I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I was delighted to be drawn 12th in the private Members’ Bill ballot and to have this opportunity to introduce a Bill that seeks to reduce the operational burden costs on the marine industry, to promote the work of the General Lighthouse Authority, and to strengthen the powers of port police.
I pay tribute to the previous Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who did so much for marine safety while he was in his post, and I welcome the new Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), to his position. I understand that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who is not in his place, is attending a memorial service but will be in the Chamber at some stage of the debate.
Members will know that I have a strong personal interest in maritime matters. Indeed, in the mid-1990s I was secretary of the Plymouth sea safety group, which was set up to bring together master mariners, rescue services such as the RNLI, the fishing industry, channel and river pilots, harbourmasters and yachtsmen in order to allow for a greater understanding between all users of the marine environment.
The maritime industry is crucial to the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, with ships carrying goods for consumption, business people and holidaymakers to and from our shores. The ports industry provides a gateway to and from our nation. In 2010, UK ports handled 512 million tonnes of goods, the value of which was about £340 billion. That represents 95% of the total volume of UK import-export trade and 75% of its value. Some 23 million international passengers used UK ports in 2009—three times the population of London. The maritime industry provides employment, directly and indirectly, from as far north as Shetland to as far south as Cornwall. My constituency is bordered by two busy ports—to the west is the port of Fowey, and Plymouth sound is on the eastern border. My constituency’s economy relies heavily on the marine industry.
The marking of hazards and of safe shipping routes in the channel is a key factor in facilitating this vital UK industry. We are fortunate in this regard to employ the efficient services of three world-leading providers of marine aids to navigation throughout the UK and Ireland, collectively known as the General Lighthouse Authority. Marine pilotage is dealt with in clauses 1 to 4 of my Bill. It is a noble profession that dates back hundreds of years. Pilots are highly skilled and knowledgeable individuals responsible for safely guiding ships into our ports and harbours. They provide a vital service without which our shipping industry could not safely operate. The Pilotage Act 1987 governs the provision of pilotage in the UK by competent harbour authorities. I propose to modernise one section of it, relating to pilotage exemption certificates.
I have received a number of representations on my proposals from ports, harbourmasters and those in the pilotage industry, and I reassure the House that they are not simply about saving money and are not designed to reduce safety. The Bill would enable competent harbour authorities to recognise the skills and knowledge of a wider group of individuals when it is clear that they are able and capable of holding a pilotage exemption certificate.
In my opinion, the Bill would implement a balanced set of improvements to the pilotage exemption certificate system, under which competent harbour authorities may at their discretion grant suitably qualified crew a certificate that enables them to pilot specified vessels instead of taking on a pilot. The Bill would remove the restriction that currently allows only masters and first mates to be granted a pilotage exemption certificate. It would allow any crew member demonstrating the high level of skills and experience required by the authority to hold a certificate, and it would also give the authority greater powers in relation to the suspension and revocation of a certificate where appropriate. I am, however, willing to discuss the specifics of my proposals in far greater detail in Committee should colleagues so wish.
Clause 3 would enable ports and harbours that have an obligation to provide pilotage services, but that do not have the traffic to warrant such services, to relinquish that requirement in a straightforward and sensible manner. That is about removing unwanted burdens on ports and harbour authorities, and deregulating where it is safe and appropriate to do so.
Clauses 5 and 6 relate to harbour authorities. Statutory harbour authorities have many duties and are primarily responsible for the safe operation of their facilities. About a third of them currently benefit from powers of general direction. Extending the use of those powers to the rest of the industry—a responsible and mature industry—would reduce the costs and time required to achieve the same effect via harbour revision orders. That proposal is localism in action and would enable the right decision to be taken by the right organisation without the need for expensive recourse to legislation.
Unused port and harbour facilities can be a financial drain on their owners once they are no longer economical to run. Some facilities have geographical restrictions on the size of ship that can access them, and others fall victim to changes in trade patterns. In either case, through no fault of the operators, ports can become economically unviable. Some of those ports are owned by local councils, which then pass the costs of maintaining facilities and honouring statutory duties on to council tax payers. The Bill would make it easier for statutory harbour authorities to close unviable harbours when appropriate, and to relinquish costly responsibilities that cannot be justified given a harbour’s limited use.
Clause 7 deals with port constables. Currently, a port constable is limited to working within one mile of their port restriction.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for introducing this important Bill and for the work that she has conducted on the issue over many years.
As a member of the all-party group on human trafficking, I believe that clause 7 will be important in giving port constables the right to extend their sphere of work to inland constituencies such as mine. It is well acknowledged now that the only way in which we will successfully tackle the increasing scourge of human trafficking, which blights lives, is for more agencies to work together. I am therefore delighted to support the Bill, particularly clause 7. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the Bill has great relevance not only to coastal constituencies but to every constituency in the country?
I do acknowledge that; this clause is extremely important, and I know other hon. Members will speak about it. Port constables are currently limited to working within 1 mile of their port—a restriction meaning that otherwise perfectly competent officers must be accompanied by the local police whenever they need to investigate a crime, or escort an offender to a custody suite or court beyond that limit. At a time when, as has been mentioned, we are seeking efficiency in all our public sector organisations, that cannot be right. Worse still, it provides the potential for an officer to find themselves unable to prevent a crime, simply because it happened a few feet too far away from the port at which they work. My Bill will remove the geographical limit on the powers of port constables, where that is agreed with the local police.
My hon. Friend has explained well and succinctly the case for extending that jurisdiction. Does she bear in mind the fact that both the port police and the Home Office have wished for that change in the law since 2008? It is important for the Bill to make progress, so that we can end that anomaly, and so that the port police can make a full contribution to defending our borders.
My hon. Friend is right. The problem was identified in 2008 when the Department for Transport conducted a consultation on the issue. It is, therefore, important to get the Bill through and place this provision on to the statute book.
Clauses 8 and 9 relate to general lighthouse authorities of which the UK and Ireland has three: the Northern Lighthouse Board, the Commissioners of Irish Lights, and Trinity House. Each organisation is world renowned in its field, and each has a proud and historic reputation for ensuring the safety of mariners. The general lighthouse authorities already carry out some commercial work, prudently utilising any small amount of spare capacity they may have when that does not affect their day-to-day operational activities. For instance, the Northern Lighthouse Board maintains and monitors many rig watchers, which are used to mark decommissioned oil and gas rigs. The Commissioners of Irish Lights recently won a contract to mark an offshore renewable energy site, the first for them in that field. Trinity House undertakes short vessel charters, where it provides small lifting operations for wind farm sites.
The general lighthouse authorities are innovative in their approach to work, and I want to help them make the most of commercial opportunities when they present themselves. Once enacted, my Bill will enable those three organisations to trade more freely on their reputations of excellence, providing each with greater commercial freedom and enabling them to increase the income they generate through commercial activities. I hope that such action will reduce the call on the shipping industry for funding through the payment of light dues. The other measure on the general lighthouse authorities in the Bill puts beyond doubt their power to provide markings beyond the 12-nautical mile territorial sea limit—a sensible proposal, as I am sure hon. Members will agree.
Clauses 10 and 11 relate to other marine issues. Section 47 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 provides a regulation-making power concerning the minimum number of qualified persons who are required to be carried on ships, and the standards of competence required and conditions to be met to achieve such qualifications. Amendments to those regulations require secondary legislation, which takes up limited time and administrative resources. My Bill will simplify the process for setting manning requirements for ships by enabling secondary legislation to cross-refer to external documents, such as industry or international technical agreements—a practice known as “ambulatory reference” that already applies in other maritime legislation. In practice, references to external documents, which are known within the industry as “M-notices”, are issued by the Secretary of State through the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. They are a well-established means through which the Department for Transport and MCA communicate with stakeholders.
