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13 Mar 2007 : Column 67WH—continued

I hope that my hon. Friend can assure me that the Government will continue to assist Liverpool in achieving that ambition.

1.45 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) on securing this debate. I know that we always congratulate Members on securing these Adjournment debates, but on this occasion, I genuinely mean it, because although I have the pleasure of representing a Kent, channel port with its own maritime tradition, I am of course from Liverpool, and I am well aware of the maritime tradition on the Mersey. Indeed, I spent six months working for the Ministry of Agriculture inspecting the ships that called into the Mersey back in the early ’70s, and I suspect that I serviced one of the very last ships to enter the Albert dock in its guise as a working berth before it became a tourist attraction.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has raised such issues, that she has brought the Mersey’s proud maritime tradition to the attention of the House, and that she continues to make such a strong case for our support. Given my background, I hope she accepts that in the Government, she has a willing ally who is only too keen to see the Mersey prosper.

The maritime sector faces exciting and busy times, and the Government are working hard to deliver a new wide-ranging UK ports policy, to which my hon. Friend has referred, and to which I shall return to it in a moment. At a European level, the European Commission is simultaneously working on a new wide-ranging European ports policy, and I am delighted that Liverpool is playing its part in that work, too. The port of Liverpool gave a presentation on port financing at one of the Commission’s consultation workshops in February, and in the European Union’s maritime green paper, which is now out to consultation, the Commission rightly recognised the importance of maritime clusters such as Liverpool in developing a modern, dynamic and sustainable maritime economy. The Government and the Commission recognise the lead that Mersey Maritime has taken in promoting that vision.

As my hon. Friend said, the expansion of trade—particularly containerised trade—has been very strong. She also pointed out that from 2000 to 2005, the port
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of Liverpool grew by 10 per cent. overall, and by 17 per cent. in containers. There are many difficult issues associated with distributing increased volumes of goods on our small island, so against that background and through the new ports policy, we are seeking to provide a better framework for sustainable port development until 2030. Consultation took place last year, and since then we have had the benefit of a report by the Select Committee on Transport, as my hon. Friend pointed out. I am grateful to the Committee on which she sits for expediting its inquiry in order to allow the findings to be considered in the context of our ports policy review.

My hon. Friend asked several times during her contribution whether I would take into account the Committee’s findings, and all I can say is that, if I had not wanted to take them seriously, I should not have asked the Committee to expedite its report so that I received them before I made the decision. Although the report will not be completed until the summer, I hope that she accepts that I genuinely intend to consider all its findings closely.

My hon. Friend mentioned the extremely interesting and exciting concept of the Merseyside super port, and I can envisage the way in which it will attempt to exploit the synergies of the different transport modalities; the airport, the sea port and the canal. The Government and Europe will watch its development with interest, and I wish it well. The Merseyside super port gives the opportunity not only for economic development and the successful growth of business on Merseyside, but to expand considerably the sustainable transport of goods by allowing different modalities for transporting goods to genuinely interact, so that people can take the most sustainable route. I certainly wish the super port concept well.

I also wish Mersey Maritime well, which my hon. Friend mentioned. My understanding is that it has been formed by the commitment of private and public sector partners throughout Merseyside and has the shared vision to create a world-class cluster of maritime businesses. Mersey Maritime represents a cluster of more than 500 businesses employing 6,000 people in Merseyside, with an annual turnover of £1.3 billion. It aims to promote and develop excellence in all maritime-related activities in Merseyside and to represent the interests of existing and new cluster members. In the European Union maritime green paper, the Commission rightly recognised the importance of maritime clusters such as Liverpool in delivering a modern, dynamic and sustainable maritime economy.

I applaud the way in which Liverpool has responded to that challenge, integrating its rich maritime past with a modern, forward-looking maritime sector. I wish it well and hope that it succeeds, from the point of view of both the maritime sector in this country and Merseyside. The fact that Mersey Maritime represents 6,000 people and 500 businesses in just one maritime city shows just how important the maritime sector is to the UK economy in general. I fear that the maritime sector is a part of the economy that is often overlooked by the media. In fact, it has become the third biggest export earner in the UK, having overtaken aviation. The significant growth in the maritime sector—in terms of the UK-owned fleet, the number of ships registered to the red ensign, the amount of money that
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the sector earns for the UK and the number of people it employs—is one of the Government’s unsung success stories. Anything that Mersey Maritime can do to continue to contribute to that will certainly have my full support.

