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Cruise Industry

Volume 701: debated on Wednesday 22 September 2021

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

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the contribution of the cruise industry to the economy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Efford.

They say you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and perhaps that should have been the theme of the pandemic. In Southampton, as well as in many other ports around the country, that was never more stark than when we saw the empty berths where once many cruise ships were tied up while embarking and disembarking passengers. Cruise ships have created an ever-changing landscape in Southampton, as the many and varied ships rotate through the port, and when that was missing it was extremely noticeable.

Cruise operations are of huge significance to the UK’s economy. The port of Southampton is the home of the UK cruise industry and the leading cruise turnaround port in Europe. Last year, the majority of all UK cruise passengers passed through Southampton, with the port accounting for 83% of all cruise passengers in 2019. However, it is not the only port to benefit from cruise: Portsmouth, just down the road, Dover, Tilbury, Newcastle, Dundee, Edinburgh, Belfast and Liverpool all benefit from the revenue that cruise brings to their local economies. It is estimated that each turnaround visit for a cruise ship in Southampton brings £2.7 million to the local economy, and much of that will stay local. Its importance cannot be underestimated.

Southampton is like many post-industrial cities of the north, which is why you will hear me repeat that levelling up is not about geography but about opportunity. My constituents depended on manufacturing jobs, from shipbuilding to motor manufacturing. Southampton was the home of the famous Ford Transit van, but Ford, Vosper Thornycroft and Pirelli Cables & Systems are all long gone. That is why the port of Southampton and the cruise industry are so important to our economy and the employment prospects of my constituents.

In a port city like Southampton, one is never more than a few feet away from someone who makes a living from or has their standard of living enhanced by the cruise industry: from Solent Stevedores to the many taxi drivers, dozens of suppliers, Associated British Ports operators, students with jobs in hospitality and retirees working in the terminals during busy times—part time, full time, young and old. The cruise industry in Southampton is integral to our economic success.

However, it is not just our local economy that benefits from the cruise industry. Cruising brings in over £10 billion per year to the UK economy and supports nearly 90,000 jobs. In December last year, Cruise Lines International Association told the Transport Committee that pausing cruise operations between March and September 2020 resulted in £6.7 billion of lost expenditure and 52,000 job losses. Carnival Cruise Line alone employs over 1,100 people at its UK headquarters in Southampton and has over 2,000 British seagoing officers. That is not insignificant. We can calculate the economic benefits, but it is more difficult to put a price on the joy that cruising brings. In 2019, before the pandemic struck, nearly 2 million passengers passed through the port of Southampton alone. This figure is expected to grow to 4 million a year by 2050, and ports are already investing to take advantage of that growth.

Recently, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), opened the port of Southampton’s fifth and latest cruise terminal, aptly named Horizon. The state-of-the-art terminal is fitted with more than 2,000 solar panels on the roof, generating more power than it uses, and it has shore power for ships to plug into while in port.

The demographic of the cruise market has changed. No longer is it the preserve of older people and wealthy pensioners; it is now the fastest-growing sector of the tourism industry and is particularly popular with families. During the efforts to restart cruise, the industry worked closely with the Minister and Government and welcomed the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown. Domestic cruises were permitted again from 17 May this year, and the cruise industry has gone on to demonstrate how safe it is and how prepared it was to resume its operations. It has introduced stringent measures to keep passengers and crew safe. The UK Chamber of Shipping published a covid-19 framework for the industry that made cruise ships the safest environment in the travel and hospitality sector. Those measures include pre-embarkation health checks, masks and social distancing, and guests are encouraged to use hand-washing facilities and hand sanitiser dispensers at venue entrances. Cruise ships also have excellent medical facilities, including intensive care units on most ships. All adult passengers are required to be double vaccinated, as are the crew. Although it was disappointing that the increase in covid infections last winter meant that cruises were unable to resume, the industry used that extended period to further improve its protocols, learning from the pandemic as it progressed.

While we understand and acknowledge the disappointment of those who saw their holidays cancelled during the pandemic, we should not overlook the awful time that crew have experienced. The depressing sight of cruise ships anchored off the south coast, visiting a port every few weeks to offload waste and take on fuel and supplies, will be one of the most enduring and disturbing images of the pandemic.

Many crew members have also found themselves disadvantaged by the loss of the seafarers earnings deduction. Seafarers are normally entitled to a deduction from their tax bill; however, this is linked to time spent at sea outside of the UK. Through no fault of their own, many failed to meet the required qualifying period. The Government will therefore benefit from a windfall to the detriment of our seafarers. That has caused some crew members to reconsider whether a job that requires them to be away from their families for prolonged periods is worthwhile at all. It is putting even more pressure on the recovering industry, and driving British sailors to overseas companies and competitors. Retention of existing seafarer professionals is not the only issue: recruitment is becoming a challenge too. One captain has said that without the SED, it is now hard to attract university graduates to embark on a seafaring career.

In conclusion—it does no harm to repeat this—the cruise industry is a UK success story, employing tens of thousands of people and contributing billions to our economy while giving the very best holiday experience to customers. I know that the Minister was as pleased as me to see the resumption of our nation’s fantastic cruise industry, and that he will continue to support it, as he has done throughout the most turbulent time in its history. I hope that he will use his influence with the Chancellor and the Treasury to secure a seafarers earnings deduction waiver, temporarily waiving the requirement to be outside the UK for a period of time in order to qualify. Our seafarers must feel valued for what they do, and receive recompense for the sacrifices they make in the way they would have had the pandemic not happened.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) on having secured this very timely debate. My interest is local, national and international. It is local because of my home town of Greenock, the biggest town in my constituency, with its very long and very proud maritime history. It is the major port for exports in Scotland, and it hosts a growing cruise ship industry. Scotland hosted 817,000 cruise ship passengers in 2019, and Greenock hosted 144,000 of them, the second most in Scotland after Invergordon, with 168,000, and way ahead of Edinburgh, with 139,000. However, we have not finished quite yet: we are expanding the docking facilities in Greenock, and building a new visitor’s centre and a reception building. If I get my way, we will redevelop a local tobacco warehouse and a sugar refinery building to form the beginnings of a culture quarter within walking distance of cruise ship berths. Naturally, we are greedy to generate greater local financial benefits from the cruise industry, but we are prepared to invest to make that happen.