The final substantive clause in my Bill confirms the ability of lighthouse authorities to deploy modern electronic navigational aids to help minimise the risks to mariners and the maritime environment. I must declare a special interest in this area—my son works for a worldwide maritime electronics manufacturer on the technical side, and my daughter uses electronic navigational aids occasionally in her career as a lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy.
In our modern age, electronic aids to navigation are increasingly important to the mariner, who makes great use of satellite navigation systems. In times of emergency, such electronic aids can be used to mark a hazard rapidly, until a more permanent buoy, beacon or other physical aid to navigation can be deployed. The electronic system and the automatic identification system beacons that are fitted to vessels made my personal tragedy last year much easier to deal with—the fishing vessel my husband was on had an AIS transmitter.
That was quite a canter through the contents of my Bill, which I hope the House agrees should be considered in more detail in Committee. The clauses might seem familiar to some hon. Members—most are drawn from the draft Marine Navigation Bill published by the Department for Transport in 2008 and consulted on at that time. The one addition is the extension of the geographic limit of port constables’ jurisdiction, which emerged from a review of ports police forces by the Department for Transport in 2008, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) correctly highlighted.
I have carefully read the comments made on the 2008 draft Bill at the time of its publication and discussed the issues raised with interested parties across the maritime industry. My Bill focuses on supporting growth in that industry.
I am grateful to my hon. and brave Friend for introducing the Bill, which in large part is not controversial and will be of assistance. One difference between this Bill and the one that Lord Berkeley introduced in another place is of concern to the Royal Yachting Association, of which I am a member. Is she willing to meet the RYA to discuss its proposed approach to clause 5, which Lord Berkeley agreed to leave out of his Bill? Perhaps we could persuade the Minister to do the same.
I would be more than happy to meet the RYA, which I know has concerns about the general rules of direction. I would like to reassure it, and I am sure the Minister will back me up. A number of ports already operate under general rules of direction, which must be consulted on fully before they are in place. If a competent harbour authority does not take note of responses to consultation, it could be subject to judicial review. I should like to meet the RYA—we need to get the clause right.
I am listening to my hon. Friend’s request and would like to put it on the record now that I am sure I would be delighted to join that meeting.
I am grateful to the Minister. When the association holds its events, it can have designated areas of the sea where those events will not be disrupted by other leisure users sailing through a regatta, for instance. I would be more than happy to meet members of the association.
I am confident that my Bill would benefit the UK maritime sector and I am grateful to the British Ports Association and the UK Major Ports Group, which have provided me with considerable support and advice on the Bill. The ports industry is one the UK’s hidden success stories. It is an incredibly competent, competitive and customer-focused industry that operates largely out of the public eye, because of its efficiency and the safety of its operations. Despite the lack of awareness of the ports industry, our whole way of life depends on its success. Some of the anomalies in the current maritime legislation that I seek to correct in this Bill may seem arcane, but I have tried to show that the industry that the changes will assist is far from irrelevant. I humbly ask hon. Members to support the Bill today.
The hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) is right in her concluding remarks about the importance of the ports industry to the UK and its economy. We take for granted the significance of ports around the country, but collectively they do an enormous amount of work to ensure that the goods we rely on—both imported and exported—are managed sensibly.
Ports are under wildly varying forms of ownership, and some of them need a tougher regulatory regime than others because of the sea conditions they experience. Some estuaries are particularly difficult and some are incredibly busy. For example, I used to live on the south coast, and Southampton in particular is incredibly busy and clearly needs a regulatory regime that is fit for purpose. Other, smaller ports need a much lighter touch that will meet their needs. In the north-west, the River Mersey is very complex to navigate and needs a pilotage system that is strong and robust. That is especially necessary at certain states of the tide, when serious seas are running out in Liverpool bay. I have been out in the bay both when it has been as flat calm as the carpet in front of us and when the ship has virtually stood on its end with every wave. In such environments, entering a river mouth needs careful handling by expert pilots and we should give credit to pilots in our ports for the fantastic work that they do.
Over recent years, there have been some changes that are controversial in local areas, as well as some that have been adopted with the support of local pilot associations. I have received a significant amount of correspondence from a constituent who is a lawyer and has periodically given advice to the local association. He has one fundamental objection to the Bill, and with the House’s indulgence, given that these issues are so important to the safety of our seafarers and others operating in and around our ports, I will put it on the record and invite the Minister to respond as positively as he can. He is familiar with my constituent’s correspondence, because much of it has been directed at him.
The substance of the objection surrounds clause 2(1), which would broaden definitions used in the Pilotage Act 1987. My constituent asserts that this is an
“obvious and gross reduction in the standards applicable in compulsory pilotage areas that…cannot be (and is not) lawful, for all of the reasons raised since the Bill was introduced.”
Those reasons are set out elsewhere in correspondence. He wrote to the Prime Minister expressing his concern on 30 September:
“The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport has made it clear that HM government intends to remove regulatory burdens and to relax standards in compulsory pilotage areas. The point which he fails to address (as mentioned in my letter of yesterday’s date, herewith) is that the governmental intention contravenes all known law, in particular the following provisions:-
1. The common law obligation to maintain the highest possible standards in compulsory pilotage areas. This obligation was confirmed and acknowledged by Lord Bingham the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of Criminal Appeal in April 2000 when allowing a reduction in penalty to Milford Haven port authority following its admission of guilt in the SEA EMPRESS incident of 1996. Lord Bingham noted with approval that efforts had been made to improve standards.
2. In a report published in April 2002, “The New Humber Pilot Service”, the Department for Transport, Local Government and Regions confirmed that the obligation identified in the SEA EMPRESS case is strict and onerous.
3. The declaration of the International Maritime Organization (representing the maritime concerns of the United Nations Organization) that developed standards in pilotage (and not merely in compulsory pilotage areas) should be not merely maintained but enforced. This declaration is in Resolution A960 of 2004, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory.
It follows necessarily that any relaxation of standards in a compulsory pilotage area (as HM government now specifically proposes) is unlawful; and that the obligation to maintain standards remains accordingly strict and onerous. This you should know. The Department for Transport has known it since 2002 at the latest.”
Let me try to help the hon. Gentleman. His constituent is a prodigious and prolific writer, and he has written to the Department along similar lines. Clause 2 deals with pilotage exemption certificates. Clause 2(1)(a) and (b) substitute “master” and “mate” with
“a member of the crew”.
The provisions are, of course, still subject to section 8 of the Pilotage Act 1987, which clearly states that a competent harbour authority can issue a pilotage exemption certificate only when it is certain that the applicant’s
“skill, experience and local knowledge are sufficient for him to be capable of piloting the ship”.
That is why the Government are confident that what we are doing does not represent what the hon. Gentleman’s constituent has written to say. Moreover, when combined, the provisions in the Bill will strengthen the allocation of exemption certificates, as they will enable competent harbour authorities to withdraw them much more speedily, if for any reason they are no longer confident of the certificate holder’s skill, experience or local knowledge. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that reassurance, but if he wishes to pursue the matter further we can do so in Committee.
