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House of Commons
Session 2006 - 07
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General Committee Debates
European Standing Committee Debates

Maritime Policy

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Sir Nicholas Winterton
Brazier, Mr. Julian (Canterbury) (Con)
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Davies, Mr. Quentin (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
Dobson, Frank (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab)
Fraser, Mr. Christopher (South-West Norfolk) (Con)
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen (Minister of State, Department for Transport)
Leech, Mr. John (Manchester, Withington) (LD)
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
Marsden, Mr. Gordon (Blackpool, South) (Lab)
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine (Bridgend) (Lab)
Rosindell, Andrew (Romford) (Con)
Slaughter, Mr. Andy (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab)
Emily Commander, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

European Standing Committee

Monday 19 March 2007

[Sir Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Maritime Policy

4.30 pm
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): On a point of order, Sir Nicholas. Annexe 2 to background paper No. 2 in the papers provided to the Committee is entitled “La nouvelle pièce d’identitÃ(c) des gens de mer”. I seek your guidance on whether it is appropriate for the Committee to consider material that is not in English. I fear that it might be presented to the Committee as a fait accompli, but I am sure that you have sufficient savoir faire to give the appropriate guidance.
The Chairman: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that compliment. The Minister is pregnant with a response, and I hope that it will be acceptable to the Committee. From my perspective, I deplore the fact that a relevant paper is in a language other than that of the United Kingdom.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport(Dr. Stephen Ladyman): Further to that point of order, Sir Nicholas. I can only apologise. I understand that the paper contains a piece of research by the French Government and that it has not yet been translated. As soon as there is an English translation, I shall provide it to members of the Committee.
The Chairman: I am happy to accept that explanation. It is unfortunate that there is no English version of the document, but I do not think that that need necessarily delay the debate.
I call the Minister to make an opening statement. He is experienced in such matters, but the statement should be largely factual and explanatory, and I should not take it kindly if it were too long.
4.32 pm
Dr. Ladyman: The subject of discussion is broad: the development of a maritime policy for the European Union. The Commission established a maritime policy taskforce, which developed the comprehensive green paper that is before us, entitled “Towards a future maritime policy for the Union: A European vision for the oceans and seas”. That document and its accompanying background papers cover a truly diverse range of issues that all can be said to fall into the category of maritime policy. The Commission rightly recognised that, in such a wide-ranging field, there might be opportunities to improve the management and co-ordination of the maritime sector, both nationally and internationally. In developing our response to the maritime green paper, we found a number of common themes—by discussion within the Government, with UK stakeholders and with other EU member states.
Those themes recur throughout the draft UK response to the Commission, and cover a number of messages: the need for any maritime policy clearly to add value to existing national, EU and international measures; the need for subsidiarity to be respected in all cases and for proposals to be directed at the appropriate level; the importance of the international dimension in the maritime sector; the need to respect the existing international and EU legal and policy frameworks; and the importance to any maritime policy of delivering co-ordination between proposals that originate in the EC, to ensure that the Lisbon strategy objectives of sustainable growth can be delivered in a stable regulatory climate.
Those themes give a flavour of the overall views of both the Government and the EU stakeholders who took part in the consultation. The UK national consultation ended on 28 February, and I am pleased to inform the Committee that the Government received detailed and helpful representations from a wide range of stakeholders. Those contributions have been considered during the development of the UK response, and I am grateful to the consultees for their efforts in responding on such a complex and weighty issue.
The green paper and the planned maritime policy offer significant opportunities for the UK and for Europe as a whole. It is important that we engage fully with this important chance to influence Commission thinking well in advance of formal proposals being brought forward. I have therefore provided the Committee with copies of 31 Commission working documents—fiches—that indicate the direction in which the Commission is going with this work. The documents are works in progress and will change as a result of the consultation, but they provide an early insight into the possible outcomes of the process.
The Department for Transport is co-ordinating the UK response to this wide-ranging Green Paper, which covers security, the environment and economic policy, as well as transport issues. If I should not feel comfortable in answering hon. Members’ questions on behalf of another Department, I hope that the Committee would understand my agreeing to consult colleagues and giving an accurate response in writing.
