1. The common law obligation to maintain the highest possible standards in compulsory pilotage areas. This obligation was confirmed and acknowledged by Lord Bingham the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of Criminal Appeal in April 2000 when allowing a reduction in penalty to Milford Haven port authority following its admission of guilt in the SEA EMPRESS incident of 1996. Lord Bingham noted with approval that efforts had been made to improve standards.

2. In a report published in April 2002, “The New Humber Pilot Service”, the Department for Transport, Local Government and Regions confirmed that the obligation identified in the SEA EMPRESS case is strict and onerous.

3. The declaration of the International Maritime Organization (representing the maritime concerns of the United Nations Organization) that developed standards in pilotage (and not merely in compulsory pilotage areas) should be not merely maintained but enforced. This declaration is in Resolution A960 of 2004, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory.

It follows necessarily that any relaxation of standards in a compulsory pilotage area (as HM government now specifically proposes) is unlawful; and that the obligation to maintain standards remains accordingly strict and onerous. This you should know. The Department for Transport has known it since 2002 at the latest.”

Stephen Hammond: Let me try to help the hon. Gentleman. His constituent is a prodigious and prolific writer, and he has written to the Department along similar lines. Clause 2 deals with pilotage exemption certificates. Clause 2(1)(a) and (b) substitute “master” and “mate” with

“a member of the crew”.

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The provisions are, of course, still subject to section 8 of the Pilotage Act 1987, which clearly states that a competent harbour authority can issue a pilotage exemption certificate only when it is certain that the applicant’s

“skill, experience and local knowledge are sufficient for him to be capable of piloting the ship”.

That is why the Government are confident that what we are doing does not represent what the hon. Gentleman’s constituent has written to say. Moreover, when combined, the provisions in the Bill will strengthen the allocation of exemption certificates, as they will enable competent harbour authorities to withdraw them much more speedily, if for any reason they are no longer confident of the certificate holder’s skill, experience or local knowledge. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that reassurance, but if he wishes to pursue the matter further we can do so in Committee.

Andrew Miller: That is an extremely helpful statement to have on the record. However, I want to pursue the Minister a little further before I relax my guard, because it follows from what he says—I hope that he will correct me if I have misunderstood this—that the exemption for an individual cannot be granted willy-nilly. I know that there has been discussion in the Department and that people have talked about different ranks on the ship, but it is not a question of what rank the person holds; it is a question of their qualifications and competence to undertake the task in question. As I understand it, that is measured by two things: first, the individual’s ability to meet the requirements of the port authority in question; and, secondly, that the exemption is for that specific vessel and that vessel only. I would be grateful if the Minister put on record his agreement that the exemption under those circumstances would not even, for example, extend to a sister ship, and that it must meet the standards that are normally in place for the port in question.

Stephen Hammond: I am obviously disappointed that the hon. Gentleman feels the need to have his guard up when I am at the Dispatch Box, but let me reassure him that the position that he has just outlined is indeed correct. The exemption does not refer to rank—it refers to qualification—and it does refer to the specific vessel.

Andrew Miller: And the specific port?

Stephen Hammond indicated assent.

Andrew Miller: That is very important. I would suggest to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall, who has moved that the Bill receive its Second Reading, that, for the sake of clarity and ensuring absolutely no ambiguity, there is an argument that clause 2(1) should be gently amended in Committee to make things so clear that no court could misinterpret what the Minister and I—and, indeed, the hon. Lady—clearly understand to be the correct position.

Sheryll Murray: I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that about three different wordings for clause 2 have already been received. We will certainly ensure that it is as explicit as possible to reflect the intention, which is for a specific vessel, in a specific port, for a specific time period.

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Andrew Miller: That is extremely helpful.

The hon. Lady covered a number of other important points, and she was gracious enough to recognise that it essentially had its genesis some years ago, under the previous Administration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) is very enthusiastic about the core principles of the Bill. He is not with us yet because he is attending the memorial service for Malcolm Wicks, and I know that the House will understand the reason for his absence. However, because we are dealing with an issue that involves profound safety risks—as is clear from the accidents that have occurred in the past—we must ensure that when we amend the legislation we get it absolutely right. Following the Minister’s reassurance about the issue of qualification, I am entirely satisfied by what has been said in good faith, but I hope that we shall be given absolute clarity on the important points that I have raised well before the Bill returns to the House.

Clause 5 has already been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Royal Yachting Association—

Sir Peter Bottomley: I am not right honourable, and I do not represent the RYA, although I plan to talk about what it has to say. I am merely trying to help the House.

Andrew Miller: If the hon. Gentleman is not right honourable, he ought to be. I accept his comments; I was jesting when I said that he represented the RYA. Anyway, he raised a legitimate point about harbour authorities. As I said, there is a complex range of port and harbour authority models, from local authority to private ownership. I want to be certain that a privately owned port, operating in the context of the Bill, is not empowered to act as judge and jury in relation to what happens within its remit.

Yesterday evening I had a very constructive discussion with the hon. Member for South East Cornwall and some of the Minister’s expert officials, and I am extremely grateful for that. I think I understand the position, but, again, I should like further clarification. I assume that it would not be in a harbour authority’s gift to block a vessel’s access unilaterally, unless it was so oversized that it could not get into the port or its cargo could not be handled appropriately there, and that only rarely could a privately owned port authority take restrictive action against the owner of the ship or the cargo.

Stephen Hammond: Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. First, the obligation that is placed on harbour authorities is placed on all of them, irrespective of the mode of ownership. However, as the Bill clearly states, harbour authorities will be responsible for consulting on any harbour direction that they propose. They will be obligated to identify the correct interested parties, and they must invite them to comment on the proposed direction. If any individuals or groups feel that they have not been adequately listened to in any consultation, they are of course entitled to challenge that direction legally.

Andrew Miller: That is an extremely helpful intervention. I appreciate that the Minister, for understandable reasons, does not want to be the regulator in this structure, but I

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am trying to seek reassurance that the small player is not disadvantaged by the mighty corporation here. Can the Minister give comfort to small yachting associations or small ship owners by indicating that if they felt they were being disadvantaged by the regulatory regime being imposed in a particular port, the might of his Department would be there, as a last resort, given that the vehicle of judicial review is a bit pricey, to support David over Goliath—although David did well on his own?

Stephen Hammond: David certainly did do well on his own. The key point that I re-emphasise to the hon. Gentleman is the obligation that harbour authorities, of whatever size, have to parties of whatever size to ensure that they have identified all those legally obligated and interested parties. I am prepared to look at that assurance again in Committee, but I think it is in place.

Sheryll Murray: Will the Minister give way?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. You cannot have an intervention on an intervention. I would wait until Andrew Miller is back on his feet if I were you.

Andrew Miller: I was wondering where we were getting to with that point. I listened carefully to the Minister and I welcome that assurance. This is a question of language and whether there needs to be a stop-gap for circumstances where the port is not in public ownership. For publicly owned ports the line of accountability is through the ballot box.

Sheryll Murray: I apologise for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman will know that this clause does not affect the open port duty, which provides that any harbour has to have open access for vessels to use the harbour, and to load and unload cargo and passengers. I hope that that will give him comfort that privately owned ports and harbours will not be able to use general rules of direction to prevent competitors from using port facilities.

Andrew Miller: The hon. Lady has put it succinctly and the Minister needs to consider the extent to which it is necessary to reinforce that by finding a way to express it in the Bill. It may or may not be necessary to do so; this may be sufficiently well established with the concept of open ports. However, as more ports become privately owned institutions the question is raised in my mind about fairness and equity in an important market.

Those were the two substantive points I wished to raise, although the Bill contains a lot more than just them. The hon. Lady has put forward some valuable and important propositions in the Bill. On that basis, I hope my points can be dealt with sensibly in Committee and that there can be consensus that meets not just the needs of the House but the broader opinions held outside it, including those of my constituents. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for meeting me yesterday with the Minister’s officials and I am grateful to the Minister for his extremely helpful assurances about issues that concern people’s safety. We can progress on that basis and I hope we will see the necessary adjustments in Committee.

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12.45 pm

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) for introducing the Bill. I do not think that anyone is unaware of how deeply she cares about the maritime industry and it must be a particular pleasure for her to introduce the Bill today.

It is fairly true that, as my hon. Friend said, many of the measures in the Bill appear arcane. That is because we do not see maritime Bills very often. For those of us on the Conservative Benches, that probably goes to prove that industries thrive best when Governments and politicians do not get in their way. Considering the maritime traditions of this country, it is perhaps a great surprise that we do not talk about them more often. I for one value hugely and am well aware of the maritime industry’s contribution to our economy, particularly in the area local to me in Thurrock, where the port of Tilbury and its associated shipping and logistics interests are so significant for jobs and wealth creation.

As my hon. Friend the Minister takes on his new responsibilities, I ask him not to neglect the maritime sector but not to get in its way either.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that unlike airport capacity, with which we know we have a problem and with which we are trying to grapple, port capacity is growing rapidly in the UK? That shows the success of the sector. My hon. Friend will know that it is true because of the presence of the largest construction site in Europe next to her constituency in Thurrock.

Jackie Doyle-Price: My hon. Friend makes his point extremely well. I know he has been very proud to witness the growth of that new major port facility in his constituency. The emergence of that port further strengthens the role of the Thames and the estuary in our port infrastructure and the ports in my constituency are looking forward to its becoming functional. They do not view it as competition but think that it will strengthen the maritime sector overall. The interesting thing about my hon. Friend’s comparison with aviation is that a lot of heat has been generated about aviation capacity and, as we have said, the maritime industry tends to be neglected by politicians. Sometimes that is a good thing, but when the Mayor of London makes noise about the availability of the Thames estuary as a potential airport location, he has not thought about its impact on the maritime sector. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues in the Department for Transport will consider fully the impact on the shipping and maritime industries of their considerations about airport capacity in the south-east.

I want to focus on clause 7 and the provisions on port police. I draw the House’s attention to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which records that I am an unpaid adviser to the port of Tilbury police in my constituency. Six port police forces serve the ports of Dover, Felixstowe, Bristol, Liverpool, Tees and Hartlepool and, last but not least, Tilbury. The Port of Tilbury police are the second oldest police force in the country. It is the heir to the port of London Authority police force, which followed on from the Thames River police force, which was ultimately merged with the Metropolitan police. We are proud of our historic role in the development of policing in this country.

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The point is that when we talk about port police, we are not talking about something separate from the established police forces that people recognise; we are talking about police constables and their powers. That is why clause 7, which will extend the jurisdiction of port police officers, is so important.

