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Standing Committee Debates
Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Standing Committee D

Thursday 27 February 2003


[Mr. Jimmy Hood in the Chair]

Railways and Transport Safety Bill

Clause 75

Professional staff on duty

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.]

2.30 pm

The Chairman: 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.'.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): 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—

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. John Spellar): That's no good; I'm replying.

Miss McIntosh: 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

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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.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): 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.]

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

Mr. Randall: 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.

Mr. Spellar: 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

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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.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): 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?

Mr. Spellar: 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—

Mr. Foster: He's not on the ship.

Mr. Spellar: 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.

Mr. Foster: 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.

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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.

Mr. Spellar: 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.

2.45 pm

Miss McIntosh: 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.

Mr. Foster: 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.


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Prepared 27 February 2003