House of Commons
Friday 30 November 2012
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I have received a report from the Tellers in the No Lobby for the Division at 2.30 pm on 29 November on the amendment to the main Question. The hon. Members for Livingston (Graeme Morrice) and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) have informed me that the number of No votes was erroneously reported as 321, instead of 311. I will direct the Clerk to correct the numbers in the Journal accordingly. The Ayes were five and the Noes were 311.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During his statement yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister referred to his predecessor by name, rather than by title. I understand from a number of colleagues that that has become a pattern in the past few days. I am sure that you agree that all Members are entitled to the same courtesies and respect, so is there some way of bringing that to the attention of the Government?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. It is a question not merely of drawing that to the attention of the Government, as he puts it, but of drawing it again to the attention of all Members of the House. He has already played his part in so doing, and I feel sure that his point of order and my response to it will have been widely noted.
Mental Health (Discrimination) (No. 2) Bill
Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
I beg to move amendment 1, page 1, line 9, leave out from beginning to ‘, for’ in line 10 and insert—
‘(1) In section 1 of the Juries Act 1974 (qualification for jury service)—
(a) in subsection (1), omit paragraph (c) (but not the “and” after it),
(b) omit subsection (2), and
(c) in subsection (3), for “Part 2 of the Schedule” substitute “Schedule 1”.
(2) In Schedule 1 to that Act (the title to which becomes “Persons Disqualified for Jury Service”, with the title to Part 1 becoming “Persons subject to the Mental Health Act 1983 or Mental Capacity Act 2005” and the title to Part 2 becoming “Other Persons Disqualified for Jury Service”)’.
My amendment would make a minor technical change to the amendments the Bill makes to the Juries Act 1974. It would remove the term “mentally disordered persons” from section 1 of the Act and tidy up the cross-referencing between section 1 and the list of those disqualified for jury service in schedule 1. The amendment is supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell).
Specifically, the references to “Mentally disordered persons” in section 1 of the 1974 Act will be removed and further provisions made in section 1 consequential to that. That will leave the section so worded as to provide that those persons listed in schedule 1 to the 1974 Act will be disqualified from jury service. The title of schedule 1 to that Act will be amended to read “Persons Disqualified for Jury Service”. The headings to parts I and II of schedule 1 are amended accordingly, from “Mentally disordered persons” to “Persons subject to the Mental Health Act 1983 or Mental Capacity Act 2005” and from “Persons disqualified” to “Other persons disqualified for jury service” respectively. The substantive change that the Bill makes to the 1974 Act, which is to remove the disqualification on service as a juror from those who voluntarily receive treatment in the community for a mental health disorder, remains the same.
I support the amendment. It will not change the Bill’s original wording to a great extent, but the language implications are very important. We must ensure that we deal with people who suffer from mental illness without the stigma of titles, so this small amendment is important. Clause 2 is also very important. Since we started discussing the Bill, I have received numerous e-mails and correspondence about it. A solicitor wrote to me to say that although she practises in court every day, she cannot be a juror because she is currently undergoing treatment for a mental health condition. The amendment would make a small change to the language, but I think it is important for the wider debate and for the wider implications of the Bill to ensure that we end discrimination against people who suffer from mental illness.
I support the amendment and welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). I want to raise a point that I do not think is covered by the Bill but which is associated with the thought: whether someone who has or has had a mental health condition and who feels that they would not be capable of serving as a juror at a particular time can say so and whether that would be accepted by the court. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) might not be able to answer straight away, but I would be grateful if the Minister could let me know later, perhaps in writing.
I support amendment 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). It is of a minor and technical nature and it builds on the amendments to the Juries Act 1974 under clause 2 of the Bill. The Government are happy to accept the amendment, which, although it is technical and does not affect the substance of the Bill, is very important in terms of presentation because through its inclusion the Bill will more fully reflect the intention that we all share in this House of removing legislative provisions that prevent people from participating fully in society merely because they have a mental health condition.
I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) that there are indeed measures that would still allow a person called for jury service to indicate that they felt unable to carry it out. I shall be happy to provide any further information that he requires on that.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) said, I am happy to support his amendment. I hope that he will not be embarrassed but I congratulate him on the expert way in which he described the technical effects of the amendment so clearly. Given his ability to do so, I think it is only a matter of time before he is summoned to the Front Bench. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) clearly explained his rationale for supporting the amendment.
As I said on Second Reading, the Bill has two purposes. In certain clearly defined areas, it seeks to remove legislative provisions that prevent people from contributing to various aspects of our public life, but its wider aim is to challenge the stigma that people with mental health conditions experience in our society and to send a wider message beyond this House to society as whole. It is therefore absolutely essential to get the language right. That is why I support the amendment.
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), the provision that he has in mind does exist. Anyone summoned for jury service is entitled to request an excusal or deferral by completing the relevant section of the summons form. Such applications are then considered by officers of the Jury Central Summoning Bureau.
Amendment 1 agreed to.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I will speak only briefly because we had a very full debate on the Bill on Second Reading and a good debate in Committee.
I want to underline the importance of this Bill and what it is seeking to achieve. Over the period of my adult lifetime, this House has passed important legislation to deal with other areas of discrimination such as race relations, gender and sexual orientation, but on mental health there remain on the statute book several provisions that are openly stigmatising and serve no good purpose in terms of public policy. The Bill tries to bring the law of this country into the 21st century by removing those provisions so that people with mental health conditions can serve on juries and contribute to our criminal justice system. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) referred to the nonsensical situation of people who are able to practise as solicitors in our courts of law but unable to serve on a jury.
The Bill also makes changes in relation to company directors. A provision in the model rules says that if somebody lacks capacity, as judged by their GP, they can lose their position as a company director. That is another provision relating solely to mental health that is wholly unnecessary and stigmatising.
Finally, and just as important, the Bill amends the provisions relating to a Member of Parliament who is detained under the mental health legislation for a period of six months or more. No equivalent provision exists in relation to preventing those with physical conditions from serving. Indeed, Members can be sentenced to prison for longer than six months and not lose their position in this House. The Bill deals with those issues, but I hope that it also sends a much wider message to society about the need for a change in attitudes to those with mental health conditions.
I conclude by expressing my thanks to a few people for their support on the Bill. First, I thank Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, who in the previous Session introduced a very similar Bill in the other place that sadly was unable to complete its passage owing to a lack of parliamentary time. I thank Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Royal College of Psychiatrists for their support and the background work that they have done on the Bill and the wider campaign that they have been running, Time to Change, which is trying to change attitudes towards those who experience mental illness.
Finally, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and the officials in the Cabinet Office who have provided very welcome help and support, and those in my own office. Members on both sides of the House will know of the huge contribution that our staff make in supporting the work that we do as Members of this House. I am hugely grateful for all that help. I hope that today the House will see the completion of the passage of this Bill, which will be a welcome landmark statement that attitudes towards those with mental health conditions are changing. I also hope that it will have speedy passage through the other place.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) not only on selecting this subject for his private Member’s Bill but on eloquently arguing its case throughout its parliamentary stages. He can rightly congratulate himself—of course, he will feel in need of some congratulations in Croydon after yesterday’s by-election result—on arguing so strongly for it. As a member of the small club of individuals who have got a private Member’s Bill passed by the House—I hope to welcome him to it—I know about the hard work that has to go into steering a Bill through this House. He was right to thank the staff, who I think will not be encouraging him to put in for the ballot in future given the amount of work that they have done.
The Bill should be supported because it gets rid of anachronistic legislative provisions. The provision on the disqualification of Members of Parliament has changed very little since 1886. The only thing that has changed is the description of who has to draw up the report for you, Mr Speaker. Possibly some of the language has been modified over the years, but in effect the same provision still applies.
Another issue is jury service. The existing provisions stigmatise those who are receiving treatment for mental illness by saying that they can practise as a solicitor or a barrister but cannot serve on a jury. That makes no sense at all. The important provision about company directorships has not received a great deal of coverage during the passage of the Bill, but it will make a difference to company directors who suffer from mental illness.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the Bill is important not only for those provisions but for the broader message that it sends out about the view of this House and of society about mental illness. I, too, pay tribute to the organisations that he mentioned, which have campaigned and worked very hard not only on making sure that there is support for the Bill but on helping to ensure that the stigma around mental health is eradicated. Will the Bill in itself do that? No, it will not—I do not think that for one minute—but I hope that it will show, as the hon. Gentleman said, that this House is determined to ensure that mental health stigma becomes a thing of the past.
It will take time to change people’s attitudes, but the debate in this House on 14 June and the passage of the Bill show that mental illness is on the political radar and will not go away. I encourage the House to continue the debate because our recent debates show that this is an issue that we should talk about. Mental illness is often not prioritised in terms of resources or in the workplace because it is not talked about. Let us hope that we will continue to talk openly about mental illness, not as something that is an impediment to people making a full contribution to public life or to their own personal life and development, but as something that, with effective treatment and support, allows individuals to make a proper and rightful contribution to society.
I thank the hon. Member for Croydon Central again for bringing the Bill forward and congratulate him on the way in which he has done so.
I just want to express a few thanks. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) for piloting the Bill so expertly through Parliament. What a fantastic job he has done! I thank Rowena Daw of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who has been a fantastic supporter of the Bill. I thank the officials. I suspect that there has been a true Horatio among them who has worked very hard to bring the Bill to fruition. I thank the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) for his sterling support from the Opposition Benches. He, too, has been a true hero.
This is great occasion for Parliament and I am glad to have had a small walk-on part in it.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on introducing the Bill. It would be fair to say that we do not agree on everything, but I think we agree on more than he realises. We certainly agree about the Bill. He works tirelessly not only on behalf of his constituents but on behalf of the important causes to which the Bill relates.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) on their work in this field. They have shown great courage in speaking out on these matters when other people may not have done so. We should all be grateful for what they do. They were both worthy recipients of awards at Dods’ The House magazine awards this week. I cannot think of two more deserving winners. This has been a red-letter week for them.
I want to tease out some points about the Bill’s three main clauses, which my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central could perhaps clarify. Even though I support the Bill, it is important to clarify on the record any points that may arise.
Clause 1 relates to the mental health of MPs. It abolishes section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, and also relates to the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments. The Cabinet Office website states, so it must be true:
“The provisions in Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 replaced provisions in the Mental Health Act 1959 which itself replaced provisions in the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886.”
As far as I am aware, section 141 of the 1983 Act has never been used. Perhaps it is good to get rid of legislation that is anachronistic and has never been used, but we could ask whether there is any point in doing so. As I understand it, the only time that any of this legislation has been used was in 1916, when Dr Charles Leach was removed from his seat after a protracted illness. I think it is worth getting rid of this section, but I note that it has never actually been used.
I want to flag up a potential anomaly. I assure the House that, as usual on such occasions, I do not intend to speak for long. I say that for the avoidance of doubt, because I do not want anybody to be concerned. I merely wish to rattle through a few points. Under the Bill, there would be no bar on somebody standing for Parliament with a mental health condition of any kind and there would be no procedure to remove somebody who developed a condition while they were in Parliament. Does that mean that the Bill could create a situation in which the constituents of an MP end up with effectively no representation for an entire term of office because a condition is found to exist very late in an election campaign or early on in a Parliament?
I agree with that point, but there is no difference between that example and a Member who has a stroke and goes into a long-term vegetative state. There is no provision to remove such a Member. The Bill is just saying that mental illness should be on a par with other medical conditions.
I agree with that point. I am merely using this opportunity to ensure that people know exactly what the Bill would do and to check whether there are potential anomalies. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that the same situation applies to people with other conditions and that there should perhaps be no difference between them.
Another anomaly that may arise is that somebody could stand for Parliament and continue as a Member of Parliament who may not be eligible to vote because of the existing regulations on voting. As this is a Third Reading debate, I must talk only about what is in the Bill, rather than what should be in the Bill, but I hope that you will allow me to say in passing, Mr Speaker, that perhaps the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central in this field is not yet done. Although I support the Bill, it might create anomalies that we have to come back to on another occasion. I therefore hope that this is a work in progress.
I am not sure whether the provisions on juries deal with somebody who has just been released from being sectioned or who ought to have been sectioned but has not been because nobody knows about their condition. Perhaps the Bill might have been better if it had included an additional time period for such people. I am not sure whether the lack of such a period will cause a problem. The point has been well made throughout the debate that mental illness is not necessarily permanent or constant, but safeguards need to be in place to limit the exposure of those with recent conditions and those who have perhaps not been identified.
The proposals on company directors cover the model articles of association for normal companies and right-to-manage companies. Unless I have missed something, which is not impossible, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent a company from using the old provisions in its articles of association if it chooses to deviate from the model articles of association. Will companies that are already in existence be affected by the Bill? If so, and if it has an immediate effect, what will happen if a company has already invoked this particular part of their articles of association from the model version and is in the middle of proceedings? If the Bill affects only new companies, does that mean that the 2.5 million companies that are already registered with Companies House will not be covered? It is important that we deal with the model articles of association because they are the default position, but have we missed something with regard to individual articles of association? What happens if a company has only one director and they have the most serious long-term mental health condition?
I support my hon. Friend—the whole House should support and congratulate him—but there are anomalies in the Bill, and the Bill might create even more. I hope the House can tackle those in future to ensure that we do what my hon. Friend and other hon. Members intend, which is to give the best possible opportunities to people with mental health problems, who for far too long have been unfairly discriminated against under the law.
I add my thanks to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) for his work in piloting the Bill so skilfully. As a Member who has been involved in such matters, I know how much work goes on behind the scenes to achieve what he has achieved. He deserves massive thanks from everybody. I thank him not only on my own behalf but on behalf of all the organisations and groups in my constituency, which are extremely grateful to him for his work and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), with the support of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones).
The Bill is important because it specifically removes discrimination on grounds of mental health, but its greater importance is in the wider message it sends to society about how we should see those who, sadly, suffer from mental health problems. If the Bill goes some small way towards removing the taboo of mental health, it will have played a very important role. It will help to remove the prejudice and misunderstandings surrounding mental health, and put mental health on the same footing as other disabilities and illnesses.
I do not propose to detain the House for long. I simply wanted to put on record, as I did on Second Reading, my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central for his work. I wish the Bill well in the other place and a speedy passage on to the statute book.
May I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on introducing the Bill? Plenty has been said in congratulating him, but it is an important Bill. I am slightly jealous that he has got his private Member’s Bill this far and been so successful. I cannot think of a better issue to debate in the House.
I also add my congratulations, thanks and support to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) on everything they have done on the Bill. It is important that we change attitudes and perceptions of mental health. It would sometimes be nice to get attitudes into the 20th century, never mind the 21st century, but it is crucial that Parliament leads the way and shows that mental health must be addressed. The changes to archaic and discriminatory laws will, I hope, send an important message to wider society that unfair discrimination has no place in modern Britain. People who suffer mental ill health have a wealth of knowledge and experience and can now play their part in public life in a number of ways. It is crucial that we do not lose knowledge and experience that can benefit and improve society.
I do not wish to detain the House. I reiterate my congratulations. I hope the Bill is the start of ensuring that 21st-century Britain is as accepting of people with mental ill health as it is of people who have sprained an ankle or broken an arm, or who have another day-to-day ailment. The number of people with mental ill health in the UK means that it is a day-to-day problem. I congratulate and thank the hon. Member for Croydon Central.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) is happy for me to attempt to answer a few of the points on the detail, which were raised mainly by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), I shall do so, and further indicate the Government’s support for the Bill.
On clause 1, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley queried whether the House should seek to amend measures that have never been used when we could simply let them wither on the vine. It is my firm view and that of other hon. Members that we ought to tackle discriminatory and stigmatic anachronisms when we come across them. We are proud that the Bill does that.
My hon. Friend asked how constituents can be represented by an MP who comes under the provisions of the Bill. When Members suffer from a physical health problem, informal arrangements are made and support is given to them by the House and their party. The Government believe that similar arrangements should apply in cases of mental illness. He asked about eligibility to vote, and I will be happy to come back to him on that another time.
My hon. Friend asked whether there should be a post-detention time limit with regard to jury service. I can confirm that when somebody is no longer detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, they should no longer be subject to constraints. After all, they will have been assessed and deemed not to be suffering to an extent that prevents them from leading a normal life. It is possible to see the Bill in that light.
Finally, my hon. Friend asked about the provision on directorships. I can confirm that the provision applies only to companies—whether existing or new—that use model articles.
I hope that that covers my hon. Friend’s questions. It falls to me to add once again the Government’s support for the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central on promoting the Bill to this conclusion. He has done an excellent job in gaining such overwhelming support for it. I, too, am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in debates on the Bill, and to two hon. Members at least for their humbling openness.
I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) for playing his part in making the amendment today. I can confirm that the reforms in the Bill are, in totality, an essential part of the Government’s drive to tackle the stigma and discrimination still associated with mental health. It is my hope that the work hon. Members have done on the Bill today and in other debates will encourage more sympathetic treatment, not only in law, but in the mainstream media and other places. The Bill represents a simple but fundamental change in removing discrimination against those who suffer from mental health disorders so that they can participate in public life in a number of key ways, and I commend it to the House.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for her support for the Bill. I was honoured to be asked to be a sponsor of the Bill. It would be wrong if Third Reading was completed without hon. Members recognising that some of the changes come from the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation. One of the roles of the holder of your office, Mr Speaker, is to allow issues to be considered and proposals to be put that benefit the House. We should thank you and your colleagues for that.