Scotland-wide, we have much to offer, as indicated by the investment in Aberdeen harbour. Around 27 cruise lines operating 67 different vessels will call at Scottish ports as part of a cruise in one year. That contribution is valued and should never be taken for granted. While we continue to exit from covid, and domestic cruising has increased, we must acknowledge that international cruising is hugely important. In years to come, Scotland shall remain a welcome host to all our friends and neighbours from foreign countries, from Sorrento to Southampton.

As the cruise industry continues to grow, it presents us with many opportunities and just as many challenges, but there is an issue that we cannot ignore. All operators of cruise ships need to address the environmental damage that their vessels cause. Disappointingly, the Paris agreement did not address aviation or shipping. I am pleased that the maritime industry will be at COP26 and will set a zero target for emissions for 2050.

Although I understand the cost of transition, I implore the industry to be more ambitious: 2050 is too far away. By 2050, if we do not hit our targets to reduce global warming, my port of Greenock will be underwater. Plans are in place for fuel cells to provide the energy to run the hotel aspect of cruise ships and Governments to have a duty to ensure that the power required to charge the cells while docked comes from clean, green renewable energy.

In conclusion, it is easy to point fingers and blame others but, if we are to continue to enjoy cruising in domestic and international waters, we require a collaborative approach from local ports, cruise ship operators, energy providers and Governments, forged by ambitious environmental targets. That way we can cruise with a clear conscience, safe in the knowledge that we are enjoying the beauty of our planet while protecting it for future generations.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I congratulate my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) on the brilliant work he has done in highlighting the massive contribution that the cruise industry makes, particularly to us in Southampton.

As I came in this morning, I was struck by the memory that one of the first debates I led in Westminster Hall was on competition in the cruise industry. It is great to see so many towns and cities from around the country with ports that play their part. Of course, I will always re-emphasise that Southampton is the capital of cruising in the United Kingdom. It is important to reflect that there are many hundreds of jobs in my constituency, even though it has no coastline and does not contain the port, that are reliant on the cruise terminal at ABP.

What we have seen over the past year or so has been really difficult for those employed in the sector and the large companies based in and around the port of Southampton, as well as all the smaller suppliers that have been so reliant on the sector for income over the past decade of massive expansion in the popularity of cruising. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen said, cruises are not just for wealthy pensioners but for all ages and demographics, who really enjoy the opportunities that cruising gives. In my constituency in 2019, 28 different small suppliers with a value of £11.9 million supplied the cruise industry. Last year, their incomes fell dramatically to just £6.9 million. We can understand the devastating impact on the local economy.

About 18 months ago, I remember being quite critical of the difficulties we had in repatriating cruise passengers and getting cruise ships into ports around the globe so that passengers could make it home. However, as the Government’s maritime biennial report indicates, following the repatriation of UK national passengers, Carnival alone repatriated more than 19,000 UK people and 13,000 international crew members last year. That was an enormous effort. The company has been pleased to continue to work with the Government to learn the crucial lessons of covid. The industry has learned to ensure that, should there be a resurgence of this or any other hideous virus, there are new protocols in place, so that we do not see those scenarios again. To bring all those passengers home took a massive financial investment and no small human effort.

It is important to look to the future and not focus on the challenges that there were but at the opportunities ahead. I was pleased to hear Carnival use the word “celebrate”. It is celebrating the reopening of international cruising. It has enjoyed a summer where UK passengers have been able to experience the waters off the British Isles and visit towns and cities on our own islands, but we have to get back to full-scale international cruising.

I am pleased to see the protocols and measures put in place to keep passengers safe. They include pre-departure testing, rigorous cleanliness onboard and encouraging sanitisation and hand washing. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen was right to point out the medical facilities onboard those ships are second to none. In many cases, they have intensive care units that one would expect to see only in hospitals. It is important to emphasise that cruising is now the safest form of transport. It has the potential to start regrowing and to contribute to the UK economy again, which we so desperately need.

I want to re-emphasise the massive changes to the environmental impact that we have seen. On tours of cruise ships docked in Southampton I have seen the efforts that go into minimising consumption, maximising recycling and ensuring that their waste is treated as sustainably as possible. Huge strides have been made not just by the cruise companies but by the port, which has reduced its emissions into the atmosphere of Southampton.

I want to reiterate the economic point that my hon. Friend made. There are questions around the support given to British seafarers, but over the next few months we could see them making an unexpected windfall net contribution to the Treasury. We desperately need mechanisms in place to encourage British seafarers to stay in the industry and new people to arrive. In the local area, I can name some inspirational British female seafarers, working in an industry that is not known for having large numbers of female sea captains. They exist and they do a great job. It is important that they are not driven out of the industry by unexpected additional taxation just because they have not been able to be at sea in international waters for the required number of days. I would like the Minister to consider that point, and I look forward to his undoubted words of wisdom about how bright the future of cruising is for Southampton.

I would like to finish with a “thank you” to the Minister. He is always there for the great events—the happy celebrations, opening new terminals and launching new ships—but over the last year or so he has also been there for the difficult times. I know how hard he and the Department for Transport have worked to ensure that the industry can restart in a safe and sustainable way.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) on securing this debate.

