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“The proposed change would impose additional burdens on competent harbour authorities and make it harder to ensure that only appropriately qualified staff carried out pilotage. This could create unnecessary dangers. If it is necessary for the references to the Master or First Mate of a ship to be removed from the 1987 Act, we recommend that the reference to “bona fide” members of a ship’s crew be retained, for the avoidance of doubt. The Government should specify an appropriate rank or level of qualification for PEC-holders, following further consultation with the industry rather than leaving it to individual CHAs to assess each individual applicant’s relevant skills.”

We have also raised the question of the pressure that shipping lines might bring to bear on smaller ports to accept different levels of qualification.

The position in respect of the concerns about PEC holders was supported by port owners and unions alike at the time. Indeed, in Committee recently we heard that the British Ports Association and the UK Major Ports Group were still unhappy with the clause as it stood. I referred to the relevant correspondence, and the Minister kindly said that he would seek further clarification from the industry. I am sure that he will update the House on the outcome of those discussions shortly.

Industry representatives have subsequently written to say that they support the Government’s amendment whereby PECs would be extended to include the term “deck officer”, and that the term should be defined in the “Port Marine Safety Code” and the “Guide to Good Practice”. However, the second paragraph of their communication detailing this change of heart states:

“Having looked in some detail with both the Chamber of Shipping and the DfT as to whether a fuller definition could be contained within the Act, it is apparent that requiring, for example, STCW(Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) qualifications, would debar some existing PEC holders who are already operating safely and with the full support of the harbour authorities concerned.”

I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify that the term “deck officer” will not compromise that definition.

The UK Maritime Pilots Association takes a different view. It states that amendments 2 to 5 adequately cover the need for the appropriate competence and qualification. Its correspondence goes further, stating:

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“The recently published Final Report of the EU PEC study determines the eligibility of PEC holders throughout Europe that generally the PEC applicant must hold a Master’s (STCW 11/2) certificate and that different rules exist as to whether a Chief Officer can obtain a PEC. There is no mention of junior officers being able to hold a PEC.”

So the definition of “deck officer” is very important to the debate, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us the reassurance we are seeking.

There is an argument that the term “deck officer” in the amendments tabled by the Government and the hon. Member for South East Cornwall is inadequate. The UKMPA argues that the words in the Bill should read:

“Master, Chief Mate or other deck officer engaged on board at Management level holding an STCW A-11/2 Certificate of Competency”.

That illustrates the UKMPA’s acceptance of the term “senior deck officer” that we have proposed. The term “management level” is used in the STCW convention and the UKMPA believes that the term “senior deck officer” captures that meaning. The organisation e-mailed me to say:

“We now understand that it was the use of the word ‘senior’ that the DfT objected to in our proposed amendment…because the word ‘senior’ does not appear in the STCW convention, instead the phrase ‘Management level’ is the term used in its place.”

We are talking about the terms “senior deck officer”, “deck officer” and “management level”. The competence of the officer who may hold a PEC is critical in this regard.

Nautilus International believes that

“there is considerable evidence to show that the issue of PECs should be restricted to vessels that operate on regular trades and where it can be demonstrated that there is adequate manning”—

a word that I am unhappy about; I would much prefer “crewing”—

“to conduct safe pilotage. There is an associated need for a more effective regime to govern the issue of PECs and improved controls against their misuse.”

In conclusion, we still seek reassurance from the Minister and from the hon. Member for South East Cornwall on the very important question of PECs. We will listen carefully to their comments, and especially to the Minister’s response, to see how the Department for Transport interprets some amendments and reacts to others. Once we have listened to the Minister and received any explanation or reassurance he might be able to offer, we will decide whether the Opposition wish to press our amendments or support others.

12.30 pm

As I said in my opening remarks, we are very supportive of the Bill. It is well documented that it started out when I was Minister with responsibility for shipping back in 2008. It is essentially a good Bill that has the support of the industry as well as of the representative bodies of organisations that speak on behalf of mariners across the UK. We would very much like to see the Bill enshrined in law, and we look forward to its passage either today or in due course.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). I am a big fan of his, to be perfectly

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honest, although I am sure that such a declaration will not do much for his reputation. Nevertheless I am a fan, and I think he made some excellent points. I would also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) on getting her Bill to this stage, which is an achievement in itself—something that many people do not do.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I just wanted to draw to the hon. Gentleman’s attention, in case it was not mentioned by his hon. Friends, that Hansard will show that I said some nice things about him as well, when he was temporarily not in his place at the beginning of this debate.

Philip Davies: I am very grateful for that, and I apologise for missing it. It was obviously my embarrassment that forced me to miss his saying nice things about me, but I am grateful. I shall certainly consult Hansard at the earliest opportunity to find out just how nice he was about me.

I rise mainly to discuss clause 2 and amendment 1, which is the only one that has my name attached to it, along with that of the hon. Gentleman, who made some extremely good points.

I support the thrust of the Bill and certainly wish it well in the broadest possible sense, but it is crucial to ensure that any legislation we pass is not passed solely on the basis that we broadly support what is in it, which we generally do. The hon. Gentleman and the Labour party, for example, broadly support what the Bill is trying to achieve and no one wishes it any ill will in that regard. It is important, however, that any legislation we pass is fit for purpose and properly considered and will achieve what we all want it to do.

As things stand at the moment—although I am certainly prepared to listen to what the Minister and my hon. Friend have to say—I have many of the same concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman. I do not understand the reasoning behind clause 2, as it seems to be a solution looking for a problem in respect of where we are now. It is my understanding—I am sure I will be corrected if I am wrong—that the clause proposes to reduce a long-standing, efficient and effective risk mitigation measure in regard to the limitation of pilotage exemption certificate holders to master and first mate only. As far as I can see, none of the reasoning behind the clause substantiates the Bill’s goals, and the hon. Gentleman made the same point.

This provision is based on the specific commercial requirements of a small sector of the UK shipping industry, which, for operational reasons, is falling foul of the working time regulations. As it happens, I am not going to stand up for working time regulations in all their glory or for all the other things passed by the European Union, but that seems to be where we are. If people want to correct me, I would be happy for them to do so.

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): I do not know whether my hon. Friend has consulted the Pilotage Act 1987, which the Bill amends, but it makes it clear that to qualify for a pilotage exemption certificate an applicant would still need to demonstrate possession of the

“skill, experience and local knowledge”

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that a competent harbour authority judges to be necessary for him to be capable of piloting the ship, or ships, to which the certificate applies. Applicants must still have that expertise, as well as language expertise. Clause 2 merely allows that requirement to apply to people other than senior officers.

Philip Davies: I understand my hon. Friend’s point, and I do not doubt her intention, but it seems to me that we currently have a clear basis for knowing about the competence of people who are dealing with these matters, and I am not entirely certain that, under clause 2 as it stands, that will necessarily be the proven case in the future. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the clause has the potential to increase the risk of a serious casualty within a UK port or its approach, threatening the safety of the various people to whom he referred.

There are plenty of good things in the Bill, and I do not want them to be undermined by our leaving open the possibility of things going wrong. Obviously that would not be good for the people concerned, but it would not be good for my hon. Friend and her Bill either. Clause 2 is, as it were, a bridge that does not need to be crossed, given that there does not seem to be a massive problem with the current position.

The clause also directly contradicts and contravenes policy and guidance in the shipping industry, such as the requirements of the port marine safety code and some of the requirements of the standards of training, certification and watchkeeping, all of which refer to the specific duties of and differences between officers with managerial roles on board a ship—namely the master and first mate—and those in an operational capacity—namely junior officers, the second mate, and others whose role is to support a bridge team led by a senior officer—in specialist circumstances, for instance in pilotage waters, in the context of the established principles of proper and effective bridge management practices prescribed by the International Chamber of Shipping. Cutting across all those requirements, as the clause does, is opening a can of worms, and such action should be taken only when it has been considered in legislation that allows more detailed consideration than a private Member’s Bill.

The clause is based on arguments in support of the Department for Transport’s impact assessment, which many people believe to be based on incorrect assumptions in the interpretation of available evidence. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Maritime Pilots’ Association. As my hon. Friend will know, it is the body that is most concerned about her proposals. It does not necessarily accept that the assumptions in the impact assessment justify the clause.

I am all for the Government’s stated one in, one out policy on regulation. In fact, I think the Government’s one in, one out policy is a modest commitment. Throughout the last Parliament we Conservatives were saying that there was far too much red tape and regulation in this country. This policy will serve to add to the regulations, and I think a policy of one in, two out would be far better.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I fear the situation is even worse than my hon. Friend suggests. Does he share my concern that because the one in, one

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out rule does not apply to EU regulations, the European Union can send as many of them over as it likes, so that body of law will continue to grow?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right, but I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you would not want me to get sidetracked into discussing the merits, or otherwise, of EU regulations, so I will not do so.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): I have good news for my hon. Friend on this point. The Government intend to move from one in, one out to one in, two out as of next year. I am surprised to see him today. He is rightly raising concerns about safety, but he is also raising concerns about regulation rather than deregulation.

Philip Davies: I take on board the Minister’s point. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) mutters that perhaps we could move to one in, three out, and that would certainly be a step to be encouraged. The point is that the question of one in, one out and regulation and deregulation is not just a numbers game. Although the aim is to have less regulation overall, we want to keep the regulations that serve a good purpose and get rid of the ones that are wholly unnecessary. I firmly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) about European regulations.

I agree with the thrust of the Government’s one in, one out target, or one in, two out, which would be even better—or even the one in, three out proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South. I would be happy to start a bidding war on that. The problem, however, is that a deregulatory measure might be proposed not because it deregulates in the right area, but because it meets the numbers target we have set ourselves. I would not want us to get into that situation. We must address each proposal on its merits, and I am not convinced that we have chosen the best measure in this instance. The Government’s impact assessment suggests to me there may be too much attention on hitting this particular target, and not enough on the merits of each proposal.