That is an extremely helpful statement to have on the record. However, I want to pursue the Minister a little further before I relax my guard, because it follows from what he says—I hope that he will correct me if I have misunderstood this—that the exemption for an individual cannot be granted willy-nilly. I know that there has been discussion in the Department and that people have talked about different ranks on the ship, but it is not a question of what rank the person holds; it is a question of their qualifications and competence to undertake the task in question. As I understand it, that is measured by two things: first, the individual’s ability to meet the requirements of the port authority in question; and, secondly, that the exemption is for that specific vessel and that vessel only. I would be grateful if the Minister put on record his agreement that the exemption under those circumstances would not even, for example, extend to a sister ship, and that it must meet the standards that are normally in place for the port in question.
I am obviously disappointed that the hon. Gentleman feels the need to have his guard up when I am at the Dispatch Box, but let me reassure him that the position that he has just outlined is indeed correct. The exemption does not refer to rank—it refers to qualification—and it does refer to the specific vessel.
That is very important. I would suggest to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall, who has moved that the Bill receive its Second Reading, that, for the sake of clarity and ensuring absolutely no ambiguity, there is an argument that clause 2(1) should be gently amended in Committee to make things so clear that no court could misinterpret what the Minister and I—and, indeed, the hon. Lady—clearly understand to be the correct position.
I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that about three different wordings for clause 2 have already been received. We will certainly ensure that it is as explicit as possible to reflect the intention, which is for a specific vessel, in a specific port, for a specific time period.
That is extremely helpful.
The hon. Lady covered a number of other important points, and she was gracious enough to recognise that it essentially had its genesis some years ago, under the previous Administration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) is very enthusiastic about the core principles of the Bill. He is not with us yet because he is attending the memorial service for Malcolm Wicks, and I know that the House will understand the reason for his absence. However, because we are dealing with an issue that involves profound safety risks—as is clear from the accidents that have occurred in the past—we must ensure that when we amend the legislation we get it absolutely right. Following the Minister’s reassurance about the issue of qualification, I am entirely satisfied by what has been said in good faith, but I hope that we shall be given absolute clarity on the important points that I have raised well before the Bill returns to the House.
Clause 5 has already been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Royal Yachting Association—
If the hon. Gentleman is not right honourable, he ought to be. I accept his comments; I was jesting when I said that he represented the RYA. Anyway, he raised a legitimate point about harbour authorities. As I said, there is a complex range of port and harbour authority models, from local authority to private ownership. I want to be certain that a privately owned port, operating in the context of the Bill, is not empowered to act as judge and jury in relation to what happens within its remit.
Yesterday evening I had a very constructive discussion with the hon. Member for South East Cornwall and some of the Minister’s expert officials, and I am extremely grateful for that. I think I understand the position, but, again, I should like further clarification. I assume that it would not be in a harbour authority’s gift to block a vessel’s access unilaterally, unless it was so oversized that it could not get into the port or its cargo could not be handled appropriately there, and that only rarely could a privately owned port authority take restrictive action against the owner of the ship or the cargo.
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. First, the obligation that is placed on harbour authorities is placed on all of them, irrespective of the mode of ownership. However, as the Bill clearly states, harbour authorities will be responsible for consulting on any harbour direction that they propose. They will be obligated to identify the correct interested parties, and they must invite them to comment on the proposed direction. If any individuals or groups feel that they have not been adequately listened to in any consultation, they are of course entitled to challenge that direction legally.
That is an extremely helpful intervention. I appreciate that the Minister, for understandable reasons, does not want to be the regulator in this structure, but I am trying to seek reassurance that the small player is not disadvantaged by the mighty corporation here. Can the Minister give comfort to small yachting associations or small ship owners by indicating that if they felt they were being disadvantaged by the regulatory regime being imposed in a particular port, the might of his Department would be there, as a last resort, given that the vehicle of judicial review is a bit pricey, to support David over Goliath—although David did well on his own?
David certainly did do well on his own. The key point that I re-emphasise to the hon. Gentleman is the obligation that harbour authorities, of whatever size, have to parties of whatever size to ensure that they have identified all those legally obligated and interested parties. I am prepared to look at that assurance again in Committee, but I think it is in place.
I was wondering where we were getting to with that point. I listened carefully to the Minister and I welcome that assurance. This is a question of language and whether there needs to be a stop-gap for circumstances where the port is not in public ownership. For publicly owned ports the line of accountability is through the ballot box.
I apologise for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman will know that this clause does not affect the open port duty, which provides that any harbour has to have open access for vessels to use the harbour, and to load and unload cargo and passengers. I hope that that will give him comfort that privately owned ports and harbours will not be able to use general rules of direction to prevent competitors from using port facilities.
The hon. Lady has put it succinctly and the Minister needs to consider the extent to which it is necessary to reinforce that by finding a way to express it in the Bill. It may or may not be necessary to do so; this may be sufficiently well established with the concept of open ports. However, as more ports become privately owned institutions the question is raised in my mind about fairness and equity in an important market.
Those were the two substantive points I wished to raise, although the Bill contains a lot more than just them. The hon. Lady has put forward some valuable and important propositions in the Bill. On that basis, I hope my points can be dealt with sensibly in Committee and that there can be consensus that meets not just the needs of the House but the broader opinions held outside it, including those of my constituents. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for meeting me yesterday with the Minister’s officials and I am grateful to the Minister for his extremely helpful assurances about issues that concern people’s safety. We can progress on that basis and I hope we will see the necessary adjustments in Committee.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) for introducing the Bill. I do not think that anyone is unaware of how deeply she cares about the maritime industry and it must be a particular pleasure for her to introduce the Bill today.
It is fairly true that, as my hon. Friend said, many of the measures in the Bill appear arcane. That is because we do not see maritime Bills very often. For those of us on the Conservative Benches, that probably goes to prove that industries thrive best when Governments and politicians do not get in their way. Considering the maritime traditions of this country, it is perhaps a great surprise that we do not talk about them more often. I for one value hugely and am well aware of the maritime industry’s contribution to our economy, particularly in the area local to me in Thurrock, where the port of Tilbury and its associated shipping and logistics interests are so significant for jobs and wealth creation.
As my hon. Friend the Minister takes on his new responsibilities, I ask him not to neglect the maritime sector but not to get in its way either.
Does my hon. Friend agree that unlike airport capacity, with which we know we have a problem and with which we are trying to grapple, port capacity is growing rapidly in the UK? That shows the success of the sector. My hon. Friend will know that it is true because of the presence of the largest construction site in Europe next to her constituency in Thurrock.
My hon. Friend makes his point extremely well. I know he has been very proud to witness the growth of that new major port facility in his constituency. The emergence of that port further strengthens the role of the Thames and the estuary in our port infrastructure and the ports in my constituency are looking forward to its becoming functional. They do not view it as competition but think that it will strengthen the maritime sector overall. The interesting thing about my hon. Friend’s comparison with aviation is that a lot of heat has been generated about aviation capacity and, as we have said, the maritime industry tends to be neglected by politicians. Sometimes that is a good thing, but when the Mayor of London makes noise about the availability of the Thames estuary as a potential airport location, he has not thought about its impact on the maritime sector. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues in the Department for Transport will consider fully the impact on the shipping and maritime industries of their considerations about airport capacity in the south-east.
I want to focus on clause 7 and the provisions on port police. I draw the House’s attention to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which records that I am an unpaid adviser to the port of Tilbury police in my constituency. Six port police forces serve the ports of Dover, Felixstowe, Bristol, Liverpool, Tees and Hartlepool and, last but not least, Tilbury. The Port of Tilbury police are the second oldest police force in the country. It is the heir to the port of London Authority police force, which followed on from the Thames River police force, which was ultimately merged with the Metropolitan police. We are proud of our historic role in the development of policing in this country.