In recent years, the cruise industry has become one of the most important and, occasionally, controversial parts of the visitor economy in the Northern Isles. I suspect we are not the only community around the coastline to find ourselves in that position. The industry has grown over the years, starting with just a few ships and gradually growing to more and bigger ships. As a consequence, we have lacked a strategic approach to the development of that particular part of the visitor economy. It is nobody’s fault, but it is a little like the frog in water that just gets warmer—eventually, we realise that there is a severe impact. A good number of local businesses in Orkney and Shetland are now highly dependent on cruise traffic. There are also a number of self-employed tour guides who have grown an industry that simply was not there before. They have certainly missed cruise traffic; its return will be important.

In all things we should try to find the positive from the negative. The absence of cruise ships since March 2020 and the beginning of their slow return is something that we should take opportunity from. I would like my communities to take a much more strategic approach to engaging with the industry, and, by the same token, I would like to see better engagement from the industry with my communities. In the past, the larger operators would often say “These are our terms of business; people can either take them or leave them. If they do not want them, we will not come to their communities.” I hope that as those operators rebuild and as we rebuild our relationship with them, we may be able to see that done rather differently.

There are real opportunities for some of the most economically fragile communities in the Northern Isles: places such as Fair Isle, which has a population of about 60 people. A small cruise boat coming into dock there can have a tremendous impact and can be a real opportunity. However, again, to get the maximum benefit from a visit from a cruise ship, communities like that will require a bit of support from outside agencies. Local councils, VisitScotland, the local economic development agencies, the Scottish Government and the UK Government should all be pulling together to find a new strategic approach that will allow every community in the country that engages with the industry to do so in a better, more strategic way. That way, the very different needs and opportunities that will go to a place such as Greenock or Southampton are not ones that will operate to the disadvantage of communities such as mine.

There are all sorts of opportunities from the industry, but we have to accept that there is a diversity of opportunities and all need to be accommodated. This is the point at which we can reboot that relationship, and I hope Governments and other public agencies, the industry and communities can all work together to do exactly that.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Efford, and a great pleasure to contribute to the debate, ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith). I do so as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary maritime and ports group, but also as a Member of Parliament for Thurrock and particularly the port of Tilbury, which is home to the London cruise terminal. I will happily concede to my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen that Southampton is, indeed, the capital of cruising. However, by the same circumstance, Thurrock is the ports capital of the UK. It is only natural that cruising forms part of that.

We have heard already this morning about the difficulties faced by the industry during the pandemic and I want to pay tribute to its stoicism when grappling with the issues caused by the pandemic. Dare I say that its behaviour contrasts rather favourably with that of the aviation sector, which has been loud and noisy about the challenges it has faced? Fair enough, but the fact that the cruise industry has not been as vocal about the difficulties that it has faced does not make them any less difficult.

As we have heard, the industry stopped sailing in March 2020. The skyline in Tilbury was transformed, because we were home to seven ships that should have been sailing the high seas but were permanently docked there. That included two ships owned by Saga, one of which had yet to take its maiden voyage. It was a challenging time but we were pleased to host them. However, it is fantastic news that we finally have the cruise sector sailing again and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for his real efforts to achieve that.

I have been in debates about the industry. Only last week, we talked about how the silo culture in Government often means that the sector does not get the support it necessarily deserves. That has been particularly true in this regard. We have had the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Transport all having an influence on whether the industry could sail.

Although the Department for Transport has been an extremely effective and enthusiastic champion of the sector, unfortunately the decision making about whether sailing could take place really rested with the Department of Health and Social Care and the question of whether it was safe. We have already heard that cruising is perhaps the safest method of travel. In fact, we know that the industry has made great investments to make it so, reducing capacity to enable social distancing on ships and so on. The medical facilities are also second to none. Obviously, the Department of Health and Social Care and the chief medical officer have the objective of disease control, and they took a risk-averse approach to whether the sector could get going.

The most difficult thing was the travel advice issued by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which treated our cruise ships not as a mode of travel but as a destination. It was pretty unfair to do so given that, as we have heard, they are a safe method of travel. In terms of the destinations that a cruise ship will visit, the amazing thing about ships is that they are very flexible, and if a destination suddenly becomes red, they can go somewhere else.

At last common sense has prevailed. I hope the Minister and the Department for Transport can reconfigure their relationships with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department of Health and Social Care, so that the situation the sector faced is not repeated. In August 2020, the industry showed the Minister’s predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), the safety measures that were being put in place across the industry, and nobody could have doubted the effort being taken and the safety they would generate. Alas, it took a long time to persuade everyone else, but lessons have been learned.

The difficulties that the sector has faced have led to some cruise companies going, and a number of vessels have been scrapped, but the industry’s optimism is striking and inspirational, given the difficulties it has faced. Just this weekend, the Disney cruise ship left from Tilbury, which was great to see. Lots of children went to wave it off, because it was accompanied by lots of Disney tunes, which was lovely. I am pleased that, at last, the Spirit of Adventure has commenced its maiden voyage and is currently sailing around Scotland.

I am pleased that we have had this opportunity to pay tribute to this fantastic sector, which is much neglected. I hope that we shall continue to celebrate its contributions in the future.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) on securing this debate. I always bring a contribution from a Northern Ireland perspective and I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart, that the cruise sector has an impact on my constituency. I want to explain the importance of it, and how we wish to grow it so that we can all benefit.

To me, like many people, the idea of a cruise after the past number of months seems like a dream. Well, that dream could become a reality under the correct circumstances and if safety measures are in place. The boost that will bring to our local economy will be a welcome shot in the arm for my constituency of Strangford. That is why the Northern Ireland perspective is important.