The Chairman: We now have until half-past 5 for questions to the Minister. My looking around the Committee gives me a sense that we may not need all that time, so I can only encourage Labour Members to take advantage of this unique opportunity. I remind hon. Members that questions should be brief and asked one at a time. There is likely to be ample opportunity for all hon. Members to ask several questions.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Nicholas. The Opposition, on the whole, welcome the guidelines that the Minister has just set out. Will he guarantee that he will fight to preserve Britain’s independent voice at the International Maritime Organisation? Will he vouchsafe that no EU maritime policy will trump our own policy? After all, our reputation as one of the world’s leading flag states cannot simply be held to ransom by other EU countries, some of which have little experience in this area.
Dr. Ladyman: May I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Sir Nicholas? I was forgetting my manners when I did not do so in my introductory statement. It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I recollect that when I last did so, we were discussing your plans to travel back to your constituency in a stretch limousine full of young ladies. I do not quite know how we got on to that subject, but it was the thrust of the debate. I can see that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland recollects the discussion, too.
I can give the hon. Member for Canterbury the assurance that he seeks. There is no way that we will agree to the United Kingdom’s position at the IMO being taken by the EU. I found no stomach for such a proposal in any other EU state during my discussions with European Maritime Ministers—why would we want to give up 25 votes in the IMO and replace them with one vote? That is one of the simple points that many of its members will make. Other EU member states, such as Greece, have incredible experience of maritime issues, and they therefore want to make their own views known in that forum.
Mr. Carmichael: I, too, welcome you slightly belatedly to the Chair, Sir Nicholas. I have the same recollection as the Minister of our previous appearance before you. Knowing the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) as I do, I presume that the fact that I have not seen you around the Palace on crutches recently means that the aspiration to which the Minister referred has so far been unfulfilled.
The Chairman: From the Chair, I have nothing to say.
Mr. Carmichael: The Minister will be aware that the shipping industry benefits from a number of exclusions in respect of European Union social and employment legislation. Does he think that sustainable in the short-to-medium term?
Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. Indeed, we have just announced a consultation on the exemption from the Race Relations Act 1976 that shipping enjoys. The simple fact is that we have a difficult tension to resolve. Shipping is a global activity, and if we are unable to compete because we saddle ourselves with European regulations or measures that require people to act in a certain way across the whole EU and if the rest of the world is free to make decisions that allow it to be more competitive, our business will go abroad. It will not go abroad within the EU, but outside. We have to try to resolve those tensions, and I hope that we can talk about how we can resolve them within the EU and how we will co-ordinate our efforts to work within the IMO, so that we can change such things globally, rather than having to make ourselves uncompetitive.
Mr. Carmichael: I accept completely the Minister’s premise with regard to the global nature of the shipping industry, but does he not accept that it would be possible to regulate the significant sector of ferry traffic in the EU, because the journeys all begin and end within the EU? He will be aware of the recent case of the Merchant Brilliant and Merchant Bravery, where Polish, Ukrainian and Russian seafarers were paid less than €2 an hour. Surely, with ferry traffic, where there is no question of the business going outwith the EU because the trade is all within it, something could be done.
Dr. Ladyman: There was, of course, an attempt to agree a ferry directive that would resolve those matters within the EU, but no agreement could be reached. It proved an impossible task. I can see some merit in trying to reopen those negotiations, but I have little optimism that they would be any more successful this time. However, I take the hon. Gentleman’s point.
I would make only one other point. We would have to be careful that we legislated in such a way that a ship had to obey the regulations irrespective of its flag. If people could fly a Panamanian flag, so that the directive did not apply to them, that would be a problem. Our fleet would simply become Panamanian, Liberian or use some other flag of convenience. If there is a way of regulating that can resolve the tensions and if member states can agree, I have no problem with exploring that idea. I merely do not feel optimistic that we will succeed.
The Chairman: I shall leave the questions with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, as I believe that this is a follow-up question.
Mr. Carmichael: The Minister seems to favour something along the lines of a regulated market or a minimum wage. Commissioner Borg certainly seems to be in favour of such a thing, because he is on record in a speech delivered in Poland saying that the future of such exemptions is limited at best. Who is driving the opposition to the idea?
