Previous Section Index Home Page

There is quite a long way to go before it ever becomes legislation.

I can assure the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) that our Committee will be referring any substantive points proposed for legislation to the European Committees. No doubt he will go along and argue those points in detail. Our Committee thinks that to send certain documents to the Floor of the House for debate is to give them a certain status in the public eye which means that people may then go and read the documents that you have taken the trouble to read—sorry, I should say documents that everyone has taken the trouble to read, perhaps including you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although I am not quite sure. People will then get to know why they are of such import.

The Minister should be commended for the fact that he was very thorough, not only in today’s debate, but in his response to the Committee in his explanatory memorandum. He may have been reading from a report, but it was a report penned almost entirely by him, if my recollection is correct.

I welcomed the first contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) as the new Chair of the Transport Committee. She has learnt her brief very quickly, given that this was sprung on her soon after her selection. I think that Members should also welcome, without churlishness, the fact that our Government have been so much a party to the movement within the discussions and consultation that rejected the European Union shipping register proposal. Our Government also took the lead in putting together forces that led the Commission to understand that it must reject the original proposal for a European Union coastguard. That is part of what the European Scrutiny Committee does in its relationship with the Government, through not a mandatory but a persuasive and, we hope, a supportive system, giving our Ministers strength to go and argue these cases and see off some silly ideas from the Commission.

It is also clear that we have safeguarded our national voice in the International Maritime Organisation. The Commission will come back to us, of course. Let us be honest: it does that. There is Commission creep. The
3 Jun 2008 : Column 729
Commission will competence-creep, trying to put itself in a position in which it can speak for the whole of Europe, which may mean asking countries to be a little quieter so that its voice can be heard. I hope that that will be resisted at some point.

We should also welcome any action that advances good maritime governance. I am sorry that such action has not been welcomed by those who thought that it should be done by the IMO. We are not in excellent condition. There is too much pollution, and there are too many problems with flagship sources and the behaviour of people in the maritime industry. The EU must think about what is to the best advantage of its own community, of which we are part.

The idea that all marine-related policies must develop within a governance framework that embraces a shared recognition of those connections to ensure that the best results are achieved must surely be in all our interests. It is not contrary to our membership of the IMO. The Commission staff working document develops ideas in relation to maritime clusters in particular, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend. The Commission suggests that they could play a

We already have maritime clusters in the United Kingdom. Paragraphs 2.8 to 2.10 of our report outline the concept in some detail. We should welcome the possibility of a European network of maritime clusters working together, some of which can be developed in other countries such as France, Germany and Poland. We already have a model, however. The south-west and the north-west, for instance, are working together in a way that I hope can also be welcomed.

As I told the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), the Commission intends to follow its documents with detailed proposals. I assure him that the European Scrutiny Committee will recommend debate on some, if not all, of them. There are also aspects of the Government’s approach that should be welcomed. It strongly emphasises the concept of subsidiarity, as paragraph 2.15 on page 19 of our report makes clear.

We are wary about proposals for more data collection. Paragraph 2.14 on page 18 of the report points out that there is already a collection network, which is not a single organisation but the result of co-operation between a number of research organisations. The possible threat to our competitiveness, which worried the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier)—the possibility that our competitive advantage will somehow be done down if the European Union takes an overarching role—is a threat faced by a number of countries, and one of which we should always be wary. When we standardise, we lose some of our competitive edge, as the Government point out in paragraph 2.14 on page 18.

Mr. Brazier: That is not quite the point that I was making. Will the hon. Gentleman address the issue of the change in the SOx regime, which was introduced by the EU? It is a laudable goal—everyone wants to see lower SOx levels—but the effect was to disadvantage those on EU registers. Other countries, as the Intertanko
3 Jun 2008 : Column 730
survey shows, simply chose to disregard it on the basis that, on the balance of probabilities, they would not get caught even if they were trading with Europe.

Michael Connarty: The question of illegality is for the IMO, reinforced by the EU. We must work together on this. If IMO rules are not being policed well enough so that any EU country is disadvantaged, that disadvantages the economy of the EU. We are not in competition necessarily with other EU countries on this, although there are some questions about behaviour in the fishing industry where certain practices have been contrary to the interests of UK fishermen—the double-hulled Spanish vessels for illegal fishing, for example. They were found out and faced some penalties, but the UK has faced penalties as a result of not behaving properly in the fishing industry. A number of cases have been brought against UK fishing companies for malpractice. There is an EU dimension and an IMO dimension. They are not contrary, and anything that produces good governance is to be welcomed.

Mr. Brazier: The hon. Gentleman is being very courteous in giving way but I think he has missed my point. This was an EU rule, not an IMO one. The non-EU registered ships were operating perfectly legally at a different level except on their visits to European ports. That is why, on the balance of probabilities, they thought they could get away without conforming to those levels. It creates a perverse incentive to leave EU registers.