Before my hon. Friend begins to elaborate on Strangford, as he is wont to do on every occasion—obviously, he is right to do so—does he agree that the boost to Northern Ireland tourism per se from cruise tourism has been tremendous? We have the “Game of Thrones” filming locations, the Titanic, Giant’s Causeway and the walled city of Londonderry, all of which benefit from cruise passengers who arrive either at Belfast port or Foyle port to acquaint themselves with the great sights in Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will enlarge on that in relation to the constituency of Strangford. He is right to mention the walled city of Londonderry, “Game of Thrones” and other things around Northern Ireland that cruise ships and those who are on them can visit. It has become a growth industry for us—at least, it was before the pandemic. We hope to grow that over the next period of time.

I am pleased, as always, to see the Minister in his place, and I look forward to his response. I also look forward to the shadow Minister’s speech, because he has an interest in this subject matter and in Northern Ireland. I am perhaps coaxing him to come in on that.

To back up the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), between 2016 and 2019 the cruise market in Belfast grew by 136%—a massive increase—bringing in an increasing number of international and first-time visitors to the region. It is becoming a key contributor to the region’s tourism economy. An estimated 275,000 cruise visitors arrived in Belfast harbour in 2019 as part of a Britain and Ireland, or northern European, cruise itinerary, bringing an estimated £15 million into the local economy. We are clearly building on that and see its importance for the economy.

For my constituency of Strangford, those on the cruise to Belfast commonly come down the Ards peninsula. There are two key places that they wish to come to. One is historical: the abbey in Greyabbey, a Cistercian monastery dating back to the early years. The Montgomery family, of the close by Rosemount estate, have a particular interest in it as it used to be part of their estate. It is now run by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, but the Montgomery family keep an interest. There is also Mount Stewart, which is run by the National Trust, and, I believe, has become the jewel in the crown for visits to the constituency of Strangford.

Significant investment has been made to portside facilities in Belfast in recent years. I visited the Belfast Harbour Commissioners’ area before the pandemic along with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) and others who had an interest in that. We were impressed, by what the Belfast Harbour Commissioners were prepared to do.

In recent years, they have built on those facilities, including opening the first dedicated cruise facility in Belfast harbour in 2019—again, just before the pandemic. More than £800,000 was invested in upgrading the quayside facility at the new cruise terminal. The Belfast Harbour Commissioners recognised the need to do something in Belfast to build on what they had, so they spent their money on this specifically, enabling larger cruise ships to dock in Belfast.

The upgrade includes a visitor information centre, with £152,000 funding from Tourism NI, representing an important development of the city’s cruise tourism infrastructure—we clearly recognise it in Belfast, and further afield—and using the latest digital and audio-visual technology to showcase Belfast and Northern Ireland’s visitor attractions. The investment yielded results, as Belfast was named the best port of call in the UK and Ireland in Cruise Critic’s 2019 Editors’ Picks Awards—quite an achievement, and, again, we want to build on it—with Northern Ireland leading the way.

The importance of cruising to my constituency of Strangford lies in the fact that there is an easy, fast route to see what was described by the UNESCO world cultural heritage tentative list as

“one of the most spectacular and idiosyncratic gardens of Western Europe and universally renowned for the ‘extraordinary scope of its plant collections and the originality of its features, which give it world-class status’”—

that is, Mount Stewart. I am sure my colleagues in this Chamber are saying to themselves “I’m going to visit Strangford as soon as I can. I’ll make my way there.” I will give them the details shortly, Mr Efford, on how they can enjoy what I pass every day when I am at home. I was at Mount Stewart last Friday with the National Trust. It is probably one of the most beautiful gardens around.

I say that of my constituency unashamedly and proudly, and I look forward to inviting the Minister to visit someday. I am sure that he is itching at the chance—he is probably giving a diary date to his PPS as we speak! To further butter up the area, when he comes to Mount Stewart, he can come down to Greyabbey because it has some of the most fantastic antique shops and coffee shops in the Ards peninsula. He can make a really good visit, spend his money, have his coffee, which is second to none, and visit the antique shops, which also have antiquities and provide historical interest. It is somewhere of some importance, and our abbey has the best example of Anglo-Norman architecture in Ulster.

Those stops are currently on the cruise line itinerary, and, indeed, there were 51 visits in one season. It needs to be pushed more, in my opinion, but that is something that my colleague, Councillor Robert Adair, the deputy mayor of Ards and North Down Borough Council, is working on—drawing more attention to our wonderful area.

Tourism is central to the policy, strategy and planning of Ards and North Down Borough Council, because we see it as the key to a bigger boost for the economy, more jobs and opportunities, and money being spent in the constituency. The policy also moves further afield and goes for the entire United Kingdom. I understand the attraction of a warm Mediterranean sun—we all do—but the beauties of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are incomparable, and I believe a UK-wide strategy of welcoming cruise ships will be beneficial to us all.

We look to the Minister’s response, and I am sure it will encompass the benefits of cruise ships across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I will warn him of the question I want to ask him: what discussions has he had, or could he have, with the Deputy Minister back in the Northern Ireland Assembly, to advance us where we could do it better?

It is no secret in this House that I am a great believer in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, better together. I love my colleagues in the SNP to death, I really do; we have a different point of view on the constitution, but I love going to Scotland for visits as well. I want us to stay together, so the question is how we can do this better together for the benefit of everyone. That is what I would like to see.

I have long questioned the efficiency of Tourism Ireland’s partnership with Tourism NI for the promotion of Northern Ireland ports. I am not convinced that it is doing all it can to make that happen, and perhaps it could do it better. I urge the Minister to consider a UK-wide cruise promotion campaign with Northern Ireland as the central port of interest—no pressure there, Minister.