The point is that when we talk about port police, we are not talking about something separate from the established police forces that people recognise; we are talking about police constables and their powers. That is why clause 7, which will extend the jurisdiction of port police officers, is so important.
As I mentioned, the need for a change to legislation was identified back in 2008, so for me, the clause is extremely belated, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall for including it in her Bill, particularly as the Bill contains a number of provisions; it is ambitious, and it is a tribute to her that she has included so many measures in it.
I am sure that many Members will be surprised to learn that there are separate port police forces. Perhaps it is worth reminding the House, and acknowledging, that there are a number of non-Home Office police forces in the UK. The most well known are probably the Ministry of Defence police and the British Transport police. The role of port police forces is to undertake policing activities in port areas. My local port police force in Tilbury polices an area the same size as the City of London. Those Members who have not been to a port may not realise that ports are big communities in themselves and do need a police function. Port police forces are funded entirely by the ports that they serve; they take no resource from the taxpayer.
The six ports with police forces account for more than 40% of the UK’s non-oil traffic, which means that those police forces are the guardians of millions of pounds-worth of traded goods every year. I mentioned that their responsibility is to police the port area. It is worth saying a little bit about exactly what kind of activity that involves. In the public’s mind, the presence of police in a port would tend to be associated with concerns such as drug smuggling, anti-terrorism and immigration control. Those matters are the responsibility of the UK Border Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and special branch, but the port police work in constructive collaboration with those agencies. That is additional support for Government activities—at, I emphasise again, no cost to the taxpayer. Although these constables are privately funded, they enjoy exactly the same rights, responsibilities and roles as any normal constable. They owe allegiance in a personal capacity to the Crown, and they are sworn in by local magistrates.
Clause 7 extends the jurisdiction of port police constables beyond the existing limit of one mile outside the port area. That one-mile jurisdiction is enshrined in the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847. I am sure that all Members of the House will recognise that our docks were very different places then. They were places of intensive employment, and faced lots of labour issues, more than anything else. Also, the goods coming into the docks would have been a lot less technical and valuable. The pattern of policing has therefore changed. The fact that there is less employment in ports means that crimes tend to be a lot more sophisticated. The suggestion that the crimes and activities that forces will be involved in can be kept within the realms of the port is an historical anachronism.
Looking at what else has happened in the more than 150 years since the 1847 Act, obviously, there have been changes in patterns regarding holding prisoners in custody and the provision of courts. The reality is that when port police officers are prosecuting offenders for crimes in the normal way, through the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts, most of them have to attend courts beyond that one-mile jurisdiction, and by definition, they then do not have their powers as constable while they are in court. It is a bit dangerous to highlight that issue, but the situation needs to be addressed. Having been the best kept secret, since 2008 the press in Dover have realised that the port police there often act beyond their jurisdiction. That fact is out there and needs to be dealt with. A matter addressed in the House can often be the best kept secret, so we can have a frank debate about it.
Port police officers have to travel all over England and Wales to attend courts, but do not have the powers of a constable when they do so. On occasion, officers have attended court, have been directed by judges to arrest people and have had to explain that they do not have the power to do so. It is important for public confidence that we deal with the issue. As port police officers travel outside their port in marked cars, they are a visible presence and the public expect those officers to act and intervene when something happens—for example, if they came across a scene of crime or disorder, or to stop drunk drivers. At present they cannot do so. We have been looking for an appropriate legislative vehicle to deal with this anomaly.
Can my hon. Friend give the House any practical examples where officers have not been able to use their powers, whereas under the changes proposed in the Bill, they would have been able to intervene in a crime or misdemeanour and the outcome would have been different?
I have been told by the chief constables of both Dover and Tilbury police forces that on a number of occasions officers have been asked to intervene, particularly in episodes of disorder such as street assaults, while they have been out on patrol. In practice, their current status has not prevented them from doing so, but they well know that, if challenged, they would not be able to defend their actions in court. The proposed changes would put everybody on a more secure and legitimate footing.
In making the case for the change, I want to highlight the contribution that port police make to national policing priorities. Although port police are dedicated to serving the ports where they operate, they have, as I said, the same powers as other constables, and much of the work that they do in the port is indistinguishable from and complementary to that of Home Office forces. As was said before, they prosecute crimes in the same way as any Home Office force by sending files over to the Crown Prosecution Service with recommendations for prosecution. Let me illustrate that national contribution with a few examples.
The port of Dover police is the largest of our port police forces and its presence at a busy border crossing means that the Home Office relies heavily on services that it provides. The force’s officers often play a role in detaining people subject to football banning orders. They regularly intercept people with histories of violent crime who are attempting to travel. I am advised that in 2010 the port of Dover police arrested 180 people who were wanted by Home Office forces. That illustrates that they are very much part of the fabric of our police infrastructure.
Both the port of Dover and the port of Tilbury have automatic number plate reading systems installed at the ports, which are connected to the police national computer. As a result, nearly 700 vehicles were intercepted in 2010 by just those two port police forces. Almost all those vehicles had had their details circulated by the police national computer from Home Office colleagues across the UK.
In addition, the work of the port police complements that of the local forces. Many port police forces engage in traffic control outside their ports, for example, thereby preventing traffic gridlock as a result of vehicles queuing to get into the ports. It is also worth mentioning that in the event of a major incident, port police forces are ready to support their Home Office colleagues. From my own perspective, given the number of COMAH—control of major accident hazards—sites that exist in my constituency, they are a fantastic additional resource that the Essex police would be able to call on in the event of a major incident. I know that the port of Tilbury police value and attach great importance to their readiness to support them in serious incidents. It is also worth noting the contribution of the port police forces to our successful Olympics this year. They were very much part of the powers to combat terrorism and made a full contribution to public safety.
My hon. Friend gives a glowing account of port police. Does she think that our ports would not be so well policed without them, and, if so, would she recommend that the new port being constructed in my constituency next door to hers by DP World, the London gateway port, would be best served by adopting its own police force, rather than relying on those supplied by the Home Office?
The power of the port police, as opposed to any other supplier of security provision or support, is that they have the powers of a constable. The strength of that, and the support that we give to our police officers, speaks for itself. The port in my hon. Friend’s constituency has reserve powers to create a force if it so wishes, and I would encourage it to do so. My experience of the port of Tilbury police is that, given the amount of high-value commercial activity in a port, there is every opportunity for serious and organised crime, which requires the expertise and dedication of sworn-in police officers to combat that effectively. To be frank, it will give a level of service that contract providers such as G4S would never be able to provide.
I completely endorse that point. In many ways, over the years the port of Belfast police may have made more of a contribution to our national security than any of the other port police forces. The chief constable of the port of Belfast police wants exactly this measure for his force. I would thoroughly encourage the Northern Ireland Assembly and Ministers to engage in whatever is necessary to ensure that these legislative provisions are extended to the port of Belfast police.
The port police do other work in support of Government agencies. For a number of years, port police forces have supported the UK Border Agency in arresting illegal immigrants. We are all well aware of the stories over the years that we have read in our newspapers, particularly concerning Dover, but a number of incidents in Tilbury have also required the port police to arrest illegal immigrants. The port police also assist the Maritime Coastguard Agency by detecting offences contrary to regulations on the carriage of dangerous goods by sea. I emphasise that all this work in support of what the public expect from their police services in protecting the security of our kingdom is done at no cost to the taxpayer.
