shipbuilding will very much be a part of our next chapter. The UK has a long, illustrious shipbuilding heritage. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is no longer in his place, spoke movingly and vividly of Harland & Wolff, and the hon. Member for Glasgow South West spoke passionately for Govan, one of the great shipyards of the UK. Together, we have built some of the greatest, most iconic vessels that have ever graced the waves. Shipbuilding remains an integral part of our manufacturing sector, sustains thousands of jobs across the UK and brings millions into the economy, as we have heard.

Once I have agreed with the right hon. Gentleman one more time, if I may. He asks whether we believe that we will become a world-leading shipbuilder. Yes, we will.

Will the Minister inform the House whether he has any indication of when the refresh of the national shipbuilding strategy will be produced? I know that is in the hands of the Ministry of Defence, and the MOD’s idea of summer—or any season, frankly—bears no relevance to anything that we would think, but I would appreciate some indication because the industry is keen to get on with it.

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the precision he would like, but it will be before the end of the year. I hope that provides some indication of going forward.

The industry has historically suffered around productivity and under-investment, and we need to become more competitive on the international stage. Government support is, of course, vital to achieving that aim. It is key that we work in partnership with the sector to reinvigorate its fortunes and those of the wider supply chain, which we have heard so much about today. With that in mind, the new post of shipbuilding tsar—who is, of course, the Secretary of State for Defence, as the right hon. Member for North Durham knows—has been created. That is to support UK industry to enable it to step up and become more productive and innovative. As part of that, a vital step forward has been announced this week: the creation of the National Shipbuilding Office.

The right hon. Member for North Durham spoke of the Carrier Alliance. He is quite right that it has been a fantastic project and that it showcases the best of the UK, but I would suggest that it is also slightly different, given that it is a once-in-a-generation major product. We are looking at something that requires ongoing, routine investment in shipyards and that leaves a legacy, because we need to build on the legacy of the shipyards to have that drumbeat of ships that we all wish to see and to provide that for the future.

That is what the National Shipbuilding Office is looking to do. It will be the strategic centre driving this change across Government and the industry. In other words, it will do precisely what my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney rightly asked for—as, indeed, did the hon. Member for Strangford—and avoid the siloing that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock rightly referred to.

That is what the National Shipbuilding Office is intended to do. It is to bring together all the Departments that hon. Members have referred to, but then add industry to ensure that it is a key team effort. That will, of course, support innovation—to ensure that skills are also aligned—and the supply chain. It will outline the vision for the UK’s shipbuilding enterprise, and the strategy that I referred to in answer to the intervention from the right hon. Member for North Durham.

A good example of the way the country can showcase its real innovation is the new national flagship, which is a sign of the Government’s determination to support prosperity, jobs and skills in the UK shipbuilding sector. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Wights, the shipyard company on the Isle of Wight. I was at the boat show in Southampton yesterday, and met with RS Sailing, which is developing a green, electrically powered, rigid inflatable boat, and with the marine division of Barrus and Bruntons Propellers—highly efficient propeller technology—to give a few examples. The Society of Maritime Industries event, earlier this week on HMS Albion, brought together all those industries, and others.

Companies such as that, with technology such as that, could be showcased in this new national flagship, which is a sign of the Government looking to provide a showcase for technology, and be part of the drumbeat of ships, so they would understand when the Government were procuring new vessels. A major part of that is the MOD’s Type 31s and Type 26s, all the way through to our naval support vessels. However, we also have civilian vessels—ice patrol, ocean surveillance, and, of course, research. The RRS Sir David Attenborough is the latest example of those very high-quality ships being produced by the UK. A new fleet of Home Office cutters is also being considered, should funding be confirmed, with the intention of securing UK value for that.

I will talk about the DFT’s fleet for a moment, too. That fleet is often overlooked, although it is one of the largest civilian fleets. It is operated by our general lighthouse authorities to ensure that navigational aids remain operational in all circumstances, and that seafarers are made aware of dangers such as wrecks. That role is often understated, but it is terribly important, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) might agree; I am sure it is important in his constituency. I will take the opportunity to thank everyone who works for Trinity House, the Northern Lighthouse Board, and Irish Lights, for their professionalism in extremely difficult times, and for keeping people safe. We are also commencing projects to build new vessels for Trinity House and the Northern Lighthouse Board. Both will go out to formal tender shortly.

A great deal of vessels, in terms of number and breadth, are available in the Government’s pipeline, and there is no reason for that not to include fishing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney rightly pointed out.

I will say a word or two about skills. Skills are clearly part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda and a massive part of the industry. Today, as we also heard from my hon. Friend, the Maritime UK coastal powerhouse event takes place. Coastal communities are very much part of levelling up and of the industry we are discussing today. We need to ensure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes rightly pointed out, that we have the skills we need not just to recover from covid-19, but to look to the future and to ensure we have the skills we need for the industry. That is a key part of the Maritime 2050 strategy, which the Department produced about two years ago. It brings together, in conjunction and consultation with industry, the plan for the future.

A key part of that plan is the Maritime Skills Commission. Professor Graham Baldwin was appointed as chair, alongside 18 commissioners, and it has £300,000 in funding. One of its recent focuses has been green skills, to which my hon. Friend also drew attention. The Seafarer Cadet Review was also published in June.

I am grateful that hon. Members mentioned East Coast College and South Devon College, which are looking at STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—skills in their own ways in their parts of the world. That is critically important work, close to all our hearts.

My comments must be slightly constrained by the fact that a spending review has been announced recently. The Government will announce how we will continue to invest in public services, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working up a business case for a home shipbuilding credit guarantee, which is part of the spending review considerations. We continue to look at what other financial support might be available to work jointly with industry.

The hon. Member for Glasgow South West asked me about public procurement. There was a Green Paper, and those responses are being considered by the Cabinet Office. The DFT will continue to review the tonnage tax regime.

I am conscious that my speaking time is running out, although there are a great many other things I would like to talk about. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes rattled off a list of things, each of which could make for a great debate in its own right—flag, tax, supply chain. I would love to have debates on those subjects; maybe he will apply for some. I do not suppose it is my job to encourage the holding of debates, but I just have.

I should also give a plug to the debate on the cruise industry scheduled for next week, which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock will attend if she possibly can. I appreciate the support of and constructive criticism from all Members. We have had an interesting, helpful and constructive debate.

I thank the Minister, who has a real passion for the sector and for aviation. We have had a good, well-informed debate. The main point is clear: this is about people and the skills we need for those people. We cannot take those for granted and we must invest in them. As was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), we must ensure that people are not only well trained, but properly remunerated.

The other side of the issue is procurement, where the default position in the sector should be to procure and buy from UK yards—I make no bones about it. There is no excuse for not doing that; no other country in the world does not do it. The idea that we are considering buying ferries from Turkey is nonsensical.

That has to be the default position, and the Treasury should remember that the money comes back into the UK economy. We must ensure that the Treasury gets the fact that money spent in UK shipbuilding and in the UK maritime sector is money that will not only grow the sector, but procure jobs for the future.

I shall finish where I started, with a point on which I think we all agreed today: this is not an industry of yesterday; it is an industry of the future. We must make sure it is, and make sure it is attractive for young people to come in to, so that we not only get the well-paid jobs and skills, but benefit the broader UK economy.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the UK’s maritime sector.