Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Randall: I have just found something of interest in the explanatory notes, which I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to clarify. Paragraph 90, on page 25, refers to subsection (3)(a) and its reference to ''may use reasonable force''. It states:

    ''Clause 83 differs slightly from the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Transport & Works Act 12992, in that it makes reference to ''reasonable force'' rather than ''by force''.''

Which is right and which is wrong, and do the Government intend to propose legislation to change the Road Traffic Act 1988?

Mr. Jamieson: If the enforcement measures are to be effective, a police officer must be able to board ship or to enter any other place, as appropriate, to make an arrest or to exercise any of his powers under clause 80—the powers under the road traffic legislation as modified by the table in that clause. Those powers include requesting a specimen, and are substantially similar to section 6(6) of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

A police officer may use reasonable force and may be accompanied as necessary in exercising the power under this provision. I am informed that there is little difference in practice between ''reasonable force'' and ''by force''. Under our legal system, a police officer always has to act reasonably in such circumstances.

Mr. Randall: As the Under-Secretary was once a member of the Government's Whips Office, I am sure that he would agree that there is a fine balance between reasonable force and force, and that he will have it right.

Mr. Jamieson: I think, Mr. Hurst, you will remember that in my careful charge as a Whip force was never used. Only gentle persuasion, at the very most, was ever used by the Whip's Office.

Miss McIntosh: As the Under-Secretary represents a Plymouth constituency, has he ever had occasion to board a vessel that did not wish him to do so? Has he thought about the practicalities of boarding a moving vessel from another moving vessel at sea, and using force in the process?

The Chairman: Order. I hope that we shall not be detained by the Under-Secretary's recollections of being a pirate.

Mr. Jamieson: Thank you, Mr. Hurst. I was deeply tempted by the hon. Lady's comment. I have never

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landed on board ship from a helicopter but I have been on a helicopter from which someone was lowered on to a moving vessel, so I know that it is possible. Of course, the Royal Navy has a large presence in my constituency and on occasion it boards vessels off our coast and in other parts of the world to enforce laws. If necessary, it uses reasonable force in the circumstances, and a 16,000 tonne vessel with some large guns on board can use substantial force.

In order effectively to operate the enforcement regime, the police will often require assistance from the appropriate authorities to gain access to vessels, especially while they are at sea within UK territorial waters. We anticipate that sometimes maritime, harbour or inland waterway authorities may need to be involved. Marine officials may accompany the constable in uniform—for example, when he is being transferred from one vessel to another by helicopter. I accept, as the hon. Member for Vale of York said, that that may be difficult or problematic, and it is not to be done by someone without the appropriate training.

The hon. Lady asked whether powers of entry applied to recreational vessels and the answer is yes, but in the circumstances set out in a previous clause. The explanatory notes make it clear that we are satisfied that the Bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights. Had we not been of that mind, we would not have proceeded. This part of the Bill raises ECHR issues similar to those that apply to drink-drive legislation for roads. We are not aware of any issues that would cast that legislation into doubt.

Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful to the Minister for that clarification; the police must have a right of entry. The nature of boardings was explained to me during my six days on HMS Cumberland; one reason for the Royal Navy being in the Gulf at that time was to police the embargo on Iraq breaking United Nations sanctions and exporting its oil. My question was not about a police officer boarding a ship from a helicopter but about the much more likely scenario of an officer boarding from another vessel at sea and the difficulties involved in trying to move from one to another.

One definitions states that any commissioned naval or military officer is considered for the purposes of section 284 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 as a proper person. In this clause, we are talking about a constable, for whom boarding a ship could be extremely dangerous, and I hope that the Government have taken that on board. It is most helpful to know that recreational craft will be covered. We hope that the Government are right that the European convention on human rights will not have a negative impact and be used as a defence to frustrate the Bill's purposes.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 83 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 84

Consequential repeal

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

Miss McIntosh: I presume that section 117 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 is redundant because it is replaced by clause 84 and that drunkenness and being under the influence of drugs on duty are now new offences under the Bill.

Mr. Jamieson: Yes. The provisions in part 4 are intended to overlap with and replace section 117 of the Merchant Shipping Act (1995). Under that section a skipper or seaman on a fishing vessel committed an offence if his capacity to carry out his duties or to fulfil his responsibility for the vessel was impaired through drink or drugs while he was on board. Fishermen are now covered by clause 75 as professional staff when acting in the course of business or employment. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Lady.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 84 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 85

Orders and regulations

Miss McIntosh: I beg to move amendment No. 50, in

    clause 85, page 36, line 20, at end add—

    '(7) The organisations consulted in accordance with subsection (6) shall include representatives of the employers, shipowning companies, the British Chamber of Shipping and the Maritime Trade Unions.'.

The amendment is fairly self-explanatory. Clause 85 gives the Secretary of State power to make orders or regulations. There are corresponding provisions in similar clauses for other parts of the Bill. Subsection (6) states that before the Secretary of State makes such regulations he

    ''shall consult such organisations as he thinks fit''.

We would like to make a plea for the organisations consulted to include representatives of the employers, ship-owning companies, the Chamber of Shipping and the maritime trade unions.

Will the Minister confirm that the pilots' associations and the various ports associations—of which two immediately spring to mind—will also be consulted? The maritime trade unions, of which the largest and best known is probably NUMAST, would like to be consulted as a matter of course. The Chamber of Shipping and the ship-owning companies and other employers would also expect to be consulted as a matter of course.

We and those organisations believe that too much would be left to the Secretary of State's discretion without the amendment, regardless—this is not a party political point—of what Government were in power. It would be incumbent on the Government to expand the number of organisations involved. We could write into the Bill that those bodies would be consulted as of right.

Mr. Randall: I support the amendment, and I think I know what the Minister is going to say. After sitting

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for a while on these Committees, I have got the hang of things: the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said that there was question A and answer B.

Subsection (6) is probably replicated elsewhere in all sorts of Bills. As my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York said, we are not making a party political point, merely flagging up the point. The current Secretary of State is an admirable gentleman and I am sure that he would consult as widely as possible. In today's world, however, it may be wise to specify a little more. It might be that a particular Secretary of State did not want to hear from the employers or the Chamber of Shipping or perhaps even the unions. It is in the interests of all that a wide spectrum of organisations is consulted. It will be welcome if the Under-Secretary can provide sufficient assurances but full consultation in the interests of fairness is necessary.

10.45 am

This is not to cast any aspersions on any particular Secretary of State, past, present or future—I am sure that many future Secretaries of State are sitting on both sides of the Committee—

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): Hear, hear!

Mr. Jamieson: I noted a flutter of reaction from the Opposition side of the Committee when future Secretaries of State were mentioned. Some Opposition Members are quite young, so who knows, all sorts of wonderful things could happen—perhaps even for the Liberals, but perhaps we should not go into the realms of fantasy.

The Government intend that consultation in respect of any proposal to amend the prescribed alcohol limits will be as wide as possible, and it would certainly include all the organisations mentioned in the amendment. Similarly, if it becomes necessary to prescribe limits for drugs, we would consult widely on producing the necessary equipment—a portable testing device, for example—to enable the police to screen for the presence of drugs.

I note that the hon. Member for Uxbridge said that after two and a half weeks of the Bill, he was getting the hang of it. I hope that he will have got the hang of it by next Tuesday morning, when we will have finished. I also noted his comment that the present Secretary of State is admirable; I would go further and say that my right hon. Friend is very admirable. In about an hour's time, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to repeat the point in the House, as the Secretary of State would be delighted to hear it.

 
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