Licensing Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Dr. Howells: I do not want to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but we have been considering all vessels. I am not aware of an undertaking to give an exemption to those classes of boats.

Mr. Moss: My wording is stronger than it might have been and the Minister has corrected me. He has put it on record that he will not give any exemptions.

Column Number: 599

The impression that I wanted to give was that some indication had been given that the matter would be considered, rather than suggesting that an exemption had been promised. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am not trying to bounce him. I would not use my record of the proceedings to put something on the record that he will have to deny at great cost later. I am delighted that he is listening to every word that I say.

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): That is very impressive.

Mr. Moss: It is. I shall continue circumspectly. As I stated previously, public safety is already covered under strict Maritime and Coastguard Agency regulations. The sale of alcohol to children is dealt with under clause 144. That concern could already be met elsewhere in the legislation. The Government's proposal is insufficient to safeguard the many operators who cater for groups larger than 12 on smaller boats operating on inland waterways, whose businesses do not require the stringent controls and potentially costly requirements of being covered under the licensing laws, while maintaining controls on larger boats.

The amendments propose discounting boats from the licensing regime altogether, and providing the courts with the necessary powers to cease alcohol trading on board specific vessels at the request of the chief police officer where the vessel or operator of the boat is causing public disorder or compromising safety. That approach is already applicable to train operators under clause 156. Perhaps a workable solution could be for responsible vessel owners to be exempted, while the police have the means to cease the trade of irresponsible operators.

2.45 pm

The Government continue to state that the licensing system for smaller boats will be simple and not costly. It would be helpful if the Minister gave a clear indication of those costs and of the processes that small vessel operators will face under the new regime, if they are to be included in the Bill. New clause 5 would rework clause 156, which deals with the sale of alcohol on trains. People have been telling us that the model in the Bill for trains and the train system is perhaps a way of ensuring that smaller operators running bars on the canal network and assisting the tourism industry are exempted from some of the licensing requirements.

I beg to move the amendment.

The Chairman: Order. Before we proceed, I inform hon. Members that there can be no moving of an amendment at this stage because we are discussing clause stand part. With that in mind, I feel obliged to point out that should sponsors of other individual amendments want to have them moved when they are reached in the course of debate—I am thinking particularly of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) and, in his absence, that tabled by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field)—it will be necessary for them to indicate to the Chair in

Column Number: 600

advance that they want to have their amendments called and moved formally.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Thank you, Mr. Gale, for that guidance. I hope that it will not be necessary to move formally any of the three amendments that I have tabled. However, I should like the Minister's reaction to them.

Shipping law does not lie at the heart of my experience and knowledge, but I have become concerned that some aspects of the clauses have been drafted without sufficient attention to the needs of those in the shipping and pleasure craft industries. I shall begin with amendment No. 406, which would delete the word ''vessel'' from subsection (5) and would mean that it would be possible for an individual to obtain a provisional statement for a vessel under clauses 29 to 31.

I am once again indebted to the Yacht Brokers, Designers and Surveyors Association for its assistance with amendment No. 406. Clause 186 refers back to clauses that allow for an application for a premises licence to be made while premises are under construction. Vessels are excluded from that provision under clause 186. If someone is having a yacht built for charter, given the amount of capital involved they will almost certainly want to start making money from the yacht as soon as practicable. They will want to start using it as soon as it is commissioned and a wait of an unknown period after commissioning while the local authority processes the premises licence means a loss of trade and therefore income. Under the provisions in clauses 29 to 31, that argument is accepted for buildings but the Minister does not seem to accept it for vessels.

Of course, many vessels cost even more to build than buildings. I refer by way of example to the Wightlink ferry recently commissioned by Wightlink, which is being built in Poland. Boats are renowned for being delivered late, although I do not think that the last Wightlink vessel commissioned from Poland was. That is not to say that other boats will not be delivered late. If the ferry is to be delivered ready to go a day or two before Cowes week, it would be sensible to have the premises licence in place. In fact, that would be possible if we were talking about a building rather than a vessel.

Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman is making a fascinating case. I am sure that I recall from our debates on provisional statements that an application for a premises licence for the building—if the hon. Gentleman would allow me to refer to it in that way—would have to be made as soon as the building was commissioned or ordered, anyway. The owner of the building cannot simply assume that the licence will automatically be deliverable when he unlocks the door.

Of course there is the problem, if the hon. Gentleman wants to call it that, of delay, but it is only a problem in so far as there will be a length of time between an application being made and it being granted. As he knows, there are strong provisions in the guidance and the Bill to ensure that that is as limited a period as possible.

Column Number: 601

Mr. Turner: I accept that and perhaps I have been careless in using the term ''premises licence''.

Mr. Moss: I listened carefully to what the Minister said. We did not debate the relevant clauses on provisional statements because we did not have the time; the guillotine came down. I will not go into the details of whether timetabling is a good or a bad thing, but the industry wanted a debate on provisional statements as they are a key subject about which it still has serious concerns. The fear is that although there will be provisional statements and an owner will, in all likelihood, get a licence, while the building is being constructed someone may say, ''Oh, I was on holiday at the time, but I am now complaining about the issuing of a licence.'' In the case of a boat, I should think that there would not be quite the same objections that would stop a licence in its tracks.