Dr. Ladyman: I am not sure whether I can answer that question. There was a general objection from a large range of member states, and not only from us, when the ferry directive was discussed. Although there might be an agreement in principle that we want to do something, the problem is whether we can do so inside international law and in a way that does not mean that European-flagged ships take on the flags of countries outside the EU. As I have said, I am happy to sound out colleagues to see whether there is any prospect of getting the matter back to the table. If Commissioner Borg thinks that he is arriving at a consensus, it would resolve many of the tensions in the EU. However, I shall need to be convinced that there is genuinely a way of doing it that will not lead to all our flags disappearing.
Mr. Carmichael: But transnational corporations can operate in land-based industries and sectors with much heavier regulation and conditions, such as minimum wage levels. Why should things be any different in principle for ferry traffic within the EU, regardless of flagging?
Dr. Ladyman: A vessel becomes part of the sovereign state of the country whose flag it is flying, and that country’s laws apply within that vessel. As I understand it, that is the key difference. A transnational corporation based in London has to follow London law because it is part of London territory. However, that is not the case once a ship flags to another state.
Mr. Brazier: My first question is supplementary to that of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, whose point I have some sympathy with. There is another awkward problem with the phrase “directive in principle”. Our largest ferry port, which is very close to my constituency and that of the Minister, has a competitor with very high nominal fixed costs but exceptionally low running costs—the channel tunnel. Twenty years ago, the possibility that Dover port could disappear was discussed in debates, but, in fact, it has thrived. However, it would not be in our interests to take steps that put it at a further disadvantage.
Dr. Ladyman: I entirely agree. In the past, such considerations may well have led to the difficulty in getting a ferry directive. However, let me confirm something in principle to both hon. Gentlemen. If Commissioner Borg is correct and a consensus is emerging, and if there is a way of addressing the issue under international law so that we genuinely improve standards for European seafarers in all our vessels, I will certainly be prepared to keep an open mind and consider the matter.
Mr. Carmichael: Will the Minister make a statement on the Government’s policy on the creation of a European coastguard?
Dr. Ladyman: We oppose any plans for a European coastguard and see very little merit in such a proposal. The coastguard performs a variety of functions that need to be governed by the principles of subsidiarity. Member states will have their own views on how their coastguard should operate.
That does not mean that I do not see merit in coastguards and representatives of each country working closely together, and a good example of that is our recent relationship with the French authorities over the Napoli. Our authorities and the French authorities worked closely together to decide how best to handle that issue, and the two authorities co-operated and provided resources to each other. Such co-operation is entirely laudable, and we need to encourage it. However, an EU coastguard is another matter entirely, and I would not support it.
Mr. Brazier: May I take the Minister back to the maritime skills section of the paper? He used rather colourful language in a public forum about international shipping firms being able to put a gun to our head. His underlying point was correct, although I would not have put it in quite the same way—such people can go if they want to, as he acknowledged earlier.
The Minister knows that we welcome the tonnage pacts, and I have congratulated him a number of times on the success that they have had on the shipping side. None the less, will he accept that we must find a way to tackle the skills problem? We are not getting the officer cadets in, let alone the seafarers whom we need. The profession is ageing, and less than half the number of people whom we are losing are coming in.
Dr. Ladyman: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have to work hard at improving the standard and training of seafarers—and their quantity as well. The comment about international shipping putting a gun to our head was made at a seminar of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers parliamentary group. I had not hitherto realised that the hon. Member for Canterbury was at that meeting, so I do not know how he knows that I made that comment.
Mr. Brazier: Am I allowed to intervene and make a remark, Sir Nicholas?
The Chairman: No; bring it up later.
Dr. Ladyman rose—
The Chairman: Order. May I help the Committee? If the hon. Member for Canterbury wishes to draw attention to a matter, he may ask a question, during which he might make some observation relating to the matter on which he cannot raise a point of order or intervene.
Dr. Ladyman: I was trying to make a point to the RMT, which was pressing me to insist on several things for which it has campaigned for a long time. I have a great deal of respect for the RMT. However, it believes that the tonnage tax should be linked to a mandatory employment requirement, so that employers would get the benefit of tonnage tax only if they employed UK seafarers. That would not be allowed, as any such requirement would have to involve European Union seafarers.
