Motion to Approve
My Lords, I seek an assurance from the Minister. I promised her after our discussion in the Moses Room that I would look at Hansard carefully to see what she had said in response to my questions. I regret that she did not address my concerns. Although the letter that I received this morning attempted to do so, it basically conflicts with the Explanatory Memorandum.
Again, this is a no-deal SI. I keep hoping that the House of Commons will rescue us from this dystopian nightmare, but it looks again today as if it might not do it, so I accept that we have to prepare for this and I do not seek to interrupt that process. Unlike the three SIs that we have just approved, this SI involves new policy. As your Lordships will be aware, ship recycling is a very dangerous process. If done without high levels of safeguard, it can be dangerous to both the environment and the individuals involved in it.
To tackle this, EU regulations have created a list of approved facilities for ship recycling, not all of which are in the EU—the Minister told us last week that some facilities are in Turkey and the USA. The approval process for those facilities involves inspection, which is complex and expensive, particularly for those outside the EU.
Like the other no-deal SIs, this one removes references to the EU and gives substitute powers to the Secretary of State. However, it goes further. Paragraph 7.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum makes it clear that the UK list would initially include all facilities on the EU list. However, it also,
“establishes a new procedure allowing ship recycling facilities worldwide to apply for inclusion onto the new UK approved list”.
Given that there are some very dubious practices in ship recycling in some parts of the world and that it would be very costly for us as an individual country acting alone to inspect and constantly police standards in a yard on the other side of the world, I regard this as a worrying new policy.
I can see that the policy is in the buccaneering spirit of the Brexiteers—“We can do this more cheaply. There are easier ways of doing this. Cut some costs”—but it could mean a dangerous lapse in standards and controls. The Minister assured me this morning that it would not lead to a lapse in standards, so my purpose in speaking is to invite her to reassure us on the Floor of the House that the Government are not looking to expand their list in the way in which the Explanatory Memorandum states, and will take a precautionary approach so as to maintain the highest environmental standards.
My Lords, I very much support the noble Baroness’s comments on this SI. It is designed to put some regulation around the breaking up of ships. As we all know—and as the noble Baroness said—it is a difficult and possibly polluting process. There was a time, a few years ago, when a shipyard in the UK was breaking up ships that had been towed across from the United States because they were not allowed to be broken up there. I have always thought that our environmental regulations were supposed to be better than theirs. They certainly were not then. Why they were not towed to India or Bangladesh, heaven only knows, because it is even worse there.
I share the noble Baroness’s worry that there may be one common list at the moment, but it is very easy for UK commercial interests to put pressure on the Government here to enable UK shipbreakers’ yards to compete with those on the continent by lowering standards. The paragraph in the Explanatory Memorandum that the noble Baroness quoted also says:
“To allow UK flagged ships the widest choice and to minimise administrative burdens on ship recycling facilities, our policy is to align the UK list with the European list as far as practicable”.
This is the dangerous bit. When the Minister responds, I hope she will confirm that there will be no reduction in any environmental or other standards, compared with Europe’s, if and when we leave.
My Lords, this is yet another of these statutory instruments. I share the exasperation of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. It is almost as if a collective madness has overtaken this Parliament. We are spending hours and hours on this, using up the time of brilliant officials and keeping excellent Ministers working. While we are discussing these statutory instruments, some of our colleagues in Grand Committee are discussing other statutory instruments relating to legal issues. All of these will be required only in the event of no deal—which, apparently, none of us wants and which we are trying to get off the agenda.
I read the contribution from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, to the debate yesterday, and how wise it was. If only we would do what the noble and learned Lord suggested and take some decisive action. For goodness’ sake, have we become collectively enthralled and caught up in this interminable process?
We are told that even after today’s votes this may not be the end of it. On 13 February—the day before St Valentine’s Day, of all choices—we will have yet another opportunity. The Prime Minister is unbelievably adamant and stubborn. Despite the fact that leader after leader in Ireland and everywhere in Europe is saying, “No, this agreement that has been discussed and debated over the last two years, and which has been agreed, is legally binding and cannot be changed; it is a legal agreement”, she wants to say, “Oh, no, no, no, I am going to try yet again”.
