Clause 9 - Refusal of harbour access for failure to pay surcharge

Seafarers’ Wages Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 17 Ionawr 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 2:15, 17 Ionawr 2023

I beg to move amendment 24, in clause 9, page 7, line 19, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment imposes a duty on harbour authorities to refuse access in the circumstances set out in the bill (as opposed to giving them a power to do so).

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Llafur, Dwyrain Abertawe

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 25 to 28.

Amendment 58, in clause 9, page 7, line 32, at end insert—

“(e) where there is need to provide crew with access to urgent medical or welfare facilities or undertake crew repatriation.”

Government amendments 29 and 30.

Amendment 70, in clause 9, page 7, line 32, at end insert—

“(3A) Where a harbour authority may not refuse access to a harbour under subsection (3), it may instead detain a ship providing a service to which this Act applies, provided that the conditions in subsection (1) are met.

(3B) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the detention of a ship under subsection (3A).”

Clause stand part.

New clause 6—Detention of vessels for failure to pay surcharge—

“(1) A ship providing a service to which this Act applies may be detained by a person appointed by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this section if—

(a) a harbour authority has imposed a surcharge on the operator of the service in respect of the entry into its harbour by any ship providing that service, and

(b) the operator has not paid the surcharge in accordance with provision made by or under this Act.

(2) It does not matter for the purposes of subsection (1) whether an objection has been made to the surcharge under section 8.”

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Harris.

As currently drafted, clause 9 allows harbour authorities to refuse access to a harbour if an operator has not paid a surcharge as required in accordance with the Bill. The provision is intended to incentivise payment of surcharges and to make payment a condition of access to UK harbours. There are exceptions where a harbour authority may not refuse access: in cases of force majeure; where there are overriding safety concerns; where there is a need to reduce or minimise the risk of pollution; or where there is a need to rectify deficiencies on the ship.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

The Minister is being very helpful. Will he list the categories that fall under, or explain how he would describe, “force majeure”? He mentioned a couple of categories. Is that an exhaustive list?

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

I will happily provide the Committee with a full list ahead of Report stage. We are talking about serious incidents where life is at risk, but I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with further detail.

The method of communicating refusal of access will be set out in regulations. The clause provides that nothing in section 33 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 prevents refusal of access to a harbour under this section. Access can be refused, irrespective of whether an objection has been made under clause 8. This revision is a key tool in ensuring compliance with the policy intention of the Bill.

The amendment imposes a mandatory duty on harbour authorities to refuse access to a harbour, instead of a discretionary power to do so, as I mentioned earlier with regard to implementing the surcharges. As with those amendments to clauses 3 and 7, the reason for the amendment is to ensure the effective functioning of the Bill so that harbour authorities do not simply wait to be directed by the Secretary of State.

Amendment 28 is consequential on amendment 24 and provides that, in the scenarios listed in subsection (3), a harbour authority must not exercise its power to refuse access. In keeping with the amendments to clauses 3 and 7, amendment 30 provides that if harbour authorities do not comply with their duties under the clause, they will be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale, to be prosecuted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Amendments 25 and 26 seek to clarify the circumstances in which harbour access must be refused by making it clear that access can only be refused once the period for paying the surcharge has expired.

Amendment 29 is consequential on amendment 32, which I will discuss when I come to clause 11. Amendment 29 makes it clear that a harbour authority’s duty to refuse access is subject to any direction given by the Secretary of State under clause 11(2)(a).

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington 2:30, 17 Ionawr 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Harris. In this group, I will speak to amendment 70 in my name and to new clause 6.

The Minister explained the reasoning behind his proposal to refuse access to a harbour. Amendment 70 proposes that the ship should be detained within a port. That is far more in line with international maritime law. The denial of harbour access is a matter of some concern. For harbour authorities or, indeed, the Secretary of State to suspend access is dangerous and likely to be ineffective. I therefore support the detention of non-compliant vessels within a UK harbour. The trade unions, the RMTNational Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—and I believe Nautilus International, also support that view, in order to provide a punishment for non-compliance that is more in line with international maritime regulatory standards governing operators’ behaviours.

I respectfully point out that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s port state control powers, which already exist under the maritime labour convention, are the only mechanism for inspecting crew employment and welfare standards. Every month, foreign flag vessels detained following those inspections are posted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency on the Government’s website. The power that I propose would be a welcome addition to the port state control responsibilities that the MCA discharges for foreign flag vessels working from UK ports.

Only denying access to ports is not a realistic or sustainable punishment, especially as it relies to some extent on vessels not sailing to the UK if they are found to be non-compliant. Amendment 70 and new clause 6, in relation to vessels that fail to pay the surcharge, would be much more effective. There is also the possibility that capacity in another port would be blocked, if a ship were detained outside the port, perhaps in another harbour or even in a different jurisdiction. It is not clear whether the bilateral agreements the Government are negotiating—the Minister referred to them earlier, in particular that with France, but there are also those with Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Denmark and Norway—would take account of that. I would be interested in the Government’s response to that point.

