Seafarers’ Wages Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:21 pm on 20th July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 5:21 pm, 20th July 2022

My Lords, I will speak briefly in the gap. I declare an interest as honorary president of the United Kingdom Maritime Pilots’ Association and a former harbour commissioner of the port of Fowey in Cornwall.

I am a young boy here compared with the noble and learned Lord, but we had something in common about 15 years ago when there was a problem with lighthouses around the UK. Ships going into UK ports fund those lighthouses and we found that ships going into UK ports were also funding the Irish lights, nearly 100 years after independence. It took a great deal of effort from Ministers of both parties to get the Irish to accept that they should fund their own lighthouses from the revenue from ships going into Irish ports. Of course, lifeboats are a completely different matter, but it was a useful bit of work done by the lighthouse authorities.

I certainly support this Bill. A briefing came to me from the RMT, which calculated that P&O’s labour costs had been reduced by 30% as a result of what it did. That does not bode well for the poor people who used to work for it. Worse still, it could set a precedent for other competing ferries to do the same thing. It is all to do with the changes brought by Brexit, but we are where we are. I have a few questions, which I am sure will come up again in Committee, but I welcome the Bill, which is a good start.

On this business of 120 days, with the ferries that go to Spain from the UK, it is probably not the same ship all the way through the year—sometimes they go only in summer. Can the Minister say how their visits would be counted and qualified?

There are also the freight ships that go across—most are ro-ro, but not all—between the UK and the near continent, although I see that freight is included, which is really good. However, why are cruise ships left out? Some cruise ships just go around the UK, probably because of the Covid regulations of the last few years. Surely, the people who work on them deserve the same protection as those who operate the ferries, at whom this Bill is directed. Also, what about the deep sea ships, the deep sea containers and bulk carriers—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, reminded us, we talked about the other day?

They all have people working on them who, surely, if they are operating in UK waters, deserve the same protections. If people start saying that ship owners cannot afford to pay their crews decent wages, noble Lords might like to refer to an article in the Sunday Times last week which showed that the shipping industry made a net profit of £188 billion last year—so they can probably afford to pay their seafarers a decent wage and let them see some of the benefit.

There is also the question of the offshore oil sector and the boats that support it. So there are many questions there. I am not going to go on because I think I have reached my time limit, but I give notice that I shall have a number of amendments to put down in Committee. I think we need to talk in particular about the role of the ports, as several noble Lords have said.