Where are we? What use is this Parliament? What use is this House if we cannot do something to stop it? We should be doing something. We had a third debate yesterday. It was like Groundhog Day, going through the same arguments again and again. With no disrespect, I have heard the wonderful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on half a dozen occasions now, with little bits added here and there. I do not pick him out for any particular reason. The same applies to almost everyone who has spoken in all three debates. It really is outrageous that we are put through this.
What else could the Minister and her excellent officials in the Department for Transport be doing? We heard earlier from my noble friend Lord Snape about the importance of HS2. These things all need to be pushed forward and considered. We are having problems on the railways, such as with Northern rail. The Secretary of State seems to have constant problems in relation to transport. If he had more time, instead of being preoccupied with Brexit, he might just be able to cope with some of them—maybe—and the officials might be able to deal with them. Why? This really is outrageous. Admittedly, this is not all to do with this particular statutory instrument, but I feel a lot better having said it.
My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Lord feels a lot better for having got that out of his system. I absolutely agree with him about the excellence of the civil servants in my department—and across Whitehall—who are working incredibly hard to ensure that these statutory instruments are correct and that they are in place so that we have a functioning statute book in the event of no deal. I share the noble Lord’s desire to reach agreement on the withdrawal arrangements. I am sure that we will be watching the other place with close interest today and on Valentine’s Day. I should probably leave it there.
This SI will ensure that the legal framework for ship recycling remains legally operable when the UK leaves the EU. It will make amendments to the EU ship recycling regulation and three Commission implementing decisions. I hope that I will be able to provide the noble Baroness and the noble Lord with assurance on our standards. All UK ship-recycling facilities with a valid permit are eligible to be included in a new UK list. That list will also include all the non-UK ship-recycling facilities on the European list when we exit the EU. We expect those two lists to remain closely aligned with each other. In effect, any changes to the European list after we leave the EU will almost certainly be mirrored on the UK list. As a consequence—
Does the list include places such as Bangladesh, India and other places outside the EU or the UK? They are major centres for ship recycling and I am sure that many noble Lords will have seen the revolting conditions that people have to work in to cut up old ships on the beaches.
It does include some non-EU countries. I am afraid I cannot find the list in my files, but I will write to the noble Lord to confirm which countries are on it. The EU has very high standards of recycling and we will continue to match them after we leave.
The Secretary of State reserves the right to change the list. The power to add new facilities to it is included so that it does not become static. If we did not include this power, it would not be possible without primary legislation to add ship-recycling facilities to the UK list and to mirror what the EU does on its list. Over time, that could reduce the choices that UK ships have, compared with their EU counterparts. Because we will be retaining the standards and criteria for approving ship-recycling facilities used under the current EU regulation, the UK and EU lists will continue to be compiled to the same high standards. The powers in this instrument cannot be used to lower the standards of ship recycling.
If the EU changes its criteria, we will of course consider revising ours along similar lines. We do not think that this will happen for a few years, until the ship recycling regulation—which is fairly new—beds down. The Commission is committed to reviewing the EU regulation 18 months before the Hong Kong convention comes into force. That could lead to amendments to the criteria for ship-recycling facilities on the European list to align it more closely with that convention. If this happens, we will liaise closely with the EU, as our two regimes are virtually identical. Again, any change to those criteria would need to be done through regulation.
The EU regime is one of the strictest in the world. We are committed to maintaining those high standards, regardless of our membership of the European Union. I am happy to confirm that there are no—
I appreciate the Minister’s attempts to reassure us. I ask her to go back and look at paragraph 7.3 yet again to see whether the Explanatory Memorandum needs to be recast, because both I and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, have quoted things from it which give a different impression of government policy. I am relieved to hear what the Minister has to say. I accept it totally, but there is a gap between what she is saying to us here today and what the Explanatory Memorandum appears to suggest. That could lead to confusion in the future.
I have read the Explanatory Memorandum a number of times. I do not think it is contradictory, but I acknowledge that perhaps further reassurance could go into it. I will certainly follow up in writing and place copies in the Libraries of both Houses to provide that reassurance.
No facilities on the UK list are in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan, but I will send the noble Lord the full list.
As I was saying, the EU regime is currently one of the strictest in the world. It has incredibly high standards, and we are committed to maintaining them regardless of our membership of the EU.