As I mentioned, the need for a change to legislation was identified back in 2008, so for me, the clause is extremely belated, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall for including it in her Bill, particularly as the Bill contains a number of provisions; it is ambitious, and it is a tribute to her that she has included so many measures in it.

I am sure that many Members will be surprised to learn that there are separate port police forces. Perhaps it is worth reminding the House, and acknowledging, that there are a number of non-Home Office police forces in the UK. The most well known are probably the Ministry of Defence police and the British Transport police. The role of port police forces is to undertake policing activities in port areas. My local port police force in Tilbury polices an area the same size as the City of London. Those Members who have not been to a port may not realise that ports are big communities in themselves and do need a police function. Port police forces are funded entirely by the ports that they serve; they take no resource from the taxpayer.

The six ports with police forces account for more than 40% of the UK’s non-oil traffic, which means that those police forces are the guardians of millions of pounds-worth of traded goods every year. I mentioned that their responsibility is to police the port area. It is worth saying a little bit about exactly what kind of activity that involves. In the public’s mind, the presence of police in a port would tend to be associated with concerns such as drug smuggling, anti-terrorism and immigration control. Those matters are the responsibility of the UK Border Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and special branch, but the port police work in constructive collaboration with those agencies. That is additional support for Government activities—at, I emphasise again, no cost to the taxpayer. Although these constables are privately funded, they enjoy exactly the same rights, responsibilities and roles as any normal constable. They owe allegiance in a personal capacity to the Crown, and they are sworn in by local magistrates.

Clause 7 extends the jurisdiction of port police constables beyond the existing limit of one mile outside the port area. That one-mile jurisdiction is enshrined in the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847. I am sure that all Members of the House will recognise that our docks were very different places then. They were places of intensive employment, and faced lots of labour issues, more than anything else. Also, the goods coming into the docks would have been a lot less technical and valuable. The pattern of policing has therefore changed. The fact that there is less employment in ports means that crimes tend to be a lot more sophisticated. The suggestion that the crimes and activities that forces will be involved in can be kept within the realms of the port is an historical anachronism.

Looking at what else has happened in the more than 150 years since the 1847 Act, obviously, there have been changes in patterns regarding holding prisoners in custody

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and the provision of courts. The reality is that when port police officers are prosecuting offenders for crimes in the normal way, through the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts, most of them have to attend courts beyond that one-mile jurisdiction, and by definition, they then do not have their powers as constable while they are in court. It is a bit dangerous to highlight that issue, but the situation needs to be addressed. Having been the best kept secret, since 2008 the press in Dover have realised that the port police there often act beyond their jurisdiction. That fact is out there and needs to be dealt with. A matter addressed in the House can often be the best kept secret, so we can have a frank debate about it.

Port police officers have to travel all over England and Wales to attend courts, but do not have the powers of a constable when they do so. On occasion, officers have attended court, have been directed by judges to arrest people and have had to explain that they do not have the power to do so. It is important for public confidence that we deal with the issue. As port police officers travel outside their port in marked cars, they are a visible presence and the public expect those officers to act and intervene when something happens—for example, if they came across a scene of crime or disorder, or to stop drunk drivers. At present they cannot do so. We have been looking for an appropriate legislative vehicle to deal with this anomaly.

Stephen Metcalfe: Can my hon. Friend give the House any practical examples where officers have not been able to use their powers, whereas under the changes proposed in the Bill, they would have been able to intervene in a crime or misdemeanour and the outcome would have been different?

Jackie Doyle-Price: I have been told by the chief constables of both Dover and Tilbury police forces that on a number of occasions officers have been asked to intervene, particularly in episodes of disorder such as street assaults, while they have been out on patrol. In practice, their current status has not prevented them from doing so, but they well know that, if challenged, they would not be able to defend their actions in court. The proposed changes would put everybody on a more secure and legitimate footing.

In making the case for the change, I want to highlight the contribution that port police make to national policing priorities. Although port police are dedicated to serving the ports where they operate, they have, as I said, the same powers as other constables, and much of the work that they do in the port is indistinguishable from and complementary to that of Home Office forces. As was said before, they prosecute crimes in the same way as any Home Office force by sending files over to the Crown Prosecution Service with recommendations for prosecution. Let me illustrate that national contribution with a few examples.

The port of Dover police is the largest of our port police forces and its presence at a busy border crossing means that the Home Office relies heavily on services that it provides. The force’s officers often play a role in detaining people subject to football banning orders. They regularly intercept people with histories of violent crime who are attempting to travel. I am advised that in

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2010 the port of Dover police arrested 180 people who were wanted by Home Office forces. That illustrates that they are very much part of the fabric of our police infrastructure.

Both the port of Dover and the port of Tilbury have automatic number plate reading systems installed at the ports, which are connected to the police national computer. As a result, nearly 700 vehicles were intercepted in 2010 by just those two port police forces. Almost all those vehicles had had their details circulated by the police national computer from Home Office colleagues across the UK.

In addition, the work of the port police complements that of the local forces. Many port police forces engage in traffic control outside their ports, for example, thereby preventing traffic gridlock as a result of vehicles queuing to get into the ports. It is also worth mentioning that in the event of a major incident, port police forces are ready to support their Home Office colleagues. From my own perspective, given the number of COMAH—control of major accident hazards—sites that exist in my constituency, they are a fantastic additional resource that the Essex police would be able to call on in the event of a major incident. I know that the port of Tilbury police value and attach great importance to their readiness to support them in serious incidents. It is also worth noting the contribution of the port police forces to our successful Olympics this year. They were very much part of the powers to combat terrorism and made a full contribution to public safety.

Stephen Metcalfe: My hon. Friend gives a glowing account of port police. Does she think that our ports would not be so well policed without them, and, if so, would she recommend that the new port being constructed in my constituency next door to hers by DP World, the London gateway port, would be best served by adopting its own police force, rather than relying on those supplied by the Home Office?

Jackie Doyle-Price: The power of the port police, as opposed to any other supplier of security provision or support, is that they have the powers of a constable. The strength of that, and the support that we give to our police officers, speaks for itself. The port in my hon. Friend’s constituency has reserve powers to create a force if it so wishes, and I would encourage it to do so. My experience of the port of Tilbury police is that, given the amount of high-value commercial activity in a port, there is every opportunity for serious and organised crime, which requires the expertise and dedication of sworn-in police officers to combat that effectively. To be frank, it will give a level of service that contract providers such as G4S would never be able to provide.

Sheryll Murray: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Northern Ireland Assembly could introduce the same legislation as this to ensure that the two ports in Northern Ireland had the same powers?

Jackie Doyle-Price: I completely endorse that point. In many ways, over the years the port of Belfast police may have made more of a contribution to our national security than any of the other port police forces. The chief constable of the port of Belfast police wants exactly this measure for his force. I would thoroughly

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encourage the Northern Ireland Assembly and Ministers to engage in whatever is necessary to ensure that these legislative provisions are extended to the port of Belfast police.

The port police do other work in support of Government agencies. For a number of years, port police forces have supported the UK Border Agency in arresting illegal immigrants. We are all well aware of the stories over the years that we have read in our newspapers, particularly concerning Dover, but a number of incidents in Tilbury have also required the port police to arrest illegal immigrants. The port police also assist the Maritime Coastguard Agency by detecting offences contrary to regulations on the carriage of dangerous goods by sea. I emphasise that all this work in support of what the public expect from their police services in protecting the security of our kingdom is done at no cost to the taxpayer.

In practical terms, the legislation will allow the police officers to maintain their powers and privileges of the office of constable beyond the 1 mile jurisdiction. When they attend custody suites with prisoners they will be working on legitimate authority. As I have mentioned, we are aware of occasions when port officers have attended court and been asked to arrest persons. If they do so—and they have done so—they are acting outside the law, which is clearly in no one’s interests and needs to be addressed. Equally, when processing prisoners at custody suites outside their jurisdiction, strictly speaking it is illegal for officers to carry any personal protection, including batons and handcuffs, but if they were not to do that they would obviously be at risk. Again, we need to remove that anomaly.

This change will enable officers going to or returning from an incident to use their powers as constables to deal with crimes in progress rather than simply reporting it to the local force. Clearly, there is an efficiency for local forces if a port police officer can deal with a matter there and then instead of, as in my case, referring the matter to Essex police and waiting for an attending officer. That will enable them to be much more effective in supporting their local officers and will mean that, if called upon to support in a major incident, they will be able to act with the full confidence that they are not acting outside their powers. The important practical point is that it will enable officers to arrest suspects and carry out house searches for offences committed in the port but where the suspects live outside, because otherwise going to an address outside a jurisdiction would obviously mean working outside their authority.

Some Members might be a little nervous that we are extending the jurisdiction, but the existing jurisdiction is well below that of special constables and we should look at it in those terms. Also, the way my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall has presented the relevant clause in the Bill means that the chief officer for the resident Home Office force will have the powers to rescind the right to operate beyond the jurisdiction of 1 mile if he is ever unhappy with the manner in which the port police are operating. The way the Bill is drafted brings no challenge at all to the chief constable in the Home Office force and allows us to maximise the complementary nature of port police officers. I know that the Department for Transport has consulted all the Home Office forces that would be affected by that and all chief constables were positive.

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I hope that I have been able to persuade colleagues of the real urgency of tackling this anomaly once and for all, in the interests of security and public confidence in our policing. I hope that the Bill is given a Second Reading, notwithstanding the concerns expressed about other provisions, which I look forward to addressing in Committee.

1.6 pm

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): The House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) for sharing her expertise on the important work done by the police linked to harbours. We all agree that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) is doing a service to the nation and to those who use our harbours and ports. I will not repeat what we have heard about her expertise and involvement, but I pay tribute to her. I also welcome the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who we have heard was at the memorial service for our former colleague Malcolm Wicks, who was the kind of person who gave politics and political service a good name.

I have no intention of delaying the Bill and want to see it on the statute book. There has clearly been bipartisan agreement about it for some time. Its purposes are necessary and the changes are sensible. I do not think that there is a serous objection to anything in particular, other than the need to sort out what was not clear to the constituent of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), which is that clause 2(1) is an amendment to an Act that is very clear about the person who holds a pilot certificate or is recognised as a competent pilot for one or more vessels. That is a strong and necessary provision that is being continued. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for raising the point about clause 5, which I will like to speak about shortly.

My maritime experience was gained when I worked my passage back from Brisbane to Liverpool, working 16 hours a day on a 7,000-tonne freighter. Given some of our experiences while crossing the Australian bight, I have a respect for those who go to sea in all weathers, especially on long journeys, and the fishermen who put up with whatever the weather throws at them. At some stage I might write half a chapter for my unread and unwritten autobiography about what can happen when 82 people are on a vessel for seven weeks. Nowadays there would be about 17 people, so half the things that happened would not happen now.

