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Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; he is being most gracious. How will the marine policy that we are discussing impact on Norway’s management of the waters within
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its 200-mile limit, and will there be any discussions between Norway and the EU—or have those discussions already commenced?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I will have to come back to the hon. Gentleman on the detail of his question. On maintaining our direct relationship with Norway, obviously we will have to take its views into account when formulating European policy, as we always do.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): I have been in correspondence with the Minister on the benefits that ship-routing services can have in reducing the air pollution from shipping. I see that the Government are committed to the idea that it is the IMO that should make the regulations, as the Minister said in his letter to me. My constituent, Aerospace and Marine International, which is based in Banchory, provides a ship-routing service. Will he assist that company by meeting the IMO to discuss taking forward an improvement to the regulation of shipping, in order to reduce CO2 emissions through the use of that service?

Jim Fitzpatrick: The IMO is actively looking into those issues at the moment. I think that I am right in saying that the next major conference in which the issues will be discussed is in September or October this year. Certainly the IMO is conscious that it is the body that ought to regulate the shipping sector because it is best able to represent international opinion and put together international agreement. It is actively considering the challenge to climate change from salts, knots and CO2. As for the assurance for his constituent, if he will allow me, I will come back to him on that, because that is a very specific issue.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) said that I was quoting from the documents; I would not want to mislead the House, so we are relying extensively on what has been prepared. As I said earlier, we do not have any firm proposals. We have guidance to take us towards where the European Commission wants to get to. There is still a great degree of vagueness about the conclusions.

Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): I welcome the review of European Community labour law exemptions for the shipping and fishing sectors. Will my hon. Friend outline the Government’s likely approach in those negotiations?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I think that I will be able to come back to that point later and will be able to give my hon. Friend some of the reassurance that she seeks. The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) asked about the relationship between Norway and the EU. It has just occurred to me that Norway has been involved in the formulation of the EU maritime policy. As he knows, Norway is naturally a key ally for the UK, and obviously we would want to include it and its position in our considerations. I suggested to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) that the next meeting of the IMO was in the autumn; the next inter-sessional meeting will take place later this month. It is the IMO’s marine environment protection committee that meets in the autumn.

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Bob Spink: Will the Minister give way?

Jim Fitzpatrick: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will make a little more progress; I am halfway through my remarks, and am naturally conscious that the debate lasts only 90 minutes and a number of colleagues clearly want to contribute.

It is envisaged that common tools will be needed, synergetic approaches adopted, and conflicts of interest avoided or resolved. The action plan sets out ways in which the Commission’s overarching vision might be realised through an integrated approach to governance. That includes the use of cross-cutting tools to help policy makers and economic and environmental stakeholders to join up their activities and optimise the use of marine and coastal space in a sustainable manner. Those tools, as set out in the documents under discussion, comprise a more integrated network of surveillance systems for European waters, the development of marine spatial planning, and an EU observation and data network to bring coherence to the existing fragmented maritime data collection initiatives.

The action plan enumerates details of various broad areas of activity, grouped thematically. They include maximising the sustainable use of the seas, the development of a knowledge and innovation base, delivering a better quality of life in Europe’s coastal regions, promoting Europe’s leadership in international maritime affairs, and raising the visibility of maritime Europe. In connection with the latter objective, I hope that hon. Members were aware that last month—on 20 May, to be precise—the European Union celebrated the inaugural European maritime day—the first tangible output of the new integrated maritime policy.

Particularly significant aspects of the action plan address a European network of maritime surveillance; a road map for member states to assist in the development of maritime spatial planning; the development of maritime clusters, which is the subject of a separate document included for consideration in this debate; the creation of a European maritime transport space without barriers; the review of EU labour law exemptions for the shipping and fishing sectors—perhaps that deals with the point that my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) raised—ways to cut pollution from shipping, including greenhouse gases; action on marine-based energy infrastructures and resources to facilitate high-level investment; an ecosystem-based approach to fishing; a new maritime research strategy; a strategy to ameliorate the effects of climate change in coastal areas; and the development of integrated maritime policies at national level. It is a lengthy and ambitious programme.

The Government have welcomed the significant effort expended by the Commission in producing that wide-ranging package. In broad terms, the desire for a joined-up approach across marine policy areas is a welcome development. Our seas and coasts have multiple uses. They are used for the movement of people and goods, fishing, the utilisation of energy resources, and leisure activities. It makes sense that measures governing any one activity should not be progressed without an accompanying examination of the impact on all other activities that might be affected. Indeed, that is precisely the approach that the Government have taken in developing our domestic legislation, namely the Marine Bill.

