Seafarers’ Wages Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 5:34 pm on 19 December 2022.

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Second Reading

5.59 pm

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Britain’s maritime industry is respected around the world for its professionalism and high standards. From shipping safety and financial services to seafarer training and welfare, our flag is acknowledged globally as a symbol of excellence, but maintaining that position in a competitive market requires constant progress. In particular, we must continue to invest in people, the men and women who are our maritime industry’s greatest resource, and on whom we rely to uphold Britain’s proud maritime tradition. When that hard-earned reputation for quality and expertise was threatened by unscrupulous employers, as it was earlier this year when P&O Ferries shamefully sacked almost 800 seafarers and staff to replace them with cheaper agency labour, we did not hesitate to take action. That is why, following the sackings in spring, the then Transport Secretary, my right hon. Friend Grant Shapps, set out a nine-point plan to prevent other companies from benefiting further from such underhand and unacceptable moves.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up)

There is nothing in the Bill currently on changing sections 193 and 194 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 to prevent anyone doing what P&O did earlier this year. Is that something the Government are considering?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

The solution we have decided to set out is to ensure that, for operations taking place with a close connection to the United Kingdom, operators have to pay an equivalent to the national minimum wage, so that what they cannot do is replace their staff for cheaper agency labour. That is our judgment on how we think the situation can best be prevented in the future. I accept that other people will propose different solutions, but this is the one we have settled on, and we think it will deal with the issue highlighted earlier this year.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

It is undeniable that P&O has acted appallingly, but I do not understand why there is a need for this proposed legislation. The maritime labour convention came into force on 7 August 2014. That international convention, which we signed up to, applies to vessels engaging in trade, or where a vessel is operating under the flag of a country that has ratified the MLC, or is operating in the waters of a country that is ratifying the MLC. Surely that legislation from the International Labour Organisation takes precedence for all vessels across the world?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

Clearly, given what happened earlier this year, we do not think the existing position is satisfactory. That is why we are bringing forward the Bill. If my hon. Friend wants to set out his argument in more detail during the debate, we will obviously listen with great care, but we think legislation is necessary. The Bill is a major step forward and it will deliver on point one of the nine-point plan, changing the law so that seafarers with close ties to the UK working on frequent services to UK ports are paid at least an equivalent to the UK national minimum wage while they are in our waters.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

The concern I have, and I believe other Members in the Chamber have, is that I understand the chief executive officer of P&O said that the average hourly wage for his new crewing model would be £5.50 per hour, yet the minimum wage is much more than that even for under-18s. Can the Secretary of State provide clarification? I want the Bill to be firm, hard and strong—I think we all do—so will he address that issue?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

The legislation will ensure that seafarers with close ties to the UK who are working on frequent services to UK ports have to be paid at least an equivalent to the UK national minimum wage while they are in our waters. As the hon. Gentleman points out, for those aged 23 and over, the current rate is £9.50 an hour. From April 2023, it will be £10.42 an hour. That is clearly significantly higher than the amount the hon. Gentleman just set out. That is the point of the Bill: to discourage the sort of behaviour we saw from P&O earlier this year.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

Just to amplify the point from Jim Shannon, the chief exec of P&O gave evidence to the Transport Committee indicating that it was common practice to pay below minimum wage level. On the Dover-Calais route, P&O staff used to work—this is the UK-based ratings—one week off, one week on rotas. It is not just about wages. Currently, agency staff, including Indian able seafarers, are working at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for up to 17 weeks with no shore leave. That must be a risk to health and safety. Does the Secretary of State remember the Herald of Free Enterprise and the impact of stress and tiredness? Surely, it is about more than just wages?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

It is about more than just wages. That was one of the things covered in the nine-point plan, but we are working on other things, including various seafarers’ protections and measures with our international partners. This specific Bill is to deal with the specific issue of what seafarers are paid. The hon. Gentleman is quite right that the issue is wider than that, but the Bill deals with what they are paid. It is focused on that, and I hope it gets the support of the House.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

Can the Secretary of State explain to the House clearly why, in the Bill’s original draft, frequent visits to UK ports was defined as 52 times a year and now it is 120 times a year? That surely makes it far easier for unscrupulous companies to drive through loopholes here and evade paying people the national minimum wage?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

We think the definition in the Bill at the moment will capture the vast majority of the services we wish to capture. We think that defining that in the way that we have makes it more difficult for people to avoid than it would be if we were very specific about types of vessels, for example. I am conscious that a number of people wish to speak in this debate, so I will make a bit of progress before taking any further interventions.

We said from the start that where new laws were needed, we would create them, that where legal loopholes—which the hon. Gentleman referred to—were cynically exploited, we would close them, and that we would strengthen employment rights. That is why the Bill is important. Operators of regular services to the UK will be required to pay their crew a decent wage if they want to access our ports, and it will remove the incentive for other, unprincipled firms to drag down pay for seafarers with close ties to the UK.

Under the existing national minimum wage legislation, not all seafarers who regularly call at UK ports are currently entitled to the UK national minimum wage. It cannot be right that seafarers who frequently work in the UK and in our territorial waters are not entitled to the same as other workers simply because they work on an international, rather than a domestic, service. The Bill will fix that particular issue. I recognise that there are other issues that people wish to deal with, but the Bill deals with that. It does not amend the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, but it makes provision for seafarers on services in scope of the Bill to be paid at least a rate equivalent to the national minimum wage.

Since March, we have consulted extensively with the industry to make sure the measures we are discussing are workable. Those discussions have been productive and are continuing. As was just alluded to, the legislation will apply to international passenger or freight services that call at UK ports on at least 120 occasions in a year, which equates to 72 hours on average. Harbour authorities will be empowered to request declarations from operators of services to confirm that they pay their seafarers no less a rate than that equivalent to the national minimum wage. If they do not provide that declaration when requested, harbour authorities will have the power to impose a surcharge, or may be directed by the Secretary of State to do so. It will not be a profit-making exercise for harbour authorities. They may only use the money raised from the surcharge for the discharge of their functions or for provision of shore-based seafarer welfare facilities.

We hope the surcharge is never required. The point of it is to be a disincentive to operators paying low wages. It will be set at such a rate that it does not make financial sense for operators to underpay staff. If they do not pay the surcharge when it is levied, harbour authorities will be empowered to deny access to the port. That will not be an onerous responsibility for harbour authorities; beyond accepting the declarations, they will not be responsible for checking the details of seafarers’ pay. The enforcement role will be carried out by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which will undertake inspections and investigations and, if necessary, prosecute offending operators.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Defence)

I am curious about denying access to ports. What consideration has the Secretary of State given to granting powers to detain a ship in port? Denying an operator access to a port may simply mean that it moves to a different port of the United Kingdom; detaining a ship would mean much greater risk for the operator, which will surely mean greater compliance.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

We judge that the risk of operators moving to or operating out of a different port is relatively small. The routes on which they operate are the profitable ones, so ceasing to operate on them would not make business sense. We think that denying access to a port is a proportionate response to the problem, so we have settled on that measure as the appropriate solution.

We will draw up regulations and guidance setting out further details of how the legislation will work. They will be subject to consultation to ensure that our measures are practical and effective and that people cannot avoid them. Feedback from the industry has been crucial throughout the process. Ferry operators told us that inclusions or exclusions based on type of service would create market distortion and ambiguity, so the only specific exclusion in the Bill is for

“a service that is for the purpose of leisure or recreation, or…a service provided by a fishing vessel.”

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Secretary of State for his graciousness in giving way. Will resources be made available for the extra work that harbour authorities and marine services will have to carry out? If they are already rushed and under pressure, surely it makes sense to employ more people and make more resources available.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

We do not think that the responsibility on harbour authorities will be particularly onerous. Their job will be to receive declarations, not to investigate or do compliance work; those responsibilities will fall to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. As with all our agencies, it will be a question of setting priorities. As the hon. Gentleman can see from the fact that we are introducing primary legislation on the matter, improving services for seafarers is indeed one of our priorities.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

I will take another intervention from the hon. Gentleman, as he is a member of the Select Committee on Transport, and then move on.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

The Secretary of State is being generous in giving way. On the point about harbour authorities being charged with collecting the surcharge, is there a conceivable conflict of interest where a shipping company owns a port or has an interest in a harbour authority?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point that illustrates why I will have legal powers to enforce whether a port levies the surcharge: to deal with any issues where there is a conflict. He makes a perfectly fair point, and we have thought about how to deal with it.

Our analysis shows that the arrangement that we have set out will capture the vast majority of ferries to the UK, but without including services such as deep-sea container services or cruises. Those services will remain out of the Bill’s scope, because they do not call at UK ports frequently enough that the seafarers working on board could be said to have sufficiently close ties to the UK.

We will continue to engage with industry throughout the passage of the Bill. We intend to consult on regulations and supporting guidance, which will include setting the framework within which harbour authorities will set their tariffs for surcharges and the method of calculating the national minimum wage equivalent rate.

It is important to remember that the Bill is just one part of a wider plan to protect seafarers’ welfare. It will not solve all the issues brought to light by P&O Ferries’ actions, but it is an important step. That is why we continue to discuss seafarer protections and welfare with a range of close European partners, including discussions about the creation of minimum wage equivalent corridors to encourage the payment of fair wages on entire routes. To continue to improve the protection of working conditions for seafarers, we are developing the voluntary seafarers’ charter.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Defence)

There has been a race to the bottom, with P&O Ferries creating a toxic culture, but not all ferry companies are doing the same. Brittany Ferries operates out of Plymouth; it provides a significant lifeline route between Plymouth, Roscoff and Santander that is vital for our exports of agriculture and fisheries products. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is not about P&O Ferries alone? There are examples of good practice among UK ferry operators; it could well be improved, but it is good practice. The race to the bottom that P&O Ferries started is not one in which all UK and French ferry operators want to participate.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

The hon. Gentleman raises a very good point. The point of the Bill and the nine-point plan is to ensure that ferry operators that want to operate in a responsible way are not forced out of business or forced to drop their standards by unscrupulous operators. He also makes the point that services to Plymouth are incredibly important; speaking as a south-west Member of Parliament myself, I want to make sure that they can continue.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

May I draw attention to the much better behaviour that we have seen from DFDS, which operates out of the port of Dover? On port-to-port agreements, will my right hon. Friend confirm that some of the issues that have been raised—including rosters, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s overview of the intensity of the Dover-Calais route, and matters outside the simple question of wages—can be better addressed within that framework between our two nations?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Secretary of State for Transport

My hon. Friend has put an enormous amount of work into the matter, following P&O’s behaviour. She is focused at all times on solving the issues on behalf of her constituents; I know that her conversations with my predecessors focused on fixing the problem in the long term and on supporting operators that want to raise standards in the sector. I thank her for all her work.

The charter that we are developing, in conjunction with the maritime industry and various social partners, will enhance the core employment protections available to seafarers. As part of that plan, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will introduce a new statutory code of practice to address fire and rehire, which it will publish for consultation in due course. My Department is also taking steps to encourage more ships to operate under our flag and to improve the long-term working conditions of seafarers beyond pay protection, as my hon. Friend has just set out.

The measures in the Bill will help to ensure that employees working on vessels that make regular visits to UK ports can no longer be exploited by unscrupulous operators. Following the mass sacking earlier this year of P&O Ferries staff, some of whom had worked for the company for four decades, we promised to act. The Bill demonstrates that we are doing so. We are sending a message to every operator: if you want to serve UK ports on a regular basis, and if you want to carry passengers to and from our country, you must meet our high standards. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 6:18, 19 December 2022

May I wish you, the whole House and the staff of the House a very happy Christmas, Mr Deputy Speaker?

Earlier this year, this House stood completely united against the action taken by P&O Ferries. There was total consensus that that criminal act was a national scandal. Some 800 British workers were sacked with no notice—nearly 800 livelihoods were lost because a rogue company made a calculation that it was cheaper to break the law than abide by it. At the time, I stood side by side with many of the sacked crew in Dover. A married couple who had been employees of P&O Ferries for 14 years spoke to me about the reward for their years of loyal service: summary dismissal via a pre-recorded video message, being marched by private security guards off the ships they lived and worked on, and being treated like criminals. That was the human face of P&O’s criminal act. It was the reality of a business model that has been allowed to prevail for far too long on our seas—a business model predicated and dependent on exploitation.

