Marine Safety Bill

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Andrew George: As I understand it, the Minister is saying that the incident commander in the case of a fire brigade could take the decision without reference to the SOSREP if they felt that it was appropriate to tow or move the vessel into the local authority's area to deal with it more appropriately within that area—in other words, close to the coast. Or, would they need to seek the authority of the SOSREP?

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Mr. Jamieson: If the SOSREP were not involved, it would be a matter of negotiation between the shipowners and the firefighting authority to do what was in their best interests. If there was a disagreement, no proper direction or the ship or shipowners were trying to do things that were not in the best interests of our coastline or even of the people aboard the ship, the SOSREP could intervene under his powers.

Dr. Lewis: I was much encouraged by the Minister's response earlier. He stated that the SOSREP would definitely have the power to order a ship that was on fire to take on board a land-based fire team if he deemed that necessary and even if the ship's crew had not requested it. For the sake of clarity, from where specifically does that power derive? Is it from existing legislation or from new schedule 3A in schedule 1? Paragraph 1(3) states:

    ''The direction may require the person to whom it is given to take or refrain from taking any specified action in relation to—

    (a) the ship''.

Does the power to force the crew to take on board firefighters reside there?

Mr. Jamieson: Schedule 1 makes new schedule 3A to the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. Much of it is the same as existing legislation. Perhaps with a little advice, I can find out exactly which part of the provision is relevant.

Dr. Lewis: Is it in the Bill?

Mr. Jamieson: Yes, it is in the schedule. It is already in the legislation. The schedule brings together the various elements.

To clarify the matter raised by the hon. Member for St. Ives, the responsibility for a ship lies with the master. Only the SOSREP, not the fire officer, has authority to direct the master to move his vessel, so what I said was correct; things would be done by negotiation. The master would make the decision unless the SOSREP had been brought in to make it—[Interruption.] Inspiration, as always, given a little time, comes along. As I thought, paragraph 1(4) of new schedule 3A states:

    ''In particular, the direction may require a person to ensure . . .

    (f) that a person is put ashore or on board a ship.''

There we are. I do not have to write to the hon. Member for New Forest, East; we have the answer for him now. The clause encourages fire authorities to continue to provide their expert services. The Government very much welcome and support it.

Dr. Iddon: I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for supporting the clause. They may like to know about the sea of change project, which is a Maritime and Coastguard Agency-sponsored research project on firefighting at sea, in co-operation with Her Majesty's fire service inspectorate and the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association. It is a two-year project to review the current response from UK fire brigades in dealing with incidents at sea, and it commenced work in January. I hope that that will add to the powers behind the clause, to make the firefighting facilities of coastal fire authorities more than adequate and the best in the world.

Question put and agreed to.

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Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 3 and 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5


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

Mr. Randall: As clause 2 does not extend to Scotland—or Northern Ireland—and presuming that a similar measure does not exist in Scotland, has the Scottish Parliament indicated that if the Bill is passed, it will introduce similar legislation? The Minister said earlier that there is little firefighting provision on the east coast up towards the highlands and I do not know whether there are comparable firefighting facilities in Scotland. I raise the matter out of interest.

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Dr. Iddon: As I understand it, the powers extend to England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Scilly Isles and, as the hon. Gentleman said, Scotland is different. The Fire Services Act 1947 is applicable only to England and Wales and Scotland has devolved authority. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 to 3 agreed to.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose at eighteen minutes to Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Hurst, Mr. Alan (Chairman)
Ellman, Mrs.
George, Andrew
Gibson, Dr.
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Iddon, Dr.
Jamieson, Mr.
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Prosser, Mr.
Randall, Mr.
Rapson, Syd
Watts, Mr.

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