I also think that it is about time we got back to recognising—this is a brief diversion—some of our great maritime stories. I think that the works of Joseph Conrad should be brought back and given the same importance as the present Man Booker nominees, as should those of Somerset Maugham and Erskine Childers, who wrote “The Riddle of the Sands”, which, although written as a warning about possible threats of war, is I think one of the most evocative books ever written about the sea and about sailing, and certainly the most evocative I have read.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his responsibilities and congratulate him on how he has already approached these issues in being willing to

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intervene in the debate and to say that he will happily meet those with concerns about particular parts of the Bill. That will make a difference.

I am a life member of the Royal Yachting Association, partly to avoid its spotting how bad a sailor I am and saying that it will not renew my membership unless I take another course. The RYA knows perfectly well that when there is an issue that I think it has not got right, I will pursue it, as I did at the last annual general meeting; I pay tribute to how it has responded since.

We have to look at the reasons for its concerns. Nobody expects that the navigation or harbour authorities are going to do anything silly or daft. They carry out their responsibilities in providing navigation aids and controlling safety in and around their harbours in a way that is much appreciated, whether by leisure sailors, commercial traffic or the fishing industry. When I was agriculture Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, one of the happiest times I had was going out fishing from Kilkeel at midnight on one of those very calm nights when the water reflected the moon. Those who smoked had a fag and then pulled in their nets, and about 4 tonnes of fish were landed. It was one of those magical evenings where one can understand the allure of the sea.

My Friend the Minister may say, as no doubt his predecessor will have said before the change of Government, that if an authority is going to do something that is clearly irrational there is the opportunity for a judicial review. Whenever a port authority needs to make an emergency provision, no one is going to argue with its doing so—safety comes first, and there is usually a reason for it.

The issues that come up for consultation are those which will have permanent effect or might create a new criminal offence. There may be a judicial review if the authority, either by its own choice or because it is following a pattern created by other port and harbour authorities, is ignoring the legitimate interests of other people.

Sheryll Murray: It is intended that before any competent harbour authority introduced harbour revision orders or general rules of direction it would consult all users of the area. In Plymouth, the Queen’s harbourmaster has authority over the port of Plymouth, but we have two other major ports in Plymouth sound—Associated British Ports at Millbay docks, and Cattewater harbour, which takes in a tremendous amount of fuel to serve the south-west. We have Brittany ferries using the Millbay docks area, and we have our naval base and dockyard. I am absolutely certain that the Queen’s harbourmaster would not introduce any general rules of direction without consulting Associated British Ports and the Cattewater harbourmaster. In fact, they regularly sit on a committee called the Tamar estuaries consultative forum, which takes account of every interested party before starting to make any rules.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I appreciate that the hon. Lady is providing lots of information, but she is making an intervention, not a speech. However, I am sure that her hon. Friend is very grateful for the information.

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Sir Peter Bottomley: As directed, I am very grateful. My hon. Friend reminds me that the first woman named in the New Testament is Tamar, who appears in the second verse of the first chapter of St Matthew.

My hon. Friend makes the sensible point that people want to do sensible, important and serious things. The Minister has received a letter from the Royal Yachting Association. I will not read it, but I think I am right in saying that it would prefer not to have clause 5. It was withdrawn from what was effectively this Bill when Lord Berkeley introduced it in another place, but it has turned up again. No one is complaining about that, but the question is whether it should stay in. Without making any threatening noises, I shall say that I am sure the Bill would have as easy a passage without it as with it.

We must then consider what is the alternative. One option is for clause 5 to remain as it is, surviving Committee and Report and going to another place, but there are alternatives—it is either in, out or modified.

The RYA put to the Minister a suggestion for its modification for him to take advice on. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, in consultation with the Minister and his advisers—I am sure they are working closely together—might want to see whether the RYA’s suggestion could have what I might call a moderating effect.

If I may, I will spell out what I understand to be the RYA’s position. Clause 5 would modify the provisions on harbour revision orders. As we all know, some harbours already have the power to issue them, obtained through statute or in other ways. Clause 5 would enable harbour authorities in this jurisdiction or the Scottish nation to give general directions to ships, including recreational craft. Members might not expect this, but when I come across the Solent into Portsmouth harbour, my open canoe is classed as a ship, which is a bit grand. That is even better than the promotion that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston gave me when he confused me with my wife.

The power in clause 5 is expressed as applying to ships within, entering or leaving a harbour, and relates to their movement, their mooring, the nature and use of their equipment and the manning of them. As I have been reminded, a pre-consultation requirement is included, stating that a harbour authority should

“consult such representatives of users of the harbour as the authority think appropriate.”

We understand that it will do that properly.

Contravention of a general direction would be a criminal offence. That is not new, but it might apply if a new harbour revision order came in.

Stephen Hammond: I will try to be as helpful to my hon. Friend as I was to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller). As my hon. Friend points out, there is a requirement of pre-consultation. Prior to any consultation, the Department would issue directions as to what should be consulted upon. I believe that that potentially covers some of his objections.

Sir Peter Bottomley: We are making progress, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

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I assure my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall that I will not take all that long, but to aid the process I point out that a number of individual authorities have obtained powers of general direction over the years, starting at the time of les événements, when the permissive society was invented in 1968. Such powers of direction have generally taken the place of byelaws. Unlike directions under clause 5, which harbour authorities could issue, byelaws have to be confirmed by the Secretary of State and are subject to what most people would regard as clear checks and balances in addition to consultation. The current byelaw process involves consultation, so there is nothing new about that. The consultation element is in place already and will remain. The question is about the checks and balances that exist. I am not thinking of accusing any harbour authority of having malevolent wishes towards recreational users or other classes of ship.

I pay tribute to what the RYA does in training young people on the water in motor vessels and sailing craft. It has become a better and better organisation that does more and more good for more people, and if other organisations could do the same thing by training up the young and helping them to become first assistants and then qualified instructors, there would be far more value and purpose among our people on land as well as at sea.

The RYA has become increasingly concerned in recent years about the potential of powers of general direction to be exercised indiscriminately and in a manner that is unnecessary and harmful to the lawful exercise of recreational and other rights. Not every campaign the RYA takes up is wrong—in fact, nearly every campaign I have seen it run was right, and I admire the way in which it works with the British Marine Federation. They provide in partnership, without overlap, a seamless approach to the law and the use of our waters.

Let me give a list of some of the questions considered by the RYA about the powers of general direction, and whether they are fully merited. There are some powers that everyone can accept, but whether they are sufficiently merited to be unqualified or without the moderation that I hope the Minister will mention is a matter for debate.

Making general directions involves the creation of new criminal offences, which local harbour authorities may be seen as ill-equipped to do. Even democratically elected local authorities, in their other roles, do not normally have powers to create criminal offences, and the Bill contains none of the supervisory safeguards usually imposed on law-making bodies. This may be political theology or philosophy, but why should a harbour authority be different from a local authority?

The powers of general direction can be seen as running counter to the Government’s localism policy by granting an unelected harbour authority law-making powers that are not subjected to democratic checks and balances and full transparency. Most of us could argue that because harbour authorities exist for a particular purpose, and because those who are appointed to harbour authorities are there to provide expertise and a contribution, we should not be too worried about that. One should put it on the record that those people are not democratically elected, and the localism agenda is not just about saying that we are not going to do things in Whitehall—or in my day, the Department for Transport on Marsham

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street—but that things will be done locally by locally elected people. I do not criticise the harbour authorities for not being elected, but there is a distinction.

Under the power, general directions could be made over the wide areas used by recreational and commercial traffic in a disproportionate manner, without proper risk assessment or consideration of the full implications or possible alternatives. They could be used to impose significant and potentially burdensome restrictions on the navigational use of recreational craft. Many harbour authorities have jurisdiction over substantial areas going out to sea, not just partially enclosed harbour areas. Again, I do not want any hon. Member who arrives late to the debate to think that I am attacking the harbour authorities. I am just asking what protections there could be, and whether we need a system in which the potential for things to go wrong could be anticipated and perhaps built into the legislation.

There have been past examples—this is not about harbour authorities and harbour revision orders—where some in government picked up the idea, wrongly in my view, that small recreational craft could start contributing to light dues. We all get the benefit from navigation, but how on earth do we get a person—me in my Mirror dinghy, or one of my sons, daughters or granddaughters in their craft—to contribute to that? There is a question of where to draw the line, but at some stage it must be drawn some way away from ordinary recreational craft that might, under this legislation, be regarded as ships.

Sheryll Murray: Does my hon. Friend agree that the measure in the Bill to allow Trinity House to become more competitive and raise its own income will to some extent relieve the burden of light dues on the industry, or at least prevent the annual increase?

Sir Peter Bottomley: Yes, and were this a slightly different debate I would be paying tribute to Trinity House for what it does.

I have two more points on this general issue. Prior consultation has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, and by our hon. Friend the Minister, but we must ask whether that is an adequate safeguard. Experience shows that across the public and private sectors, inappropriate or flawed decisions sometimes follow prior consultation. We can get things wrong, whatever hat we wear.

Because reference was made to judicial review, we must ask whether it is an adequate remedy against an objectionable direction when powers are expressed without significant limitations, as in clause 5. We can presume that any procedural or substantive illegality to provide for a cause for action is highly unlikely, and an authority could just say, “I’ve consulted. I’m not convinced. I’m not going change my mind.”

The adjudication procedure, which the Minister might talk about, could allow interested people to require, in limited circumstances, the harbour authority to obtain an independent report on issues arising before deciding to proceed, to ensure that the designated harbour authority’s case for the exercise of the power includes recreational interest concerns, and to ensure that it is fully explained and documented, and subject to independent and objective examination.

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Clearly, the designated harbour authority would retain ultimate discretion and authority to proceed with proposed directions having considered the independent person’s report. A decision by the designated harbour authority would be open to legal challenge only if it is patently perverse to allow it to proceed, when the courts and judicial review become involved. The fact that concerns me is that the cost of formal legal proceedings and getting a fair hearing would act as a spur to persuade interested bodies, including the RYA and other stakeholder interests, to accept decisions. As I said earlier, if a direction is issued in an emergency, the consultation could not take place, although the procedure may be applied retrospectively if the direction given in an emergency or at short notice is likely to turn into a permanent or long-standing requirement.