As the Secretary of State knows, Labour supports the provisions in the Bill, but, as we have already heard, it is wholly insufficient. Its test must be whether it will end those exploitative practices that have become commonplace in our maritime sector. Will those responsible for the P&O scandal be brought to justice? Will the Bill stop another P&O scandal? I ask because six months on, this Dubai-owned company, which received millions in taxpayers’ money during the pandemic and which tore up the rights of British workers and bragged about it to Parliament, has continued business as usual. It should be a badge of shame for this country that P&O Ferries and DP World did what they did precisely because they thought they could get away with it. They knew they could exploit our weak employment laws. They made the calculation that it would be cheaper and easier to pay off those workers because this Government would not hold them accountable.

Despite all the Government’s promises, despite all their outrage, P&O’s central calculation was correct, was it not? Earlier this year the then Prime Minister himself said that P&O Ferries would face criminal sanctions. The then Transport Secretary said that it would be placed under criminal investigation. He demanded that the boss, Peter Hebblethwaite, stand down. He even demanded that P&O rename its ships, stating that it was completely wrong for them to sail under names such as Spirit of Britain and Pride of Kent. Six months on, however, that chief executive and those who deliberately broke the law in plain sight have faced no consequences whatsoever, and, as far as I am aware, their ships are still happily sailing under those names.

Workers across the country may well be looking to this Government and asking what exactly is the point of them if they can let P&O get away with all this—because Peter Hebblethwaite has been rewarded with a promotion to another directorship within the company. There has been no criminal prosecution as was promised: the Insolvency Service refused to take forward a prosecution, and chose not to consider the public interest test in doing so. There has been no action against any of the directors responsible. Every day that Peter Hebblethwaite remains in charge of P&O Ferries, other employers who wish to undermine the rights of British workers will find comfort. He is unfit to lead a British company, and he should be disqualified as a director.

I will be grateful if the Minister who winds up the debate tells us whether he agrees with that, and why it is that six months on, the Insolvency Service is still considering his case when the evidence could not be clearer. He bragged about it to a parliamentary Select Committee! Will the Minister bring that case to a conclusion, and use his own powers under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 to finally bring this individual to justice?

The fundamental point, however, is this. If P&O Ferries or any of its low-cost rivals wanted to do all this again, nothing in the Bill or anything else that the Government have put forward would stop them. P&O Ferries decided not to notify either the Secretary of State or the competent authorities of the flag states of Cyprus, Bahamas or Bermuda of its dismissal plans—a legal requirement under sections 193 and 193A of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992—and refused to consult the workforce ahead of their dismissal.

The Secretary of State’s predecessor said:

“where new laws are needed, we will create them…where legal loopholes are cynically exploited, we will close them, and…where employment rights are too weak, we will strengthen them.”—[Official Report, 30 March 2022; Vol. 711, c. 840.]

So why does the Bill contain nothing about notification of flagged vessels, or increased sanctions for those who fail to consult ahead of redundancy? The only way to prevent this from happening again is to hike up the damages that can be paid at tribunals, and/or to slap criminal liability on those who break the law in the same way as Peter Hebblethwaite, who bragged about it. Why have the Government shied away from taking the action that is so clearly needed—and why, six months on, have they still not published even a draft of their promised strengthened code on fire and rehire? It was due for consultation in the summer, but it has still not been published. Even the very little that the Government promised in the wake of this scandal has fallen by the wayside.

Let me now turn to the provisions of this limited Bill. We do, of course, welcome the intention to ensure that operators pay a national minimum wage equivalent to those who have a close working relationship with the UK, but, as we have heard, significant elements of these provisions and their enforcement must be strengthened to prevent avoidance, which we know is rife in this sector. First, the minimum wage provision has an offset allowing employers to deduct costs of providing accommodation. That is clearly ripe for abuse, and must be explicitly ruled out. Then there is the issue of “port hopping”. As the Bill stands, operators fall within the scope of the Bill if they call at a single UK port on at least 120 days within a year. In the case of some routes, such as that of the Pride of Hull, only slight adjustments to their timetable would allow them to escape paying the minimum wage. That period must be reduced. The initial drafting specified 52 visits a year.

There is also the issue of enforcement. In his nine-point plan, the now Business Secretary pledged to involve His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in ensuring compliance with minimum wage legislation, but the Bill does not include a direct role for HMRC, the only expert in minimum wage compliance; and there is no clearly defined minimum fine for breaching the Bill’s provisions.

That brings me to the role of the port operators themselves, which was mentioned in earlier interventions. This is, perhaps, the most troubling aspect of the Bill. Many operators do not just run the ferry services, but operate ports as well. P&O itself operates a port. The Government are potentially asking operators such as P&O to fine themselves. That is utterly perverse, and the Government must think again. I note that the Secretary of State said he would retain powers to decide which ports would enforce fines, but he must set a national tariff for surcharges and designate a Government agency for collecting them.

The P&O scandal was supposed to represent a line in the sand for seafarers’ rights. The Secretary of State’s predecessor was clear about this, saying that the Government would work with

“unions and operators to agree common levels of seafarer protection on…routes.” —[Official Report, 30 March 2022; Vol. 711, c. 841.]

Seafarers’ exploitation is every bit as much about conditions as it is about pay. Baroness Vere of Norbiton, the Minister in the other place, said that the Government would act on that wider exploitation only

“where it is proven that it is appropriate to do so.”

Let me briefly give the House an illustrative example of why that is so important.

An agency worker can be contracted on the Dover-Calais service at the shamefully low rate of £4.75 an hour. As is common in the industry, they could be expected to work up to 91 hours a week, on board, full time, for 17 weeks at a time—not entitled to any pension; not entitled to the minimum wage or any sick pay when outside UK waters. I ask Members to imagine a season of winter storms in the Irish sea or the North Sea, where sleep is almost impossible, and to imagine spending up to 17 weeks on board, responsible for the safety of passengers and that vessel. The industry has already learnt from painful experience about the danger of this kind of exploitation, and of seafarer fatigue. The Herald of Free Enterprise disaster 35 years ago claimed the lives of 193 crew and passengers, but the Bill does nothing to address these dangerous and exploitative crewing and rostering practices. That is why we must see a legally binding seafarers’ charter on the face of the Bill—one that ends the race to the bottom from which P&O Ferries has benefited; one that smashes the business model dependent on the manipulation of vulnerable workers from around the world.

We are a proud seafaring nation. That tradition has been the envy of the world, but the ongoing exploitation of seafarers is a stain on it. With this Bill, we have the chance to drive out these exploitative practices for good, and ensure that another P&O can never happen. That is why Labour supports it today, but will seek to work with the Government to strengthen it in Committee, and ensure that never again can we allow such exploitation to go unchecked on our seas.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee 6:28, 19 December 2022

It is a great pleasure to make a short contribution to the debate on this important Bill, as Chair of the Transport Committee. I welcome the Bill, although I appreciate that it is not the full solution to the issues that were uncovered by the disgraceful behaviour of P&O earlier this year. Following that incident, the Transport Committee and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee held a joint evidence session, and produced a number of recommendations. One of those key recommendations was that the omission of seafarers from the extension of the national minimum wage, which happened in 2019-20, should be removed, so that the national minimum wage applies to seafarers on journeys to and from the UK. I am pleased that this Bill delivers on that recommendation, but it is not the whole solution to the problems. I welcome further progress on the nine-point plan that the Secretary of State has outlined today.

I have a number of questions on the practicalities of implementing this Bill, which perhaps the Minister could address in his response. I appreciate that some are quite technical, so if he would prefer to write or address them in the Bill Committee, that would be helpful. The first is to pick up the point raised by my hon. Friend Dr Offord. International maritime law is very complex. I would like to probe to ensure that nothing in the Bill will inadvertently cut across provisions in international legislation. I am not a lawyer—I freely admit that. I have done a quick scan of the relevant law and I do not think that the Bill has unintended consequences, but one of the duties of Parliament is to prevent that. If the Minister could give me some reassurance, that would be welcome.

The second point picks up on what Luke Pollard raised on port hopping. Are harbour authorities the best body to enforce breaches of the law? I am reassured by what the Secretary of State said in response to the hon. Gentleman, but I would like to probe a little further. Would the Maritime and Coastguard Agency be a better body to enforce breaches of the provisions of the Bill to prevent the port hopping risk? I do not think it is a serious risk but it is worth exploring further to have a comprehensive settlement.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Defence)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning my intervention. The concern of Opposition colleagues is in relation to when the ferry operator has a commercial stake in the harbour authority. I wonder whether there should be an automatic pass-through where there is a commercial link, so that powers automatically go to the Government and there can be no suggestion of any conflict of interest in the regulation of those fines and surcharges?

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

That is a fair question. I was reassured by the Secretary of State’s answer that the Government have thought about that. That is why the Secretary of State has the power to intervene when he thinks that the harbour authority has a conflict of interest. I am sure that it will be explored further in Committee. I was satisfied on that point; my concern was with regard to a vessel that might skip around different ports or adjust the timetable, as was mentioned, to get around that. I am not saying that the MCA is the most appropriate body, but I would like to check that.

The third point I want to raise is on the minimum wage corridor that the Secretary of State mentioned. The joint Select Committee session flagged this up. Work is ongoing with a number of European countries to try to establish those, but an update on how those discussions are going would be welcome. This is a good Bill and I welcome it. It is not the full solution but is a very welcome step forward.

Finally, if you would indulge me a minute, Madam Deputy Speaker, this is probably the last time I will speak in the Chamber this year. May I add my good wishes to all the staff of the House for Christmas and the new year? I particularly thank the Clerk of the Transport Committee and her staff who have made me so welcome as the new Chair and have been very helpful steering me in the right direction.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 6:34, 19 December 2022

It is a pleasure to follow the brand-new Chair of the Transport Committee, and, as someone who serves on the Committee, may I say that it is relief to hear that he is not a lawyer? I also pass on my best wishes to Members—most Members, even in my own party—and Clerks and staff for a very Merry Christmas, and a happy new year when it comes.

When the previous, previous Secretary of State, Grant Shapps, brought forward the nine-point plan to protect seafarers, I genuinely welcomed the action outlined that day. However, the strength of his words must be followed by the strength and urgency of actions. We welcome the intent behind the Bill to tackle companies that fail to observe even the most basic employment rights while operating from ports in the UK but, clearly, there are areas where this Bill could, should and must be strengthened.

Before I come to the substance of the Bill, could the Minister give us a little more detail on the Government’s progress with their overarching nine-point plan? Clearly, today we are attempting to deal with point No. 1. Point No. 7 is on taking action against company leaders who break the law. Earlier this year, P&O and its parent company DP World, achieved the rare—perhaps unique—feat of uniting the Institute of Directors, the TUC, the CBI and the RMT, alongside Nautilus and Members across the House, in their condemnation of P&O’s actions against its staff. The chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, appeared before a Joint Committee of Parliament and admitted that his company deliberately broke the law when it dismissed 786 employees with no consultation and no notice.

Mr Hebblethwaite still hangs around P&O Ferries like a bad smell—an albatross around the neck of a company that is now a byword for corporate greed and bullying. He recently had the honour of being named the worst boss in the world by the International Trade Union Confederation, beating out the likes of the chief executive officers of Amazon, Starbucks and Emirates airlines. That is quite an achievement for a relative newcomer. I am sure that his trophy will have pride of place on his mantlepiece.

It is doubtful that P&O’s reputation will ever recover—quite rightly—but as it stands, it is clear that provisions in the Bill will need to be beefed up in Committee. I hope that the Secretary of State and his ministerial team are feeling festive, because I have a list for them. I am sure the House would agree that I have been very good this year.

First on the list is roster patterns. For reasons passing understanding, the Government suddenly rejected the previously agreed roster pattern in the seafarers’ charter to commission further research into roster patterns and crewing levels. That was despite the collectively agreed standard in place at Stena and DFDS, and evidence of the danger that crew fatigue poses to maritime safety.