Taking medication for being over-happy or unhappy, or in some other way affected, should be as interesting or as uninteresting as consuming pills to deal with the pain in my heel or taking statins to deal with cholesterol. Instead of some people having their behaviour or misbehaviour described in the media, and then writing articles 20 years later saying that they used to be on drugs—illegal street substances—people should be able to be open now about the fact that they are unhappy or manic, or that they have a phobia or an obsession. I am not saying that everyone should lay out all their conditions, but it should be as easy as saying, “I see you have a broken leg or carcinoma.”
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends on both sides of the House. It would be useful to have a major debate every two years on progress in mental health and mental illness. Hospital closures and accident and emergency wards matter, but each of us in our constituencies has people who are affected by unhappiness, mental health or mental illness. I pay tribute to the many people who are involved professionally and voluntarily in helping and serving them.
Perhaps I can conclude with a minor reflection on a remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) about the people he referred to as the “Horatios”—I think Horatia would look rather better, unless the Department has sent front people out who look rather different.
With the leave of the House, I would like to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and to make one final point. I have a very high regard for my hon. Friend. As he said, we do not agree on every issue, but he is an excellent Member of this House. He made two points and I thought it was worth making one further point in response. He asked about the value of repealing legislation if it has never been used. There is a danger with the law as it currently stands of an hon. Member with a health condition being reluctant to seek medical treatment because of the consequences—the risk of losing their job.
The Speaker’s Conference recommended that a Select Committee might look at how the wider issue of the lack of constituents’ representation if their MP has a serious mental or physical health condition is addressed beyond the informal arrangements to which the Minister referred.
That is a problem because, as the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith) said, I think most parties will put informal arrangements in place, as they do for MPs who suffer from long-term physical conditions, or those who take holidays on reality TV shows in Australia.
The hon. Gentleman seeks to draw me somewhere I do not wish to go—neither intellectually nor physically, I should say, in case any of my constituents are watching. I have direct experience of the point that he and the Minister made about informal arrangements. My predecessor as the hon. Member for Croydon Central suffered some difficulties with his mental health and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) covered both his office here in this House and his surgery and other duties during that period. Those arrangements can certainly work, but from the point at which I introduced the Bill people have contacted me and made the point that the hon. Member for Shipley makes. It is well worth a Select Committee looking at those issues and deciding whether the informal arrangements are sufficient, or whether there should be other rules.
The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) teased me mildly in his remarks about the results of the Croydon North by-election. The by-election has a relevance to this issue. It was a good result for Labour and I look forward to Steve Reed taking his seat, but the swing was significantly less than in the other by-elections we have had recently and in the national opinion polls. The reason for that was the Conservative party candidate. In his gracious concession speech, Andy Stranack made the point that, as someone who suffers from cerebral palsy, he hoped that one of the lessons of his campaign was that he had not in any way not been able to run a robust, energetic, effective campaign and do the job expected of a parliamentary candidate.
That is relevant to the debate, because I want to end by saying a word or two about the hon. Member for North Durham and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). Their courage, in the debate we had earlier this year on mental health, in talking about their own experiences, and in their participation in this House on this business and on other issues, demonstrates visibly that those who experience mental health difficulties are just as able as anybody else to fulfil the duties of being a Member of this House. That sends an important message and point to the country as a whole as we try to change attitudes and perceptions.
I do not want to detain the House any further, but I want to end, if the hon. Member for North Durham will forgive me, by saying something about my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne in particular. When my name came high up in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, I was inundated by e-mails and phone calls suggesting issues that I might like to take up. Some might have found favour with my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, and others might have been less well regarded. A key reason for choosing this issue was my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne. He came to my office and explained to me for about half an hour why he regarded it as being of such importance. In the two and a half years I have been in the House, I never heard anyone speak with such passion about the subject and about the effect that legislation can have. My name is on the Bill and I hope it will go on to become an Act, but one of the people who deserves enormous credit for reaching this point is my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne and his passion for this issue. I think that that is a fitting point on which to end my remarks.
Bill read the Third time and passed.
Prisons (Property) Bill
Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
Power to destroy or otherwise dispose of property
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 3, line 16, after ‘prison’, insert ‘or prison officer’.
Amendment 4, line 23, at end insert—
‘(d) for any unauthorised or unlawful purpose.’.
Amendment 5, page 2, line 9, at end insert
‘recycling it or donating it to any charity.’.
Amendment 6, line 12, leave out from ‘force’ to end of line 14 and insert
‘and which is held by the prison on that date;’.
Amendment 7, line 15 , leave out paragraph (b).
Amendment 8, line 17, leave out from second ‘article’ to end of line 20 and insert
‘covered by this Act if it had been in force at the time the items were seized.’.
Amendment 9, line 20, at end insert—
‘(1A) The power under subsection (1) shall not be exercisable in relation to anything which might contain or constitute evidence of a criminal offence.’.
This is a rare situation for me. We have come to the second private Member’s Bill of the day, both of which I wholeheartedly support—an unusual occurrence for a Friday. I find myself in a slightly uncomfortable situation in that regard. I have tabled the amendments not to bury the Bill, but to try to improve it. It is already an excellent Bill, but it could be further strengthened. I hope to persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), whom I congratulate on getting the Bill to this stage, that my amendments would enhance his Bill, and I will give it my best shot.
I begin by congratulating you, Mr Speaker, on not selecting my first amendment. It is what is known, I believe, as a consequential amendment, and it suggested leaving out the word “or” and inserting a comma instead. The House would probably not have wanted to have had a Division on such a lead amendment, so I congratulate you on not indulging the House with it. The other amendments are well worthy of at least consideration.
On the disposal of unauthorised or unattributable property, clause 1 states:
“an article found inside the prison or in a prisoner escort vehicle”.
Amendment 2 suggests an addition to include:
“any other location that the prisoner attends while in custody,”
Obviously, the Bill covers the prison and prison escort vehicles—that is perfectly reasonable. I am concerned, however, about all the other places prisoners might find themselves while in custody. It would be bizarre if something was not covered because of a technicality—because the prisoner did not happen to be in prison or a prisoner escort vehicle at the time.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He might think it easy for me to say—now he has made the point—but I was specifically thinking of hospitals when I drew up the amendment. As he said, lots of prisoners have health problems and require medical treatment, entailing a trip either to a doctors’ surgery for an assessment or to hospital for treatment or a more detailed assessment. The last Government did an awful lot in that regard, taking forward telemedicine so that people could be seen while still in prison via video link. That was a perfectly good innovation, but it does not apply in every case. As my hon. Friend said, prisoners often have to visit hospital.
It is not just about hospitals, however; lots of prisoners go out to work on day release, if they are coming to the end of their sentence, as part of their rehabilitation. Many people in open prisons go out to work or out into other parts of society to do some rehabilitation work. As things stand, however, it seems that the Bill would not cover those people. People in custody also go to court, either to have their remand hearing considered or to have further charges put to them, and it would be bizarre if something was found while somebody was in court but was not covered by the Bill just because they happened to be in court rather than in prison.
I genuinely do not know—perhaps the Minister will tell us—how many trips are paid to hospital, how many people go out to work each day or how many court appearances are made, but I am sure there are people with better minds in this place who do know. It would help to have that information. It seems to me, however, that many people make such trips, so there might be a large loophole when prisoners are away from their prison and prisoner escort vehicle and therefore not covered by the Bill.
I am also slightly concerned about the use of the term “prisoner escort vehicle”. I wonder exactly what it covers. Again, I would not want people to get away on a technicality. We have lots of clever members of the legal profession in the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) being one of them, and I would not want any of those clever people—much cleverer than me—to be able to find a loophole by which it could be claimed that a vehicle was not strictly speaking a “prisoner escort vehicle”. I wonder, therefore, if we have a definition of exactly what it means.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point about the definition of “prisoner escort vehicle”, but I am concerned that the problem would not be dealt with by his amendment 2, on the grounds that a similarly silver-tongued lawyer might say that “location” does not include a moving vehicle.
I would never describe my hon. Friend as a silver-tongued lawyer—it seems to have a rather pejorative connotation—but he is certainly a clever lawyer, and I take his point. I am not a lawyer, and I do not know whether a vehicle would be a location. Again, there are finer minds in the House than mine who will clarify that point. Even if he is right, as he normally is on these matters, the much tighter definition in the amendment would still be a step forward, because it would, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) said, include areas such as hospitals, courts and other specific locations. I would like to think that my amendment also covered other vehicles, but I will let the House debate that point, if it so wishes.
In simple terms, for the duration of a prisoner’s sentence or the time they are on remand, they are in custody, so, for the purposes of the Bill, they should be treated in exactly the same way as if they were in prison, wherever they might be and whatever they happen to be doing. My amendment therefore covers any period while the prisoner is in custody, and so would deal with time spent in court and the other eventualities Time will tell whether it includes vehicles other than those deemed to be prisoner escort vehicles. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey will see that I am trying to help, rather than hinder the Bill’s progress.
Proposed new section 42A(2) states that an
“article which a prisoner is authorised to have in his or her possession is to be treated for the purposes of subsection (1) as not so authorised where the governor or director of the prison reasonably believes that the article is being, has been or may be used for any of the purposes mentioned in subsection (3).”
Amendment 3 would add, after “governor or director of the prison”, the words “prison officer”. I seek to make it easier for a decision to be taken on the possible unauthorised use of an item by allowing prison officers, who are most likely to have the direct intelligence about someone or something, to make those decisions. I have always believed that the people who know best are those on the ground and doing it all the time. When I worked for Asda, there was no doubt that the people on the shop floor and the checkouts were best placed to know exactly what was going right and what was going wrong in our stores. I have no doubt that in a prison the people who are best placed to know exactly what is going on are the prison officers, who deal daily with prisoners.
I was a bit concerned that if a prison governor or director always had to make the decision, one of two things could happen. Either the governor would spend a lot of his time being told little details to authorise a course of action under the Bill, or the slowness of the process or lack of involvement from the governor would hinder its effectiveness. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey had neither of those scenarios in mind when he introduced his Bill. Surely, if a prison officer sees or hears something that leads him to confiscate an item on the basis of any of the Bill’s provisions, that should be more than adequate for the item then to be disposed of under the Bill. I wonder whether we are introducing too much bureaucracy by insisting that it has to be a prison governor or director.
The implication of not including prison officers is that we do not trust them to make these decisions. It would be rather unfortunate if the message went out from the House that we did not think them capable or trusted enough to make those decisions, which should be the types of decisions they take daily anyway. It would certainly improve the Bill and, I am sure, the morale of prison officers if we made it clear in the Bill that we trusted them to take such decisions and did not put too many barriers in their way. Indeed, putting up such barriers might inadvertently undermine their authority in the prison among the inmates. If the inmates thought, “Well you can’t do anything about this, so I’m not really interested in what you think,” that would be a rather unfortunate consequence of what my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey is trying to do.
We come to amendment 4. [Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North wish to intervene?
I was misguided in thinking that my hon. Friend momentarily wanted to intervene, but he did not. He has obviously been so persuaded by my case that he could not think of anything in amendment 4 to disagree with, as he could with amendment 3.
Proposed new section 42A of the Prison Act 1952, in clause 1, deals with
“Disposal of unauthorised or unattributable property”.
Where an article is being used for any of the purposes set out in subsection (3), it is not authorised. Those purposes include
“concealing an article which a prisoner is not authorised to have in his or her possession…causing harm to the prisoner or others…prejudicing the security or operation of the prison.”
My amendment 4 would add another category, in proposed new subsection (3)(d), which reads:
“for any unauthorised or unlawful purpose.”
Again, the amendment is designed to strengthen the reasons in the Bill for which property may be confiscated and destroyed. Perhaps it is too restricting simply to use the criteria currently set out in subsection (3). There could be circumstances where property was being used for another unlawful or unauthorised purpose, which would not be covered without my amendment. Surely we are not talking just about things that cause harm to the prisoner or prejudice the security or operation of the prison. Subsection (3)(a) refers to
“concealing an article which a prisoner is not authorised to have”,
but what if someone is caught red handed with an article that they are not concealing, but brandishing openly in front of everybody? Would we then find ourselves in the ridiculous situation where if a prisoner was hiding the article, that would be covered, but if they were brandishing it openly, that would not?
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey is satisfied that everything is covered by the Bill. However, there is certainly no harm in the belt-and-braces approach adopted by my amendment. For example, what if an item was being used to facilitate the taking of drugs? That would not necessarily fall under either “concealing” an item or
“causing harm to the prisoner or others”,
nor would it be
“prejudicing the security or operation of the prison”,
yet I am sure we would all want to ensure that those things were covered. My amendment would introduce a catch-all element to ensure that any property associated with any unauthorised or unlawful use could be seized and disposed of.
Amendment 5 would insert
“recycling it or donating it to any charity”
at the end of proposed new section 42A(5)(c) of the 1952 Act, as set out in clause 1. Again, I guess—[Interruption.] I am pleased to see the return of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North, because this might be another area where he can help out, with his undoubted expertise on legal matters. As the Bill stands, proposed new subsection (5) says:
“In this section…references to disposing of an article include selling it”,
but I do not know whether the Bill is trying to say, “You can do that if you want to,” or whether that is the preferred way of dealing with such articles. In any case, if references to the disposal of an item are to include selling it, it seems perfectly worth while to include other options, including recycling things or donating them to any charity. If items could only be either destroyed or sold, that would leave out some of the things that most people would consider to be the most appropriate ways of disposing of them. If we were talking about things of particular use to a charity or things that could be recycled, why would we not want to do that?
No doubt the Minister will in time sort this issue out for us, but proposed new section 42A(1) of the 1952 Act says:
“The governor or director…may destroy or otherwise dispose of”,
so clearly there are ways of disposing with such property other than destruction, otherwise that phrase would not have been included. However, we are still left with the question, which my hon. Friend is raising, why selling is then specified. If something is not sold, the only other thing that can be done is to give it away—or perhaps leave it somewhere for someone else to steal, although if one does not want it back, I suppose that is not stealing. We await with interest to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As ever, he is eagle-eyed on these matters. The point he makes about proposed new section 42A(1) is a good one, but like him, I would have thought that if “otherwise dispose of” included any other method, there would be no need for the words “selling it” in proposed new subsection 42A(5). Perhaps the Minister may like to explain that. My concern is that the Bill might encourage prisons to go down that line—it is as though that kind of behaviour is being encouraged. Personally, the behaviour I would most like to encourage is recycling or donating to charity. The things that are most likely to be caught include mobile phones, for instance, which mobile phone companies are trying to encourage us to recycle. It would be bizarre if we ended up destroying things that could otherwise be recycled.
In drafting amendment 4, my hon. Friend has not referred specifically to a “registered charity”, but simply to a “charity”. I wonder whether he could clarify whether, in not using the word “registered”, he had in mind general good causes, which might not necessarily have formally registered as charities.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It just goes to show the value I would have gained from speaking to him before I drew up my amendments. There is certainly a lesson in there for me. Indeed, given his nature and the fact that he is so expert at looking at such details, I am rather surprised that I did not discuss my amendments with him before tabling them. He makes a good point, although he seemed to imply that I went through a certain thought process—that I considered putting down “any registered charity”, but made a conscious decision not to and instead just put down “any charity”. He is doing me far too much credit by suggesting that I went through that thought process. The fact of the matter is—as I am sure you would have well known, Madam Deputy Speaker, knowing me as you do—that I did not go through any such thought process. I merely put down the sentiment, I guess, that such items should be given to any charity. I will certainly consult my hon. Friend in future, because as ever he spots things that I always miss. If he will bear with me, I will leave that detail to one side for the moment.
We should trust the prison officers, governors and directors to decide how best to deal with the items in question. I would not want us to push them down a particular route if there was a better one available. They might wish to support a local charity, for example, and the amendment would encourage them to use their discretion as widely as possible. My suggestion on Second Reading regarding the use of eBay was mentioned in Committee. Prisons might be able to make some money from the sale of the items. Times are tough, and I would not have a problem with a prison setting up its own eBay personality to sell those items in order to make money that could be reinvested in the prison. I want to give prisons the greatest possible flexibility.
Amendment 6 would remove the words after “force” and insert the words
“and which is held by the prison on that date”
into clause 1(6)(a). As the clause stands, the power to dispose of property
“may be exercised in relation to the relevant article found before the day on which this section comes into force if the article remains unclaimed at the end of six months beginning with that day.”
I think that that is too prescriptive. I would like to give the prisons the widest possible scope, and they should not have to wait six months to dispose of an item. If they think that the prisoner should not have an item, and that it ought to be disposed of, why should we insist that they wait six months to see whether it is claimed?
I want to speed through these matters a bit more now, and I will briefly mention amendments 7 and 8. Amendment 7 would remove clause 1(6)(b), which states that the power to dispose of items
“may not otherwise be exercised in relation to an article found before that day.”
Amendment 8 would remove parts of clause 1(7) and insert the words
“covered by this Act if it had been in force at the time the items were seized.”
All three amendments are trying to make the same point. As the Bill stands, it would cover only items seized after its introduction, or a limited type of item that had not been claimed six months after its introduction. That is very weak. It should be dealing with all confiscated items, not just those that have not been claimed. Whether or not they have been claimed is wholly irrelevant. It is beyond me to understand why on earth an unauthorised or illegal item should be given back to someone just because they claim it is theirs.