I am advised that the procedure has been applied under the Broads Authority Act 2009, which is a precedent. Hon. Members are keen on precedents, although the House of Commons has “Erskine May”, which is full of things that had not happened before or that were blocked for the first time. A similar provision is included in the recently published draft Cowes harbour revision order, but the Poole Harbour Revision Order 2012 was made without such a provision, because, as I understand it, the Poole Harbour Commissioners objected to its inclusion. The RYA makes it clear that such a provision provides a worthwhile, and some would say essential, safeguard that ought to be applied more generally. I agree. The RYA expressed its concerns to representatives of the port industry and the Government before the 2010 general election in response to the Government’s consultation on a draft maritime navigation Bill in 2008.

Clearly, the Bill has been improved by that consultation, and I hope it will be improved as a result of my remarks. I am grateful to the House for listening to me with kindness, but more importantly, for listening with admiration to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall.

1.27 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): May I offer my apologies, Madam Deputy Speaker, for wearing my “Malcolm Wicks Vote Labour” sticker in the Chamber? As a number of hon. Members have said, it was his memorial today, so it is appropriate that he is with us in the Chamber, where he did such great work over 20 years. I also apologise to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), whose Bill we are debating, for missing her speech. Naturally, I will read her comments in Hansard, and I am sure I will hear her voice when I do so.

I am grateful to the shadow deputy Chief Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), for his assistance, for allowing me to be absent to go to Malcolm’s memorial, and for nursing my prepared remarks in the hope that he would not have to deliver them, which fortunately he will not.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on introducing the Bill. The Commons Library note, which was produced by the excellent Ms Louise Butcher, states:

“The Bill recreates many of the provisions in the Labour Government’s 2008 draft Marine Navigation Bill”.

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The Opposition would therefore look a bit foolish if we opposed it, although, as the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) said, the measure has aged and improved.

Our only concern with the Bill is on pilot exemption certificates. I have had discussions with the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) about this issue. Having arrived in the middle of my hon. Friend’s remarks, I know that the Minister was able to give strong reassurances about the concerns raised by the UK Maritime Pilots Association, and I am grateful to Captain Cockrill and his colleagues for their assistance in preparing for this debate. On the basis of the assurances that the Minister has given, I am sure that we will be able to support the Bill and reassure those who are worried about retaining and maintaining the skill and qualification levels of those responsible for the safe passage of vessels in and around the UK.

The Library, in the notes on page 5, gives a clear background to this critical issue, explains the development of pilot exemption certificates and reminds us that, at the time of their introduction, the Transport Select Committee expressed some concern. I greatly welcome the reassurances that the Minister has given today on these serious matters. We will, obviously, have the chance to return to the issue in Committee so that those reassurances can be reinforced, but it is helpful to know the Government’s position today.

On the other clauses of the Bill, we look forward to examining the clauses on harbour authorities further in Committee. The hon. Member for Worthing West has adequately dealt with those and raised questions from the Royal Yachting Association and the British Marine Federation, but the measures appear to represent positive steps forward. Clause 7 looks like a sensible move to acknowledge a better way of working for ports police, where they exist, and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) ably explained to the House why this is needed. Had we been able to do so, we would have done this in government, so we are grateful to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall and the coalition.

In clauses 8, 9 and 11, general lighthouse authorities would be given added freedoms and responsibilities, which are overdue and supported by Trinity House. I am grateful to Deputy Master Captain Ian McNaught for his briefing. Anything that addresses the industry’s angst about the charges levied for light dues and allows the GLAs to continue with their excellent work is very welcome.

My only pedantic point is on clause 10, and I wish to mark my discomfort with the word “manning” in the 21st century. We are talking about crew numbers here, and if it were not for the fact that the Bill quotes previous Acts, I would suggest that “crewing” would be a much better and more accurate term. Given the number of women at sea these days, “manning” is very 19th and early 20th century language. I am not known for being overly politically correct, but sometimes we need to look at our language and bring it into the 21st century.

We support the Bill, although we will want to look at every clause in Committee. I look forward to hearing from the Minister. The last time I saw him was yesterday evening at the champagne reception to mark the opening of the excellent new headquarters of the Chamber of

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Shipping in SE1 next to London bridge. He gave a good speech on behalf of the coalition and I look forward to his remarks in support of the Bill.

1.33 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): We have had a fascinating 90-minute nautical exploration this morning. We were safely taken out of harbour by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), and I am pleased that she has been able to introduce this Bill because I met her several times when I had this role in opposition and she was campaigning for the fisheries industry. She and her family have devoted their lives to the marine and maritime industries through both tragedy and good times, and I congratulate her on her success in the ballot.

With the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), we skirted round choppy waters—we avoided sailing right into them—and I shall say more about his contribution in a moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) is of course right that my role should not be to neglect this issue, but nor should it be to get in the way of the maritime industry. I shall address her remarks about clause 7 later in my speech. I know that the knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) about the maritime environment of the Isle of Wight is extensive. He could pilot anything into certain parts of Seaview and Bembridge. But he is right, of course. If his autobiography is as well written as “The Riddle of the Sands”, it will go down as a literary tribute. If he will allow me, I will address some of his remarks when I discuss clause 5.

The maritime industry carries out its activities every day without fanfare or demand, but, as was pointed out at last night’s event, where I drank copious amounts of tomato juice, all too often, as people eat their lamb or take their car to the continent for holiday, or if they are wealth creators in manufacturing, it is taken for granted that the finished goods will either be imported or exported around the world, while the mechanism by which that occurs is not always appreciated. Far too many people take the maritime industry for granted, but I know that many in the House, including those who have contributed to this debate, do not. It is an industry that works come rain, wind or shine.

I was delighted to attend the British Chamber of Shipping event and to visit Felixstowe this week to see a port operating and securing the future of UK plc. I recognise the vital contribution that the industry makes to the UK, its living standards and its prosperity, and it is right that nothing be done to hinder the safety of anyone working in it. Everything in the Bill is intended to ensure their safety. I recognise the hard work that the employees and those who work self-employed at ports and on the ships contribute every day to keeping this country moving and competitive. I also recognise the managers whose freight operations ensure the most streamlined and efficient operation of ports. That is important not only for the maritime industry but for our country as a whole.

With that in mind, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall for introducing her Bill. I am aware of its antecedents and the hard work done then. The Bill will not only ensure that the UK’s

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impeccable safety record is maintained but, more importantly, will help to make the industry ever more efficient in its day-to-day activities and ensure that we have an industry fit for the 21st century.

I do not intend to speak at length about every clause, because my hon. Friend has already put the case extraordinarily eloquently. A few issues have been raised during the clause-by-clause examination, about some of which I hope I have reassured hon. Members sufficiently to ensure the Bill’s safe passage to Committee, but none the less let me put on record some comments about each clause. Clauses 1 to 4 cover pilotage, the pilotage exemption certificate and the removal of pilotage powers that are no longer required. My hon. Friend has given a detailed account of the pilotage profession, its high level of proficiency and independent thinking, and the knowledge of the ports, their waters and local conditions that all pilots require.

Clearly, my knowledge does not compare with my hon. Friend’s in this matter, and I cannot add much, other than by observing that pilotage is a tradition and an industry stretching back almost 3,000 years to ancient Greek and Roman times, when pilots were local fishermen employed by ships’ captains to bring vessels into port. UK pilotage custom, practice and legislation are more modern than they were 3,000 years ago and are governed by the Pilotage Act 1987.

Many ports and harbours have a long and distinguished tradition dating back hundreds of years, but I will resist the temptation to give a history lesson on every port and harbour, and their distinguished traditions. As several people have pointed out, however, trading patterns change and ships are much larger than they used to be. Change is driven by improvements, economies of scale and advancements in ship-building technology. It is clear that where a port or harbour operates purely for leisure craft or small shipping vehicles, the need for pilotage might have been overtaken by events and knowledge might have improved. I welcome the proposals, therefore, to enable facilities to relinquish some of their obligations under the Pilotage Act.

Let me turn to the exemption certificates. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall identified the Pilotage Act 1987 as the umbrella legislation that covers marine pilotage operations. I agree with her assertion that the 1987 Act could benefit from an update in relation to such certificates, because it is some 25 years since it was passed. None the less, it is clearly right to address the concerns that have rightly been expressed on behalf of the pilots association and by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston on behalf of his constituent. I hope that I have been able to reassure the hon. Gentleman in respect of section 8 of the Pilotage Act 1987, which clearly states that competent harbour authorities can issue exemption certificates only when they are certain that the applicant’s

“skill, experience and local knowledge are sufficient for him to be capable of piloting the ship”.

I hope that in my other interventions I was able to reassure him on the other issues he raised.

Competent harbour authorities are responsible for the operation of their ports. They know the types of ships that call, they know the geography of their sea

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beds, they know their tidal patterns and they know their ports. Currently, competent harbour authorities are responsible for the pilotage services provided at their facilities. They can choose the pilots who provide the services at their ports, requiring specific skills and experience of those who ply that trade. Competent harbour authorities can already issue pilotage exemption certificates to masters and first mates who know a port well. Such certificates enable an individual to bring a ship into a specified facility without the need for a pilot, and the requirements for the holder, in terms of knowledge, skills and experience, are the same as for full-time pilots.

I therefore believe that competent harbour authorities are well placed to decide which members of a ship’s crew they issue a pilotage exemption certificate to. Competent harbour authorities are, after all, experienced in this field and know the navigable hazards of their facilities best. Moreover, we should enable competent harbour authorities to recognise the skills and knowledge of those who have driven themselves to achieve the required standards, through the granting of a pilotage exemption certificate. Clauses 1 to 4 further strengthen competent harbour authorities’ administration of the certificate process, enabling the easier withdrawal of certificates and introducing stronger pilotage reporting requirements. The proposals therefore clearly seek to strike a balance between right deregulation and maintaining high standards of maritime safety.

Clauses 5 and 6 deal with some of the issues that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston raised, as well as those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West. Let me try to give my hon. Friend some reassurance. As he rightly said, the Royal Yachting Association has indeed expressed a number of concerns. Some were similar to those it expressed in 2008. My Department has looked at a number of them, and we will be responding in Committee. None the less, although we have discussed the issue of consultation and guidance from the Department, I think the crux of what my hon. Friend was saying today is this. In the response to the 2008 consultation, the Royal Yachting Association proposed that an independent adjudication procedure and process be provided in the Bill. Where I think he wants reassurance is on the question of why the Bill does not do that, for which there are several reasons. First, the Bill is not only about marine safety, but about simplification and deregulation. There is little evidence that the authorities that already have the power to give general directions do so unreasonably, although to be fair, my hon. Friend acknowledged that point.

Sir Peter Bottomley: Indeed, and my hon. Friend will acknowledge that, with the Department’s approval, some revision orders or powers to harbour authorities include the independent report element, so I think it is a score draw at the moment.

Stephen Hammond: Just as I was standing in front of an open goal!

