Clause 1 - Services to which this Act applies

Seafarers’ Wages Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:25 am ar 17 Ionawr 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 9:25, 17 Ionawr 2023

I beg to move amendment 42, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, leave out “any kind” and insert “every description”.

This amendment would bring the definition of ship into line with that under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 67, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—

‘“place in the United Kingdom” includes energy installations within the UK Exclusive Economic Zone.’

Clause 1 stand part.

Amendment 43, in clause 2, page 1, line 14, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—

‘(a) who is employed or engaged in any capacity on board any ship providing a service to which this Act applies,

(b) whose employment or engagement on board the ship is carried out in relation to the provision of the service, and’.

This amendment would bring the definition of seafarer into line with the definition of “seaman” under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

Clause 2 stand part.

Amendment 48, in clause 4, page 3, line 18, leave out “or its territorial waters” and insert

‘, its territorial waters, or within the Renewable Energy Zone as specified by The Renewable Energy Zone (Designation of Area) Order 2004.’

This amendment would ensure that seafarers engaged in work supporting offshore wind installations are covered by Act.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies, and to lead this worthy but anaemic debate. On that basis, I hope that the Minister will be generous when discussing the amendments before us. The amendments are in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East.

A couple of these amendments are straightforward. Amendment 42 would change the definition of a ship or vessel, and amendment 43 would ensure consistency in the definition of a seaman. The amendments are intended to ensure that the legislation aligns with existing definitions of both “seaman” and “ships” in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. I thank the Law Society of Scotland for highlighting these issues.

Having differing definitions in law between the Bill and existing legislation for no apparent good reason—although we will hear what the Minister says—does not seem to be a particularly efficient route to go down. After all, the workers that the Bill is intended to cover are already seamen under current definitions and, on the face of it, the Bill does not aim to change that.

Similarly, if there is already a legal definition of a ship in statute, it seems useful to maintain that definition here. Indeed, when the Bill was in the House of Lords, Baroness Vere made a similar point in relation to the definition of a harbour, pointing to the existence of the Harbours Act 1964. Therefore there should be no reason why a similar principle cannot apply in this case. If there are good reasons why a new definition specifically relating to the provisions in the Bill is needed, I will be happy to hear it, but logic would suggest that using the existing definitions would be far simpler.

Amendments 67 and 48 are designed to deal with the fact that workers operating in the renewables industry, which will be increasing exponentially in the coming years, are currently excluded from the Bill. There are two methods of dealing with that under the amendments. They relate to the UK exclusive economic zone and to the renewable energy zone. The exclusive economic zone almost entirely matches the renewable energy zone, save for an area just under 200 miles north-west of Cape Wrath and more than 100 miles north of North Rona. Because our proposal is aimed particularly at protecting those seafarers engaged in work supporting renewables installations in UK waters, it seemed more appropriate to try to use the renewable energy zone rather than the EEZ, but we have given both a try. If the Minister wants to accept either, I will be perfectly happy with whichever one he chooses.

At the moment, the Bill’s extent is limited to the UK and its territorial waters—that is, the 12 nautical mile limit. That excludes the EEZ and REZ, which go to 200 miles. Our proposal would simply ensure that ships and seafarers engaged in work to support renewables installations were not inadvertently omitted from enjoying legislative protection simply because those zones are not listed in the Bill while territorial waters are referred to.

I note that the Minister in the Lords, Baroness Vere, had to correct the record after incorrectly stating that these workers were already covered by national minimum wage legislation. Workers in the oil and gas industries are entitled to national minimum wage protection. It would be ludicrous if their colleagues doing the same difficult and dangerous job, but supporting renewable industries, were denied the right to protections and to national minimum wage equivalence. This is, on the face of it, a fairly minor proposal. However, it would help to protect thousands of workers—a number that we hope will grow hugely over coming years—and would ensure that renewables were not just better for the planet but better for our workers.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

Would it be convenient to discuss amendment 67 at this point, Mr Davies?

