Clause 75 - Professional staff on duty

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 27th February 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendment moved [this day]: No. 85, in

clause 75, page 31, line 7, after 'to', insert

'any person employed in any capacity aboard a vessel, including'.—[Miss McIntosh.]

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 2:30 pm, 27th February 2003

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing amendment No. 76, in

clause 75, page 31, line 10, at end insert—

'(d) a person whose primary and main function is the command of a vessel carrying passengers for a fee.'.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Welcome back to the Committee, Mr. Hood.

When we finished this morning, I was referring to comments made by the Secretary of State on Second Reading. He said:

''Off-duty professional mariners are included as well if they are on the vessel and they might be needed in an emergency to protect passenger safety.''—[Official Report, 28 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 773.]

The Committee will note that we have not at this stage sought to clarify that remark through a probing amendment, subject to what the Minister has to say. I think I enjoy a warm relationship with the Under-Secretary—

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister will benefit from any assistance that our relationship may bring.

I have only a summary analysis of comments made on the consultation paper. I am sure that the Committee would expect any Minister to meet with industry representatives regularly in preparing for the Bill. I meet with representatives of the National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers fairly regularly. So it came as some surprise to me to learn that the Secretary of State met them last September and it is almost a year since the Under-Secretary last met them.

Several kind invitations have been extended to meet the executive council of the Chamber of Shipping. Unfortunately, those appear not to have been convenient, and I record our disappointment that the clause appears to have been drafted against that backdrop. Perhaps the Minister of State can come to the Under-Secretary's assistance. Had there been more regular meetings, we might not have needed the clarification that we seek with the amendments.

We should pause to ask how the Government propose to define a professional seaman on a ship while on duty. The Secretary of State said that the

alcohol testing provisions would apply to those who might be needed in an emergency to protect passenger safety. In the spirit of helpfulness and co-operation, perhaps the Minister has come up with some easy formula about a first on duty, a second on duty of those who find themselves on a ship and who may need to be called upon in an emergency. I hope that the Minister will find that our definitions are helpful. The addition of the words

''any person employed in any capacity aboard a vessel, including''

before the words

''a professional master of a ship, a professional pilot of a ship, and a professional seaman in a ship while on duty''

will clarify the definition. I also hope that the definition of

''a person whose primary and main function is the command of a vessel carrying passengers for a fee''

will differentiate between professional and non-professional members of staff.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I have a few queries, which I am sure that the Minister will be able to clarify, apart from those put forward by my hon. Friend. Presumably, ''professional'' means somebody who is paid. Does it mean somebody with qualifications or does it cover anybody? I must say to my hon. Friend that although our probing amendment serves a useful purpose, I am concerned that if we were to press it to a vote, in which we were successful through the strength of our arguments—[Interruption.]—the definition of any person employed in any capacity aboard a vessel might be too wide-ranging. If one considers a cruise ship, for example, there might be lecturers or entertainments officers. [Interruption.]

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Order. The Chairman is having difficulty listening to the hon. Gentleman because hon. Members are chattering.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

Thank you, Mr. Hood.

We want to ascertain exactly whom the definition would encompass. Although no one would recommend that anybody on board a ship should be the worse for wear, we may be talking about people whose positions do not involve safety. We should wait to hear what the Minister has to say, but I should like clarification whether the key issue is being paid or having qualifications.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

It is some time since I was an Opposition Whip, and I am surprised to hear the Opposition Whip speaking today—times have changed since I was a lad. Given the short numbers of Conservative Members, I suppose that necessity has driven that process.

In spite of that change in the role of Whips, I was pleased to hear the intervention by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) because it was the proper voice of conservatism. I found it strange to hear the Conservative Opposition trying to be more restrictive than is required by the circumstances. It is obviously right, and not only because of public inquiries, that people who are critical to safety should be able to give their best performance at the appropriate time, but I find it strange that a Conservative Opposition should

press us to be more restrictive than is necessary. I am not sure whether that is another side of the emerging split inside the Conservative party, but I am sure that that point will be clarified.

I do not understand why the comedian on board a cruise ship should be denied more than a couple of drinks while he is not entertaining the assembled company. It is important that those people who have a job to do—their position is defined in the legislation—and who are critical to safety fully understand that, either from the point of view of their fellow crew members or if they are off-duty but have a safety role to play in the event of an incident. I find it strange that other crew members might be put into that position.