Michael Connarty: I am sure that the Minister was listening to that and that the matter will come up. We would not want that to happen. There have always been scare stories about something that is done in Europe to provide better regulation and standards driving people out, but that is not necessarily the case. We do not give up good standards and practice just because we are worried someone will go somewhere else where they can cheat. Clearly we would not allow them to trade in European waters. The advantage of trading with 500 million people in Europe is attractive, so there are levers we can apply.

The report refers to the importance of involving all parties in the consultation. We heard that Norway, although outside the EU, takes part in these consultations to help form the policy. Similarly, all of our devolved Administrations were involved in it. The report states that Scottish Ministers have considerable interests in the matter, and that of particular interest to Scotland is the protection of the marine environment and biological resources. The report names fisheries that were mentioned by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil). Welsh Ministers also have an extensive interest in the matter, with 70 per cent. of Welsh marine waters designated for their environmental quality and 40 per cent. of the territorial seas. The report also talks about Ministers from the Northern Ireland Assembly. It gives a good model for the Government for many other policy areas in future. If we make policy together by being involved in consultation, whether with partners outside the EU with a similar interest or those in the devolved Administrations, we will get better legislation.


3 Jun 2008 : Column 731

Mr. Weir: Does the report not also say that the Scottish Government did an additional memorandum because of particular interests in the marine environment which perhaps did not coincide entirely with the UK Government’s position?

Michael Connarty: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is a Europe-watcher, from a Scottish perspective. Policy in Europe is made by compromise; by trying not to disadvantage others, but to get the largest advantage for the majority. That is how people get to vote for things, particularly with QMV.

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have certain views about the common fisheries policy that may coincide with his, but it was not the Labour Government who sold out; it was the Conservative Government who sold out many years ago. It is very unlikely that anyone, apart from those with extreme views, would want to abolish the common fisheries policy. The point is how it is applied, whether it disadvantages others and whether it should only be those with marine and fishing interests who make the policy. Whether it is a wider EU matter will be debated. Should there ever come a time when there is an independent country in Scotland—

Mr. MacNeil: It’s coming.

Michael Connarty: The question then would be whether it refuses to join the EU because it could not get the common fisheries policy abolished. I am not going to invite the hon. Gentleman to reply. That question will remain until that comes about, should it ever do so, which I have no great wish for.

The point is that when we involve, as we do involve, the maximum number of people to make policy, we should recognise that that is a good thing. However, it is always a problem if those involved are churlish and want to point score and not really make policy.

9 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I will not detain the House for long this evening. I want to say a few brief words to register a degree of unease about the content of the documents before us.

The Minister knows that I hold him in high regard, but I have to say to him gently that the speech that he read out tonight was just a little on the jargon-heavy side. Just occasionally, it strayed into the realms of the platitudinous. I do not blame him for that, because he was in fact reflecting the content of the documents that we are discussing. Perhaps I might quote for the House’s benefit a few sentences from the Scrutiny Committee’s report, some of which the Minister has already quoted. It states at paragraph 2.4:

whatever the “maritime sphere” is. It continues:


3 Jun 2008 : Column 732

I wanted to share those few sentences with the House. I should explain that I have a degree in law and a diploma in legal practice. I practised for a number of years as a qualified solicitor. I really thought that I knew a thing or two about the use of language to obscure rather than clarify meaning, but I realised on reading that that I was not a professional in the field; I was barely even a gifted amateur.

My concern, which all here should have tonight, is that we sign up to these vague, rather jargon-heavy platitudes and then, when the devil comes from the detail and we say, “We don’t like that”, somebody turns round and says, “Ah no, you signed up to it. Here it is, and it was in the report that you all agreed.” I am quite happy to agree and to commend the Minister on the progress that the Government have made, particularly in getting rid of the nonsense of an EU coastguard and the nonsense of an EU register. I give the Minister and his predecessor in particular, whom I hoped might be here tonight, credit for their achievements in that regard, but I am concerned that what we are doing—what is contained underneath all this jargon—is something of a political pig in a poke.

Mr. MacNeil: Perhaps this is one of the platitudes that jumps out:

As we will soon be aware, those running coastal tourism operations will be hit when they will no longer be allowed to use red diesel. That is another example of a lack of joined-up thinking.

Mr. Carmichael: Indeed. In fact, that measure was determined—the House will forgive me if I am wrong—largely before the hon. Gentleman came into the House. I remember quizzing Treasury Ministers on a number of occasions, the hon. Member for Wentworth (John Healey) in particular, about the Government’s intentions, and it was always the same thing. It was always a case of, “Well, we don’t know the detail of what is being proposed. We’ve got the whole jargon-laden proposal here, and we will make a decision once we have the detail.” Once we had the detail, it was too late.