There is a welfare issue. It is outside the scope of this Bill, but there have been occasions where, certainly during the course of the pandemic, a number of vessels were laid up. I do not know if comes under the category of force majeure. Many tens of thousands—even hundreds of thousands—of seafarers were unable to access proper conditions. I know there were issues about the spreading of infection and so on, but putting that to one side, surely in terms of welfare it would make far more sense to detain the vessels within the port, rather than outside.

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

I rise to speak to amendment 58. I am minded to support amendment 70 and new clause 6 in the name of the hon. Member for Easington. Perhaps counterintuitively, I am looking to add another exception to the list that could allow a rogue operator’s ship access to harbour, because I do not want seafarers or workers caught in the middle. As things stand, where an operator has been refused access for not paying the surcharge even when a crew welfare issue has been identified, such as a long overdue change of crew, the Bill would allow harbour authorities to continue blocking access to the operator. That could put the crew in the middle of a tug of war between the harbour authority and the operator.

We do not want a situation where the harbour authority is legally able to prevent access to a port when a ship has genuine need to seek access to ensure the safety and health of its crew. I know that most harbours take their responsibility for crew welfare seriously, but we do not want a situation where rogue operators are able to say, “We would love to take crew welfare seriously, but we couldn’t access the nearest harbour because we didn’t take it seriously in the first place, by paying below the national minimum wage.” There should be no excuses when it comes to employee safety.

Adding crew welfare to the list of exceptions to the harbour authority’s right to refuse access would provide some extra piece of mind for seafarers, and ensure that they have the protections, not the operator. It is the seafarers we are looking to protect. The amendment would clearly not prevent harbours from refusing access where the five conditions do not apply and, on that level, does not seek to water down the options available to hit those who refuse to pay a surcharge.

The Neptune declaration was established during the covid pandemic as it became clear that public health restrictions on access to ports were severely impacting on the capacity for ships to change over. Part of that declaration is a commitment that operators should make all reasonable efforts to accommodate crew changes, including when the vessel has to make a reasonable deviation. That should apply even as we have moved beyond the worst of the pandemic, and our legislation should reflect that declaration, which is why we have tabled the amendment.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Transport)

I rise to signal our support for amendment 70 and new clause 6 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Easington, who spoke well about seafarer welfare.

To give a personal example, over the past 30 years, my wife and I have enjoyed the hospitality, archaeology and beauty of the Orkney Islands. Over those 30 years, we have seen the number of cruise ships docking at Kirkwall go through the roof. There are days when the visitor numbers can double the population of the islands. When I visit the beautiful St Magnus Cathedral in the heart of Kirkwall, I now see—around the back or further up the high street—the welfare lines of mariners waiting for handouts or warm clothes, or going to the post office to send telegrams or money back home to their loved ones. Those lines get longer and longer every year.

I echo the concerns that the power for harbour authorities to suspend access to operators that are not paying crew at least the national minimum wage in UK territorial waters is probably dangerous and ineffective. I would welcome the Minister’s consideration of that. By denying ships access to those harbours, we are denying those crews, who are some of the poorest people in society—they are flown in from all over the world to give us the leisure experience we want on cruises—access to give welfare to those back home. That is less a political and more a humanitarian issue that our ports and harbours increasingly have to deal with.

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

I thank hon. Members and welcome the spirit of amendment 58, which aims to provide urgent welfare facilities when they are needed. The Government believe, however, that those would be covered by clause 9(3), under which crew would be provided with access to urgent medical or welfare facilities or to undertake other emergency measures. We support the intention behind the amendment; in urgent cases concerning safety, a ship should be able to access the harbour under the framework that we have set out. Where an incident was not safety-related or related to the welfare of the crew and was therefore not covered by the force majeure exception, the ship would not be permitted access to the harbour.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Ceidwadwyr, Dover

The concern, and I am pleased to hear the Minister has some sympathy for it, is that we do not want seafarers caught in the middle of the bad behaviour of bosses. I appreciate that the provision to which he draws our attention relates to that, but will he further consider whether that needs to be broader to protect seafarers?

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

Members on both sides of the Committee are raising a similar issue about welfare. As an additional safeguard, the Secretary of State has the power to direct a harbour authority not to comply with its duty to refuse access. That will ensure that access is not denied—this has to be in rare circumstances for the Bill to work—where it would cause damage by disrupting key passenger services and supply chains. There are rare instances in which the Secretary of State has an overriding power, but on the broad swathe of trying to provide welfare, our view is that that is covered already under clause 9(3).

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

Will the Minister tell us what part of clause 9(3) would cover the welfare of seafarers? Clause 9(3)(a) is on force majeure and paragraph (b) is on overriding safety concerns—might it be that one?