On commercial ships, particularly on long voyages, the ship constitutes home for its crew. In modern shipping, the ship often stays in port for a short period, then moves off. It would be excessively onerous and an unreasonable burden on the crew if the prescribed alcohol limits were applied to all crew members at all times while a vessel is at sea. It is right when they are on duty. ''On duty'' begins when someone is at the beginning of a watch or a roster.

That is why we deliberately distinguish between professionals who are or should be considered to be on duty and those who are not. That is clear in the legislation. It is a common-sense, practical approach that was well put by the hon. Member for Uxbridge.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

The Minister makes a powerful case for the categorisation that has been selected and included. He specifically referred to the crucial importance of the safety-critical nature of the jobs involved. I wonder whether the Department has considered other safety-critical posts that may not be on board ship. I wonder, for example, whether the Government have considered harbourmasters. If not, why have they rejected the inclusion of harbourmasters?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I await clarification on that. Subject to that clarification, if a harbourmaster is on a ship, he will be a potential master of the ship. He would also be acting in the role of crew—

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Ah! It would depend whether someone was on duty. The crucial issue is whether someone would be liable to be engaged on duty. This is exactly the right procedure to adopt: to consider where a role is and is not safety-critical. We hope we have defined that issue. We are certain that the amendment does not cover it adequately.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I understand what the Minister says. However, the heading of this clause relates to shipping and is about the protection of passengers and so on. Clearly a number of people other than those on board at any one time will nevertheless, while off the ship, have posts that are critical to the safety of shipping. I gave the example of harbourmasters, who would not be on the ship but would have specific responsibility for ships entering a particular harbour or port. I could have given the example of staff on duty in lighthouses.

I am merely asking why a number of other categories of persons who have responsibility in respect of shipping are not included in the legislation.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport) 2:45 pm, 27th February 2003

Quite simply, they will be covered by health and safety or ports legislation where relevant. This provision deals with ships and the transport side. If for any reason they were involved or engaged in any form of navigation, they would be covered by the Bill. Those who are land-side will be covered by the appropriate ports or health and safety legislation.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am taken by the example given by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) because, in certain cases, particularly ''in an emergency''—the precise words used by the Secretary of State on Second Reading on 28 January, I would have thought that the harbourmaster could be deemed to have a safety-critical role. In a new piece of legislation it would make sense for those matters to be codified in one piece of legislation. That would help both the Committee, and those who will work with the legislation.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

The hon. Lady will be aware that existing legislation covering those working on board ship already addresses the issue of their not being under the influence of alcohol and drugs. The Bill adds prescribed alcohol limits to that legislation.

There is one point that I hoped that the Minister might have addressed; the hon. Lady may also like to comment on it. The Minister is right that legislation already covers harbourmasters and those who operate lighthouses, but I do not believe that prescribed alcohol limits have been added to it. Since we are discussing that matter in the Bill, there could be an opportunity also to update those other pieces of legislation.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman and I are as one on the issue. We are specifically addressing the question of alcohol and any excess of alcohol in those who are charged with the safe operation of a ship or the safe passage of a ship. I do not know whether the Minister's lack of response to the points raised by the hon. Member for Bath was wilful or accidental, but there is still time for him to respond.

I should like explore further the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge about whether a professional mariner should be identified by someone who has qualifications to sail. It could also be said that a professional mariner is a person employed or engaged in any capacity aboard a vessel, whereas a non-professional mariner—presumably a recreational mariner—would be an individual driving a vessel used for sport or leisure purposes. I should like to elicit from the Minister the difference in emphasis between a professional member of staff and a non-professional. It is a little silly of the Minister to say that we are looking to extend the provisions of this clause to a comedian or a lecturer on board a ship. We want to identify those who fall under the Bill and whose responsibilities and duties may be impaired through drink or drugs. Most of us would accept that a comedian's responsibilities and duties will be enhanced by the intake of alcohol, but I hope that none of us would expect a comedian or a lecturer

on board a ship to undertake any safety-critical functions.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

I tend to agree with my hon. Friend that entertainers cannot possibly be regarded as professional seamen, but presumably the contract under which they were employed would reflect that. I imagine that such a contract would differ substantially from that of a professional seaman.