Jim Fitzpatrick: The key point is safety, not questions of one regulation in, one out. The point is whether the regulations make the situation safer or less safe. Last week in Westminster Hall we had a disagreement with the Government about European regulations on pilots’ hours, because we thought the UK standard was better and safer than the European standard. So far as we are concerned, the question being discussed today is also fundamentally a safety issue, and we want the Minister to give assurances on the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, which we share.

Philip Davies: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He puts the case far better than I could. His comments highlight why I wonder whether clause 2 is misguided. Our concerns about it may well be shown to be unjustified and my hon. Friend and the Minister shown to be right: everything carries on as before and all is fine and dandy. But it might also turn out that something goes wrong. We can argue the merits

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of whether such measures should be introduced in the first place, but once they have been introduced it is a lot more difficult to get rid of them. In effect, it will put the Minister and my hon. Friend on tenterhooks for ever as they will basically be hoping that nothing ever goes wrong in future.

12.45 pm

If something goes wrong, even if it is not wholly linked to the provisions in the Bill, those provisions are where the blame will end up lying. I wonder whether that is a sensible position for the Government to take; do they want to put themselves in that situation for the benefits in clause 2, of which I am still not convinced? There are clearly benefits that the Government want to see, but we must ask whether they outweigh the risks, I am not entirely convinced from what I have read or from the information provided by those on both sides of the argument whether that is necessarily the right way to go.

My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall argues that there is protection in the clause through the CHA’s responsibility to ensure that only appropriately trained and qualified ships officers, other than master and first mate, will be awarded a pilotage exemption certificate. I am not convinced by that, to be perfectly honest, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is either. Statements of compliance are not always received. Investigations into port-related incidents recommend improvements to operations when they do not feel that the operation was up to scratch and there are examples of such recommendations being ignored or contested and of operational failures that contributed in some way to an accident that have not been put right. Given that we are in that situation now, people should be nervous about any move towards further deregulation, and we should only introduce such provisions if the evidence is overwhelming. I do not think there is that evidence.

During our debate on the previous Bill, I made it clear that the people who know best about such matters are often those who do and see the job every day of their lives. That was certainly the case when I worked for Asda. If I wanted to know what was going on in a store—what was going well and what was going badly—I would go to someone who worked in the store on the checkout, on the shop floor or filling the shelves, as they knew exactly what was going right and what was going wrong. They could see it with their own eyes and they also had people telling them everyday what was going right or wrong. It is very easy to stand in this House—I am as guilty of this as the next person—and say that we should deregulate when our safety is not at risk. Everybody knows that my natural instinct on all matters is deregulation rather than extra regulation, but I wonder whether we should be considering more than we have whether the Government and my hon. Friend want to get into this situation.

This might well be a step too far. My main concern is that it will undermine all the other good things in the Bill, of which my hon. Friend should be rightly proud. We are muddying the waters slightly with clause 2. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will press either this amendment or his other amendment to a Division. In fact, I hope for more than that—I hope that he does not have to do so. It would be much more helpful, given all

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the other good things in the Bill, if the Government accepted them. Time is precious, and I am sure that we would all like the Bill to progress further today, rather than having to come back at a later date. The best way of ensuring that would be the Government’s giving some indication that they will consider the points that the hon. Gentleman and I raised and ascertain whether we can reach some agreement that satisfies everybody, does not detract from the rest of the Bill and allows it to make further progress. We have much ground still to cover on the amendments and Third Reading. Time presses, and it would be helpful if the Minister gave assurances that satisfied us so that we reach a point where the Bill can progress. If he does not, the danger is that the Bill will not progress today, and that would be sad for us all.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I thank the Minister for his co-operation in facilitating the availability of his officials since the Committee stage. It has caused me to do an awful lot of reading, for which I do not necessarily thank him. We are dealing with incredibly complex regulations and I want to put on record, having previously chaired the Deregulation Committee, that I believe that there is undoubtedly a case for better regulation, and the Bill is part of that process. When we deal with the regulatory regime, we should not simply count numbers, but focus on better regulation all round.

We cannot compromise on marine safety. Things go wrong at sea and close to shore. Some have tragic consequences and others have an element of humour, not least the recent case of Sandy island. I do not know whether the Minister has caught up with that story, but the island has been on charts since 1876, and it has taken till 2012 for the error to be spotted. A whaling ship—I do not know whether it had a drunken skipper—spotted the island in 1876, and only now has it been proven not to exist.

However, the Bill deals with very serious matters. The difference between us is a matter of definition, as the Minister knows, but the definitions are critical. My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) referred to evidence that we received from the United Kingdom Maritime Pilots Association, which says that the current wording of clause 2 contravenes: Department for Transport and Maritime and Coastguard Agency policies and guidance; the Department for Transport and port marine safety code; the International Maritime Organisation standards of training, certification and watchkeeping regulations; the IMO international safety management code; and bridge resource management. The Department has signed up to all those principles.

In Committee, the Minister tried to explain that, in his view, the language of the clauses was adequate to keep within not only the spirit, but the letter of such regulations. However, it is clearly the professionals’ view that that is not the case. I hope that, when the Minister speaks to his amendments, we will have some clear answers to those challenging points, which are very serious.

The first code that I mentioned refers to 10 years and thousands of hours of work required to reach the status of an expert in some of the disciplines that are needed. It is therefore important, as my hon. Friend the Member

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for Poplar and Limehouse said, that we ensure that the skill levels are properly defined so that we do not put anyone at risk.

The reference to management level is appropriate. There is sufficient cross-referencing in the various regulations and in the way that marine officers, ship owners and Governments have interpreted the law over many years to mean that if we incorporate the word “senior”, we get some way there. The Minister may be able to convince us that he has got it right.

I have received further guidance from my constituent, Mr Youde, who I know has written to the Minister—

Stephen Hammond: Extensively.

Andrew Miller: He has also written to the Prime Minister, extensively. Mr Youde refers to an incident which, coincidentally, came up in discussion with the Minister’s officials, and he refers to the report published by the marine accident investigation branch, in which a pilotage exemption certificate under section 8 of the Pilotage Act 1987 is a significant feature. The report relates to the collision in March this year outside Belfast between the short sea ferry Stena Feronia and the small bulk carrier Union Moon. The Union Moon was outward bound and had discharged her pilot. The Stena ship was inward bound under the pilotage of a PEC holder.

The report states in express terms in the synopsis that the PEC holder was on board the ship solely for the purpose of conducting pilotage, both at Belfast and at Liverpool, and had no other duty on board the vessel.

Sheryll Murray: Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the master of the Union Moon had 123 micrograms of alcohol per 100 mm of breath when he was operating vessel?

Andrew Miller: I am reading from the synopsis of the report, which makes it clear, according to my constituent, that the PEC holder was not a bona fide member of the crew of Stena Feronia. This is where the kind of difficulties that have been described become important. We need to be very precise.

As I said in Committee, I accept that the Minister is acting in an honourable way and is taking advice from people who are clearly knowledgeable about the subject, but the view has been expressed that the breach of the terms of the Pilotage Act that appears to have occurred should be taken seriously. There is, however, Mr Youde says, no indication yet that any prosecution might arise in respect of the apparent breach of section 15(1).

If, under the current regulations, such incidents occur and there is no prosecution, how seriously does the Department take the matter? I am not asking in an aggressive way; I am inquiring. Are there other factors, as the hon. Lady indicated, which mean that it is not appropriate to mount a prosecution? It seems to me that if alcohol was involved, somebody should perhaps have been prosecuted. These are the kind of issues that we need to be certain about as we progress the clause.

I want the Bill to succeed, but I want it to bear the label of better regulation and not to be open to endless litigation and interpretation in court, which would mean that we had wasted our time. I hope the Minister can give us confidence that his interpretation or his acceptance of our amendments would be the right way forward.

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1 pm

Stephen Hammond: We have had a wide-ranging debate on clause 2 and on the amendments, to which the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) spoke ably, as ever. Let me say at the outset—I know that the hon. Gentleman accepts this, but I want to put it on the record—that the Government will do nothing in legislation that would in any way endanger safety at sea. Only a mad hatter would believe that we would do anything that mad.

I listened carefully to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who, as ever, has been thorough in his investigation and exploration of the clause we are considering. I hope that he is reassured by some of the helpful assurances that I was able to give the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) on Second Reading and in Committee. For example, I was able to say that the Government would reconsider the clause and bring forward amendments on Report, as we are today.

Let me deal with each amendment in turn. Amendment 1 would leave out clause 2. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse for setting out his reasons for tabling the amendment. As with other amendments that have been proposed, alternative definitions of who should hold a PEC have become the crux of what we are debating. The existing restriction limiting the issue of PECs to masters and first mates only no longer reflects maritime operations. For example, many ships and ferries making short voyages no longer have a single master or first mate, because they need to be able to keep the ship almost constantly active. On longer routes, where it is more likely that there is a single holder of each of those roles, there is often the risk of fatigue.

There will always be the alternative for a master to take on board a marine pilot if circumstances mean that none of the PEC holders on the ship is available to pilot it because of the hours worked or limited crew numbers, but if a suitably qualified person is available, it cannot be justifiable that, simply because they do not have the right title, they should not hold a PEC and pilot the ship.

Both the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse and my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley suggested that the clause was being introduced solely to satisfy the demands of a small number of operators of dredgers on the River Thames. I say gently to them that that explanation is like the fish that is so rarely caught on the River Thames: the red herring. It is simply not the case—[Interruption.] I am glad my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) enjoyed that joke; this is a serious matter and there are few opportunities for levity.