Mr. Turner: I certainly hope that there would not be. I promise not to re-open—or rather, open—debate on clauses 29 to 31, Mr. Gale. However, there is discrimination between those constructing and commissioning buildings and those constructing and commissioning vessels and I see no reason for that.

The explanatory notes say:

    ''The effect of the clause is to establish a mechanism whereby those engaged in or about to engage in construction or development work at premises to be used for licensable activities . . . can obtain a certain degree of assurance about their potential trading conditions.''

I accept that the provisional statement is not a premises licence and it is not automatically converted into one. However, as the notes say, such a statement means that those commissioning the building—and, if the amendment is accepted, the vessel—can at an early stage receive a statement describing the likely effect of the intended licensable activities.

Those commissioning such buildings will be undertaking a major investment with some, but not total, comfort and I do not understand why a vessel is treated differently in that respect. Vessels, particularly those used for pleasure, are unfortunate in that they are not treated like other vehicles used for transport, such as aeroplanes, hovercraft and trains. Nor do they receive some of the benefits that apply to buildings. I would like the Minister to explain why the benefits do not apply to vessels. That is all I need to say about amendment No. 406.

Going nearer to where we are in the Bill, but by no means reaching that point, I will deal with amendments Nos. 324 and 364. I do not intend to press amendment No. 324 to a Division because I have subsequently discovered that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency does not licence licensable activity in the manner for which the Bill provides.

The Minister must respond to an important question on pleasure craft—I will come to ferries in a moment. I have received several representations about the licensing of pleasure craft. I shall start by quoting the Minister's words from the debate this morning. He said:

    ''If boat operators are pressing for an exemption from such offences, they are making a case . . . for the licensing of vessels.''

Column Number: 602

They are doing no such thing. They are saying that if licences are going to those vessels, we want an exemption for those purposes. I notice that the Minister nodded and I hope that he accepts that.

I have received representations about the fact that the licensing of pleasure craft is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut partly because, although licensable activities on pleasure craft are not otherwise licensed, the MCA specifically provides for such things as the means of escape from fire, shipwreck and so forth. Among others, Mark Rayment of Solent & Wightline Cruises Ltd. asked:

    ''Why we''—

the pleasure craft industry—

    ''are being singled out with yet more paperwork and regulations when we have a far better record than trains and planes''

on safety. The Marchioness was a terrible case but, first, as I have said before, it was run down by another vessel; it did not founder of its own accord or because of bad navigation practices by its master. Secondly, it was a river-going, not a sea-going vessel. Mark Rayment says:

    ''We already have had to move one vessel to Scotland to remain viable.''

By ''moved'', he means that it was physically relocated to Scotland.

I asked the Minister what would happen if all the vessels were re-registered or re-berthed in a different port—on the Clyde, for example—because that is one of the consequences of the measure. It is much easier to move a vessel from one jurisdiction to another than it is to remove a building. That may be the consequence of over-regulation, not as perceived by me or by the Minister, but as perceived by pleasure craft companies.

The South Coast Passenger Vessel Operators Association wrote to the Minister in March, saying:

    ''While the members generally accept there is a perceived need for some form of control over the consumption of alcohol by persons on board vessels,''—

they have not got their heads in the sand, if that is an appropriate expression—

    ''they feel that the draft Bill requires far more of them than is justified by the industry's record in that respect. Indeed, members of the Association have, during the time that the original proposals were being considered, supported the proposal by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency that the MCA would be the most appropriate body to devise and apply such regulations as considered necessary to assert a proper level of control . . . The Association, which represents 30 operators from Eastbourne to Plymouth, is aware that the MCA has itself made many representations to your Department and previously to the Home Office,''

protesting about such matters. [Interruption.] I am sorry that the Minister seems to be sea sick. I want to know why he considers the MCA to be an appropriate body to take care of such vessels.

The particular concern of that association and of Solent & Wightline Cruises Ltd. and Blue Funnel Cruises, which operates from Ocean Village, Southampton—the managing director is the brother of the managing director of Solent & Wightline Cruises—is that

    ''the Bill requires holders of a personal licence to demonstrate knowledge of licensing law, public entertainment and gambling law

Column Number: 603

    . . . The Bill provides that such holders may be members of the ship's operating crew.''

Is that so? The association continues:

    ''for a person to be a crew member, they must hold proficiency certificates demonstrating considerable knowledge of navigation, tidal and other local conditions, ship handling, safety of ship and passengers and first aid''.

3 pm

In other words, the association fears that the Bill requires the appointment of people not only with licensing experience, which may be reasonable, but, due to its interaction with shipping law, with knowledge of first aid, ship handling, navigation and so on. Can the Minister reassure me—

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 15 May 2003