The crux of the matter is, however, the definition of a professional seaman. Would the hon. Lady agree with me that a steward, for example, should be included in that definition? I was, briefly, a steward in the Merchant Navy, and I would have regarded myself as being a professional seaman, because in an emergency I would have been required to steward passengers to lifeboats. Does the hon. Lady agree that we need more clarification?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I think that the Committee will benefit from the experience that he has brought to bear in that regard. That is the reason why we tabled the amendment; it would make the definition more precise. If the Minister is not minded to accommodate the amendment now, we shall return to it at a later stage. We offered assistance with the proposal that a professional person is someone carrying passengers for a fee. We did not hear whether it was fruitful.

The bad news for the Under-Secretary is that the Minister chose not to come to his defence about the serious allegation that he has not met the august body NUMAST, its members, or its executive council for nigh on a year. The Bill was drafted during that period, in a not fully comprehensive and satisfactory form.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I hope that the hon. Lady will dwell at more length on the point made by her hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison), who said that his job while on board ship might have included taking action for passenger safety in the event of an accident. The hon. Lady will be well aware that the recommendations of the Hayes report on the proposal, which she will have read in great detail, specifically referred to that issue and talked about any member of the crew, including bar and catering staff, being called to assist in an emergency.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am most grateful for the hon. Gentleman's assistance, but his remarks did not hit the target, which was to persuade the Government to elucidate on the measure. We were told on Second Reading that off-duty professional mariners will be included if they are on the vessel, as stewards most surely are. They may be needed in an emergency to ensure passenger safety.

It may help the Committee to know that I take pride in the fact that I served very briefly—six days—as a lieutenant commander on HMS Cumberland in the Gulf.

I understood that the role of a steward in the Merchant Navy was similar to that of a guard on a train: in the event of an accident or a disaster, the

guard on a train or the steward on a ship, is called upon to attend to the passengers.

I hope that the Minister will see the logic of the amendments in seeking to differentiate between ''professional'' in clause 75 and ''non-professional'' in clause 77. A comedian and a lecturer clearly fall within clause 77, although that is subject to the debate on that, which I do not want to pre-empt. Opposition Members, including the Liberal Democrats, agree that the Hayes report and the recommendations of Justice Clarke and the words of the Secretary of State on Second Reading all point to the clause being defective. In the most helpful way, we seek to assist the Government in that regard. We will not press the amendment to a Division as we shall return to the matter on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment No. 48, in

clause 75, page 31, line 19, leave out 'fishing vessel' and insert 'ship'.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 49, in

clause 76, page 31, line 36, at end add—

'(5) Where a person is charged with an offence under this section in respect of the effect of a drug on his ability to carry out duties on a ship, it is a defence for him to show that—

(a) he took the drug for a medicinal purpose on, and in accordance with, medical advice, or

(b) he took the drug for a medical purpose and had no reason to believe that it would impair his ability to carry out his duties.'.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Clause 75 includes the defence for a person on a fishing vessel that

''he took the drug for medical purposes on, and in accordance with, medical advice, and . . . had no reason to believe that it would impair his ability to carry out his duties.''

We believe that that defence should be available regardless of the type of vessel. The amendment is intended to probe why a fishing vessel has been singled out and whether the Government intend that the defence will still stand. I do not think that that is a natural shadow of what is happening in the sporting world, but do the Government intend the defence to pertain to other vessels?

Amendment No. 49 is consequential and self-evident. It would clarify the situation, on which we felt that the Bill was unnecessarily silent. It raises the question of what type of drug and alcohol testing will be used. Will the Minister share with us the Government's conclusions about the most efficient way of testing? He will be aware that a large debate is taking place in all transport sectors about whether urine or blood testing is the most efficient. A sample of oral fluid—saliva for example—collected on a swab cannot be divided into two so that the donor can challenge the result by having the stored half reanalysed. What method have the Government deemed the most efficient in drug and alcohol testing?

By way of probing amendments, we seek first some justification for why a fishing vessel is specifically referred to. Does that mean that a fishing vessel is not deemed to be a vessel for the purposes for the other

subsections of clause 75? Secondly, we want confirmation that the traditional defence will still stand, which is set out in amendment No. 49.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Section 117 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 is repealed by schedule 7 of the Bill. That section currently makes it an offence for a seaman employed or engaged in a United Kingdom fishing vessel to be under the influence of drink or drugs while on board the vessel if his capacity to fulfil his responsibility to the vessel or carry out the duties of his employment or engagement is impaired. The section allows fishermen a defence if they have taken a drug for medicinal purposes. We want them to keep the defence, and clause 75(5) preserves the existing situation without adding to it. The amendments would extend the medicinal defence to on-duty professional mariners as a whole, which we view as unnecessary.