The UK Chamber of Shipping has highlighted its desire to see that change in the UK ferry industry. It considers that recognition of the expertise that already exists on its ships will improve the flexibility and efficiency of operations. The industry is also looking ahead and training younger officers so that they are ready to fill senior roles in coming years, recognising that a large proportion of officers are approaching retirement in the next five years. Clause 2 supports the aspirations of those young officers by offering the opportunity to apply for a PEC when they are ready and able to do so,

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rather than just holding them back because of a job title. I hope that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, on reflection, will consider withdrawing amendment 1.

I am also grateful to the hon. Gentleman for explaining the problems he is seeking to address through his other amendments to clause 2. I have already stated that the maintenance of maritime safety must be our key concern. That is why I think that the Bill contains three balanced clauses relating to the management and usage of PECs. I firmly believe that competent harbour authorities would not issue a PEC to unqualified individuals. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston will remember the clarification that I was able to give him on Second Reading and in Committee about exactly when a PEC is in operation.

Further, the Bill does not remove or amend in any way the essential safeguard whereby competent harbour authorities may only award a PEC to those whose

“skill, experience and local knowledge”

is sufficient to pilot the named ship or ships to which the PEC applies. The amendments would prevent the deck officers who have that skill, experience and local knowledge from holding a PEC merely because they are not a master or first mate. The addition of a senior navigating officer would not, in practice, extend the restriction at all. Aside from the fact that the definition of the term would be somewhat imprecise, common usage would associate it with what most people call the chief mate under the international convention on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers.

The term “deck officer” is well known and makes it clear that PECs can be held only by crew members who are regularly tasked with the navigation of the named ship. This definition can be supported by guidance in the co-produced port marine safety code and the accompanying guide to good practice about the qualifications that deck officers are likely to have achieved before they are ready to take the PEC exam.

Clause 2 amends the criteria in the Pilotage Act 1987 for those who are eligible to be granted a PEC. At the moment, an applicant must satisfy the criteria that they must be a bona fide master or first mate and must demonstrate the skill, experience and knowledge sufficient to be capable of piloting the ship specified within the harbour to which the PEC applies. Let me be clear: the clause amends only the first criterion; the second is entirely unaffected by the Bill and remains a vital safeguard to ensure that competent harbour authorities issue PECs only to mariners who can demonstrate that they can safely navigate the ships specified on the PEC. That addresses several of the points made by hon. Friend the Member for Shipley. He should be absolutely clear about the fact that the PEC can be issued only to mariners who have the necessary skill and that it applies only to a specific harbour. I hope that he will reflect on that and recognise that the Bill does not affect the issue at all. All that clause 2 changes in relation to the Pilotage Act is the definition.

Let me turn to the Government amendments. The Government propose that we use the term “deck officer” rather than the terms suggested in other amendments. In Committee, I gave a guarantee that given the importance of this matter to maritime safety, we would give further consideration to exactly what might be the best terminology.

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The current terminology for such crew as would be appropriate for the qualification of a PEC is “deck officer”, which enjoys the following dictionary definition:

“an officer in charge of the above-deck workings and manoeuvres at sea of a ship or boat.”

I suggest that that covers several of the concerns expressed by the hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse and for Ellesmere Port and Neston.

Members have suggested qualifying terms such as “senior” or “certified” deck officer. However, those do not have the required clarity and are not in common usage, and would therefore maintain the current restriction. I was interested in the term “management-level deck officer” and accept that it could have some merit, but again, it is not in common usage. There may or may not be such a definition in maritime law, but there is no clarity about that.

Andrew Miller: In the STCW regulations, there is a reference to “management level”, but there is also a reference to “operational level”. Perhaps the Minister should look for a way of bringing the two together, because somebody can have managerial responsibility without having a hands-on role. The definition must ensure that the person is of operational level. Later in the regulations, there is a reference to

“officers in charge of a navigational watch”.

Somewhere in there, I think that there is a definition that everyone could buy into. The term “deck officer” does not exist in the regulations.

Stephen Hammond: The term “deck officer” does not exist there, but it does exist. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the point that management level is covered by the usual definition of deck officer, which is

“an officer in charge of the above-deck workings and manoeuvres at sea”.

That implies that the officer must have operational and management level qualifications.

The term “deck officer” is clear and is widely accepted to be in current usage. It excludes members of the crew who are not responsible for navigating the ship. The second criterion will still apply, so a deck officer would still need to have the requisite

“skill, experience and local knowledge”

to qualify for a PEC.

The port marine safety code and the accompanying guide to good practice are co-produced by the ports, the shipping industry, trade unions, maritime experts and the Government. They provide guidance for ports on the management of PECs and already suggest that competent harbour authorities seek a valid certificate of competency as a deck officer from PEC applicants.

I suggest that the Government amendments are a way forward. We have listened carefully to the concerns of the Opposition and other Members about the definition. Our proposals reflect the ambition of the Bill to reflect modern usage. I hope that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse and my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley will be reassured by the Government amendments and will not press their own.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I have listened carefully to the Minister’s response on our amendments. As I outlined in my opening remarks, the deletion of clause 2 was a principled defence of the status quo in the absence of an alternative.

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The alternative that we suggested was “senior deck officer” because that is what was suggested to us. The Minister stated that “deck officer” is a recognised term in the industry. He also acknowledged that our suggestion of replacing “senior” with “management-level” would be appropriate and that that term is contained in other regulations.

In essence, what we are talking about is safety. As the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said, this is not an insignificant element of the proposals, but relates to the fundamental question of safety. We would not want to challenge the Government on their commitment to safety, because we accept the Minister’s assurances. I also know that the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), in whose name the Bill stands, would not want to do anything other than improve safety for mariners. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: Government amendment 12, page 2, line 7, leave out ‘member of the crew’ and insert ‘deck officer’.

Government amendment 13, page 2, line 8, leave out ‘omit “of which he is master or first mate”’ and insert ‘for “master or first mate” substitute “a deck officer”’.

Government amendment 14, page 2, line 10, leave out ‘member of the crew’ and insert ‘deck officer’.

Government amendment 15, page 2, line 12, leave out ‘person’ and insert ‘deck officer’.

Government amendment 16, page 2, line 12, at end insert—

‘( ) In section 31(1) (interpretation) at the appropriate place insert—

“deck officer”, in relation to a ship, includes the master and first mate;”.’.—(Stephen Hammond.)

Clause 5

Harbour directions

1.15 pm

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): I beg to move amendment 8, page 3, line 27, leave out clause 5.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 9, page 3, line 34, in clause 5, at end insert—

‘for the purpose of promoting safety of navigation’.

Amendment 11, page 4, line 19, at end insert—

‘(8) An order designating a harbour authority shall not be made unless the Welsh Ministers, the Secretary of State or the Scottish Ministers, as the case may be, are satisfied that the harbour authority has in place appropriate procedures for resolving any disputes that may arise in relation to a proposed harbour direction.’.

Amendment 7, page 4, line 27, at end insert—

‘(3A) Section 236(3) to (8) and section 238 of the Local Government Act 1972 apply to all harbour directions made by a designated harbour authority under section 40A and those provisions so applied have effect subject to the modification that for references to byelaws there are substituted references to harbour directions and for references to a local authority there are substituted references to a designated harbour authority.

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(3B) The confirming authority for the purposes of section 236 in its application to harbour directions made under section 40A shall be the Secretary of State.’.

Government amendment 17, page 9, line 12, at end insert—

‘() the apprehension of offenders within the port constable’s police area in respect of offences committed outside that area and the transport of them to police stations outside that area;’.

Government amendment 18, page 11, line 8, leave out ‘subsection’ and insert ‘subsections (1A) and’.

Government amendment 19, page 11, line 8, at end insert—

‘(1A) Sections 5 and 6 come into force in relation to fishery harbours in Wales on such day or days as the Welsh Ministers may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.’.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) on promoting the Bill and recognise that there is growing interest in it. The Government have managed to accommodate the substantial points made on pilotage. I congratulate the shadow Minister, to whom the Bill is familiar, and my hon. Friend the Minister on that achievement.

I have a number of proposals, one of which is that the simplest thing to do with clause 5 is remove it, which amendment 8 would do. I ought to explain to the House that I spoke briefly in Committee—I cleared my throat—for 15 minutes. We now have 75 minutes for the Bill to make progress. Were we to have, say, two Divisions, we would have about 45 minutes. Hon. Members need to recognise that there are time limitations.

Much in the Bill is of advantage, but clause 5, which amends the Harbours Act 1964, provides that each national authority can designate harbour authorities, which means we can anticipate a larger number of harbour authorities, which can give general harbour directions to ships within or entering or leaving their harbours. That currently requires a byelaw, which requires the approval of the Department. If a Minister is not prepared to approve the byelaw, it does not happen. I believe I am right that the Minister would be advised on whether the byelaw proposed is right and rational, and on whether the authority has been rational in terms of the results of the consultation—the requirement for a consultation will remain if a harbour is designated.

It has been said that, if the Government’s proposals go through, an interested group or person can object to the decision through judicial review, but that is too big a weapon for too many people. In any case, judicial review decides whether the way in which the harbour authority went about its decision was rational. If it goes about the decision unfairly, it can be stopped, but if it does it wrongly, it cannot. The decision would then be made. In the years that my wife and I were Ministers, we never had a judicial review application against us upheld. That means not that all our decisions were right, but that how we reached them was right. That illustrates the distinction.