As I have said, harbour authorities will be required to consult users and stakeholders before making general directions, and it would be sensible of them to hold informal discussions with those bodies before the formal consultations. The Department will provide guidance. Some Members asked whether the process of judicial review was too expensive, but it exists none the less.

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I have agreed to meet representatives of the RYA with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall and my officials, and I hope that we shall be able to give them even more reassurance before the Committee stage.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am sure the House is as well. The RYA representatives may say that they are looking forward to the meeting as well, and are expecting the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall to agree to what they want. I hope that all parties will be asking themselves what they are trying to achieve, and what is the best way of making a minor modification to the clause if it is not to be dropped altogether.

If it is felt that the clause should be retained—for the purpose of simplification, as the Minister sensibly said—it might be worth considering provision for an independent report. No one is suggesting that there should be an independent report on every possible harbour revision order, because most are uncontroversial; the need arises only when an order becomes controversial, or when there is a clash of interests.

Stephen Hammond: I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, and I shall ensure that my officials and I go to the meeting in the spirit that he desires. He is right to say that everyone wants to deal with the clause constructively.

As I said in an earlier intervention, and also a moment ago, some harbour authorities have powers of general direction through private Acts of Parliament or through the harbour revision orders, while others do not. Such general directions are used to control vessels and improve safety. The Bill enables the Secretary of State for Transport to make an order giving a named harbour the power to make general directions in respect of ships. I think that that is a welcome measure, which will have the potential to place all harbour authorities on a similar footing in terms of order-making powers to control their harbours using general directions. As for the harbour closure proposals, it seems sensible to me to allow port and harbour facilities that are no longer economically viable to be closed in order to prevent a continued financial drain on their owners.

Sir Peter Bottomley: Many navigation authorities are on inland waterways, which may not be within the scope of the Bill. Might they constitute inactive responsible authorities, and might they be covered by the clause? I do not expect the Minister to answer my question immediately, but perhaps he would be kind enough to write to my hon. Friend and me at a later stage.

Stephen Hammond: I will indeed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock made an extraordinarily powerful speech about clause 7. She not only guided us through the history of the Port of Tilbury authority—I shall use that information for a question in my constituency pub quiz later—but drew attention to the Bill’s antecedent of 2008, and welcomed the present Bill.

As my hon. Friend said, knowledge of the powers of the port police and what should be required of them in the 21st century is limited. She gave examples of the

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anachronistic nature of the law as it applies to them: it certainly does not cover the needs and requirements of the 21st century. She rightly observed that their role often went well beyond their present tightly defined remit, involving traffic control, the ability to work with local police forces in trying to control episodes of disorder, and the additional resource that they provide in other contexts as and when directed by local forces. They should, of course, also feature on the roll of honour celebrating the great performance of public servants and volunteers during the Olympics. She rightly recognised and forcefully made the point that clause 7 will put the ports police on the same footing as other police. It is right that it does so, and I look forward to the clause being widely welcomed in Committee.

The Bill does not limit itself to the matters of shipping and port activity; it also seeks to enable the general lighthouse authorities to trade more freely in the commercial sector. My hon. Friend gave us a pub quiz question, so before I comment on that legislation, may I, in that same spirit, tell her some things of which she may not be aware? The oldest lighthouse in existence is indeed in these islands, at Hook Head, in south-east Ireland—the tower, with additions and modifications, dates back to Norman times; Trinity House has been in existence for 500 years; the Northern Lighthouse Board recently celebrated the bicentenary of its iconic Bell Rock lighthouse; and the Commissioners of Irish Lights provides marine aids to navigation across the whole of Ireland—it is symbolic of what the UK and Ireland can achieve through working together. The enactment of this clause will not only enable the general lighthouse authorities to minimise their operational costs through the generation of additional income, but will help the Commissioners of Irish Lights in its drive to be self-funding in the Republic by 2015-16.

I, too, am aware of the commercial activities that the general lighthouse authorities undertake. They also pool their limited spare capacity to undertake commercial work where they can, a good example of which is the help they give the Met Office in maintaining deepwater buoys. The clause that my hon. Friend has promoted will enable the three general lighthouse authorities to enter into commercial agreements more easily, and trade on their good names.

I take the stricture of the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) about the phraseology of clause 10; he rightly says that it refers to a previous Bill. I take his point, and nothing should be inferred from that phraseology. Clauses 10 and 11 are the other substantive clauses in this Bill, and they represent a sensible approach to tying up administrative loose ends for the lighthouse authorities and removing some of the bureaucracy involved in making new regulations on manning or crewing requirements, which is costly for both private enterprise and the Government.

The Bill has had widespread support. A number of issues have been raised, on which I hope we have been able to reassure hon. Members. If not, I hope that we will be able to do so in Committee. So I commend my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall for introducing this legislation and I commend her Bill. I hope that hon. Members will agree with my assertion that it should be taken forward to Committee, and I look forward to its passage on to the statute book.

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1.52 pm

Sheryll Murray: I thank hon. Members for the support I have received today on Second Reading. I wish to mention the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who is not in her place, on how the clauses on the port police will help not only coastal communities but inland communities. I hope that we have given the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), who has long-standing experience in marine issues, the reassurance he needed that we will examine clause 2(1) in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) has superb expertise in the area of the port police, and I know that since she has been in this place she has worked extremely hard for her constituents to try to get something established. I hope that I will be able to draw on some of her expertise in Committee.

It was also good to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), who talked about the expansion of the port in his constituency. I hope we might be able to give him some assistance if his port decides to introduce its own port police force.

It was a privilege and an honour to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). He is a long-standing Member of this House with great expertise in transport and he spoke with knowledge as a member of the RYA. I gratefully take on board his suggestion and I hope that he, too, is reassured that we will consider in Committee the points he raised.

I thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and the Minister for their contributions today and for their support in taking the Bill forward.

In conclusion, I pay tribute to all those people who go to sea on big ships and little ships. They do so much to support our great island nation but they often do not receive the recognition they are due.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

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Transparency in UK Company Supply Chains (Eradication of Slavery) Bill

Second Reading

1.56 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

First, let me put on record my tribute to Malcolm Wicks, the celebration of whose life was held today. He was a man of great principle and a good personal friend who will be sadly missed. I can say honestly that he was not just respected but deeply and fondly respected by Members on both sides of the House.

I welcome the new Minister for Immigration to his place, although I must say that this is not an immigration or migration Bill. It is interesting that until a week ago we were corresponding with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I have in my hand a letter from the then Under-Secretary, which states that

“BIS recently consulted on proposals to improve corporate narrative reporting. As part of that we sought views on making it explicit that quoted companies should consider human rights issues in reporting. We are working up final proposals on reporting and hope to announce them later this year.”

I do not know why the Bill has been transferred to the Minister for Immigration, but that is not to say that it is devoid of immigration issues—the berries we get in our supermarkets and the production of the “Big Mac” chickens that were proudly boasted of as being “all British” at the Olympics but turned out to be run by gangmasters who hired a gang of subcontractors that treated people like animals and stole from them and who are now being taken to court by Her Majesty’s tax officers for taking tax off people and not paying it. I have talked to people who tell that me the conditions for people who harvest the asparagus from Peru that can be bought in our supermarkets are beyond what one would expect in any country. So, there are immigration issues for the UK.

Professor Gary Craig of the Wilberforce institute in Hull is at this moment preparing a report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The subjects studied include forced labour among Chinese migrants to this country, forced labour in Northern Ireland, the regulatory and legal frameworks surrounding forced labour and a report entitled “The experience of forced labour in the food industry” that was launched in the House of Commons in mid-May and took a field-to-fork approach. They raise questions about migration in the UK, but the Bill is not about migration and the UK.

The Minister for Immigration (Mr Mark Harper): Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. The Home Office and I have the lead in Government on combating human trafficking, on which I work closely with colleagues across Government. Indeed, only yesterday we published our interdepartmental report on combating human trafficking. Perhaps that is why it was felt to be appropriate for me to lead on the Government’s response to his Bill.

Michael Connarty: That explains why the Government need a pair of specs to look at what the Bill is about. It is not about human trafficking. There may be elements of human trafficking within it, but it is about the

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exploitation of humanity. It is about modern-day slavery; that does not require people to be trafficked across the world, but may include trafficking across the world.

Professor Craig goes on in his report to talk about major supermarkets, and asks how they can

“sell flowers or vegetables sourced from thousands of miles away (e.g. Asparagus from Peru) at prices which cannot possibly reflect appropriate labour costs”.

He says:

“These major retailers generally claim that their own practices are ethical and that they try ‘as far as possible’ to ensure that the practices of those who supply them…are also ethical”,

but how much do they try?”

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Michael Connarty: No. I do not take many interventions. I do not have much time, because people treated the previous Bill as though they were in Committee and spoke at great length and in detail, when they should have done so in Committee. Not a lot of time is left for me to speak, or for others who wish to speak on the Bill.

The question is how ethical suppliers are. Professor Craig said:

“Despite a number of campaigns, there is little doubt that the products of slave labour abroad end up on the High Street of all our communities”.

The purpose of the Bill is to deal with that.

I bow to the Foreign Secretary’s knowledge of the thoughts of William Wilberforce, on which he expounded in his excellent book. He wrote time and again that Wilberforce said that he would not be turned aside from his campaign on slavery 200 years ago. The Bill aims at addressing the modern-day version of the slavery that Wilberforce thought he had eradicated 200 years ago.

Last night in the House of Commons, on anti-slavery day, we had a meeting of people who support the Bill, including its Conservative sponsor, the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). It is no coincidence that a large number of faith-based organisations joined the civil organisations supporting the Bill. Clearly, they all know that I am a humanist and do not have a religion, but the Right Rev. Albert Bogle, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, came down specifically to speak in support of the Bill. The Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility, representing 19 ethical investment companies, came to speak. Fair Pensions and the Fairshare Educational Foundation, the Ethical Investment Association, and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales were represented at last night’s meeting in support of the Bill.

Unseen UK was there; it has launched the “Walk Free” petition, which is gathering signatures at a rate of 10,000 a day. A young organisation with which I was very impressed, the Global Poverty Project, is negotiating contacts with the fashion industry to challenge it on how it brings to the high street goods that may have been sewn together by people who are getting a pittance wage and living in terrible conditions. Not many people would buy those goods if, when they walked into these fancy stores, the label stated, “This garment is made by slave labour.” I wish that organisation well.

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The Institute for Human Rights and Business was also represented at the meeting, because the business community is interested in this. There were about 20 other civic society organisations there, too, and I thank them all. We pledged last night that this campaign would go on. If the Bill is talked out today, it is coming back. This issue is not going away. The campaign will go on, as Wilberforce did in his struggles, until he changed the attitude of his country, and then the world, to the abuse of people moved, as slaves, from Africa to other parts of the world.