Commercial vessels whose time at sea is comparable to that of deep sea fishing vessels are likely to have larger crews. That would enable another crew member to take over the duties of anyone affected by a medicinal drug. Commercial vessels with smaller crews are likely to be operated on shorter voyages. In those circumstances, crew members who are unwell but still working should be able to wait until going ashore before taking medication that they know will impair their performance. Not doing so would risk not only their own health, but the safety of the vessel. In that light, I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:00 pm, 27th February 2003

I am not certain that I heard the Minister correctly. Did he say that someone should wait before going ashore if they had reason to believe that it would impair their ability to do their job? Let us deal with fishing vessels first and move on to others later. The key point is what happens if someone does not realise that his ability will be impaired? The defence would be that the person taking the drug for medicinal purposes might not have been aware of any effect. Some medicines state, ''Caution, may cause drowsiness: do not drive or use machinery''. The person taking such a drug would have to prove that they did not know about its detrimental effects.

I do not understand why the provision should apply specifically to fishing vessels. I understand the importance of the size, but some vessels might have a crew comparable to that of a fishing vessel, so is it not unfair that a person cannot use that defence simply because he has not gone fishing. I am making the point rather crudely, but it seems odd that a defence for someone on a fishing vessel does not apply elsewhere. The person taking the drug might not be aware of its effect. Such is my main concern, which has not yet been fully dealt with.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but interventions should be interventions and therefore brief.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

Sorry, I thought that the Minister had sat down.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

No, I was taking a worthwhile intervention from the hon. Gentleman. I thought that I had explained the key issue, but I am happy to reiterate it. The crew on shipping vessels tend, by nature of their employment, to be away for longer than crews of other vessels of comparable size. That is the difference. Vessels undertaking long-distance journeys are likely to have larger crews and will be able to alternate watches and duties to help those requiring medicines. Other vessels of comparable size might operate in coastal waters on shorter journeys, which is why with good reason we retained the exemption for fishing vessels and carried it through into the Bill rather than extending it further.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I understand what the Minister is saying, but if a pleasure craft is on a short journey for a couple of hours around a harbour and a crew member feeling unwell takes some cough mixture without realising that it will have an effect on him, why should he be discriminated against to a greater extent than someone on a fishing vessel? As I said, the defence would be that it was not done intentionally.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The defence is in two parts—either he took a drug for medicinal purposes on and in accordance with medical advice, or he took the drug and had no reason to believe that it would impair his ability. I take the point that the situation is different. It is right to have a defence for those with limited crews who might be away for some time and whose members, if they were medically impaired, would pose a risk to other crew members because they might be unable to perform their roles. That is a practical example of why it is right and desirable the follow the existing legislation, which makes a sensible differentiation, rather extending it further.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Is the Minister implying that anyone who operates in a safety-critical position on a small-crewed vessel other than a fishing vessel should not, under any circumstances, take any drug? In the vast majority of cases, the second defence is critical—the person takes the drug having no reason to believe that it will impair ability. From what the Minister has said, nobody should take anything whatsoever when they are in such situations, regardless of their medical conditions.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

No, the Bill does not say that at all. It might be a common medicinal drug that the individual has taken many times and he is fully aware of any impact, or it could be one for which it is clear what any side effects will be. The hon. Gentleman could be right in that there might be a narrow grey area such as the one that applies in the sporting field. Where there is uncertainty, prudence is the best guide. There must be a number of drugs whose side effects—or lack of them—are well known. Similarly, an individual who has taken a drug often and is not aware of any adverse affects would obtain the medicinal advantage without suffering any side effects that would impair his ability to operate the craft. In those practical terms, this preserves a common-sense exemption to deal with the particular circumstances of fishing vessels compared with commercial craft.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I can see where the Minister is trying to go with this. All of us without having taken a

drink have in our bodies a certain amount of a substance—ether or ethanol, I think—and certain drugs can make it appear that one has consumed an amount of alcohol by increasing that substance. As the hon. Member for Bath and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge have said, while the Government recognise that that is a defence, in practice it might not be so clearly understood. The ship becomes the person's home. If he has a serious medical condition he might depend on certain drugs, but if he has a doubt about his position under these provisions, he might feel less inclined to take those drugs while on duty. That could damage his performance because he will be more concerned about his medical condition than he might otherwise have been.