The RMT gave an example of P&O staff having worked one week on, one week off, as has been mentioned, on the Dover-Calais route where 75% of the jobs were lost. The agency crew who replaced them work much longer—in the case of Indian Able Seafarers, up to 17 weeks for at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week without shore leave. P&O is making bigger savings from that dangerous change to roster patterns than it is from the sub-national minimum wage rates of pay.

Crewing levels must be addressed. For those who do not know, crewing levels are the ratio of full-time-equivalent positions required to maintain the vessel in service for each rank or role required. P&O used operate with a crewing factor of four. They now operate with a crewing factor of just over two. That does not sound safe or advisable. The charter must be incorporated into the Bill if it is to be properly effective. The fact that those operators that seek to exploit workers are complaining should tell the Minister all he needs to know.

The Government defeated amendments in the Lords to reinstate the Government’s previous position of setting the qualification threshold at 52 visits per year. The 120-visit threshold may well allow operators to port hop or design routes to avoid having to make declarations about the national minimum wage equivalent. We must also ensure that accommodation costs cannot be deducted from the national minimum wage equivalent. P&O could potentially deduct over £1,000, and Irish Ferries nearly £500, from a non-qualifying seafarer’s wage if the accommodation offset is available to it under secondary regulations in the Bill.

While extending national minimum wage coverage is welcome, we would like to see ways of introducing other employment protections that are available to those working on land in the UK, such as better rights to redundancy pay, sick pay and consultation, and a clear statement in legislation of exactly how much those rogue operators who try to avoid compliance with the new regime will forfeit to the Exchequer. We will also be looking for assurances on the kind of action that the Government and port operators will be empowered to take against rogue employers. We all saw Mr Hebblethwaite brazenly sitting in front of the Committee happily agreeing that he and his colleagues had broken the law, knowing that the likelihood of any sanctions against them as controlling minds was minimal. Making something against the law is not the same as making people comply with that law. We want to see a sanctions regime that has teeth. The Insolvency Service is still dragging its feet, citing a lack of legal clarity as to whether the dismissed seafarers worked outside Great Britain. The Government must accept amendments to the Bill to close these legal loopholes if they are truly committed to preventing a repeat of the unlawful actions of P&O.

It might be outside the current scope of the Bill, but I would like to see the Government take the lead internationally to amend and improve the current maritime law to boost employment rights for all seafarers around the world, as those changes would also improve the lot of maritime workers here. As a result of this Government merely announcing action, the French Government were prompted into taking similar action. That shows that there is an appetite elsewhere to improve the lot of seafarers across borders and across the water. In the UK Government’s own words from just a few years back, the UK is one of the world’s leading maritime nations, so perhaps it is time to leverage that leadership into a fairer deal for workers across the world, rather than only for those—while fully appreciating our international obligations—who will be covered by the Bill. We also need to ensure that all those who serve the ever-growing offshore wind sector are protected. This Bill does not protect most of those workers.

I very much agree with the Law Society of Scotland’s view that it is unclear how harbour authorities will resource, upskill staff and cover costs to be able to undertake these additional tasks and obligations. Enforcement will be needed for these measures to be of the greatest benefit, and this will require sufficient resourcing. We also anticipate that processes will require to be set up between the Secretary of State, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the harbour authorities to manage the requirements, powers and duties in the Bill in practical terms. It also points out, notwithstanding the point that the Secretary of State made in opening the debate, the deviation of the description of a vessel in this Bill from the description in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which includes every description of vessel used in navigation. This should be addressed not just for consistency’s sake but to close any loopholes that this may unintentionally open.

There is quite a lot to fix, and we have only one Committee day to do it. I think it is fair to say that the Government’s record on workers’ rights has been deplorable. With this one Bill, the Tories claim to be supporting workers while they plan others that will roll back workers’ rights and attack the right to collective bargaining. This Bill will make welcome but small changes for a small number of workers while at the same time the Government are promising new anti-union laws for millions of others. What was originally planned as a limited transport striking law designed to prevent railway strikes seems to have morphed into a wider anti-union move that the Tories claim will save lives and prevent disruption. Despite their claims, it is the Tories themselves who are responsible for this winter’s disruption.

All of this is on the back of the Government’s appalling response to fire and rehire, which has seen hundreds of thousands of workers faced with the threat of redundancy or a lower wage. I am sure that workers who were forced out or who are on inferior contracts at British Airways, British Gas, Go North West, Tesco and Menzies Aviation, to name but a few, will be pleased that the Government are trying to do something, but they will look at these plans and think, “Where was our help in our time of need?” The Government had plenty of opportunity. I brought forward three Bills to deal with fire and rehire, and Barry Gardiner had a private Member’s Bill, but the Government thought that a simple change to guidance would deal with it. I totally agree with the question from the Labour shadow Secretary of State: where is the code? We were promised it long before now and we have not heard a thing about it.

It might be churlish of me—but I hope the House will allow me a bit of festive churlishness—to point out that the RMT that the UK Government were working closely alongside in March this year, when P&O Ferries put in motion its despicable actions, is the same RMT that the UK Government have been baiting in public and in private over its industrial dispute with employers. Perhaps if other areas of the Department for Transport could revisit that spring spirit and fuse it with some festive spirit, they might remember that trade unions and workers are there to help improve working conditions and will work with Governments of all political stripes—even this one—rather than be reviled and demonised for their work.

I will stop now before I am accused of turning even more into Ebenezer Scrooge. In the Christmas spirit, I will close by saying that this is a welcome Bill that we very much support in principle, but we need to work with the Government to improve it, alongside the trade unions and staff whose working conditions will be improved by it. I look forward to that work and hope that it is as constructive as the Minister has been thus far.

Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock 6:45, 19 December 2022

I am pleased to be able to speak in support of this very welcome measure, but this should be only the start of what we do to improve the working conditions for seafarers, and not just in our own waters but globally. It is a fact that when we look at where companies are able to exploit migrant labour and other workers, our shipping industry is perhaps one of the most notorious. Following the successful World cup in Qatar, where lots of issues regarding migrant workers were raised, I think that shining a light on some of the practices in the shipping industry would be welcome.

The act of industrial vandalism perpetrated on British workers by P&O Ferries was absolutely disgusting, and I am pleased that the whole House came together to condemn that practice at the time. I commend the Government for being quite fleet of foot in bringing forward this legislation. It proves that they can be fleet of foot when they choose to be, and I hope to see more of this when problems and, in particular, injustices are highlighted. But of course this Bill is limited to EU traffic, particularly on the short seas—the kind of traffic that goes from and attends our ports in Hull, Dover and Holyhead.

I represent what I like to describe as the ports capital of the UK, in Thurrock, after the port of London moved east from the London docks to my constituency. This has been a challenging period for us. DP World owns the new London Gateway port, the newest deep-sea port in the country. We have been working hard to have good relations with the British management of that port, but we were equally condemnatory of the actions of the parent company, through P&O Ferries, towards those workers. I am keen to ensure that the management at London Gateway understand that we in Thurrock thought that was completely unacceptable. We want to labour that point, not least to protect the thousands of workers in my constituency who are employed by that company. It is important that this House sends a message to companies that wish to invest in our country that there are things we will not put up with, and that what passes for reasonable employment practice in their own jurisdiction will not pass in ours. It is important that that principle is hammered home.

We also have ports in Thurrock that serve European traffic, and they have a very different business model from those to which this legislation is directed. I highlight particularly the integrated port and shipping operation run by CLdN at Purfleet, and Britain’s newest port at Tilbury 2, which also serves the European market. It is a different model because we are talking about unaccompanied roll-on roll-off freight. For example, at Dover the HGV drivers will accompany their cargo straight on and off and hit the road, but those ships arriving from Europe at Purfleet and Tilbury are undertaking a much longer journey to make that crossing. They are not accompanied; a driver drops them off at one end, and another driver picks them up at the other. I register with the Minister that the regulations currently being drafted to address the particular situation of short seas should perhaps be used more sensitively than the regulations covering other kinds of economic operation.

As has been highlighted, these minimum wage regulations are directed at ships that regularly attend British ports. The truth of the matter is that the ports of Tilbury and London Gateway deal with very large ships that make multiple stops around the world. Fifty years ago, some of the people working on those ships would have been my constituents, but today, frankly, my constituents are too expensive. The ships are now staffed by Filipinos, Thais and a lot of Ukrainians—I will come back to them—and we need to think about their welfare, too. I know the Government have made that case through their role in the International Maritime Organisation. If there is one thing for which I am grateful to P&O Ferries, it is for giving us the opportunity to shine a light on how our global seafaring population needs more support and more attention to its welfare.

We have heard about what would be the most appropriate enforcement authority. I echo what my hon. Friend Iain Stewart, the Chair of the Transport Committee, said about the MCA. I have seen at first hand how the MCA took action to regulate behaviour towards seafarers during the pandemic, when a number of cruise ships were stranded at Tilbury. Frankly, the seafarers on those ships were in a terrible state. They did not know how long they would be stuck there, and their welfare conditions were truly appalling. The MCA took decisive action to improve their welfare.

As we head towards Christmas, people do not worry about how the items they have purchased and wrapped to put under the Christmas tree got to the shop. The fact is that we rely on our seafarers to keep us fed and watered, and they did a fantastic job during the pandemic. The shelves were full when we went to the supermarket because the seafarers kept working. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend Robert Courts is nodding in agreement, and he did a fantastic job of championing them. His door was always open when I was doing my best to represent the welfare of that community, and I thank him for everything he did. He was a truly excellent maritime Minister who did much to elevate maritime issues within Government. We do not worry too much about how things get on to the shelves, but the truth is that many people are paid not very much money and work in terrible conditions to make sure they do.

My annual treat is going down to the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest in Tilbury to wrap Christmas presents. We give out 3,000 presents, supported by voluntary donations. Every seafarer who passes through the port of London gets a present and a Christmas card from my constituents. The present consists of toiletries, chocolates, some London mementos and a hand-knitted hat made by Tilbury’s knitting community. It is a special thing to do because those seafarers are away from their family, and the gift shows that someone has thought about them.

I particularly highlight the welfare of Ukrainian seafarers passing through the port of Tilbury this Christmas. They are away from their family, and they are clearly very worried about them. I am pleased that we are giving them SIM cards so that they can contact their family. I thank the Department for Transport for funding the wi-fi routers that give us that facility.

I wish this Bill well, and I want it to be on the statute book as soon as possible so that we can raise the standards of behaviour towards seafarers who work on our European seas. I log my clear message to Ministers that we must also do more to raise global standards for our seafarers.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Labour, Kingston upon Hull East 6:55, 19 December 2022

I do not intend to detain the House for very long, but I am grateful to speak in this very important debate.

I am concerned that the Bill simply does not go far enough, but I pay tribute to the former maritime Minister, Robert Courts, and the former Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, for their work in putting the Bill together in such short time.

I have three chief concerns. The first is about enforcement, as there is a clear conflict. When a port operator also happens to be a ferry operator, it is incredibly unlikely to take the necessary action on the measures in this Bill.

Roster patterns are also a major concern. The 800 sacked British ratings—800 men and women—were paid, on average, about £28,000 a year, and they have been replaced, in the Dover-Calais example, by Indian seafarers on £4 an hour. That is bad enough, but the safety-critical issue is the fact that they work 17 weeks on, seven days a week, without shore leave, and they do 12-hour days. We should not need to be reminded of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster, in which 193 seafarers and passengers were lost. The Bill desperately needs to be improved on that issue.

I am also concerned about the definition of “regular operator” and “port of call.” For example, the requirement for 120 visits to a port means the ferries sailing out of Hull will not be caught by the Bill, so the number needs to be much smaller—52 visits ought to be accepted by the Government. If a ferry leaves and returns to the same port, that is where it lives and where its crew members would be expected to reside, so 52 visits should help in that regard. As currently drafted, the ferries sailing out of Hull will not be caught by these provisions.

When I visit schools in my constituency, children often talk about the job they want to do. They live and are schooled in the shadow of the docks, and they see those big vessels, so they often think about having a decent, prosperous career at sea. Sadly, they do not have the opportunity to enjoy a career at sea.