There are many examples of the appropriateness and correct application of this approach. A pertinent one relates to sentencing. Someone might commit a crime before a change to the sentencing guidelines, but if they fall to be sentenced after the change, they will be sentenced as per the new guideline. I am suggesting a similar approach in the Bill. It would be ironic if someone had an item confiscated after committing a crime and it was handed back because it had been confiscated before the change took place, and if that same person could go to court and be sentenced on the basis of the sentencing guidelines that pertained on the day of sentence, rather than on the day of the offence. That would be a topsy-turvy situation.
It is unacceptable to hand back items that have been confiscated, and the Bill should take immediate effect. That would have the added bonus of saving money straight away. There is a considerable cost involved in storing items on behalf of prisoners, as was discussed on Second Reading. Surely we do not want a prison to be a holding and collection service for prisoners’ unauthorised or illegal items. We should have no sympathy for people who are caught with things that they should not have. At that point, they should forfeit those items. Amendments 6,7 and 8 would deal with that issue, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey will acknowledge that they would strengthen his Bill.
Amendment 9 relates to the “relevant article” that is to be destroyed. Clause 1(7) sets out that such articles may include cameras and sound-recording devices, and
“devices capable of transmitting or receiving images, sounds or information by electronic communications”.
The amendment would add that the power to dispose of such unauthorised articles
“shall not be exercisable in relation to anything which might contain or constitute evidence of a criminal offence.”
I want to ensure that any property that could contain vital evidence in the form of recordings or images could not inadvertently be disposed of too rapidly, without having been checked to ensure that it did not contain anything that could implicate someone in a crime. Such articles should be available for use in any internal disciplinary hearings or as evidence in a court case.
I have been gently supportive of my hon. Friend’s amendments so far, but I have my reservations about this one. I fear that it might be used to ensure that items of property were never disposed of. There is always a chance that a device could contain evidence, even if it was not known about at the time of confiscation, and that, in six months or a year’s time, that evidence could turn out to be relevant to a crime.
My hon. Friend kindly says that he has been “gently supportive” of my amendments. He could have fooled me! I have heard nothing but criticism from him so far, so I would hate to think what he would have said if he had disagreed with me. I ought to be grateful that he is gently supportive. He makes a good point; we might well want to avoid enabling the scenario that he mentions. I am sure that he would acknowledge, however, that it would be a travesty if an item that contained evidence of a serious offence could no longer be used by the authorities because it had been disposed of. The prison authorities could find themselves in an embarrassing situation if the perpetrators of a serious offence had been recorded on a device, and that device had been tossed away without giving any thought to the possibility of it containing such evidence. We could all end up looking rather silly if that were to happen.
Amendment 9 would protect the data on phones, for example. If the measure looked likely to result in a significant reduction in the number of items being disposed of, it might be sufficient to say that an expert should remove all the data from the device and assess it. The device could then be disposed of.
I do not really know what happens at the moment. This is an important issue for this particular amendment. I do not know—perhaps the Minister can explain it—whether or not all illegal phones or unauthorised phones that are confiscated in prisons or any other recording devices or whatever are scoured for evidence or intelligence whenever they are confiscated. I do not know whether that is a natural practice that happens in prisons. I absolutely hope that that is what happens when these things are confiscated. I hope that we do not have some sort of ridiculous human rights law stopping prison officers and prison governors from looking into these things to see whether what they have confiscated contains any evidence. If it does already happen as a matter of course, I would be the first to concede that the amendment might not be necessary. If that is not happening, however, and if the Government are not giving out that guidance to prisons or other laws are preventing that from happening, I would like to think that my amendment is an essential safeguard to stop any particular offence going undetected.
In a nutshell, those are my amendments. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey on his Bill, which I warmly support. I hope that my amendments will not be seen as trying to ruin the Bill; I hope my hon. Friend sees that I am trying to strengthen it. His heart is absolutely in the right place with this Bill. I simply think that my amendments would improve it further.
I welcome the interest of my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I have no doubt that he wants to do all he can to make sure that the Bill achieves what we all want it to achieve.
It was said on Second Reading and in Committee that this was a simple Bill—led by a simple person, I suppose—and I hope that we are not going to over-complicate it. As I say, I want the Bill to do what we set out to achieve through it. Let me go through all the points that my hon. Friend made, as I hope to persuade him that many of the legitimate issues he raised are already covered in the Bill.
Beginning with amendment 2, the power already exists for these items to be confiscated wherever they may be. If a prisoner is in a hospital or at another venue as my hon. Friend described, they will, on return to prison, be searched, and if an item is found, it will be confiscated. Equally, if it is found on them in the hospital, it can be confiscated and taken back to the prison where it will be dealt with through the processes that we seek to introduce through the Bill.
On that point, proposed new subsection (1)(a) refers to
“an article found in the possession of a prisoner who is not authorised to have it in his or her possession”,
while (1)(b) refers to
“an article found inside the prison or in a prisoner escort vehicle”.
My hon. Friend may be able to assist us now, or perhaps the Minister later, to clarify why the prisoner escort vehicles provisions are sufficient to deal with the point that the amendment addresses.
Before my hon. Friend moves on, I take the point he made about my amendment 2, which was a helpful clarification. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) for pressing him on it, but the problem is that the provisions talk about articles
“found inside the prison or in a prisoner escort vehicle”
“found in the possession of a prisoner”,
but if something is found in the possession of the prisoner in another place such as a hospital, I wonder whether that could be a potential loophole.
As I understand it, prisoners would not be able to take such an item back into prison with them—that is the whole point. If an item is found in the prisoner’s possession in the hospital and the prisoner tries to take it back to prison with them, it will be confiscated as an unauthorised item. It would therefore be subjected to disposal and destruction.
I am sorry to press my hon. Friend, but there are two remaining loopholes. The first is that some of these things are not detected by the detection units when the prisoner goes back into prison. Some of these things like BOSS—body orifice security scanner—chairs do not always work, so we cannot always be confident that these things will be found. Furthermore, if in a hospital, a prisoner could take something out and leave it for somebody else to collect outside the prison.
I think we are beginning to get closer to the issue, but the Minister will no doubt be able to sort us all out. As I pointed out before, (1)(a) talks about
“an article… in the possession of a prisoner who is not authorised to have it”.
Wherever the prisoner has such an article, it can be removed from them. On the other hand, (1)(b) refers to prison-controlled areas
“inside the prison or in a prisoner escort vehicle”,
so everything else is presumably not controlled by the prison. If the prisoner happened to be somewhere else and either leaves property there himself or it is left there for him, the escort officers may not be able to show that the item is the prisoner’s or was left for him, so they may not be able to take it. If people are trying to pass items to prisoners in a non-prison-controlled area, it should be possible for someone to say, “This item is suspicious” and something should then happen to it. My guess is that either the Minister or my hon. Friend will tell us that the item will go to the police who will judge it on its merits, and they will probably have powers of disposal.
I think that is probably correct, but we need absolute clarification from the Minister. I see the point, but as I understand it, the processes involved are clearly dealt with in the Bill and in the guidance notes for governors that will follow implementation. Let us wait for the Minister to clarify.
On that point, we may be able to help the Minister. Amendment 9 refers to items that
“might contain or constitute evidence of a criminal offence.”
With a criminal offence carried out outside the prison or outside the prison vehicle, the article may need to be taken back by the prison, and the police may need to liaise with it. There is therefore going to be an issue about what happens in practice. It may not be essential to the Bill or to the amendment, but if we are trying to deter crime, knowing how often people in prison or under prison control obtain illegal or unauthorised substances—mobile phones or street drugs—we need to ensure that any potential evidence is taken and linked to the prisoner. I add a last statistical point. On how many occasions when a prison has illegal drugs is it recorded as a crime? If it is detected by the prison warders, it probably is not, or if it is detected by the police, it probably is. There is a degree of uncertainty regarding liaison between the two services.
We are talking about unauthorised items here. Illegal items would be referred to the police, and there would then need to be a criminal investigation. I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s points, and I feel sure that the Minister has taken note of them and will answer them in due course.
On amendment 3, I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said. The people at the front line are often those who know the circumstances best. It is not true to say that we do not trust them. Prison officers currently have the ability and the right to confiscate items under powers given to them by the prison governor. They have the delegated authority of the governor to confiscate the item in the first place, and it is then up to the governor to decide what to do with it.
As for amendment 4, I understand my hon. Friend’s wish to strengthen the existing provision, but in my view probably the most significant point is already covered in subsection 3(c), which refers to
“prejudicing the security or operation of the prison”.
That will apply to any criminal activity, including, for instance, intimidation.
Amendment 5 relates to the question of what should be done with items that have been confiscated, which has been the subject of considerable discussion. I think we all want to ensure that, when it is possible to obtain money for them that could be given to, say, victims’ charities, we should do so, but we do not want to be too prescriptive. That is why the clause uses the words
“destroy or otherwise dispose of”.
It gives the governor the option to make the decision.
The Prison Service instructions, which will advise governors and directors about the implementation of the Act, will need to provide clear guidance on the disposal of property, which should include recycling or donating the items to charities, whether registered or otherwise. EBay has been mentioned. There is, of course, a risk that devices may contain information that we would not want others to get hold of—we all know how difficult it can be to erase everything from them—but I believe that the words “otherwise dispose of” covers the points raised by my hon. Friend.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will want to discuss amendments 6, 7 and 8 in a little more detail, but retrospective legislation is always liable to present obstacles to some, and I am keen to ensure that it does not impede the Bill’s progress. The six-month period provides an opportunity for someone from whom a legitimate and authorised item has been taken by another prisoner at least to appeal, and to have the appeal heard, in order to establish whether the item can be returned. My hon. Friend wonders why all the items should be got rid of on day one. The six months is a one-off, in a sense, allowing people to appeal on the basis that they have a legitimate right to be in possession of an item. Of course, if it is found that they have no such right, all the items will be destroyed. The main problem in the Prison Service at present is storing 40,000 mobile phones. If a phone has not been claimed after six months and an appeal has not been granted, it can be destroyed, and the problem—which is costing the Prison Service more than £20,000 a year—will be solved once and for all.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) that there is a danger that amendment 9 could perpetuate the mischief that we already face. It could mean that many mobile phones could not be destroyed because people might claim that they contained evidence. The last thing we want is to find ourselves in exactly the same position as before. The prospect of all those phones still having to be stored at such great cost is certainly not welcomed by the Prison Officers Association, or indeed by many of the victims’ families to whom I have spoken.
I am, however, grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley for his keen interest in the Bill. As he says, we have a shared goal. It is unacceptable that, at present, prison officers and governors are powerless to destroy items that prisoners are not supposed to have anyway.
I should say at the outset that I know that the amendments presented so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) are not in any sense wrecking amendments designed to destroy the central thrust of the Bill. Indeed, they are very much in the spirit of the Bill, and are intended to strengthen it so that it achieves the purpose that we all want it to achieve.
Let me begin with amendment 2. As we have heard, there are many reasons why a prisoner may be away from the confines of the prison. He may, for example, be visiting a hospital, or he may have been released to attend a funeral. The question has been raised of how many times a prisoner will leave the prison in the course of a year. Given that there are 85,000 people in prison, and given all the reasons why a prisoner might want to leave the prison, the number of such occasions must amount to many hundreds of thousands.
As my hon. Friend knows, it is not just a question of 85,000 prisoners. Far more than 85,000 people go to prison over the course of a year. There are about 80,000 people in prison at any one time, but obviously many more thousands go to prison during the year, and all of them may at some point leave the prison for the day.
My hon. Friend is right. There are probably 85,000 prisoners at any given moment in time, but over the course of a calendar year the number will be vastly greater. When, back in 2007, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) asked how drugs had got into Dorchester prison, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who was a Minister at the time, replied that in a single year there had been
“Under the current system, 405,259 releases on temporary licence”.—[Official Report, 19 June 2007; Vol. 461, c. 1253.]
There is, therefore, some evidence to support my estimate that there are some hundreds of thousands of such releases each year.
It now seems to me that the point about the definition of “prisoner escort vehicle”—I wondered whether my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) would mention this—is covered by clause 1(5), which defines it as
“a vehicle used for taking a prisoner to or from a prison or other place while in custody”.
I think, on reflection, that I am satisfied that the provision is drawn widely enough to defeat any silver-tongued lawyer who might suggest that a vehicle was not, in fact, a prisoner escort vehicle. I therefore intend to support amendment 2.
I think that there is some merit in amendment 3. Those who are closest to the prisoners and to what is going on in the prison environment should be allowed to determine whether something is used or may be used for unauthorised purposes, within the terms of the Bill, instead of having to refer the matter to the governor or director of the prison. I appreciate that some may not share that view, however.
I used to feel the same way as my hon. Friend, but I think that if a prison officer decides that an unauthorised item should be destroyed or disposed of, a senior manager of the prison ought to agree with that. The issue is not about whether an article is unauthorised or being used in a way that is unauthorised; it is about the disposal of the article afterwards. I am now convinced that the right approach is for a prison officer to be able to confiscate an article and for the governor or director of the prison to decide about disposal.
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, and he has persuaded me on it. I would be interested to know, however, whether the Minister has had any feedback on amendment 3, perhaps from the Prison Officers Association.
Amendment 4 is a sensible proposal, and I have nothing further to say on it this morning.
Amendment 5 is of considerable interest. I asked in an intervention whether my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley had deliberately not put “registered” before “charity”. Whether or not that is the case, it is the right decision, as it overcomes any bureaucratic problems that might arise over whether a local charitable organisation had gone through the registration process. Such an organisation may be in the process of registration—indeed, that is often the case. The amendment would serve to avoid long-winded discussions as to whether individuals who are doing good work should be prevented from benefiting from confiscated property. Most of this property is mobile phones and there is a considerable market in recycling them, so they have a great value, especially as nowadays most of them are, in fact, small mobile computers.
Amendment 9 addresses the question of the data on these phones. The right solution is for the data to be routinely taken off the phones and stored on a central hard disc, logged with the prisoner’s name and number. Therefore, if at any point in the future it turns out that some of that information is pertinent to an alleged offence, it can be used in evidence.
I agree with my hon. Friend, but does he agree that there would be a different perspective on this question if the Minister were unable to give the assurance that these data will be routinely checked and stored? Does my hon. Friend agree that that would give some merit to my amendment that the Minister currently does not see?
That is right. Our concern is that property that was disposed of might later turn out to have contained evidence that was central to securing a conviction. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey, the promoter of the Bill, would not want that information to be unavailable. There is a great deal of merit in having routine cleansing of phones, but only after having saved all the data contained on them on a central hard disc for possible future use.
We know from the Minister’s comments on Second Reading that 41,000 phones are currently stored, so I accept that storing these data would be a major task. We were told on Second Reading that the cost of storing the phones is £20,000 a year, and they are seized at the rate of 800 a month. This is a major problem, therefore, and there would be a great deal of merit in the Minister’s exploring the possibility of a standardised system whereby information is taken off phones and stored for future reference.
About 13 years ago I became rather conscious of what was going on in prisons. I had taken part in a campaign to help overturn the convictions and to free Ruth Wyner and John Brock, who had been working at the Wintercomfort project in Cambridge, helping the homeless. I remember helping to lead a procession across London that had the slogan, “Help the homeless: jail the social workers?” An account of these events is given in Alexander Masters’ book, “Stuart: a life lived backwards”. With the knowledge of the police, these two people were running a project for homeless people, some of whom were addicted to illegal street drugs. Another police officer found that some people were exchanging drugs on or outside the premises, and for some ludicrous reason the people running the project were prosecuted and jailed.
In jail, Ruth Wyner was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement so as to give counselling to other prisoners who were getting illegal street drugs in prison. I asked how many times each year someone in prison was detected as having used illegal street drugs. The answer was about 20,000, which is really quite high. I then asked somebody who had worked for me but who went on to work in the Prison Service how the drugs got into prison. The answer was, “Sometimes they’re thrown over the wall.”
I also refer Members to the first book Lord Archer wrote about his prison experience. It described how new prisoners, most of whom were inexperienced at crime—and at life—were sent to a high-security prison for a period, and if they were not on drugs before they went, they were often on drugs by the time they had finished their three weeks there, because the senior, experienced prisoners would arrange for the new prisoner to get their family to pay the experienced person’s family or associates outside the prison. That demonstrates why the mobile phones issue is important and why detecting unauthorised possession of mobile phones matters.
We ought to support the Bill. The question of how to deal with the amendments will be determined by the Minister’s responses to the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall). I am grateful to the Bill’s promoter, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), and I wish him success with it.
We must address the underlying issue, which is that 800 mobile phones are detected a month, and many more surely go undetected. A technical fix ought to be possible, so that any use of a mobile phone in a prison is linked to the identification number of a phone, and if any phone is used that is not part of the approved list, investigations should take place and people should find out where it is. The technology cannot be that difficult. Perhaps that is how it is done anyway, and that is why the detection rate is as high as it is.
I am a great believer in helping prisoners to be rehabilitated, but if there is a currency in mobile phones in a prison, let alone in controlled or illegal drugs, we need to stop it. The Bill is about the particular issue of how one can dispose of or destroy items that are not illegal to possess but that are unauthorised in prisons. Its limited purpose is one that this House should support, and I do support it.