Proposed new section 40A of the 1964 Act deals with the designation of harbour authorities. Proposed section 40B, which governs the procedure applicable to

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harbour direction, states that a harbour authority is required to consult users and publicise a harbour direction before and after it is given.

Proposed new section 40C, on enforcement, creates an offence. The Royal Yachting Association, of which I have been a member for some time, has raised issues with this measure. Those with longer memories will recall that, in 2008 and later, when a Bill of this nature was in the House of Lords, there was no equivalent of clause 5, because there were problems with such a proposal.

I should tell my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall and the Minister that there will be significant interest in the measure in the House of Lords, to which one anticipates the Bill going after today. I predict that the Bill will be amended if the provisions are not satisfactory—I am not threatening, but anticipating. Private Member’s Bill procedures mean that a Bill amended in the House of Lords will not be at the top of the list of priorities when it returns to the Commons, so getting the Bill right between now and when the House of Lords considers it matters.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Just to reinforce the hon. Gentleman’s point, I do not anticipate that the question of pilotage is over and done with either. I am sure that noble Lords in the other place will want to go through exactly the same discussion that we have had in recent months, just in the way that he is describing for clause 5.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I could go on at great length, but I will spare the House. Trying to create good will while being very clear and determined is probably the most useful way forward. I will certainly listen with interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall has to say, and, if I may say so, to my hon. Friend the Minister when he responds to the amendments.

It has been suggested that the process that was started—I would say started a bit late—between the port authorities, with the help of the Department and the yachting interests, could lead to a code of practice. Only one draft code of practice has been put forward, by the Royal Yachting Association. I understand that in the middle of December there is to be a meeting between the various bodies. It will be interesting to hear—now if the Minister can, but certainly by then—whether the draft code of practice and the methods put forward for consideration for agreement are likely to be agreed in substance or completely.

The next question is what the Minister will say about designating harbour authorities—I do not anticipate that he will be able to speak for the other national authorities other than those for England, but he could indicate whether others may do the same—and whether he will bear in mind the commitment to adhere to an agreed code of practice, and that that commitment, which will not be onerous, and no one is trying to suggest something that would cause more bureaucracy, will be a factor when considering designation. That is one of the crucial issues on which the Minister can address the House. [Interruption.] Is he addressing the House now?

Stephen Hammond: I tried, on Second Reading and in Committee, to be as helpful as possible as early as possible so that there was no cause for confusion. It is my expectation and the expectation of the Department

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for Transport that, when applying for a designation, a harbour authority would sign up to the code of practice.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I am sure that what the Minister said will be helpful. The question of whether it is sufficiently helpful will be a second test, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I will take that into account.

Mr Deputy Speaker, the selection of amendments to other clauses in the same debate is, if I may say so, generous to the promoter of the Bill, because it allows for fewer debates than would otherwise happen. I do not make any criticism—I just note that.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I am sure there is no criticism of the Chair.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I do not propose to speak to the amendments on the other clauses, as a way of bowing with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall.

Amendment 9 would insert, on page 3, line 34, the words:

“for the purpose of promoting safety of navigation”.

That is an essential point. My hon. Friend the Minister says that that is not necessary, although when I was having a discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall I saw references to lobster pots and fishing lines and wondered whether the navigation point had been slightly lost, but that was a letter to her rather than a letter from her, so perhaps we can pass on from that.

The alternative or additional way is to look at amendment 11, which, at the end of line 19, would insert the words:

“(8) An order designating a harbour authority shall not be made unless the Welsh Ministers, the Secretary of State or the Scottish Ministers, as the case may be, are satisfied that the harbour authority has in place appropriate procedures for resolving any disputes that may arise in relation to a proposed harbour direction.”

My hon. Friend the Minister has made a comment on that, as far as he is able to, and we cannot expect him to speak for Welsh or Scottish Ministers, but I think they would be irrational if they did not have the same intention in mind.

Finally, amendment 7 would insert proposed new subsection (3A):

“Section 236(3) to (8) and section 238 of the Local Government Act 1972 apply to all harbour directions made by a designated harbour authority under section 40A and those provisions so applied have effect subject to the modification that for references to byelaws there are substituted references to harbour directions and for references to a local authority there are substituted references to a designated harbour authority.”

It would also insert proposed new subsection (3B):

“The confirming authority for the purposes of section 236 in its application to harbour directions made under section 40A shall be the Secretary of State.”

The point is this: clause 5 will potentially give, not just to existing designated harbour authorities, but to many, many others, the power of creating criminal offences.

Sheryll Murray: Will my hon. Friend name any specific prosecutions brought in relation to the 30% of harbour authorities that already have powers of general direction?

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Sir Peter Bottomley: I shall think out loud, rather than direct my comments directly to my hon. Friend. If we have three times as many harbour authorities with 100% less experience taking advice from people who will not be the Secretary of State’s advisers, we can anticipate problems.

Sheryll Murray rose

Sir Peter Bottomley: The Bill has to clear in about 60 minutes, so let us pretend that this exchange has concluded there.

Sheryll Murray: Will my hon. Friend just accept that there has not been one prosecution to date?

Sir Peter Bottomley: I am prepared to accept anything that my hon. Friend says; I just wish she would do the same with me.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): If, as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who is promoting the Bill very successfully, has said, there have been no prosecutions, presumably she will have no trouble with the deletion of clause 5 altogether, as it clearly is not necessary.

Sir Peter Bottomley: Or perhaps just deleting new section 40C—the enforcement element—would suffice. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend cheerfully makes the point, and the deletion of clause 5 would have been accepted in another place on another time—but this is a different House and a different year.

I will conclude my remarks for now—although with the leave of the House, or even without it, I might make a comment towards the end of the debate—by saying that in essence the test is: will the genuine concerns, which were recognised in the past, be recognised this time?

I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that if the Bill passes today—there are many good, uncontroversial elements to it—that code of practice, with people signing up to and agreeing it, will make a significant difference. I will not put it more boldly than that, but I hope that the message has clearly got through.


Richard Ottaway: I start by declaring my interests. I have been a recreational yachtsman all my life, starting from the time I was a boy scout and including my service in the Royal Navy, when I commanded several vessels and was the officer of the watch of the Royal Navy’s largest-ever warship. I am also a member of the Royal Yachting Association—I was on its council for three years, from 2005 to 2008—and I am the owner of two boats.

Indeed, I would have paid much closer attention to the Bill, were it not for the fact that I chair probably the busiest Select Committee in the House—I have been abroad all week looking at Her Majesty’s Government’s policy on the European Union. I am here today, however, and although I support the principles and good intentions behind the Bill, and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), I wish to express my concern about the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) in Committee and today.

It might be observed that it is hard to get much further from the sea than my wonderful constituency of Croydon South. None the less, a significant number

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of my constituents live in south London so that they can work in the city in the week and head for the south coast at the weekend. I represent a number of recreational yacht users. I should also point out that, as is declared in the register, I am a solicitor specialising in maritime law and maritime arbitration. I therefore hope that the House will accept that, from a recreational and professional point of view and from my naval career, I have a feel for the issues at play.

1.30 pm

Every weekend there will be a huge number of competing interests in the area covered by any harbour authority. There will be cruising yachtsmen, racing yachtsmen, dinghy sailors, water skiers, powerboat recreational users and powerboat racers. Coming through the middle of that lot—particularly in the Solent, which is the Southampton harbour authority area—there will probably be a substantial number of cruise liners and commercial vessels, with both wet cargo and dry cargo, all of which have diverging interests. My concern is about the impact of clause 5 on those competing interests and the lack of statutory basis.

From my brief examination of the Bill I am quite alarmed that there seem to be powers to impose a criminal offence by an unelected authority without any democratic oversight, which is denied to local government authorities and the Civil Aviation Authority. As the RYA has highlighted throughout the passage of the Bill, under clause 5 an unelected designated harbour authority would have greater power to create new criminal offences than a democratically elected local authority. One of the many questions I wish to put to the Minister is: what is the thinking behind this? Harbour authorities are not well placed or adequately resourced to create new criminal offences. The proposed power to create such offences contains none of the supervisory safeguards usually imposed in relation to law-making bodies in a democratic society.

That is the thinking behind amendment 7, which, had I been here earlier in the week, I would have put my name to, and on which I want to focus today. A key principle of the Government’s localism policy is that power should be placed back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils, and where such power is to be exercised by local institutions, they should be subject to democratic checks and balances, enabled by full transparency. However, many harbour authorities are not democratically accountable and, far more importantly, are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It would run counter to basic democratic principles and the Government’s localism policy to grant an unelected designated harbour authority law-making powers that are not subject to democratic checks and balances or full transparency. Cowes harbour authority, which covers the area where most of my current boating activity takes place, is excellently run, but it is not an elected authority. The appointment process is not subject to any democratic checks whatever. That is the area where most of the conflicts I set out earlier are arising.

Everyone can acknowledge that harbour authorities need to have the power to manage their harbours, and the Bill contains several valuable provisions. However, I am greatly concerned by clause 5, which would confer

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on designated harbour authorities the power to give “harbour directions” to ships in their harbours, including recreational craft. If the master or skipper of a ship to which a direction applies does not comply, they commit a criminal offence. However, although clause 5 would require a harbour authority to consult representatives of harbour users before giving a direction, there is essentially no other limitation on the exercise of the power by harbour authorities. Although some harbour authorities form part of a local authority, many are private enterprises or independent trusts, with no direct accountability to the public or harbour users.

The power in clause 5 to give directions is expressed so as to apply to ships that are within their harbour, or entering or leaving their harbour. The direction may relate to the movement of ships, to mooring, to equipment—the nature and use thereof—and to manning. A pre-consultation requirement is included in the provision. It requires the harbour authority to consult such representatives of harbour users as it thinks appropriate. Contravention of the provision would be a criminal offence.