In practical terms, the legislation will allow the police officers to maintain their powers and privileges of the office of constable beyond the 1 mile jurisdiction. When they attend custody suites with prisoners they will be working on legitimate authority. As I have mentioned, we are aware of occasions when port officers have attended court and been asked to arrest persons. If they do so—and they have done so—they are acting outside the law, which is clearly in no one’s interests and needs to be addressed. Equally, when processing prisoners at custody suites outside their jurisdiction, strictly speaking it is illegal for officers to carry any personal protection, including batons and handcuffs, but if they were not to do that they would obviously be at risk. Again, we need to remove that anomaly.
This change will enable officers going to or returning from an incident to use their powers as constables to deal with crimes in progress rather than simply reporting it to the local force. Clearly, there is an efficiency for local forces if a port police officer can deal with a matter there and then instead of, as in my case, referring the matter to Essex police and waiting for an attending officer. That will enable them to be much more effective in supporting their local officers and will mean that, if called upon to support in a major incident, they will be able to act with the full confidence that they are not acting outside their powers. The important practical point is that it will enable officers to arrest suspects and carry out house searches for offences committed in the port but where the suspects live outside, because otherwise going to an address outside a jurisdiction would obviously mean working outside their authority.
Some Members might be a little nervous that we are extending the jurisdiction, but the existing jurisdiction is well below that of special constables and we should look at it in those terms. Also, the way my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall has presented the relevant clause in the Bill means that the chief officer for the resident Home Office force will have the powers to rescind the right to operate beyond the jurisdiction of 1 mile if he is ever unhappy with the manner in which the port police are operating. The way the Bill is drafted brings no challenge at all to the chief constable in the Home Office force and allows us to maximise the complementary nature of port police officers. I know that the Department for Transport has consulted all the Home Office forces that would be affected by that and all chief constables were positive.
I hope that I have been able to persuade colleagues of the real urgency of tackling this anomaly once and for all, in the interests of security and public confidence in our policing. I hope that the Bill is given a Second Reading, notwithstanding the concerns expressed about other provisions, which I look forward to addressing in Committee.
The House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) for sharing her expertise on the important work done by the police linked to harbours. We all agree that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) is doing a service to the nation and to those who use our harbours and ports. I will not repeat what we have heard about her expertise and involvement, but I pay tribute to her. I also welcome the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who we have heard was at the memorial service for our former colleague Malcolm Wicks, who was the kind of person who gave politics and political service a good name.
I have no intention of delaying the Bill and want to see it on the statute book. There has clearly been bipartisan agreement about it for some time. Its purposes are necessary and the changes are sensible. I do not think that there is a serous objection to anything in particular, other than the need to sort out what was not clear to the constituent of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), which is that clause 2(1) is an amendment to an Act that is very clear about the person who holds a pilot certificate or is recognised as a competent pilot for one or more vessels. That is a strong and necessary provision that is being continued. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for raising the point about clause 5, which I will like to speak about shortly.
My maritime experience was gained when I worked my passage back from Brisbane to Liverpool, working 16 hours a day on a 7,000-tonne freighter. Given some of our experiences while crossing the Australian bight, I have a respect for those who go to sea in all weathers, especially on long journeys, and the fishermen who put up with whatever the weather throws at them. At some stage I might write half a chapter for my unread and unwritten autobiography about what can happen when 82 people are on a vessel for seven weeks. Nowadays there would be about 17 people, so half the things that happened would not happen now.
I also think that it is about time we got back to recognising—this is a brief diversion—some of our great maritime stories. I think that the works of Joseph Conrad should be brought back and given the same importance as the present Man Booker nominees, as should those of Somerset Maugham and Erskine Childers, who wrote “The Riddle of the Sands”, which, although written as a warning about possible threats of war, is I think one of the most evocative books ever written about the sea and about sailing, and certainly the most evocative I have read.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his responsibilities and congratulate him on how he has already approached these issues in being willing to intervene in the debate and to say that he will happily meet those with concerns about particular parts of the Bill. That will make a difference.
I am a life member of the Royal Yachting Association, partly to avoid its spotting how bad a sailor I am and saying that it will not renew my membership unless I take another course. The RYA knows perfectly well that when there is an issue that I think it has not got right, I will pursue it, as I did at the last annual general meeting; I pay tribute to how it has responded since.
We have to look at the reasons for its concerns. Nobody expects that the navigation or harbour authorities are going to do anything silly or daft. They carry out their responsibilities in providing navigation aids and controlling safety in and around their harbours in a way that is much appreciated, whether by leisure sailors, commercial traffic or the fishing industry. When I was agriculture Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, one of the happiest times I had was going out fishing from Kilkeel at midnight on one of those very calm nights when the water reflected the moon. Those who smoked had a fag and then pulled in their nets, and about 4 tonnes of fish were landed. It was one of those magical evenings where one can understand the allure of the sea.
My Friend the Minister may say, as no doubt his predecessor will have said before the change of Government, that if an authority is going to do something that is clearly irrational there is the opportunity for a judicial review. Whenever a port authority needs to make an emergency provision, no one is going to argue with its doing so—safety comes first, and there is usually a reason for it.
The issues that come up for consultation are those which will have permanent effect or might create a new criminal offence. There may be a judicial review if the authority, either by its own choice or because it is following a pattern created by other port and harbour authorities, is ignoring the legitimate interests of other people.
It is intended that before any competent harbour authority introduced harbour revision orders or general rules of direction it would consult all users of the area. In Plymouth, the Queen’s harbourmaster has authority over the port of Plymouth, but we have two other major ports in Plymouth sound—Associated British Ports at Millbay docks, and Cattewater harbour, which takes in a tremendous amount of fuel to serve the south-west. We have Brittany ferries using the Millbay docks area, and we have our naval base and dockyard. I am absolutely certain that the Queen’s harbourmaster would not introduce any general rules of direction without consulting Associated British Ports and the Cattewater harbourmaster. In fact, they regularly sit on a committee called the Tamar estuaries consultative forum, which takes account of every interested party before starting to make any rules.
As directed, I am very grateful. My hon. Friend reminds me that the first woman named in the New Testament is Tamar, who appears in the second verse of the first chapter of St Matthew.
My hon. Friend makes the sensible point that people want to do sensible, important and serious things. The Minister has received a letter from the Royal Yachting Association. I will not read it, but I think I am right in saying that it would prefer not to have clause 5. It was withdrawn from what was effectively this Bill when Lord Berkeley introduced it in another place, but it has turned up again. No one is complaining about that, but the question is whether it should stay in. Without making any threatening noises, I shall say that I am sure the Bill would have as easy a passage without it as with it.
We must then consider what is the alternative. One option is for clause 5 to remain as it is, surviving Committee and Report and going to another place, but there are alternatives—it is either in, out or modified.
The RYA put to the Minister a suggestion for its modification for him to take advice on. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, in consultation with the Minister and his advisers—I am sure they are working closely together—might want to see whether the RYA’s suggestion could have what I might call a moderating effect.
If I may, I will spell out what I understand to be the RYA’s position. Clause 5 would modify the provisions on harbour revision orders. As we all know, some harbours already have the power to issue them, obtained through statute or in other ways. Clause 5 would enable harbour authorities in this jurisdiction or the Scottish nation to give general directions to ships, including recreational craft. Members might not expect this, but when I come across the Solent into Portsmouth harbour, my open canoe is classed as a ship, which is a bit grand. That is even better than the promotion that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston gave me when he confused me with my wife.
