Clause 77 - Non-professionals

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 27th February 2003.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:45 pm, 27th February 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 74, in

clause 77, page 31, line 38, after 'person', insert

', subject to their being in a position to pose a substantial safety risk,'.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 75, in

clause 77, page 32, line 10, at end insert

'after consultation with relevant trade associations and recreational boat user groups.'.

No. 73, in

clause 77, page 32, line 11, at beginning insert

'Subject to consultation with the relevant select committees of both Houses of Parliament and relevant trade associations and recreational boat user groups,'.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister helpfully explained in the previous debate that part 4 of the Bill relates to passenger-carrying vessels such as cruise ships. I am sure that the Committee would also view ferries, disco boats and riverboats as naturally coming within the definition and it is good that we have reached agreement.

Clause 77 relates to non-professionals, who could be referred to as recreational mariners. The Government have not seen fit to draft an amendment and we have come up with one or two that might assist. I repeat that we would like to think of a professional mariner as someone employed or engaged in any capacity aboard a vessel, and a non-professional mariner as someone driving a vessel used for sport or leisure purposes. Is that how the Government are thinking?

On the basis of what I have said, we take it that clause 77 relates to recreational mariners sailing for sport and leisure purposes. I must be careful how I express this, but all of us who have been out on small vessels are accustomed to the fact that a certain amount of social drinking has always been part of the social scene. I do not say that I condone that, but I have witnessed it. There is no evidence of a widespread drunkenness problem in that context. Neither the Opposition nor the industry would condone anyone being in charge of a vessel while under the influence of drink or drugs. However, we tabled the amendments because poorly framed legislation could damage the recreational boating market.

I declare an interest in that while at the university of Edinburgh I joined the sailing club and enjoyed a few sailing trips off the firth of Forth and Loch Tay. Recently I went to the boat show at Earl's Court and I

pay tribute to the boat industry—particularly the British Marine Federation—for its work and its contribution to the national economy. I might aspire to own one of the gin palaces that were in dry dock at the boat show; there was an opportunity to board those magnificent vessels. If I seriously wanted one, I would be doing something more lucrative than my present job, but I can still feel envy. I have a British Waterways interest in my constituency and I hope that many will gain enjoyment from the recreation craft that ply the inland waterways of Vale of York and other parts of the United Kingdom. Many people buy narrow boats to use as holiday homes as an alternative to investing in a cottage in the country.

We seek to probe the Minister. Does he accept that professional mariners, whether circumventing the UK or plying our inland waterways, do not pose a substantial threat to safety? That is the purpose of amendment No. 74. We would not condone any drunkenness on any vessel, whether an inland waterway vessel or a recreational craft plying UK waters. The investigations in the reports that I referred to earlier and my remarks in relation to clauses 75 and 76 go to show that the evidence on larger ships was not conclusive. We pledge our support for the measures in this part of the Bill, but we want to send a warning shot across the Government's bows. I am sure that it is not the Minister's intention to suggest that recreational craft pose a substantial safety risk. He might, therefore, see fit to accept amendment No. 74. We were invited by the Under-Secretary to propose a draft definition of recreational mariner for the purposes of subsection (1). We would suggest that it is a person using a vessel in a private capacity for sport and leisure purposes along the lines that we have discussed.

It would be helpful if the Minister would either accept amendment No. 75 or confirm that, in normal circumstances, before measures are taken, there will be consultation with the relevant trade associations and recreational boat user groups—many organisations spring to mind, such as British Waterways, the British Marine Federation and even the British Ports Association.

The final amendment in this group is amendment No. 73, which relates to our hope that the Select Committees of both Houses of Parliament and the trade associations and recreational boat user groups would be consulted for the purposes of the provisions.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Whip 4:00 pm, 27th February 2003

I commend the hon. Lady's honesty. She made a veiled confession that she had indulged, or possibly over-indulged, in social drinking. Hon. Members will know that when one refers to other people's having indulged, frequently, one is actually referring to oneself.