The power in clause 5 to give directions is additional to a harbourmaster’s power to give directions to individual vessels under section 52 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847, of which I am sure all hon. Members are fully aware. Examples of harbour directions authorised under clause 5 that could be unfair or inappropriate include the prohibition of sailing or powerboat racing within the harbour, or the prohibition of certain types of vessels within the harbour, particularly if the harbour authority had chosen not to incorporate the open port principle set out in section 33 of the 1847 Act. A number of recreational harbours have incorporated that principle in the past.

A third possible scenario could involve a requirement that all collisions should be reported, including minor, inconsequential ones that occur during training or racing. The House should be aware that a substantial number of such incidents take place, and that such a proviso would be ludicrously bureaucratic. Another scenario could involve a stipulation that all ships, including sailing and motorised dinghies and other small craft used in navigation, should carry a ship-to-shore radio. Anyone who has spent five minutes on a boat will know that electricity and salt water do not mix. It would be completely impractical to require a dinghy or other small boat to carry such a radio. However, a harbour authority that was trying to impose its will might steer its directions in that way in order to inhibit that type of use.

Sheryll Murray: Has my hon. Friend not heard of battery-operated and rechargeable VHF radios? Will he assure me that he is not suggesting that anyone should go to sea without carrying a VHF radio to communicate with others for safety purposes?

Richard Ottaway: I have to say to my hon. Friend that I suspect that the vast majority of boat movements around the south coast of Britain on any given weekend are undertaken by boats that are not carrying a radio. The fact that she is unaware of that gives me huge cause for alarm.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I should like to give the House an anecdote. When our daughter, then aged 11, sailed an Optimist from Priory bay on the Isle of Wight to

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Chichester harbour and then over to Portsmouth harbour, there was hardly room on board to carry food for the day, let alone a radio. My hon. Friend is illustrating the potential for a naive, newly designated harbour authority to do something impractical, and we need to pay attention to that.

Richard Ottaway: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for confirming that point.

Another scenario could involve a stipulation that all ships, including sailing and motorised dinghies and other small craft used in navigation, must carry specified equipment such as anchors. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall believes that every boat carries an anchor, but I can assure her that the vast majority do not do so. It could be decreed, however, that they must do so in a tideway so that they could get out of the way and drop anchor. Another possibility could be a requirement that fairways must be avoided by recreational craft, irrespective of whether other shipping is present.

Further possibilities include unjustifiable prohibitions from navigating within a specified distance of environmental features, and prohibitions from anchoring for recreational purposes. Indeed, there is a major dispute at the moment between yachtsmen in the Solent and the National Trust over anchoring in Osborne bay on the Isle of Wight, close to the home of Queen Victoria. The National Trust appears to have exceeded its powers in demanding that yachtsmen should not anchor in the bay adjacent to Osborne house. That is yet another illustration of how unelected authorities can impose a regulation, without having the power to do so or, indeed, without any thought for competing interests. Even if a harbour authority exercises its discretion not to prosecute the skipper of a recreational craft for infringing a harbour direction, the mere existence of that direction may be sufficient to invalidate the vessel’s insurance policy under section 41 of the Marine Insurance Act 1906.

Such general powers of direction have been attained over the years by a number of individual harbour authorities, starting with the Port of London Authority in 1968 and have then gradually taken the place of byelaws, which, unlike harbour directions, have to be confirmed by the Secretary of State and are subject to clear checks and balances. That is why I hope I can persuade the Bill’s promoter to accept amendment 7.

The Royal Yachting Association has become increasingly concerned in recent years at the potential for such powers to give harbour directions to be exercised indiscriminately in a manner that is unnecessary and harmful to the lawful exercise of recreational and other navigational rights. There are instances—quite a number of them—of harbour authorities routinely disregarding the views of their statutory advisory committees. For example, the Saundersfoot harbour commissioners have ignored the views of their statutory advisers, while the Wells harbour commissioners have purported to issue harbour directions despite not having the lawful authority to do so. Those examples do not give me confidence that the power contained in clause 5 would be exercised rationally and with due regard for the interests of all harbour users.

I consider the powers to give harbour directions, in the form proposed in the Bill, to be generally unmerited for a variety of reasons. The making of harbour directions

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involves the creation of new criminal offences, which many local harbour authorities are not equipped to do. Even democratically elected local authorities do not have such powers and the Bill contains none of the supervisory safeguards usually imposed for law-making bodies. I say to the Minister in all sincerity that granting an unelected harbour authority law-making powers that are not subject to democratic checks and balances and full transparency runs counter to the Government’s own localism policy.

Harbour directions could be made under the power over wide areas used by recreational craft in a disproportionate manner, without proper risk assessment or consideration of the full implications and possible alternatives. They could be used to impose very significant and potentially burdensome restrictions on the navigation and use of recreational craft. It is worth noting, as I described earlier in relation to the Southampton harbour authority, that many harbour authorities have jurisdiction over substantial areas going out to sea, and not just over partially enclosed harbour areas.

Prior consultation is an inadequate safeguard, not least because—notwithstanding that prior consultation—inappropriate or flawed decisions often still follow, as experience across the public and private sector generally shows. Furthermore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) pointed out, judicial review is not an adequate remedy against an objectionable direction where, as here, powers are expressed without meaningful limitations. There is unlikely ever to be any procedural or substantive illegality to provide a course of action.

The RYA has expressed its concerns over a number of years to representatives of the port industry and to the Government, including in a response to a Government consultation on the draft Marine Navigation Bill of 2008, which contained an equivalent provision to that set out in clause 5. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West said, a meeting between the RYA, the Member in charge of the Bill and the Minister has now taken place, but the RYA understands that those behind the Bill do not propose to drop the provision or amend it in any way to meet the RYA’s concerns. I have to say that that gives me cause for concern. [Interruption.]

I beg the Minister’s pardon. I thought at that point that his body language was moving towards the Dispatch Box.

Stephen Hammond: I shall move slowly in the direction of the Dispatch Box.

It was somewhat frustrating that in some of the discussions we thought that we had moved to certain places, and then found two hours later that we had not. Let me gently say that it would be helpful if both sides were prepared to concede some points, so that we could proceed towards the establishment of a non-statutory code of conduct.

1.45 pm

Richard Ottaway: I hope that that is right, but, as we have only 45 minutes left, it would be of great assistance if the Minister told us now that there would be some movement in that regard.

Stephen Hammond: There has been.

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Richard Ottaway: I was not present during the discussions, but those who were have told me that there has not been movement. If the Minister is able to confirm that there has been, and that he can agree to the code of conduct that is being proposed, his throat can then dry up and we can all move on, quite satisfactorily.

It has been suggested to the RYA that a non-statutory process should be established to ensure that the powers to make harbour directions under clause 5 are used appropriately. That might include a code of conduct setting out how harbour authorities would use their powers to make harbour directions and providing for levels of consultation, a dispute resolution process if objections cannot be resolved, and an arbitration process if the code of conduct has not been adhered to. Model harbour directions would also be developed.

While, from the Department’s point of view, such a non-statutory process no doubt has the advantage of enabling the Department to avoid taking any responsibility for the matter or expending any resources, it would offer no real safeguards against the misuse of the proposed new powers unless all harbour authorities were required by the Secretary of State to commit themselves to the code of conduct as a prerequisite to being designated under clause 5. Given that elected local authorities are subject to such a requirement, why should it not apply to unelected harbour authorities?

Stephen Hammond: I said on Second Reading and in Committee that the Department would issue guidelines on the competence of harbour authorities to make directions, and I have already given my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) the reassurance that my hon. Friend has just sought.

Richard Ottaway: I am grateful to the Minister, but he has yet to explain why local authorities, Transport for London and the Civil Aviation Authority should be treated differently from unelected harbour authorities.

I had many more points to make, but it might be sensible for me to allow the Minister to set out in some depth exactly what his reaction will be. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West pointed out, the Bill still has to pass through the other place. There is a substantial shipping lobby there, which will take a close interest in the Bill. If the Minister can give us some assurances, I imagine that the Bill will be given a speedy passage through both Houses.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I did not plan to speak today, and I certainly do not want to take up much time, because I want the Bill to make progress. However, I feel that I must make a few brief points.

I am a lifelong sailor, and—although I have not had a distinguished Royal Navy career like my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), whom I have the privilege of succeeding in the debate—I do represent a port: the port of Falmouth, which has many of the features described by my hon. Friend. It is a very busy port, with conflicting usages of the harbour authority area. I firmly believe that the prevention of injury and the safety of everyone who uses the port—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The hon. Lady has been a Member for a long time now and, as important as I think Mr Ottaway is, she should address the Chair.

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Sarah Newton: Thank you for that reminder, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was overcome by passion for my argument. [Interruption.] It is the effect you have on us, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Falmouth harbour has many of the features that have been described in this debate. There has been a great increase in recreational activity and there is also a vibrant fishing industry, and Falmouth is a commercial port, too. Our harbour authority must have the proposed powers, therefore, but with that power comes responsibility. It will be responsible for careful stakeholder engagement and for ensuring that any measures introduced take into account the views of all the often competing interest groups at the harbour. By and large, our harbour authority achieves that very well. I can therefore reassure Members that that is already happening, so I am confident any proposals will be introduced in a sensible and measured way.

Let me illustrate the importance of these provisions for saving lives in my port and in ports all around the country. This summer we had a dreadful incident: two water skiers collided with each other, and somebody was seriously injured. If our port wants to respond to such an event by introducing common-sense measures—speed limits, perhaps, or zones for safe usage of jet skies—it has to apply to the Secretary of State for changes in bye laws, and therefore years will pass by and lives could well be lost. The measures in this Bill would allow the port locally and speedily—and accountably to its community—to manage the safety of people at sea, which is our overriding concern.

