The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Robert Courts)
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. As is often the case when we discuss our wonderful maritime sector, we have had a debate that has been incredibly interesting, inspiring, thought-provoking, amusing, musical, well-informed and above all passionate, and it is an honour to respond to all the hon. and right hon. Members who have made speeches. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) on securing this timely debate. I know this topic is close to his heart; it is to mine too, and I am keen to debate it with other Members today, particularly during Cruise Lines International Association Cruise Week.
As I have got to know the sector, I have been struck by its incredible variety. We have seen this outlined and explained in the speeches today: the majesty of the large cruise ships; the family ships; the small, boutique exploration ships. It is for this reason that the cruise industry is at the heart of the UK’s maritime identity. More than that, we have seen today that it is a part of the human desire to explore. It brings enormous cultural and social benefits to the country and to the people who cruise, but it also brings identity. The phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen, with regards to the ever-changing landscape of Southampton, particularly struck me, as we see what this means to his constituency. The value of the sector to the economy is significant and undeniable. Prior to the pandemic, it supported over 82,000 jobs. CLIA estimates that passengers and crew spent £486 million at ports of embarkation and call in 2017. We have heard from hon. Members of the effect that the industry had.
Unlike the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), I am not going to fall into the trap of debating what is the most important cruise destination or port in the UK. There are all manner of beautiful, interesting and amazing places to visit. I always enjoy listening to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and he did an amazing job in selling his constituency. I am delighted to report that I have been to his constituency and need no persuading of its wonders, but I very much look forward to visiting again as soon as I can. We heard very powerfully from him of the effect that the cruise industry has on Belfast and his constituency.
As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), every cruise passenger who passes through the terminal is an opportunity for coastal communities all over the UK; from Orkney to Thurrock, Manchester to Northern Ireland, Aberdeen to Inverclyde, to Southampton—we have really seen that today. In particular, it provides opportunities that areas that have been disadvantaged can make the most of. I have been struck by some of the comments made today by hon. Members; I am very keen to work together with councils, and with the devolved Administrations, to ensure that every community benefits. As the hon. Member for Strangford says, we are better together, and I am keen to do everything I can to help.
That is why it has been so devastating that the cruise industry has been at a standstill for over a year. I have also seen the very moving and sad sight of the great ships moored offshore; it is a sight that I hope not to see again, but it made an impact on me. The cruise industry was an early victim of the covid-19 pandemic. We all saw the stories of outbreaks on vessels that were splashed across the papers at the beginning of the pandemic. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North pointed out, operators, industry and Government worked very closely together to take action to repatriate over 19,000 UK nationals from vessels around the globe. The UK also facilitated the repatriation of over 13,000 crew members from cruise ships to their home nations, and encouraged other nations to do the same.
The impact of the pandemic on the cruise industry was considerable; we had to find a way forward. My Department brought teams across Whitehall to work together. I emphasise that for a good reason—it really was working together. I pay tribute to the sector; to its stoicism, as was referred to earlier, and to how it put the safety of passengers and crew at the heart of everything it did. I also pay tribute to my team at the Department of Transport, for whom this has been a labour of love. They have worked passionately with the industry to be able restart the sector. That was possible because the industry worked very quickly to produce the comprehensive set of protocols, through the UK Chamber of Shipping, that we have already heard about today. They have been recognised by the International Maritime Organisation as good practice globally. It is a significant achievement for all those involved, and to the industry’s credit that these were produced so quickly, and that they are substantial. Operators submit to an external verification process to achieve hospital-grade infection prevention certification. Indeed, one of the external verification providers that we have heard from as part of the restart process has assured us that in some cases cruise ships have outperformed hospitals. My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North is right to point out the extraordinary facilities that exist on some of these ships—I have seen some of them—because there really are hospitals on board. That is quite incredible.
So we have seen a phased return of cruising. I was delighted to see the first domestic cruise setting sail from Southampton in May. The attitude of the sector—this positive, outward-going, constructive, go-getting attitude—has really been shown by the creation of a new domestic market for cruising. Customer appetite has been phenomenal and I am absolutely delighted that passengers have experienced the beauty of the UK’s coastline—all around the UK, as we have heard today—despite the summer weather that we have had, which has perhaps been suboptimal, to say the least.
The Department for Transport led the global travel taskforce, of course, and as part of that I led a ministerial task and finish group for cruise restart, to oversee the measures put in place and to ensure that we could restart and restaff in a safe way. I thank my colleagues from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for their diligent work, and for working together with me in restarting cruise in a safe way. I cannot say how delighted I was that the first international cruise started again in August from Liverpool, where the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East and I were the other day. That is a real testament to the extraordinary work that has gone into enhancing the resilience of the sector from Government and industry working together.
Nevertheless, I of course recognise that this long suspension of the industry has had a significant financial impact. We heard that most clearly from my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on maritime and ports. She very powerfully explained that the financial impact on the sector has been significant. Again, I pay tribute to the sector’s stoicism. However, the impact has not only been felt on the cruise sector itself but on ports, on the wider supply chains and on local communities, from Southampton to Strangford, and from Manchester through to Thurrock. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) talked about tour guides, which is a very good example of how local small industries really benefit from the cruise industry.
That aspect is particularly important, of course, for my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen. Last week, he and I were both at the unveiling of the fifth cruise terminal at Southampton, the absolutely beautiful new Horizon terminal. It is a state-of-the-art building, equipped with shore power to reduce emissions from cruise ships in port, and it is the result of investment by Associated British Ports with the Government and the Solent local enterprise partnership. That visit was particularly significant for me, because one of the first visits I made after being given this job, within just one or two days, was to Southampton, and almost a year to the day later I revisited the same site and saw that incredible new facility.
Of course, we have heard that there are many other new facilities elsewhere. We have heard from the hon. Members for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) about the investment that is being made in their part of the world, including the £350 million expansion in Aberdeen, which includes space for cruise. That is very welcome.
When we look to the future, such investment encapsulates everything that is best about the sector. It is looking to the future, reaching for new standards and looking for goals that are common across the whole of maritime, as we heard in the debate last week. I saw that for myself when I visited the Iona, which is P&O’s newest and most environmentally friendly ship, in Southampton a couple of months ago. It is an incredibly impressive vessel and really shows how the industry is going the extra mile to make itself more environmentally friendly.
Of course, we have the transport decarbonisation plan. Shore power, as we see at that new fifth cruise terminal in Southampton, is a major part of that, because it reduces emissions, meaning that ships do not have to run their generators in port, which will help communities in areas such as Aberdeen or Southampton, Itchen, and help to ensure a greener and cleaner environment for all. This winter, we will consult on how Government can support wider deployment as we transition to net zero.
Of course, cruise is also a major part of levelling up, which is central to this Government’s agenda, to ensure that we have direct investment from the cruise sector in port towns and cities, creating local jobs and initiatives to improve air quality in those constituencies.