House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2008 - 09
Publications on the internet
General Committee Debates
European Standing Committee Debates

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Joan Walley
Brazier, Mr. Julian (Canterbury) (Con)
Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere) (Con)
Clelland, Mr. David (Tyne Bridge) (Lab)
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H. (Central Ayrshire) (Lab)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Goodman, Helen (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)
Hollobone, Mr. Philip (Kettering) (Con)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
Kelly, Ruth (Bolton, West) (Lab)
Leech, Mr. John (Manchester, Withington) (LD)
Meacher, Mr. Michael (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab)
Riordan, Mrs. Linda (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op)
Wilson, Mr. Rob (Reading, East) (Con)
Gosia McBride, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

European Committee A

Monday 11 May 2009

[Joan Walley in the Chair]

Maritime Transport
[Relevant Documents: European Union Document No. 5789/09 and Addenda 1 to 3, Directive on reporting formalities for ships arriving in and/or departing from ports of the Member States of the Community and repealing Directive 2002/6/EC.]
4.30 pm
The Chairman: Does a member of the European Scrutiny Committee wish to make a brief explanatory statement about the decision to refer the relevant documents to this Committee?
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Before I embark on a brief introduction on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee, may I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Walley? As you have anticipated, I shall outline the background to why the Committee recommended the documents for debate.
In the first communication that members of the Committee will have, the Commission notes the importance of shipping to the Community’s economy and sets out its ideas for a maritime transport strategy for the next nine years. The strategy aims to promote Community shipping and related industries that are safe, secure and environmentally-friendly while remaining efficient, adaptable and globally competitive. The ideas are underpinned by the core values of sustained development, economic growth, open markets, fair competition and high environmental and social standards, and envisage the Community sending out a strong message to the wider maritime community about the importance of real, worldwide improvements in standards and practices. I diverge from my introductory note to say that such views are expressed in the Commission document; they do not necessarily reflect the views of the person who is reading them out and I put them before the Committee on that basis.
The background note from the European Scrutiny Committee goes on to say that the document covers wide-ranging and diverse issues relating to maritime transport in the Community and the wider world. Much of what is foreshadowed might not happen for some time, and much may be subject to individual scrutiny in due course, but the communication has far-reaching objectives and we thought that it was worth debating now the issues that it raises, especially such cross-cutting matters as Community and member states’ competence, in relation particularly to security and, more generally, to the principle of subsidiarity in areas of mixed competence.
In the second communication, the Commission sets out the concept of a Community maritime space without barriers, which is designed to extend the Community’s single market by simplifying administrative procedures for intra-Community maritime transport, particularly short-sea shipping. Although the Government welcomed the communication, they expressed reservations that we thought this Committee might explore with the Minister. They relate to the alignment of any new measures with the Community customs code and the frontiers protocol, the implications for safety costs and other burdens for the trade, public health and plant health protection, and the collection of statistics on short-sea shipping.
The Chairman: I call the Minister to make his opening statement.
4.33 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I begin by agreeing with the hon. Member for Hertsmere, who spoke on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee, that it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Walley.
We have been asked to debate broad European Commission communications on strategic goals and recommendations for the EU’s maritime transport policy until 2018, and the desire to establish a European maritime transport space without barriers. The communications contain no specific proposals as such, but show the Commission’s current thinking and what proposals might emerge in the future. I shall try to address the Government’s emerging views on the wide range of matters raised by the Commission in the communications.
The papers spring directly from earlier Commission initiatives that have been debated. In March 2007, a European Standing Committee discussed the Government’s position in respect of the Commission’s maritime Green Paper “Towards a future maritime policy for the Union: A European Vision for the oceans and seas”. That document represented a broad Commission consultation that led ultimately to the Commission’s integrated maritime policy for the EU, which is sometimes referred to colloquially as the Blue Book.
The Blue Book was published in late 2007, with an accompanying action plan, and was debated on the Floor of the House last June. That debate cleared the way for the Government’s approach on future proposals emerging from the Blue Book and its associated action plan. The papers before us today represent a further step towards such future proposals, although they are not in themselves formal proposals for legislation.
The Commission communication on strategic maritime policy goals and recommendations up to 2018 raises some important points. It emphasises the need to maintain the competitiveness of European shipping in a global market during the current period of economic uncertainty, the importance of maintaining maritime expertise in Europe, the continuing need to promote quality shipping, and the need for sustainable development. The Commission sets out ways in which those aims might be pursued, with more detailed plans for action in respect of maritime employment, maritime safety, security and environmental standards, including a commitment to a good environmental status in the marine waters of member states, co-operation in the context of wider international maritime negotiations, research and development, and the encouragement of short-sea shipping, which is the subject of the other Commission communication that we are discussing.
The Government recognise the value of a consistent approach from EU member states in wider international negotiations, which can be influential in achieving favourable agreements. It is important that there is consistency between EU measures and standards agreed in a wider international context. We believe that it is vital for EU member states with significant maritime interests, such as the UK, to maintain an individual voice in forums such as the International Maritime Organisation. We welcome the wording of the conclusions of the March Transport Council, which invited the Commission to work together with member states in that regard.