I give credit to the hon. Member for Witney and the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield for doing a lot of work in short time to address the P&O Ferries scandal, but the legislation must be improved to prevent the likes of P&O Ferries from treating seafarers in that terrible way.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 6:59, 19 December 2022

It is a great pleasure and honour to speak in this debate, and in particular to follow Karl Turner. I hope he will not mind if I say that he was always extremely challengingly constructive, and I very much enjoyed and valued the interaction we had when I held that brief. I did think twice about whether I ought to speak in this debate, because as the maritime Minister at the time of this scandal and of the early stages of the legislation being drafted, to a certain extent I am marking my own homework, even if it is the poor old Minister who has to defend things at the end of the debate.

I came to care deeply about this issue during the course of my time as maritime Minister, partly because of some of the seafarers I met in Dover just after this happened, and partly because of the interaction I had with many hon. and right hon. Members across the House. I rise to record just a few thoughts about the Bill and where we go from here. Before I do, I hope I may be permitted a moment of indulgence just to thank the maritime directorate at the Department for Transport, with whom I worked so closely over some tumultuous times. With their good humour, boundless expertise and incredible passion for everything they do, they are a true credit to the finest traditions of their service. It was a great pleasure and honour to work with them, and I thank them for everything they did to see me through the difficult, challenging two years that we had.

The civil service often likes to say it works at pace, and that is often true, but it was never as true as it was during the formation of this Bill. As the hon. Member just said, this scandal broke and we had to take action. The Government of whom I and the former Secretary of State, Grant Shapps and Boris Johnson formed a part felt extremely strongly about it, so we worked at great speed. All the civil servants who worked on it were incredible in those weeks and months, and I thank them for that. Finally on this note—I apologise to the Members who are not lawyers; I am a lawyer, or a recovering lawyer as I like to say—I am grateful to the civil servants for having allowed me to crawl all over the legislation and pick away at bits of it, and I hope it is slightly better as a result.

Taking a moment to dwell on why this Bill is necessary, the decision by P&O Ferries that we have heard about was despicable—I make it clear at the outset that I am talking about P&O Ferries as distinct from P&O Cruises, which bears no responsibility for it. Those 786 seafarers were made redundant without prior notice or consultation, to be replaced by agency workers who would be paid less than the national minimum. It was an extraordinary moment of shameful behaviour from a company. We will all remember that incredible Zoom call when they were dismissed by video conference. It is emblematic of all the issues we are dealing with today.

When I went back to my constituency that weekend—my landlocked, rural, Oxfordshire constituency—the people at every single door I knocked on were livid at how P&O had behaved, and every single one commended the Government’s strong action. I think the disgust of those in west Oxfordshire and more widely was down to two reasons. First, it was because P&O is an iconic British brand. It is one of those brands that sits along with the Red Arrows, or Cadbury or Rolls-Royce, as a quality marque that shows the country stands for the highest standards not just in products, but in people.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, P&O Ferries violated some unwritten rules of decency, fair play and valuing the people who work for them—all those things that mark the UK out as a special place to live. P&O Ferries took those things, valued them at nought and broke them, and that was a wicked thing to have done. No excuses will do. This is not about P&O’s balance sheet or what it chose to do to try to make recompense to those seafarers afterwards; it is about something very simple: the way that people should be treated. These people have given their lives to learn a trade that is difficult, vital and frequently dangerous, and to be treated in that way is not how Britain does business.

What P&O Ferries did that day was to suggest that those seafarers did not matter. It suggested that people who had devoted their lives and labour in that way did not matter and could be replaced like a machine with something cheaper. That is what the people of west Oxfordshire were angry about that weekend, and that anger is as nothing compared with the anger of the people of Dover and Hull, and rightly so. P&O Ferries violated the British sense of fairness. It is more than just a brand; it is a sense of doing the right thing—of decency, hard work and commitment paying off.

Some months later, Peter Hebblethwaite—he of that truly infamous Select Committee appearance—had the cheek to suggest that the dispute that there was and remains over how he treated his workers was of historic interest, as if the Government should just accept it and move on, as if it did not matter or had not happened. Well, this is a historic matter, but not in the way that Mr Hebblethwaite thought; this is a historic matter, because what this House of Commons said then, and is going to say now in all our different ways, is that maritime really matters, seafarers really matter, ships really matter and how we treat people really matters.

We are going to make sure, through this legislation and everything else, that how P&O treated its seafarers on that day will never happen again; and, more than that, we are going to take a historic look at how maritime and seafarers are treated in this country and ensure that this great industry is treated how it should be, right at the heart of this great country. That is what the nine-point plan that we have heard about already intended to do, and I know that the Government will continue to do more.

I am mindful of time, and others want to speak, so I will not go through the Bill in detail, as many others will wish to do that, as well. I will echo some of the points made by Members from both sides of the House about how it is essential to see this Bill as a starting point. The Bill is important, but it does not of itself solve the issue. Another reason I am pleased to speak today is that this is one of the first times in recent memory when the House has considered maritime legislation as a whole. There has been a lot of specific legislation—bits on safety and so forth—but for the last substantial bit of maritime legislation, we have to go all the way back to the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, and even that just pulled together bits of legislation from earlier years.

In the past, Parliament has tended to look at maritime as a functional thing—a way of getting from A to B—and not looked holistically at what it brings to the life of the nation. Of course, what maritime brings to the life of the nation is vast. We are talking about trade, highly skilled jobs, and British influence way beyond these shores. I want to ensure—I know I will have the agreement of many other Members of this House—that the value of what maritime business brings is truly understood by the Government. I am not suggesting wholesale Government intervention, as this is a privately run, privately operated industry, and for the most part is much the better for that, but some measures could be taken, particularly in the areas of regulation and fiscal policy, that could help the maritime sector to grow.

The Department’s excellent “Maritime 2050” programme must be supported and continued, but I would like the Government also to focus on a number of other things that I will briefly talk through. The first is seafarers’ training. We need to expand the training commitment under the tonnage tax and support the work of the Maritime Skills Commission and the Merchant Navy Training Board, because children growing up in the constituency of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East, or in Dover, Tilbury or so many other areas, must be able to look out of their window, to see those vessels and think, “That is a fascinating career,” and should know how to go about achieving it and have the jobs available at the end of the day, such that they can go and do it. Training is key to that. We have to have British seafarers trained—both officers and ratings—if we want to have a thriving merchant fleet.

The second point I wish to raise is about the importance of the UK flag. Ships registered on the UK ship register are not just a matter of national pride, although it is always great to see the red ensign fluttering from the stern of a ship; this is so important because, in simple terms, flying the red ensign makes that ship a floating piece of Britain, which means that the standards we enjoy in this country are more easily applied to it. Increasing the number of ships on the UK ship register is one of the most important things that can be done to help seafarers’ pay, welfare and standards, to which attention has rightly been drawn already. This is about more than pay; it is about welfare and standards as well. This is very complex work, and there is too much here for me to go into at the moment, but a number of things have to be done. Some of this has to be done internationally, and I urge the Government to look at what can be done at the International Maritime Organisation, particularly on the issue of flags of convenience, which is a major part of this.

I also wish to draw attention to the issue of investment in British shipbuilding—a massive topic that, again, I cannot go into in any detail. When we look at the decline of the merchant fleet since the first world war, and even more so since the second world war, we see that the lack of attractiveness as a place to invest in British shipping is a big part of what has happened. Only by increasing British ship ownership, through targeted fiscal measures and creating the right regulatory environment in which to work, can we have the British standards, pay and welfare we would expect, as well as providing the extraordinary strategic reserve that a merchant fleet is able to give, as of course we saw during the Falklands war.

The tonnage tax reforms that were announced last year by the then Chancellor, now our Prime Minister, are hugely welcome. They are due to be reviewed again next year, and I ask the Government to look creatively at what can be done there, through tonnage tax and wider fiscal measures. I would like the Government and the Minister to respond on some of those points.

I shall make a couple of concluding points. As I said at the beginning, maritime matters. We have understood the way maritime matters and the way seafarers matter to this country as never before. As my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price has just said, during the pandemic we saw them in all weathers, day and night, whether there was covid or whether there was no covid, constantly working to make sure that we had the food, medicine and wider supplies we needed. They were not complaining, and it is vital that we support them in due course. But maritime will matter only when seafarers’ welfare and training matters as much as their wages, and when shipping ownership and the red ensign are given the attention that they deserve.

This Bill is a good start, but it is only a start. There is a wide, delicate maritime ecosystem that needs wide attention, which is what I am asking the Government to give here. There has never been a successful trading nation without its own maritime fleet and without the seafarers to man those ships. Global Britain, an independent trade policy and Britain on the world stage will not count for anything without maritime. Maritime is essential, seafarers are essential, and we must do more.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale 7:13, 19 December 2022

P&O Ferries’ actions earlier this year to make 800 seafarers redundant and replace them with agency staff on just over £4 per hour were shameful, illegal and immoral, and they were rightly condemned across the House at the time, and indeed in this debate. But I must say that that would never have happened in the first place if former Ministers had listened to the warnings from the RMT and Nautilus International, and many others, about the loopholes that put maritime workers at particular risk. That advice should have been heeded in the past. The Government could have strengthened protections for workers, and they still can, to end the immoral practice of fire and rehire. That needs to happen.

In the aftermath of this shameful episode, the then Prime Minister and the Government promised that these issues would be dealt with, and that there would be clear and serious consequences, and of course better protections. Six months on, we are yet to see the legal action that was promised materialise, as has been pointed out by the shadow Secretary of State. Although this Bill steps forward, it falls short of the employment protections promised. Indeed, the Secretary of State referred to its narrow scope and its limited impact, and focused on those issues.

The Bill does not take the opportunity, desperately needed, to effectively restore collective bargaining for ferry staff, and raise employment standards across the board. Other hon. Members have referred to rostering, hours and shore leave. What about pensions, apprenticeships and training, an issue mentioned by Members from across the House? Those are other areas where workers can be exploited, and we all know that P&O ferries and others will do exactly that.

The Bill is also a missed opportunity to get the detail right on protecting seafarers. We know the P&O Ferries will exploit any loophole it can, so let us make the protections for seafaring staff ironclad. We need to ensure that a minimum wage equivalent has the tools for strong enforcement measures. We need to end clear existing loopholes that employers such as P&O Ferries and many more are able to exploit, such as moving between ports to avoid the necessary regulations that have been placed in the Bill and operating ferry services while collecting national minimum wage fines as a port authority—there is a clear conflict of interest there, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend Karl Turner and the new Chair of the Transport Committee, Iain Stewart. While amending this legislation to ensure these loopholes are closed and protections are enforced, we still need justice—social justice, employment justice—for the 800 P&O staff and their families, and those responsible need to be held to account.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

I share my hon. Friend’s anger and outrage at those job losses and the way those men were treated by P&O. Does he share my outrage that the Government have subsequently given £50 million to P&O’s parent company, DP World, in order to facilitate the freeports at Southampton and London Gateway? Is that not absolute nonsense?

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale

I concur on that, and the smell of hypocrisy is somewhat nauseating across the Chamber.

We are still without answers as to why the CEO of P&O Ferries felt empowered enough to tell Parliament—to tell the Select Committee—that they were breaking the law. Why have they still have not faced the consequences for their actions? Why have heads not rolled? Why are Ministers not stepping in to ensure that that happens? Again, we are talking about not only justice for the seafarers concerned and their families, but creating that landscape of good employment and good employment practices in this country.

In conclusion, the P&O Ferries scandal must be the end of the exploitation of seafaring staff in this country, but in its current state the Bill falls far short of that. It is a starter for 10, which I will certainly be supporting it, along with His Majesty’s official Opposition. However, I will also be supporting amendments that will make it far stronger, to ensure that we have a race to the top, rather than a race to the bottom on employment rights. Finally, let me wish everybody a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover 7:18, 19 December 2022

Not only has 2022 been a year of opportunity, new jobs, higher wages and investment across Dover and Deal, but it has been a difficult and challenging year, with a number of significant and sometimes shocking events occurring around our sea border. Looking back to this time last year, I would not have expected to see a household name, a much-loved part of the Dover landscape, a global company headquartered in the town, become a pariah and a disgrace, not just in the maritime community, but in the business world. That is what the directors of P&O Ferries made it in March 2022. P&O’s management is a total disgrace, and it has put a stain on the name of this great company. In March, I wrote to the Insolvency Service, calling on it to consider director disqualification action against the named directors of P&O Ferries Ltd and its parent company, P&O Ferries Holding Ltd, on the basis of the directors’ misconduct.