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

The Bill states that

“a harbour authority may not refuse access to a harbour—

(a) in cases of force majeure;

(b) where there are overriding safety concerns;

(c) where there is a need to reduce or minimise the risk of pollution;

(d) where there is a need to rectify deficiencies on the ship.”

Both force majeure and overriding safety concerns for the crew, as well as for the ship, would be covered.

Members can be reassured that the list of exceptions directly reflect the circumstances in which access to a port may be provided. Existing legislation— namely regulation 13 of the Merchant Shipping (Port State Control) Regulations 2011, SI 2011 No. 2601— also covers this issue. I therefore think that the area of safety and crew welfare in exceptional circumstances is covered by legislation and the extra powers that are available to the Secretary of State.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Ceidwadwyr, Witney 2:45, 17 Ionawr 2023

Does the Minister think that clause 11(2), which contains the power for the Secretary of State to direct harbour authorities

“to exercise, or not to exercise, any of their powers under this Act” might be relevant here?

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

My hon. Friend is right; that is exactly what I referred to following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dover. We have the provisions under clause 9(3) and those under clause 11 on the directional powers of the Secretary of State. We have a belt-and-braces approach, which is why I do not think Opposition amendment 58 is required.

New clause 6 is also aligned with amendment 70 and is basically about whether ships can be brought in. The Bill provides for a voluntary compliance mechanism whereby the provision of equivalence declarations, and payment of surcharges if a declaration is not provided, are conditions of access to ports. If an operator chooses to neither provide a declaration nor pay a surcharge, it will be refused access.

If that were replaced by a power of detention by the MCA, as new clause 6 seeks to do, that would be a disproportionate and inappropriate mechanism. Detention of ships can carry significant costs to the ports and wider local authorities in relation not only to looking after them, but by blocking berths. For some small harbours, this can also be particularly challenging as it blocks other access to the port. That is not the case if ships are refused access.

I have heard concerns that refusal of access is unworkable as it might result in ships mid-passage being unable to dock. However, we do not expect the Bill to work that way in practice. By virtue of the requirement that harbour authorities request an equivalence declaration only when ships providing a service call at a UK harbour on at least 120 occasions in a year, all services captured are almost certain to be on short routes, and notification of refusal of access would take place before the ship has set sail from the port of origin.

As set out in clause 9, we will set out in regulations how the harbour authority is to communicate refusal of access. Once a harbour authority has imposed surcharges, the operator will be on notice that ships providing the service will be refused access to the harbour once the period for payment of the surcharge expires, if it remains unpaid. There is an additional safeguard regarding the Secretary of State’s powers of guidance in this circumstance.

We are satisfied that the compliance process of surcharges and refusal of access, supported by the enforcement powers of the MCA, is an appropriate and effective mechanism to incentivise payments. I hope that the new clause is withdrawn.

I also say to the hon. Member for Easington that, fundamentally, the business model of these operators is that they can get things in and off the ships. By stopping them getting access to the ports, we would disrupt a business model that, by design, is on a tight turnaround. They will not survive long if they are unable to get those things into ports quickly. This is also about driving compliance with the national minimum wage equivalent for seafarers, which is what we are trying to achieve. I urge the hon. Member not to press the new clause.

Amendment 24 agreed to.

Amendments made: 25, in clause 9, page 7, line 23, leave out “and”.

This is consequential on Amendment 26.

Amendment 26, in clause 9, page 7, line 24, leave out from “with” to end of line 25 and insert—

“regulations under section 7(7)(d), and

(c) the period within which the surcharge must be paid has expired.”

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 24 and is meant to clarify the circumstances in which refusal of harbour access is required.

Amendment 27, in clause 9, page 7, line 27, at end insert—

“(2A) Subsection (1) does not apply in relation to any surcharge imposed under subsection (3)(a) or (4) of section (Imposition of surcharge: failure to provide declaration in time) which would, if paid, be required to be refunded under subsection (5) of that section.”

This amendment is consequential on the new clause to which it refers.

Amendment 28, in clause 9, page 7, line 28, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This is consequential on Amendment 24.

Amendment 29, in clause 9, page 7, line 32, at end insert—

“(3A) The duty under subsection (1) is also subject to any direction given by the Secretary of State under section 11(2)(a).”

This is consequential on Amendment 32.

Amendment 30, in clause 9, page 7, line 32, at end insert—

“(3B) A harbour authority which fails to comply with subsection (1) is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.”—

This is consequential on Amendment 24.

Amendment proposed: 70, in clause 9, page 7, line 32, at end insert—

“(3A) Where a harbour authority may not refuse access to a harbour under subsection (3), it may instead detain a ship providing a service to which this Act applies, provided that the conditions in subsection (1) are met.

(3B) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the detention of a ship under subsection (3A).”—

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Rhif adran 3 Seafarers’ Wages Bill [Lords] — Clause 9 - Refusal of harbour access for failure to pay surcharge

Ie: 6 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 9, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.