Draft Race Relations Act 1976 (Seamen Recruited Overseas) Order 2003

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Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I, too, am delighted to serve under you, Mr. Cran. I am equally delighted that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) felt able to come along to join the Committee's deliberations and make such a powerful speech, which I hope all Committee members listened to carefully.

As some briefings that we have received have said, if we pass today's order, its effect will be that an ethnic Indian worker recruited abroad to work on a UK ship, for example, will not be able to claim discrimination on the basis of race or colour because their employer will legally be able to argue that it is on the basis of nationality. The whole House and the Committee are well aware that initial discussions centred on whether it was possible to repeal the whole of section 9 of the Race Relations Act 1976. There was a lot of support for such a move. As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, it was argued, in particular by ship owners, that the implications of going that far would be hugely injurious to the British shipping industry. The Minister advanced the same argument and said that there could be a £40 million loss to the industry. However, it would be interesting to know how confident he is about that figure. NUMAST—the National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport officers—which supports the Government's proposal, says in the briefing document that it gave us today that it is difficult to come up with figures in

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respect of probable implications. I shall quote what NUMAST says:

    ''Quantifying the risk to the employment of British seafarers or the number of ships that will be affected by the repeal of S9 is, however, somewhat difficult. The Shipping Minister recently told the House of Commons, and the Department for Transport (DfT) Shipping Task Force (STF) itself has acknowledged, that good statistics on the structure of UK maritime industry and the numbers of non-domiciled seafarers employed are not available.''

In other words, we should take the Minister's figure with at least a pinch of salt.

Another thing concerns me. In the explanatory notes, the Government rightly point out that there is a requirement to consult the Commission for Racial Equality, which also appears in the order. Under ''Consultation'', the explanatory notes state:

    ''Section 73 of the Race Relations Act requires us to consult the Commission for Racial Equality on the contents of a draft order before it can be laid before parliament.''

They go on to say that the CRE

    ''confirmed on the 8 May 2003 that they support the draft order to make it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of colour and national origins as well as race and ethnic origin.''

That is entirely understandable, as any move to reduce discrimination would receive the CRE's support. However, I have copies of the correspondence between the Department and the CRE on this issue and I know that that is not what the CRE wanted to happen. It is certainly true that on 8 May it e-mailed the Department to say that that was what it wanted, but it also made it clear in an e-mail to the Department, only nine days earlier, that:

    ''If the proposal is to repeal s9 in its entirety then this would be our preference''.

Although, understandably, the commission supports the measure as a partial move in the right direction, as do I, it would have preferred a measure that took us a stage further.

The level of understanding about the issue suggests that many people believe that the Government are taking a significant step. However, in the case of the vast majority of the seamen to whom the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington referred, their country of origin will be the same as their nationality; they will not have changed their nationality. As far as those people are concerned, we are, in effect, continuing with discrimination on the grounds of country of origin. The draft order makes very little change, and there is little movement in the direction that the hon. Gentleman and I would like.

The Government, shipowners and NUMAST have put the case that if we were to take a unilateral decision and so continue this country's proud record on race relations, it would have an impact on UK shipping. As I said, the figures are difficult to judge, but I do not think that that is so. If the Minister wishes to obtain my support for the measure, it is important that he places it firmly on the record that the Government desire an end to discrimination, including by nationality, in the shipping industry worldwide. The Government should also today give a clear commitment to use all their endeavours, through the ILO and other appropriate organisations, to get, if not the unilateral move that

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the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington wants, at least a multilateral move. That way, we can end this form of discrimination, which we are today deciding to allow to continue, as quickly as possible.

4.52 pm

Mr. Jamieson: This has been a short but useful debate, and I should like to respond to some of the points made.

The hon. Member for Christchurch seemed to think that we had made a U-turn on the subject. We consulted on the issue, and having listened to those consulted, we changed our views slightly. He would have criticised us if we had taken no notice of the consultation. It was not just the Chamber of Shipping that raised issues; NUMAST made some strong points, as did many other people involved in the consultation. The Government listened to the points and made an alteration on the basis of them. The hon. Gentleman should applaud the Government for doing that, as his party often criticises us of being inflexible and not listening.

The hon. Gentleman said that we should not be gold-plating the measures, but I am pleased that we have gone further than the directive asked us to. We are not gold-plating; we are simply using common sense and taking the measures further to bring in other issues such as colour and nationality, which are important. He asked why the order is a good thing. It is good because it is right. He also asked why we should have an EU-wide standard. In the case of employment and many other matters on which we share our economic fortunes, it is helpful to have issues on which there are no large differences between countries that are so close to each other and co-operate so closely economically.

Mr. Foster: Will the Minister confirm that he made a slip of the tongue when he said that the hon. Member for Christchurch would welcome the fact that we were moving forward in relation to colour and nationality? We are not; we are moving forward in terms of colour and country of origin.

Mr. Jamieson: Yes, that is correct; it is colour and national origin.

We, as a Parliament, are making the decisions; the issue is not just for the EU.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): On the basis that enlargement of the European Union is happening as we speak, does the Minister envisage that there will be a need to revisit this? When other countries come into the EU, would it not be appropriate for the Government to give some thought to working towards the type of objectives that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) outlined?

Mr. Jamieson: Those countries will be looking at their own legislation: they have to bring it into line with EU legislation. Like any legislation, it can be revisited in the future.

I turn to some of the other points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. He secured an Adjournment debate, which helpfully rehearsed many of the key issues, and I am grateful for the welcome that he has given to the fact that we

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have gone further than the EU directive asked us to do.

The order does not affect people working outside United Kingdom waters. As our domestic legislation does not affect matters outside UK waters, it affects only foreign workers who are working within UK waters. I should clarify this matter. Once people are within the UK—in this case, within UK waters—they are covered by the national minimum wage, so the difference that we are talking about is between the national minimum wage and the pay rate of UK-recruited seamen, while they are in UK waters. That does not have an effect at any time when the ship is outside those waters. Many ships that fly the UK flag never come near UK waters. Those ships will not be affected in any way. Other ships spend a substantial period in our waters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington mentioned the two different rates that people may be paid for doing the same job. This situation is different from that in which someone is working on the mainland, because if someone is working ashore alongside someone else, it is almost certain that they will be living in the same country: both will have to pay rent and travel costs and buy food in the UK.

We are concerned about what the people aboard these ships may be doing. They may spend some time in UK waters, but they may spend the majority of their time in other parts of the world. What is important about this rate of pay is where they send it and what it will buy for their family in their home country.

John McDonnell: Will the Minister clarify that people who are doing exactly the same job as the worker next to them—and who have the same skills and qualifications—can have a different contract of employment that allows them to be paid less, purely because they are from a different nation? That could result in, for example, P&O Ferries' UK seafarers being dismissed and replaced by Filipinos at reduced rates. Would that not be exploitation?

Mr. Jamieson: May I put to my hon. Friend the case with regard to other types of workers? These are not static employees working ashore, but people who move around the world. I shall cite a different example: although the bank with which we have an account may be in the United Kingdom, its transactions are often carried out in another part of the world—frequently in India, which has a successful IT industry—and the people who handle those transactions are paid substantially lower rates than employees in a bank in London would receive. In effect, those employees are working side by side, although the distance between them is very large—they are working side by side, but on different rates. If my hon. Friend makes inquiries, he may find out that that is the case in his own bank.

 
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