The Insolvency Service has a responsibility to uphold confidence in directors and to hold them to account for serious misconduct. The response from the service has been wholly inadequate so far. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to press the Insolvency Service to step in and do its job—to hold those P&O directors to account for their reprehensible, immoral and unlawful conduct. I still have constituents who have not been compensated properly for lost or stolen belongings. I ask the Minister to meet me to see how my constituents can be helped, so that this matter can finally be resolved for them.

In relation to the well-made comments on the intensity of the channel route, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency looked at these issues for Irish Ferries when it came into Dover and for P&O when it tried to stand up its agency workers and was not allowed to do so because they were not good and ready. I ask the Minister to have a conversation with the agency and then for us to meet further to discuss how assurances can be given that the intensity of the channel route is being properly monitored and considered in relation to the safety of workers and passengers on it.

Looking back to the sackings in March, I was glad to take up an offer from Darren Procter of the RMT union to march with the workers, my constituents in Dover Town, along with other prominent local Conservatives. As the local MP, I supported workers in two previous restructurings of the workforce of P&O, working with the unions and speaking to the management of P&O. It was completely untrue, therefore, for P&O to seek to blame predicted union militancy by RMT for its disgraceful management behaviour, because previous restructurings had been by negotiated settlement.

P&O did not even try to negotiate. It just decided that it would break the law. None the less, it is true that, on the day I marched with the RMT, we did see the ugly face of the militant unions and the Labour party. It is also true that the Labour party saw an opportunity to exploit the shocking corporate behaviour of P&O, just as we have heard that it intends not to fully and unequivocally support the measures of this important Bill today.

As I was surrounded by bused-in, hard-left aggressive militants outside the RMT headquarters in Dover, I was rescued by local union members whom I know and who brought me into the building for my safety. Imagine my shock when I saw the leadership of the RMT—Mick Lynch no less—and other trade union barons holding a Zoom meeting with none other than the Labour leader, Keir Starmer. While I was in that private meeting, I was shocked to hear how the Labour leader and the trade union barons were chatting away about exploiting the P&O situation in Parliament for political gain in those coming days, and how the unions could create a winter of discontent, stoked up by trade unions here. It seemed to me, listening to everyone that day, that they were working hand in glove with the Labour leadership.

Back then, in the spring, I thought that it was just wishful thinking on the part of Labour and the trade union barons. Now Mick Lynch has turned into the Christmas Grinch and the winter of union trouble making is well and truly under way—and not a word of condemnation from those on the Labour Front Bench, and I think that we all know why.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Social Justice)

As a Scottish nationalist MP, there is not a lot of love lost between me and the Labour party. It certainly comes as a surprise to me to hear that Keir Starmer is very much in cahoots with the unions. I think that he could do an awful lot more to stand up for Labour values. However, at the heart of all of this are the hon. Lady’s constituents who were treated incredibly badly by P&O. The issue here is not the RMT union; the issue here is P&O Ferries, which has acted disgracefully. I urge her to try to get back to that point, which is what the Bill is about.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As I have made it very clear, as the Dover MP, I have worked very constructively with the RMT, and particularly with the local branch. What I saw that day was the Labour leader on Zoom, and it seemed to me from that meeting that he was looking for political opportunism, rather than having the interests of my constituents at heart. I am therefore very pleased that so many Members on the Opposition Benches now speak so freely about my constituents, but I urge them to fully support the Bill, and not to seek to create division and engage in shameless political opportunism on what they know is a very specific Bill, as they have already done in the Lords.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

We do not seek to oppose the Bill. We seek to strengthen it and improve it, but I do have a question for the hon. Member. She has repeatedly referred in her speech to “trade union barons”. Will she take this opportunity to make it clear that trade union leaders—of the RMT and other unions—are not barons, because they are elected by their members? Would it not be helpful to stop using this silly, right-wing tabloid language of “barons”? They are not barons. They are elected leaders—elected by many more people than some Conservative Prime Ministers.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I think he has made his point about his choice of language, in the same way that I have made mine.

As we look forward to the Bill going through Committee, I urge Opposition Members not to seek to create division in the name of improvement, when in fact they are making amendments that are outside the scope of the Bill. It is this Conservative Government who are prioritising fair pay and equal rights for our workers on land and at sea. We are applying the minimum wage to ensure that we do not see a race to the bottom of foreign crews and cheap labour, helping to secure the future of the workforce on the short straits.

In Dover, the maritime industry is part of our DNA. I just visited Viking’s Maritime Skills Academy in Dover, which trains seafarers in fire and sea rescue safety. Like a number of local businesses, it has worked really hard to support those in P&O who have lost their jobs, and I pay tribute to all those across my constituency who have come together to help. It is a reminder that, from training to deployment, Dover has a central role in the maritime community. With that central role, I would like to see this Bill accompanied by further international steps to improve the pay and conditions of international seafarers.

The conditions for some international seafarers are nothing short of slavery. That point was very well made by my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price. We have a moral responsibility to address that. We have taken action to address the use of sweat shops on land in other countries. We must show international leadership in tackling the sweat shops at sea—the shocking conditions for international seafarers, particularly those from poorer countries. We must also go further in completing bilateral agreements with port-to-port European and other counterparts, so as to ensure that standards, safety and training meet the demands of the sea. As I raised with the Secretary of State earlier, it is those bilateral agreements on which we should be focusing the specific needs of the channel routes.

Today’s Bill is one that I strongly welcome. It will help to ensure that the financial incentives that led to the decision-making of P&O Ferries will be neutralised. It will help to avoid the race to the bottom and shore up jobs here in the UK ports. It is an important and focused Bill to plug a gap in employment law to ensure that British workers operating at sea between Dover and Calais will be treated just the same as workers operating in Dover itself.

I would like to finish by saying how grateful I am for the work of a number of right hon. and hon. Friends, in particular my right hon. Friend Grant Shapps and my hon. Friends the Members for Witney (Robert Courts), for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) and for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who all worked so hard alongside me on this P&O situation, understood it for the disgrace it was and showed determination to push forward on the nine-point plan for action. I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Minister will be following through on that to ensure that such a situation cannot happen in the same way again.

This Bill shows it is the Conservative party that is on the side of seafarers. It is the Conservative party that is the party of the workers. It is the Government who support jobs, training and pay to protect British workers, including all those excellent workers at Dover and those who work on the short straits.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Social Justice) 7:30, 19 December 2022

It is a pleasure to follow Mrs Elphicke, particularly with some of the late Christmas cracker jokes she was deploying in the Chamber there.

As we approach the recess, many of us will have our usual favourite films and programmes to watch as we rest up on the couch, recovering from the excesses of Christmas and new year celebrations. For some it may be “Miracle on 34th Street”, “Home Alone” or that classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I personally look forward to the now-annual mockumentary on Netflix, previously called “Death to 2020” or “Death to 2021”. I have no doubt that the March segment of “Death to 2022” will feature the disgraceful behaviour of P&O Ferries and its chief executive officer Peter Hebblethwaite—who would surely make Scrooge look like Bambi—as it chronicles the outrageous decision to fire nearly 800 directly employed seafarers on these islands.

In watching the Netflix mockumentary, I suddenly remember all the appalling things that unfolded in the year just past. However, for many seafarers, including those who live in my East End constituency, the P&O tragedy is much more than a mere three or four-minute segment of a documentary. While the P&O dispute is long buried in most folks’ memories, it is important to understand how and why we came to that position and how we can improve things.

Although the previous Prime Minister—I mean the second-to-last one—had said that Ministers would be taking legal action, the Insolvency Service quietly dropped criminal prosecution of P&O Ferries. While the actions of P&O Ferries were disgusting and deeply unethical, they highlighted some serious weaknesses in employment law, not to mention refuelling the “fire and rehire” issue that continues to plague ordinary workers and be a plaything of unscrupulous bosses in boardrooms across the land. That is why many of us on the Opposition Benches have been disappointed that the long-awaited post-Brexit employment Bill never materialised and why many of us would, frankly, now be surprised to see one this side of a general election.

The Bill before the House tonight—just a day before we rise for our Christmas recess—is obviously not one that should be opposed, but I think there is a broad consensus in the debate, including on the Conservative Benches, that it is not a silver bullet, nor will it fix the problems it seeks to remedy. The Bill needs significant amendment and improvement, as many of my constituents have made clear.

I was struck by Robert Courts referring to the fact that he represents a rural, landlocked constituency in Oxfordshire. Similarly, in my small city constituency I have a number of RMT members, particularly seafarers, who have worked on P&O Ferries. My constituent from Barlanark wants the Bill improved to increase seafarer jobs and build our green maritime skills base. Another constituent from Easterhouse who wrote to me wants to see the Bill amended to promote collectively bargained terms and conditions, as is the case, for example, in France.

Likewise, another constituent believes the Bill must support domestic seafarer jobs on the international routes that keep the economy of these islands functioning and secure. Lastly, an email from a resident of Sandyhills gets to the nub of the issue here, state-sanctioned pay exploitation, highlighting that P&O Ferries pays under £4 per hour on contracts of up to 17 weeks. Ministers regularly stand up at the Dispatch Box and tell us that work is the best route out of poverty—but not, it would appear, for a seafarer.

Many hon. Members have outlined and will outline how the Bill can be improved, particularly as it moves into Committee, but I want to touch on just a few things this evening. I am particularly grateful to colleagues in the RMT, which I am proud to support, for their briefing on this Bill. More generally, I send my continued solidarity and best wishes to their rail members who are engaged in an industrial dispute. I have certainly been proud to join them on picket lines, and I have no expectation that my party leader will ask for me to be fired or anything like that as a result of doing so.

However, coming back to the Bill, it would be fair to say that it must be widened in scope. In my opinion and that of many others, it is too narrowly drawn, a point made by peers when it started its legislative journey in the other place. The Bill would, I believe, benefit from being widened in scope to tackle some of the wider conditions that P&O and other operators use to exploit and recruit crew on pay and conditions that undercut UK-based seafarers and responsible operators.

Fundamentally, in its current form, the Bill does not address the nationality-based pay discrimination on ships that routinely work from UK ports, regardless of flag or crew nationality. There is a real risk that this Bill’s passing unamended would lead to avoidance techniques such as changes to port call schedules, which have already been referred to. Basically, port-hopping becomes more likely the more frequently a vessel calls at a UK port.

The RMT briefing, for example, makes it clear that at 120 calls per year, it would be far easier for operators to make very modest changes to scheduled port calls in order to avoid this legislation, whereas 52 calls would be far tighter and was, I understand, the Government’s intention when the Bill was launched. Looking at the Hansard from when the Bill went through the Lords, I can see no legitimate reason why the Government departed from 52 weeks after the consultation, especially when there was widespread support for it from trade unions.

Baroness Vere is on record in the other place saying:

“I do not think operators would play switcheroo with UK ports because, frankly, their customers would not put up with it.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 October 2022; Vol. 824, c. 1506.]

In short, the Minister is saying that it will be all right on the night and we should just leave it to market conditions to dictate the direction of travel. However, I remind Ministers that the whole reason we are in this sorry mess in the first place is precisely a lack of regulation and an increasing tolerance for casino-style decision making on the part of bosses who have shamelessly, and unquestionably, exploited staff. We should learn that leaving it to the market will not necessarily be helpful.

There is one other aspect of the Bill I want to draw to the attention of the House before I conclude. It relates to offshore wind and the renewables sector, something particularly pertinent to Scotland. At the moment, as I understand it, crew working on vessels servicing the offshore oil and gas industry are entitled to protection when it comes to national minimum wage legislation, but that protection is not extended to crew, sometimes on the same ships, who work instead on offshore windfarms in the UK exclusive economic zone. That point was respected by the Minister in Grand Committee in the House of Lords, so it is clearly an issue for the Government. As an MP from Scotland, where we have a burgeoning offshore and renewables sector, that gap concerns me greatly and I believe it must be plugged.