Another aspect of what Mersey Maritime is trying to achieve concerns training, as my hon. Friend said. It is vital that we make big investments in the skills of people who work in the maritime sector. That does not mean just the skills of people who go to sea, but the skills of people who work in our ports and the other industries that support our seagoing and portside activities. I am aware that £1.75 million of funding was secured last month for an initiative to promote and enhance maritime training on Merseyside, through a Mersey maritime institute. I congratulate Mersey Maritime on pulling that together with the support of Wirral council. The funding has come from a range of sources, including £656,000 from the single regeneration budget, which is funded by the Northwest Development Agency and administered by Wirral Waterfront, and £656,000 of European funding. I also understand that the private sector has committed nearly £450,000 in support of the project, so well done to all concerned.

So far as the timing and the subject matter of the ports policy review are concerned, I hope to have the review available in the summer. I would not have asked the Transport Committee to expedite its findings were I not to take them into account. Peel Ports has also made a significant contribution to the consultation document, which will be taken into account. I assure my hon. Friend that I intend the port policy review to set a framework for the successful growth of the ports industry throughout the United Kingdom. The review will not focus simply on the south-east or southern ports. Rather, it will genuinely consider all the ports, what is needed to make them all successful and what support each of them needs. The review will also take into account the findings of the Eddington report, which made significant comments about how we link our ports and airports into the strategic network, as well as other decisions that the Government are committed to making on the planning regime and how we respond to the Stern report on climate change.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests. As the Minister knows, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers holds its maritime seminar this afternoon, at which he will be speaking. Everybody welcomes the investment in training in the maritime industry in Liverpool, but will he address the continuing decline in the number of British seafarers being employed on ships based in Liverpool? Will he also address the low pay among foreign nationals on those ships, because of the non-application of the Race Relations Act 1976, minimum wage regulations and so on, and say what action the Government are taking on those matters?

Dr. Ladyman: I am indeed speaking at that seminar this afternoon. One of the things that I was going to say was there for the first time—but which I will now tell the Chamber instead—is that we are today
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launching the consultation on how we should reform the Race Relations Act to deal with that issue.

Broadly speaking, there are three options. First, we can stay as we are now, although that is not much of an option, since it would lead to us infracting European Union rules. Secondly, we can change the Act so that everybody from the European Union or at least the European Economic Community will have to be paid the same rates. Thirdly, we can change the Act so that everybody who serves on a British ship will have to be paid the same rates. One likely consequence of the latter option would be that a lot of ships currently under the red ensign might flag out of the country. That must be factored into our considerations. At the request of the maritime unions and the Chamber of Shipping, I am allowing a six-month consultation. They believe that if they are given six months to work together, they can come up with a solution that is acceptable to everybody. I have acceded to that request for that very reason.

John McDonnell: I should like to put on record that I also intervene as a fellow scouser.

Dr. Ladyman: We get everywhere, I am delighted to say.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside talked about rail and road access. She made a plea for the Olive Mount Chord, which is one of the schemes that was identified in December’s announcement on the productivity transport innovation fund. We are working with Network Rail to take forward work on the detailed case for TIF funding, although it will not surprise my hon. Friend that I am will not make an announcement today. We will continue to place heavy weight on the recommendations of the region about how much ought to be spent on road access through the regional funding allocation. It is important to us that we take a strong lead from the regions.

My hon. Friend also asked about the Seaforth river container terminal, which concerns the decision about the post-Panamax berth, and asked some questions about other harbour revision orders. Again, I am afraid that I am not in a position to give her any information about that. It is important that harbour revision orders are made after the proper due process. For that reason, as the policy Minister in respect of shipping, I am not allowed to be involved with the harbour revision orders. One of the other Ministers takes responsibility for that. Such matters are kept completely secret from me, so that I am free to comment on policy matters without being seen to have influenced planning decisions. However, my hon. Friend will hear those decisions just as soon as they have been through due process and can be made properly.

These are exciting times for the Mersey, I am delighted to say, and I very much wish it luck. So long as Liverpool goes on to win the European champions league and such developments continue apace, there will nobody happier than I—or, I suspect, most other scousers as well.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Two o’clock.

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