Anthony Steen was also there. I pay great tribute to him. He is the founder and director of the Human Trafficking Foundation. If ever there was a cause for a knighthood, it is what Anthony Steen has done in this field alone. I also commend the all-party group on human trafficking, and Parliamentarians against Human Trafficking, a group with members from all parts of Europe, and wider Europe, who met in this House on Tuesday and Thursday to talk about human trafficking. The Bill does not contradict what the Human Trafficking Foundation is about, but it is not only about that; it is complementary to it.

In attempting to get the Bill through, we are standing on the shoulders of giants, because people have done so much, from Wilberforce right through to the modern day. I say “giants”; for some people, the EU is one of those giants. I notice the presence of the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who may intervene; he may see the EU as a large body, rather than a giant. It is interesting that, in December 2012, the European Commission will launch its draft guidance to employment and recruitment agencies operating worldwide. It is talking about how best to implement the United Nations’ guiding principles on business and human rights. It is important that those who support the recruitment and employment industry, and who also want to see better standards to ensure that bottom feeders do not exploit workers, engage in this process. I commend the company, Manpower, which has spent five years auditing its supply chain right down to the lowest level. Its managing director speaks out strongly on the subject. He spoke on behalf of those who put through the Bill similar to this one in the California legislature, where such auditing is now law.

Talking about giants, it is interesting that President Obama last week called modern-day slavery

“a debasement of our common humanity.”

He spoke about

“the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery.”

There are giants in the field and I am happy to step up on their shoulders.

When we are talking about a Bill to do with trade and business, not just to do with migration, it is interesting that when the FairPensions campaign for responsible investment and the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility wrote a letter, they wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. At my suggestion they copied it to the new Minister for Immigration, but only because we had found out that the Minister for Immigration, rather than the Business Secretary, would reply to the Bill.

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What is the purpose of the Bill? It is to create a framework that large companies can use to review the contract arrangements that they have entered into for the supply of their goods and services, and by including services we extend beyond the California Act. It is interesting that in the discussions last night, many of the organisation said, yes, that includes public procurement —the £9 billion of public procurement contracts that this Government give out. They must audit, right down to the roots.

It has been embarrassing when organisations have been found to have people working in their buildings who do not have the right to be in the UK and who come in with gangs of workers. I work very late at night in this building. I go home at 1 am or 2 am because I like working in the evening. I have often tried to speak to the people who work here in the lifts. Many of them cannot speak English. That does not mean that they are not legal immigrants, but when Ken Livingstone was Mayor of London he reckoned that 500,000 people live in London illegally. The Government give no subsidy to London for their education or other services. Those people are exploited because they have no right to be here, so they can be paid poor wages or kept in terrible conditions.

The growth of TB in London is attributed to the fact that people are living in such terrible conditions, and to the fact that they are afraid to get treatment because they would then be sent back home. That is a problem common to large conurbations in this country and others.

The Bill represents a challenge, but not a threat. It is not a big stick to beat companies. It aims to encourage companies to seek transparency from their suppliers and from those who supply their suppliers, right back to the first transaction moved by their finances and their sale of products and services. It is an invitation also to raise the ethical standards of their trade. That is what Wilberforce was about. It was not necessary to have enslavement in order to have trade. The Bill aims to lead the fight to eradicate the incentives to enslave men, women and children, just to shave a small percentage off the price of goods and services in the UK.

We hope that that invitation will be taken up because it is an opportunity to win the right to display a sort of kite mark. That is what is happening in California, where companies are saying, “We have audited, we are ethical, we are proud of being ethical. Buy our goods and services because they are worth something extra.” That is what I want to see companies looking for—pride and marketing value, such as the Body Shop brand, which was clearly not tested on animals and became an example of ethical production. That changed the view of the purchaser and of other companies in the high street so that they could match the achievement and win in that market also.

How can the Bill do this? We are following the California Act, which was mentioned by President Obama. Clause 1 says who should do it and for what purpose. Companies with annual receipts of more than £100 million worldwide should disclose what they have found. The phrasing of subsection (2) is clumsy. It refers to

“the worst forms of child labour”.

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We have had to stick to that wording, which is defined in article 3 of the International Labour Organisation’s convention No. 182. That refers to

“work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse…work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces…work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads…work in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise level and vibrations damaging to their health…work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night or work where the child is unreasonably confined in the premises of the employer.”

Is there any hon. Member here, or any member of the Government, who does not want to oppose those worst forms of child labour? I do not think so. Do people want to buy products that they know have been made in that way? Remember the scandal when during the Beijing Olympics children were shown sewing leather footballs that were sold in Europe for a vast profit. There have been exposures again and again of women locked up in factories in Malaysia, not paid, not fed and not allowed to go home, making garments that end up on our high streets. Those are the things that the Bill asks companies to seek out and do something about.

Clause 2 is about disclosure. Companies must disclose on their website and in their annual report what they find. If they do not have a website, they must produce a report within 30 days on what they have found in their supply chain. Is that so much to ask? I do not think so. That is asking companies to look closely at what is happening in their name, with their money, on behalf of their customers. There is a movement out there that wants to see us trading ethically. Fair Trade is the beginning, but ethical trade is the end, and that is what is coming to us. If we go to meet it, we will be applauded; if we do not, we will be abused and put down as being people who do not really care because we still think that it does not matter as long as UK plc makes a buck. That is no longer what the public want.

Clause 2(3) is about what will be disclosed and how—the methodology. It is the same methodology as set out in the California Act, which has now been embraced by many companies. Interestingly, 40 multinationals from the UK trade in California and will have to go through this process if they wish to do business there. Many of the companies will, I hope, then be able to lead the way in the UK. I have had letters of support from BP and from the people who bought the 26 sites in olefins and derivatives from BP, INEOS. We have companies saying that they want to see the Bill through because they are willing to do this. So we have the audit of suppliers and direct suppliers and setting up internal accountability standards, providing companies’ employees and management with direct responsibility for the supply chain, with the accountability to reply and report on the supply chain right down to the bottom. That is all very sensible.

Clause 3 states that when the company finds people who are being abused in these ways, it must then seek out ways to assist them. It states that it

“shall take action necessary and appropriate to assist people who have been victims and shall report on that action in their annual reports”

That is a very sensible requirement. Companies do say, “Yes, we have done it. We are ethical. We do not have any problems.” But if someone finds that they are not

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ethical, they are found to be denying very publicly the audit that should have taken place. I remember going round companies—some Government Members may not like this—with a lot of stickers always in my pocket showing a skull and crossbones and saying “Contaminated by apartheid”. It may be that eventually, when companies are denying what they are doing in the supply chain, people will be putting stickers on their goods saying, “Contaminated by child slavery”, or “Contaminated by slavery”. Then they may have to look again at what they are doing when they say that they are doing everything correctly.

The Bill might be talked out today, but it is coming back. It will not go away. If the Government had the courage to give the lead to UK businesses, those businesses can still win the markets, but they can also win the next stage of Wilberforce’s campaign as set out 200 years ago and challenge and help to eradicate modern day slavery.

2.14 pm

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) on his speech and on taking the Bill forward. I am delighted and proud to be one of the 11 sponsors from five parties, including no fewer than three colleagues who are all named Jim—I am not quite sure of the significance, but I felt that it was worth placing that on the record.

I was first recruited to this admirable cause by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) when she brought in a ten-minute rule Bill along the same lines, and it was then taken up by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk in his excellent Bill before us today. I know that he, like me, will be disappointed if it does not proceed to Committee, but it has been given an airing today, as he rightly said, and I am sure that we are all grateful to the Government for having made certain that that would happen.

There was some confusion over the question of human trafficking in relation to the Bill. Human trafficking is certainly one of the concerns covered, but it is neither the Bill’s exclusive focus, nor even its main focus. The main focus of the Bill, as became apparent in the hon. Gentleman’s speech, was brought out at yesterday evening’s reception, which I was pleased to attend. We heard some horrifying tales about what actually goes on overseas in the unsupervised chain of production for many products we see on supermarket shelves, often without the knowledge of not only consumers, but the companies selling the goods. It is therefore also in the interests of the companies and their reputations that they should make an effort to investigate the chain of production for the products they sell so that no one would be tempted to go around marking them on their shelves as having been contaminated by the ruthless exploitation of child labour or that of other impoverished people.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Bill has a light touch. It would affect only very large companies, companies that have the resources to carry out the sorts of examinations and checks that would assure them and their consumers that the goods being sold had not been created as a result of an unendurable chain of human suffering. I think that I am right in saying that BP is an example of a major company that, although very tough-minded,

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has nevertheless seen it as appropriate to adopt such measures. If BP can adopt such measures, that sets a good example for other large companies to do likewise.

Jeremy Lefroy: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr Lewis: I will not give way, for a reason I am just about to explain.

While talking of setting good examples, I would like to say that there are times for long speeches and times for short speeches. This is a time for short speeches. I look to hon. Members on the Back Benches and on both Front Benches to follow my good example and make short speeches so that this worthy Bill can proceed as it should to Committee.

2.18 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) has brought forward a noble Bill that, in its intention and motivation, is of the highest standards this House ever reaches. As he said, it continues in the tradition of Wilberforce’s campaign to eradicate the slave trade and then slavery throughout the British empire. I believe that the Act of Parliament that finally eradicated slavery throughout the empire was passed three days before Wilberforce’s death, so he was able to see that moment.

I hope that it will not take quite so long for this Bill to be passed and that the hon. Gentleman will see very many years go by after his aim of getting slavery taken out of the practices of multinational companies has been achieved.

As a general rule, I am not in favour of imposing extra regulations on business. We need to have a competitive and free market with companies that can trade. I am very suspicious of fair trade as against free trade. Fair trade often means protectionism by another name—choosing one’s preferred people as opposed to those who are most competitive—and cutting out the poorest in favour of those who are good at filling out bureaucratic forms. We should always be careful when we consider doing anything that might encumber free trade or put burdens on business. We must remember that when burdens are put on business, it is not the profits of the multinationals that suffer but the electorate—often the poorest of our electorate—who find that their prices go up.

