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The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I have tabled the amendment again as I found the Minister's argument slightly unsatisfactory. It is about the medical defence for fishermen. I do not see why it should not apply to small charter boats and similar vessels if it is to be in the Bill. After all, they go to sea from the same ports, often for similar length journeys in similar size boats with similar crews. Therefore, if one, why not the other?
I suspect that the answer is that the exemption for fishing vessels is an historical leftover, but it flies in the face of all modern health and safety legislation and rules. If we are to prevent the occasional but very sad accident and tragedies at sea, the subject needs careful scrutiny. If the Minister will give me the assurance that the Government, in consultation with the fishing industry, will consider those important safety issues, I may be satisfied. I beg to move.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am forced to say that the Government accept that there is a degree of irrationality and inconsistency in the way that the Bill provides a medical defence for fishermen but does not do so for other professional seamen in similar circumstances.
I do not believe that we would introduce the fishing vessel exemption now, nor can we agree to its removal at this stagealthough we will look at it for the future. The exemption is long-standing and could not be removed without extensive consultation with the industry, something that has not taken place. The extension of the medical defence to other on-duty professional mariners is neither necessary nor welcome. It would set entirely the wrong precedent, not only for the shipping offence, but also for aviation and road offences. And it would go against our drive to improve transport safety.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am glad that the Minister and I are in agreement on the principles involved. I am grateful for his reassurance that the Government will look again at the matter in the future. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) Section 6 Power to
In place of subsections (2) to (5) the power to require a person to co-operate with a preliminary test shall apply where
(a) a constable in uniform reasonably suspects that the person is committing an offence under section 78, 79 or 80,
(b) a constable in uniform reasonably suspects that the person has committed an offence under section 78, 79 or 80 and still has alcohol or a drug in his body or is still under the influence of a drug, or
(c) an accident occurs owing to the presence of a ship in a public place and a constable reasonably suspects that the person was at the time of the accident a person to whom section 78, 79 or 80 applied.
Sections 6A to 6E Preliminary
and drug test
In place of sections 6A(2) and (3), 6B(4) and 6C(2), a preliminary breath test, preliminary impairment test or preliminary drug test may be administered by a constable
(a) at or near the place where the requirement to co-operate with the test is imposed, or
(b) at a police station specified by the constable.
In section 6B(3) a reference to unfitness to drive shall be treated as a reference to having an impaired ability, because of drink or drugs, to do anything specified in section 78(2), 79(2) or 80(2)."
They replace the existing powers in Section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 that pertain only to the breath-testing of drivers for alcohol with comprehensive provisions that give the police powers to administer preliminary tests for alcohol, drugs and impairment. "Preliminary test" is the legal term used to describe a test to screen for alcohol, drugs or impairment. I
Clearly there is work to be done before the provisions can come into force. The development of procedures for the impairment test is well in hand but we shall have to await further progress in technology before a suitable drug screening test is available, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, recognises. Clause 118 sets out arrangements for commencement. It provides for the Secretary of State to make orders for specific provisions at the appropriate time by means of a statutory instrument. This is a difficult and complicated area of legislation, but we believe it will ensure that a comprehensive testing regime is available in respect of the battle against driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 give the police powers to administer preliminary tests for alcohol, drugs and impairment in the marine and aviation fields. That will ensure that the aviation and maritime regime for alcohol and drug testing is equivalent to that on the roads. Amendment No. 5 will also give the police powers to administer preliminary tests automatically after an aviation accident, bringing the aviation regime into line with other modes.
I shall not comment on Amendment No. 9. What I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, since it is in his name, is that he has won a great victory for the cause that he has been advocating so diligently over a number of a months. We have listened carefully to what he said. We are still sceptical about rapid progress towards testing for limits of drugs. He knows that, and I believe he agrees. But we have been ableand I am glad to pay tribute to himto give effect to the arguments he has been putting forward. I beg to move.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I informed the Minister of what I was doing when I tabled Amendment No. 9. In his immediate reply, he informed me in turn that his parliamentary draftsmen were working furiously in order to get the necessary amendments on the Order Paper for today's debate. All that is necessary for me to do at this point is to thank the Minister for the drive that he put behind the move once it got under way. In particular, I thank his staff and his draftsmen for tabling the amendments.
Although this is merely the legislative part of the procedure, and a great deal of work will have to be carried out by the police and others to make it effective, it would not happen if the legislative process had not been undertaken. I am grateful to the Minister for ensuring that that part of the process has happened and that this provision will be on the statute book. I hope, therefore, that the relevant authorities, such as the police and medical services will, where required, be put into motion to bring a greater degree of safety, especially in relation to drugs and driving on our roads.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I echo my noble friend Lord McIntosh in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on his perseverance and on seeing this provision home in such a satisfactory way. I believe that I was the one who suggested to the noble Lord in the first place that he should attempt effectively to wrap his Private Member's Bill into this piece of legislation. That is exactly what he has done. All credit to him for effectively getting a Private Member's Bill turned into a government Bill; it is a remarkable undertaking and he should be congratulated.
Congratulations are also due to my noble friend for listening at every stage of the debate and for coming forward with the amendments in this way. As this is the only contribution I intend to make on Third Reading, I thank him for the way that he has handled the rest of the proceedings, particularly in relation to the powers of the British Transport Police and the other matters we considered earlier. The way my noble friend has handled the Bill has been fantastic.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Faulkner on how the Minister has handled the Bill. I am pleased with all the amendments in this group, but I would like to place on the record my thanks for Amendment No. 5. I thank the Minister for meeting me with representatives of the Parliamentary Advisory Committee on Transport Safety and the Association of Chief Police Officers. He said that he would table a government amendment on the matter and he has done so; and they are very happy with it. I am grateful to him and fully support the amendment.