I want to probe the probing amendments.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I spring to the defence of the hon. Member for Vale of York who has been misrepresented. She quite rightly made the point that, in certain sections of the sea-going community, there is a culture of enjoying

alcohol. I think that that is a matter of fact, and the hon. Lady was saying no more or no less than that.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour/Co-operative, Edinburgh North and Leith

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I hope that the hon. Member for Vale of York will intervene or clarify her position as regards the inference that may reasonably be drawn from her earlier statement. Given that the incident may well have happened in my constituency, I would certainly feel obligated to report the matter to the procurator fiscal.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Whip

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. We had better not go too far down that route or Mr. Hood will intervene. I must concentrate on the amendments and probe them.

The wording of amendment 74 requires clarification. Could every person on a leisure vessel not pose a substantial safety risk at some point? I therefore wonder whether that amendment is redundant. One could also question the use of the adjective ''substantial'' and whether one should not be looking at ''significant safety risks'' or even just ''safety risk'', rather than opting for ''a substantial safety risk''.

I seek clarification from the hon. Member for Vale of York on amendments Nos. 75 and 73. Amendment No. 75 states that consultation will be with,

''relevant trade associations and recreational boat users groups'',

whereas amendment No. 73 states that consultation will be with ''the relevant select committees''. It is not entirely clear to me why that is the case and why there could not also be consultation with Select Committees in relation to amendment No. 75.

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

We consider the amendments to be largely superfluous, and I hope to explain why. Amendment No. 74 seeks to explain in vague terms what will be provided with certainty by regulations made under clause 77(4). That is precisely so that we can deal with several of the variations, difficulties and complexities that have been rightly mentioned.

The amendment as it stands goes well beyond the exceptions envisaged in clause 77(4) by seeking to except some recreational mariners from the requirements of clause 77, including the impairment provisions of clause 77(2). The Government intend to except certain classes of recreational mariners from the specific alcohol limit, but have no intention of allowing anyone whose ability is impaired through drink or drugs to be excepted from those provisions.

Amendment No. 74 also introduces uncertainty because it will inevitably be difficult to define the phrase

''being in a position to pose a substantial safety risk'',

as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) highlighted. How substantial must the risk be before a recreational sailor falls within the terms of clause 77? The uncertainty will exist both in the minds of those who are regulated and the police,

who have the task of enforcing those provisions. Therefore, the inclusion of those words will be likely to undermine the legislation and the intentions of Parliament by leading to under-enforcement.

The regulations that we will bring forward in due course will aim to provide a greater degree of certainty by reference to clear parameters so that the extent of the exception from the prescribed limit will be clear, both to the recreational mariners themselves and the police.

I turn to amendments Nos. 73 and 75. As ever, the Government recognise the need to consult widely on the regulations that were made under clause 77(4). Departmental officials have already held preliminary discussions with the British Marine Federation and the Royal Yachting Association on the nature and extent of the proposed regulations. Officials will continue to consult those and other organisations that have an interest in the matter.

Amendments Nos. 73 and 75 are therefore superfluous and unnecessary. So, frankly, is the reference to consultation with the relevant Select Committees of both Houses. Clause 85(4) states:

''Regulations under this Part shall not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution each House of Parliament.''

In other words, it has to go through the affirmative resolution procedure. That will ensure that there is appropriate and sufficient parliamentary scrutiny.

Taking my comments into consideration, I hope that the hon. Lady will see fit to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

In his summing up, the Minister spoke about exemptions. I had hoped to raise that subject on clause stand part, Mr. Hood, if you would be kind enough to allow that. It may be a pedantic way of doing it—that is the purpose of probing amendments—but I was trying to elicit from the Minister an acknowledgement that the risk faced by those on a little sailing boat, a dinghy or a yacht, or an inland waterway vessel, is not as great as that faced by those on vessels such as the Marchioness, which ended in tragedy, or the cruise ship that the hon. Member for Ilford, North enjoyed.

To put the Committee's mind at rest, in my limited experience at Edinburgh university, which may be in the constituency of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith, I always went along with safety precautions. Rather than go skiing, I would enjoy an après-ski drink; and I thought it far more sensible to enjoy an après-sailing drink rather than a during-sailing drink. In all circumstances, one would wish to have one's wits about one, but I thought that what one observed about others enjoying themselves was worthy of note.

