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Session 2008 - 09
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Public Bill Committee Debates

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Bob Russell
Brazier, Mr. Julian (Canterbury) (Con)
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
Crausby, Mr. David (Bolton, North-East) (Lab)
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H. (Central Ayrshire) (Lab)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Greenway, Mr. John (Ryedale) (Con)
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen (Jarrow) (Lab)
Howarth, Mr. George (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab)
Leech, Mr. John (Manchester, Withington) (LD)
McGuire, Mrs. Anne (Stirling) (Lab)
Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Touhig, Mr. Don (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
Viggers, Sir Peter (Gosport) (Con)
Walter, Mr. Robert (North Dorset) (Con)
Watson, Mr. Tom (West Bromwich, East) (Lab)
Wilson, Mr. Rob (Reading, East) (Con)
Annette Toft, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 8 June 2009

[Bob Russell in the Chair]

Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Maritime Labour Convention) Order 2009

4.30 pm
The Chairman: Before I call the Minister to move the motion, I thank him for being here to make a last appearance in his old role before he moves to pastures new. I also congratulate him on his new appointment to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Maritime Labour Convention) Order 2009.
It is a pleasure to see you presiding this afternoon, Mr. Russell. Thank you very much for your kind remarks.
The draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Maritime Labour Convention) Order 2009 will declare that the maritime labour convention 2006 is to be regarded as a Community treaty, as defined in section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. The order does not deal with the detailed provisions of the convention, but is effectively an enabling measure, providing a power to enable detailed secondary legislation implementing all aspects of the convention to be introduced in due course. By this declaration, the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972, which provides for the general implementation of Community treaties, would apply in relation to the maritime labour convention 2006. The powers in section 2(2) could then be used towards the implementation of that convention, enabling necessary changes to primary and secondary legislation to be made.
At its 94th maritime session, which was held in Geneva in February 2006, the International Labour Organisation adopted the maritime labour convention 2006. The new convention, often described as a “super- convention”, consolidates and updates more than 60 maritime labour instruments adopted by the ILO since 1920. Many of those individual instruments have become outdated and were not observed by much of the international maritime community. That rendered them ineffective a means of international regulation. The Government are proud of the leading role played by the United Kingdom in that collective international achievement and we are committed to ratification as soon as domestic law and practice are fully in line with the convention’s requirements.
First, I stress the importance of the convention, which will not only have a beneficial effect on the living and working conditions of seafarers on UK ships, but contribute to a much wider improvement in conditions throughout the European Union and further afield, because we expect the convention to be implemented widely by other nations. The Government have long recognised the importance of the human element in maritime activity. Furthermore, we believe that the convention will not only improve seafaring life, but have a beneficial effect on maritime safety and the prevention of maritime pollution.
The UK’s social partners played a leading role in the development of the convention within the ILO’s tripartite structure, which requires agreement between Governments, employers and employees. Those social partners support the early ratification of the convention by the UK and the earliest implementation of the convention worldwide. The Government’s commitment to ratification is shared by all our partners in the European Union and is reflected in the Council decision of 7 June 2007, authorising EU member states to ratify the convention for those parts of it that fall within Community competence and exhorting member states to ratify the convention in full. At this point, I should emphasise that there is neither a surrender of sovereignty, which I know is an issue that is very close to the heart of the hon. Member for Canterbury, as it is for all of us; nor is an extension of EU competence implied by the legislative path that we have chosen.
It may assist the Committee if I talk briefly about the structure and content of the convention. The maritime labour convention comprises articles that set out the broad principles and obligations; regulations that set out the main mandatory requirements; and a code that comprises both more detailed mandatory standards and non-mandatory guidelines. The convention applies to all persons working on ships covered by the convention, which includes all ships ordinarily engaged in seagoing commercial activities. As is the case with many other conventions applying to international shipping, the convention does not apply to ships navigating exclusively close to the shore, fishing vessels, ships of traditional build, warships and naval auxiliaries.
The convention will come into force 12 months after ratification by at least 30 states, with a total share in the world gross tonnage of 33 per cent. At present, it has been ratified by five states and the tonnage threshold has been reached. However, it is important that the UK is ready to ratify before the convention comes into force internationally.