Within any advocation of free trade there must be some limits. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the proud Christian tradition of opposing slavery in all its forms. Going back to my O-levels, I remember studying the letter of St Paul to Philemon, which sets out the Christian case for opposition to slavery. In the Roman empire, slavery was perfectly legal and legitimate. There was no reason to oppose it; it was part of the status quo. The young, burgeoning Christian community lived within that—they had to. They were persecuted enough already without taking on one of the foundations of the Roman empire. St Paul, writing in prison to Philemon, who is a Christian, about his slave who may have escaped, tells him to treat Onesimus as a Christian brother, not as a slave—not as a piece of property but as somebody of worth and value equal even to a Roman citizen. That has set the path, followed by Wilberforce and others,

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to ensuring that as a nation we have done whatever we can for the past 200 years—after a pretty shameful history beforehand, it has to be admitted—to ensure that slavery is not part of the system of global trade and not something from which British companies profit.

So what is the right level of burden to put on companies—multinationals—that are facing this problem? First, there is the question of their own consciences. Before legislating, we should always see whether companies already take the view that something is fundamentally wrong and has no place in their supply chains. That is a good starting point. With the growth of international trade, many big companies will have major intermediary suppliers. They will not deal with thousands and thousands of small suppliers across the globe but have intermediaries they are able to go to. Those intermediaries should be able to assure the companies that they themselves do not use any improper forms of labour—slaves or children—in the production of the goods that are sold.

We then need to go to the next stage and look at the companies that are supplying to the intermediaries. There may be many thousands of companies, some of which are very small or in very remote parts. My professional background has been in investing in emerging markets. While I have been doing this, the number of emerging markets that have come into the investable framework has been growing. Countries of extreme poverty are now beginning to come into the global system, and auditing them efficiently and properly would be a pretty onerous task to put on to businesses. However, in relation to slavery, it is almost certainly a right and moral one for us to adopt.

The situation that companies will face is one that I have faced as an investment manager in looking at the companies that we invest in for our clients—that is, going to visit them to ensure that their practices are proper. I confess that in one of my company visits I was suspicious that the company did indeed use child labour. The business was a very attractive one, but I thought that my clients, and the pension fundholders they represented and the charities they served, would be appalled to be making money on the backs of children. The individual conscience of company managers and investment managers is an important starting place, which I think helps to achieve the objective behind the Bill.

The question then remains, what are we to do about people who do not have any conscience? Is legislation appropriate, right and proper? There may come circumstances in which that is the case. Perhaps this is more a point for a Committee speech than for a Second Reading speech, but I believe the Bill needs some adjustment to achieve what it is intended to. That is partly because it is trying to do a bit too much. I would prefer it to concentrate purely on the issues of slavery and child labour, which are specific and clear. Other issues can be harder to define and can therefore place a more difficult burden on companies. I hope that the Government will consider the matter seriously and see whether there is something they can do to ensure that the required standards are met.

Mr Harper: My hon. Friend may not be aware that just yesterday, colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills laid draft regulations that will

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ensure that as part of their narrative reporting, quoted companies will have to report on any human rights issues necessary to understand their business. Perhaps we can achieve the necessary reporting standard through that avenue without the burden of the Bill.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to the Minister, and I take this opportunity to welcome him to his new post. He is the most civilised of Ministers in the Government, and I am glad that he has moved, because when he was in his last post I opposed practically everything that he did. I sincerely hope that I will now be able to support him more often. In reference to the Board of Trade’s action, the term “human rights” does not necessarily have a very good name in the House. I am slightly cautious of it as a generic term when we have a pretty awful Human Rights Act and a European Court that often gets the wrong end of the stick. There are fundamental principles of humanity in the Bill that we are discussing, not just the woolly words “human rights”. So I am sort of grateful for what the Minister says—more grateful than for a lot of what he said about the constitution when he was the Minister responsible for it—but perhaps not fully grateful.

The Government need to take up the running and take the matter out of the hands of a private Member’s Bill, which cannot necessarily be given the time and resources it needs so that we can get the phraseology as tight as it ought to be. They should find the parliamentary time to introduce a detailed Bill, which could be used to ensure the correct balance between burdens on business and benefits for people at risk.

There is also a twofold economic argument for such a Bill. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk alluded to the first part of it, which is that companies that fail to follow the basics of humanity will be embarrassed in their marketing. They will be brought to shame in front of the nation if it is discovered that they are using child labour or slave labour in the production of their goods. That will bring the crack of the economic whip on their profits, which is a very good means of ensuring that companies behave better.

The other point that is worth making is that companies that treat their employees well tend to be more profitable and successful. Sometimes they are very large employers. I have spoken to Hon Hai, which employs more than 1 million people and is one of the biggest suppliers to Apple. It finds itself employing so many people that it provides an almost governmental style of welfare for them, because it is in its own interests to do so. If it is to employ such large numbers of people in an environment in which there will inevitably be difficulties and disputes, it needs to take care of its employees in the round rather than simply getting the maximum out of the cheapest individual employee.

There is also the argument that if companies move away from child and slave labour, they will be able to mechanise more easily and therefore be more productive and efficient. There is a good argument, which has long been known, about the inefficiency of slave labour. The financial incentive that we talk about when discussing tax rates applies to people in routine jobs in poor countries just as much as to bankers in the United Kingdom. I have no doubt that there are robust economic reasons for wanting to avoid slave labour, and robust

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moral reasons as well. It is important—the mood of the House is almost certainly along these lines—that the Government should take the matter up.

2.30 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 2 November.

Business without Debate

Town and country planning (Control of advertisements) (England) regulations 2007 (Amendment) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 9 November.

Coroners and justice (amendment) Bill

Bill read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

Bank of England (Appointment of Governor) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (6 July), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 26 October.

Prisons (Interference with wireless telegraphy) Bill

Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Bill read the Third time and passed.

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Police and Crime Commissioner Elections

Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Syms.)

2.31 pm

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): It is now less than four weeks before the police and crime commissioner elections on 15 November, and I have to tell the Minister that there is acute concern about the likely turnout. A wide range of people have expressed concerns. For example, Peter Neyroud, the former chief constable of Thames Valley police, former chief of the National Policing Improvement Agency and now a respected academic at Cambridge university, has expressed concerns about the PCC elections. He stated:

“If you could have constructed a manual on how not to conduct an election, the Home Office have managed to tick just about every element of it.”

The result of the Home Office’s cack-handedness will be that the turnout, again in Mr Neyroud’s words, will be “pretty shocking”.

Concerns were also expressed at the Liberal Democrat conference, by the new Minister of State in the Home Department, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), who advanced the opinion that a turnout in the PCC elections of 20% would “not be good”. Worries have been expressed in the other place, by the Police Federation and by PCC candidates, whether representatives of a particular political party or independents.

The clearest and most strongly worded concerns have been expressed by the Electoral Reform Society, which stated some weeks ago that the PCC elections are set to have the lowest turnout of any election in modern times—18.5%. To all democrats, that must be of profound concern. If turnout is that low, it could unfairly advantage extremist candidates who would never succeed in winning over a larger proportion of the electorate. It would also place a massive question mark over the role of elected PCCs. Let us not forget that the stated purpose of police and crime commissioners is to improve the accountability of the police, and reconnect the public with them. That objective would clearly be placed in jeopardy if there were such a low turnout.

To date, the Government have shown few indications that they comprehend the gravity of the situation. Despite protestations that the winter is the worst possible time to hold an election, and particularly a first-time election, the elections are being held in the middle of November, having been postponed by the Government from May. All who have experience of elections know full well how difficult it is for us to persuade voters to come out in the middle of winter, when the nights are cold and dark. That was borne out by distinguished academics Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, who conducted research into seasonal factors affecting voting in which they concluded that turnout in council by-elections fell by an average of 6.6% when held in November as compared with May. If that happens with council elections, there is a risk that it will happen with PCC elections.

From the start, it was always going to be difficult to generate enthusiasm for, or even interest in, these elections, but it must be said that things have not been made easier by the Government’s attitude and inaction.

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Despite the concerns expressed by the Electoral Commission and others, the Home Office has refused to provide information other than online, unless someone specifically asks for written information. The result is that some 7 million people who do not regularly have access to the internet are unlikely to know what is happening. Thankfully, the Electoral Commission is providing a booklet to all households, but it will provide information only about the elections and the electoral system to be used—the supplementary vote. Crucially, no information will be provided about the candidates in any of the police force areas. The result is that electors will have to rely on information provided to them by the candidates themselves.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): My hon. Friend is speaking extremely well. There is very little awareness of the elections in my patch of the city of Leicester, although the excellent Labour candidate, Sarah Russell, is reminding voters that the Government are cutting 200 police officers from the Leicestershire force. There is a great deal of awareness about that; it is extremely unpopular.

Wayne David: My hon. Friend’s example from Leicester is replicated the length and breadth of the country. There is tremendous concern about policing and police numbers, but many people are not making the connection between that and the PCC elections. The Labour party will certainly do its utmost to make the connection.

Police force areas are huge in terms of geography and population. It is therefore difficult to disseminate information door to door—it is a huge task. The Government’s position prompts a question: if comprehensive information, including details of the candidates, can be provided for mayoral elections—it will be provided for the Bristol mayoral election on 15 November—why cannot the Government provide candidate information in the PCC elections? Surely that would increase public knowledge and interest, and enhance the democratic process.

There is also a concern that there are no provisions for information in accessible formats for people with sight difficulties, and no information is provided in any other languages, despite the assurances given in an Adjournment debate on 25 April by the then Minister with responsibility for political and constitutional reform. Incidentally, I would appreciate an explanation of why a Cabinet Office Minister responded to that debate on PCC elections, but a Home Office Minister will reply to this one. Why the change? Is the switch indicative of the confusion at the heart of the Government about the conduct of the elections? Who is really in charge of these elections? Is anyone in charge of them?

I referred a moment ago to minority languages. I am incredulous that the Government have messed up on the production of bilingual ballot papers for Wales. Despite repeated reminders from the Opposition, the Home Office has only this week tabled the order to enable the production of bilingual ballot papers in Wales. It is likely that Parliament will approve the order to allow the ballot papers to be sent out as postal votes in Wales and I guess that this will be done in the nick of time. But there is of course no certainty that the Government will meet the deadline, and they belatedly realised this some weeks ago.

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Having wrongly believed that there was no need for such an order, the Home Office, in its wisdom, then decided to play safe and give the go-ahead for the production of two sets of ballot papers—one set in English only and one set in English and Welsh. Which set will be used depends on whether the Government get their order through before the deadline. The unused set of ballot papers will then be destroyed—I kid you not, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is the first time in modern electoral history that the Government have, through sheer incompetence and stupidity, been obliged to throw away more than 2 million ballot papers before an election. How much is this act of folly costing the taxpayer? The Government are reluctant to say, for understandable reasons, but it is estimated that the cost runs into many hundreds of thousands of pounds—taxpayers’ money wasted by the incompetence of this Government.