I welcome the fact that the British Marine Federation and the Royal Yachting Association were consulted. However, I urge the Minister to note the difference between consulting and listening and acting on what has been said. If all those concerns had been addressed, we would not have needed to table these three amendments. I did not hear the Minister mention the UK waters distinction, but I hope that we will have

another opportunity to discuss that. I hear the Minister's assurances, and we shall have further debates on various aspects of this part of the Bill, so I shall not press the amendment, but may return to the matter later. 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. 84, in

clause 77, page 32, line 3, at end insert—

'(1A) For the purposes of subsection (1) a ship includes a vessel used in a private capacity for sport or leisure purposes.'.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 77, in

clause 83, page 35, line 34, after 'ship', insert

', including privately owned recreational vessels,'.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I was a little premature earlier, Mr. Hood, and you were kind to me. We were invited to come forward with a definition of recreational or non-professional for the purposes of clause 77, and this is it. We humbly proffer amendment No. 84 for that purpose; it would neatly fit the bill. I hope that the Minister will accept the definition in the spirit in which it is made.

Amendment No. 77 would add privately owned recreational vessels to the definition in clause 83, if the Minister does not consider that such vessels are included in the word ''ship''. It would apply when a constable was exercising his right of entry, which we shall discuss later. It may be helpful to clarify the clause by including the definition in the amendment.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport) 4:15 pm, 27th February 2003

I refer the Committee to clause 86(1)(a), the interpretation clause for part 4. It defines a ship to include every description of vessel used in navigation. That definition is taken from section 313 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 and is already wide enough to include all such vessels used in a private capacity for sport or leisure purposes.

At present, the definition of a ship does not include craft that can properly be regarded as vessels used in navigation—instruments such as jet skis, for example. However, the Government intend to bring jet skis within the Merchant Shipping Act definition by means of an order to be made under clause 104 in part 6.

The Merchant Shipping Act definition of a ship, which has existed with only slight modification since 1894, was chosen deliberately in order not to create conflict and cause confusion with the body of merchant shipping legislation or with case law that has arisen from it on the precise nature of a vessel used in navigation. The amendments, which have enabled me to clarify how the Government intend to deal with the matter, are superfluous and could risk confusion with the existing, well-established definition of a ship. I therefore hope that the hon. Lady will ask leave to withdraw them.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The probing amendments have served their purpose. It is disappointing that the

Government are still working on aspects of a proposal that will be introduced in a separate regulation, which it would have been right and proper to discuss in Committee. Having been invited by the Under-Secretary to propose it, I am sorry that the Minister did not find our neat little definition of interest. It is a blow to us that he is not minded to consider it.

In view of the Minister's explanation, 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 John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I shall not detain the Committee, but I want to make a couple of points that would be better considered in a clause stand part debate.

Will the clause take into consideration the equivalent on sea or water of air rage from passengers who cause safety problems because they have taken drugs or alcohol?

In a hideous twist of fate, I find myself in agreement with Liberal Democrat members of the Committee in that the number of passengers is immaterial. If a level of alcohol is dangerous, it applies equally to people driving cars, motor bikes, lorries, coaches or whatever. The alcohol and drug level is the same. [Interruption.] I was just thinking about pedal cycles, which are different, but I sometimes wish that they were not. I was not fortunate enough to be educated at Oxford or Cambridge, but I understand that cyclists pedalling around the city at night, sometimes the worse for wear, can be dangerous. Some of the better-educated people here could confirm that.

My next point is an echo of the trolley bus-tram question.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I would be interested to know where hovercraft fit into the equation.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

We are making such splendid progress this afternoon that I thought that I would put my oar in. [Interruption.] I'm not waving, but drowning.