When people are presented with the option to come to our beautiful shores, enjoy our world-renowned hospitality and cuisine and get a taste of our wonderful, rich history, I believe it will not be turned down by anyone. That is why some of those first-time visitors want to come back. Now is the time to attract those cruise ship visits, build on the ones we have and increase them, and the local economy will be the beneficiary.

Thank you very much for your excellent chairing of this debate, Mr Efford. I thank the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) for securing the debate.

I think my colleagues from Scotland, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) missed a trick: they did not talk about their UNESCO world heritage sites, nor did they talk about the quality of their coffee, which I am sure is truly wonderful, in Orkney and Shetland and in Inverclyde—as well as in Aberdeen, of course.

I also did not expect that we would be talking about Disney songs, so I will hold myself back from bursting into song. I could not think of an appropriate maritime song to sing, but I am sure my children will correct me later and tell me I have missed one—probably from “Moana” or “The Little Mermaid”.

Rather than focusing on covid, I want to talk and think about pre-covid and post-covid, what the cruise industry will look like and the benefits it will have for our communities. It is undoubtedly a massive success story. Between 2014 and 2019 we saw 90% growth in cruise ship calls and passenger numbers in Scotland. That is a staggering increase, and it shows the increase not only in the popularity of cruise ships, but in the ability of Scottish ports to take those cruise ships in and of Scottish communities to ensure that we provide the best possible services.

In Scotland, the cruise industry supports more than 800 employees and generates around £23 million gross value added for the Scottish economy. It also extends the tourism season in Orkney and Shetland. However, the key thing for me and for the SNP is that sustainable cruise tourism development must be the overarching requirement. I appreciate the different situation that Southampton and even Inverclyde find themselves in, in that they are cruise ports and less destinations—I am sure Inverclyde is a destination and so is Southampton, but they are involved in servicing the industry more than, say, Orkney and Shetland.

We need to ensure that the tourism that we see from cruise ships and cruise passengers benefits those local economies, and that local economies see the plus points of that. We have seen issues around Scotland with things such as the North Coast 500, which is excellent but has brought problems as well as positive benefits to those areas. We must ensure that we strike that balance for local communities.

Cruise ship stays make up 15% of overnight tourism volume in the highlands and islands, but they represent a much lower percentage of the overnight tourism spend there. I understand that that is the nature of cruising; that is how it works. However, we cannot see a race to the bottom between Scottish or British ports trying to allow cruise ships to come as cheaply as possible, without people visiting their local areas. We must see the benefit to those local areas. Although having cruise passengers on an island or in a community in Scotland is a great thing, it can also be unsettling for the residents and that local services are more stretched as a result. We need to make sure that balance is struck.

The harbour in Aberdeen is split between my constituency, Aberdeen North, and Aberdeen South. A new harbour is being built in Aberdeen South that will be able to accommodate 300 metre vessels with a maximum 10.5 metre draught. Before that was being built in my city, I did not know a huge amount about the cruise industry or how it worked for local communities. I continue to be concerned that areas around the new harbour in Aberdeen—among of the more deprived communities in the city—will not gain from the new harbour and cruise ships in the way that I would like them to, given what they have had to give up for it to be built, with the number of road closures and work that has been going on. I would like to see those communities benefit.

My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde mentioned the culture quarter, and we need to support local communities in doing that, to ensure that cruise ship visitors can spend money in the local area. That is what we need to see: the economic benefit coming to those areas as a result.

The hon. Lady touches on something very important. The capacity for cruise ship passengers to spend money when in port is very often determined by the terms of the contract that they have with the cruise ship. That is why I say that in rebuilding the industry and looking at the impact it has on different parts of the country, we need that sense of partnership. We need our communities to be talking and to be able to influence the ships, as well as the other way around.

I absolutely agree, and I thought that the right hon. Gentleman’s speech was very thoughtful on that matter. He has really thought about the needs of his community. That is why I stressed that we must not have a race to the bottom. We do not want our ports fighting over who can give the cheapest terms because that will only hurt our communities; it will mean that our communities do not see the benefit. It would be much more positive if they worked together, both as local communities and in a more overarching strategic way, as he said.

It is really unfortunate that we have not had much co-operation between the UK and Scottish Governments on green ports, in particular when we have been clear about the key things that we want: a focus on net zero and a focus on the real living wage. It is completely reasonable to say that people working in and around green ports, cruise ports or any other kind of port should be paid the real living wage. One of the biggest concerns that I hear, in particular on—slightly off topic—oil and gas supply vessels, is that people are not paid appropriately because they are on tickets from other countries and therefore they are paid less.

We need to make sure that we bear down—I do not like that phrase—on that and reduce the number of people not being paid a wage that they can live on. We need to ensure that we have laws and rules to fix that problem in a maritime way, and that the people working in ports are paid the real living wage, not the national living wage. It is such an important industry, and it is one that will continue to grow. We need to make sure that we see the benefits for the people working directly in the industry and for the communities seeing the visits.

People travelling on cruise ships get to visit some of the most inaccessible places across the UK—no offence to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. They get to visit places that cannot be reached by hopping on a bike or a train. It is really important that the people who are travelling on these ships and the cruise companies recognise that these communities are fairly rural and cannot necessarily deal with that influx without support. This is a really positive industry; it is a massive success story, particularly for Scotland and its more rural communities. I would like to see it continue to grow, but we probably need to work more with local communities to ensure that they see its benefits.

What an astonishing debate we have had today—I thought that we were all going to burst into song at one point. Far from “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid”, from the speeches that we have heard today I was going to suggest that “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding might be appropriate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. As a Member for a landlocked constituency yourself, let us not forget that you have one of the most historic palaces in the nation, Eltham Palace, one of my favourites—a world-class blend of art deco and medieval, the medieval bit being, obviously, where Henry VIII grew up. I wanted to throw that in there, as Members were talking about their own heritage sites, in particular the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—what a pitch he made for the new chief executive of Tourism Ireland! I will come back to that in a few minutes. I am a Manchester MP, and we are a seagoing city, as Members know. There may be seven locks between us and Liverpool, but I am proud of that heritage and the canal that Daniel Adamson built in the 1880s.