The power in clause 5 is expressed as applying to ships within, entering or leaving a harbour, and relates to their movement, their mooring, the nature and use of their equipment and the manning of them. As I have been reminded, a pre-consultation requirement is included, stating that a harbour authority should
“consult such representatives of users of the harbour as the authority think appropriate.”
We understand that it will do that properly.
Contravention of a general direction would be a criminal offence. That is not new, but it might apply if a new harbour revision order came in.
I will try to be as helpful to my hon. Friend as I was to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller). As my hon. Friend points out, there is a requirement of pre-consultation. Prior to any consultation, the Department would issue directions as to what should be consulted upon. I believe that that potentially covers some of his objections.
We are making progress, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall that I will not take all that long, but to aid the process I point out that a number of individual authorities have obtained powers of general direction over the years, starting at the time of les événements, when the permissive society was invented in 1968. Such powers of direction have generally taken the place of byelaws. Unlike directions under clause 5, which harbour authorities could issue, byelaws have to be confirmed by the Secretary of State and are subject to what most people would regard as clear checks and balances in addition to consultation. The current byelaw process involves consultation, so there is nothing new about that. The consultation element is in place already and will remain. The question is about the checks and balances that exist. I am not thinking of accusing any harbour authority of having malevolent wishes towards recreational users or other classes of ship.
I pay tribute to what the RYA does in training young people on the water in motor vessels and sailing craft. It has become a better and better organisation that does more and more good for more people, and if other organisations could do the same thing by training up the young and helping them to become first assistants and then qualified instructors, there would be far more value and purpose among our people on land as well as at sea.
The RYA has become increasingly concerned in recent years about the potential of powers of general direction to be exercised indiscriminately and in a manner that is unnecessary and harmful to the lawful exercise of recreational and other rights. Not every campaign the RYA takes up is wrong—in fact, nearly every campaign I have seen it run was right, and I admire the way in which it works with the British Marine Federation. They provide in partnership, without overlap, a seamless approach to the law and the use of our waters.
Let me give a list of some of the questions considered by the RYA about the powers of general direction, and whether they are fully merited. There are some powers that everyone can accept, but whether they are sufficiently merited to be unqualified or without the moderation that I hope the Minister will mention is a matter for debate.
Making general directions involves the creation of new criminal offences, which local harbour authorities may be seen as ill-equipped to do. Even democratically elected local authorities, in their other roles, do not normally have powers to create criminal offences, and the Bill contains none of the supervisory safeguards usually imposed on law-making bodies. This may be political theology or philosophy, but why should a harbour authority be different from a local authority?
The powers of general direction can be seen as running counter to the Government’s localism policy by granting an unelected harbour authority law-making powers that are not subjected to democratic checks and balances and full transparency. Most of us could argue that because harbour authorities exist for a particular purpose, and because those who are appointed to harbour authorities are there to provide expertise and a contribution, we should not be too worried about that. One should put it on the record that those people are not democratically elected, and the localism agenda is not just about saying that we are not going to do things in Whitehall—or in my day, the Department for Transport on Marsham street—but that things will be done locally by locally elected people. I do not criticise the harbour authorities for not being elected, but there is a distinction.
Under the power, general directions could be made over the wide areas used by recreational and commercial traffic in a disproportionate manner, without proper risk assessment or consideration of the full implications or possible alternatives. They could be used to impose significant and potentially burdensome restrictions on the navigational use of recreational craft. Many harbour authorities have jurisdiction over substantial areas going out to sea, not just partially enclosed harbour areas. Again, I do not want any hon. Member who arrives late to the debate to think that I am attacking the harbour authorities. I am just asking what protections there could be, and whether we need a system in which the potential for things to go wrong could be anticipated and perhaps built into the legislation.
There have been past examples—this is not about harbour authorities and harbour revision orders—where some in government picked up the idea, wrongly in my view, that small recreational craft could start contributing to light dues. We all get the benefit from navigation, but how on earth do we get a person—me in my Mirror dinghy, or one of my sons, daughters or granddaughters in their craft—to contribute to that? There is a question of where to draw the line, but at some stage it must be drawn some way away from ordinary recreational craft that might, under this legislation, be regarded as ships.
Yes, and were this a slightly different debate I would be paying tribute to Trinity House for what it does.
I have two more points on this general issue. Prior consultation has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall, and by our hon. Friend the Minister, but we must ask whether that is an adequate safeguard. Experience shows that across the public and private sectors, inappropriate or flawed decisions sometimes follow prior consultation. We can get things wrong, whatever hat we wear.
Because reference was made to judicial review, we must ask whether it is an adequate remedy against an objectionable direction when powers are expressed without significant limitations, as in clause 5. We can presume that any procedural or substantive illegality to provide for a cause for action is highly unlikely, and an authority could just say, “I’ve consulted. I’m not convinced. I’m not going change my mind.”
The adjudication procedure, which the Minister might talk about, could allow interested people to require, in limited circumstances, the harbour authority to obtain an independent report on issues arising before deciding to proceed, to ensure that the designated harbour authority’s case for the exercise of the power includes recreational interest concerns, and to ensure that it is fully explained and documented, and subject to independent and objective examination.
Clearly, the designated harbour authority would retain ultimate discretion and authority to proceed with proposed directions having considered the independent person’s report. A decision by the designated harbour authority would be open to legal challenge only if it is patently perverse to allow it to proceed, when the courts and judicial review become involved. The fact that concerns me is that the cost of formal legal proceedings and getting a fair hearing would act as a spur to persuade interested bodies, including the RYA and other stakeholder interests, to accept decisions. As I said earlier, if a direction is issued in an emergency, the consultation could not take place, although the procedure may be applied retrospectively if the direction given in an emergency or at short notice is likely to turn into a permanent or long-standing requirement.
I am advised that the procedure has been applied under the Broads Authority Act 2009, which is a precedent. Hon. Members are keen on precedents, although the House of Commons has “Erskine May”, which is full of things that had not happened before or that were blocked for the first time. A similar provision is included in the recently published draft Cowes harbour revision order, but the Poole Harbour Revision Order 2012 was made without such a provision, because, as I understand it, the Poole Harbour Commissioners objected to its inclusion. The RYA makes it clear that such a provision provides a worthwhile, and some would say essential, safeguard that ought to be applied more generally. I agree. The RYA expressed its concerns to representatives of the port industry and the Government before the 2010 general election in response to the Government’s consultation on a draft maritime navigation Bill in 2008.
Clearly, the Bill has been improved by that consultation, and I hope it will be improved as a result of my remarks. I am grateful to the House for listening to me with kindness, but more importantly, for listening with admiration to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall.
May I offer my apologies, Madam Deputy Speaker, for wearing my “Malcolm Wicks Vote Labour” sticker in the Chamber? As a number of hon. Members have said, it was his memorial today, so it is appropriate that he is with us in the Chamber, where he did such great work over 20 years. I also apologise to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), whose Bill we are debating, for missing her speech. Naturally, I will read her comments in Hansard, and I am sure I will hear her voice when I do so.
I am grateful to the shadow deputy Chief Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), for his assistance, for allowing me to be absent to go to Malcolm’s memorial, and for nursing my prepared remarks in the hope that he would not have to deliver them, which fortunately he will not.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on introducing the Bill. The Commons Library note, which was produced by the excellent Ms Louise Butcher, states:
“The Bill recreates many of the provisions in the Labour Government’s 2008 draft Marine Navigation Bill”.
