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Draft Marine Navigation Bill

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2008

I am today publishing a draft Marine Navigation Bill, for public consultation and parliamentary pre-legislative scrutiny. The draft Bill contains legislative proposals to help to improve safety at sea and in our ports, to deal with wrecks if they do occur and to update the powers of the bodies responsible for maritime safety. Copies of the draft Bill, a consultation paper and other accompanying documents are available in the Libraries of both Houses and the Vote Office.

The issues dealt with in this Bill have been identified in a number of reviews, accident reports and the IMO international convention on the removal of wrecks 2007. In bringing forward this draft Bill I hope to address these issues as far as can reasonably be done. Any statutory safety measures need to offer a balance between excessive controls and prudent management. The changes that I am proposing in this draft Bill are not fundamental but they do represent a considered approach to the issues that have been identified and they will provide the responsible authorities with useful enhancements to their powers where necessary.

There are also measures in the draft Bill that will help to reduce costs to the shipping industry through the better management of the general lighthouse fund. When the IMO convention comes into force there will be significant improvements in our ability to recoup the costs of dealing with pollution and the aftermath of maritime accidents as it will introduce a strict liability regime and compulsory insurance for shipping operators, meaning that these costs will no longer be picked up by the authorities responsible for safety and the environment which can now happen when the operators or owners of the ship fail to accept responsibility.

The draft Bill sets out our legislative proposals to:

allow the ratification of the IMO convention in the UK so that the Government can compel ship owners to remove wrecks or, if emergency works are carried out by the Government or general lighthouse authorities, facilitate recovery of their costs from the ship owner or its insurers;

enable the Secretary of State to direct a harbour authority which is exercising its functions unsafely;

give all harbour authorities access to a power to give general directions to shipping;

allow a competent harbour authority to relinquish its unwanted pilotage powers;

provide a simple way for the duties of a harbour authority to be extinguished where it no longer serves a useful purpose and to ensure any residual duties are carried out appropriately;

permit the introduction of compulsory national occupational standards for harbourmasters and pilots;

improve the regulation of pilotage exemption certificates; and

modernise some of the powers of the general lighthouse authorities.

Publication of the draft Bill provides an important opportunity to ensure we get our proposals right through public consultation, and for Parliament to scrutinise the legislation in draft. We need to learn from and build on the diversity of experience of professionals in the ports and shipping industries and all who are concerned about the safety of shipping and the protection of the marine and coastal environment, so I encourage all interested parties to participate in the consultation process.