Amendment 2 proposes an addition to proposed new section 42A(1) of the Prison Act 1952, as inserted by clause 1 of the Bill, which would extend the power of a governor or director to places outside a prison or prison escort vehicle, such as a hospital, court cells or a police station where a prisoner might be detained in custody. In some circumstances, the prisoner, although they are in custody, will not be in the custody of the governor. It would therefore not be appropriate to extend the powers in such a way. I think that deals with the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) about extending the power beyond the prisoner escort vehicle.
It is already possible to remove any unauthorised items found on a prisoner while they are in custody outside the prison. Such items would be returned to the prison with the prisoner and dealt with as the prisoner re-entered the prison. The prison governor or directors could authorise the prisoner to keep the item with him or her in prison or disposal could be required. If appropriate, the governor could confiscate it and use the general power of destruction already provided in the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) will therefore withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 3 is not necessary. Prison officers will have the power to act in the way envisaged by the amendment through the delegated authority of the prison governor. It is therefore not necessary specifically to include them in that power. In addition, “prison officer” is the term used to describe officers in a public sector prison and would not cover prison custody officers, who carry out the same function in private sector prisons. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will not press that amendment.
The purpose of amendment 4 would appear to be to create a catch-all power to cover all property used for any unauthorised or unlawful purpose. Although I can understand my hon. Friend’s reasons for tabling the amendment, I do not believe that it is necessary. Any unauthorised item could be confiscated and destroyed under the power created in subsection (1)(a) or (b) of proposed new section 42A. Furthermore, an item used for unlawful or unauthorised purposes that would clearly prejudice the security or operation of the prison or cause harm to prisoners or others would be dealt with by proposed new subsection 3(c) or (b). I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will agree with me that the amendment is not necessary.
On amendment 5, I applaud my hon. Friend’s desire to see that confiscated property is put to good use and to ensure that charities might benefit wherever possible. The Bill already enables that. Proposed new section 42A enables a governor or director to
“destroy or otherwise dispose of”
confiscated property. My hon. Friend’s amendment is not necessary, because the phrase “otherwise dispose of” would allow the item to be recycled or donated to charity. I can assure him that the guidance given to governors and directors in the relevant Prison Service instruction will make it clear that those options are available.
The sale of property, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West, would involve a financial gain for the Prison Service and has therefore been specified in the Bill. Other methods of disposal, such as recycling, do not need express provision as they are covered, as I have explained, by the expression “otherwise dispose of”.
Amendments 6,7 and 8 are the most significant and have the potential to undermine the progress of the Bill. The Bill as drafted contains a limited retrospective power and although retrospective legislation is generally not a good idea, that limited power has a specific purpose with which I am sure the House will agree. It is intended to enable the Prison Service to deal with the large number of mobile telephones held in storage. The House will be aware from previous debates on the Bill that more than 40,000 telephones are held at a cost of £20,000 a year and it is appropriate that we should take a power to deal with them. It is, after all, a criminal offence both to possess a mobile telephone in prison and to bring one into a prison. Governors and directors have options for other property that is not illegal per se. They can authorise the item, place it in central storage, require a prisoner to send it out of the prison or otherwise dispose of it. There is therefore no need for a general retrospective power to deal with such property and I hope that my hon. Friend will not press those amendments.
Amendment 9 is intended to address the ability of the Prison Service to destroy or dispose of mobile phones found in prisons. It is unlawful to possess or use a mobile phone in prison. The amendment would therefore prevent the Prison Service from disposing of them, as it is likely that every unauthorised mobile phone found in prison would contain or constitute evidence of a criminal offence. My hon. Friend asked about the checking of mobile phones and I understand that they are interrogated for evidence of criminality on confiscation. I hope that in the circumstances he will therefore agree not to press the amendment.
I am grateful to everybody who has contributed to the debate on the amendments, and to the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) for addressing the points that I raised.
Let me take the amendments in a rather jumbled-up order. Amendment 3 refers to “prison officer” as well as “prison”. The Minister’s explanation that the definition of “prison officer” would not include prison custody officer did not entirely convince me, because that suggests that my amendment needs to be expanded rather than left out. However, I took the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey—my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) made the same point—that nothing stops a prison officer confiscating an item, and that it may be in everybody’s best interests, not least the prison officer’s, if the authority to dispose of property was taken by a senior manager or the prison governor. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West, I was much persuaded by the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey. I am grateful to him for that.
I was reassured to a certain extent by the explanation that amendment 4 is already covered. I hope that the Minister is right that
“prejudicing the security or operation of the prison”
has exactly the same effect as,
“any unauthorised or unlawful purpose.”
I am not entirely convinced that the amendment is covered by the Bill, but I am happy to leave it and see who turns out to be right.
I am not convinced by the Minister’s explanation about amendment 5 and “otherwise dispose of”. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey said that he thought that the amendment might be too prescriptive, but that does not explain why the Bill includes “selling it” in the “references to disposing of”. The Minister claims that the phrase “otherwise dispose of” covers
“recycling… or donating it to any charity”,
in the amendment. Again, that does not explain the paragraph,
“references to disposing of an article include selling it”,
if the Minister claims that everything is covered by “otherwise dispose of”.
We have picked up that if the Prison Service was going to make a profit or a gain, that would need a separate provision. The item could be sold in other ways—for example, the money could be given to a charity, so that the Prison Service did not gain, but that is not being proposed. Therefore, at the risk of sounding like someone who is after a job, I would say that the Minister explained the matter quite well.
My hon. Friend is obviously more easily persuaded than me, but I know that, like me, he does not do anything to try to get a job. Nobody could ever accuse him of that, and I hope that he would never accuse me of it. However, I was not persuaded because I am not sure what “otherwise dispose of” means. I am concerned that “dispose of” implies getting rid of something, perhaps by throwing it in a bin.
I knew that if I gave my hon. Friend enough of a chance, he would come up trumps and persuade me of the merits of his case. I will take my hon. Friend’s word that the substance of the amendment will be covered in guidance to prisons to encourage them to follow that route, despite the only reference to a definition of disposal being “selling it”. He has eventually reassured me; my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West was reassured much earlier.
I take the point that the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey made about amendments 6, 7 and 8. As I said at the start, I do not intend to do anything to cause the Bill any problems. If my hon. Friends say that those amendments would introduce too much controversy into the Bill, and that they may not be supported elsewhere, thus putting the measure at risk, I accept that they are not worth pursuing.
On amendment 9, I am greatly reassured by the Minister’s comment that things are interrogated for evidence when they are confiscated. That is very helpful. I noted that she said that she would write to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) with more detail about that matter. We thank her for that.
However, we come back to amendment 2. We had an interesting and extensive debate about what was covered. The Minister tried to make it clear that everything that amendment 2 tries to do is already covered by the Bill. I am afraid that I am not persuaded that that is the case. The Bill therefore contains a loophole that should be avoided. Even if the Minister turned out to be right and I turned out to be wrong—it certainly would not be the first time and I am sure that it will not be the last—I do not understand what harm the amendment would do. It tries to ensure that everything is covered. If the Minister thinks that it is unnecessary, it nevertheless does nothing to detract from the measure. In the worst case scenario, it would be a belt-and-braces approach. I do not want some of the loopholes that my hon. Friends the Members for Bury North and for Worthing West discussed to be left in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey has done a brilliant job in getting the measure this far. Today is probably our only chance to get it right. I cannot see anybody revisiting it ever—or at least not for many years—and I am anxious that we do not leave any loopholes in it. I therefore want to press the amendment 2 to a Division.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The process of getting the Bill through Parliament has been a steep learning curve for me, but a most enjoyable one too. I am grateful for the cross-party support that we have had. There have been many contributions during the Bill’s passage through the House which have helped us to scrutinise the detail of it. Although it is a small and, as I said earlier, simple Bill, it is important that we get it right.
Prior to 2009 unauthorised items which may have presented a threat to prison security, such as mobile phones, were seized from prisoners and destroyed, in reliance on powers contained in the Prison Rules 1999. However, in 2009 the administrative court held that governors have no authority to do that. We are now in the bizarre situation where unauthorised property can be taken from prisoners but cannot be destroyed. Instead, it must be stored until they leave prison and can claim it. Some 40,000 mobile phones are now being stored by the Prison Service, at great cost—£20,000 is spent every year to store items that prisoners know they should never have had in the first place—which is terrible.
It really is odd that we have had to introduce this Bill, but it is absolutely necessary that we do so, because the effects that possession of a mobile phone in prison can have are quite stark, as I mentioned on Second Reading. It is important to refer to a number of cases in which mobile phones have been used either to perpetrate further crime or to intimidate victims and witnesses. On Second Reading I mentioned the case of Andrew Wanogho, who was shot dead on a London street in the early hours of April 2006. Delphon Nicholas seemed to have a cast-iron alibi because he was on remand in Belmarsh prison at the time, but that did not prevent him from co-ordinating the murder by using a smuggled mobile phone.
In 2007 Ryan Lloyd was jailed for life for the murder of Liam Smith, who was shot dead outside a prison in Liverpool in 2006. Lloyd had used a contraband mobile phone to call an accomplice. In 2009 a gang leader, Nigel Ramsey, was jailed for organising from his cell in Humberside the murder of a 17-year-old. The fact is that prisoners can use mobile phones not only for social purposes but to organise crime.
Mobile phones can be used to sell drugs. When Jordan Moore found himself behind bars, he soon realised that he had a captive market of addicts and quickly worked out a way to take control and cash in on them. He used his mobile phone to operate a business from his prison cell by arranging for drugs to be thrown over the prison walls, which we heard about a moment ago.
Violent criminals, including murderers, have also been using Facebook to taunt victims and their families from behind bars. Other prisoners have maintained their criminal empires via social networking sites. Inmates are of course banned from accessing the internet, but they manage to get online by using mobile phones that have been smuggled into prisons. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) rightly pointed out, mobile phones are so much more that just phones these days; they are mini computers. Prisoners can access all the social networks out there and communicate to the wider world. In fact, in the past two years nearly 350 prisoners have been discovered posting messages on Facebook. It is likely that dozens of others are using the site without the authorities being aware of it. Javed Khan, the chief executive of Victim Support, has said:
“Offenders using Facebook from prison make a mockery of the idea that they are being punished. It adds insult to injury when they use it to intimidate victims and witnesses. Victim Support would like to see this more tightly controlled and monitored.”
I hope that the Bill will at least make that organisation happy.
Ministry of Justice figures released after a freedom of information request show that 143 Facebook profiles were removed between July 2009 and June 2010 and another 199 were removed between July 2010 and June last year. They were all closed by Facebook following investigations by prison officials. The bizarre thing is that these mobile phones will simply be taken off prisoners and stored, when frankly they should be destroyed. Statistics compiled by the National Offender Management Service show that between February 2009 and January 2010 the authorities found over 4,000 mobiles and 4,300 SIM cards in prison in England and Wales.
As well as using mobile phones themselves, many inmates charge others to use them at extortionate rates. It is a lucrative business.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Funnily enough, we have just had this discussion. The Minister has confirmed the position, and I believe that she is going to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North about the processes involved. Yes, the phones are checked for any information that might lead to any criminal convictions or be of any other use.
I am pretty sure that that is absolutely correct, but I am looking to my hon. Friend the Minister for clarification; perhaps she can give a more definitive answer.
Most mobile phones now have cameras, and these have been used to take photographs of prison officers so that those on the outside can target and intimidate them. That is clearly unacceptable in this day and age.
The taunting of victims from prison is also unacceptable. We all heard about the tragedy of the killing of 16-year-old Ben Kinsella. One of his killers, Jade Braithwaite, used Facebook to taunt the victim’s family from behind bars, boasting that he was “down but not out.” For his profile picture he mocked up a T-shirt emblazoned with his face and the slogan “Free Jade Braithwaite”. It is horrible for the families to be taunted in this way.
I have had a personal experience of this through a dear constituent of mine, Lorraine Fraser. Four of the people who killed her 16-year-old son are in prison, but one of them escaped to Pakistan and has been taunting her via Facebook. I know the impact that that has. It is bad enough that she knows he is on the run in Pakistan, with the torment that that causes her, so imagine what it must be like to know that the person is in prison and able to taunt the family in this way. It is simply unacceptable.
There have been ridiculous examples where people boast about the criminal activities that they are taking part in while in prison. David Wibberley was an inmate who used his mobile phone, which had been illegally smuggled in, to boast on Facebook of smoking cannabis in prison. He posted updates on the social networking site from a prison in Cumbria, where he is serving time for the possession of the class B drug. In the posts that could easily be seen online, he boasted about “chilling” in his “pad”, “skinning up” cannabis joints and being stoned or, as he called it, “whiffed out me ’ed”. Such examples are totally unacceptable. That is why it is imperative that we do everything that we can to help those who work in the prison system.
Prison officers often report that the inmates know their rights. When officers confiscate unauthorised items, there is nothing more frustrating than the prisoners demanding that they be stored for them until their release. That is why the Prison Officers Association was very keen to support the Bill. I have received a message of support from it. I have also received messages of support from support groups for victims and their families, because they find it unbelievable that this anomaly exists. That is why I believe that the Bill is crucial.
I am grateful to Members from all parts of the House for the support that they have given the Bill so far.
I do not intend to detain the House for long. I just want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) for bringing the Bill forward. He has done a great service to the House, and done so with the levels of charm, skill and talent that we have come to expect from him. The only bad thing about him is that he is my constituency next-door neighbour and regularly outshines me in the local area. One might say that that is not difficult, but he does it nevertheless. It shows my inadequacies as the Member of Parliament for Shipley when my constituents see such a guiding light next door.
In all seriousness, this is an important piece of legislation. It deals with a situation that my constituents, like those of my hon. Friend next door in Pudsey, are sick to the back teeth of. As they see it, the rights of prisoners seem to come ahead of the rights of everybody else. This legislation will even up the score on the side of the victims of crime and decent, law-abiding people. If the Bill completes its passage, it will give people confidence that prisoners will be treated much more appropriately than they are at the moment. That is something that we should all support.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend could not see the merit of my amendments. I maintain that the Bill would have been even better if amendment 2 had been accepted. Despite that, it is still an excellent piece of legislation of which he should be very proud. It takes great skill and it is a great honour to bring forward a piece of legislation that completes its passage through the House of Commons and, hopefully, into law. That will never happen to me, but is something that I can only dream of. My hon. Friend should be extremely proud of himself because he has done a fantastic job. He should know that many of my constituents will think that this is an extremely worthwhile piece of legislation, unlike many Bills that come before the House on a Friday.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I have gone into the private Members’ Bills ballot on 36 occasions and I have not come up once. I suppose that that is roughly right, given that there are some 650 MPs. That might be wrong, but my maths has deserted me this afternoon.
I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew). It seems a bit odd that we have had to wait this long to put right the consequences of a decision by an administrative judge, but that is life. It might be worth it if the judiciary got to understand the consequences of some of the decisions that they make. Obviously, they have to judge the issues on their merits, but the consequences of their decisions ought to be one of the merits. We are trying to put right a situation that has caused a great deal of confusion.
The way in which the Bill has been prepared and presented has been admirable. If it has the blessing of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, it must be very good indeed.
I rise merely to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) for steering the Bill to Third Reading. The Bill is sponsored by Conservative Members only and does not have cross-party sponsorship, but it has nevertheless received cross-party support. On behalf of my constituents, I thank my hon. Friend for his work, and wish the Bill a speedy passage in the other place.
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on introducing the Bill, which addresses a serious issue. I do not wish to repeat the valid and sound points he raised on prisoners misusing equipment, terrorising people, and furthering their criminal activities. I, too, wish the Bill a speedy enactment, and look forward to the benefits it will bring when it is enacted and begins to address the huge problem the hon. Gentleman has described.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on his success in the private Member’s Bill ballot in the summer and on introducing this worthwhile measure. In promoting the Bill, he has given the House the opportunity to debate the security and good order of our prisons, which is important. The Bill was fully debated on Second Reading, and Members made some helpful contributions. It also passed successfully through Committee. Clearly, there is considerable support for it in the House.
My hon. Friend explained that his Bill will enable prison governors and directors to confiscate, destroy, dispose of or sell property that prisoners should not have in their possession, including items that it would be illegal to possess in the community, such as illicit drugs; items that can threaten prison security and good order, such as mobile phones; authorised items that have been adapted to conceal illicit items; and items that have been smuggled into the prison or coerced from another prisoner. In principle, the Government believe that the objective being pursued is justified and we welcome the Bill.
Although the Bill has been debated previously, it might be helpful if I again explain the process by which prisoners’ property is managed. Prisoners’ property needs to be managed efficiently, effectively and with care. Maintaining the security and good order of the prison is paramount. Therefore, within the constraints of the prison environment, prisoners can have sufficient property in their possession as is considered necessary for their day-to-day life, and which will help them to achieve the aims of their sentence. Prisoners must also comply with the rules on what property they can have in their possession.
On Second Reading, my hon. Friend said he found his visit to Leeds prison extremely interesting. Leeds is a busy local prison. Prisoners have lots of property that they want to keep with them, including property that they brought with them at reception from court and items they have received during their period in custody. Prisoners arriving at Leeds prison—this is the case for prisoners arriving at all other prison establishments—are provided with detailed information on the items of property they can retain in their possession. That information is also displayed throughout the prison, including in residential units and the library. Prisoners should therefore be in no doubt about what they can and cannot possess while in prison. All property accompanying prisoners on entering any prison, whether they are new to custody or being transferred from another prison or other criminal justice agency, will be searched and recorded on a property record card, which is an inventory of a prisoner’s property. Depending on the item of property, prisoners will be able to keep it with them in their cell, or it will be confiscated or stored and given to them on their release.