This is a timely debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith), who spoke so eloquently and stood up for his port. He even mentioned Portsmouth in his speech—I am never sure which city is the pride of Hampshire.

As TS Eliot stated—the Minister likes a good quote—

“The journey,

Not the destination matters”.

That is a saying that rings true to those in the cruise industry more than most. The past 18 months have been an ordeal for the industry to say the least, starting with a scramble to get passengers and crew members home, ports closing to our ships and some crew members remaining stuck at sea. I pay tribute to the industry and the workers who found themselves in such extraordinary circumstances.

I am a huge fan of this country—Members may be aware—and its coastline in all its rugged beauty, but I imagine that, for some, that is a hard sell in comparison to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean or the magnificent fjords of Scandinavia. At the end of July, it was really great to hear that cruise ships were again able not only to traverse the seas but to drop anchor and have passengers disembark to sample the sights and sounds of foreign climes. That was a point made eloquently by the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes).

As the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen said, when the cruise industry thrives, it contributes £10 billion to the economy. I find this incredible: every ship that docks in the Solent—the capital of cruising, as has already been pointed out—is worth a staggering £2.7 million to the economy. However, the industry does not just benefit Southampton. The Minister and I were in Liverpool, at Anfield, on Friday night at the Merseyside Maritime Industry Awards, an amazing evening and a fantastic, world-class display of British ingenuity. We saw how the docks are being regenerated through Wirral Waters, the Peel Ports Group, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, and Mersey Maritime. The project is really innovative for the city region in the north-west.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) will know that I have seen huge change over many years—so much so that, when I now visit the islands, I have to get the cruise timetable to make sure that I can get to the Broch of Gurness, Skara Brae, St Magnus Cathedral or Maeshowe. When those coaches turn up, it is almost impossible to get into those sites, which are some of the most historic on our planet. I have also seen the great growth in visitor attractions, new interpretation centres and so on. He is right that the cruise industry needs to co-operate with local authorities to ensure the maximum advantage for islands, highlands, towns and cities when they are visited.

I can tell the hon. Member for Strangford that I will visit Grey Abbey. It is one of the few Cistercian monasteries in our lands that I have not visited, and I am absolutely convinced now that I will get there. In Belfast, Titanic Belfast is an amazing innovative interpretation centre, drawing tens of thousands of visitors and building on the heritage that Northern Ireland has in the cruise industry. I want to make a point for “Game of Thrones” and the port of Derry/Londonderry. We would like to see more cruise ships stopping there in future and exploiting the potential of that fine medieval walled city.

Many jobs in the cruise industry are highly localised. 20% of those employed on cruise ships are based in the UK and the industry is an important source of employment both aboard ship and on shore, and in wider supply chains. However, the industry must be mindful of pay, hours and conditions, particularly of non-UK staff, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) eloquently pointed out in her speech. We should be paying the living wage to all those who dock at and work in our ports. I congratulate and thank the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) for her work on the all-party parliamentary maritime and ports group, and join her in paying tribute to the industry, which has worked so hard through the pandemic to get people home, to respond to the changes and to get the industry back up and running.

Another thing we must address within the industry is its environmental impact, which the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) spoke eloquently about. He also pointed out that Greenock is still getting more visitors than Edinburgh—I think there is a little needle going on across the central belt. We know this takes many forms, such as the emission of greenhouse gases and waste from ships, and reducing the resilience of marine ecosystems and damaging marine environments. All shipping generates an impact, but cruise ships have traditionally created waste disproportionately as their thousands of passengers create a waste stream, so I was delighted to see the industry yet again showing initiative to do the right thing as we transition towards greener shipping.

I know the Minister visited the port of Southampton last week and opened the Horizon cruise terminal. This innovation and infrastructure is vital to helping the sector build back greener and reach its targets of reducing carbon emissions by 40% and of carbon-neutral cruising by 2050 across Europe. It cannot do this alone. It is vital that the Government fund innovation and research in the wider maritime sector and cultivate an environment where the cutting-edge green and just transition can happen. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen North said, we must not see a race to the bottom.

The industry has invested almost £17 billion into ships, bringing on board new technologies to reduce emissions and to be more efficient. Cruise ships are increasingly equipped to support shore-side electricity use, and the development of infrastructure in ports, such as we have seen at Horizon and Kirkwall, will be key. We know there is a levelling-up agenda and that coastal communities are among the poorest. We also know maritime can offer well-paid, highly-skilled jobs, as well as true regeneration and transport connectivity, and I call on the Government to make the investment in the sector as we sail out of the troubled waters of the pandemic.

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. As is often the case when we discuss our wonderful maritime sector, we have had a debate that has been incredibly interesting, inspiring, thought-provoking, amusing, musical, well-informed and above all passionate, and it is an honour to respond to all the hon. and right hon. Members who have made speeches. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) on securing this timely debate. I know this topic is close to his heart; it is to mine too, and I am keen to debate it with other Members today, particularly during Cruise Lines International Association Cruise Week.

As I have got to know the sector, I have been struck by its incredible variety. We have seen this outlined and explained in the speeches today: the majesty of the large cruise ships; the family ships; the small, boutique exploration ships. It is for this reason that the cruise industry is at the heart of the UK’s maritime identity. More than that, we have seen today that it is a part of the human desire to explore. It brings enormous cultural and social benefits to the country and to the people who cruise, but it also brings identity. The phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen, with regards to the ever-changing landscape of Southampton, particularly struck me, as we see what this means to his constituency. The value of the sector to the economy is significant and undeniable. Prior to the pandemic, it supported over 82,000 jobs. CLIA estimates that passengers and crew spent £486 million at ports of embarkation and call in 2017. We have heard from hon. Members of the effect that the industry had.