The RMT also wants us to change the exemption from the Race Relations Act 1976 that allows seafarers from abroad who are employed abroad to be paid a different rate of pay. In our consultation document, we suggested several options to deal with that issue, the first of which is to maintain the status quo. The second option is to change the exemption, so that European Union seafarers are paid the same rate of pay, while people from outside the EU may be paid at a different rate. The third option is not to allow discrimination against anyone under any circumstances and to say that all seafarers from anywhere in the world should be paid the same British rate of pay, regardless of where they were recruited. That is the RMT’s policy, but I was trying to make it understand that that would not lead to all the international shipping companies deciding, “Right, as we are going to pay all of our seafarers British rates of pay, we’ll employ only British seafarers.” Instead, they would say, “Okay, we’ll change the flag on our ship to the Panamanian one, we’ll move our headquarters to Singapore, and we’ll employ seafarers from outside the European Union. We’ll either fire all our British seafarers or offer them the same rate of pay that seafarers from the Philippines or India will be happy to work for.”
I was trying to make it clear to the RMT that because shipping is a global business and because a shipping company can change its flag and headquarters at the stroke of a pen, if the industry had to work under those rules all those people would lose their jobs. I know that the RMT’s principles are matters of fundamental philosophy and belief, but I was trying to make it understand that international shipping companies had a gun to our head in that respect, and that we had to take that into account in our policy making. That was the reason for that particular comment.
Mr. Brazier: Just to satisfy the Minister’s curiosity, he made the front page of Lloyd’s List with his remarks to the RMT—he was obviously not aware of that.
I agree with everything that the Minister just said—he is exactly right. I say that as someone who used to work for several ship repair yards, including, funnily enough, one in Greece, which he mentioned earlier. However, I shall take him back to his opening remarks. Will he accept that skills are crucial? He has a good record on shipping, but if a reasonable number of people are not coming through the system, particularly as officers, the credibility of that base will be affected in the long run. We need to have a number of former officers in insurance companies, the legal system and the rest. The centre of excellence in the City requires a human base as well as a shipping one. Does he have any plans to enhance that?
Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is the scale of the problem that we have to face up to: the maritime sector is our third biggest export earner and has become huge—it is worth more than £10 billion a year. The only reason why we have that sector is because we have people with expertise of going to sea who take shore-based jobs and support that sector when they are tired of going to sea. If we lose the sea-based seafarers, not only will there not be any Britons going to sea, which will have consequences for employment, but we will ultimately lose our entire shore-based industry, which will in turn have devastating consequences for the economy. It is therefore vital that we enable people to go to sea.
The average British seafarer is more than 40 years old. Many British seafarers are coming up to retirement, when they will leave the seafaring tradition, and we are not replacing them with youngsters. One of my key considerations is how we can do something about that issue, including whether we can change the tonnage tax and mandatory training link. Incidentally, only two tonnage tax regimes in the world have a training link—our regime and India’s.
I have asked myself whether we can do anything to improve the link and train more people, and whether we can improve our organisation of smart funding, which is one way to support training in order to bring in more people. I am also considering a third idea, although I do not know whether it is practical. The RMT has proposed that we allow the training of ratings to count against tonnage tax, although it would not count on a one-to-one basis, as the training of an officer does. Some people do not have the formal qualifications to become an officer, but they are willing to go to sea as ratings. Once they are there, they could undertake vocational training and become officers, because they could develop their paper qualifications while at sea.
We could bring in many more people through that route, but it would require us not only to allow shipping companies to offset tonnage tax against the recruitment and training of ratings as well as officers, but to change the career progression, so that it is easy for an individual to go from rating to officer, if they show the talent for it and acquire the qualifications along the way. I am not for one second saying that we will go that way, but I am exploring the option, because the RMT has put it to me, and on the face of it, it looks worth investigating to determine whether it could be a way forward.
Mr. Carmichael: What is the Government’s position on promoting motorways of the sea?
Dr. Ladyman: In so far as motorways of the sea could help us promote short sea shipping, we support the principle. I am not sure about the extent to which British seafaring and the British maritime sector would benefit from it, but I can see some merit in the principle. I can also see a great deal of merit in our making better use of short sea shipping within the UK and within the European Union, because every time we put containers on a ship and send it up the coast, many containers do not have to go on lorries on motorways.