All that makes the point that the Bill before the House tonight falls short of what is expected following the P&O debacle. The unintended consequences of not tightening things up will, once more, lead to future Parliaments having to come back and fix issues that have been highlighted in this debate and will only prolong the injustice faced by seafarers.

I started my remarks tonight by talking about the films we all watch during the Christmas holidays. I rather fear that, if this Bill was made into a film, it could quite easily be called “A Missed Opportunity”. Let us ensure that that is not the case, and instead bring the Bill into dry dock for major repair and improvement when this legislation is considered in Committee.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East 7:38, 19 December 2022

I have listened to all the contributions with great interest. There is clearly a consensus developing that, although this Bill is a step in the right direction, it is completely inadequate to the scale of the situation seafarers face.

Who can forget those appalling scenes when balaclava-wearing, handcuff-trained security guards were sent on to the ships to remove P&O workers? That was a real wake-up call about the reality of employment law in this country and more widely. What worries me is that the Bill is full of loopholes—ones that will be exploited by unscrupulous employers. Before I was elected as a Member of Parliament, I was for 10 years a trade union lawyer representing workers, including seafarers. Time and again, I saw ruthless employers exploit loopholes in well-intentioned laws and get away with treating workers like dirt. We cannot allow that to go on. Far from the divisive language of Mrs Elphicke, we need to work together to improve the Bill.

What are some of the loopholes? I mentioned in an earlier intervention my concern that when the Bill was drafted, frequent use of a port was defined as a ship calling at a UK port 52 times in a year. That has now been increased to 120 times a year. I am still not clear on why that is the case, but it is logical that if we define regular use of a UK port not as 52 visits but as 120 visits, that is a great loophole for port-hopping and for unscrupulous employers to avoid paying the national minimum wage when they should do so.

There is also a lack of legal clarity on whether dismissed P&O workers resided in Britain. The Insolvency Service has still not pursued legal charges against P&O. The TUC rightly says that that loophole continues in the Bill, and it is therefore clear that it must be closed. It cannot be acceptable for this House to be content with a Bill that, following the P&O scandal, does not close the loopholes that allowed P&O Ferries to get away with its behaviour in such a horrific manner.

The Bill does not go far enough on employment protections. We need stronger protections in law. P&O is currently making more savings from the intensive roster patterns forced on agency workers, for example, than it does from paying below minimum wage. It is clear, then, that the national minimum wage provisions in the Bill are not enough on their own, because firms can still undermine workers’ rights if minimum wage protections are not coupled with broader employment protections. We see deductions taken from workers’ pay for their accommodation, for example, which is completely outrageous.

The Bill does not protect all seafarers, by the way, as has already been mentioned in discussion about workers in the offshore renewables sector. If we want, as we do, a future of well-paid, green and unionised jobs that help us to tackle climate change and solve the ongoing energy crisis, we need to ensure that those jobs are well paid, secure and unionised, not part of a race to the bottom. We need to ensure that offshore workers in the green sector have proper protection as well.

As the Bill progresses, I will introduce or support amendments to close legal loopholes and prevent port-hopping—that is essential—and, crucially, to inscribe a seafarers’ charter into law, expand collective employment rights, and ensure that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has the powers and resources to enforce employment protections. We have already heard in the debate about the conflicts of interest for companies that run ships and have financial interests in ports. We also need the Bill to be changed so that minimum wage rights for seafarers’ working in offshore renewables are equalised with the entitlements for those working in the offshore oil and gas industry.

The Bill needs to be amended and strengthened or it will be a huge missed opportunity, which we cannot allow to happen. We all remember the strong feelings in the country, which were reflected on both sides of this Chamber, about what happened at P&O, but we must ask ourselves these questions. First, is it right that, as we have heard, P&O’s parent company benefits from Government funding to the tune of £50 million for London Gateway freeport? More importantly and more fundamentally, is it right for this House to be content with legislation that is a tiny step in the right direction—that is why we are not opposing it—but does not go far enough?

The Seafarers’ Wages Bill needs vast improvement if it is to be worthy of its name and if it is to prevent what happened at P&O from happening again. If we do not improve it, people outside this House will be very disappointed indeed, because the Bill will not match the speeches made in this House back then and tonight.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 7:45, 19 December 2022

It is an honour to follow Richard Burgon. Like him, I feel that a consensus is emerging in this place tonight. We all welcome the Bill, but we welcome it as a first step and see the flaws in it. I would like to reassure Mrs Elphicke that there is not really any opposition to the Bill, and reassure her constituents that everybody in this House feels very strongly about what happened to those workers who had given their careers, and in many cases their lives, to P&O.

As Robert Courts said, P&O is an iconic company in this country. To many people, it epitomises our seafaring tradition and the merchant marine—people see that in P&O. Like Cunard, P&O is synonymous with the image of Britannia and the waves, so when I look back to March, it is not easy to put aside the shock that came with the news that it had treated almost 800 of its staff so shamefully. It is clear from the reaction in the House tonight that none of us here has been untouched by what we remember from that time. The RMT estimates that 75% of those 800 UK seafarers worked on the Dover-Calais route, as well as on services out of Hull, Liverpool, Cairnryan and Larne. Just about every port in the UK was affected and had constituents who were affected, and landlocked constituencies had families who were affected by what happened. What was also significant about it was that it exposed a major flaw in UK employment legislation as it affects seafarers, and the potential for that major flaw in UK law to be exploited by others.

The Liberal Democrats support the Bill, which has three main principles at its core. Seafarers with close ties to the UK who work aboard services in scope of the Bill but do not qualify for the UK national minimum wage will receive fair pay. The Bill will disincentivise the race to the bottom that we have talked about in employment standards among operators. It will protect the reputation of the UK maritime sector, of which P&O is such an important part, following the disgraceful actions of that company.

However, there are flaws in the Bill. The Liberal Democrats in the other place had three main concerns: the lack of sufficient protections for seafarers; compliance with international conventions and agreements—of which the Bill potentially challenges a number—and the practicalities of implementation and enforcement, which have been raised by the UK Chamber of Shipping, the British Ports Association and trade unions. The RMT in particular wants to see changes to the Bill, including amendments to prevent port-hopping and other avoidance techniques by operators, and to introduce collectively agreed standards for roster patterns, pension rights, crewing levels and training schemes.

When the Bill moves forward into Committee, I urge the Government to take on board those concerns and to ensure that the Bill is improved in the way that I think we all—on both sides of the House—would like to see, for the wellbeing of seafarers, not just at the moment but in the future, in an industry that is in the DNA of this country.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 7:49, 19 December 2022

Most of the points of detail have been raised by other Members, so I will not focus on those. I will vote for the Bill, but—I am not being party political here, because when it comes to the treatment of seafarers, I have been critical of every party that has been in national Government—the Bill is a mouse, and I do not think that it is a mouse that is going to roar. That is my worry about it.

I was pleased at the cross-party anger about P&O’s behaviour. I had expected that to result in a real opportunity to tackle the way in which seafarers are treated, and not just by P&O but historically. I have checked Hansard, and the first time I raised in the House the application of the minimum wage to seafarers was in the 2002-03 Session, which was 20 years ago. I blame the Chamber of Shipping, which has been mentioned, and its influence on successive Labour, Conservative and coalition Governments. Time and again, we have pointed out what is technically, in employment terms, a feudal relationship with many seafarers and the way they are treated. It is also a neo-colonialist relationship, given the recruitment practices across the globe. It is a level of exploitation that we would not tolerate in any other sector. People are working long hours in unsafe conditions, on low pay and with limited training. When they complain, they are replaced by labour that is brought to this country from across the globe. They are severely exploited.

Every time we have debated the issue and the Chamber of Shipping has realised that the game is up and that change is necessary—largely through public opprobrium, as happened with P&O, though perhaps not on the same scale in the past—successive attempts at reform by this House have resulted in a standard strategy to be pursued, which is that the Chamber of Shipping, working with the Government, obfuscates, seeks to limit change and the effectiveness of that change, and drafts trench warfare in legislation.

I will give a few examples. In 2002 I said that we should ensure that the minimum wage applied to seafarers in this country on the basis of the Race Relations Act 1976. When lobbying on the Race Relations Act, the shipping industry secured an exemption—the only sector that gained such an exemption. As a result, it was able to exploit workers. We ran a campaign and the Government put their hands up and said, “We accept that there is a wrong here, so we will ensure reform.” That reform was that people could be discriminated against based not on their race but on their nationality. What is the difference? That was the change in legislation.

From 2007 to 2009 we ran a campaign and I raised the issues in this House. When we sought to give some form of legal protection to people, we were told that they could have that legal protection only if they had employment links to this country—and that was ill defined. It just went on like that. I have example after example of us campaigning for reform and being met with obfuscation and the drafting of trench warfare, and the reform was largely frustrated. It just went on like that.

I raised the issue of accommodation charges in 2014. Again, the argument was that the charges would be relatively limited and that there would be no major impact on the seafarers. The companies then started increasing the charges and they got to ludicrous levels. What could the seafarers do? They had no choice over where they were going to sleep at night. They could not hire a separate boat to sleep on. The companies were ripping them off.

I can remember about 40 of us turning up to a Statutory Instrument Committee thinking that we had achieved a major victory—it was wonderful—whereby the minimum wage was going to apply to British waters. We all thought that meant territorial waters, but then there was a change of definition and we found that it applied only to internal waters—which just about applies to the Norfolk broads, to be honest.

That is what has happened year after year. I have had 20 years of this, so Members will understand my sense of frustration that leads to anger. That is why I think this Bill is a mouse. We will work together to improve it—that is what we will do. We will try to eradicate the loopholes that have been set out by virtually every Member who has spoken so far, including on the number of times a port is used, the way in which measures are enforced and the way in which the surcharge is defined. The Government cannot leave the definition of the surcharge to the harbour authorities. There will be another race to the bottom because they will want to attract companies to use their harbour on the basis that their surcharge is so low. Let us work together as a House to resolve those issues with this mouse of a Bill.

The Bill does not solve the problem of fire and rehire. I was with Mrs Elphicke in Dover. I think she has misunderstood what was going on in the RMT office. My right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer was receiving a briefing from the RMT that was offered to the Prime Minister and the leaders of other parties as well. I was in the room at the time, and there was no plotting or anything like that. It was about trying to ensure that points were raised in this House so that the Government could act more effectively.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

I have notified the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras that I will be raising this issue. I was in that meeting along with a member of my team. It was very clear that what I was observing was not a conversation with the Labour leader but a conversation led by the Labour leader about what might happen the following week, including some very disparaging references about the Transport Minister, my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, whom he sought to embarrass. I appreciate the perspective of John McDonnell and I recall him being there.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

We were both in the same room, but I suppose that it is like people witnessing an accident, in that there will be different interpretations. By no means was I calling the leader of the Labour party’s conversation an accident—that would be grounds for expulsion.

The Bill does not outlaw fire and rehire. That was used by P&O, whose example was followed very quickly by Heathrow airport in my constituency. If this Bill is the first stage of a reform package, we need to see the rest of it pretty promptly. That means not just introducing minimum wage legislation but looking at the wider exploitation of seafarers, including accommodation charges and safe crew levels. I am really worried. My hon. Friend Karl Turner mentioned the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. Time and again, evidence is emerging that the exploitation of seafarers is not just about wages, but about how few seafarers there are on any particular ship and how the training they receive does not guarantee safety. Therefore, we need legislation to be introduced rapidly to ensure that seafarers are not only properly paid but properly trained, and that any ship that sails around our ports has an adequate number of crew on board.

At some stage—this applies to the overall debate as well as to this Bill—we will have to have another discussion about the regulation of the sector. This Bill relates to how it abides by payment of the minimum wage. I do not believe that the concept of harbours levelling the surcharge and then it being implemented or, I suppose, inspected by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is going to prove effective. That is a division of responsibility and I do not think it will work. As other hon. Members raised earlier, the idea that a ship or company can simply be excluded from operating out of a particular harbour will not prove effective either. We must demonstrate seriousness of purpose, which is why the unions are arguing for detention of the ship when there is a refusal to abide by the measures that are going through in this Bill.