Stored property will be kept in local storage or at the prison, or it will be sent to the Prison Service’s central storage facility. The prisoner’s property card will record where the property is held, and will be updated during the course of their imprisonment to reflect changes in its location. The property will be returned to them on their release from custody. As the House will by now appreciate, some prisoners’ property will be stored for many years. Alternatively, prisoners may send their property to a relative or a friend instead of keeping it in storage. At present, property that is left behind by a prisoner after release can be disposed of only after a year has elapsed.
Property that a prisoner can keep in their cell is known as in-possession property—property they have been authorised to have in their cell by the governor or director. What they can keep in their cell will depend on many variables, such as whether the prisoner is on remand or has been convicted and sentenced, what level of privileges they have, and, sometimes, the nature of their offence. Most prisoners will be allowed to have in their possession such items as photographs of relatives, basic toiletries and some books.
That said, the amount and type of property a prisoner can have in their possession is restricted. This is important as it aids effective searching and assists governors and directors in applying a prison’s privilege regime. Prisoners should be clear about the type of property they are allowed to retain in their possession, as lists of types of items that can be held in their cells are normally displayed in a prison’s reception areas and on wings. Prisoners are not allowed to transfer in-possession property to the ownership of other prisoners unless the governor or director is satisfied that such transfers are voluntary and for acceptable reasons. Property must not be transferred as a result of bullying or in exchange for illicit items, and transfers must not undermine good order or discipline, or, indeed, the system of granting privileges to prisoners for good behaviour. For example, prisoners who have earned the privilege of having a radio in their cell should not be allowed to transfer the radio to a prisoner who has not earned that right. If a transfer of property is authorised by the governor, it must be recorded on the appropriate property card of the prisoners concerned.
Unauthorised property is property that a prisoner has in their possession that is not recorded on their property card. It will include: items that are unlawful to possess in the community generally, such as controlled drugs and offensive weapons; items that are illegal to possess inside a prison, such as mobile phones; items that may threaten good order and discipline, such as alcohol; items that may threaten the security of the prison, such as property that has been adapted to hide illicit items; and items that may have been smuggled in to the prison by visitors, or even by throwing them over a wall.
As I have explained, prisoners may also have obtained property from another prisoner by bullying or coercion. However, there will also be situations where prisoners have transferred what I might refer to as innocuous property between themselves, but for which they have not sought prior approval of the governor or director. Such property is unauthorised, and so will not have been included on the prisoner’s property card. The current arrangement for dealing with unauthorised property is that, when discovered, the item will be confiscated unless it is noxious, in which case it will be destroyed, or unless it is, for example, an offensive weapon or controlled drug, which will be passed to the police.
Other items may be confiscated only temporarily. The consequence of this limitation is that the property has to be stored either locally or at the Prison Service’s central facility until the prisoner is released from custody. If the prisoner asks for the item to be returned to them on release, the prison must do so. This cannot be right. The historical context to the existing position is that in 2009 the administrative court decided that there was no lawful basis for prisons permanently to confiscate and destroy unauthorised property. The case before the court related to a mobile telephone. As a result, prisons are currently storing unauthorised property, as I outlined earlier. That is perverse, particularly in relation to mobile phones seized from prisoners or found within a prison and which are not items that can be lawfully possessed in prison.
I will give hon. Members an example of the lengths to which prisoners will go to smuggle in illicit items, including mobile phones, and often conceal them in authorised items of property. In January 2012, the National Offender Management Service north-west team reported a seizure by team members of three weapons at HMP Wymott. During the course of a search of prisoner accommodation, staff found three adapted slashing weapons, wrapped together in a strip of bed sheeting, wedged behind copper piping in a wing toilet. The weapons had been adapted from authorised items, namely disposable razors and toothbrush handles, a strip of bed sheeting and disposable razor blades. I hope that gives a sense of the task that prison staff face daily.
The intention behind the Bill is to provide a lawful basis for the disposal of all unauthorised property found in prisons. For the power to be effective, it needs to be retrospective in respect of certain categories of property seized prior to the Bill becoming law. The Bill is a common-sense measure. It strikes a fair balance between prisoners’ property interests and the public interest, in removing from prison and destroying property that might prejudice good order and discipline or prison security. I am sure that many ordinary people will be startled to learn that, as the law stands, jails can find items that should not be on the premises but have no power to destroy them. The Bill is an important step forward and rectifies an unacceptable anomaly. It should help build trust in the system and allow governors to run safe and secure regimes, with rules that are meaningful and enforceable. I applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey for taking up this issue, and I commend the Bill to the House and support its continuing good passage through the other place.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
Marine Navigation (No. 2) Bill
Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
Pilotage exemption certificates: grant
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 2, page 2, line 7, leave out
‘a member of the crew’
‘master, first mate or senior navigating officer’.
Government amendment 12 , line 7, leave out ‘member of the crew’ and insert ‘deck officer’.
Government amendment 13, line 8, leave out
‘omit “of which he is master or first mate”’
‘for “master or first mate” substitute “a deck officer”’.
Amendment 3, line 8, leave out
‘of which he is master or first mate’
‘master, first mate or senior navigating officer’.
Amendment 4, line 9, leave out
‘a member of the crew of the ship’
‘master, first mate or senior navigating officer’.
Government amendment 14, line 10, leave out ‘member of the crew’ and insert ‘deck officer’.
Government amendment 15, line 12, leave out ‘person’ and insert ‘deck officer’.
Amendment 5, line 12, leave out ‘person’ and insert
‘master, first mate or senior navigating officer’.
Government amendment 16, line 12, at end insert—
‘( ) In section 31(1) (interpretation) at the appropriate place insert—
“deck officer”, in relation to a ship, includes the master and first mate;”.’.
I am delighted to be here today. This is the third time we have had to debate clause 2. On Second Reading, we raised concerns about clause 2 and the pilotage exemption certificates, and in Committee we debated amendments that detailed some of our concerns. The Minister undertook to consider those and gave us some assurances. Those assurances were accepted, and we withdrew the amendments. We are pleased, now, to have what we hope will be a final debate on clause 2. It is the only clause that causes the Opposition any concern.
As we said on Second Reading and in Committee, we support the Bill and would like to see it pass today, but that will be down to the will of the House, the assurances we receive from the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), whom I congratulate on piloting—forgive the pun—the Bill to this point, and, obviously, the assurances that the Minister can give on our amendments.
I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the amendments in my name, including amendment 1, which the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) supports. I know that the Government take every amendment seriously—even more so when those on the Opposition Front Bench attach their names to it—but when the hon. Gentleman adds his tag it captures the Government’s attention, because they know there will be a good discussion about the amendment. Amendment 1 would delete clause 2 in its entirety, whereas our amendments 2 to 5 would amend it.
Amendment 1 registers the principle of opposition to change, based on the need for the certainty that exists at present. In previous debates I quoted from the Library note on the Bill, which outlines the history of pilot exemption certificates—and, indeed, the pilotage regulations—when it says:
“In March 1997 the Marine Accident Investigation Branch…published its findings into the grounding of the Sea Empress at Milford Haven in February 1996.”
The MAIB found that
“the initial grounding was caused by pilot error, due in part to inadequate training and experience in the pilotage of large tankers. It recommended that procedures should be developed and implemented for the effective monitoring of”
competent harbour authorities’ “standards and examination” of all pilots. That is what led to the present arrangements to ensure that vessels are piloted. That is the key issue, because any collision involving a vessel will lead to damage of the vessel or vessels and also poor infrastructure, while any subsequent pollution can have significant consequences, which we all want to avoid.
It was clear in Committee that there was support from the UK Maritime Pilots Association, which I know has been in correspondence with the hon. Member for South East Cornwall, the Minister and others. It said in an e-mail to me that clause 2
“is based on the specific commercial requirements of a small (aggregate dredging) sector of the UK shipping industry which for operational reasons is falling foul of the Working Time regulations. The net result of the clause will be to increase the risk of a serious maritime casualty within a UK port or approaches, seriously threatening: the safety of mariners and riparian communities, the safety of other shipping or vessels, ports’ infrastructures and ability to operate efficiently, environmental protection through increased risk of pollution”.
That is the UK Maritime Pilots Association’s starting point. I know that the whole House agrees that safety is a prime consideration in transport; therefore, when professional organisations raise concerns, they need to be addressed adequately. I am sure that in due course the Minister will respond in detail to the points I raise.
After the UKMPA’s e-mail there was correspondence from the officers’ representative body, Nautilus International, which said:
“It is important to state at the outset that Nautilus has been concerned for many years about the way in which PECs”—
pilot exemption certificates—
“we struggle to find any rational justification for the clause”—
“which would remove the existing restrictions requiring that PEC candidates should be a bona fide first mate or master.”
If amendment 1 is not accepted, which is contingent on what the Minister and others add to this debate, amendments 2 to 5 would address what we believe to be an inadequacy. The Government agree that there is a deficiency, as they have joined the hon. Member for South East Cornwall to table amendments 12 to 16, which give additional detail about the appropriate officer who should be empowered to pilot a vessel, so clearly there is an issue to clarify. We propose to add the words “senior deck officer”, whereas the Government and the hon. Lady propose the words “deck officer”. We are keen to hear the Government’s logic behind that—I will return to why we would include the word “senior” in a moment.
The Transport Committee’s 2008 report referred to pilotage exemption certificates and to the amendment in the original draft Bill to amend the provision for pilotage to extend the scope of those who can hold a PEC. The report stated:
“The proposed change would impose additional burdens on competent harbour authorities and make it harder to ensure that only appropriately qualified staff carried out pilotage. This could create unnecessary dangers. If it is necessary for the references to the Master or First Mate of a ship to be removed from the 1987 Act, we recommend that the reference to “bona fide” members of a ship’s crew be retained, for the avoidance of doubt. The Government should specify an appropriate rank or level of qualification for PEC-holders, following further consultation with the industry rather than leaving it to individual CHAs to assess each individual applicant’s relevant skills.”
We have also raised the question of the pressure that shipping lines might bring to bear on smaller ports to accept different levels of qualification.
The position in respect of the concerns about PEC holders was supported by port owners and unions alike at the time. Indeed, in Committee recently we heard that the British Ports Association and the UK Major Ports Group were still unhappy with the clause as it stood. I referred to the relevant correspondence, and the Minister kindly said that he would seek further clarification from the industry. I am sure that he will update the House on the outcome of those discussions shortly.
Industry representatives have subsequently written to say that they support the Government’s amendment whereby PECs would be extended to include the term “deck officer”, and that the term should be defined in the “Port Marine Safety Code” and the “Guide to Good Practice”. However, the second paragraph of their communication detailing this change of heart states:
“Having looked in some detail with both the Chamber of Shipping and the DfT as to whether a fuller definition could be contained within the Act, it is apparent that requiring, for example, STCW(Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) qualifications, would debar some existing PEC holders who are already operating safely and with the full support of the harbour authorities concerned.”
I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify that the term “deck officer” will not compromise that definition.
The UK Maritime Pilots Association takes a different view. It states that amendments 2 to 5 adequately cover the need for the appropriate competence and qualification. Its correspondence goes further, stating:
“The recently published Final Report of the EU PEC study determines the eligibility of PEC holders throughout Europe that generally the PEC applicant must hold a Master’s (STCW 11/2) certificate and that different rules exist as to whether a Chief Officer can obtain a PEC. There is no mention of junior officers being able to hold a PEC.”
So the definition of “deck officer” is very important to the debate, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us the reassurance we are seeking.
There is an argument that the term “deck officer” in the amendments tabled by the Government and the hon. Member for South East Cornwall is inadequate. The UKMPA argues that the words in the Bill should read:
“Master, Chief Mate or other deck officer engaged on board at Management level holding an STCW A-11/2 Certificate of Competency”.
That illustrates the UKMPA’s acceptance of the term “senior deck officer” that we have proposed. The term “management level” is used in the STCW convention and the UKMPA believes that the term “senior deck officer” captures that meaning. The organisation e-mailed me to say:
“We now understand that it was the use of the word ‘senior’ that the DfT objected to in our proposed amendment…because the word ‘senior’ does not appear in the STCW convention, instead the phrase ‘Management level’ is the term used in its place.”
We are talking about the terms “senior deck officer”, “deck officer” and “management level”. The competence of the officer who may hold a PEC is critical in this regard.
Nautilus International believes that
“there is considerable evidence to show that the issue of PECs should be restricted to vessels that operate on regular trades and where it can be demonstrated that there is adequate manning”—
a word that I am unhappy about; I would much prefer “crewing”—
“to conduct safe pilotage. There is an associated need for a more effective regime to govern the issue of PECs and improved controls against their misuse.”
In conclusion, we still seek reassurance from the Minister and from the hon. Member for South East Cornwall on the very important question of PECs. We will listen carefully to their comments, and especially to the Minister’s response, to see how the Department for Transport interprets some amendments and reacts to others. Once we have listened to the Minister and received any explanation or reassurance he might be able to offer, we will decide whether the Opposition wish to press our amendments or support others.
As I said in my opening remarks, we are very supportive of the Bill. It is well documented that it started out when I was Minister with responsibility for shipping back in 2008. It is essentially a good Bill that has the support of the industry as well as of the representative bodies of organisations that speak on behalf of mariners across the UK. We would very much like to see the Bill enshrined in law, and we look forward to its passage either today or in due course.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). I am a big fan of his, to be perfectly honest, although I am sure that such a declaration will not do much for his reputation. Nevertheless I am a fan, and I think he made some excellent points. I would also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) on getting her Bill to this stage, which is an achievement in itself—something that many people do not do.
I just wanted to draw to the hon. Gentleman’s attention, in case it was not mentioned by his hon. Friends, that Hansard will show that I said some nice things about him as well, when he was temporarily not in his place at the beginning of this debate.
I am very grateful for that, and I apologise for missing it. It was obviously my embarrassment that forced me to miss his saying nice things about me, but I am grateful. I shall certainly consult Hansard at the earliest opportunity to find out just how nice he was about me.
I rise mainly to discuss clause 2 and amendment 1, which is the only one that has my name attached to it, along with that of the hon. Gentleman, who made some extremely good points.
I support the thrust of the Bill and certainly wish it well in the broadest possible sense, but it is crucial to ensure that any legislation we pass is not passed solely on the basis that we broadly support what is in it, which we generally do. The hon. Gentleman and the Labour party, for example, broadly support what the Bill is trying to achieve and no one wishes it any ill will in that regard. It is important, however, that any legislation we pass is fit for purpose and properly considered and will achieve what we all want it to do.
As things stand at the moment—although I am certainly prepared to listen to what the Minister and my hon. Friend have to say—I have many of the same concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman. I do not understand the reasoning behind clause 2, as it seems to be a solution looking for a problem in respect of where we are now. It is my understanding—I am sure I will be corrected if I am wrong—that the clause proposes to reduce a long-standing, efficient and effective risk mitigation measure in regard to the limitation of pilotage exemption certificate holders to master and first mate only. As far as I can see, none of the reasoning behind the clause substantiates the Bill’s goals, and the hon. Gentleman made the same point.
This provision is based on the specific commercial requirements of a small sector of the UK shipping industry, which, for operational reasons, is falling foul of the working time regulations. As it happens, I am not going to stand up for working time regulations in all their glory or for all the other things passed by the European Union, but that seems to be where we are. If people want to correct me, I would be happy for them to do so.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend has consulted the Pilotage Act 1987, which the Bill amends, but it makes it clear that to qualify for a pilotage exemption certificate an applicant would still need to demonstrate possession of the
“skill, experience and local knowledge”
that a competent harbour authority judges to be necessary for him to be capable of piloting the ship, or ships, to which the certificate applies. Applicants must still have that expertise, as well as language expertise. Clause 2 merely allows that requirement to apply to people other than senior officers.
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, and I do not doubt her intention, but it seems to me that we currently have a clear basis for knowing about the competence of people who are dealing with these matters, and I am not entirely certain that, under clause 2 as it stands, that will necessarily be the proven case in the future. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the clause has the potential to increase the risk of a serious casualty within a UK port or its approach, threatening the safety of the various people to whom he referred.
There are plenty of good things in the Bill, and I do not want them to be undermined by our leaving open the possibility of things going wrong. Obviously that would not be good for the people concerned, but it would not be good for my hon. Friend and her Bill either. Clause 2 is, as it were, a bridge that does not need to be crossed, given that there does not seem to be a massive problem with the current position.
The clause also directly contradicts and contravenes policy and guidance in the shipping industry, such as the requirements of the port marine safety code and some of the requirements of the standards of training, certification and watchkeeping, all of which refer to the specific duties of and differences between officers with managerial roles on board a ship—namely the master and first mate—and those in an operational capacity—namely junior officers, the second mate, and others whose role is to support a bridge team led by a senior officer—in specialist circumstances, for instance in pilotage waters, in the context of the established principles of proper and effective bridge management practices prescribed by the International Chamber of Shipping. Cutting across all those requirements, as the clause does, is opening a can of worms, and such action should be taken only when it has been considered in legislation that allows more detailed consideration than a private Member’s Bill.