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

Thank you, Mr Davies. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

I welcome the fact that the Government have introduced some measures to address the appalling injustice experienced by the P&O seafarers, 800 of whom were summarily sacked by Zoom on 17 March in the most appalling fashion. However, I cannot help reflecting on the fact that this is something of a missed opportunity. I understand that the terms of the Bill are, by their very nature, narrow. Nevertheless, it is complicated legislation and it does throw up a number of anomalies, which I hope the Government will recognise and address during Committee or perhaps at Third Reading. Given the overall situation that we face with the reduction in the number of UK-based seafarers, this is a golden opportunity.

Two former Shipping Ministers are members of the Committee. With the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, we have had previously a discussion about the opportunities, given the huge public investment in offshore wind and offshore renewables more generally as part of the zero-carbon strategy, to provide employment opportunities, particularly in coastal towns such as mine. Sadly, that opportunity has been missed.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

As the hon. Gentleman has cited me, I ought to be driven to action, so let me say this. He will remember that, as Minister, I commissioned the “Maritime Growth Study”, and part of that study was a consideration of exactly the matters that he is describing. We need to recruit, to skill and to retain more UK seafarers. That is something that, frankly, most Governments, of all persuasions, have neglected over a long time, so the problem is deeply rooted. We have allowed the erosion of our merchant navy for a considerable time, so I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said. Skills matter, people matter, and jobs matter.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I agree with his comments. My wish, and indeed that of the maritime trade unions—RMT and Nautilus International—is that the seafarers’ charter and the Government’s nine-point plan embodied in the maritime 2050 strategy be placed on the face of the Bill. That would address many of their concerns, which were echoed by the right hon. Gentleman.

I respectfully point out that the noble Lord Hendy raised the issue of the lack of minimum wage protection for crew working in the offshore wind and offshore renewable energy supply chain beyond the limits of the UK’s territorial waters. At present, crews working on servicing offshore oil and gas across the UK continental shelf are entitled to protection under the national minimum wage legislation that this Bill relates to. However, crew who sometimes work on the same ships but service the offshore wind turbines in the UK exclusive economic zone are not entitled to that protection. That would seem unfair to any impartial observer and is leading to serious cases of exploitation. It is a glaring anomaly that the Bill should address.

We also have the exclusion of UK seafarers from the growing labour market, which is directly linked to the UK economy. These jobs would not exist but for a huge investment from the UK Government and the UK taxpayer. It is quite a travesty that we are not providing the protections that would ensure those jobs go to UK-based seafarers. I would like that to be addressed. That is the purpose of amendment 67.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. We hope to work co-operatively with the Government. The common good dictates that workers should be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace, and at the least they should be paid the national minimum wage, but as the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North pointed out, international maritime law is incredibly complicated legislation when it comes to looking at economic terms and the definition of ships. Renewables hold a very positive future for the United Kingdom. We need to ensure that this sector comes within scope of the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington suggested.

Labour has tabled multiple amendments, along with other colleagues on the Opposition Benches, to extend the definition of to whom the Bill applies. The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings in his often-erudite way points it out: this is about making Britain a greater maritime nation. That depends on the jobs on offer and the skills we train our maritime workers with. We must ensure British workers can get those jobs on our coastal waters and that when they do they are fairly paid, with at least the national minimum wage.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Llafur, Kingston upon Hull East

I do not want to detain the Committee for long, but I want to speak briefly to this issue. The rapidly falling number of British ratings in the maritime industry is a crying shame, and the former Minister, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, is right: all Governments of all political persuasions have failed to address that issue. They have addressed officers, to an extent, but they have not anywhere near sufficiently addressed ratings.

The Bill could be dramatically improved were the Government to agree to include energy installations. That area is growing exponentially. The Bill is a golden opportunity to recruit, train and encourage kids in schools in my constituency who live in the shadow of the docks, looking over at those vessels going out to sea and wondering whether they could possibly dream of having a job in that industry.

I commend the Government on bringing forward this legislation in good time. The former Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, and the former Minister, the hon. Member for Witney, must have worked incredibly hard to put together this complex legislation—this area is particularly complex. However, we could go further and do better, and I call on the Government to think carefully about including energy installations in the Bill.

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Davies, and I thank all right hon. and hon. Members present for taking part. It was particularly gracious of the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, and indeed the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East, to note the complexities around international maritime law relating to this piece of legislation. I will address some of those points a little bit further when I address some of the amendments later on.

