Seafarers’ Wages Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:52 pm on 20th July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat 4:52 pm, 20th July 2022

My Lords, this is a very important occasion. We have just heard the deeply impressive valedictory speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, whose knowledge of constitutional and legal matters and of the proceedings of this House is unequalled. We have appreciated his forensic thinking and analysis, and the sound advice that he has given to this House over so many years. We thank him for that and we shall miss him.

The Bill is the outcome of the need to address poor employment practices and low pay in the seafaring industry. The nine-point plan that the Minister referred to is a very positive set of proposals and reflects the right approach. The Bill, specifically, is a solution to the very immediate problem of low pay.

In practice, it is quite limited. It is reasonable to ask ship operators to provide the necessary declarations on a periodic basis. This will deter companies from paying less than the national minimum wage to ferry crews when sailing regularly to or from UK ports. Since “regularly” is defined as at least 120 times a year, this seems about right. UK-flagged vessels should not face a disincentive to employ UK-resident seafarers. However, it is the application and occasional enforcement of this legislation that we will need to look at closely in Committee.

Put simply, will it work? I think that it can, if all organisations involved own the objective and take responsibility for actions where they can. There does not need to be a big problem with implementation if it is seen as a shared problem. I understand the concerns of the ports that this regulatory work would be new work for them, and there is a strong case for agreeing that any prosecutions should lie with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Overall, this is about a proportionate balance of roles between the stakeholders, of which there are several: the Secretary of State, with powers to enforce the law and, in particular, to direct a harbour to refuse entry; the Maritime and Coastguard Agency; HMRC; and the harbour authorities themselves. These roles will need to be examined in some depth in Committee, not least the role of the Secretary of State and the powers of direction.

We may need to look at the Bill’s compatibility with international law, but I cannot agree with those already consulted who say that we should await international decision-making or that we should legislate for all nine points at the same time before proceeding with this Bill. I also do not think that it is inappropriate to co-opt harbour authorities into the regulation and enforcement of seafarers’ wages. They may have no experience of doing so, but they have experience of a wide range of health and safety regulations, for example. I accept that there may be difficulties with publishing surcharges in advance, but there may not be many cases of this in reality.

Much of the practical implementation of this Bill will lie in secondary legislation. I hope that the Summer Recess will be used to draft that secondary legislation, so that we have copies of the draft guidance and other general secondary legislation when we return for consideration in Committee. I would be grateful for the Minister’s confirmation that this will be possible and is indeed the plan.