I was grateful to the Minister for his explanation. The two probing amendments have served their purpose. If I have understood correctly that a fishing vessel will be covered in the same way for both purposes, I hope that we can, elsewhere in the Bill, consider the best form of testing. In the circumstances we will not seek to press the matter further. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The genesis of the legislation, particularly clause 75 in part 4, has taken some time. After the marine accident investigation branch inquiry into the Marchioness disaster in 1989, the Government asked John Hayes to conduct a wider inquiry into river safety. The Hayes report, which was published in 1992, made 22 recommendations, of which recommendation 18 was that

''The Department [of Transport], after appropriate consultation, should promote legislation to introduce a breath test similar to that applying to motor vehicle drivers which would apply to the skippers and crew of all vessels.''

That acknowledges the fact that, apart from the general provision in section 58 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, there is no specific legislation to regulate alcohol consumption in the maritime industry. Section 58(1)(b) makes it an offence for

''the master of, or any seaman employed in, a ship which—

(i) is registered under the law of any country outside the United Kingdom; and

(ii) is in a port in the United Kingdom or within United Kingdom waters while proceeding to or from any such port.''

to endanger his ship or other ships by being—as set out in section 58(3)(b)—

''(b) under the influence of drink or a drug at the time of the act or omission.''

At present, no maximum blood alcohol limit is specified. At the close of the resumed inquest into the Marchioness disaster in April 1995, the inquest jury made 12 recommendations on ship and river-boat safety, one of which was that

''Legislation should be introduced to set maximum blood alcohol levels for seamen on duty. In the event of an accident, all crews should be breathalysed and tested for drugs as a matter of urgency.''

The then Government undertook to give urgent and careful consideration to all the recommendations. In

January 1996, they made public their considered response, in which they said that they were carefully considering the need for legislation.

We welcome the proposal to make it an offence for professional mariners to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol—particularly alcohol—when carrying out their duties. Clause 75(3) states:

''A person to whom this section applies commits an offence if the proportion of alcohol in his breath, blood or urine exceeds the prescribed limit.''

I wish to seek clarification from the Minister on that matter.

Part 3 of the Bill was also subject to consultation and was on the Department's website. When we debated part 3, I found it very useful to have a summary of the responses to the consultation paper. The Government reply to the responses was also posted on the web. That was immensely helpful in considering that part of the Bill. It is therefore a little disappointing that although one can find the consultation paper and the invitation to consult on the web, we are hampered by neither the summary of the responses to the consultation on the proposed legislation to combat alcohol abuse at sea, nor the Government's response to it, being on the web.

This morning I contacted the Department, which directed me once again to the House of Commons Library. This time, the business and transport section of the Library has been most helpful, but for the purposes of consideration of this part of the Bill, I have only the slimmest summary of responses in a tabular form, and it is difficult to get an overall view of the responses to the consultation from the industry and individuals. If they go to the expense of carrying out such a consultation, I urge the Government to make the responses as widely available as possible.

Will the Minister tell us which form of testing for the presence of alcohol is likely to be the most effective and the speediest? I presume that testing for alcohol in the breath would be carried out using a breathalyser, but which is better—a breathalyser, or blood or urine samples? Have the Government considered using oral samples, whereby samples of oral mucosal transudate are collected from the inner side of both cheeks using a swab. I gather from recent articles that that was found to be less reliable and effective than blood testing. As studies of this were carried out in July and August last year, the Government have had plenty of time to form a more considered view.

I return to the point about a master, pilot or seaman being considered professional only if he acts as in that capacity in the course of business or employment. In our little debate on the earlier amendments, the Minister simply said that one can prove that a professional seaman in a ship is on duty or deemed to be about to respond to an emergency in which he might called upon to protect passengers by looking at the roster which is in common usage in our merchant shipping fleet.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury 3:15 pm, 27th February 2003

That simply would not do. Self-evidently, in the event of an emergency at sea, all employed crew members on board would be expected

to help out. We have dealt quite well with entertainers and lecturers, but we have not yet dealt with people such as stewards.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is appropriate to ask the Minister to set out the position of stewards. A steward could not possibly be treated in the same way as a master pilot of a ship, but would be considered to be a professional seaman. He is more operational and has a greater safety role than a comedian or a lecturer, whom we have dismissed for the purposes of this clause. Can the Minister confirm what the criteria would be and whether the Government feel that there is a need to be more specific in that respect? We perceive such a need.