Mr. Carmichael: In promoting short sea shipping, has the Department had any discussions with the Treasury about the extension and development of the water-borne freight car?
Dr. Ladyman: We have changed the freight grant system to a sustainable system that works throughout all modalities, so an individual who wishes to put goods that would previously have been carried by road on to a different modality, whether it is the railway or whether it is short sea routes, can apply for grant support. We have tried to make the system more flexible.
Mr. Carmichael: On ports and short sea shipping, will the Minister accept that a significant amount of work must be done to integrate railways and ports? I am thinking in particular of Southampton and of Teesport. What discussions has he had with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris) about progressing that work?
Dr. Ladyman: I have had discussions with a wide range of colleagues on those issues. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to improve rail links to various ports. I hope that he is not tryingto tempt me into giving away the outcome of the transport innovation fund’s announcements on its productivity scheme or the ports policy review. I assure him that we are looking at the issues. Clearly, it is rather odd that we have not yet been able to find the funding for gauge enhancement at Southampton, but I am looking closely at that to see whether it would be cost effective as part of the TIF productivity scheme. Equally, the Eddington report identifies that points of entry to the UK need to be connected to part of the strategic transport network, so we must deal with issues such as rail and road access to ports in the ports policy review.
Mr. Carmichael: Will the Minister accept that the structure of taxation favours road transport over other methods? What is he doing to rectify that?
The Chairman: I suggest that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland does not go down that path, which is slightly wide of the subject that we are debating, although the Minister replied relevantly.
Mr. Brazier: The background papers contain the remarkable quote:
“In 2004, almost 20 per cent. of all vessels reportedly attacked by pirates and armed robbers were EU-flagged vessels...reflections on a future strategy for European navies should include their role in preventing and combating piracy.”
Will the Minister give a firm assurance that those comments, which are not contentious, are not the thin end of the wedge for the development of a European naval policy?
Dr. Ladyman: It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to learn that I do not recollect seeing those comments when I went through the bundle of papers. I am not doubting him, but I assure him that if anything in the documents implies the creation of a European navy or military strategy, the Government would have clear views about it and would strongly resist.
Mr. Carmichael: Under the heading “Maximising quality of life in coastal regions”, page 7 of the background papers that the Minister has provided—in English, helpfully—states:
“here the Commission discusses the use of the coastal environment and the challenges presented in managing such regions for the benefit of local communities and the economy.”
What discussions has the Minister’s Department had with his colleagues in the Treasury to further that laudable aim in relation to the operation of the Crown Estate Commissioners and their stewardship of the seabed and, in parts of the country, the foreshore?
Dr. Ladyman: I have regular discussions with colleagues in the Treasury on a range of subjects. Exactly where the discussions on that particular issue have reached escapes my mind just at this moment, so perhaps I can write to the hon. Gentleman.
The Chairman: If no more hon. Members wish to ask questions, we shall proceed to the debate on the motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this Committee takes note of EU DocumentNo. 11510/06 relating to Maritime Policy.—[Dr. Ladyman.]
5.6 pm
Mr. Brazier: The Minister has given some frank and welcome answers, so I shall be brief. The document is interesting but very long, so I sympathise with the Minister—I certainly have not found every nook and cranny in it. As with so many European Commission documents, however, what is significant is that it speaks where it should be silent but is fairly mute where it should speak. A good example of that is the discussion about multilateral maritime organisations.
The Minister has given us a firm assurance that he will fight to keep our seat on the IMO. As he rightly said, many other countries will want to do the same—including, I am certain, Greece. However, on page 54 of the bundle, the question is posed:
“Should the European Community become a member of more multilateral maritime organisations?”
That is an apparently innocent question. However, since the member states are already members of the sort of organisations being considered, it is actually a slightly odd question. The document continues:
“The role and status of the EU in international organisations dealing with maritime affairs need to be reviewed, taking into account the fact that in several cases the issues under consideration fall within the exclusive competence of the Community. The issue of Community membership in the IMO has to be addressed on the basis of the relevant Commission recommendation”.
Jacques Barrot recently called for the EU to be given observer status on the IMO. I was most concerned to hear, for example, that we had dropped, at the EU’s insistence, calls for an urgent review by the IMO of how safe-crewing levels are determined by flag states. Perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure me on that point.