Broadly, the Bill will play an important role in improving seafarers’ welfare and working conditions, and I am pleased that, today, we are taking another step towards it becoming law. There is broad support for the Bill, and I hope that during the course of our discussion, I will be able to address colleagues’ concerns and questions relating to the amendments. I have tabled several broader amendments in my own name: while they may appear great in number, the majority of them—as Members will see when we go through them—are consequential on a small number of changes to the Bill that will improve the functioning of the legislation.

To address hon. Members’ concerns, following on from our continued stakeholder engagement, particularly as we develop our secondary legislation, we have identified some areas of the Bill that would benefit from the improvements made by our amendments. As hon. Members have said, the Bill was introduced at pace to respond quickly to P&O’s disgraceful treatment of its seafarers. It is right that we continue to listen to stakeholders and examine how the Bill will function, and I make no apology for taking every opportunity to ensure the right outcome for seafarers.

Clause 1 sets out the services to which the Bill will apply, namely services for the carriage of persons or goods by ship, with or without vehicles, between a place outside the United Kingdom and a place in the United Kingdom. In other words, the Bill applies to international services, as the majority of seafarers on domestic services between places within the UK will be entitled to the UK minimum wage under existing legislation.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

I recognise that this is a complex piece of legislation and that trying to understand its finer points is quite testing, but could I seek a point of clarification in relation to apprentices? As I am sure the Minister will recall, when Peter Hebblethwaite, the chief executive of P&O Ferries, dismissed those 800 seafarers, he also dismissed the apprentices. Will the Minister indicate whether the wage bands in the UK national minimum wage, to which clause 2 refers, will apply to apprentices as well as the hundreds of directly employed seafarers? The apprentice wage is £4.81 per hour, which does not seem like a princely sum to me.

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

I thank the hon. Member for raising that point. The banding is an issue that we will address fully through the UK national minimum wage equivalence in the regulations that will come forward at a later stage. We intend for it to mirror the national minimum wage in the UK, and will set that out through secondary legislation. There are exemptions for services provided by fishing vessels and services for the purpose of leisure or recreation, in line with other maritime employment legislation and to account for the different remuneration practices in those areas.

Turning first to amendment 42, in the name of the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, I appreciate the intention to bring the definition of ship into line with the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. However, changing the definition of “ship” in the Bill from

“any kind of vessel used in navigation” to “every description” of vessel used in navigation is unnecessary. That is because the drafting in the Bill simply reflects more modern wording, but it has the same legal effect. I am sure colleagues expected the amendment to create a material change. We do not believe that it will. I hope that colleagues are reassured by this and that the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North will withdraw the amendment on that basis.

Amendment 67 seeks to define energy installations within the UK exclusive economic zone under the term

“place in the United Kingdom”.

Although the UK has certain sovereign rights and associated jurisdiction within the EEZ, it is not UK territory and to describe it as a place within the UK could be seen as the UK expanding its territorial reach. As the Bill is currently drafted, services between a port in the UK and an installation in the EEZ would be in scope of the Bill if they called at a UK port regularly, meaning at least 120 times. If this amendment were accepted, those services would no longer be in scope. Perversely, it would bring services calling from a place outside the UK to such installations into scope, and those seafarers cannot be said to have close ties to the UK, so we do not consider it appropriate for the Bill to apply to them.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington 9:45, 17 Ionawr 2023

I do not mean to be picky, but can I just point out a contradiction? The scope of the Bill covers seafarers who are working on the continental shelf on oil and gas installations and the servicing of those, but not seafarers who are in the offshore wind turbine energy sector or those working on the continental shelf. It seems a contradiction to leave out that whole section of seafarers.

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

I thank the hon. Member for his point. Everybody will be covered if on a boat that moves to and from those platforms at least 120 times a year, but the expansion of the UK’s exclusive economic zone to cover that area would bring, as other hon. Members have said, particular complexity regarding international maritime law. I will come to that when we address the amendments to clause 2.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I hear what the Minister is saying—that workers will be covered under the Bill if they visit a harbour 120 times or more per year—but that might not be the case for some. Clearly, the hon. Member for Easington and I are not going to get what we desire in this Committee this morning. Would the Minister commit to the Department for Transport looking at this issue six months after the passage of the Bill to see who is actually being covered by the legislation?

