Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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The Chairman: Order. Repetition is to be avoided.

Miss McIntosh: I will conclude on the following point. We would like to know whether it is envisaged that other officers will be covered under section 284 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. If that Act is to be amended in that regard, why is that not set out in the clause? Will it cover a port official, a pilot or anybody else in addition to a harbour master? As drafted, clause 81 is defective.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends the Ministers will resist the thrust of what the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) has said.

I am sure that such quibbles about other laws on alcohol and drugs—in relation to road traffic for example—have been made. We do not want the law to be made ineffectual because there are so many qualifications that the officials cannot take appropriate action. For instance, if a pilot were to board a supertanker full of oil in the Solent and could not, because of the law, do anything about the fact that all the crew were drunk and falling about and reeking of whisky, and if an accident occurred after that event, that would show that the law was ineffectual. I hope that the law will be made stronger so that it will have an effect and that accidents arising from drugs and alcohol will not occur in future.

Mr. Randall: I wish the Minister to clarify a couple of things.

In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York, I alluded to the issue of jurisdiction. We have been discussing that, and we know that it does not apply just to the marine environment in the strict sense of that term. It applies to waterways within the UK, although I think that it does not apply to the internal waterways in Scotland.

I want to be given some idea of the difference between inland and internal. I am thinking about estuaries in particular. We all support the Bill, but—bearing in mind that it was largely inspired by the terrible Marchioness disaster—how does jurisdiction apply with regard to the Thames estuary?

We have not discussed the position of the river police—about how far they can operate and whether there would be any crossover. Essex and Kent border the Thames estuary: would the river police be able to cross into those jurisdictions, or would they stick strictly to the Metropolitan police area?

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That is germane because of the term ''marine official''. I hope that the Minister will tell us that ''marine official'' does not relate merely to the sea because we would feel a lot happier if it went wider than that. My hon. Friend referred to clause 81(3)(c), which refers to

    ''a person falling within a class designated by order of the Secretary of State.''

I presume that that order is still to come, and that the Secretary of State will introduce an order that describes the extra people who can be included as marine officials. I would be interested to learn what sorts of persons and jobs the Government envisage might be included in such an order so that we have an idea of their intention.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York talked about detention and periods of time. I believe that she was referring to individuals, but the clause refers to ships, not individuals. I wonder, therefore, whether there is a time limit, or whether it is just one of those legal things. The clause does not appear to mention any period of time after which the ship can say, ''You can't keep us any longer.'' After all, there should be no question of the detention being unreasonable in the case of a commercial ship, or even a leisure craft. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) might give the example of an oil tanker sailing up the Solent. If the tanker were detained for some time, and it was then discovered that the allegation that had led to it being boarded was unfounded, could the company or the ship's owner be compensated? Would that be deemed fair? Would the case go to a civil court?

9.45 am

Subsection (2)(a) refers to

    ''the marine official making a request''.

Because of the nature of what we are discussing, I presume that that request could be made in any form, including by telephone. It would not have to be written. Similarly:

    ''when a constable in uniform has decided whether or not to exercise a power'',

how could anyone be sure that that came from a proper source? I am sure that there are proper methods of deciding that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York also mentioned constables in uniform. That may have seemed slightly off the point, but it is not. I have often been told that if a police officer arrests someone and is not wearing his cap, he can be deemed to be improperly dressed, and the person cannot be charged. That may be an urban myth; I am fortunate enough not to have been in a position to test it. I am interested to know whether that applies to the marine environment, which, as we know, can be rather windy. What would happen if the constable's cap were blown off? That may seem slightly irrelevant, but will the Under-Secretary assure us for the record, and to avoid subsequent arguments in court and mounting lawyers' fees, that constables setting off

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properly dressed would be deemed to be correct enough?

I must say to my hon. Friend that I have my reasons for not having especially kind thoughts towards the British port authorities, as they were instrumental in scuttling my private Member's Bill on marine wildlife conservation, which had all-party support. However, I must not allow personal feelings to intervene. If I have to listen to their representations, I shall take them on merit and not out of any sense of revenge after what they did to my Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I am pleased to see you back in the Chair this morning, Mr. Hurst.