For the purposes of compliance and enforcement, a maritime labour certificate, together with associated documentation, will be introduced. Those documents will provide prima facie evidence that ships over 500 gross tonnes trading internationally comply with the convention. The convention also introduces a new simplified amendment procedure that will make it easier to keep it up to date.
I will now turn to domestic implementation and the need for the draft Order in Council before the Committee.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on his new ministerial responsibilities. Could he enlighten me on how the provisions will work in the case of ship of a flag state not covered by the convention that might, in the course of its trade, attend an EU port that is covered by the convention? Would there be any impact in a flag state that might not be trading to the same standards?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am not entirely sure whether the legal implications can be enforced, but my understanding is that simply creating the convention will raise standards by exposing those not complying, and because of the number of states required to ratify it. In the event of a risk assessment of which ships should be inspected by the relevant authorities, it may be decided that those ships that are not complying with one convention are not complying with others, so they are more likely to be inspected by the states they visit. If they are not looking after the seafarers onboard, they might not be looking after safety requirements and regimes, so I would imagine that no other ships are more likely to be detained, and therefore to be not as profitable, because of some attempt at exploitation of the crew by rogue owners or rogue states. I will try to come back to the actual legal definition later in my remarks.
As I was saying, the UK prides itself on the high standards applied to its fleet, so it is not surprising that the UK is already fully compliant with parts of the new convention. Nevertheless, we have identified a total of 14 new or amending regulations necessary to align UK merchant shipping legislation and other legislation with the convention. We have already started preliminary consultations on the regulations with stakeholders, but we will hold full public consultations and complete individual impact assessments for each.
The nature of the maritime labour convention means that it cannot be ratified in a piecemeal way, but must be ratified as a whole. In some case where UK legislative provisions need some realignment to fit with the convention, the necessary powers to make appropriate amendments already exist in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. However, some provisions of the new convention cannot be implemented under the 1995 Act. That is why the order is needed: so that the powers contained in the European Communities Act 1972 can be used to make appropriate changes to primary or secondary legislation to give effect to those provisions of the convention.
I would like to make clear the thinking behind the decision to use an Order in Council, rather than new primary legislation. The convention is ancillary to the existing Community treaties—ancillary because it contains some matters that lie within the competence of the European Community, although the Community is not itself able to be a party to the convention. Those parts that do not fall within Community competence are ancillary to the transport and employment provisions of the Community treaties, particularly where they deal with the promotion of social protection and the raising of the standard of living and employment of seafarers. Although the convention could be implemented through a Bill, the fact that an EU Council decision was passed authorising ratification by EU member states for those parts of the convention falling within Community competence—together with the fact that it is not possible to ratify the convention for only those parts that fall within Community competence because its provisions state that it must be ratified as a whole—suggests that it is appropriate that the convention is deemed to be ancillary to the treaty.
In response to the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East, ships from non-ratifying states could face delays and additional costs, because convention requirements will be applied by ratifying states to vessels from non-ratifying states, on the basis of no more favourable treatment. They will therefore have to meet the convention requirements, even though their flag states have not ratified it. I am sorry that I could not answer his question immediately, but I am sure that that will reassure him.
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): I am slightly confused, because the Minister is talking about raising standards and so on, which implies extra costs, but the explanatory notes state that no impact assessment has been made because there are no extra costs for business. Will he explain that?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I asked that question myself when I read the explanatory note. The answer is straightforward: the draft order is the enabling provision. Fourteen statutory instruments will be introduced in due course, each of which will have an impact assessment and detail whether there is a positive or a negative impact on business. As I explained, much will be positive, but some measures will entail a cost. However, the streamlining and the simplification, and the ability to update regulations, will make things much simpler for businesses. Those details will come out in due course; this order simply lays the framework. That is why it is of less consequence to business, which expects us to ratify the convention and has agreed internationally that we should ratify it. The details, which will come forward in the months ahead, will contain the important provisions.
4.42 pm
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Mr. Russell, it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time. I congratulate the Minister on his promotion. A truthful remark that I made previously—that he is a very good Minister in a very poor Government—failed to wreck his career. However, I am sorry to see a round peg move from a round hole. I had no idea that Poplar had so much rolling farmland.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Poplar and Canning Town is home to Mudchute farm, which is the biggest open space in east London. It is a very efficient and effective farm enjoyed by thousands of east Londoners.