The Opposition would therefore look a bit foolish if we opposed it, although, as the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) said, the measure has aged and improved.
Our only concern with the Bill is on pilot exemption certificates. I have had discussions with the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) about this issue. Having arrived in the middle of my hon. Friend’s remarks, I know that the Minister was able to give strong reassurances about the concerns raised by the UK Maritime Pilots Association, and I am grateful to Captain Cockrill and his colleagues for their assistance in preparing for this debate. On the basis of the assurances that the Minister has given, I am sure that we will be able to support the Bill and reassure those who are worried about retaining and maintaining the skill and qualification levels of those responsible for the safe passage of vessels in and around the UK.
The Library, in the notes on page 5, gives a clear background to this critical issue, explains the development of pilot exemption certificates and reminds us that, at the time of their introduction, the Transport Select Committee expressed some concern. I greatly welcome the reassurances that the Minister has given today on these serious matters. We will, obviously, have the chance to return to the issue in Committee so that those reassurances can be reinforced, but it is helpful to know the Government’s position today.
On the other clauses of the Bill, we look forward to examining the clauses on harbour authorities further in Committee. The hon. Member for Worthing West has adequately dealt with those and raised questions from the Royal Yachting Association and the British Marine Federation, but the measures appear to represent positive steps forward. Clause 7 looks like a sensible move to acknowledge a better way of working for ports police, where they exist, and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) ably explained to the House why this is needed. Had we been able to do so, we would have done this in government, so we are grateful to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall and the coalition.
In clauses 8, 9 and 11, general lighthouse authorities would be given added freedoms and responsibilities, which are overdue and supported by Trinity House. I am grateful to Deputy Master Captain Ian McNaught for his briefing. Anything that addresses the industry’s angst about the charges levied for light dues and allows the GLAs to continue with their excellent work is very welcome.
My only pedantic point is on clause 10, and I wish to mark my discomfort with the word “manning” in the 21st century. We are talking about crew numbers here, and if it were not for the fact that the Bill quotes previous Acts, I would suggest that “crewing” would be a much better and more accurate term. Given the number of women at sea these days, “manning” is very 19th and early 20th century language. I am not known for being overly politically correct, but sometimes we need to look at our language and bring it into the 21st century.
We support the Bill, although we will want to look at every clause in Committee. I look forward to hearing from the Minister. The last time I saw him was yesterday evening at the champagne reception to mark the opening of the excellent new headquarters of the Chamber of Shipping in SE1 next to London bridge. He gave a good speech on behalf of the coalition and I look forward to his remarks in support of the Bill.
We have had a fascinating 90-minute nautical exploration this morning. We were safely taken out of harbour by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), and I am pleased that she has been able to introduce this Bill because I met her several times when I had this role in opposition and she was campaigning for the fisheries industry. She and her family have devoted their lives to the marine and maritime industries through both tragedy and good times, and I congratulate her on her success in the ballot.
With the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), we skirted round choppy waters—we avoided sailing right into them—and I shall say more about his contribution in a moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) is of course right that my role should not be to neglect this issue, but nor should it be to get in the way of the maritime industry. I shall address her remarks about clause 7 later in my speech. I know that the knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) about the maritime environment of the Isle of Wight is extensive. He could pilot anything into certain parts of Seaview and Bembridge. But he is right, of course. If his autobiography is as well written as “The Riddle of the Sands”, it will go down as a literary tribute. If he will allow me, I will address some of his remarks when I discuss clause 5.
The maritime industry carries out its activities every day without fanfare or demand, but, as was pointed out at last night’s event, where I drank copious amounts of tomato juice, all too often, as people eat their lamb or take their car to the continent for holiday, or if they are wealth creators in manufacturing, it is taken for granted that the finished goods will either be imported or exported around the world, while the mechanism by which that occurs is not always appreciated. Far too many people take the maritime industry for granted, but I know that many in the House, including those who have contributed to this debate, do not. It is an industry that works come rain, wind or shine.
I was delighted to attend the British Chamber of Shipping event and to visit Felixstowe this week to see a port operating and securing the future of UK plc. I recognise the vital contribution that the industry makes to the UK, its living standards and its prosperity, and it is right that nothing be done to hinder the safety of anyone working in it. Everything in the Bill is intended to ensure their safety. I recognise the hard work that the employees and those who work self-employed at ports and on the ships contribute every day to keeping this country moving and competitive. I also recognise the managers whose freight operations ensure the most streamlined and efficient operation of ports. That is important not only for the maritime industry but for our country as a whole.
With that in mind, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall for introducing her Bill. I am aware of its antecedents and the hard work done then. The Bill will not only ensure that the UK’s impeccable safety record is maintained but, more importantly, will help to make the industry ever more efficient in its day-to-day activities and ensure that we have an industry fit for the 21st century.
I do not intend to speak at length about every clause, because my hon. Friend has already put the case extraordinarily eloquently. A few issues have been raised during the clause-by-clause examination, about some of which I hope I have reassured hon. Members sufficiently to ensure the Bill’s safe passage to Committee, but none the less let me put on record some comments about each clause. Clauses 1 to 4 cover pilotage, the pilotage exemption certificate and the removal of pilotage powers that are no longer required. My hon. Friend has given a detailed account of the pilotage profession, its high level of proficiency and independent thinking, and the knowledge of the ports, their waters and local conditions that all pilots require.
Clearly, my knowledge does not compare with my hon. Friend’s in this matter, and I cannot add much, other than by observing that pilotage is a tradition and an industry stretching back almost 3,000 years to ancient Greek and Roman times, when pilots were local fishermen employed by ships’ captains to bring vessels into port. UK pilotage custom, practice and legislation are more modern than they were 3,000 years ago and are governed by the Pilotage Act 1987.
Many ports and harbours have a long and distinguished tradition dating back hundreds of years, but I will resist the temptation to give a history lesson on every port and harbour, and their distinguished traditions. As several people have pointed out, however, trading patterns change and ships are much larger than they used to be. Change is driven by improvements, economies of scale and advancements in ship-building technology. It is clear that where a port or harbour operates purely for leisure craft or small shipping vehicles, the need for pilotage might have been overtaken by events and knowledge might have improved. I welcome the proposals, therefore, to enable facilities to relinquish some of their obligations under the Pilotage Act.
Let me turn to the exemption certificates. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall identified the Pilotage Act 1987 as the umbrella legislation that covers marine pilotage operations. I agree with her assertion that the 1987 Act could benefit from an update in relation to such certificates, because it is some 25 years since it was passed. None the less, it is clearly right to address the concerns that have rightly been expressed on behalf of the pilots association and by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston on behalf of his constituent. I hope that I have been able to reassure the hon. Gentleman in respect of section 8 of the Pilotage Act 1987, which clearly states that competent harbour authorities can issue exemption certificates only when they are certain that the applicant’s
“skill, experience and local knowledge are sufficient for him to be capable of piloting the ship”.
I hope that in my other interventions I was able to reassure him on the other issues he raised.
Competent harbour authorities are responsible for the operation of their ports. They know the types of ships that call, they know the geography of their sea beds, they know their tidal patterns and they know their ports. Currently, competent harbour authorities are responsible for the pilotage services provided at their facilities. They can choose the pilots who provide the services at their ports, requiring specific skills and experience of those who ply that trade. Competent harbour authorities can already issue pilotage exemption certificates to masters and first mates who know a port well. Such certificates enable an individual to bring a ship into a specified facility without the need for a pilot, and the requirements for the holder, in terms of knowledge, skills and experience, are the same as for full-time pilots.
