Thursday, December 7, 2023

Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price praises port news in House of Commons

THURROCK MP Jackie Doyle-Price rose on the floor of the House of Commons in the following debate:

Ms Doyle-Price said: It is good to see you in your place, Sir George. I will endeavour to meet your time limit, although as hon. Members know I can talk about the maritime sector till the cows come home.

I would very much like to associate myself with the remarks made by Mr Jones, who has set out as good an exposition as any of why we need to prioritise shipbuilding and the maritime sector. I agree that we often do not celebrate the sector enough. It is very telling that, through the horrendous couple of years of the pandemic, the supermarket shelves stayed full. That is because our maritime sector kept going. I suspect that it is only when things start to go wrong that people start to realise its importance. In that respect, we had something of a stay of execution when there was a slight difficulty in the Suez canal; I do feel that we are perhaps still yet to see the out-turn of the difficulties created by that.

It is great pleasure to contribute to this debate as chairman of the all-party parliamentary maritime and ports group and during London International Shipping Week. We have had a lot to celebrate in the ports sector this week: only yesterday, we heard confirmation from DP World that it is investing a further £400 million in a new berth at London Gateway, and Forth Ports are due to invest a further £1.2 billion in new port facilities at Tilbury3, following hot on the heels of Tilbury2, which I can tell the House took just under a year between planning permission and the ships arriving. That shows how dynamic the sector is. If only our public sector procurement could deliver things as quickly.

That success is very rarely celebrated. I know that I am preaching to the converted when I address all this to the Minister, who has taken on the brief with characteristic ambition and gusto; he is much respected in the sector, and we hope he continues to do the job for quite some time. Could I just ask him to switch his phone off, perhaps?

The right hon. Member for North Durham referred to the fact that maritime is seen as a smokestack industry. When it comes to how public policy makers see the sector, I could agree with him more. They generally do not see it as part of the future, yet it is an intrinsic part of our present. We cannot talk about global Britain or the importance of trade if we do not actually value the means by which we secure that trade. We really do need to make sure that we champion the sector more.

I lose the will to live when I have meetings with public policy makers in my constituency, which is, as I often call it, the port capital of the UK. It is the fastest growing port in the country, yet I still have to tell them that the ports are our future and ask why they are wasting time prattling on about spending money on creative industries, which frankly are never going to contribute as much to the wealth of this country as the maritime sector does.

As Great Britain, it is part of our DNA that we are a maritime nation, but sometimes we say these things and then realise there is not very much to back them up at all. My hon. Friend Peter Aldous put it very well when he talked about how the sector touches on various Departments, because one of the tragedies in how we get things wrong in government and policy making is that so many of these things are siloed. We plonk maritime in the Department for Transport, which has to deal with providing infrastructure for how we get around the country, but maritime is at the heart of how our economy functions in an international way, as well as of employment. We need to get better at making sure that we deal with all those things.

I will make just a couple of final points. First, I totally endorse what Mr Carmichael said about seafarers. I also say gently to the Government that we are very good at lecturing other countries around the world about poor working conditions, but we look the other way when they exist in our sphere of influence; there are many complex reasons why that might be the case, but we must value seafaring and make sure it is adequately compensated. I give my personal thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister for finally getting the cruise sector moving, a sector that has obviously been hit very badly during the pandemic.

I have one final ask before I sit down. I endorse the comments made by the right hon. Member for North Durham about the need to foster investment in new technologies, particularly if net zero is going to mean anything, so I particularly encourage the Minister to look at Windship Technology, which I am hugely excited about. I think it could offer such a big future to this industry, but that technology and innovation is in every danger of going elsewhere if we do not do our bit to support it. I could go on for much longer, but I will sit down now.


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