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4.23 pm

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): I oppose the Bill, although I am glad that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) has raised the issue, and agree wholeheartedly with what he has said about safety equipment and the importance of people knowing how they should operate on the sea.

This is, in a sense, a typically Liberal Democrat measure, in that we are not sure what would be in the Bill if it were printed; but the hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting that everyone should be qualified to go out in a boat. I learned to sail when I was 12, and I suspect that the person who taught me was not qualified. For many years, I taught scouts to sail. I suspect that I, too, was not qualified when I started to do that, other than by experience. Indeed, the Scout Association decided that everyone supervising scouts should have RYA qualifications. We went to a lot of trouble in Yorkshire to acquire those qualifications. The centre there runs scout sailing and has fully qualified instructors under the RYA scheme, but it is one of the few places where people can learn to sail. People with the opportunity to sail a boat--for example, an experienced sailor--cannot simply say, "I am going to take a group of scouts out." That is the great problem.

We have to put the matter into context. I know that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South asked for advice from the RYA about the size of the problem. Are we doing badly in the United Kingdom? I understand that he has been sent a copy of a table from Ocean Projects Ltd, which shows the United Kingdom, for once, at the bottom of a league table where it wants to be at the bottom: the UK has the fewest number of deaths per vessel in the whole world. That supports what we are saying.

The UK's system is working extremely well. Of course, we must ensure that people are constantly told of the dangers of going out to sea, but I am always wary of saying that a person is qualified because he did a course

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for a week and came out with a bit of paper at the end. The one thing people know who have been sailing as long as I have is how little we know and how difficult things can get if we suddenly find ourselves in a situation where the gear has broken, or whatever. On such occasions we have to use our long experience to deal with the problems.

I happen to have a British Canoe Union certificate because of my scouting involvement. I happen to have an RYA certificate, again because of my scouting involvement, but my experience based on years of sailing is much more important. That is a sensible arrangement.

I am wary of the situation where we should have licences for those on boats. In my garage, I have a canoe that has not been out for several years. I suspect that, if I had to have it licensed, or to have something of that nature, it would never get out because I would always think, "Is it going out this year?" I have a windsurfer. Unfortunately, I have been out with it only once this year, but, again, the opportunity to go out is important. People do have to operate simply. [Interruption.] For anyone who wants to talk about my majority of 77, it is now equivalent to a majority of 120 per cent. over both the major parties in my constituency, and two and a half times that over the Labour party candidate. I am grateful for the heckle, but I do not want to stray from the subject.

We must keep telling people about the safety problem, but the most significant point is that the RYA is wholly against what the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South is proposing, despite the fact that it would run the training courses and make all the money out of certificating people. It wants to encourage people to learn, but to keep the dead hand of regulation from leisure boating. We all have to work together. I welcome, as I say, what has been said because it highlights the fact that we need to be aware of the problem, but we should also congratulate ourselves on our safe record.

The previous Government and the present Government have all pressed for additional safety equipment, particularly in the professional area and for larger boats. All sorts of things are currently available to stop people getting into trouble. My neighbour has bought a boat. He has never been sailing or boating before, but, sensibly, he is working with people who know how to operate a boat. He will gain the necessary experience. I suspect that most of those people who will offer that sensible help and buy all the right equipment do not have a paper qualification that says that they are qualified to be on that particular vessel. It is important to bear that fact in mind.

I am grateful that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South mentioned safety in Weymouth bay because it experienced the sort of incident that no one expected. Suddenly, from nowhere, a squall came up and waves appeared, the like of which we had never had in the bay before. As a result 70 vessels were left in the water--I believe that the hon. Gentleman said that 58 were in the water. I think that even more people were in the water. Many people had to rescue themselves. The rescue service was fantastic and the House should pay tribute to those involved. I notice the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) in her place. I hope that she will not mind me saying that one of the chief officers of the local authority telephoned me and asked me to make the point that if Weymouth were to lose its co-ordination centre, there would not be the effective co-ordination that we saw on that occasion.

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I hope that the Minister will take that in the spirit in which it is meant and that we can look at what is going to happen.

We rely on our Coastguard Agency and all the helicopters and other services. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South talked about the Englishman's home being his castle and so on, and leisure boating is one of our freedoms. If the Government want to do something, I suspect that one way to save lives would be to ban the use of airbeds on the sea. That is one of the most dangerous things that people can use. We should look at things such as that rather than trying to overregulate. Let us spend money telling people about the importance of having proper safety equipment on board and of experience, but we should not put a hurdle in the way of more people getting on to the water.