I hope that we will rapidly hear a report on the progress of the seafarers’ charter, which I thought would be included in the first legislation that we saw to attack the issues around seafarers and P&O in particular. I would also like to have had some strong evidence of the agreements that are coming forward in the cross-country negotiations taking place on these issues; can we have that in the new year? I also throw in that it is not just about the wages earned week by week, month by month, but about pensions, which are another form of wages. Seafarers’ pensions have been eroded over the years and, as a result, it is difficult to attract people to the job because of low pay, lack of pensions, insecurity and, to be frank, unsafe working conditions.

My final point comes back to the Chamber of Shipping. I am angry that, throughout the whole period that these activities have been taking place, when low pay has been inflicted on seafarers and their pensions have been under attack, shipping companies have taken £2 billion in tax relief from tonnage tax—in fact, they have laughed all the way to the bank. The tonnage tax has failed, and it has not produced the jobs that we were promised or encouraged the companies to behave as dutiful employers. I urge the Government to bring forward the whole programme of legislation that was promised as part of the development of the nine-point plan, as well as the seafarers’ charter, early in the new year. Unless we have that, there will be no secure employment and the long-term future of the sector will be at considerable risk.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions) 8:02, 19 December 2022

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to today’s debate. It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend John McDonnell. I will speak in support of the points made by my hon. Friend Louise Haigh and raise an important issue about seafarers’ pensions. I commend my hon. Friend for her speech and her well-made points. Seafarers working on British vessels and providing services to British ports should be paid at least the minimum wage; I hope that those highly skilled workers, who carry out difficult and dangerous work, would be paid well above that basic minimum.

I take this opportunity to raise an important issue about seafarers being treated properly by their employers. As the House will know, I have been raising the issue of the outstanding £146 million debt owed to the merchant navy ratings pension scheme by P&O Ferries and ultimately by its parent company DP World. This important issue affects thousands of P&O workers and pensioners as well as seafarers across the maritime industry, who are members of the same industry-wide pension fund.

The sad fact is that, despite repeated requests and years of waiting, DP World has still not paid the money it owes. That is despite the precedent it set by paying debts it owed to the merchant navy officers pension scheme and the precedent P&O Ferries set by making additional voluntary contributions to the merchant navy ratings pension fund before P&O Ferries was taken over by DP World in 2006. To make matters worse, DP World seems to have the money that it owes to the pension scheme, as it spent a similar sum on sponsoring an international golf tournament—in fact, it spent more on the golf tournament, which cost it about £147 million to sponsor.

The debt to the scheme needs to be paid, and pension schemes such as the merchant navy ratings pension fund need to be properly supported. Scheme members and employers deserve to be reassured about their pensions and the future of the scheme. The scheme has about 14,000 members and a large number of employers contribute as well as P&O Ferries. Those employers range from relatively small shipping firms to large Government organisations, including the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the British Antarctic Survey. Because the merchant navy ratings pension scheme is a “last man standing” pension scheme, other employers could in theory be asked to cover the cost if an employer left the scheme. It would be wrong for there to be a risk, however distant, of the taxpayer or other employers having to pay that unpaid debt.

As we have heard, DP World is taking part in the Government’s freeport scheme, so there seems to be a more immediate risk that taxpayers could indirectly subsidise or support an employer that is not fulfilling its obligations. It is important that schemes are protected and treated properly by their members, and confidence in pension schemes needs to be maintained at a high level. I am sure that P&O and DP World do not intend to be seen as the Scrooges of the shipping industry, so I ask them to look into the matter urgently and think again. I hope that they will now provide the funding and financial reassurance needed. They should do the right thing this Christmas for pensioners, workers and fellow employers. I ask the Minister to encourage them and, if necessary, to take further action to ensure that they do that.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington 8:06, 19 December 2022

I appreciate being given the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I declare an interest as a proud member of the RMT parliamentary group, and I support the maritime sector and our seafarers, as well as those involved in the dispute in the rail sector with Network Rail and the train operating companies.

I was present in the House when the actions of P&O became apparent on St Patrick’s day. Those actions represent the lowest point in industrial relations in this country for many years. There are some parallels with Tiny Rowland, the unacceptable face of capitalism, and some of the excesses that went on with the asset stripping of Michael Slade and others, but this is about as low as it gets.

I was buoyed up by the response from Ministers, including Robert Courts, the former shipping Minister, who was incandescent. I was under the impression that the will in the House and the country was such that measures would quickly be brought before the House to take P&O Ferries to task—to fine it and to take appropriate action against its chief executive. The chief executive was arrogant and flippant in his presentation to the joint session of the Transport Committee and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee; he was almost boastful that he had not consulted with the unions and had broken the law. I am therefore disappointed that it has taken nine months—we are now in December; it is almost January—to have a Bill intended to address the issues. I will support the Bill, but I have reservations and I hope that it is possible to improve it in Committee or even on Report.

Certainly, the Government cannot claim that the issue came as a bolt from the blue, because the unions, particularly the RMT, warned them about it in 2020 when an order was introduced to extend the national minimum wage to seafarers in UK territorial waters. It then warned them again in 2021 when there were issues with Irish Ferries, which was operating services between Dover and Calais and undercutting P&O and DFDS. I will outline some of my concerns with the Bill, in the hope that we can secure the best deal for seafarers, which is an outcome that I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see.

Successive Governments have convened legal working groups on seafarers and the national minimum wage. I think the first was in 2009. We have a major problem with seafarer care that the minimum wage alone cannot address. We were promised a review of the Equality Act 2010 regulations, but that has not happened, which is a major failure in the Government’s seafarer policy. The powers in the Bill to make secondary regulations disguise the complexity and the narrowness of the legislation. I ask the Minister: will the UK national minimum wage age bands apply to the national minimum wage equivalence declaration? P&O, of course, dismissed apprentices, as well as hundreds of directly employed seafarers, but does the Minister consider a £4.81 hourly rate for apprentice seafarers fair? The Maritime Skills Commission’s ratings review, which is extremely welcome, should look at this aspect of the Bill, but it is vital to avoid putting in place any more barriers to training more ratings in the UK.

As well as training, the Government must facilitate employment opportunities. I fully understand the sentiments expressed by hon. Friends who represent ports where there are opportunities, particularly for young people to have a career at sea, but the Government have a role in ensuring that those jobs are not taken by agency workers from overseas.

When the Bill was in the other place, the noble Lord Hendy discussed the lack of national minimum wage protection for crew working in the offshore wind and offshore renewable supply chain beyond the UK territorial waters limit. Crew working on vessels servicing the offshore oil and gas industry across the UK continental shelf are entitled to protection under national minimum wage legislation, but crew working on offshore wind farms in the UK exclusive economic zone—sometimes on the same ships—are not. That is unfair, and it leads to serious exploitation.

There is exclusion of UK seafarers from a growing labour market directly linked to the UK economy. It is incredible: there will be 100,000 new jobs in the North sea, but young men and women from the coastal communities will not have the opportunity to take up those positions. Those jobs, and that market, are funded by the UK taxpayer. Also, operators should be prohibited from deducting accommodation costs. My colleagues have already mentioned how much Irish Ferries and P&O were deducting.

Rosters have been mentioned. The Bill recognises to a certain extent that national minimum wage avoidance is a problem in the UK shipping industry, but it does not fully cover wider employment rights issues, such as the hours and roster patterns that seafarers work; neither do the raft of secondary powers that the Bill creates. On Report in the other place, the Minister openly stated that the Government are not seeking to influence roster patterns—I believe that the Secretary of State said the same thing today—or any other employment conditions through the Bill. To give this legislation a greater chance of successfully countering the actions of P&O, Irish Ferries and others who are trashing UK seafarer jobs and the maritime skills base in order to increase their profits, the seafarers’ charter should be put in the Bill.

On the seafarers’ charter, we really need a maximum roster pattern of two weeks on, two weeks off, in the ferry sector. I urge the Minister to work with the Labour party and the trade unions on the Bill, and on the seafarers’ charter, so that we get this right, restore jobs, get fair pay agreements, and start training programmes in the ferry sector. Members have pointed out that P&O is making bigger savings from its changes to roster patterns than it was from having rates of pay that were below the national minimum wage.

In the other place, the Government rejected the previously agreed roster pattern in the charter. It is commissioning further research on roster patterns and crewing levels. That is despite a collectively agreed standard being in place in Stena Line and DFDS. I refer the Minister to Cardiff University’s crew fatigue study for P&O in 2012, the EU Horizon 2020 project, and the World Maritime University’s EVREST report. All that evidence has been shared with the Government. I am surprised and disappointed that the Government have not taken action to tackle low-cost operators, particularly in view of the issues of crew fatigue and safety.

Others have raised the issues of port-hopping and avoidance techniques. I asked the Secretary of State about that when he appeared before the Transport Committee. The criteria are too loose; we need to have a look at that. Port-hopping remains a genuine avoidance technique, and it becomes easier to use the more frequently a vessel calls at harbour. I support the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and Nautilus International in specifying that the threshold in the Bill should be 52 calls at a harbour per year per vessel, rather than the 120 that the Government suggest.

In conclusion, the Bill is an opportunity to mandate better pay and employment standards, to restore the principle of collective bargaining conditions at P&O and across the ferry sector, and to ensure fair pay and safe, decent employment conditions for decent, hard-working seafarers. The Bill’s scope must be widened to tackle avoidance techniques, and to help to standardise fair pay and collective conditions, starting in the ferry sector. I hope that the Minister will address the concerns that I have raised, and ensure the best possible deal for seafarers.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 8:16, 19 December 2022

May I say how pleased I am to have heard the comments of right hon. and hon. Members? In particular, it was a real pleasure to follow the forensic contribution of Grahame Morris; he has a vast wealth of knowledge on this subject. I thank him for sharing it with all of us in the Chamber; it was good to have those points strongly reinforced.

I warmly welcome the Bill. It makes complete sense that those who spend a considerable amount of time in British ports should be paid at least the minimum British wage—indeed, they should be paid more. In my constituency, there are many seafarers and fishermen from the Philippines; they spend a lot of time in Portavogie. It is not only morally correct but our responsibility to ensure that those seafarers are looked after financially.

John McDonnell outlined his case very clearly; unfortunately, he has had to do so over a great number of years. As he said, every time he thought an agreement was reached, another obstacle—another reason for saying no—was found. How frustrating that must be! Our hope is that this legislation will be the start of something firm, strong and final that gives the reassurance and the protection that the seafarers want. He also referred to fire and rehire. I wholeheartedly endorse what he said on that, as others have done. Perhaps the Bill could deal with that issue. If it could, then we will have achieved something above and beyond what we hoped for. It would be good to have provisions in place to deal with that.

The issues surrounding P&O Ferries have proven instrumental to the fishing and trading industry. I echo what has been said about P&O. I am outraged by how people wearing balaclavas strong-armed and man-handled the workers off the P&O boats. I watched that, that day; it was the same in Larne harbour as in other places. There was something totally wrong, outrageous and disgraceful about it in a democratic country—a country of freedom, where we stand up for the rights of others. We watched what was happening on TV, and we could do nothing about it. I hope that the legislation will be strong and firm, and will give the protection that is necessary.

A combined number of 800 staff, including in Northern Ireland, were made redundant at start of the year, in additional to a £100 million loss year on year. P&O stated that the business is not viable in its current state. P&O’s chief executive officer stated that the average hourly rate for agency workers under the crewing model would be £5.50, yet the minimum wage in the United Kingdom is higher than that for those 18 and over.

I read the comparisons by the International Labour Organisation—for Hansard it is important to put this on the record. It stated that the recommended basic wage for an able seaman is $648, around £550 per month, based on seafarers working eight hours a day, or a 48-hour working week. That equates to around £2.66 an hour. Karl Turner has quoted that figure in this House on numerous occasions, and it is disgraceful that that should be the wage for people on the international seas. I know that control over what we do in British waters is with the Minister in the House, but we are all outraged by that sort of wage for seafarers across the world. Such a wage is unheard of, and impossible for those working to live on. The Government must step in and ensure that seafarers are rewarded for their work in British ports—I think the Minister has given that commitment, but we want to see a bit more strength in that if we can.

