Clause 86 - Interpretation

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 4th March 2003.

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

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

In defining different expressions, the clause refers to section 313 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, but that section in full is much greater than the reference in the Bill, in so far as a fishing vessel is defined and deemed to be part of the Bill only in the event that the pilot or crew of the vessel are deemed to have committed an offence—in particular, the offence of being the cause of an accident, under earlier clauses. We tried, and clearly failed, to define what constitutes a recreational mariner, but the Government have had sufficient time to come up with their own definition. We look forward to hearing what that is.

The most controversial definitions are those of ''United Kingdom ship'' and ''United Kingdom waters''. At the time of the consultation, that was probably the most vexed issue. The marine section of the United Kingdom Pilots Association, whose members could be interpreted as mariners, believes that they could be called upon to act as marine officers for the purposes of this part of the Bill, but they are not included. The association said:

''Under those covered by legislation should be added 'including foreign merchant seamen in UK waters'. We consider it should cover UK ships in UK waters and that all crew members should be covered.''

I assume that in debating either clause 86 or 88, the Under-Secretary will explain that the Bill will cover all seafarers, merchant shipping and recreational craft. I would hate to think that people on a French yacht might think that we were picking on them because they had had a better lunch than our British yachtsmen, but I assume that the police or marine officer will have the power to board and detain a person on a craft who is accused of an offence under this part of the Bill. That would be helpful.

I note that ''pilot'' has the meaning given under the Pilotage Act 1987. Can the Minister confirm that a pilot could be deemed to be a marine officer for the purposes of the Bill? To clarify the definition of UK ships and UK waters, can the Minister confirm that he intends to extend the jurisdiction to non-British—that is, foreign—merchant seamen, fishermen and recreational craft owners? It will be helpful to have the Government's definition of what constitutes a recreational mariner.

The Bill states

'' 'drug' includes any intoxicant other than alcohol.''

There will be problems with this definition—as in earlier clauses—when testing for certain types of drug. What legislation is the Government drawing on in their definition of a drug? Is it the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 or the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984?

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

In a discussion on an earlier clause I raised a question about hovercraft that was not addressed. While waiting for the answer, I also thought of amphibious vehicles. There is a commercial tourist operation that sometimes travels around the roads of Westminster and then goes down into the river. In this interpretation, are such vehicles covered by the Road Traffic Act 1998 when they are

on the road and by the Bill when they go into the water? Is that covered in any of the interpretations?

Similarly, I can see that right of entry to a hovercraft is a very different matter from right of entry to an ordinary ship—with those nasty great propellers going round, and the sealed cabins. I would also like clarification regarding the definition of ''foreign ships'' and ''UK ships''. Does this relate to where the ship is registered, or who the owner is? I am thinking in particular of cross-channel ferries—or even cross-channel hovercraft, although I think that service has now stopped.

Subsection (5) defines ''drug'' as

''any intoxicant other than alcohol''.

Somebody may try and include nicotine in that. Many people would regard the nicotine in cigarettes as a drug with intoxicating effects. The heady effect of a cigarette on someone who is not used to it is well known.

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

Section 313 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, to which clause 86 refers, was extensive in its coverage and its various interpretations and meanings. It does not as far as I can see cover a recreational mariner, which means any mariner who is not a professional as explained in clause 77(1)(c). The issue would apply to nicotine only if it was impairing someone's ability to carry out navigation functions—for example a severe bout of coughing.

The hon. Member for Vale of York is right in that the territorial application detailed in clause 88 makes it clear that part 4 extends to foreign and unregistered vessels in UK waters. We might return to that subject in due course.

I can reassure the hon. Member for Uxbridge that hovercraft are covered by section 310 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, and that amphibious vehicles are, as he said, covered by both road traffic and merchant shipping legislation. The hon. Member for Vale of York asked about pilots. According to the definition in 31(1) of the Pilotage Act 1987, a pilot is any person not belonging to a ship who has the conduct thereof. In essence, pilotage is the provision of navigational advice to a master. The pilot does not assume the role of the master, who remains at all times responsible for the navigation and safety of the vessel. The definition of ''drug'' in subsection (5) is similar to that in the Road Traffic Act 1988. We are trying to ensure consistency across legislation for ease of implementation.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am comforted by the fact that the Minister of State seems to be suffering from the same lurgy as me.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

We are in good company. I shall do my best to keep it to myself, and not to pollute my hon. Friends.

The Minister refers to the definitions in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 and suggests that they are all very clear. However, I refer him to the explanatory notes to that Act. The notes say that,

although it might be thought that defining ''ship'' was the simplest of tasks, there has been a mass of litigation on whether a particular structure was a ship under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 for a variety of purposes, from marine salvage to the application of safety regulations and tide bars. That is good for lawyers—I declare an interest. Incidentally, I did not hear the Minister reply to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge made about hovercraft.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I apologise to the Minister.

The notes say that courts have generally taken a rather restrictive view of what is a ship—I presume that ''a moving object on water'' would be a start—and that there is particular emphasis on the expression, ''used in navigation.'' They go on to say that the definition of ''ship'' uses the word ''includes'', so that new craft can be recognised as ships.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am interested in the subject. I have always had a problem with the difference between ships and boats. I wonder whether coracles would count as ships, because they used to sail across the Irish sea.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I should not like to comment on that.

We are told that the 1995 Act does not solve any of the modern problems. However, an anachronism has been removed from the definition of ''ship'' in the 1894 Act. The Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Pollution) Act 1994 stated that ''ship'' included every description of a vessel used in navigation not propelled by oars. The present definition removes part of that phrase so that a rowing boat can be a ship. That is important.

On Second Reading, the Secretary of State said that the Committee would be told which types of craft were excluded. It would be helpful if the Committee and the industry were told that. I note with regret that we have not been. Presumably, boats in which people train on the Thames for the boat race could be deemed to be boats or ships for these purposes were they to cause an accident of sufficient magnitude that it was an offence under the Bill. I raised the question—it was not a red herring—of how pilots were defined and the Minister qualified that definition. He did not say whether pilots would be included in the term ''marine official''. We may wish to return to that point.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 86 ordered to stand part of the Bill.