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Jim Fitzpatrick: I am most grateful to hon. Members for their views on this new Commission approach to maritime development policy. We have had some good contributions to the discussion over the past hour or so.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) for his kind words and for the common ground between us. Indeed, there has been common ground between Members from virtually all parts of the House, but then, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) said, that was not going to be difficult given the lack of specifics. However, there was common ground notwithstanding the comments that were made earlier.
The hon. Member for Canterbury raised several key points, the most important of which was about subsidiarity. I can reassure him that there is no shipping organisation in which the individual voices of maritime nations could be more effectively replaced than the European Union. I do not think that that could be clearer.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the tonnage tax, as did the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), and asked for greater clarification. The Government welcomed the European Commissions decision to consult all member states on issues relating to state aid guidelines on maritime transport. We are working with like-minded member states to ensure that that is a meaningful exercise. In the light of the Commissions decision, this is an important opportunity. We have withdrawn our re-notification and will not proceed with the legislation to amend tonnage tax rules, which would have reduced the effectiveness and attractiveness of the tonnage tax, until the Commission has completed its consultation with member states.
The Government are grateful for the fruitful dialogue with the UK shipping industry and will continue this engagement. All sides acknowledge the important role that tonnage tax has played in underpinning the success of the shipping industry and remain committed to the principles that the UK tonnage tax represents.
The new Chairman of the Transport Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), raised the question of EU maritime space without barriers and the security implications. Ostensibly, this is a Customs admin simplification proposal, but more detail will be needed and the Government will look at all the implications of the proposal when it comes forward.
My hon. Friend asked about clusters, which were also mentioned by the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). In England, a number of regional development agencies have already established organisations in their regions to bring together maritime manufacturing interests, such as Marine South West, Marine South East and the Midland Marine Alliance. The Government fully support those initiatives and we look forward to working with the European Commission to ensure that whatever proposals finally emerge will add value to the current arrangements.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) raised the issue of support for fishermen in local communities. The common fisheries policy will remain the key measure for fisheries management decisions across the EU.
That this House takes note of European Union documents No. 14631/07 and Addenda 1-5, Commission Communication, An Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union and No. 14176/07, Commission Staff Working Document on Maritime Clusters; and endorses the Governments approach to these documents.
That the draft Building Societies (Financial Assistance) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 3rd April, be approved. [Ms Diana R. Johnson.]
That the draft Compensation (Claims Management Services) (Amendment) Regulations 2008, which were laid before this House on 22nd April, be approved. [Ms Diana R. Johnson.]
That the draft Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland Consequential Amendments) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 30th April, be approved. [Ms Diana R. Johnson.]
That the draft Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 30th April, be approved. [Ms Diana R. Johnson.]
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): I wish to present a petition on behalf of the residents of Southend concerning the proposed closure of Southend driving test centre. The petition has attracted more than 3,000 signatures since February and was co-ordinated by Southend and District Driving Instructors Association. It reads:
The Petition of the residents of Southend.
Declares that the residents of Southend strongly oppose the closure of Southend Driving Test Centre, which would mean that local residents would have to travel an unreasonable distance to take their driving tests.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons call upon the Secretary of State for Transport to do all within her power to prevent the closure of Southend Driving Test Centre and ensure that a full and transparent public consultation is conducted should a closure be proposed in the future.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I wish to present a petition with the signatures of just over 3,000 people from across the Ceredigion constituency representing 14 rural communities which, in our view, will be adversely affected by the Post Offices network change programme. Those 14 post offices will know their fate shortly, and I hope that the Post Office and the Government will take note of the strength of feeling on this issue. The petition states:
The Humble Petition of the people of Ceredigion
That the closure of Post Offices in Ceredigion would cause considerable hardship for many people living in scattered rural communities, deprive residents of invaluable services, both material and social, would force those people to travel to alternative Post Offices, often several miles or more away, and would leave those without access to a car without an easily accessible Post Office.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges the Government to cancel plans to close Post Offices across Ceredigion
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): I am most grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of the Driving Standard Agencys proposed closure of Southend driving test centre, to which 3,000 people have objected in the petition that I presented to the House a few moments ago. It is a serious subject for all people in Southend who are considering taking their test or have children who are likely to want to take their test in the Southend area.
The proposed closure of a driving test centre is not a new topic in this House. On 21 May, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) held a Westminster Hall debate about the proposed closure of a test centre in his constituency, and on 13 May my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) joined a debate on the closure of a test centre in his area. Those changes relate to an European Union directive coming into effect in September, which will change the content of motorcycle tests across the EU by introducing certain manoeuvres that require off-road testing facilities. I do not intend to dwell on the merits of that, but it is a matter of fact that that has happened. Southend driving test centre is situated on Prittlewell chase, deep within the heart of Southend, and has no space for such a facility. The Driving Standards Agency has therefore proposed that all bike and car test operations be moved to a new so-called multi-purpose test centre in Basildon, some 14 miles away from Southend. That does not sound like a long distance, but in fact it can be a 45-minute to one-hour trip.
My feeling and that of several colleagues is that one size does not fit all, and that the Government are imposing a solution on Southend that does not fit. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) and I have been campaigning against such a move. My hon. Friend has raised this on the Floor of the House and in written questions to the Minister, and I am most grateful for that. My close parliamentary neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) has also raised it in his constituency and in a number of other ways. Although the test centre is situated in the constituency of Rochford and Southend, East, which I have the pleasure to represent, it is very close to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West; in fact, if it were another 100 yd further up the road, it would be in his constituency. Given the additional time that has been created for this important debate, I hope that both of my hon. Friends will be able to catch your eye later on in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker.
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