The Minister gave a robust, clear and welcome answer to the question that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked about the coastguard issue. Nevertheless, it remains a concern that the paper hints quite strongly that the EU backs the proposal. In its most recent document from last year, the European Maritime Safety Agency said:
“It is particularly important to ensure that all the port state control officers employed by EU coastal states operate in a harmonised way. This means using the same inspection criteria”—
that is reasonable—
“reporting procedures, training principles, etc. EMSA has a number of tasks in the port state control area, and Agency staff”.
That document continued in the same vein. Does the Minister share my concern that, as so often, the EU is establishing a wedge in the door?
Earlier, I read the quotation from the bundle about piracy. That passage continued:
“Bearing in mind that Europe’s dependency on shipping for imports and exports is increasing, and that Europe dominates shipping globally”—
I am not quite sure what that means, actually—
“the reflections on a future strategy for European navies should include their role in preventing and combating piracy.”
Background paper No. 6, on page 232 of the bundle, says:
“a more active involvement of European Navies in anti-terrorism operations in some vulnerable sea areas around the world should be a priority for the EU.”
Given that many of our EU partners are also NATO members and are currently failing miserably to come up to scratch in Afghanistan—with the honourable exceptions of the Dutch and the Poles—the idea that there should be a co-ordinated naval policy fills me with a certain amount of gloom. I am glad that the Minister has made it clear that he will not brook that idea, but I urge him to be vigilant: so often, we see such things appearing as very small storm clouds somewhere in an enormous bundle of documents, only to find that, two or three years down the line, they suddenly turn into something much larger.
The Minister made some colourful remarks about shipowners with which I am completely sympathetic. We covered the topic quite well in the question and answer session, but the Opposition would be interested to hear his proposals, when he has had the opportunity to work them up. I got the impression from his reply that he may make an announcement in the not-too-distant future. There is genuine concern about the issue—the Minister has obviously spoken to many of the same people in the City as I have—and there is a unique world centre that is dependent on the human as well as the physical side of shipping, and proposals that relate to it are of considerable interest to my party.
The document is long; much of it is welcome, but a lot of it is redundant, and it contains the beginnings of a number of worrying things. I have been pleased by nearly all the Minister’s answers, but I urge him to be vigilant.
5.12 pm
Mr. Carmichael: Like the hon. Member for Canterbury, I shall not detain the Committee at length. Also like him, and like the Minister, I have a number of concerns about the proposals, and there is little in the general direction of policy that the Minister outlined to which I would take exception.
The consensus between the three parties present in the Committee is manifestly not shared to any great extent by the Commission. It has been said that there has not been much progress, but it is quite clear from the sheer weight of documentation with which the Committee has been presented that serious and vigorous consideration is being given to the issue within the EU.
I shall be quite candid. As you are well aware,Sir Nicholas, much of my thinking on the issue is informed by my experience of the common fisheries policy, as a Member of Parliament who represents a fishing community. I have always felt that that policy was something that could perhaps have been made to work when there was a small number of EU member states, the bulk of which were coastal nations. We have now moved well beyond that situation: since the new year, we find ourselves in an EU of 27 member states, hardly any of whose new members have a coastline or a maritime industry.
For that reason, I am concerned about the number of initiatives that are currently under way in Brussels. If the principle of subsidiarity is to mean anything, it must mean that, in maritime matters, there is a common interest in co-operation among coastal states without there being any particular benefit to an overarching EU maritime policy.
Mr. Brazier: I thoroughly endorse what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I encourage him to take that message back to his party, to apply to its thinking on the proposed constitution and the like. The present issue is not the only one to which that message applies.
Mr. Carmichael: It is my privilege to speak for my party on transport matters. I am not required to express a view on other matters, and any discussion that I might have with colleagues within the Liberal Democrat team should remain exactly that. If I were to deal any further with the matter, I would be straying well out of order.
There are issues relating to a common maritime space: the creation of an EU-wide coastguard; the creation of an EU customs agency; the question raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury about the possibility of an EU representative going to the IMO; and the possible creation of an EU shipping register, whether compulsory or optional. They all raise legitimate questions about where the centre of gravity ought to lie on subsidiarity. It should kick in at member state level on all those matters—that is the appropriate level.