Richard Ottaway: My hon. Friend says that there would be accountability to the local community under these measures, but there is no such accountability. No one is elected to serve on these authorities, so there is no line of accountability.

Sarah Newton: There are various ways in which people can be accountable. My hon. Friend is trying to compartmentalise people. The people on the harbour authority are sailors themselves, and they live in the community and want to see good and balanced decision-making, taking account of all elements in the community.

I am very supportive of the Royal Yachting Association—and, as I have said, I have been a lifelong sailor—but in this instance it is out of touch with its members. That was also the case in respect of the reorganisation of the coastguards. The national body of the RYA took one position and its members locally took a different position.

No RYA members or yacht clubs in my constituency have raised the issue under discussion. Falmouth is home to the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, and it is where Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie started sailing. It is an international centre of sailing, but none of these clubs has raised this issue with me. They currently work collaboratively with the harbour authority, and they welcome these measures.

Sheryll Murray: I will be very brief, as I know time is running out, but I want to assure those Members who are concerned about safety that nobody knows better than me that incidents that cannot be legislated for can happen at sea, because my family has paid the cost of that. I have spoken to a lot of yachtsmen, and members of the RYA and harbourmasters. This measure is about port safety. I urge those Members who have spoken so

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eloquently about the RYA to consider the safety implications of having congested harbours and a harbourmaster who cannot move boats from one area of the harbour when dredging takes place.

I pay tribute to the my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), who had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy. I should declare a special interest, as my daughter is involved in navigation as a lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy and my son deals with electronic navigational aids. I also want to put on record an interest to which I do not strictly need to refer today, and that is my membership of the Sea Safety Group, which I sincerely hope will form the type of organisation that will bring everybody together to draw up the code of practice. Not only was I a member of the Plymouth sea safety group, which brought merchant shipping people, ports, port and harbour authorities and every other user of the sea, including the RNLI and RYA, together, but so was my late husband. I am so sorry that I got angry when I heard that yachtsmen were going to sea without using VHF radios, but nobody knows more than me what that can mean. I apologise for my anger, but I believe that everybody should go to sea with a VHF radio and an emergency position indicating radio beacon.

I am sorry to have taken up so much time and I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Stephen Hammond: This has been a passionate debate and I recognise the concerns raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), both of whom spoke passionately and with knowledge. I hope that they accept, as I do, that the concerns have been raised a number of times and I hope we are moving towards a solution. The concerns were raised at a meeting with me before the Committee stage of the Bill. I hope that I will be able to allay some of them by explaining why the Government have chosen the non-statutory safeguards that complement the statutory provisions in the Bill. I understand that they have been agreed in principle by industry in its widest sense, by the Department and in principle although not in detail by the RYA. In total, there are 12 safeguards, some of which are detailed in the Bill. Others are non-statutory and I want to focus on them.

A set of harbour directions will be made available for harbours to adopt, as will guidance on how to use the power. A code of conduct covering good practice on consultation and a mechanism to resolve disputes about harbour directions before they are made will be developed by representatives of the port and the port users. An independently chaired panel will be established to develop and maintain the code of conduct and model harbour directions and I have given assurances on Second Reading and in Committee that the Department will actively engage in ensuring that there are guidelines for what should be covered in the code of conduct, how the harbour authority should make those directions and whom they should be consulting.

I expect the code of conduct to be agreed. I want it agreed by all sides—that is, not just by my Department but by the RYA. That is why the meeting in December is greatly important, as it will bring together a number of

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the major key stakeholders: the RYA, the UK Major Ports Group, the British Ports Association and my Department. I hope that given my assurance that I expect the code to be agreed or, if it is not agreed, amended as promised in the other place, my hon. Friends will consider that as basis for accepting some reassurance today.

On clause 5 and amendment 7, I have tried explicitly to give the assurance that, when a harbour authority expects to participate, it will have to sign up to the code of conduct before it makes the application.

2 pm

Clause 5, as drafted, places specific requirements on harbour authorities. To be fair, many are similar to those in the Local Government Act 1972. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South has gone through several, but let me be clear that the statutory requirements in the Bill are that the directions must be in writing; the harbour authority

“must consult such representatives of users of the harbour”;

the harbour authority must publicise the harbour direction at least 28 days before it is given; a harbour authority must

“make harbour directions available for inspection, and… supply a copy to anyone who requests it”,

and

“As soon as is reasonably practicable after giving a harbour direction the harbour authority must publish a notice in a newspaper specialising in shipping news”.

Those conditions are similar to provisions in the 1972 Act. I hope that I have reassured my hon. Friends the Members for Worthing West and for Croydon South that I will not only expect, but ensure that we work to secure agreement on the code of conduct, and that I have provided assurances about the Department’s expectation and mine that harbour authorities will commit to the code. I therefore hope that that gives them some comfort and that they will feel able to allow the Bill to proceed today without pressing amendment 8, which would remove the clause, or amendment 7.

Amendment 17 is a sensible amendment on the ability to drive down the cost to business and provide effective and efficient policing for ports. Amendments 18 and 19 effectively give powers to commence provisions in the Bill immediately following Royal Assent. The important point about amendments 18 and 19 is that they replicate the arrangements for Welsh Ministers. Again, that is sensible. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West will feel able to withdraw the amendment, and I look forward to the Bill’s making progress.

Sir Peter Bottomley: We are grateful to the promoter and the Minister for speaking clearly and relatively briefly, which was important. They could have said much more.

The Minister’s clarity and commitment are welcome. We trust that those who come to the meeting in December will reach agreement on the draft code of conduct. I am not saying that no word can be changed, but having a system of review and, if necessary, arbitration, will make a difference. I emphasise that that is not just for those who go to sea in small boats. My open canoe will not carry an anchor or much heavy equipment, besides

30 Nov 2012 : Column 553

me, unless I lose a bit of weight. It affects commercial shipping, the ferry companies, the fishing industry and other harbour users.

I also want to make it plain that no one will defend unsafe use of our waters. Collisions will happen, but not to learn the lessons from things that go wrong would be to fail to honour the memory of those who have suffered at sea.

I am grateful for the Minister’s comments and for the co-operation of those who advise him. On the basis of what he has said, I do not intend to press any of my amendments to a Division. I cannot say that I withdraw the amendment happily—I should have preferred a different way—but I will withdraw it.

The Minister’s amendments are worth supporting. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7

Port Constables: Extension of Jurisdiction in England and Wales

Amendment made: 17, page 9, line 12, at end insert—

‘() the apprehension of offenders within the port constable’s police area in respect of offences committed outside that area and the transport of them to police stations outside that area;’.—(Stephen Hammond.)

Clause 13

Commencement

Amendments made: 18, page 11, line 8, leave out ‘subsection’ and insert ‘subsections (1A) and’.

Amendment 19, page 11, line 8, at end insert—

‘(1A) Sections 5 and 6 come into force in relation to fishery harbours in Wales on such day or days as the Welsh Ministers may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.’.—(Stephen Hammond.)

Third Reading

2.4 pm

Sheryll Murray: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Enough discussion has taken place. I thank all hon. Members who have contributed.

2.5 pm

Sir Peter Bottomley: In anticipation of the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), and after our hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), the Bill should probably be known as the Murray-Fitzpatrick Bill, and if it becomes an Act, they can share the credit.

2.6 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) is very generous with his description. I am not sure the Minister would entirely agree, given the amount of work that he has put in during his short time in his ministerial post to ensure

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that the Bill has made such progress. It is a tribute to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) that she brought the Bill to us, steered it through Committee, and managed—very eloquently, I thought—to dissuade her hon. Friends from pressing their amendments. They were extremely generous in their acceptance of her commitments and the assurances from the Minister.

I will not detain the House, except to repeat that we have had some serious discussions on the pilotage issue. The hon. Member for Worthing West moved his amendments, and he and the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) indicated their continuing interest in the development of the Bill.

There are other elements of the Bill that we have not even touched today—the tidying up of the issue of port constables and the important reforms to the benefit of the lighthouse authorities, for which the whole industry has been waiting for some time. Its members will have been watching and listening to this debate and wondering whether they would get a mention. The fact that the Government have successfully introduced those reforms will go down well with the whole shipping industry.

Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for South East Cornwall. We are happy to support the Bill and see it pass to the other place.

2.7 pm

Andrew Miller: I congratulate the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) on bringing forward an immensely complicated Bill in so few clauses. A number of issues still need clarification. The Minister has done a good job of helping the House understand his position on these matters. I hope strong messages go out to the harbour authorities, in the spirit of what the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) said, so that we get total clarity on that.

On pilotage, I accept the position that the Minister set out in an honourable manner and I hope we can make progress. I am more satisfied than I was initially that those complex interrelations between the various codes can be met by his form of wording. If, however, he subsequently finds in discussion that that still could be finessed, I hope he will indicate that he is prepared to be flexible. There is no difference between us in principle. We want to make sure that safety is at the heart of everything that we are doing.

2.8 pm

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): I will not detain the House too long. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) for the measures that she included in her Bill to address the anomalies facing the port police. They play a valuable role supporting the efforts of the border force and special branch at our ports, stopping nasty things coming in and out of our country. It is important that these provisions are enacted so that they can do that without any challenge before the courts. The Bill also enables us to make best use of their service, which is provided at no cost to the taxpayer.

2.9 pm

Stephen Hammond: It is a great pleasure to bring to a close today’s debate on this welcome Bill, as we acknowledge the Bill that was started under the hon. Member for

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Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) in his time. I am grateful to him and to his colleague, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), for their helpful and constructive contributions.