Unlike the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), I am not going to fall into the trap of debating what is the most important cruise destination or port in the UK. There are all manner of beautiful, interesting and amazing places to visit. I always enjoy listening to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and he did an amazing job in selling his constituency. I am delighted to report that I have been to his constituency and need no persuading of its wonders, but I very much look forward to visiting again as soon as I can. We heard very powerfully from him of the effect that the cruise industry has on Belfast and his constituency.

As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), every cruise passenger who passes through the terminal is an opportunity for coastal communities all over the UK; from Orkney to Thurrock, Manchester to Northern Ireland, Aberdeen to Inverclyde, to Southampton—we have really seen that today. In particular, it provides opportunities that areas that have been disadvantaged can make the most of. I have been struck by some of the comments made today by hon. Members; I am very keen to work together with councils, and with the devolved Administrations, to ensure that every community benefits. As the hon. Member for Strangford says, we are better together, and I am keen to do everything I can to help.

That is why it has been so devastating that the cruise industry has been at a standstill for over a year. I have also seen the very moving and sad sight of the great ships moored offshore; it is a sight that I hope not to see again, but it made an impact on me. The cruise industry was an early victim of the covid-19 pandemic. We all saw the stories of outbreaks on vessels that were splashed across the papers at the beginning of the pandemic. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North pointed out, operators, industry and Government worked very closely together to take action to repatriate over 19,000 UK nationals from vessels around the globe. The UK also facilitated the repatriation of over 13,000 crew members from cruise ships to their home nations, and encouraged other nations to do the same.

The impact of the pandemic on the cruise industry was considerable; we had to find a way forward. My Department brought teams across Whitehall to work together. I emphasise that for a good reason—it really was working together. I pay tribute to the sector; to its stoicism, as was referred to earlier, and to how it put the safety of passengers and crew at the heart of everything it did. I also pay tribute to my team at the Department of Transport, for whom this has been a labour of love. They have worked passionately with the industry to be able restart the sector. That was possible because the industry worked very quickly to produce the comprehensive set of protocols, through the UK Chamber of Shipping, that we have already heard about today. They have been recognised by the International Maritime Organisation as good practice globally. It is a significant achievement for all those involved, and to the industry’s credit that these were produced so quickly, and that they are substantial. Operators submit to an external verification process to achieve hospital-grade infection prevention certification. Indeed, one of the external verification providers that we have heard from as part of the restart process has assured us that in some cases cruise ships have outperformed hospitals. My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North is right to point out the extraordinary facilities that exist on some of these ships—I have seen some of them—because there really are hospitals on board. That is quite incredible.

So we have seen a phased return of cruising. I was delighted to see the first domestic cruise setting sail from Southampton in May. The attitude of the sector—this positive, outward-going, constructive, go-getting attitude—has really been shown by the creation of a new domestic market for cruising. Customer appetite has been phenomenal and I am absolutely delighted that passengers have experienced the beauty of the UK’s coastline—all around the UK, as we have heard today—despite the summer weather that we have had, which has perhaps been suboptimal, to say the least.

The Department for Transport led the global travel taskforce, of course, and as part of that I led a ministerial task and finish group for cruise restart, to oversee the measures put in place and to ensure that we could restart and restaff in a safe way. I thank my colleagues from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for their diligent work, and for working together with me in restarting cruise in a safe way. I cannot say how delighted I was that the first international cruise started again in August from Liverpool, where the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East and I were the other day. That is a real testament to the extraordinary work that has gone into enhancing the resilience of the sector from Government and industry working together.

Nevertheless, I of course recognise that this long suspension of the industry has had a significant financial impact. We heard that most clearly from my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on maritime and ports. She very powerfully explained that the financial impact on the sector has been significant. Again, I pay tribute to the sector’s stoicism. However, the impact has not only been felt on the cruise sector itself but on ports, on the wider supply chains and on local communities, from Southampton to Strangford, and from Manchester through to Thurrock. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) talked about tour guides, which is a very good example of how local small industries really benefit from the cruise industry.

That aspect is particularly important, of course, for my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen. Last week, he and I were both at the unveiling of the fifth cruise terminal at Southampton, the absolutely beautiful new Horizon terminal. It is a state-of-the-art building, equipped with shore power to reduce emissions from cruise ships in port, and it is the result of investment by Associated British Ports with the Government and the Solent local enterprise partnership. That visit was particularly significant for me, because one of the first visits I made after being given this job, within just one or two days, was to Southampton, and almost a year to the day later I revisited the same site and saw that incredible new facility.

Of course, we have heard that there are many other new facilities elsewhere. We have heard from the hon. Members for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) about the investment that is being made in their part of the world, including the £350 million expansion in Aberdeen, which includes space for cruise. That is very welcome.

When we look to the future, such investment encapsulates everything that is best about the sector. It is looking to the future, reaching for new standards and looking for goals that are common across the whole of maritime, as we heard in the debate last week. I saw that for myself when I visited the Iona, which is P&O’s newest and most environmentally friendly ship, in Southampton a couple of months ago. It is an incredibly impressive vessel and really shows how the industry is going the extra mile to make itself more environmentally friendly.

Of course, we have the transport decarbonisation plan. Shore power, as we see at that new fifth cruise terminal in Southampton, is a major part of that, because it reduces emissions, meaning that ships do not have to run their generators in port, which will help communities in areas such as Aberdeen or Southampton, Itchen, and help to ensure a greener and cleaner environment for all. This winter, we will consult on how Government can support wider deployment as we transition to net zero.