The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) is right about the position that has emerged as a result of leisure craft no longer being allowed to use red diesel. It is a mess that adds nothing to the leisure industry, but it will be as important to his constituents as it is to mine. I suspect that it will gain not a single penny for the Treasury’s coffers, and we will end up with something that costs more in its enforcement than it will ever bring in through revenue.

My concern is that when one looks at the list of areas that are included in these papers, one sees a great many things that can be done at EU level, but which would be better done either at nation-state level or within the IMO. I am particularly concerned that we never seem to give any particular elbow to our involvement with the IMO. The potential for developing these areas in a meaningful way is immense. Let us consider some of the provisions envisaged for cutting pollution, including greenhouse gases, from ships. They are fine within an EU context, but I suspect that most of the shipping that operates within EU waters has very little connection with the EU.


3 Jun 2008 : Column 733

Given the situation that faced my constituents some 16 years ago, when a New York-owned, Panamanian-registered floating wreck, which was captained by a Greek, spilled oil over half our coastline, anything that the EU has done with regard to pollution coming from ships is pretty meaningless. The opportunity for real, meaningful change to avoid that sort of ecological disaster comes from meaningful enforcement; from taking hard action through the IMO against flags of convenience; from ensuring proper standards for the training of officers and crew; and from ensuring proper maintenance of shipping. There is far too much substandard shipping carrying oil around the world. That will be addressed only at IMO level, and anything we do within the EU will be meaningless at best, or counter-productive and damaging to our own shipping industry at worst.

Mr. MacNeil: I just want to support what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Last week, I saw the Border Heather leaving Ardveenish in Barra. It carries fuel from Grangemouth around the coast of Scotland, and probably to the Orkneys and Shetlands too, and it is registered in the Isle of Man. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) said, this seems to be a great example of Commission creep.

Mr. Carmichael: I think that Commission creep is a slightly pejorative term, but I know the sentiment that underlies it, and I am not without sympathy. I put it no more strongly than that.

I am sure the House would be disappointed if I sat down without making some reference to fishing. The report draws our attention to

Nobody could take exception to that statement, but I would feel much more comfortable with it if it were to have more regard to, and would tie itself more firmly to, the regional elements that we have seen in recent years in the development of fishing policy and a system that involves fishermen, scientists and other stakeholders in the industry all working together. We need them to bring their expertise to bear to get a system that has credibility with fishermen, with scientists and with conservationists. At the moment, the CFP is none of those things.

There is substantial opportunity for co-operation within the EU between maritime clusters, and that is one of the positives that the papers have identified. However, I wish to place on record my disappointment in one respect. Last weekend in Kirkwall we had a major conference on the future of maritime education, attended by representatives of the shipping industry and of academic bodies throughout Europe, indeed the world. It also included representatives of the IMO and even the EU. We did not, however, have a representative from the UK Government. The project that the conference sought to promote—the northern maritime university—could be a textbook example of co-operation between maritime clusters, but the UK Government simply did not care about it.


3 Jun 2008 : Column 734

Unless we take such issues on board, we will miss a huge opportunity for training the next generation of officers and officer cadets, which will be necessary as the shipping industry takes on the massive expansion that the Government say they expect. However, they could not be bothered to send one person to Kirkwall to learn more about it. That was a disappointment.

9.11 pm

Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) who powerfully made the case for international regulation to tackle the pollution of our seas, and for the UK maritime industry. I shall be brief, because we are running out of time and I want to give the Minister an opportunity to reply to the many points that have been made. I suspect that many of those issues will be discussed again when we consider the long-awaited Marine Bill, which was discussed by the Joint Committee today. Hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies will be aware that there is also a Scottish marine Bill that will deal with many of these issues.

I shall focus on the review of European Union law exemptions for the shipping and fishing industries, which I have raised previously. I know the Minister is aware that this issue has been raised in relation to the race relations legislation and the national minimum wage regulations. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland will know that the work force who serve the Orkney and Shetland isles on the lifeline ferries are not necessarily covered by the national minimum wage regulations, because they do not cover any of the non-domiciled, non-resident seafarers on all the ships and ferries that leave UK ports. Changes need to be made to UK legislation in that regard, but Europe has a strong role to play in the sector, given that many of the issues do not stop at UK territorial waters.

The European Union is a major bloc, and one of the most civilised areas on the planet, and it is important that we say that we expect the European community to set the highest standards and to push internationally for higher standards all around the world. I think that that addresses some of the points made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. There is not necessarily a conflict between the two. We have seafarers working on ferries that go out of British ports to other EU ports who earn as little as £1 or £1.50 an hour. I would be interested in the Minister’s views about whether the directive is another way we can address that anomaly.


Next Section Index Home Page