If I understand Government amendment No. 80 correctly, clause 77 would apply in Scotland. I warmly welcome the clause and its applicability to Scottish waters. Yachting was once the preserve of the rich and the privileged, but it is changing.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

Having been a sailor myself, I know that a majority of them have always been socialists, so my hon. Friend is mistaken about the social composition of the sailing fraternity.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

I said that it was the preserve of the rich, without making any comment on political views. I understand that rich socialists do exist, and I have heard that one or two working-class Tories are still around. I make no comment on people's political persuasion.

My constituency is fortunate enough to include the Kip Marina, one of the most prestigious and largest in Scotland. Other marinas are planned in Gourock—adjacent to the station, with which my hon. Friend the

Under-Secretary is well acquainted—and in Greenock. As the sport develops and areas become busier, it is right to worry more about safety. It does not take much alcohol to dull the sensitivities and the greatest danger is to other yachtsmen and boat operators. As the waterways become more crowded, we must become more safety conscious. The clause deals with that problem sensitively and the Government are right to apply different levels of alcohol to different types of ship. I agree with the broad principle of what is effectively a breathalyser for users of boats. It is right to apply it in the interests of their own safety and that of others, so I warmly support the clause.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

I find myself in difficulty. I am aware that boating is a serious business and potentially dangerous for those in charge of the boats and those inside them. It is no trivial matter to drink and then go sailing. However, recreational sailing is carried out in many different ways in this country and the safety implications are correspondingly different. Our record in the UK is not particularly good in comparison with that of other European countries, particularly Germany, where a certificate is required to take charge of any size of boat for recreational purposes. One must also be examined to determine whether one is worthy of taking command of that vessel. The Germans would say that safety on their waters has improved as a result.

I, for one, fully support any measure that is likely to improve safety on the water, but the Government have picked on one aspect of safety in their focus on alcohol and drugs in this measure, which seems incongruous. I am sure that the Royal Yachting Association would be happy to tell the Minister about the range of courses and examinations that it provides to certify people as safe and competent to take a pleasure boat to sea or on rivers and other waterways. Will the Minister say whether he took the RYA's advice when drafting the measure, which focuses on a very small area of safety of recreational mariners? Will he consider removing the measure and replacing it with a more comprehensive one that would promote the safety of recreational mariners, of which drugs and alcohol would be just a part?

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, as I have experience of these matters as a sailor on the Norfolk broads since childhood. A small child once drove into the side of our boat and made a large hole with a motorboat. An inexperienced and unqualified young child will be unaware that sailing boats cannot reverse and steer out of the way as a motorboat can. There is a case for broadening safety concerns on water, and I do not want to make spontaneous suggestions for amendments at this stage. However, the Government should consider the age of those steering boats, especially motorboats. People believe that motorboats are easy to drive and do not appreciate the complexities and subtleties of sailing, especially against the wind in a narrow river, which can be very dangerous. Some of these boats are very large, heavy and potentially dangerous. The Government might want take account of those points in future legislation, rather than dealing with them today.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

This has been an interesting and welcome debate. Members of the Committee will remember what the Secretary of State said on 28 January on Second Reading. He stated:

''The principle has long been accepted that we ought to have measures to reduce the effect of drinking on the number of accidents.''

He continued:

''The Bill contains a power to exempt vessels with reference to the power of their motor, size or location. We want to consult on the repercussions, as we need to get the matter right. None the less, we are minded, for example, to exempt rowing boats, sailing dinghies and narrowboats. However, larger, high-powered recreational vessels such as jet-skis would probably be included. We want to strike the right balance to ensure that we get the legislation right. The proposed blood alcohol limit is the same as that which applies to motoring—80 mg.''

That was the subject of a Liberal Democrat amendment, but we shall discuss that later. This is the time to discuss the exemptions; the Minister mentioned motor craft. I presume that he meant not only jet skis, but the high-powered motorboats—the Princesses and Sunseekers—that I have looked at longingly at annual boat shows at Earls Court and Southampton. The Secretary of State also said:

''Clause 77 applies to what are referred to as non-professional mariners—people whose employment is not in the field.''