The Government support the fundamental aims of the communication on a European maritime transport space without barriers. The document details an approach to increasing the benefits of the single market for shipping to and from ports in the EU member states through a rationalisation of administrative requirements. In turn, the easing of such administrative burdens could encourage an increase in freight being moved by sea rather than on land. Such a shift would bring overall environmental benefits.
Those are laudable aims, although essential security, health and customs controls will still need to be maintained, in keeping with the UK’s border strategy. The conclusions of the March Transport Council are consistent with that view. However, as specific proposals emerge, the Government will analyse them with great care. We shall do so to determine whether the envisaged approach to easing burdens on business might inadvertently have the opposite effect and threaten UK and European budgets, our customs controls over uncleared goods, or our general ability to protect society.
Both communications cover ground of interest to more than one Department. That is consistent, of course, with one of the main purposes of the Commission’s integrated maritime policy, which seeks to deliver a joined-up approach to policy development. In other words, the purpose is to ensure that measures introduced in one area of maritime activity do not impinge adversely on activity in other areas. In considering the communications, and any proposals emerging from them, the Government are taking a similarly joined-up approach. The Department for Transport co-ordinates the Government’s interest in all aspects of the Commission’s integrated maritime policy, and works closely with other Departments to ensure that all aspects of future Commission proposals made are given full and appropriate consideration.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that we now have until half-past 5 for questions to the Minister. I expect that questions will be brief, and I shall be prepared to allow hon. Members to ask a series of questions, if they wish.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): May I, too, say what a pleasure it is to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Ms Walley?
My first question is general. The Minister made it clear that the documents talk about plans for making strategies, rather than detailed material. Much of what is written is welcome but, as he hinted, there is a wide range of areas in which things might go wrong. Can he confirm that each single section of the document—or each major area covered, should it turn into something more solid—will be brought to the House for proper scrutiny?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I assure the hon. Gentleman, as much as I can, that my expectation is that each will be dealt with in turn. However, some may be connected, such as in terms of ports policy and so on. In the document, which I know he has read, there is a list that indicates proposed directives and the time scale by which they should be brought forward. We fully anticipate that those matters will be dealt with separately. There will be a full consultation and we will deal with them in due course.
Mr. Brazier: I am grateful for that answer. One of the most welcome things about this document, which represents a step forward from previous EU documents in the maritime area, is that, for the first time, it has a great deal to say about the IMO. It makes clear the central role of the IMO in maritime thinking, which has been the policy of both Labour and Conservative Governments. Will the Minister confirm that any move to introduce observer status for the EU, which is probably quite a good idea per se, would not be allowed to supplant Britain’s national seat on that body in any way, shape or form?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I anticipated that the European dimension might feature somewhere in these discussions, and I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman as much as possible by putting on record that the UK’s interests are best served by national membership of the IMO. We have resisted, and will continue to resist, attempts to replace the membership of individual EU member states in the IMO with single EU membership. That is a clear red line—we do not believe that there is a need for the Community to have full membership.
The existing system works well. As things stand, EU member states more effectively promote an agreed EU position when they work collectively but are each able to call on a variety of non-EU member states to form broader alliances for effective measures. There is a danger that a single EU membership would be seen as a powerful bloc and would be less able to achieve broad consensus. As things stand, we also have valuable autonomy to continue to directly advance UK policy objectives. In terms of influence, traditional maritime nations such as ours, and smaller member states with extensive shipping interests such as Malta and Cyprus, currently function well in the IMO and are listened to by the rest of the world. We do not intend to give up those benefits.
Mr. Brazier rose—
The Chairman: A further question?
Mr. Brazier: A last one in this batch, then others may have a go.
I have a similar question about security, which weaves in and out of various sections of this discussion. I am grateful for the Minister’s last answer, but will he reassure me that although there are a number of areas in which it is possible to have enhanced security through intergovernmental agreement on procedures and so on, none of that will compromise Britain’s sovereign control of its own security?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I reassure the hon. Gentleman, as I am sure he would expect, that when possible we will establish partnership agreements and cross-border arrangements to enhance collective security within Europe. As he will have read in the document, one of our concerns about some of the proposals—or proposals about possible proposals—is about ports and the ability of ships to arrive with different clearance arrangements. We have reservations about customs and security. I assure him that we will not lower our vigilance with regard to security as a result of anything in these documents.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): May I also say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate, Ms Walley? With your permission, I want to return to an issue raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury as I would like further clarification about the IMO. The Government’s response to the document mentioned that they hoped to negotiate the introduction of a market-based measure, such as maritime emissions trading, to address greenhouse gas emissions from ships. That is clearly understood, and we hope that the Government will succeed in their negotiations with the IMO. However, what happens if an agreement is not secured? Is the Minister saying that they would consider asking for shipping to be included in the EU emissions trading scheme in no circumstances? I understand that the Minister is not considering that at present, but if an agreement with the IMO is not possible, might he?
Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 12 May 2009