I am sure the Minister will point out that the Government are engaged in a public awareness campaign with television, radio and newspaper advertising. Those advertisements are making a contribution to raising public awareness. That cannot be denied, and I sincerely hope that they will continue to help raise awareness, but I have to say that these advertisements are unprecedented as a way of increasing knowledge of elections and they are not risk free. In this respect, I would point out to the Minister that concerns have already been expressed. It has been suggested by some that the adverts unfairly depict young people, imply criticism of current policing and suggest that PCCs will have a role in day-to-day policing priorities, which of course is not and should not be the case.

As I said at the outset, there are only a few weeks left before the elections. I hope that the lessons of the campaign so far will be learnt and I know that the Electoral Commission is already focused on this, but I also hope that the Government will mobilise more resources, even at this relatively late stage, so that a concerted effort can be made to raise public awareness. I would hope that all Ministers will make an effort to refer to the PCC elections at every opportunity. Labour Members will certainly do our best to make people aware of them.

While all of us in this House have differences about the role of PCCs and what their priorities should be, all of us must surely believe that it is important for democracy that there is a good turnout in these elections. That is something on which all sides of the House should surely agree.

2.43 pm

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Damian Green): I would normally congratulate the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) on securing this debate but given the content of his speech, the thought occurs that perhaps we would both be better engaged in being out there and campaigning for some of our respective candidates in the PCC elections on 15 November. In that regard, I feel I should put it on the record that I did indeed spend this morning in Stevenage and Hitchin campaigning with the excellent Conservative candidate for Hertfordshire, David Lloyd, and meeting people working on crime prevention in the area—

Wayne David: I just wish to make the point that I will be out tomorrow morning with the excellent Labour candidate in Gwent, Hamish Sandison—

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. If we have finished the comments about people’s diaries, perhaps we could return to the important subject of this Adjournment debate.

Damian Green: I will happily do that, Madam Deputy Speaker, because it gives me the chance to correct a number of inaccurate assertions that the hon. Gentleman has made.

I will deal with the hon. Gentleman’s final point about whether Members are doing their best to increase interest in the elections. I cannot remember whether he attended Home Office questions on Monday, but, as the Home Secretary observed, many Government Members took the opportunity to refer to the elections and individual candidates. The only Labour candidate referred to by name, however, was the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael), and he was referred to by himself, so, although I agree that Members should help to raise public awareness, I think I can say, in the fairest and least partisan way possible, that the hon. Gentleman might want to spread that message on his own Benches. It has been well spread on ours.

The hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) mentioned police numbers, so it is worth putting it on the record the fact that crime in Leicestershire has fallen by 5% in the past 12 months, which shows how effective the current arrangements for policing are there.

I remind the House why we are introducing police and crime commissioners, the most significant democratic reform of policing ever. It will introduce greater transparency and accountability to a service of which we are rightly proud but which can sometimes be too distant from the public it serves and can fail adequately to reflect their concerns and priorities. For too long before the Government came into office, the Home Office interfered too much in local policing and cared too little about national threats. The introduction of PCCs is a step along the road to reversing that trend. The creation of the National Crime Agency to focus on serious and organised crime nationally is another. PCCs will not just focus on their local area but will have a duty to co-operate in dealing with national threats under the new strategic policing arrangement.

Within four weeks, we will find out who the first PCCs will be. They will be the first people elected with a democratic mandate to hold their local force to account, set the budget and draw up the policing plan. Of course, the wider landscape into which the new PCCs will enter is also evolving fast. The college of policing will be launched later this year, and PCCs will sit on its board. Crucially, then, direct representation of the people of England and Wales will also be introduced on to that board. The purpose of the college will be to enhance professionalism across the service. Everyone in the country cares about the continual improvement of professionalism in the police, and the college will play a significant role in making that happen.

The issue of public awareness lay at the heart of the speech by the hon. Member for Caerphilly. It is worth putting that in the context of the picture we now have of crime. By happy coincidence, the latest crime statistics were out yesterday, and they are very pertinent to this debate. They show that on both measures—the crime survey for England and Wales and police recorded

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crime—crime is falling. It has fallen by 6% in the crime survey and by 6% in the record crime figures. Most significantly, the fall is across the board—violence, burglary, vandalism, vehicle theft, robbery and knife crime are all down.

PCCs will be taking up their posts, therefore, in a time of a continuing downward trend in crime rates that proves—this is relevant to the point about Leicestershire—that it is not how many officers we have but what we do with them that counts. Wise PCCs will understand that point when they take up their offices and start deploying the police plans that they will need to operate. We are replacing what were bureaucratic and unaccountable police authorities with democratically accountable PCCs so that, for the first time, the public will be given a voice and a seat around the table when key decisions are made about how their communities are being policed and how their money is being spent. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would agree that that simply does not happen under the current system, and I genuinely hope that the tone of his speech did not reflect an underlying unease about greater and better democratic control of the police.

Wayne David indicated dissent.

Damian Green: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman confirms that it did not.

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and I can also agree that for all the good work that people on the police authorities do—many do very good work—we know that police authorities are often invisible and unaccountable. Inspections have shown that fewer than a quarter of police authorities perform well on their basic functions and that fewer than a third engage well with their communities. In part, that is because only 7% of the public know what a police authority is. The hon. Gentleman adduced survey evidence showing the level of engagement with the PCC elections, but none of the figures is as low as the 7% of people who have heard of police authorities. That figure represents a huge failure in democratic accountability, because it is the job of a police authority—as it will be of a PCC—to spend the public’s money in a way that guarantees that the police in its area are doing what the public need. However, it is impossible to do that when 93% of the public do not even know what police authorities are. There is simply no possible measurement of success in that area. Up to now—and up to next month—the public have been simply unable to do anything about those failures. PCCs will have a clear incentive to perform better than that. If PCCs fail to represent their communities, engage properly and deliver on their priorities, the public will be able to tell them what they think of them at the ballot box.

The hon. Gentleman made the point about the November elections. He will be aware that the legislative timetable meant that this was an early date, but the Government correctly took the decision that further delay would simply mean that it would take longer before we could apply what are appropriate democratic controls. He also made the point about the weather. On the whole—but not always, in these troubled climatic times we live in—the weather in May is better than the weather in November. However, I should also observe that every four years America holds what is possibly the most

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important election in the world in November and the American electorate seem to engage in it, so it is not insuperable for people to go and vote when it is a bit cold and wet.

It is also clear—this is hugely relevant—that with more than 90% of the public not even aware of what a police authority is, we are starting the procedure from a very low base of public engagement. We could have a long, academic debate about what the turnout may or may not be in a few weeks’ time. The hon. Gentleman made it clear that there is no shortage of commentators criticising the date of the election or demanding that ever-increasing amounts of money be spent on strategies to engage the public, which may or may not work. What is neither academic nor remotely in doubt is that whatever happens—however many thousands of people turn out to vote in each force area—every PCC will have more legitimacy to make important decisions about what the police do than unelected, unaccountable and, as I have said, largely invisible police authorities.

There is no question but that there is huge public interest in policing issues. They regularly come near the top of issues that people want addressed, particularly when they are asked about antisocial behaviour, which many feel is not taken seriously enough in some areas. The Home Office advertising campaign, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned and about which I shall say more shortly, is focused precisely on telling the public that PCCs will respond to those priorities. The hon. Gentleman made some critical remarks about the content of the advertisements, but that content is dictated by what the public care about. That is what they think about when they think about crime, and that is what they will want the PCCs to address.

There is evidence that the public are engaged. Our crime-mapping website is the most successful Government website ever. There have been more than 500 million hits since it was launched, and—perhaps because of the elections next month, and the gradually increasing public awareness and willingness to discuss crime-related matters—the traffic to the site has increased markedly in recent weeks. This month alone, it is averaging more than 360,000 hits each day. I know how much of an increase that is. Because I am relatively new to my post, I still remember my initial briefing just over a month ago, when I was told that the average was 250,000 hits a day. I am fairly sure that the only reason for the increase—an extra 100,000 hits a day—is the advent of the PCC elections, as nothing else has changed.

We are expanding the website to respond to that ever-increasing demand for information. We have added justice outcomes so that people can see what happens when a crime takes place, measures to compare similar areas, and mug shots of convicted criminals, all of which are proving popular with the public.

We know that the public care about crime, that they want to know more about crime in their local areas, and that they want their voice to be heard. The elections on 15 November will give them an opportunity not just to talk about crime, but to take action to make a change in their communities. A week from today, information about every candidate who supplies such information

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will be published online. That will give the candidates an opportunity to set out their stall to the electorate, and to reveal their vision for policing. Let me stress again—I have said this many times, but it clearly has not got through to the hon. Gentleman yet—that the information will be delivered free of charge, in written form, to anyone who asks for it, via a phone line.

Wayne David: I am aware of that—if the Minister had listened carefully to my speech, he would have heard me make it very clear that I was aware of it—but why on earth does he not follow the example of the mayoral election campaign, and send information directly to households?

Damian Green: There is a certain amount of confusion among Opposition Members. Half of them complain that the elections are a waste of time and cost too much, while the other half demand that we spend more on them. The hon. Gentleman falls into the latter camp, which is entirely consistent with his general approach. That is fine from his point of view, but I have to tell him that there is no such thing as a free mail shot. The so-called free mail shot would actually have cost the taxpayer more than £30 million. If the hon. Gentleman wants to go and decide, along with his colleagues, whether he wants more to be spent or not, he can do so.

We should publicise this information. The address of the website is www.choosemypcc.org.uk, and the telephone number—which is Freephone from landlines—is 0800 1 070708. It is very easy for people to obtain information about the elections. Details of both the website and the phone line will appear on every polling card that is delivered to every registered voter in England and Wales outside London. We launched an advertising campaign this month that explains the reforms, encourages participation in the elections, and provides a phone number. No one will be denied information. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has seen our advertisements. We have calculated that 85% of the population will see the television advertisement alone an average of six times. In addition, every household will receive information about the elections from the Electoral Commission, which will include information about the role of PCCs and, crucially, about how to vote.

The hon. Gentleman has been consistent in saying that every effort should be made to familiarise the electorate with the role of the PCCs, with the candidates and with the electoral system. All that has been done. In addition, a large number of candidates have already started campaigning and will be doing much of that work themselves. So not only will the public be made aware of the elections, but they will have the information they need to make informed choices. Beyond that, it is up to the candidates locally to make these elections a success. Given that the three main parties in this House are fielding candidates, it is incumbent on us all to go out to explain to the public why the competing visions for policing and tackling crime are worth turning out for, and how PCCs can best ensure that the public get the policing they deserve.

Question put and agreed to.

3 pm

House adjourned.