Mr. Brazier: Indeed. Having served in a Territorial Army unit in the east end, I am aware that the area is home to several show farms, of which that is the largest. Such farms provide a really good service.
The measures in the order before us are strongly supported by Nautilus, as one would expect, and by the Chamber of Shipping, which believes that, if adopted, it will help to expedite the necessary changes to UK legislation, which in turn will help the UK to ratify the MLC. The Minister set out the way in which we and he, I believe, like business to be done in the shipping world: us and the EU co-operating and working hand in glove with the International Maritime Organisation, instead of trying to supplant it in a number of areas, which is what happened only a few years ago. As he rightly says, this is enabling legislation and the 14-odd forthcoming statutory instruments will cover the detail.
My first question echoes the one asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset. In some cases, the UK is already compliant with the convention, but, as paragraph 4.2 of the explanatory memorandum states,
“while existing UK legislation is not exactly in line, there are powers in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 which provide the necessary vires to make the necessary amending legislation.”
My hon. Friend made a good point about possible costs. I am not asking for a comprehensive list—that might take a while—but it would be helpful if the Minister set out the major areas in which we are not currently in line.
Paragraph 7.5 of the explanatory memorandum, which sets out what is being done and why, states:
“Reflecting the broad range of subjects covered, a significant number of UK legislative changes will be required to implement the Convention.”
My second question is: what changes might we expect and what is the Government’s timetable for them?
Paragraph 7.7 states:
“the Council adopted a decision authorizing member states to ratify the MLC for those parts falling within Community competence and exhorting member states to ratify the whole convention by no later than the end of 2010.”
In a speech to the Mission to Seafarers at St. Michael Paternoster Royal church on 17 October 2006, the Minister’s predecessor, and my next-door neighbour, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), said:
“realistically, I think it will be four to five years before we can fully ratify the Convention.”
Five years would take us to the end of next year, which would put the Government beyond the target date. So, my third question is: does the Minister concur with that view and are penalties likely if we do not complete the process by the end of next year?
In that same speech, the Minister’s predecessor stated that some other member states had serious problems implementing the convention. The Minister mentioned that some countries have already ratified it. Will he give us a list? If he does not have a full list, perhaps his successor will write to me. More specifically, which of our major European partners are yet to ratify the convention?
Looking at the issues in the round, any measure involving standards and conditions has to be monitored and, ultimately, policed. So, to pull the Minister’s leg one last time, it might help to have a specific example of different interpretations of international agreements on labour and safety. The Minister is familiar with the case because I wrote to him about it, but I shall give an explanation for the benefit of the Committee.
The case was brought to my attention by Peter Millatt, managing director of Scotline, which has a terminal in Kent, and relates to the termination of a contract between the Scotland-based J&A Gardner and the Ministry of Defence. The contract was a long-standing one for the charter of the M.V. Saint Brandan supply vessel, stationed in the Falkland Islands. What worried me was that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which the Minister supervises, required the British competitors for the tender to have at least seven crew members on their vessels. It cited the international conventions that the new convention will replace as its reason for imposing that requirement. However, the Dutch equivalent of the MCA said that only five people were required. Not surprisingly, the Dutch company was able to present a much lower tender and now has the contract in the Falkland Islands for a long period.
My final question is, therefore: which organisations will be responsible for policing the convention and standards, and how will we ensure an even application of the standards across Community countries—in the context of this statutory instrument—and indeed internationally?
4.48 pm
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Russell. I echo the words of other Members in wishing the Minister the best of luck in his promotion.
I shall not detain the Committee too long. The matter is straightforward, and I am more than happy to support the order. As the Minister has said, this is simply an enabling order. It has just one effect, which is to ensure that the maritime labour convention is regarded as a European treaty under the European Communities Act 1972. The regulations set out in the convention are perfectly sensible; I do not think that anyone will oppose having a minimum age for seafarers and ensuring that they are medically fit and have decent conditions on board. However, I have a couple of brief questions.
The explanatory memorandum suggests that the UK is already fully compliant with many of the maritime labour convention’s provisions, but with which of those provisions are we not currently compliant? The Minister also mentioned the potential need for primary and secondary legislation. Does he see any need for primary legislation, or does he expect that all of the legislation will be secondary?