There was quite a debate at the time of the Marchioness disaster. We have referred to both the Tavistock Institute and the Hayes reports. The Marine Safety Agency of the then Department of Transport commissioned research from the Tavistock Institute into the problem of alcohol and drug abuse at sea. The main objectives were to measure the magnitude of the problem, to examine how it was dealt with in shipping and related industries and, in the light of the information thereby gathered, to advise on legislative and/or advisory ways forward.

The subsequent report, entitled ''The Tavistock Research Institute Report MSA {**hash**} 346: Alcohol and Drug Abuse Aboard Shop'', was published in May 1995. It concluded that an understanding of the problem was difficult and complex because of the anecdotal nature of most of the evidence, the varying attitudes of different parts of the industry, and the limited number of statistical sources. It stated that a truer picture would require longer-term research. However, the main thrust of the institute's findings suggested that the extent of alcohol abuse varies according to the different type of craft surveyed, being low to non-existent on commercial vessels operated by oil companies, ferry companies, container and dry cargo operators with active alcohol policies, of medium severity in other deep-sea fleets, and of high severity in small merchant fleets and fishing boats.

The Tavistock Institute further suggested that, were legislation to be enacted, it should include a definition of due diligence—the degree of responsibility that it would be reasonable to expect companies and individuals to have for tackling the problem—and a technically defined and legally enforceable level of impairment for alcohol. In the institute's view, any legislation should apply only to ships in United Kingdom waters, and testing should be carried out by the local police.

The Transport and Works Act 1992, which covers railways, contains a defence of due diligence as well as provisions relating to offences by corporate bodies. Perhaps the Minister will take this opportunity to explain whether the Government have decided to include the defence of due diligence. If they have, will he direct us to the relevant part of the Bill so that we know when to have the debate? If not, will he tell us why the shipping industry, with professional mariners, has been treated differently from the railways?

There were compelling reasons why the Government had to take action. One was that identified by the Tavistock Institute study: many shipping companies have introduced their own alcohol policies, which indicates their belief that action was needed. Legislation would have an effect on those employed by companies that have not decided to take action, but I am sure that the Minister will confirm that the Bill will apply one policy to all ships, whether or not their owners have a policy of alcohol testing.

The Government are right to consider it anomalous that blood alcohol levels are specified for road users and operators and crew of inland and airborne public transport but not for shipmasters and crew. It would be difficult to argue that there is an intrinsic difference between the transport modes to support such a disparity. Impairment through alcohol can lead to accidents at sea in the same way as it can elsewhere. The regrettable Marchioness disaster is indicative of that.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

I am listening with great interest to my hon. Friend, and as ever she is right. However, will she reflect on the difference between someone being behind the wheel of a car at 80 mph on a motorway and someone being on the bridge of a ship, where things happen much more slowly?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I have driven a ship—I drove HMS Cumberland for a remarkably short time, and I am happy to say that it did not crash.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

According to the latest information that I could elicit from the Government in written answers, HMS Cumberland is part of the current operation in the Gulf. She is a magnificent vessel and I wish her Godspeed. The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) and I certainly enjoyed our opportunity to go aboard, and I think that we conducted ourselves well—the Committee would be proud of our conduct. I might have driven the ship better than I prepared the vegetables, but that is a personal view.

Photo of Ms Linda Perham Ms Linda Perham Labour, Ilford North

I thank the hon. Lady for paying tribute to me; I, too, was a temporary lieutenant commander. However, I want to return to the point that the hon. Member for Westbury made about at the speed at which things happen on a ship. I was on board the cruise ship Norwegian Dream when it was in collision in the channel on 24 August 1999. That ship was the largest ever to go through the Kiel canal, and we were in collision with a cargo vessel that was the size of the QE2. That happened extremely quickly late at night. Despite the point that the hon. Gentleman made and my experiences on HMS Cumberland with the hon. Lady, my view is that things can happened extremely quickly both at sea and on the road.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I agree with both the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury. If memory serves, in the case of the Marchioness, the failure of the lookout was ultimately deemed to be the cause, so the points raised are pertinent. In relation to what my hon. Friend said, if one is alone and driving a car

recklessly down a motorway, one can cause death or injury to other road users. That danger is compounded on ships, especially the cruise ships to which the hon. Lady referred, and other such large vessels, because one would then be a professional mariner carrying passengers for a fee and one would therefore have a duty of care to those passengers.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