The Bill has been acknowledged on both sides of the House as desirable and as needing some fine-tuning, which is why we listened in Committee. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) and glad that I have been able to provide them with some reassurance on the matters they are concerned about. I accept that further work is needed, particularly on the code of practice, and look forward to ensuring that happens, in line with the commitments I have given today. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) is absolutely right that one of the important aspects of the Bill is what it does in relation to the ports police.

Of course, it is much to the credit of my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) that her Bill has made such rapid progress so far. Taking on board the maritime theme, I think that it has made the progress of a speedy catamaran, rather than a ponderous super-tanker—that is probably enough of my laboured jokes for one day. I am delighted that the Bill has made its way through this House and look forward to watching its progress through the other place.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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Presumption of Death Bill

Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

Queen’s consent signified.

2.11 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I will speak briefly, because we had a full discussion on Second Reading and in Committee and I do not wish to repeat the arguments. I think that it is appropriate that I draw attention to the considerable work that has been done by the Justice Committee, the charity Missing People and the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), who have supported me in bringing the Bill to this stage.

The Bill will introduce a new court-based procedure to enable those left behind to obtain from the High Court a declaration that a missing person is deemed to have died. The certificate will be conclusive about the presumed death and effective for all purposes and against all persons. Essentially, it will act as a death certificate. I believe that the Bill will provide a great deal of solace to those families who are going through an extremely difficult time by simplifying the number of legal processes and financial hoops they have to go through to tidy up the affairs of the estate of a missing loved one or relative.

The Bill will ensure that England and Wales are on the same footing as Scotland and Northern Ireland. It will make a real difference to the lives of those who are left behind. We anticipate that between 30 and 40 such declarations will be made each year. The Bill makes provision to deal with the unlikely possibility that a person might not have died; there is provision in clause 5 to allow variance on a certificate and to revoke a declaration.

During the Bill’s passage through this House so far there has been some consideration of the provision of guardianship, which many people wanted to be included. That has not been included in the Bill but, as I have said on previous occasions, I believe that it will need to be looked at in future. There are several issues relating to how that process would work and considerable consultation is needed. I serve notice that I will be looking at the matter in future, because I think that ideally it should have been included in the Bill.

There is little more to say, as the Bill was not amended in Committee. I hope to see it progress and receive Royal Assent in due course.

2.14 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): As hon. Members know, the Government support the Bill. We believe that it will simplify and streamline the procedures that people encounter when dealing with the property and affairs of a loved one who has disappeared and is thought to be dead. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) on his success in piloting the Bill through the House to its Third Reading. I hope that the

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House will join me in supporting the Bill’s Third Reading and wishing it a speedy and successful passage through the other place.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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Mobile Homes Bill

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

Clause 15

Commencement, transitional etc. provision, extent and short title

2.15 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I beg to move amendment 1, page 28, line 30, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—

‘(1) Clauses 1 to 7 shall come into force on 1 April 2014.

(2) Clauses 8,13 and 14 shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.

(2A) Clauses 9 to 12 and 15 shall come into force two months after Royal Assent.’.

This small amendment would improve the Bill, and it would ensure that what the Government want to happen will happen. A small part of the Bill—in fact, it is the heart of the Bill—affects the dubious actions of a few mobile home park owners in restricting the rights of individuals to sell their own plot. The Bill as it stands allows this to be dealt with through regulation by the Government. However, the Government sometimes do not get round to introducing regulations, and there would undoubtedly be a delay. The amendment would ensure that on this specific part of the Bill—clauses 9 to 12 and 15—the regulations would apply two months after it is enacted. That is all that it would do; everything else would stay exactly the same. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Nick Boles): The Bill is a hugely important piece of legislation supported by Members in all parts of the House. It will, if enacted, enable residents of mobile home sites better to exercise their rights, such as the right to sell their home, and afford them better protection from poor conditions through a robust licensing scheme. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is sensible and would bring the legislation into force at the earliest opportunity, which the Government are committed to doing. The provisions in clauses 1 to 7 are subject to the moratorium on new burdens on micro-businesses, and the amendment respects that. The Government are therefore pleased to support it.

Amendment 1 agreed to.


Third Reading

2.18 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The purpose of the Bill is to update the law as it relates to park homes, which has become ineffective and outdated. As a result, a minority of rogue site owners have made the lives of some park home owners a misery by not maintaining their site properly and bullying residents and preventing them from exercising their legal rights, particularly when they wish to sell

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their homes. Members in all parts of the House have come together to right this wrong, and I believe that the challenge has been approached in the right way.

The Bill had the initial advantage of being based on evidence provided through the consultation undertaken by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the inquiry by the Communities and Local Government Committee, and the wide-ranging investigation by Consumer Focus. We then moved on to fully scrutinise the Bill on Second Reading and in Committee. In doing so, the issue arose that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) described, for which I thank him.

I believe that the Bill achieves its objective of providing an effective and up-to-date legal framework that ensures that the mobile homes sector runs properly and fairly: a framework that drives out unscrupulous and rogue site owners who have made many people’s lives a misery; a framework that gives local authorities the resources to oversee sites properly and provides them with effective licensing powers; a framework with proportionate sanctions and fines that will act as a deterrent to some of the practices that have taken place; and a system that safeguards the interests of responsible site owners and does not penalise them for the criminal acts of others.

The Bill provides hope and optimism for the park homes sector, but there is still work to be done.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): There is a park homes site in Haslingden in my constituency and I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has brought the Bill forward. I support it wholeheartedly.

Peter Aldous: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. A feature of the debate on the Bill has been the support from all parts of the House.

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend on behalf of the many people who have suffered in park homes over recent years, and whose suffering will be relieved because of the Bill. He has done them a tremendous service in getting the Bill to this stage.

Peter Aldous: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind words. I echo them back to her for the sterling work that she has done and for her impassioned speech on Second Reading.

There is still work to be done to help park owners to obtain a better understanding of their agreements, rights and obligations. We must address the issue of fuel poverty, which affects many park home owners in a variety of forms. I discussed that matter yesterday evening with the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker).

I hope that the Bill will now move on to the other place, where the noble Lord Best will take the lead in its scrutiny. I conclude by thanking the right hon. and hon. Members, site owners, park home owners and their representatives, and officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government who have given me so much support in promoting the Bill. Time does not permit me to name them all. I commend the Bill to the House.

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2.22 pm

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): I will be brief because of the time.

All Members of this House matter, and private Members can make a difference. This is a classic example of a Member, the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), making a difference.

This noble Bill was born out of the bitter experiences of too many of the 160,000 residents of the 84,000 park homes. I am pleased to confirm the strong support of the Opposition for the Bill. The House is united in saying that park home owners must enjoy greater security and an end to second-class and sometimes shameful treatment. Reputable park home site owners deserve no longer to be undermined or have their reputation damaged by the rogues. Just as there is no place for rogue landlords, there must be no place for rogue site owners. We hope that there will be robust enforcement of the notion that to be a site owner, one needs to be a fit and proper person.

All Members who have been engaged in scrutinising the Bill have received hundreds of e-mails and letters from all over the country. The best way to conclude is to read a sentence from one of the e-mails that I received, which is from Sheila Austin of Ladycroft park:

“The first 10 years of me living in a Park Home were great with a good owner, overnight our lives changed when Sines bought the park and as a consequence the last 11 years have been a living hell.”

The Bill is determined to bring to an end that shameful treatment and we are happy to support it.

2.24 pm

Nick Boles: The Government fully support the Bill and will continue to do so as it moves to the other place. As a junior Minister who is trying to shepherd the Growth and Infrastructure Bill through the House, I am in awe of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), who has achieved something to which I have not yet even come close by winning the support of Members on both sides of the House—we have sadly not managed to do that in respect of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. He has received warm words of support from both sides, including Opposition Front Benchers. That is down to his working hard, arguing passionately and highlighting clearly the benefits that the Mobile Homes Bill will bring to important and vulnerable people.

Although the measures in the Bill affect only a tiny part of the housing market—some 85,000 homes—they are hugely important to those residents, who, as I have said, are often older and more vulnerable. The measures will make a huge difference, ensuring that their health and safety is better protected, and that their rights as home owners are respected, particularly the right to sell the home to a person of their choice.

My hon. Friend is also to be congratulated on getting the balance right. The measures are carefully targeted at those operators who abuse their positions as owners. Decent site owners who run law-abiding businesses will not be adversely affected, and minimum burdens will be placed on them.

Further consideration will be given to the practical application of the measures in the Bill. The noble Lord Best will shepherd the Bill through the upper House—no one is more qualified or has a greater record of passionate commitment to the housing rights of the British people.

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The Government will continue to work closely with key industry, resident and local authority partners on the development of the measures. I am happy to say that the Government will continue to support the Bill through every stage until it is on the statute book and the people living in mobile homes in our country can be sure that their proper rights are respected.

Mr Bone: It was remiss of me not to thank the Government for accepting my small amendment. As most of my amendments are designed to help the Government, is that acceptance a sign of the future?

Nick Boles: I have not yet had the great benefit of my hon. Friend’s help in any of my work, but I look forward to it and await with eager anticipation his contribution on Report and Third Reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. The House will agree that no debate, legislation or deliberation by the House is not improved by his contribution. We want a contribution from him in every debate we have for the rest of this year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney and I came into the House at the same time. His achievements as of today and the final passage of the Mobile Homes Bill, are far greater than mine or those of any member of the Government who was elected in 2010. I hope that he and his constituents are aware of that, but I am certain that residents of mobile homes throughout the country are aware of it. His name will be up in lights above those mobile home estates for many months to come. I therefore commend the Bill to the House and urge hon. Members on both sides of the House—present and absent—to vote for it in spirit and action.