In her opening remarks, which seem now to have been some time ago, the hon. Member for Vale of York asked if we might have a pit stop if the Committee proceedings continued for a long time. I must tell the hon. Lady that my contribution to the sitting to which she referred was preceded by nearly 50 minutes of her speech. I do not know whether the Scottish education system was the same as the English one at the time, but in my childhood I remember doing something in the English language called précis. If the hon. Lady does not know what that means, perhaps she can ask me afterwards. I am also reminded of someone who spoke at great length at a meeting. At the end, he apologised for not having had the time to shorten his speech.

The clause puts into statute what already exists in some harbour byelaws. Police presence is not as ubiquitous on the water as it is on the roads. That is why the proposals seek to give powers to, but not to impose duties on, marine officials to allow them to assist the police. In order to operate the testing regime in practice, it is necessary to put in place suitable powers to detain suspects for a reasonable time pending the arrival of the police. The police may then administer breath tests, arrest a crew member or a person exercising a navigational function who is suspected of being intoxicated or unfit either through alcohol or drugs.

In the same way that a store detective may detain a shoplifting suspect pending the arrival of the police, those powers may be triggered only when the marine official has reasonable grounds for suspicion that an offence under this part is being or has been committed. Examples of persons to be treated as marine officials under clause 81(3)(b) are: a commissioned naval or military officer; any departmental officer, including officers of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency; any officer of Customs and Excise; and any British consular official.

Mr. Randall: The Minister mentioned store detectives, which struck a chord with me. There is a valid case for store detectives having reasonable ground, but they are trained. The kinds of people the Minister illustrated under paragraph (b) will not necessarily have such detailed knowledge, and subsequent counter-charges could be brought against them for false detention. That is something store detectives have to be aware of.

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Mr. Jamieson: I think we covered training in a previous sitting. In certain cases people will need training. However, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is extremely familiar with the procedures. It is most likely to be involved and already has powers to detain ships over inadequate crewing or the maintenance of the ship.

Under clause 81(3)(b) the Secretary of State may by order designate other classes of persons as having the power to detain vessels, which was a point raised by the hon. Member for Vale of York. It will be important to define those groups of marine officials carefully. We have in mind officials from such organisations as British Waterways and the Broads Authority. I hope that that helps the hon. Member for Uxbridge with his concerns about inland waterways.

Safeguards are in place. The detention envisaged by the clause is conditional on a request for a police constable to attend being made as soon as possible. It will lapse if the police inform the marine official that they have decided not to take specimens. In reply to the hon. Member for Uxbridge, the constable could be summoned in any appropriate way.

I turn to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Vale of York—so long as she does not walk out on me. I am not used to ladies walking out on me, Mr. Hurst, not least the hon. Member for Vale of York. She asked about penalties. I know that we touched only briefly on clause 79 in our last sitting, but the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Uxbridge both contributed to a brief debate that covered the penalties, about which she asked several times. The hon. Member of Uxbridge asked in an intervention whether part 4 covered inland waterways. The answer is yes.

''Marine official'' applies to inland water officials as well as those at sea. The reference to harbour officials clearly covers only harbours. Clause 81 will ensure that appropriate officials will be able to detain people outside harbours; that is, outside their jurisdiction. The hon. Member for Vale of York raised a new master point about powers needed to detain a vessel pending the police's arrival to conduct a breath test on someone suspected of committing an offence under this part of the Bill. The existing provisions apply to harbour authorities. Here we are widening the group of officials given the power to detain vessels by order.

The hon. Lady spoke at great length about testing and I assure her that in line with testing on the roads it will not be at random. In our last sitting, the hon. Lady spoke for nearly 50 minutes in the debate on clause 80, subsection (1) of which states that the power to require a specimen shall apply when

    ''a constable in uniform reasonably suspects that the person is committing an offence''.

There would have to be reasonable suspicion or an accident would have to have occurred, which is the case on the roads.

 
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