I therefore believe that competent harbour authorities are well placed to decide which members of a ship’s crew they issue a pilotage exemption certificate to. Competent harbour authorities are, after all, experienced in this field and know the navigable hazards of their facilities best. Moreover, we should enable competent harbour authorities to recognise the skills and knowledge of those who have driven themselves to achieve the required standards, through the granting of a pilotage exemption certificate. Clauses 1 to 4 further strengthen competent harbour authorities’ administration of the certificate process, enabling the easier withdrawal of certificates and introducing stronger pilotage reporting requirements. The proposals therefore clearly seek to strike a balance between right deregulation and maintaining high standards of maritime safety.
Clauses 5 and 6 deal with some of the issues that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston raised, as well as those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West. Let me try to give my hon. Friend some reassurance. As he rightly said, the Royal Yachting Association has indeed expressed a number of concerns. Some were similar to those it expressed in 2008. My Department has looked at a number of them, and we will be responding in Committee. None the less, although we have discussed the issue of consultation and guidance from the Department, I think the crux of what my hon. Friend was saying today is this. In the response to the 2008 consultation, the Royal Yachting Association proposed that an independent adjudication procedure and process be provided in the Bill. Where I think he wants reassurance is on the question of why the Bill does not do that, for which there are several reasons. First, the Bill is not only about marine safety, but about simplification and deregulation. There is little evidence that the authorities that already have the power to give general directions do so unreasonably, although to be fair, my hon. Friend acknowledged that point.
Just as I was standing in front of an open goal!
As I have said, harbour authorities will be required to consult users and stakeholders before making general directions, and it would be sensible of them to hold informal discussions with those bodies before the formal consultations. The Department will provide guidance. Some Members asked whether the process of judicial review was too expensive, but it exists none the less. I have agreed to meet representatives of the RYA with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall and my officials, and I hope that we shall be able to give them even more reassurance before the Committee stage.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am sure the House is as well. The RYA representatives may say that they are looking forward to the meeting as well, and are expecting the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall to agree to what they want. I hope that all parties will be asking themselves what they are trying to achieve, and what is the best way of making a minor modification to the clause if it is not to be dropped altogether.
If it is felt that the clause should be retained—for the purpose of simplification, as the Minister sensibly said—it might be worth considering provision for an independent report. No one is suggesting that there should be an independent report on every possible harbour revision order, because most are uncontroversial; the need arises only when an order becomes controversial, or when there is a clash of interests.
I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, and I shall ensure that my officials and I go to the meeting in the spirit that he desires. He is right to say that everyone wants to deal with the clause constructively.
As I said in an earlier intervention, and also a moment ago, some harbour authorities have powers of general direction through private Acts of Parliament or through the harbour revision orders, while others do not. Such general directions are used to control vessels and improve safety. The Bill enables the Secretary of State for Transport to make an order giving a named harbour the power to make general directions in respect of ships. I think that that is a welcome measure, which will have the potential to place all harbour authorities on a similar footing in terms of order-making powers to control their harbours using general directions. As for the harbour closure proposals, it seems sensible to me to allow port and harbour facilities that are no longer economically viable to be closed in order to prevent a continued financial drain on their owners.
Many navigation authorities are on inland waterways, which may not be within the scope of the Bill. Might they constitute inactive responsible authorities, and might they be covered by the clause? I do not expect the Minister to answer my question immediately, but perhaps he would be kind enough to write to my hon. Friend and me at a later stage.
I will indeed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock made an extraordinarily powerful speech about clause 7. She not only guided us through the history of the Port of Tilbury authority—I shall use that information for a question in my constituency pub quiz later—but drew attention to the Bill’s antecedent of 2008, and welcomed the present Bill.
As my hon. Friend said, knowledge of the powers of the port police and what should be required of them in the 21st century is limited. She gave examples of the anachronistic nature of the law as it applies to them: it certainly does not cover the needs and requirements of the 21st century. She rightly observed that their role often went well beyond their present tightly defined remit, involving traffic control, the ability to work with local police forces in trying to control episodes of disorder, and the additional resource that they provide in other contexts as and when directed by local forces. They should, of course, also feature on the roll of honour celebrating the great performance of public servants and volunteers during the Olympics. She rightly recognised and forcefully made the point that clause 7 will put the ports police on the same footing as other police. It is right that it does so, and I look forward to the clause being widely welcomed in Committee.
The Bill does not limit itself to the matters of shipping and port activity; it also seeks to enable the general lighthouse authorities to trade more freely in the commercial sector. My hon. Friend gave us a pub quiz question, so before I comment on that legislation, may I, in that same spirit, tell her some things of which she may not be aware? The oldest lighthouse in existence is indeed in these islands, at Hook Head, in south-east Ireland—the tower, with additions and modifications, dates back to Norman times; Trinity House has been in existence for 500 years; the Northern Lighthouse Board recently celebrated the bicentenary of its iconic Bell Rock lighthouse; and the Commissioners of Irish Lights provides marine aids to navigation across the whole of Ireland—it is symbolic of what the UK and Ireland can achieve through working together. The enactment of this clause will not only enable the general lighthouse authorities to minimise their operational costs through the generation of additional income, but will help the Commissioners of Irish Lights in its drive to be self-funding in the Republic by 2015-16.
I, too, am aware of the commercial activities that the general lighthouse authorities undertake. They also pool their limited spare capacity to undertake commercial work where they can, a good example of which is the help they give the Met Office in maintaining deepwater buoys. The clause that my hon. Friend has promoted will enable the three general lighthouse authorities to enter into commercial agreements more easily, and trade on their good names.
I take the stricture of the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) about the phraseology of clause 10; he rightly says that it refers to a previous Bill. I take his point, and nothing should be inferred from that phraseology. Clauses 10 and 11 are the other substantive clauses in this Bill, and they represent a sensible approach to tying up administrative loose ends for the lighthouse authorities and removing some of the bureaucracy involved in making new regulations on manning or crewing requirements, which is costly for both private enterprise and the Government.
The Bill has had widespread support. A number of issues have been raised, on which I hope we have been able to reassure hon. Members. If not, I hope that we will be able to do so in Committee. So I commend my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall for introducing this legislation and I commend her Bill. I hope that hon. Members will agree with my assertion that it should be taken forward to Committee, and I look forward to its passage on to the statute book.
I thank hon. Members for the support I have received today on Second Reading. I wish to mention the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who is not in her place, on how the clauses on the port police will help not only coastal communities but inland communities. I hope that we have given the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), who has long-standing experience in marine issues, the reassurance he needed that we will examine clause 2(1) in Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) has superb expertise in the area of the port police, and I know that since she has been in this place she has worked extremely hard for her constituents to try to get something established. I hope that I will be able to draw on some of her expertise in Committee.
It was also good to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), who talked about the expansion of the port in his constituency. I hope we might be able to give him some assistance if his port decides to introduce its own port police force.
It was a privilege and an honour to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). He is a long-standing Member of this House with great expertise in transport and he spoke with knowledge as a member of the RYA. I gratefully take on board his suggestion and I hope that he, too, is reassured that we will consider in Committee the points he raised.
I thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and the Minister for their contributions today and for their support in taking the Bill forward.
In conclusion, I pay tribute to all those people who go to sea on big ships and little ships. They do so much to support our great island nation but they often do not receive the recognition they are due.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).