2.28 pm

Peter Aldous: I am grateful for the Minister’s kind words and have very little more to say.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill

Second Reading

2.29 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), on whose behalf I have moved Second Reading, was called away. I am an ex-surveyor, so I have had an awful lot to do with property boundaries over the years. I thought I left them behind when I was elected, but all of a sudden—

2.30 pm

The Deputy Speaker interrupted the business (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 18 January.

Business without Debate

General Anti-Tax Avoidance Principle Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (14 September), That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 18 January.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In response to an urgent question on 19 November from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis), the shadow International Development Secretary, the International Development Secretary refused to give any commitment on whether she would cease aid to Rwanda in light of concerns about the regime’s connection with the M23 group, saying repeatedly that this was a decision she would take in December. Why has she then today, on what some might consider an excellent day to bury news, released a written statement saying that £21 million of support to Rwanda would not now be released, also pre-empting the publication today of the Select Committee on International Development’s report on Rwanda, which one would have thought she might have wanted to read first? Will the Deputy Speaker ask the International Development Secretary to come to the House to explain why the decision has now been taken today?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): The hon. Lady has certainly got it on the record and made the point. I think it will have been heard on the Government Benches. I am sure that on Monday, if not satisfied, somebody may use other courses of action to bring this forward.

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Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Am I incorrect then in thinking that it would have been possible for any hon. Member to have asked for an urgent question on any subject they were worried about today?

Mr Deputy Speaker: That is correct, subject to people actually knowing what was laid earlier today.

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Liquid Nitrogen Drinks

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

2.32 pm

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak on the important issue of banning liquid nitrogen as an ingredient in cocktails and other drinks. It is important from the outset that I make it clear that I do not propose to prevent the usage of liquid nitrogen in food preparation and production. In my view, using liquid nitrogen to chill foods and drinks is acceptable, but to put it in drinks is extremely dangerous and must be stopped, not least because nitrogen boils at minus 196° centigrade, making it very dangerous in liquid form. The idea that someone could drink a cocktail that contains an ingredient that is minus 196° centigrade is obviously dangerous and must stop.

As a little background, I should say that this issue first came to my attention as a result of the serious injuries sustained by Gaby Scanlon from Heysham in my constituency. On her 18th birthday she went to a bar in Lancaster and drank two “nitro Jagermeister” cocktails costing £8.95. These drinks look very appealing because the nitrogen boils in the glass and creates a smoke effect. I can understand fully why Miss Scanlon wanted to try these drinks and I believe her actions on the night were those of a normal 18 year old. When she bought the drinks, she had a reasonable assumption that something she bought in a licensed bar was safe to drink. Sadly, however, the complete opposite proved to be true. What followed is really horrific. The liquid nitrogen froze her stomach and, as it boiled her stomach, it began to rupture, leaving her in the sort of agony that is hard to imagine. Clinicians at the Royal Lancaster infirmary took the decision to remove her stomach in emergency surgery. They say that she may have died without this procedure.

This is the only case of serious injury of this kind that has been reported in the media across the world, and to think that it happened here in the UK is shocking. We must take action before this problem becomes more widespread. As we know, there are lots of laws and regulations on the food and drink we consume, and it is illegal to serve anything that is injurious to health, but how many people know of the dangers of liquid nitrogen used in this fashion? Gaby Scanlon did not know, and, had I been in that bar at the time, I would not have known. Bars and restaurants across the country do not know either, yet they serve this cocktail daily.

Tonight, young people across the country will be served these drinks by staff at bars that do not know the dangers. No one believes that the bar that served Gaby Scanlon wanted to hurt her; it simply did not know the dangers. That lack of knowledge cannot continue. I appreciate the work of the Food Standards Agency in issuing advice to environmental health officers, but in response 80% of EHOs have said that there must be an outright ban on liquid nitrogen being used in this fashion and that it should not be used as an ingredient under any circumstances. I agree with them.

I do not support greater vigilance; I support an outright ban. In consultation with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department

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of Health can issue an emergency control order banning the use of any ingredient. It happens regularly when an ingredient is found to be unsafe but still in widespread use. The issuing of these orders is comparatively easy and does not require any sort of primary legislation, because the powers already exist. I hope that the Minister will update the House on what discussions have taken place between DEFRA and the Department for Health, and that he will say whether any other cases of this sort have been reported. Furthermore, what discussions has his Department had with relevant professionals and local authorities?

The last thing I want to do is play the blame game. Too few people know about the dangers of liquid nitrogen drinks, but that is starting to change. I am delighted that this debate has been covered by Radio 1’s “Newsbeat”, listeners to which are in the age group most at risk. I hope that coverage of this debate will warn even more young people of the dangers of these drinks. My message to all young people is that liquid nitrogen drinks are not worth the risk.

I call on Health Ministers to support an outright ban on the use of liquid nitrogen as an ingredient. If we take this opportunity now, we will prevent other young people from going through the shock, pain and disruption that Gaby Scanlon did. When someone walks into a bar or restaurant in this country, they have a right to know that what is being served is safe, and the House has a duty to enforce that right.

In closing, I want to wish Miss Scanlon well. She is slowly but surely returning to health, and the whole House will want to offer its good wishes to her and her family.

2.37 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr Daniel Poulter): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) on securing this debate and on his continuing strong advocacy for his constituents. I know that he has been a diligent and hard-working constituency MP since he was elected, and I pay tribute to his work in bringing forward this issue. As a doctor, I was sad to hear of the ordeal that Gaby Scanlon endured when she went out to celebrate her 18th birthday, and of the distress caused not only to her but to her family and friends. I acknowledge my hon. Friend’s determination, therefore, in following up on the serious injury suffered by his constituent.

As my hon. Friend rightly outlined, the incident on 2 October has attracted considerable media attention. Tonight being a Friday night, I am sure that many young people will be going out into bars and clubs in the places they live or perhaps further afield. This debate has also attracted attention in Australia and New Zealand. As we know, this is the first time that the Food Standards Agency has been made aware of a food incident involving the use of liquid nitrogen. I say “a food incident”. The FSA, a national body working in close partnership with local licensing authorities, has responsibility to ensure that food and drink in our restaurants, bars and clubs and elsewhere is served responsibly and safely. When it became aware of the incident, the FSA immediately issued a warning to raise consumers’ awareness of the dangers of consuming

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drinks containing liquid nitrogen. The FSA also encouraged all environmental health officers to be vigilant about the use of liquid nitrogen in food or drink when carrying out their routine inspections of food and hospitality premises.

I hope my hon. Friend will be reassured to hear about the controls that are already in place. Food law prohibits the sale of harmful foods and drinks in the UK. Manufacturers, retailers and businesses in the UK have a legal obligation to ensure that the food and drink they serve to the public is fit for human consumption. There are industry safety and handling guidelines around the use and storage of liquid nitrogen. Business owners are responsible for training their staff, making them aware of the potential risks of using liquid nitrogen and having appropriate safety measures in place to protect staff and consumers. Existing legislation prohibits the sale of food and drink that is unsafe. Enforcement of both health and safety measures and food safety legislation is the responsibility of the relevant local authority—in this case Lancaster city council. Businesses selling alcohol that are convicted of food safety offences can have their alcohol licences withdrawn by the local licensing authority.

It is worth touching on the wider point about the glamorisation of alcohol—sometimes by the food and drink industry, but particularly by wider sectors of the media. As I have said, tonight many young people will go out to bars, clubs and other settings in town centres and elsewhere, including the village and market town pubs in my constituency, to enjoy an evening out with friends. On the whole, things will pass successfully and without any adverse incident. However, we know that there has been a problem in parts of the country where certain bars and clubs have been irresponsible in their marketing of alcohol. It is the responsibility of licensing authorities to ensure good practice in the performance of their local bars and clubs and to ensure that they are run responsibly. With regard to the premises in question, that is something that I know the local council will look at seriously in the ongoing investigation in this case.

We expect those who sell and promote alcohol to do so responsibly. The alcohol industry in general has made a core commitment, through the public health responsibility deal, to foster a better culture of responsible drinking. We are grateful for the national recognition of the importance of the issue by the alcohol industry, but the Government’s alcohol strategy goes further in fostering responsible drinking, aiming to cut the number of people drinking to harmful levels. It addresses both health and social harms, describing co-ordinated actions across Government, and includes a commitment to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol to tackle the sale of heavily discounted alcohol, with further action to ensure that local authorities have the licensing powers they need to protect local communities. The strategy will deal not just with binge drinking, but with all activities to do with responsible drinking, promoting safe places for people, young or old, to go out in town centres in the evenings. On 28 November, the Government launched a consultation on a number of areas set out in the strategy, including a recommended price of 45p per unit of alcohol. We are taking that action to ensure a sensible price for drinks that cause harm.

What is the local authority doing in this case? Lancaster city council is rightly investigating the events that led to Gaby’s very serious injury. The full details of what

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happened in this incident are not yet publicly available, because of the ongoing review and investigation of the case by the city council. However, I can reassure my hon. Friend that once they have concluded, government departments such as the Food Standards Agency will consider whether further guidance is necessary. As I outlined earlier, initial action has been taken to warn consumers of the risks of consuming drinks containing liquid nitrogen and to ensure that local authorities are vigilant in their inspection of food businesses with regard to the sale of this product. We do not yet have all the information about what happened in the bar in

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Lancaster, so we need to wait for the conclusion of the investigation by the council. However, I reassure my hon. Friend that we will take the results of that investigation seriously and the FSA will consider them. We must ensure that what happened to Gaby does not happen again to other young people.

Question put and agreed to.

2.44 pm

House adjourned.