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In considering the new policy package, the Government maintain the approach brought to bear in the consideration of the package’s precursor, the EU maritime Green Paper. The new approach must entail the need to respect the principle of subsidiarity, and the need to ensure that new measures add value to existing national, Community and wider international arrangements. Of course, each new proposal needs to be accompanied by a sound business case.

Mr. Carmichael: Is the Minister able to explain to the House, or will he publish later, what exactly the Government’s targets are for measuring the added value that we will get from the proposals, and what the performance indicators will be?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I should be happy to come back to that in my closing remarks. Our difficulty, very straightforwardly, is that without the detail of the proposals, we are not able to say, “We like this, but we don’t like that. We want to go this way, and we want to push further in that direction.” To a certain extent, tonight’s debate will obviously be dissatisfying and inconclusive, because we do not have the detailed proposals that we might want to debate and discuss, so that we can decide on what is best for the UK.

Mr. Weir: In the previous debate, we heard that the document under discussion was being pushed through so that it would be agreed to before the 2009 elections to the European Parliament. Is the same being done with the document that we are considering, and if not, can the Minister give us a time scale for when its provisions are likely to come into effect?

Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman has the advantage on me, as he sat through and participated in the last debate, and I was not present, sadly, to hear my ministerial colleague explain the timetable. We do not have such a timetable, and because the detail has not been worked out, it is not clear what the time scale will be. I will try and get some additional information for the hon. Gentleman to give him some indication how long the process is likely to take.

We have an opportunity to add value by exemplifying an approach that injects the consideration of sustainability issues at the outset of deliberations, combining thinking on energy policy and climate change, and incorporating thorough impact assessments. Consideration of climate change and renewable energy issues would be an integral part of Community and member state development and investment policies. Moreover, the new package represents an opportunity to underpin maritime policy making with ecosystem-based management, which is important for the sustainable use of marine resources. I should welcome the views of the House.

8.10 pm

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate maritime matters on the Floor of the House, and particularly to debate the EU’s approach to such matters. The House should be grateful to the European Scrutiny Committee for recommending that we have this opportunity.

The subject is under-debated. The maritime sector, if one includes ancillary industries and services ranging from Rolls-Royce’s world-beating engines to maritime insurance and law, is the UK’s third largest industry. It
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supports almost 250,000 jobs and contributes an estimated £11 billion a year to our economy, yet its national footprint is minuscule. Even though 95 per cent., by weight, of all goods brought into the country come by sea, the sector is almost ignored by the media and wider public, except when there is a disaster at sea, such as the beaching of the Napoli, or when a tanker unleashes a slick of oil, which, mercifully, is extremely rare now.

So I am pleased to speak in the debate, and pleased that it falls so close to the newly introduced European maritime day, one of the items that comes up in the bundle of documents that we are discussing. It is one small item that we, the official Opposition, welcome, although I am a little concerned that it does not seem to have developed much beyond Maritime Ministers meeting in Athens to toast each other with much champagne. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s proposals for extending the reach of the maritime day to the public at large and what measures he will be taking with the industry to boost its public profile. I must say, in fairness to him, that I know he is personally committed to that.

In the three years or so that I have been covering maritime affairs for the Opposition, the European Union’s Commissioner for Maritime Affairs seems to have had something of a change of heart. It certainly needed to change. That directorate used to be one of the worst examples of Euro-fanaticism in the whole Commission. Let us hope that the change of heart is permanent.

One of the issues that has been of the greatest concern and that has reared its head several times is the threat of an EU register and the development of an EU flag for our merchant vessels. I was delighted to hear once again that the Government have pledged their opposition to those plans, and I join them in welcoming the fact that the Commission has dropped the plans in the current document, but vigilance is still important. I see the Minister nodding. Such a proposal, particularly the creation of an EU register, would essentially create a new flag state, demanding a common seat on international bodies such as the International Maritime Organisation and a common coastguard.