Of course, cruise is also a major part of levelling up, which is central to this Government’s agenda, to ensure that we have direct investment from the cruise sector in port towns and cities, creating local jobs and initiatives to improve air quality in those constituencies.

I am really pleased to hear about the focus on net zero and the amount that the Minister is able to say about what the cruise industry is doing; that is excellent. On the employment issues that have been raised, we are really clear that people should be paid the real living wage, but if he is not willing to go that far, can he at least confirm that he believes people should be paid the national living wage if they are working on cruise ships that are docking in British ports?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising that point. We are always interested to see what more we can do to raise standards for those who work in this most wonderful of sectors. Last year, I signed into law the regulation that meant that the majority of those who work in UK waters are paid that minimum wage, which means that the attractiveness of using seafarers from elsewhere is much reduced. However, I will of course continue to look at what else we might be able to do. We want to make sure that the UK is an excellent place to invest in, and to bring more cruise ships, more seafarers, more jobs and more money into this area. We will continue to support the safe resumption of cruise.

I will make one or two other points before I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen to sum up the debate. Making sure that crew changes are managed efficiently and safely is key, and I am pleased to note that cruise companies already implement their own vaccination policies and report very high levels of fully vaccinated passengers, but it is also a matter for seafarers. It has been very difficult to access vaccination for seafarers, because it is complex. We have worked very closely together, and I want to thank the NHS for making clinics available, particularly Solent NHS Trust. That trust has been incredibly impressive, even sending NHS staff onboard to ensure that seafarers are reached, which will clearly have a major impact.

A number of Members have mentioned the seafarers earnings deduction, and I will say a word or two about that. Clearly, the UK has been under extraordinary financial pressure over the past 18 months. A large percentage of UK seafarers are working internationally, and of course being eligible for the seafarers earnings deduction can make an important difference to their financial wellbeing and ability to support families. Unfortunately, the global suspension of the cruise sector has meant that seafarers, through no fault of their own, have been unable to meet or maintain the eligibility requirements for accessing SED. The industry has warned that this will have a significant impact on those seafarers, as all right hon. and hon. Members will realise. My predecessor and I have both engaged extensively with the Treasury on the matter. The effect of it has been difficult to quantify, but I hope that a clearer picture will emerge with the resumption of international cruises. I look forward to working with industry to provide further data to help Government make an informed decision on what further action, if any, they are able to take.

That is a really important point for a significant number of all of our constituents. The Minister has said that he has had talks and that things may be going forward, but if he will undertake to write to us and let us know what is happening with this issue in future, I would really appreciate it.

The substantive point of the comment that I made was about the data—in particular, the clearer picture of the impact—and I can certainly write to hon. Members if that would be helpful, so that they can understand what data is required. I can certainly look at that once it is provided.

In summary, I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in today’s debate. It has been a long and challenging 18 months for cruise, and I cannot express enough times my delight that with co-operation across Government and the industry, this incredibly valuable sector has been able to restart. As we have heard, prior to the pandemic, cruise was one of the fastest-growing sectors of the tourism industry worldwide, and was of huge importance to Britain and the public. As ships sail from our shores again, I want the sector to feel confident that the UK is a great place to do business, and for it to bring more ships and more jobs, and more for our communities all over our United Kingdom.

Frequently, the interesting thing about these debates is what we learn when we are in them, such as that Fair Isle, with a population of 60, still has cruises—albeit more modest ones—visiting it. I had not thought about that—I am quite focused on Southampton; I do not know if anyone noticed—but these are really great debates for learning new things that we did not already know. I have found it fascinating, particularly the comments made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) about his constituency and why it is the most important place for people to visit. Of course, I would argue that that is Southampton, but I am sure that everyone in here, whether they are from Aberdeen North, Thurrock or anywhere else, would argue that their constituency is the place to visit.

I will say a couple of things in conclusion. Looking back a bit, although it is important to look forward, it was perverse that when we started opening up, we opened restaurants, bars and hotels, but not restaurants, bars and hotels on cruise ships. It is one of those industries that just gets on with it and is good at what it does, and therefore is a bit forgotten.

I wanted to have this debate so that we can highlight the importance of cruise and acknowledge that it is a really important industry to the country. We have learned that it is a truly UK-wide business that benefits all of us and our constituents and will continue to do so, but no one really talks about it because it just gets on with it. It was a bit disadvantaged by some of the Government advice.

The Minister, who is remarkably well thought of by the industry, did everything he could to restart cruising, but then of course there was the travel advice from the FCDO, which said that it came from PHE, and before we knew it no one could make a decision. I hope that sort of thing will not happen again. I hope there will be no pandemic, but in the event that that sort of thing happens, I hope this will be looked at properly.

I hope people will now acknowledge how important cruise is, how many cruise operators we have, how many jobs they create, and how much money they put into our economy. I hope the industry is not left to get on with it because it is so successful. That is a two-way street. Members have said that cruise perhaps needs to work more with local communities and to benefit them more. It should never say, “We are a big cruise operation and you can take it or leave it.” I do not feel that it has done that in Southampton, but we need to be alive to that sort of thing.

There are so many cruise operators. I do not want to namecheck them all, but as soon as we start to look, we realise how many there are. Carnival has its group, which includes P&O and Cunard—those are the ones I am particularly familiar with in Southampton—but then there are Fred, Olsen, Saga and smaller ones that we perhaps have not heard of. It is a massive industry and it is really important to the country.

I thank all hon. Members who have come here today to make their points. I am sure that they have been well heard by the industry and by Government. I again extend my gratitude to the Minister, who has been exceptional over the past 12 months. I know the industry would want me to say that.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the contribution of the cruise industry to the economy.

Sitting suspended.