The point that I was trying to make is that there appears to be an empirical comparison between roads and sea transport in the Bill. Although that might be convenient, there is no real evidence base for making that direct comparison, because transportation at sea is quite different from transportation on our roads. Does my hon. Friend agree with that?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Yes. That is a fair comment, and I shall be interested to hear precisely what the Minister thinks about it.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Even if the hon. Lady agrees with the hon. Member for Westbury, can she say where that would lead us? Does she believe, for example, that the alcohol limit for people on board ships should be radically different from that which applies to those driving cars?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

It comes down to what we have said about quality of life and safety. Standards should be high for each mode of transport. I am sure that we shall have an opportunity to consider that issue later in the Committee in relation to later amendments.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

I might be able to help a little. We need to know the Minister's justification for establishing the limits in question. Has he done that merely out of convenience—the limits happen to be same as for roads—or is there some evidence base that is driving forward the limits for transport at sea?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

To dwell for a moment on the terrible tragedy that I believe lies behind the provision, 51 people died in the Marchioness pleasure boat disaster on the River Thames. Lord Justice Clarke published his report from the public inquiry. In August 1989—almost 14 years ago—the Marchioness with 132 people enjoying a birthday party on board sank after a collision with the dredger Bowbelle. The skipper of the Bowbelle was acquitted of failing to maintain a proper lookout after a second jury had failed to reach a verdict. The marine accident investigation branch report of August 1991 said that the failure of the lookout on both ships was the immediate cause of the tragedy. The Hayes report was published in January 1991, after an inquiry into river safety conducted by the general secretary of the Law Society, John Hayes. In February 1992, the coroner confirmed that the hands of more than 25 victims had been removed.

I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is the real reason for those provisions. I lend my support to them, but the Minister will have heard what hon. Members have said on both sides, and the questions that have been raised. I take this opportunity to let him respond.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 3:30 pm, 27th February 2003

I shall be brief. We firmly support the measures. Although we raised queries through a number of amendments, we are supportive of what the Government seek to do. The Minister will acknowledge that the measures are long overdue, but they are welcome none the less.

I have only one question. If get a clear answer from the Minister now, it will prevent us having to ask similar questions on a number of subsequent clauses. The work being done in relation to safety on various modes of transport has tended to focus on alcohol abuse, because we have known about that for rather longer than we have known about drug abuse. Indeed, detailed standards are now prescribed on alcohol abuse, although, as a subsequent amendment will demonstrate, I believe that we have chosen the wrong ones. Nevertheless, we have very detailed knowledge of the subject.

The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) properly raised questions about the various testing regimes. The sad truth is that we have less knowledge about the impact of drugs on people's ability to fulfil safety-critical functions in relation to marine activity and aviation and on the roads and railways. Will the Minister tell us a little more about the background to the equivalent prescribed limits for drugs and what testing regime is intended, as there is an absence of detail in the Bill? I give way to the hon. Member for Uxbridge.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Order. The hon. Gentleman says that he is willing to give way, but I understand that he is intervening on the hon. Member for Vale of York.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

There is another question. I agree with the hon. Member for Bath about drugs, but another thing that is not mentioned—it probably does not happen so much—is solvent abuse.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Indeed. That will depend on the definition of the drugs, and the Bill is a bit short in that regard. Perhaps the Minister can answer that question.

I have heard it said by some Labour Members that there are difficulties in testing for drugs. We have grown used to the breathalyser as the first check on alcohol abuse, but the Minister should be aware that a number of other countries already have solutions to the drug-testing problem. I referred some weeks ago to my visit to Sweden, where I saw some of the work being done there on transport safety. I spent a considerable time discussing drug-testing procedures. People there do not seem to think that it is a problem. Indeed, I have with me a pupilometer, which the road transport police use in Sweden. It works along the same lines as the breathalyser. An allegedly guilty person is first checked with the pupilometer and, if necessary, is then given further tests; samples are taken, just as they are for alcohol. The Bill gives clear details of what happens in respect of alcohol, but not in respect of drugs. It would be good to hear a little more about the Government's thinking on that question.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I am pleased to reply to the debate. It is right to say that we do not have a defined procedure for testing for drugs. That is generally agreed to be a problem, which is why the Bill deals with it through enabling provisions. As we develop a scientifically agreed drugs testing system, we shall be able to put those provisions into operation. We shall then be able to define the appropriate limits and units of measurement. It will be generally agreed, subject to medical advice, but medical science is not yet at that stage. However, we want to include those provisions in the Bill so that once we get an agreed testing procedure, we can take it on board.

