Clause 104 - Shipping legislation: application to structures, craft, &c. Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:55 am on 11th March 2003.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 8:55 am, 11th March 2003

The Committee will recall that, on Second Reading, the Secretary of State tantalisingly told us:

''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.

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.''—[Official Report, 28 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 774.]

The Government have the opportunity, under both this clause and clause 77, to tell the Committee and the public which ships and boats were to be included, and we regret that they have not taken it. Current case law is unclear as to whether personal watercraft such as jet-skis or chain ferries are ships. I do not know what chain ferries are, although I know what a chain letter is, so it would be helpful if the Minister could satisfy me on that point.

In so far as ships need to be defined so that the alcohol provisions can apply, there is some basis for the clause. However, what would be the implications of the clause in the case of a collision between a jet-ski or chain ferry and another vessel? I understand that there could be implications even if those craft were not used at sea—they could be used in inland waterways.

That is set out in the explanatory notes to clause 104, although I have not had time to study them. What is the purpose of clause 104, and how will the Bill interrelate with other Acts relating to public health and the regulation of activities near the sea shore?

I am sure that you, Mr. Hurst, as a Member of Parliament for a constituency on the Essex coast, will agree that there will be many opportunities for people to enjoy jet-skiing off the Essex coast, although not necessarily out at sea. Clause 104 could have far-ranging repercussions. We wait to hear from the Minister about the implications.

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

The change would allow the Secretary of State to extend shipping provisions to other structures and craft that currently may not fall in the category of ships for the purposes of the Merchant Shipping Acts. As the hon. Lady said, that change could apply to jet-skis, which are small but can cause substantial danger and damage if they are mishandled. Jet-skis are already a popular craft and they are becoming more popular. Like you, Mr. Hurst, I represent a coastal area and I am aware that, with the growing prosperity under this Government, more people can enjoy such wonderful recreational activities.

We want the provisions on alcohol testing for mariners to extend to jet-skis, in particular, in recognition of the potential danger that drunken users of such craft may cause to other water users. The clause provides a kind of future proofing for any other kind of vessel that may come along. Jet-skis, for example, have become popular in the past 10 to 20 years. The clause would allow the orders made by the Secretary of State to be flexible and specific where they are needed. It would also allow such orders to avoid conflicts with other enactments, which the hon. Lady mentioned. There is a patchy set of byelaws throughout the country that apply to ports and harbours and those would generally take precedence in such circumstances. The clause would cover the circumstances in which no law was in place.

The hon. Lady asked about chain ferries. I invite her to visit my constituency. A chain ferry travels from Torpoint on the Cornish side to the delightful constituency of Plymouth, Devonport on the other. Thus Devonport is connected to Cornwall, although some people, for example, the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed), say that Cornwall is thereby connected to mainland England.

The ferry is a large vessel that is pulled along by chains—that may come as a complete surprise to the Committee. The vessel pulls itself along on two submerged chains, by means of a gearing mechanism. I regularly dine with the captain when I travel on the ferry. It takes eight minutes to get from one side to the other and we have a bag of crisps together and mull over times past. I would be pleased to invite the hon. Lady to come to enjoy the delights of crossing the Tamar from Devon to Cornwall—I offer my endless hospitality.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am in grave danger of setting a precedent, but I formally welcome the hon. Gentleman's invitation. I look forward to my first excursion to his constituency and, indeed, to my first ride on a chain ferry. I am grateful for that generous offer. It goes to show that Committee members already know each other much better after such a relatively short time. Against that background, it is helpful.

The only other point on which I hope we could have some clarification before my summer outing—

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The comment by the Minister of State is not fair. I have traversed the Dogger Bank on a passenger ferry in the most adverse weather conditions, arriving on the back end of a hurricane. I think that I am a tried and tested seafarer. The journey on a chain ferry would be quiet in comparison with crossing the North sea in the circumstances that I mentioned.

The only point that the Minister inadvertently omitted to share with the Committee is what other exemptions might flow from the clause. A pilot of a sailing dinghy who has had one drink too many could be an obstacle and therefore a potential disaster to other shipping. Will the clause apply to ferries? For the purposes of applying the provisions relating to blood alcohol levels, where will the Government draw the line as to which craft—

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

Which ship, boat or recreational craft will be deemed to be a danger to other shipping under the clause?

The clause refers to the creation of an offence and power is given to the Secretary of State to legislate by order. I notice that some 23 statutory instruments are mentioned on today's Order Paper. We are passing far too many laws by secondary legislation that is not subject to the same scrutiny by the House—even less so under the new hours. We would prefer to see more regulations included in the Bill and far fewer of the statutory instruments that the Government have a tendency to use.

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

It may help the Committee if I clarify some of the points made by the hon. Lady. We dealt with the exemptions in part 4 when we debated clause 77, so the limitations have already been defined. The clause allows the Secretary of State to define the craft to which part 4 applies—jet-skis, for example. Our ambition is to listen and consult on the issue. From time to time in the Department we receive correspondence from hon. Members and the public about certain vessels on the sea and jet-skis have been a problem in recent years. Such views are listened to and taken into consideration.

The hon. Lady asked what other craft might be involved. I am informed that the provision could apply to an oil rig and that the Russians have developed a craft that is a cross between a plane and a boat. As I said, future proofing ensures that, when appropriate,

the Government can respond with provisions that take account of new vessels.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am most grateful. I had not realised that an oil rig could be considered a vessel, but one can see why the provisions would be required when it is being towed out to sea by another vessel.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 104 ordered to stand part of the Bill.