It is difficult to see how we could have an EU customs agency or an EU shipping register while protecting, and without impacting on, the primacy of the member state on taxation matters. The tonnage tax, which has been mentioned, operates on a register-based system. If we were to pursue even an optional EU register, we would risk undermining the good work that the Government have done on tonnage tax in recent years.
Dr. Ladyman: I might be able to give the hon. Gentleman even further reassurance. I understand that, since the European Union is not a state, any ship that sailed under an EU flag would not have the benefit of sailing under a state flag and would therefore have no protection under the laws that protect ships around the world. An EU flag is just a non-starter at any level, whether voluntary or mandatory.
Mr. Carmichael: I am grateful to the Minister for that reassurance. The point is important and blindingly obvious to him and to me, so why has it not been blindingly obvious to the person in Brussels who thought this matter worth pursing? The idea of a voluntary register for something of this sort is frankly nonsensical; something like a shipping register can be effective and meaningful only if it is compulsory. Voluntary registration would only add a further layer of bureaucracy, for which there would be little good commercial or administrative sense.
The hon. Member for Canterbury raised the question of piracy, as I have done on a number of occasions. I continue to monitor the issue with interest. It is perfectly clear that the answer does not lie in the hands of any individual sovereign state and that international action is required. I suggest to the Minister that there are well recognised piracy hot spots—in particular, the Malacca straits. Given that the bulk of world shipping travels on shipping lines, it is fairly predictable where such hot spots will be. There is an opportunity for the UK to give a lead, perhaps at a fairly low level, in assisting in the policing of such areas to ensure that the interests of our shipping industry are not compromised by piracy. He might speak to his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence on an ongoing basis about that. We often have a naval presence in those parts of the world for a variety of reasons, so perhaps a small amount of time given to the policing and tackling of piracy in those areas might have a disproportionately beneficial effect.
5.20 pm
Dr. Ladyman: I will not detain the Committee for long, but I need to answer one or two points raised by hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Canterbury has raised the subject of the paper that was presented to the IMO. It was withdrawn because the European Commission raised issues about competency too late. It was withdrawn for legal reasons, rather than because of any lack of commitment to the paper’s principles, and the UK is keen to see it pursued in the future.
I return to the more general issues raised by both hon. Gentlemen. First, let me set out the principles that we should follow. In a number of areas, such as the environment, security and the economic performance of various sectors including the maritime sector and the tourism sector, we could do with some co-operation between member states to further all our interests. In so far as we can further our interests by working together, we should do so. We should therefore respond positively to the ideas in the paper, where that is a practical possibility. We should resist any moves in the paper to take away subsidiarity or the responsibilities of member states, to push us into areas of new legislation or to make us give up our existing influence and allow decisions to be subsumed by the European Union.
The document is a consultation document. The fiches that I presented to the Committee demonstrate the initial workings of the Commission, which will ultimately flow out of the consultation and become firm proposals. It is important that we, as a Government, engage with each of the proposals as they start to firm up, make the points clear and work with other member states to ensure that the work streams turn out to be a positive benefit for us all and do not go into the areas about which both hon. Gentlemen have expressed concern.
Finally, on piracy, I believe that we have made significant improvements. I shall write to the Committee setting out how we are contributing to the fight against piracy around the world. However, I should point out to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that that fight is not as easy as he suggests. At some point, a ship going into port has to go into the territorial waters of the state of that port. Our Navy cannot shoot in after such a ship, even if the ship is exposed to piracy. We must have permission to enter the territorial waters of another state, and it would be wrong to ignore such matters. It is not a straightforward question of our deciding that we are going to start showing leadership in the fight against piracy and sending out the Navy, because the days of gunboat diplomacy are well behind us. However, we all support the principle that the hon. Gentleman has put forward. Where we can help, we need to help, and where we can provide diplomatic assistance, help with regulations or encourage the United Nations to take action, we should do so. We are putting in place a comprehensive package of measures, and I shall write to the Committee on the specifics.
I hope that Committee members are satisfied with what they have heard and will be prepared to support the motion.
Question put and agreed to.
That this Committee takes note of EU DocumentNo. 11510/06 relating to Maritime Policy.
Committee rose at twenty-six minutes past five o’clock.

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