My second question relates to the time scale, which was supposed to be in place by the end of last year. Does the Minister expect us to be able to comply with that time scale, or will the issue be resolved sooner?
4.50 pm
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful for the support in principle expressed by the Opposition spokesmen, and I will try to address the questions that they have raised. Both of them asked for a description of some of the key changes applicable to seafarers in UK ships. The changes are: individual seafarer employment agreements more akin to land-based contracts of employment, instead of the old crew agreements that collectively covered every member of the crew and were very basic in their provisions; clear lines of responsibility to the ship owner named on the maritime labour certificate, as well as seafarer employment agreements to ensure that there is a clear line of responsibility; clearer provisions covering entitlement to repatriation; increased entitlement to paid leave; improved accommodation provisions and complaints procedure; and stronger enforcement. Those are all basic things that most of us expect as a matter of course in employment law, and they are therefore extended to the maritime community.
The hon. Member for Canterbury asked to what extent existing UK law is in line with the MLC. I regret to say that it is difficult to be specific about that for a number of reasons. First, the Department has not yet completed the exercise, in co-operation with the working groups, of examining closely the changes to legislation that we wish to propose, nor have we had public consultation on all of our proposals. It would therefore be premature to give an estimate of the percentage of legislation that needs to be changed, because that will obviously be a matter for consultation. Secondly, it is not obvious how such percentages could sensibly be calculated. There may be situations in which we need to make a lot of changes to the text of UK legislation, but the substantive position would not change significantly. Equally, there may be situations in which the text may not change a great deal, but the substantive position could be altered far more.
In a number of areas covered by the convention, we need to change UK law in significant ways, but the situation is not the same in all areas. For example, we anticipate that few, if any, changes will be required in relation to training and qualifications. However, it is important to remember that the detailed proposals for implementing the convention are not in the draft Order in Council that we are debating today; they will be introduced in due course through our work in partnership with the working groups with appropriate public consultation, which will give the hon. Gentleman some reassurance.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about when the convention will come into force. There are two criteria governing the implementation of the MLC. First, flag states representing 33 per cent. of the world tonnage—Liberia, Bahamas, Marshall Islands, Panama and Norway—have already ratified the convention. Secondly, the MLC will come into force 12 months after 30 International Labour Organisation members ratify it, which is expected to happen by late 2010 or 2011. We are therefore not concerned about our timetable. We think that we will be well within it, that we will not have any difficulties, and that we will not be in breach of legislation.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington asked whether primary legislation will be needed. Our assessment is that there will be no need for it, because we will be able to do everything through secondary legislation if the draft order is implemented, by using the powers in the European Communities Act. That will make life a lot easier.
As I said, the convention has been described as a “super-convention”, which is as appropriate a description as any for a convention that consolidates and updates more than 60 disparate instruments dating back almost 90 years into a single set of standards, and sets a modern benchmark that can henceforth be amended relatively easily to ensure that the standards are kept up to date and relevant. The Government are proud of the leading role played by the United Kingdom in this collective international achievement.
Mr. Brazier: I am grateful to the Minister for once again giving way: he has done so on many occasions while we have been opposite each other. Before he completes his peroration, could he reply on the point about the Falklands contract? What steps are we taking to make certain that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency does not force standards on British vessels that are out of line with those that the equivalent authorities of other reputable seafaring European countries enforce?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman raises a very fair point and I know that he has written to me about the example given. The response is still outstanding, but I will make sure that it is expedited. Obviously we want to protect British shipping and we have been doing so relatively successfully in the past 12 years. We have the largest red ensign fleet that we have had for decades, and we have good training standards and good cadet officers coming through. We do not want to see that record jeopardised by other countries undercutting us by not observing the conventions in the way we believe they should be observed. We want to ensure that we have safe, but practical manning, which is essential to mitigate human error. The judgment of one flag state against another must be balanced, but I owe the hon. Gentleman a response to that correspondence and I will ensure that it is expedited.
We do not want to undermine British shipping in any way. We want to protect it and promote it because we believe that it promotes higher standards in all regards, and in that instance it helps world shipping to be safer and more efficient, as well as promoting UK business and industry. My concluding remark as a Transport Minister is that I commend the draft order, which will enable the United Kingdom to embody its stated commitment to the convention in the appropriate implementing measures.
Question put and agreed to.
4.57 pm
Committee rose.

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