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

I will happily write to the hon. Gentleman before Report with any further details.

For the reasons I have set out, we cannot accept amendment 67, but I do understand the concern about the national minimum wage entitlement for workers on energy platforms in the EEZ. Offshore wind farms and the renewables sector are critical to meeting our net zero target. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy regularly reviews the national minimum wage legislation to ensure that it is fit for the current workforce and businesses. We hope that this national minimum wage equivalence legislation will also reflect those changes over time as well.

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Ceidwadwyr, Ynys Môn

I thank the Minister for bringing forward this important Bill. We in Ynys Môn, like others across the UK, were very shocked by the actions of P&O in Q1 last year. Holyhead is the second busiest ro-ro port in the UK, and Stena is one of the island’s largest employers. It is working with the Isle of Anglesey County Council on its freeport bid.

I wanted to sit on this Bill Committee because Anglesey is known as energy island. We have a significant amount of renewable energy. We have Morlais and Minesto, as well as BP Mona and BP Morgan looking at offshore wind. The Bill is focused on improving protections and welfare for seafarers, which is important in these challenging times, and is particularly important for Anglesey, which certainly needs investment in apprenticeships and skills. In terms of this amendment, will the Minister confirm that those who are looking to invest in the renewable sector and in ports can be reassured?

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

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention—[Interruption.] I did not quite catch what the hon. Member for Glasgow East was saying from a sedentary position. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn raises some important points. I know she has been a massive campaigner, whether on that nuclear power station in her patch or, as she has raised more specifically today, on the issues around the freeport and the port of Holyhead, which is crucial for our work across the Irish sea. I can confirm to her that the sector is incredibly important, and we recognise how important such jobs are for her community and for coastal communities around the country. That is one of the reasons we are bringing forward this legislation today.

Clause 2 sets out what is meant by a non-qualifying seafarer. This is a person who

“(a) works on a ship providing a service to which this Act applies”— as defined in clause 1—

“(b) whose work on the ship is carried out in relation to the provision of the service, and

(c) who fails to qualify for the national minimum wage in respect of that work merely because, for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, the person does not work, or does not ordinarily work, in the United Kingdom.”

Paragraph (c) clarifies why they are referred to as “non-qualifying”—they do not meet the criteria—and that is why they need the protection that this Bill provides.

I appreciate that the intention of amendment 43 is to bring the definition of seafarer into line with the definition of “seaman” under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, as is the intention of the amendments to clause 1 in the name of the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North. However, it is vital that we maintain consistency with the terms used in other employment legislation, such as the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and the National Minimum Wage Regulations 2015. That is where the terminology in the Bill comes from.

There is a risk of incorrect interpretation if we were to accept the amendment, as it may lead to the Bill being interpreted differently from other employment legislation, which is not our intention. Therefore, we need to retain the word “work” in this Bill, rather than moving to “employed or engaged”, as the amendment seeks. There are lots of different connotations of the word “employed” in particular. I hope the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North can see from what the Government are proposing that we do intend to cover all the issues he raises.

Amendment 48 seeks to extend the application of the Bill to the exclusive economic zone. Although we hope that appropriate wage rates will extend beyond our waters—indeed, we are having international conversations with partners, particularly those around the North sea, to try to ensure that—this Bill has been carefully calibrated after thorough consultation to focus on work undertaken close to the UK as part of ensuring that the Bill does not interfere with rights and obligations under international law, in particular the United Nations convention on the law of the sea. However, as discussed on amendment 67, seafarers on services from UK ports to offshore wind installations in the EEZ would be covered by the Bill for the portion of their journey that takes place in UK territorial waters, provided that the service calls at a UK port 120 times a year.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response. I hear what he is saying on the definitions. The amendments on the definition of vessel and seafarer were intended as probing amendments to ascertain why there was a difference. We will keep an eye on any potential unintended consequences, but I will withdraw the amendment. I am disappointed by what the Minister said about those in the offshore renewable industry. I hear what he said: he thinks that they will be covered. He has promised to write to me before Report; if the issue is not dealt with satisfactorily, we may well revisit it on Report. However, on the basis of his answers and his promise, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.