Notwithstanding that, it will still be an offence to be in charge of a vessel while under the influence of drugs, and there are rough and ready, but less precise, measures for dealing with that. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Bath that there is a gap, which is the result of the state of technical advance, but it is one that we hope will be remedied. As the hon. Gentleman noted, other police forces and medical institutions have done a lot of work, and we hope to be able to take advantage of that.

There are well established procedures for testing breath and blood for alcohol in the automotive sector, and the marine sector would closely follow that. Existing ways of measuring the impairment of performance will enable us to say that someone is not fit to be in charge of a vessel or a vehicle.

The hon. Member for Vale of York mentioned the report of the Tavistock Institute. She will agree, I am sure, that it was relatively inconclusive. However, the Marchioness inquiries provided the basis for consultation on testing.

Questions were also asked about stewards, but they would be included under the designation of professional seamen. It has been mentioned several times today that members of the crew in that position should be alert at all times when at sea. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North said, such incidents can happen quickly and have serious or even catastrophic results.

The hon. Member for Vale of York asked about the consultation documents on the website. I understand that the consultation that she referred to took place in 1996, before the Department had a website, and that that material was appropriately placed in the House of Commons Library. I am glad that the hon. Lady was able to make use of it.

It gives me pleasure to commend the clause to the Committee.

Miss McIntosh rose—

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Order. We have had a fair discussion on clause stand part, unless the hon. Lady is raising something entirely new.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is entirely new, Mr. Hood, as you would expect.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

As ever, I wish to be helpful. I have a copy of the Department for Transport consultation paper on possible legislation to combat alcohol abuse

at sea. Responses to that consultation were to have been treated confidentially, but I thought that the Government might give us a summary of them. Furthermore, responses were required by 31 March 2000, and it is not customary for the Department for Transport to take four years to reply to such consultation. It certainly breaks with tradition.

If those responses had genuinely have gone missing as a result of a change of Department responsibility, it would have been understandable, albeit regrettable, especially as the Bill is trying to deal with that very problem. I am slightly surprised that the Minister, being, as he is, in such an elevated position, is not aware that such a consultation had invited comments by 31 March 2000. That is not so long ago that the Department would have got rid of the responses.

I have some other new information that I wish to share with the Committee. Being an avid reader of the Order Paper, as are other members of the Committee, something important came to my attention yesterday. Curiously, it was the day before we were due to debate these clauses—indeed, we might already have started if we have trotted through the preceding clauses at a faster pace. I was mildly surprised to see in the Order Paper a written ministerial statement—yet another example of the detestable little gimmicks that the Government use—about the subject before us this afternoon.

That statement was on the implementation of the recommendations of the reports of the inquiry into Thames safety and the formal investigation into the loss of the Marchioness. It was made by none other than the Minister's hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport. I raise the subject now because, in view of the Minister of State's reply, I thought that I should give him the opportunity to mention it. I have twice raised the matter, and the hon. Member for Bath has joined me in requesting details of the form of testing that will be used. It is appropriate at this stage of the Committee's proceedings that we should be able to discuss the matter.

That written ministerial statement was laid before Parliament and was referred to in the Order Paper, and a copy has been placed in the Library. This is the third update since November 2001, and it is about progress on manning and training on passenger ships, the introduction of a safety code for domestic passenger ships, and the fact that the London coastguard now co-ordinates all search and rescue activities—but it does not help us with what I would have though was of most interest to the Committee: precisely what type of testing will be used. Even though Ministers frequently avail themselves of such opportunities, it does not add to the sense of the open government that we want.

The Bill refers to breath, blood or urine tests. I hope that that might include testing oral fluids on a mouth swab. The test is best known as the OMT—oral mucosal transudate—test. That is something to which we can return.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

For clarity, I have to say that it was the Labour Government who called the

public inquiry into the Marchioness disaster—a substantial time after the event. If the hon. Lady is listening, we have undertaken regularly to provide comprehensive information to Parliament. I am sorry that she is pouring scorn on the Government's efforts to provide Parliament with information that the Government that she supported never provided.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 75 ordered to stand part of the Bill.