I am sure that the House will be happy to know that the House of Commons versus the House of Lords sailing race was held on the Thames this morning and was won by the House of Commons. We do not need to abolish the House of Lords to win such things. The House of Lords is ahead by six to five in the series and we should keep the House of Lords so that we can beat it fair and square rather than try to abolish it. I oppose the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mike Hancock, Mr. Brian Cotter, Dr. Rudi Vis, Mr. Paul Flynn, Mr. Bob Russell, Mr. Peter Viggers, Mr. Syd Rapson, Mr. Richard Allan and Mr. Nigel Jones.

Safety At Sea

Mr. Mike Hancock accordingly presented a Bill to require testing of the competency of users of pleasure and recreational craft; and to require the carrying of minimum safety equipment while at sea: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 23 July, and to be printed [Bill 119].

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Health Bill [Lords] and Immigration and Asylum Bill (Allocation of Time)

4.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson): I beg to move,

(2) Proceedings on Consideration and on Third Reading of the Immigration and Asylum Bill shall be completed in two allotted days and, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at midnight on the second allotted day.

Questions to be put

2.--(1) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings on either of the Bills to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1 the Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)--

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;
(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;
(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.
(2) On a Motion made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
(3) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under sub-paragraph (1)(c) on amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Speaker shall instead put a single Question in relation to those amendments or Motions.


3. Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings--

(a) on the Health Bill [Lords];
(b) on the Immigration and Asylum Bill at the sitting this day until midnight;
(c) on the Immigration and Asylum Bill on the second allotted day;
and those proceedings shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to sittings of the House.
4.--(1) If at the sitting this day--
(a) a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) stands over to seven o'clock, and
(b) proceedings on this Motion have begun before that time,
the Motion for the Adjournment shall stand over until midnight.
(2) If on the second allotted day a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 stands over to seven o'clock or from an earlier day, the Motion shall stand over until the conclusion of any proceedings on the Immigration and Asylum Bill.
5. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply to proceedings on either of the Bills.

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6. No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on either of the Bills are taken or to recommit either of the Bills; and if a Minister makes any such Motion, the Question on the Motion shall be put forthwith.
7. No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to either of the Bills except by a Minister of the Crown; and if a Minister makes any such Motion, the Question on the Motion shall be put forthwith.
8. The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced; and Standing Order No. 15(1) shall apply to those proceedings.
9. If at the sitting this day the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of proceedings on this Motion or on either of the Bills, no notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.


10. In this Order 'allotted day' means this day and any other day on which the Immigration and Asylum Bill is put down on the main business as first Government Order of the Day.

At 10 o'clock last night, in light of the lamentable lack of progress on the Report stage of the Health Bill, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced that we would introduce a timetable motion covering the remaining stages of the Health Bill and the Immigration and Asylum Bill.

In an effort to ensure that both those important Bills were satisfactorily debated, the Government had invited the Tory Opposition to proceed by way of an agreed programme motion, but they refused. On three occasions--20 May, 26 May and 10 June--my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced that it was intended that the remaining stages of the Health Bill would be dealt with in one day. Not a single Tory objected. None of them expressed the least reservation about dealing with that Bill in one day. Yesterday, on the day appointed for completion of the remaining stages, the Tories decided to spin out the debate. They spent more than three hours debating a Government new clause which the Deputy Speaker had described as being about

and about which they had been forewarned in Committee in a letter from the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). Their opposition to the new clause was so important to them that they did not even bother to vote against it, having debated it for three hours. So it went on. Tory Members had to be called to order no fewer than 21 times by the Deputy Speaker during the debate.

There can be no doubt that the Bill has been thoroughly debated. It had 42 hours of debate in the House of Lords and 77 hours in Committee. The Government have responded to the points raised in both Houses by accepting amendments or by introducing our own amendments.

As a result of that proper parliamentary scrutiny, the Bill is better now than when it started out, which is only right and proper. However, last night, improving the Health Bill was not what the Tories were about: to be fair, no one would expect that from the hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Lichfield(Mr. Fabricant)--the Burke and Hare of the Tory Back Benches--or from the hon. Members for Altrincham

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and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), for Southend, West(Mr. Amess) and for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who also adorned the debate.

The attitude of those Tory wreckers was made clear last night, when, simply to protract the proceedings--

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