I hope that the Bill will pass, because if it does, harbour authorities will have the power to request ship operators covered by the Bill to declare that their seafarers are paid at a rate at least equivalent to the national minimum wage for their work in the UK or its territorial waters. In addition, as the Minister said earlier, harbour authorities can refuse access to the harbours if operators fail to pay the surcharge and the additional payment. Those are the sorts of penalties I wish to see in law, and like others, I wish to see stronger, firmer laws and greater protection and penalties. We should hit these people in their pockets, and that will have an effect because they are very much money orientated.

I commend Relate NI—this is a different issue, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is linked to seafarers so I wanted to put it on record. It is working with the Seafarers’ Charity to provide free counselling for current and retired seafarers, fishermen, and anyone who works with them. It provides finance and counselling or advice about isolation due to being out at sea or homesickness. It provides six fully funded sessions for seafarers, their dependants, children and wider families, which is incredible support for those who are based at sea and possibly not earning much money. We all recognise the good work that Relate NI does, and I wanted to put that on the record in the House and thank it for all that it does and for stepping up.

In conclusion, there is more we can do to ensure that seafarers working in British ports a certain number of times each year are properly paid. This debate is all about that. This is about protection and a Bill that makes a difference. It is about ensuring that people want to be seafarers and have that as a vocation or job that will give them great confidence for the future. It is not possible, and more importantly it is not fair, for staff to be so severely underpaid for the decent work they do. One old saying, which I think is important, is “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work” and that is what we want from the Bill. I look to the Minister to give us that reassurance, and I welcome the Bill. This is a giant step in the right direction, but as others have said, particularly the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, we want the Bill to have teeth, because with those teeth comes protection, which is what this debate is all about.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Transport) 8:23, 19 December 2022

Today represents the 41st anniversary of the Penlee disaster when eight brave members of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution set out on a stormy night off the coast of Cornwall to rescue the crew of the Union Star. Having rescued four of them, another 16 were lost at sea. Today we remember the pain of that community in the south-west, and the bravery that those people show on a daily basis.

The maritime sector is responsible for transporting 90% of global trade and supplying the world with food, fuel, medicines and goods. The world’s 1.9 million seafarers are key workers. We as a nation ask a lot of them, and they do not let us down, as has been pointed out tonight, particularly during the pandemic. We owe our mariners and seafarers the most protection, and I use the word “protection” deliberately. We must protect their rights as workers, protect their pay and conditions, and protect their future.

We have seen what happens when bad bosses go rogue. We are a proud seafaring nation that was once the envy of the world. How could a Dubai-owned company, which was given millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money by this Government during the pandemic, sack 800 staff and seemingly get away with it? It has got away with it. It knew we have a weak Government, who might talk a good game—after all, at the time both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport said that the company would be criminally investigated and sanctioned. But that has not happened.

Peter Hebblethwaite, who was described by Gavin Newlands as the world’s worst boss—I have noticed it is a crowded field—cynically trampled on workers’ rights, and has gone unpunished and faced zero consequences. When P&O pulled the rug out from underneath its staff, and sacked them illegally over a pre-recorded Zoom call, I can honestly say that never in my political life had I seen such blatant abuse of workers’ rights at such a scale. That must not happen again. The Bill is supposed to strengthen protections for workers, and we will work with the Government to set out what the Bill can do. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State said that the Bill does not address the situation that happened with P&O, so let us not fool ourselves. Until we start with criminal liabilities, and hike them up, as well as protection against criminal negligence, such companies will continue, and are continuing, to get away with it.

First, we will press for a reduction in the number of port visits to UK ports from 120 to 52 times a year. We will amend the legislation to ensure that HMRC’s involvement is stronger, and that its role is clear when it comes to ensuring that bad bosses comply with the minimum wage. We ask that the Bill ensures that fines are mandated for non- compliance with the national minimum wage, and that they are punitive enough to act as a deterrent. We will ask in Committee that if directors of those companies fail to pay the national minimum wage, they should be found criminally responsible. Our amendments, if accepted by the Government, will ensure that port operators are not their own authorities and are not marking their homework. There must be firm guidance on surcharges, and the Secretary of State should be responsible for establishing a method for collecting those fines. We cannot give ultimate power to port operators—bear in mind that P&O operates a port, and it is inconceivable that it would potentially be responsible for fining itself and its business competitors at the same time. We know that bad bosses will exploit any gaps in the Bill, and it is incumbent on us to ensure that a third party collects the fines, not individual port authorities.

We have had a full and thorough debate, and I thank hon. Members who have, towards the end of the year, turned up to participate in it. First, I thank the Chair of the Transport Committee, Iain Stewart, who said that the Bill is not the whole solution to the problem. He is absolutely right. I hope that, some time after the Bill has passed, his Select Committee will take it away and reflect on how successful it has been. Jackie Doyle-Price is a doughty champion for the docks in her constituency, and she was exactly right to say that P&O’s action was a disgusting act of industrial vandalism. I note further that her council has been declared bankrupt tonight, so I wish it all the best and hope that it can come through its current problems.

My hon. Friend Karl Turner is another doughty campaigner who, in a tour de force, eloquently described the working conditions that these workers now face, with weeks and weeks at sea, on for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. He is right that the Bill needs improving,

I pay tribute to Robert Courts for being the Minister through such turbulent times for both aviation and maritime. He put in a shift—in my opinion, on some days there is no fairness in politics. He said that P&O’s actions did not appeal to a British sense of fairness. I would say that they could not have happened in any country with proper employment laws. That is what really needs to change if we want to make progress.

My hon. Friend Mike Amesbury talked about morality. I rarely go into morality in politics because there is rarely a black-or-white day in this business, but he described P&O’s action as immoral—it was—and the Bill as a missed opportunity.

Mrs Elphicke started well, and I am sympathetic to the crisis in her coastal community. However, she strayed into errant Whips’ lines. She kept saying that Labour Front-Bench Members were silent on something, but she did not say what that was. I am happy to give way if she wants to tell me what we are silent on. On her criticism of unions, as a fellow traveller of faith, I will lend her my copy of Pope Leo XIII’s 1892 encyclical “Rerum Novarum”, which stood up for the rights of trade unions to organise. Labour Members will always stand up for that right.

David Linden took us down a Netflix line for a while. He said that seafarers get poverty pay. It is poverty pay, but it is worse than that, because people now cannot get into these jobs. Christine Jardine made a great speech. My right hon. Friend John McDonnell said that the legislation is like a mouse. My hon. Friend Matt Rodda said that DP World’s pension deficit is the same as the amount it spent on a golf tournament.

My hon. Friend Grahame Morris talked about a bright future for our coastal communities and how those jobs that could have been the future of those communities now cannot be accessed. Labour will work constructively with the Government to strengthen the Bill by closing the loopholes that we know bad bosses will exploit and to ensure that our seafarers are protected.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 8:32, 19 December 2022

I thank hon. Members for all their contributions and join Mike Kane in commemorating, 41 years on, the memory and service of the eight RNLI lifeboatmen from Mousehole who operated the Penlee lifeboat.

I think that everyone in the Chamber agrees with my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price, who put it bluntly by saying that all of us, especially at this time of year, are reliant on those who operate our ports and bring everything into our country. Ninety-five per cent of all of our trade travels by boat, and a lot of that comes into her constituency. That is why it is so important to all of us that we see the Bill progress.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Witney (Robert Courts) and for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) and, across the political divide, the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) and for Easington (Grahame Morris), who all made the point that everyone in the House was shocked by the behaviour of P&O earlier this year, and they have come together in wanting to do something about it. It was particularly gratifying to see both the Secretary of State and Luke Pollard supporting the legislation and wanting to see good standards and raised standards not only through the Bill but through the Government’s nine-point plan.

I am glad that those on the Opposition Front Bench broadly welcome the Bill, as do the SNP representatives. I just point out to the SNP Front Bench that the RMT did meet my hon. Friends in the Department on Thursday. We are always happy to engage with unions and anybody else who is interested in bringing things to a head in that regard.

David Linden was also very kind to praise the Government for dragging the French to start looking at issues in this space. I am glad that he is supporting those of us on the Government Benches who are leading our European partners forward on legislation in this space. More broadly, I am delighted that everyone across the House is supporting where we are going, including Jim Shannon, whose voice it is always a pleasure to hear.

I think we can all agree that the Bill is not a silver bullet, but it is a starting point, as my hon. Friend the Member for Witney said. I pay tribute to previous Ministers, including him and my right hon. Friend Grant Shapps who brought it forward. I look forward to picking up on many of the issues raised at later stages if I cannot address them at the Dispatch Box today.

I want to turn first to my hon. Friend Iain Stewart, the Chair of the Transport Committee, who raised three points. First, on the International Labour Organisation, the measures in the Bill will be stronger than what it has brought forward. They are compatible with the ILO, but they will be stronger than what it has as a baseline. On which is the best body—the harbour authorities or the Maritime and Coastguard Agency—the MCA will have the power to investigate and prosecute offences under the Bill. It is responsible for the enforcement role, although port operators will collect the moneys. He made another important point on minimum wage corridors. We are looking at that across the piece at the moment. I mentioned France, but we are looking at other European counterparts for where we can have routes to really drive forward standards for workers across the country.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Will the Minister write to us with some form of timetable on the agreements and when they will be ready?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I would be delighted to update the right hon. Gentleman at a future point. We can perhaps go into that further in Committee. If he raises it at that point, we can perhaps take it further from there.

Those were the three points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South. I want to touch on a few more points.

One main point was the concern, expressed by many hon. Members including Mike Amesbury, about the potential for port hopping. The key thing is that the Secretary of State has the power to direct anybody who is trying to abuse the system.

On the civil investigation and the ongoing matters mentioned by the shadow Secretary of State, Louise Haigh relating to P&O, I think we can all agree about Mr Hebblethwaite —the way that he has tret his workers is totally unacceptable. Given the ongoing civil action, it would be inappropriate for the Government to comment at this time. However, after that point I will be happy to comment further.

I want to draw Members’ attention to the broader issue regarding the Government’s nine-point plan. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock made a point about global standards, which was picked up by my hon. Friend Dr Offord. We want to see them leading the world with the highest standards possible.

John McDonnell, my hon. Friends the Members for Thurrock and for Dover, the hon. Member for Easington and my hon. Friend the Member for Witney all mentioned training and quality. They are part of the seafarers’ charter, which we want to see driven further forward.

On rostering, an important point mentioned by the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull East and for Weaver Vale, and my County Durham neighbour the hon. Member for Easington, we have commissioned an independent assessment of rostering and I look forward to its conclusions.

Offshore wind was mentioned by several hon. Members, including Members from Scotland. Under article 2 of the National Minimum Wage (Offshore Employment) Order, on working in connection with the exploration of the sea or subsoil, basically if you are in the UK’s exclusive economic zone, there is a difference between that and the continental shelf. I look forward to further debate on that in Committee. It is a technical area, which is worth us looking at further.

The Bill marks great progress on the Government’s nine-point plan. It is a step forward, delivering a suite of measures to improve seafarers’ protections and welfare. It is not a silver bullet and will not solve every problem, but it will incentivise operators to pay fair wages, particularly for those with the closest ties to the UK, and recognise the pivotal role that they play in the movement of the UK’s goods and services. It will drive best practice.

Beyond the Bill, the UK will continue to be a leading voice on the international stage as the home of the International Maritime Organisation. That proximity will help us to work more closely with counterparts across the seas in driving forward better standards, as we have already seen from the reaction of France, Denmark, Belgium and other continental neighbours. We will continue to make progress on the rest of the nine-point plan and will work with our international partners to ensure a fairer deal for seafarers.

I wish you a merry Christmas, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I shall save my merry Christmases for the rest of the House until tomorrow evening when I reply to the Adjournment debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.