The clause is based on arguments in support of the Department for Transport’s impact assessment, which many people believe to be based on incorrect assumptions in the interpretation of available evidence. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Maritime Pilots’ Association. As my hon. Friend will know, it is the body that is most concerned about her proposals. It does not necessarily accept that the assumptions in the impact assessment justify the clause.
I am all for the Government’s stated one in, one out policy on regulation. In fact, I think the Government’s one in, one out policy is a modest commitment. Throughout the last Parliament we Conservatives were saying that there was far too much red tape and regulation in this country. This policy will serve to add to the regulations, and I think a policy of one in, two out would be far better.
I fear the situation is even worse than my hon. Friend suggests. Does he share my concern that because the one in, one out rule does not apply to EU regulations, the European Union can send as many of them over as it likes, so that body of law will continue to grow?
I have good news for my hon. Friend on this point. The Government intend to move from one in, one out to one in, two out as of next year. I am surprised to see him today. He is rightly raising concerns about safety, but he is also raising concerns about regulation rather than deregulation.
I take on board the Minister’s point. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) mutters that perhaps we could move to one in, three out, and that would certainly be a step to be encouraged. The point is that the question of one in, one out and regulation and deregulation is not just a numbers game. Although the aim is to have less regulation overall, we want to keep the regulations that serve a good purpose and get rid of the ones that are wholly unnecessary. I firmly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) about European regulations.
I agree with the thrust of the Government’s one in, one out target, or one in, two out, which would be even better—or even the one in, three out proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South. I would be happy to start a bidding war on that. The problem, however, is that a deregulatory measure might be proposed not because it deregulates in the right area, but because it meets the numbers target we have set ourselves. I would not want us to get into that situation. We must address each proposal on its merits, and I am not convinced that we have chosen the best measure in this instance. The Government’s impact assessment suggests to me there may be too much attention on hitting this particular target, and not enough on the merits of each proposal.
The key point is safety, not questions of one regulation in, one out. The point is whether the regulations make the situation safer or less safe. Last week in Westminster Hall we had a disagreement with the Government about European regulations on pilots’ hours, because we thought the UK standard was better and safer than the European standard. So far as we are concerned, the question being discussed today is also fundamentally a safety issue, and we want the Minister to give assurances on the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, which we share.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He puts the case far better than I could. His comments highlight why I wonder whether clause 2 is misguided. Our concerns about it may well be shown to be unjustified and my hon. Friend and the Minister shown to be right: everything carries on as before and all is fine and dandy. But it might also turn out that something goes wrong. We can argue the merits of whether such measures should be introduced in the first place, but once they have been introduced it is a lot more difficult to get rid of them. In effect, it will put the Minister and my hon. Friend on tenterhooks for ever as they will basically be hoping that nothing ever goes wrong in future.
If something goes wrong, even if it is not wholly linked to the provisions in the Bill, those provisions are where the blame will end up lying. I wonder whether that is a sensible position for the Government to take; do they want to put themselves in that situation for the benefits in clause 2, of which I am still not convinced? There are clearly benefits that the Government want to see, but we must ask whether they outweigh the risks, I am not entirely convinced from what I have read or from the information provided by those on both sides of the argument whether that is necessarily the right way to go.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall argues that there is protection in the clause through the CHA’s responsibility to ensure that only appropriately trained and qualified ships officers, other than master and first mate, will be awarded a pilotage exemption certificate. I am not convinced by that, to be perfectly honest, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is either. Statements of compliance are not always received. Investigations into port-related incidents recommend improvements to operations when they do not feel that the operation was up to scratch and there are examples of such recommendations being ignored or contested and of operational failures that contributed in some way to an accident that have not been put right. Given that we are in that situation now, people should be nervous about any move towards further deregulation, and we should only introduce such provisions if the evidence is overwhelming. I do not think there is that evidence.
During our debate on the previous Bill, I made it clear that the people who know best about such matters are often those who do and see the job every day of their lives. That was certainly the case when I worked for Asda. If I wanted to know what was going on in a store—what was going well and what was going badly—I would go to someone who worked in the store on the checkout, on the shop floor or filling the shelves, as they knew exactly what was going right and what was going wrong. They could see it with their own eyes and they also had people telling them everyday what was going right or wrong. It is very easy to stand in this House—I am as guilty of this as the next person—and say that we should deregulate when our safety is not at risk. Everybody knows that my natural instinct on all matters is deregulation rather than extra regulation, but I wonder whether we should be considering more than we have whether the Government and my hon. Friend want to get into this situation.
This might well be a step too far. My main concern is that it will undermine all the other good things in the Bill, of which my hon. Friend should be rightly proud. We are muddying the waters slightly with clause 2. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will press either this amendment or his other amendment to a Division. In fact, I hope for more than that—I hope that he does not have to do so. It would be much more helpful, given all the other good things in the Bill, if the Government accepted them. Time is precious, and I am sure that we would all like the Bill to progress further today, rather than having to come back at a later date. The best way of ensuring that would be the Government’s giving some indication that they will consider the points that the hon. Gentleman and I raised and ascertain whether we can reach some agreement that satisfies everybody, does not detract from the rest of the Bill and allows it to make further progress. We have much ground still to cover on the amendments and Third Reading. Time presses, and it would be helpful if the Minister gave assurances that satisfied us so that we reach a point where the Bill can progress. If he does not, the danger is that the Bill will not progress today, and that would be sad for us all.
I thank the Minister for his co-operation in facilitating the availability of his officials since the Committee stage. It has caused me to do an awful lot of reading, for which I do not necessarily thank him. We are dealing with incredibly complex regulations and I want to put on record, having previously chaired the Deregulation Committee, that I believe that there is undoubtedly a case for better regulation, and the Bill is part of that process. When we deal with the regulatory regime, we should not simply count numbers, but focus on better regulation all round.
We cannot compromise on marine safety. Things go wrong at sea and close to shore. Some have tragic consequences and others have an element of humour, not least the recent case of Sandy island. I do not know whether the Minister has caught up with that story, but the island has been on charts since 1876, and it has taken till 2012 for the error to be spotted. A whaling ship—I do not know whether it had a drunken skipper—spotted the island in 1876, and only now has it been proven not to exist.
However, the Bill deals with very serious matters. The difference between us is a matter of definition, as the Minister knows, but the definitions are critical. My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) referred to evidence that we received from the United Kingdom Maritime Pilots Association, which says that the current wording of clause 2 contravenes: Department for Transport and Maritime and Coastguard Agency policies and guidance; the Department for Transport and port marine safety code; the International Maritime Organisation standards of training, certification and watchkeeping regulations; the IMO international safety management code; and bridge resource management. The Department has signed up to all those principles.
In Committee, the Minister tried to explain that, in his view, the language of the clauses was adequate to keep within not only the spirit, but the letter of such regulations. However, it is clearly the professionals’ view that that is not the case. I hope that, when the Minister speaks to his amendments, we will have some clear answers to those challenging points, which are very serious.
The first code that I mentioned refers to 10 years and thousands of hours of work required to reach the status of an expert in some of the disciplines that are needed. It is therefore important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse said, that we ensure that the skill levels are properly defined so that we do not put anyone at risk.
The reference to management level is appropriate. There is sufficient cross-referencing in the various regulations and in the way that marine officers, ship owners and Governments have interpreted the law over many years to mean that if we incorporate the word “senior”, we get some way there. The Minister may be able to convince us that he has got it right.
I have received further guidance from my constituent, Mr Youde, who I know has written to the Minister—
He has also written to the Prime Minister, extensively. Mr Youde refers to an incident which, coincidentally, came up in discussion with the Minister’s officials, and he refers to the report published by the marine accident investigation branch, in which a pilotage exemption certificate under section 8 of the Pilotage Act 1987 is a significant feature. The report relates to the collision in March this year outside Belfast between the short sea ferry Stena Feronia and the small bulk carrier Union Moon. The Union Moon was outward bound and had discharged her pilot. The Stena ship was inward bound under the pilotage of a PEC holder.
The report states in express terms in the synopsis that the PEC holder was on board the ship solely for the purpose of conducting pilotage, both at Belfast and at Liverpool, and had no other duty on board the vessel.
I am reading from the synopsis of the report, which makes it clear, according to my constituent, that the PEC holder was not a bona fide member of the crew of Stena Feronia. This is where the kind of difficulties that have been described become important. We need to be very precise.
As I said in Committee, I accept that the Minister is acting in an honourable way and is taking advice from people who are clearly knowledgeable about the subject, but the view has been expressed that the breach of the terms of the Pilotage Act that appears to have occurred should be taken seriously. There is, however, Mr Youde says, no indication yet that any prosecution might arise in respect of the apparent breach of section 15(1).
If, under the current regulations, such incidents occur and there is no prosecution, how seriously does the Department take the matter? I am not asking in an aggressive way; I am inquiring. Are there other factors, as the hon. Lady indicated, which mean that it is not appropriate to mount a prosecution? It seems to me that if alcohol was involved, somebody should perhaps have been prosecuted. These are the kind of issues that we need to be certain about as we progress the clause.
I want the Bill to succeed, but I want it to bear the label of better regulation and not to be open to endless litigation and interpretation in court, which would mean that we had wasted our time. I hope the Minister can give us confidence that his interpretation or his acceptance of our amendments would be the right way forward.
We have had a wide-ranging debate on clause 2 and on the amendments, to which the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) spoke ably, as ever. Let me say at the outset—I know that the hon. Gentleman accepts this, but I want to put it on the record—that the Government will do nothing in legislation that would in any way endanger safety at sea. Only a mad hatter would believe that we would do anything that mad.
I listened carefully to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who, as ever, has been thorough in his investigation and exploration of the clause we are considering. I hope that he is reassured by some of the helpful assurances that I was able to give the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) on Second Reading and in Committee. For example, I was able to say that the Government would reconsider the clause and bring forward amendments on Report, as we are today.
Let me deal with each amendment in turn. Amendment 1 would leave out clause 2. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse for setting out his reasons for tabling the amendment. As with other amendments that have been proposed, alternative definitions of who should hold a PEC have become the crux of what we are debating. The existing restriction limiting the issue of PECs to masters and first mates only no longer reflects maritime operations. For example, many ships and ferries making short voyages no longer have a single master or first mate, because they need to be able to keep the ship almost constantly active. On longer routes, where it is more likely that there is a single holder of each of those roles, there is often the risk of fatigue.
There will always be the alternative for a master to take on board a marine pilot if circumstances mean that none of the PEC holders on the ship is available to pilot it because of the hours worked or limited crew numbers, but if a suitably qualified person is available, it cannot be justifiable that, simply because they do not have the right title, they should not hold a PEC and pilot the ship.
Both the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse and my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley suggested that the clause was being introduced solely to satisfy the demands of a small number of operators of dredgers on the River Thames. I say gently to them that that explanation is like the fish that is so rarely caught on the River Thames: the red herring. It is simply not the case—[Interruption.] I am glad my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) enjoyed that joke; this is a serious matter and there are few opportunities for levity.
The UK Chamber of Shipping has highlighted its desire to see that change in the UK ferry industry. It considers that recognition of the expertise that already exists on its ships will improve the flexibility and efficiency of operations. The industry is also looking ahead and training younger officers so that they are ready to fill senior roles in coming years, recognising that a large proportion of officers are approaching retirement in the next five years. Clause 2 supports the aspirations of those young officers by offering the opportunity to apply for a PEC when they are ready and able to do so, rather than just holding them back because of a job title. I hope that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, on reflection, will consider withdrawing amendment 1.
I am also grateful to the hon. Gentleman for explaining the problems he is seeking to address through his other amendments to clause 2. I have already stated that the maintenance of maritime safety must be our key concern. That is why I think that the Bill contains three balanced clauses relating to the management and usage of PECs. I firmly believe that competent harbour authorities would not issue a PEC to unqualified individuals. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston will remember the clarification that I was able to give him on Second Reading and in Committee about exactly when a PEC is in operation.
Further, the Bill does not remove or amend in any way the essential safeguard whereby competent harbour authorities may only award a PEC to those whose
“skill, experience and local knowledge”
is sufficient to pilot the named ship or ships to which the PEC applies. The amendments would prevent the deck officers who have that skill, experience and local knowledge from holding a PEC merely because they are not a master or first mate. The addition of a senior navigating officer would not, in practice, extend the restriction at all. Aside from the fact that the definition of the term would be somewhat imprecise, common usage would associate it with what most people call the chief mate under the international convention on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers.
The term “deck officer” is well known and makes it clear that PECs can be held only by crew members who are regularly tasked with the navigation of the named ship. This definition can be supported by guidance in the co-produced port marine safety code and the accompanying guide to good practice about the qualifications that deck officers are likely to have achieved before they are ready to take the PEC exam.
Clause 2 amends the criteria in the Pilotage Act 1987 for those who are eligible to be granted a PEC. At the moment, an applicant must satisfy the criteria that they must be a bona fide master or first mate and must demonstrate the skill, experience and knowledge sufficient to be capable of piloting the ship specified within the harbour to which the PEC applies. Let me be clear: the clause amends only the first criterion; the second is entirely unaffected by the Bill and remains a vital safeguard to ensure that competent harbour authorities issue PECs only to mariners who can demonstrate that they can safely navigate the ships specified on the PEC. That addresses several of the points made by hon. Friend the Member for Shipley. He should be absolutely clear about the fact that the PEC can be issued only to mariners who have the necessary skill and that it applies only to a specific harbour. I hope that he will reflect on that and recognise that the Bill does not affect the issue at all. All that clause 2 changes in relation to the Pilotage Act is the definition.
Let me turn to the Government amendments. The Government propose that we use the term “deck officer” rather than the terms suggested in other amendments. In Committee, I gave a guarantee that given the importance of this matter to maritime safety, we would give further consideration to exactly what might be the best terminology. The current terminology for such crew as would be appropriate for the qualification of a PEC is “deck officer”, which enjoys the following dictionary definition:
“an officer in charge of the above-deck workings and manoeuvres at sea of a ship or boat.”
I suggest that that covers several of the concerns expressed by the hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse and for Ellesmere Port and Neston.
Members have suggested qualifying terms such as “senior” or “certified” deck officer. However, those do not have the required clarity and are not in common usage, and would therefore maintain the current restriction. I was interested in the term “management-level deck officer” and accept that it could have some merit, but again, it is not in common usage. There may or may not be such a definition in maritime law, but there is no clarity about that.
In the STCW regulations, there is a reference to “management level”, but there is also a reference to “operational level”. Perhaps the Minister should look for a way of bringing the two together, because somebody can have managerial responsibility without having a hands-on role. The definition must ensure that the person is of operational level. Later in the regulations, there is a reference to
“officers in charge of a navigational watch”.
Somewhere in there, I think that there is a definition that everyone could buy into. The term “deck officer” does not exist in the regulations.
The term “deck officer” does not exist there, but it does exist. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the point that management level is covered by the usual definition of deck officer, which is
“an officer in charge of the above-deck workings and manoeuvres at sea”.
That implies that the officer must have operational and management level qualifications.
The term “deck officer” is clear and is widely accepted to be in current usage. It excludes members of the crew who are not responsible for navigating the ship. The second criterion will still apply, so a deck officer would still need to have the requisite
“skill, experience and local knowledge”
to qualify for a PEC.
The port marine safety code and the accompanying guide to good practice are co-produced by the ports, the shipping industry, trade unions, maritime experts and the Government. They provide guidance for ports on the management of PECs and already suggest that competent harbour authorities seek a valid certificate of competency as a deck officer from PEC applicants.
I suggest that the Government amendments are a way forward. We have listened carefully to the concerns of the Opposition and other Members about the definition. Our proposals reflect the ambition of the Bill to reflect modern usage. I hope that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse and my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley will be reassured by the Government amendments and will not press their own.
I have listened carefully to the Minister’s response on our amendments. As I outlined in my opening remarks, the deletion of clause 2 was a principled defence of the status quo in the absence of an alternative.
The alternative that we suggested was “senior deck officer” because that is what was suggested to us. The Minister stated that “deck officer” is a recognised term in the industry. He also acknowledged that our suggestion of replacing “senior” with “management-level” would be appropriate and that that term is contained in other regulations.
In essence, what we are talking about is safety. As the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said, this is not an insignificant element of the proposals, but relates to the fundamental question of safety. We would not want to challenge the Government on their commitment to safety, because we accept the Minister’s assurances. I also know that the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), in whose name the Bill stands, would not want to do anything other than improve safety for mariners. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments made: Government amendment 12, page 2, line 7, leave out ‘member of the crew’ and insert ‘deck officer’.
Government amendment 13, page 2, line 8, leave out ‘omit “of which he is master or first mate”’ and insert ‘for “master or first mate” substitute “a deck officer”’.
Government amendment 14, page 2, line 10, leave out ‘member of the crew’ and insert ‘deck officer’.
Government amendment 15, page 2, line 12, leave out ‘person’ and insert ‘deck officer’.
Government amendment 16, page 2, line 12, at end insert—
‘( ) In section 31(1) (interpretation) at the appropriate place insert—
“deck officer”, in relation to a ship, includes the master and first mate;”.’.—(Stephen Hammond.)
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 9, page 3, line 34, in clause 5, at end insert—
‘for the purpose of promoting safety of navigation’.
Amendment 11, page 4, line 19, at end insert—
‘(8) An order designating a harbour authority shall not be made unless the Welsh Ministers, the Secretary of State or the Scottish Ministers, as the case may be, are satisfied that the harbour authority has in place appropriate procedures for resolving any disputes that may arise in relation to a proposed harbour direction.’.