I am not sure what that means, so will the Minister explain that? I did not know that there were any fields at sea. The Secretary of State continues:

''We could have extended the provisions that apply to professional mariners to all boats, whatever their size and speed, but we considered that they should be proportionate. There is a difference between what is needed in relation to a large passenger-carrying ship with a professional crew and in relation to a man rowing a boat in a harbour. We will consult carefully on how best to deal with non-professional mariners.''—[Official Report, 28 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 773–4.]

The Minister said earlier that consultation is continuing, and it is regrettable that as we debate clause 77 today, they have not reached a conclusion that could contribute to the framing of the regulations that will follow from it. I think that the Secretary of State was encapsulating the point that I was trying to make that recreational mariners in smaller craft such as rowing boats will not cause the same amount of damage or as large a safety threat as bigger, more powerful passenger-carrying vessels.

Subsection (1)(a) refers to

''a person who . . . is on board a ship which is under way''.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westbury was curious about that, and he is probably better versed in such matters than most Committee members, apart from the hon. Member for Ilford, North and me, who each drove HMS Cumberland for a short time, and the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) who is well versed on inland waterway craft. Why have the Government chosen that expression rather than what the industry might have preferred, which is ''a person who is driving or a ship that is being driven''? To mariners, there may be a difference even between a ship that is under way and one that is being driven. Will the Minister clarify the situation?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury 4:30 pm, 27th February 2003

I may be able to help. Mariners use two phrases—under way and making way. A vessel can be doing both at the same time or one or the other. ''Under way'' means that the vessel is at sea under power, and ''making way'' means that the vessel is moving forward but not necessarily under power.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is clear, then, but I would still prefer the phrase, ''driving or being driven''.

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

I wondered whether the hon. Lady thought that she was making way in her speech.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thought that I was making way until the hon. Member for Bath stood up, although it is always a pleasure to take an intervention from him.

I pay tribute again to the people who drafted the helpful explanatory notes, which say, at page 24:

''Clause 77 also provides a power to except non-professional mariners who do not pose substantial safety risks from the prescribed limits and the provision of specimens.''

That provides another opportunity for the Minister to agree with me, and the Secretary of State, that recreational and non-professional mariners do not pose the same safety risks as professional mariners.

We also noted subsection (3), which says:

''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.''

Again, I hope that as the Government are still taking advice and the jury is still out, they will consider oral swabs if they prove to be quicker and more definitive at proving that the prescribed limit has been breached.

On subsection (4), we always hesitate to give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations. I think that the Minister said that any regulations would be subject to the affirmative procedure. That at least is welcome, but we would have preferred matters to be specified in the Bill.

On exemptions, I referred briefly to the words of the Secretary of State. We would expect rowing boats, sailing dinghies and narrow boats to be excluded. I hope that the Minister will indicate what exclusions the Government are considering, because clearly this Committee will not consider the regulations that determine the power of a motor, the size of a ship or location. Some indication in that regard would be helpful.

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

I cannot improve on what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, which the hon. Lady quoted at some length. Our current thinking is that we may exempt those using rowing and paddle boats, sailing dinghies—including those carrying small outboard motors—and narrow boats operated on the canal network. It would not be our intention to exempt persons operating very large recreational vessels, high-powered motorboats or jet skis.

The provision is designed to ensure a proportionate response, so that we are not being over-burdensome, but at the same time protecting other mariners and others in the water, notably swimmers. We are also talking in some cases about protecting people from themselves. We think that the measure is proportionate and will have the desired effect. I assure the hon. Lady that consultations continue and

that the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure, as defined in clause 85(4).

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Nothing ceases to surprise me, Mr. Hood.

We should like clarification of why the phrase ''under way'' was chosen, rather than ''being driven''. In addition, the explanatory notes refer to ''substantial . . . risks'', and it would be helpful for us and the industry to know how that level of risk will be interpreted.

For the sake of completeness, we have referred to human rights measures and other aspects of the Bill. I hope that the Government are confident that the Human Rights Act 1998 will not act in a negative and destructive way in connection with the powers of the police to board craft and vessels for the purposes of clause 77. I hope that the Government are confident that the law will be applied to recreational boats, but will not contravene an individual's right to pursue a legitimate form of recreation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 77 ordered to stand part of the Bill.