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English Channel: Collisions

11.28 a.m.

Lord Burnham asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Marine Coastguard Agency is working very closely with the French authorities to prevent further collisions with the wreck of the MV "Tricolor". In addition to the procedures of the Channel navigation information system, the French police vessel "Glaive" and our HMS "Anglesey" are guarding the wreck, in addition to two salvage boats. Coastguards are broadcasting navigational warnings at 20 minutes to, and 10 minutes past, the hour and this is increased to four an hour when there is bad visibility. Three wreck buoys have been placed to mark the site and a further one, with radar response capability, is planned for Friday.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, so far as concerns this individual collision, that Answer is most satisfactory. As this is the last Question of the year, perhaps I may take the opportunity to wish the noble Lord a very happy Christmas and express the hope that in the New Year he may be required to answer for one or two fewer departments.

On the assumption that the Government are monitoring collisions in the English Channel, what evidence is there to show whether those have increased or decreased and what steps are the Government taking to ensure that, in future, there is compliance with the codes relating to the separation zone?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, do not spoil my fun next year! This is a serious Question and that is why we have a traffic separation scheme in the Channel. After all, it is only 45 miles wide at that point and that is why there are separate east, north and southbound lanes. The Channel navigation scheme, which came into force in 1971, has been successful in avoiding serious damage. We have not had anything like the accident between a tanker and a cargo ship which occurred before the separation scheme came into force and which involved loss of life. I do not have statistics covering the past 30 years, but I can certainly write to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, on that point.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, I acknowledge what the noble Lord has just said with regard to separation lanes and their undoubted success in reducing the number of collisions in the Channel. However, does he agree that this latest incident shows up one of the potential weaknesses of the system where there is a crossing point between lanes going north/south and east/west—in fact, a type of maritime Piccadilly

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Circus? Has he also seen the letter in today's Daily Telegraph from a Trinity House pilot, who acknowledges that, while seafarers today are very much au fait with radar and electronic gismos, they are woefully lacking when it comes to mental arithmetic and interpreting what they see on their screens in relation to what is going on outside the window, if, indeed, they look out of the window?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the accident to which we are referring took place in thick fog and looking out of the window would not have done very much good. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, is right. The accident took place at the crossover point between the north/east lane, which is the responsibility of France, and the south/west lane, which is the responsibility of this country. He is also right that there is a constant exchange of information via telephone, computer transmission link and facsimile. His comments on mental arithmetic raise wider aspects of the training of maritime officers.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the recent accidents—I refer to the "Prestige" accident and the one in the Channel—raise serious questions not only about the type of ship which is permitted to be used but also about the standard of crewing on many ships, which is appallingly bad? Can he give us any reassurance that we are trying to improve standards?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course, we do not know who was responsible for the accident involving the "Tricolor", and inquiries are still taking place. The "Tricolor" is a Norwegian-registered ship. It was crewed by a Norwegian captain and a Swedish officer and 22 Filippino sailors. Fortunately, they were all saved without injury following the collision. But clearly, even if we consider only the language capability of some of the people crewing ships, questions of communication, as well as questions of training, must arise.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I was the Minister who introduced the idea of traffic separation schemes in the 1970s. Will my noble friend confirm that those schemes seem to have been extremely successful but that there are real problems relating to fog? What lessons is the department inclined to draw from the present situation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the work that he did in setting up the traffic separation scheme. It was the first in the world to be established; it was the first to operate under radar surveillance; and it was the first to be adopted by the International Maritime Organization. As I said in answer to an earlier question, we have avoided serious incidents involving loss of life, such as the one that occurred before the scheme was set up. Therefore, we

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need to congratulate ourselves on what has happened. As for the issue of fog, we do not yet control the weather. Radar surveillance is the current technology available.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords—

Noble Lords: We have run out of time.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I take this opportunity to apologise unreservedly for failing to turn up in time for my Question. I did so because I was under the mistaken belief—it was entirely my fault—that Questions were being answered at 3 p.m. I apologise unreservedly to the House. I apologise, in particular, to my noble friend Lord McIntosh, who did not expect to have to cover quite so many departments. I understand from everyone to whom I have spoken that he did a much better job than I would ever have done in answering the Question.

Crime (International Co-operation) Bill [HL]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Filkin, I beg to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Grand Committee to which the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill [HL] has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 15, Schedule 1, Clauses 16 to 31, Schedule 2, Clauses 32 to 55, Schedule 3, Clauses 56 to 90, Schedules 4 and 5, Clauses 91 to 94.—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Grand Committee to which the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 20, Schedule 1, Clause 21, Schedule 2, Clauses 22 to 26, Schedule 3, Clauses 27 and 28.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Licensing Bill [HL]

11.37 a.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 4 [General duties of licensing authorities]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 86:

    Page 3, line 16, at end insert "which shall in particular set out the specific reasons which the Secretary of State considers to justify the exclusion of children from free access to licensed premises"

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 86, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 112. These amendments relate to unrestricted access by children to all licensed premises. I voiced my concern at Second Reading and spoke in earlier debates about the vagueness of the definition of "harm" in the licensing objectives.

The current provision for children within the licensing system is confused and, we believe, unworkable. The Government's response in this Bill has been to take the radical and, some would say, rash step of allowing children unrestricted access to licensed premises. Allegedly, this is based on a desire to promote a more family-friendly pub environment. In reality, the proposed flexibility will allow children of any age to sit in a licensed premises without adult supervision at any hour of the day. I believe that it has come as quite a shock to many people, both within and beyond your Lordships' House, to know that children can have totally unrestricted and unaccompanied access to licensed premises at any hour of the day.

It is not hard to see the repercussions of this new liberal stance on access for children. Unfortunately, many licensed premises are not the safe, family- friendly pubs we would like them to be. It is not necessary to talk in extremes about 10 year-olds in lap-dancing clubs. A group of 14 year-olds in a rough pub, unsupervised at 10 o'clock on a Friday night, might easily create an undesirable situation.

The Government may argue that the licensed premises holder has a duty to uphold the licensing objective,

    "the protection of children from harm".

Will all licensees uphold that scrupulously all the time? How will it be policed?

The framework for guidance admits that,

    "it would be appropriate to restrict the access of children where necessary for their protection from harm".

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That could be achieved, it says,

    "by requiring adult supervision, by restricting the hours during which children (of a certain age) may be present, or by excluding minors completely".

One wonders why the Government omitted from the face of the Bill such important matters as deciding at what time, at what age and from what premises children should be excluded. Will that lead to disputes because of inconsistency between the conditions imposed on premises by different licensing committees?

Our amendment asks for specific reasons laid out in the guidance. At the moment we are told in the framework guidance that examples will be provided about where restrictions might be appropriate. We believe that a handful of examples issued in the guidance on that aspect of the Bill shows an extraordinarily casual approach on the part of the Government. We must have reasons and definitions—not examples. It would be helpful to have clarification that the guidance will not impose more child restrictions than necessary or too few for parents to feel comfortable. I beg to move.

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