Amendment 7, page 4, line 27, at end insert—
‘(3A) Section 236(3) to (8) and section 238 of the Local Government Act 1972 apply to all harbour directions made by a designated harbour authority under section 40A and those provisions so applied have effect subject to the modification that for references to byelaws there are substituted references to harbour directions and for references to a local authority there are substituted references to a designated harbour authority.
(3B) The confirming authority for the purposes of section 236 in its application to harbour directions made under section 40A shall be the Secretary of State.’.
Government amendment 17, page 9, line 12, at end insert—
‘() the apprehension of offenders within the port constable’s police area in respect of offences committed outside that area and the transport of them to police stations outside that area;’.
Government amendment 18, page 11, line 8, leave out ‘subsection’ and insert ‘subsections (1A) and’.
Government amendment 19, page 11, line 8, at end insert—
‘(1A) Sections 5 and 6 come into force in relation to fishery harbours in Wales on such day or days as the Welsh Ministers may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.’.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) on promoting the Bill and recognise that there is growing interest in it. The Government have managed to accommodate the substantial points made on pilotage. I congratulate the shadow Minister, to whom the Bill is familiar, and my hon. Friend the Minister on that achievement.
I have a number of proposals, one of which is that the simplest thing to do with clause 5 is remove it, which amendment 8 would do. I ought to explain to the House that I spoke briefly in Committee—I cleared my throat—for 15 minutes. We now have 75 minutes for the Bill to make progress. Were we to have, say, two Divisions, we would have about 45 minutes. Hon. Members need to recognise that there are time limitations.
Much in the Bill is of advantage, but clause 5, which amends the Harbours Act 1964, provides that each national authority can designate harbour authorities, which means we can anticipate a larger number of harbour authorities, which can give general harbour directions to ships within or entering or leaving their harbours. That currently requires a byelaw, which requires the approval of the Department. If a Minister is not prepared to approve the byelaw, it does not happen. I believe I am right that the Minister would be advised on whether the byelaw proposed is right and rational, and on whether the authority has been rational in terms of the results of the consultation—the requirement for a consultation will remain if a harbour is designated.
It has been said that, if the Government’s proposals go through, an interested group or person can object to the decision through judicial review, but that is too big a weapon for too many people. In any case, judicial review decides whether the way in which the harbour authority went about its decision was rational. If it goes about the decision unfairly, it can be stopped, but if it does it wrongly, it cannot. The decision would then be made. In the years that my wife and I were Ministers, we never had a judicial review application against us upheld. That means not that all our decisions were right, but that how we reached them was right. That illustrates the distinction.
Proposed new section 40A of the 1964 Act deals with the designation of harbour authorities. Proposed section 40B, which governs the procedure applicable to harbour direction, states that a harbour authority is required to consult users and publicise a harbour direction before and after it is given.
Proposed new section 40C, on enforcement, creates an offence. The Royal Yachting Association, of which I have been a member for some time, has raised issues with this measure. Those with longer memories will recall that, in 2008 and later, when a Bill of this nature was in the House of Lords, there was no equivalent of clause 5, because there were problems with such a proposal.
I should tell my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall and the Minister that there will be significant interest in the measure in the House of Lords, to which one anticipates the Bill going after today. I predict that the Bill will be amended if the provisions are not satisfactory—I am not threatening, but anticipating. Private Member’s Bill procedures mean that a Bill amended in the House of Lords will not be at the top of the list of priorities when it returns to the Commons, so getting the Bill right between now and when the House of Lords considers it matters.
Just to reinforce the hon. Gentleman’s point, I do not anticipate that the question of pilotage is over and done with either. I am sure that noble Lords in the other place will want to go through exactly the same discussion that we have had in recent months, just in the way that he is describing for clause 5.
I could go on at great length, but I will spare the House. Trying to create good will while being very clear and determined is probably the most useful way forward. I will certainly listen with interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall has to say, and, if I may say so, to my hon. Friend the Minister when he responds to the amendments.
It has been suggested that the process that was started—I would say started a bit late—between the port authorities, with the help of the Department and the yachting interests, could lead to a code of practice. Only one draft code of practice has been put forward, by the Royal Yachting Association. I understand that in the middle of December there is to be a meeting between the various bodies. It will be interesting to hear—now if the Minister can, but certainly by then—whether the draft code of practice and the methods put forward for consideration for agreement are likely to be agreed in substance or completely.
The next question is what the Minister will say about designating harbour authorities—I do not anticipate that he will be able to speak for the other national authorities other than those for England, but he could indicate whether others may do the same—and whether he will bear in mind the commitment to adhere to an agreed code of practice, and that that commitment, which will not be onerous, and no one is trying to suggest something that would cause more bureaucracy, will be a factor when considering designation. That is one of the crucial issues on which the Minister can address the House. [Interruption.] Is he addressing the House now?
I tried, on Second Reading and in Committee, to be as helpful as possible as early as possible so that there was no cause for confusion. It is my expectation and the expectation of the Department for Transport that, when applying for a designation, a harbour authority would sign up to the code of practice.
I am sure that what the Minister said will be helpful. The question of whether it is sufficiently helpful will be a second test, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I will take that into account.
Mr Deputy Speaker, the selection of amendments to other clauses in the same debate is, if I may say so, generous to the promoter of the Bill, because it allows for fewer debates than would otherwise happen. I do not make any criticism—I just note that.
I do not propose to speak to the amendments on the other clauses, as a way of bowing with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall.
Amendment 9 would insert, on page 3, line 34, the words:
“for the purpose of promoting safety of navigation”.
That is an essential point. My hon. Friend the Minister says that that is not necessary, although when I was having a discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall I saw references to lobster pots and fishing lines and wondered whether the navigation point had been slightly lost, but that was a letter to her rather than a letter from her, so perhaps we can pass on from that.
The alternative or additional way is to look at amendment 11, which, at the end of line 19, would insert the words:
“(8) An order designating a harbour authority shall not be made unless the Welsh Ministers, the Secretary of State or the Scottish Ministers, as the case may be, are satisfied that the harbour authority has in place appropriate procedures for resolving any disputes that may arise in relation to a proposed harbour direction.”
My hon. Friend the Minister has made a comment on that, as far as he is able to, and we cannot expect him to speak for Welsh or Scottish Ministers, but I think they would be irrational if they did not have the same intention in mind.
Finally, amendment 7 would insert proposed new subsection (3A):
“Section 236(3) to (8) and section 238 of the Local Government Act 1972 apply to all harbour directions made by a designated harbour authority under section 40A and those provisions so applied have effect subject to the modification that for references to byelaws there are substituted references to harbour directions and for references to a local authority there are substituted references to a designated harbour authority.”
It would also insert proposed new subsection (3B):
“The confirming authority for the purposes of section 236 in its application to harbour directions made under section 40A shall be the Secretary of State.”
The point is this: clause 5 will potentially give, not just to existing designated harbour authorities, but to many, many others, the power of creating criminal offences.
I shall think out loud, rather than direct my comments directly to my hon. Friend. If we have three times as many harbour authorities with 100% less experience taking advice from people who will not be the Secretary of State’s advisers, we can anticipate problems.
If, as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who is promoting the Bill very successfully, has said, there have been no prosecutions, presumably she will have no trouble with the deletion of clause 5 altogether, as it clearly is not necessary.
Or perhaps just deleting new section 40C—the enforcement element—would suffice. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend cheerfully makes the point, and the deletion of clause 5 would have been accepted in another place on another time—but this is a different House and a different year.
I will conclude my remarks for now—although with the leave of the House, or even without it, I might make a comment towards the end of the debate—by saying that in essence the test is: will the genuine concerns, which were recognised in the past, be recognised this time?
I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that if the Bill passes today—there are many good, uncontroversial elements to it—that code of practice, with people signing up to and agreeing it, will make a significant difference. I will not put it more boldly than that, but I hope that the message has clearly got through.
I start by declaring my interests. I have been a recreational yachtsman all my life, starting from the time I was a boy scout and including my service in the Royal Navy, when I commanded several vessels and was the officer of the watch of the Royal Navy’s largest-ever warship. I am also a member of the Royal Yachting Association—I was on its council for three years, from 2005 to 2008—and I am the owner of two boats.
Indeed, I would have paid much closer attention to the Bill, were it not for the fact that I chair probably the busiest Select Committee in the House—I have been abroad all week looking at Her Majesty’s Government’s policy on the European Union. I am here today, however, and although I support the principles and good intentions behind the Bill, and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), I wish to express my concern about the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) in Committee and today.
It might be observed that it is hard to get much further from the sea than my wonderful constituency of Croydon South. None the less, a significant number of my constituents live in south London so that they can work in the city in the week and head for the south coast at the weekend. I represent a number of recreational yacht users. I should also point out that, as is declared in the register, I am a solicitor specialising in maritime law and maritime arbitration. I therefore hope that the House will accept that, from a recreational and professional point of view and from my naval career, I have a feel for the issues at play.
Every weekend there will be a huge number of competing interests in the area covered by any harbour authority. There will be cruising yachtsmen, racing yachtsmen, dinghy sailors, water skiers, powerboat recreational users and powerboat racers. Coming through the middle of that lot—particularly in the Solent, which is the Southampton harbour authority area—there will probably be a substantial number of cruise liners and commercial vessels, with both wet cargo and dry cargo, all of which have diverging interests. My concern is about the impact of clause 5 on those competing interests and the lack of statutory basis.
From my brief examination of the Bill I am quite alarmed that there seem to be powers to impose a criminal offence by an unelected authority without any democratic oversight, which is denied to local government authorities and the Civil Aviation Authority. As the RYA has highlighted throughout the passage of the Bill, under clause 5 an unelected designated harbour authority would have greater power to create new criminal offences than a democratically elected local authority. One of the many questions I wish to put to the Minister is: what is the thinking behind this? Harbour authorities are not well placed or adequately resourced to create new criminal offences. The proposed power to create such offences contains none of the supervisory safeguards usually imposed in relation to law-making bodies in a democratic society.
That is the thinking behind amendment 7, which, had I been here earlier in the week, I would have put my name to, and on which I want to focus today. A key principle of the Government’s localism policy is that power should be placed back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils, and where such power is to be exercised by local institutions, they should be subject to democratic checks and balances, enabled by full transparency. However, many harbour authorities are not democratically accountable and, far more importantly, are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It would run counter to basic democratic principles and the Government’s localism policy to grant an unelected designated harbour authority law-making powers that are not subject to democratic checks and balances or full transparency. Cowes harbour authority, which covers the area where most of my current boating activity takes place, is excellently run, but it is not an elected authority. The appointment process is not subject to any democratic checks whatever. That is the area where most of the conflicts I set out earlier are arising.
Everyone can acknowledge that harbour authorities need to have the power to manage their harbours, and the Bill contains several valuable provisions. However, I am greatly concerned by clause 5, which would confer on designated harbour authorities the power to give “harbour directions” to ships in their harbours, including recreational craft. If the master or skipper of a ship to which a direction applies does not comply, they commit a criminal offence. However, although clause 5 would require a harbour authority to consult representatives of harbour users before giving a direction, there is essentially no other limitation on the exercise of the power by harbour authorities. Although some harbour authorities form part of a local authority, many are private enterprises or independent trusts, with no direct accountability to the public or harbour users.
The power in clause 5 to give directions is expressed so as to apply to ships that are within their harbour, or entering or leaving their harbour. The direction may relate to the movement of ships, to mooring, to equipment—the nature and use thereof—and to manning. A pre-consultation requirement is included in the provision. It requires the harbour authority to consult such representatives of harbour users as it thinks appropriate. Contravention of the provision would be a criminal offence.
The power in clause 5 to give directions is additional to a harbourmaster’s power to give directions to individual vessels under section 52 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847, of which I am sure all hon. Members are fully aware. Examples of harbour directions authorised under clause 5 that could be unfair or inappropriate include the prohibition of sailing or powerboat racing within the harbour, or the prohibition of certain types of vessels within the harbour, particularly if the harbour authority had chosen not to incorporate the open port principle set out in section 33 of the 1847 Act. A number of recreational harbours have incorporated that principle in the past.
A third possible scenario could involve a requirement that all collisions should be reported, including minor, inconsequential ones that occur during training or racing. The House should be aware that a substantial number of such incidents take place, and that such a proviso would be ludicrously bureaucratic. Another scenario could involve a stipulation that all ships, including sailing and motorised dinghies and other small craft used in navigation, should carry a ship-to-shore radio. Anyone who has spent five minutes on a boat will know that electricity and salt water do not mix. It would be completely impractical to require a dinghy or other small boat to carry such a radio. However, a harbour authority that was trying to impose its will might steer its directions in that way in order to inhibit that type of use.
I have to say to my hon. Friend that I suspect that the vast majority of boat movements around the south coast of Britain on any given weekend are undertaken by boats that are not carrying a radio. The fact that she is unaware of that gives me huge cause for alarm.
I should like to give the House an anecdote. When our daughter, then aged 11, sailed an Optimist from Priory bay on the Isle of Wight to Chichester harbour and then over to Portsmouth harbour, there was hardly room on board to carry food for the day, let alone a radio. My hon. Friend is illustrating the potential for a naive, newly designated harbour authority to do something impractical, and we need to pay attention to that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for confirming that point.
Another scenario could involve a stipulation that all ships, including sailing and motorised dinghies and other small craft used in navigation, must carry specified equipment such as anchors. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall believes that every boat carries an anchor, but I can assure her that the vast majority do not do so. It could be decreed, however, that they must do so in a tideway so that they could get out of the way and drop anchor. Another possibility could be a requirement that fairways must be avoided by recreational craft, irrespective of whether other shipping is present.
Further possibilities include unjustifiable prohibitions from navigating within a specified distance of environmental features, and prohibitions from anchoring for recreational purposes. Indeed, there is a major dispute at the moment between yachtsmen in the Solent and the National Trust over anchoring in Osborne bay on the Isle of Wight, close to the home of Queen Victoria. The National Trust appears to have exceeded its powers in demanding that yachtsmen should not anchor in the bay adjacent to Osborne house. That is yet another illustration of how unelected authorities can impose a regulation, without having the power to do so or, indeed, without any thought for competing interests. Even if a harbour authority exercises its discretion not to prosecute the skipper of a recreational craft for infringing a harbour direction, the mere existence of that direction may be sufficient to invalidate the vessel’s insurance policy under section 41 of the Marine Insurance Act 1906.
Such general powers of direction have been attained over the years by a number of individual harbour authorities, starting with the Port of London Authority in 1968 and have then gradually taken the place of byelaws, which, unlike harbour directions, have to be confirmed by the Secretary of State and are subject to clear checks and balances. That is why I hope I can persuade the Bill’s promoter to accept amendment 7.
The Royal Yachting Association has become increasingly concerned in recent years at the potential for such powers to give harbour directions to be exercised indiscriminately in a manner that is unnecessary and harmful to the lawful exercise of recreational and other navigational rights. There are instances—quite a number of them—of harbour authorities routinely disregarding the views of their statutory advisory committees. For example, the Saundersfoot harbour commissioners have ignored the views of their statutory advisers, while the Wells harbour commissioners have purported to issue harbour directions despite not having the lawful authority to do so. Those examples do not give me confidence that the power contained in clause 5 would be exercised rationally and with due regard for the interests of all harbour users.
I consider the powers to give harbour directions, in the form proposed in the Bill, to be generally unmerited for a variety of reasons. The making of harbour directions involves the creation of new criminal offences, which many local harbour authorities are not equipped to do. Even democratically elected local authorities do not have such powers and the Bill contains none of the supervisory safeguards usually imposed for law-making bodies. I say to the Minister in all sincerity that granting an unelected harbour authority law-making powers that are not subject to democratic checks and balances and full transparency runs counter to the Government’s own localism policy.
Harbour directions could be made under the power over wide areas used by recreational craft in a disproportionate manner, without proper risk assessment or consideration of the full implications and possible alternatives. They could be used to impose very significant and potentially burdensome restrictions on the navigation and use of recreational craft. It is worth noting, as I described earlier in relation to the Southampton harbour authority, that many harbour authorities have jurisdiction over substantial areas going out to sea, and not just over partially enclosed harbour areas.
Prior consultation is an inadequate safeguard, not least because—notwithstanding that prior consultation—inappropriate or flawed decisions often still follow, as experience across the public and private sector generally shows. Furthermore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) pointed out, judicial review is not an adequate remedy against an objectionable direction where, as here, powers are expressed without meaningful limitations. There is unlikely ever to be any procedural or substantive illegality to provide a course of action.
The RYA has expressed its concerns over a number of years to representatives of the port industry and to the Government, including in a response to a Government consultation on the draft Marine Navigation Bill of 2008, which contained an equivalent provision to that set out in clause 5. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West said, a meeting between the RYA, the Member in charge of the Bill and the Minister has now taken place, but the RYA understands that those behind the Bill do not propose to drop the provision or amend it in any way to meet the RYA’s concerns. I have to say that that gives me cause for concern. [Interruption.]
I beg the Minister’s pardon. I thought at that point that his body language was moving towards the Dispatch Box.
I shall move slowly in the direction of the Dispatch Box.