As the Minister said, the proposal for the creation of a common coastguard has been dropped. That is a relief, not least because of the nature of many of the coastguards in the European Union with which our own Maritime and Coastguard Agency would have been merged. I shall single out the Greek coastguard, as I dealt recently with a particularly horrid constituency case. After the trial of the coastguards concerned, it became clear that there had been a number of cases of sexual abuse of migrants, and even allegations of throwing illegal immigrants into the sea. Britain has a long and honourable tradition in its coastguard. Not only are there extreme examples such as the Greek one, but a merger would be ridiculous when the circumstances are so different around the European Union. Indeed, some countries have no coastline at all.

The debate provides an opportunity to chide the Government for a moment for allowing the operating conditions of the coastguard to deteriorate to the point where we have had three one-day strikes by the paid
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employees and one strike by the coastguard volunteers, the very first examples of industrial action by our coastguard—Her Majesty’s Coastguard, as it used to be called—in its centuries-old history. Given that those men and women are responsible for rescues involving up to 50,000 people a year, it seems extraordinary that the staff are so poorly paid and start on salaries of around £12,000 per annum.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman, and I am grateful to him for giving way. The Public and Commercial Services Union has said that it would cost about £3 million to sort out the dispute. If his party were to become the Government, would it look to meet the coastguard’s demands and end the dispute, which could be done at the stroke of a pen?

Mr. Brazier: The hon. Gentleman intervenes at an opportune moment. I was about to say that I was delighted to be able to announce in the recent debate in Westminster Hall that, after discussion with my colleagues in the shadow Treasury team, although we obviously cannot underwrite a blank cheque, we are committed to a specific review confined to the MCA to look at its salaries in the context specifically of the other emergency services.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the Chairman of the Committee that sent the documents to the House to be debated, I cannot see the relevance of this discussion to the documents before us, and it takes away time from the matters that we should be discussing.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): The hon. Gentleman can safely leave such matters to the Chair.

Mr. Brazier: I had in fact completed my point on that.

Mr. MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brazier: Briefly, once more.

Mr. MacNeil: I am not by any means asking for a blank cheque. I am merely asking for £3 million. The one thing that the coastguard unions told us was that they had been reviewed to death by the Government. If the hon. Gentleman’s party became the next Government, can he promise not a blank cheque, but a £3 million cheque and no more reviews?

Mr. Brazier: The short answer is that I cannot promise a specific sum, but our review would be different in that it would be specifically in the context of the other emergency services, a linkage that, to date, has not been acknowledged.

Nevertheless, I share the Government’s strong opposition to the EU’s original plans for merging the coastguard and, like the Government, I recognise that we need closer co-operation between the different coastguard services. I enjoyed my recent visit to the MCA at its headquarters in Dover, and I thank the Minister for facilitating that. I was struck by the points that the coastguard made to me about the importance
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of developing a better relationship with its French counterparts, which is a relatively recent suggestion.

One plan that does not seem to have disappeared from the documents is the Commission’s ambition, albeit more tentatively stated, to take up a role within the various international organisations relating to the sea, not least the IMO. The Government have not been quite as hostile to that proposal as they have to some others. Their document declares that

in the IMO

That is welcome, but there seems to be more ambiguity over other multilateral organisations. I would be grateful if the Minister clarified whether he thinks that there is any international organisation with a role in shipping in which there should be a greater EU presence at the expense of member states. The plain fact is that different member states have different interests. Some do not even have a coastline, and none has the kind of maritime hub that we enjoy in London. It is essential that British interests continue to be represented in international bodies instead of having a joint EU presence.

While discussing the EU’s relationship with the IMO, I should like to support the Government’s statement on inadequate standards of ships with certain flags. We are all concerned about the quality of control with certain registers but, like the Government, the Opposition believe:

not, by implication, the EU. This is valid across a wide range of issues where the EU has decided to go off on a proposal by itself without consulting the rest of the world. I am thinking, for example, of the North sea and the Baltic SOx—sulphur oxide—emission control area. Because this is an EU rule rather than an IMO one, Intertanko, which represents more than 75 per cent. of the world’s independent tanker fleet, has reported that large numbers of ships not flagged to an EU state have simply decided to ignore the ruling and refused to bunker low-sulphur fuel, preferring—on balance of probabilities, it is a commercially sound decision, however antisocial—the risk of getting caught. That is a classic example of a good intention implemented by a body out of touch with the market leading to unintended consequences. By acting unilaterally, the EU has merely put an extra burden on to its own vessels at a time when there are already other pressures for people to leave European flags and register under other flags. The right way to make progress on these matters is to negotiate them through the long, hard route of the IMO, which can deliver on this.

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