It was somewhat frustrating that in some of the discussions we thought that we had moved to certain places, and then found two hours later that we had not. Let me gently say that it would be helpful if both sides were prepared to concede some points, so that we could proceed towards the establishment of a non-statutory code of conduct.
I was not present during the discussions, but those who were have told me that there has not been movement. If the Minister is able to confirm that there has been, and that he can agree to the code of conduct that is being proposed, his throat can then dry up and we can all move on, quite satisfactorily.
It has been suggested to the RYA that a non-statutory process should be established to ensure that the powers to make harbour directions under clause 5 are used appropriately. That might include a code of conduct setting out how harbour authorities would use their powers to make harbour directions and providing for levels of consultation, a dispute resolution process if objections cannot be resolved, and an arbitration process if the code of conduct has not been adhered to. Model harbour directions would also be developed.
While, from the Department’s point of view, such a non-statutory process no doubt has the advantage of enabling the Department to avoid taking any responsibility for the matter or expending any resources, it would offer no real safeguards against the misuse of the proposed new powers unless all harbour authorities were required by the Secretary of State to commit themselves to the code of conduct as a prerequisite to being designated under clause 5. Given that elected local authorities are subject to such a requirement, why should it not apply to unelected harbour authorities?
I said on Second Reading and in Committee that the Department would issue guidelines on the competence of harbour authorities to make directions, and I have already given my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) the reassurance that my hon. Friend has just sought.
I am grateful to the Minister, but he has yet to explain why local authorities, Transport for London and the Civil Aviation Authority should be treated differently from unelected harbour authorities.
I had many more points to make, but it might be sensible for me to allow the Minister to set out in some depth exactly what his reaction will be. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West pointed out, the Bill still has to pass through the other place. There is a substantial shipping lobby there, which will take a close interest in the Bill. If the Minister can give us some assurances, I imagine that the Bill will be given a speedy passage through both Houses.
I did not plan to speak today, and I certainly do not want to take up much time, because I want the Bill to make progress. However, I feel that I must make a few brief points.
I am a lifelong sailor, and—although I have not had a distinguished Royal Navy career like my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), whom I have the privilege of succeeding in the debate—I do represent a port: the port of Falmouth, which has many of the features described by my hon. Friend. It is a very busy port, with conflicting usages of the harbour authority area. I firmly believe that the prevention of injury and the safety of everyone who uses the port—
Thank you for that reminder, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was overcome by passion for my argument. [Interruption.] It is the effect you have on us, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Falmouth harbour has many of the features that have been described in this debate. There has been a great increase in recreational activity and there is also a vibrant fishing industry, and Falmouth is a commercial port, too. Our harbour authority must have the proposed powers, therefore, but with that power comes responsibility. It will be responsible for careful stakeholder engagement and for ensuring that any measures introduced take into account the views of all the often competing interest groups at the harbour. By and large, our harbour authority achieves that very well. I can therefore reassure Members that that is already happening, so I am confident any proposals will be introduced in a sensible and measured way.
Let me illustrate the importance of these provisions for saving lives in my port and in ports all around the country. This summer we had a dreadful incident: two water skiers collided with each other, and somebody was seriously injured. If our port wants to respond to such an event by introducing common-sense measures—speed limits, perhaps, or zones for safe usage of jet skies—it has to apply to the Secretary of State for changes in bye laws, and therefore years will pass by and lives could well be lost. The measures in this Bill would allow the port locally and speedily—and accountably to its community—to manage the safety of people at sea, which is our overriding concern.
There are various ways in which people can be accountable. My hon. Friend is trying to compartmentalise people. The people on the harbour authority are sailors themselves, and they live in the community and want to see good and balanced decision-making, taking account of all elements in the community.
I am very supportive of the Royal Yachting Association—and, as I have said, I have been a lifelong sailor—but in this instance it is out of touch with its members. That was also the case in respect of the reorganisation of the coastguards. The national body of the RYA took one position and its members locally took a different position.
No RYA members or yacht clubs in my constituency have raised the issue under discussion. Falmouth is home to the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, and it is where Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie started sailing. It is an international centre of sailing, but none of these clubs has raised this issue with me. They currently work collaboratively with the harbour authority, and they welcome these measures.
I will be very brief, as I know time is running out, but I want to assure those Members who are concerned about safety that nobody knows better than me that incidents that cannot be legislated for can happen at sea, because my family has paid the cost of that. I have spoken to a lot of yachtsmen, and members of the RYA and harbourmasters. This measure is about port safety. I urge those Members who have spoken so eloquently about the RYA to consider the safety implications of having congested harbours and a harbourmaster who cannot move boats from one area of the harbour when dredging takes place.
I pay tribute to the my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), who had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy. I should declare a special interest, as my daughter is involved in navigation as a lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy and my son deals with electronic navigational aids. I also want to put on record an interest to which I do not strictly need to refer today, and that is my membership of the Sea Safety Group, which I sincerely hope will form the type of organisation that will bring everybody together to draw up the code of practice. Not only was I a member of the Plymouth sea safety group, which brought merchant shipping people, ports, port and harbour authorities and every other user of the sea, including the RNLI and RYA, together, but so was my late husband. I am so sorry that I got angry when I heard that yachtsmen were going to sea without using VHF radios, but nobody knows more than me what that can mean. I apologise for my anger, but I believe that everybody should go to sea with a VHF radio and an emergency position indicating radio beacon.
I am sorry to have taken up so much time and I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) will consider withdrawing the amendment.
This has been a passionate debate and I recognise the concerns raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), both of whom spoke passionately and with knowledge. I hope that they accept, as I do, that the concerns have been raised a number of times and I hope we are moving towards a solution. The concerns were raised at a meeting with me before the Committee stage of the Bill. I hope that I will be able to allay some of them by explaining why the Government have chosen the non-statutory safeguards that complement the statutory provisions in the Bill. I understand that they have been agreed in principle by industry in its widest sense, by the Department and in principle although not in detail by the RYA. In total, there are 12 safeguards, some of which are detailed in the Bill. Others are non-statutory and I want to focus on them.
A set of harbour directions will be made available for harbours to adopt, as will guidance on how to use the power. A code of conduct covering good practice on consultation and a mechanism to resolve disputes about harbour directions before they are made will be developed by representatives of the port and the port users. An independently chaired panel will be established to develop and maintain the code of conduct and model harbour directions and I have given assurances on Second Reading and in Committee that the Department will actively engage in ensuring that there are guidelines for what should be covered in the code of conduct, how the harbour authority should make those directions and whom they should be consulting.
I expect the code of conduct to be agreed. I want it agreed by all sides—that is, not just by my Department but by the RYA. That is why the meeting in December is greatly important, as it will bring together a number of the major key stakeholders: the RYA, the UK Major Ports Group, the British Ports Association and my Department. I hope that given my assurance that I expect the code to be agreed or, if it is not agreed, amended as promised in the other place, my hon. Friends will consider that as basis for accepting some reassurance today.
On clause 5 and amendment 7, I have tried explicitly to give the assurance that, when a harbour authority expects to participate, it will have to sign up to the code of conduct before it makes the application.
Clause 5, as drafted, places specific requirements on harbour authorities. To be fair, many are similar to those in the Local Government Act 1972. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South has gone through several, but let me be clear that the statutory requirements in the Bill are that the directions must be in writing; the harbour authority
“must consult such representatives of users of the harbour”;
the harbour authority must publicise the harbour direction at least 28 days before it is given; a harbour authority must
“make harbour directions available for inspection, and… supply a copy to anyone who requests it”,
“As soon as is reasonably practicable after giving a harbour direction the harbour authority must publish a notice in a newspaper specialising in shipping news”.
Those conditions are similar to provisions in the 1972 Act. I hope that I have reassured my hon. Friends the Members for Worthing West and for Croydon South that I will not only expect, but ensure that we work to secure agreement on the code of conduct, and that I have provided assurances about the Department’s expectation and mine that harbour authorities will commit to the code. I therefore hope that that gives them some comfort and that they will feel able to allow the Bill to proceed today without pressing amendment 8, which would remove the clause, or amendment 7.
Amendment 17 is a sensible amendment on the ability to drive down the cost to business and provide effective and efficient policing for ports. Amendments 18 and 19 effectively give powers to commence provisions in the Bill immediately following Royal Assent. The important point about amendments 18 and 19 is that they replicate the arrangements for Welsh Ministers. Again, that is sensible. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West will feel able to withdraw the amendment, and I look forward to the Bill’s making progress.
We are grateful to the promoter and the Minister for speaking clearly and relatively briefly, which was important. They could have said much more.
The Minister’s clarity and commitment are welcome. We trust that those who come to the meeting in December will reach agreement on the draft code of conduct. I am not saying that no word can be changed, but having a system of review and, if necessary, arbitration, will make a difference. I emphasise that that is not just for those who go to sea in small boats. My open canoe will not carry an anchor or much heavy equipment, besides me, unless I lose a bit of weight. It affects commercial shipping, the ferry companies, the fishing industry and other harbour users.
I also want to make it plain that no one will defend unsafe use of our waters. Collisions will happen, but not to learn the lessons from things that go wrong would be to fail to honour the memory of those who have suffered at sea.
I am grateful for the Minister’s comments and for the co-operation of those who advise him. On the basis of what he has said, I do not intend to press any of my amendments to a Division. I cannot say that I withdraw the amendment happily—I should have preferred a different way—but I will withdraw it.
The Minister’s amendments are worth supporting. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Port Constables: Extension of Jurisdiction in England and Wales
Amendment made: 17, page 9, line 12, at end insert—
‘() the apprehension of offenders within the port constable’s police area in respect of offences committed outside that area and the transport of them to police stations outside that area;’.—(Stephen Hammond.)
Amendments made: 18, page 11, line 8, leave out ‘subsection’ and insert ‘subsections (1A) and’.
Amendment 19, page 11, line 8, at end insert—
‘(1A) Sections 5 and 6 come into force in relation to fishery harbours in Wales on such day or days as the Welsh Ministers may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.’.—(Stephen Hammond.)
In anticipation of the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), and after our hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), the Bill should probably be known as the Murray-Fitzpatrick Bill, and if it becomes an Act, they can share the credit.
The hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) is very generous with his description. I am not sure the Minister would entirely agree, given the amount of work that he has put in during his short time in his ministerial post to ensure that the Bill has made such progress. It is a tribute to the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) that she brought the Bill to us, steered it through Committee, and managed—very eloquently, I thought—to dissuade her hon. Friends from pressing their amendments. They were extremely generous in their acceptance of her commitments and the assurances from the Minister.
I will not detain the House, except to repeat that we have had some serious discussions on the pilotage issue. The hon. Member for Worthing West moved his amendments, and he and the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) indicated their continuing interest in the development of the Bill.
There are other elements of the Bill that we have not even touched today—the tidying up of the issue of port constables and the important reforms to the benefit of the lighthouse authorities, for which the whole industry has been waiting for some time. Its members will have been watching and listening to this debate and wondering whether they would get a mention. The fact that the Government have successfully introduced those reforms will go down well with the whole shipping industry.
Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for South East Cornwall. We are happy to support the Bill and see it pass to the other place.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) on bringing forward an immensely complicated Bill in so few clauses. A number of issues still need clarification. The Minister has done a good job of helping the House understand his position on these matters. I hope strong messages go out to the harbour authorities, in the spirit of what the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) said, so that we get total clarity on that.
On pilotage, I accept the position that the Minister set out in an honourable manner and I hope we can make progress. I am more satisfied than I was initially that those complex interrelations between the various codes can be met by his form of wording. If, however, he subsequently finds in discussion that that still could be finessed, I hope he will indicate that he is prepared to be flexible. There is no difference between us in principle. We want to make sure that safety is at the heart of everything that we are doing.
I will not detain the House too long. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) for the measures that she included in her Bill to address the anomalies facing the port police. They play a valuable role supporting the efforts of the border force and special branch at our ports, stopping nasty things coming in and out of our country. It is important that these provisions are enacted so that they can do that without any challenge before the courts. The Bill also enables us to make best use of their service, which is provided at no cost to the taxpayer.
It is a great pleasure to bring to a close today’s debate on this welcome Bill, as we acknowledge the Bill that was started under the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) in his time. I am grateful to him and to his colleague, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), for their helpful and constructive contributions.
The Bill has been acknowledged on both sides of the House as desirable and as needing some fine-tuning, which is why we listened in Committee. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) and glad that I have been able to provide them with some reassurance on the matters they are concerned about. I accept that further work is needed, particularly on the code of practice, and look forward to ensuring that happens, in line with the commitments I have given today. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) is absolutely right that one of the important aspects of the Bill is what it does in relation to the ports police.
Of course, it is much to the credit of my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) that her Bill has made such rapid progress so far. Taking on board the maritime theme, I think that it has made the progress of a speedy catamaran, rather than a ponderous super-tanker—that is probably enough of my laboured jokes for one day. I am delighted that the Bill has made its way through this House and look forward to watching its progress through the other place.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
Presumption of Death Bill
Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
Queen’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I will speak briefly, because we had a full discussion on Second Reading and in Committee and I do not wish to repeat the arguments. I think that it is appropriate that I draw attention to the considerable work that has been done by the Justice Committee, the charity Missing People and the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), who have supported me in bringing the Bill to this stage.
The Bill will introduce a new court-based procedure to enable those left behind to obtain from the High Court a declaration that a missing person is deemed to have died. The certificate will be conclusive about the presumed death and effective for all purposes and against all persons. Essentially, it will act as a death certificate. I believe that the Bill will provide a great deal of solace to those families who are going through an extremely difficult time by simplifying the number of legal processes and financial hoops they have to go through to tidy up the affairs of the estate of a missing loved one or relative.
The Bill will ensure that England and Wales are on the same footing as Scotland and Northern Ireland. It will make a real difference to the lives of those who are left behind. We anticipate that between 30 and 40 such declarations will be made each year. The Bill makes provision to deal with the unlikely possibility that a person might not have died; there is provision in clause 5 to allow variance on a certificate and to revoke a declaration.
During the Bill’s passage through this House so far there has been some consideration of the provision of guardianship, which many people wanted to be included. That has not been included in the Bill but, as I have said on previous occasions, I believe that it will need to be looked at in future. There are several issues relating to how that process would work and considerable consultation is needed. I serve notice that I will be looking at the matter in future, because I think that ideally it should have been included in the Bill.
There is little more to say, as the Bill was not amended in Committee. I hope to see it progress and receive Royal Assent in due course.
As hon. Members know, the Government support the Bill. We believe that it will simplify and streamline the procedures that people encounter when dealing with the property and affairs of a loved one who has disappeared and is thought to be dead. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) on his success in piloting the Bill through the House to its Third Reading. I hope that the House will join me in supporting the Bill’s Third Reading and wishing it a speedy and successful passage through the other place.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
Mobile Homes Bill
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
Commencement, transitional etc. provision, extent and short title
I beg to move amendment 1, page 28, line 30, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—
‘(1) Clauses 1 to 7 shall come into force on 1 April 2014.
(2) Clauses 8,13 and 14 shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.
(2A) Clauses 9 to 12 and 15 shall come into force two months after Royal Assent.’.
This small amendment would improve the Bill, and it would ensure that what the Government want to happen will happen. A small part of the Bill—in fact, it is the heart of the Bill—affects the dubious actions of a few mobile home park owners in restricting the rights of individuals to sell their own plot. The Bill as it stands allows this to be dealt with through regulation by the Government. However, the Government sometimes do not get round to introducing regulations, and there would undoubtedly be a delay. The amendment would ensure that on this specific part of the Bill—clauses 9 to 12 and 15—the regulations would apply two months after it is enacted. That is all that it would do; everything else would stay exactly the same. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment.
The Bill is a hugely important piece of legislation supported by Members in all parts of the House. It will, if enacted, enable residents of mobile home sites better to exercise their rights, such as the right to sell their home, and afford them better protection from poor conditions through a robust licensing scheme. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is sensible and would bring the legislation into force at the earliest opportunity, which the Government are committed to doing. The provisions in clauses 1 to 7 are subject to the moratorium on new burdens on micro-businesses, and the amendment respects that. The Government are therefore pleased to support it.
Amendment 1 agreed to.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The purpose of the Bill is to update the law as it relates to park homes, which has become ineffective and outdated. As a result, a minority of rogue site owners have made the lives of some park home owners a misery by not maintaining their site properly and bullying residents and preventing them from exercising their legal rights, particularly when they wish to sell their homes. Members in all parts of the House have come together to right this wrong, and I believe that the challenge has been approached in the right way.
The Bill had the initial advantage of being based on evidence provided through the consultation undertaken by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the inquiry by the Communities and Local Government Committee, and the wide-ranging investigation by Consumer Focus. We then moved on to fully scrutinise the Bill on Second Reading and in Committee. In doing so, the issue arose that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) described, for which I thank him.
I believe that the Bill achieves its objective of providing an effective and up-to-date legal framework that ensures that the mobile homes sector runs properly and fairly: a framework that drives out unscrupulous and rogue site owners who have made many people’s lives a misery; a framework that gives local authorities the resources to oversee sites properly and provides them with effective licensing powers; a framework with proportionate sanctions and fines that will act as a deterrent to some of the practices that have taken place; and a system that safeguards the interests of responsible site owners and does not penalise them for the criminal acts of others.
The Bill provides hope and optimism for the park homes sector, but there is still work to be done.
I thank my hon. Friend on behalf of the many people who have suffered in park homes over recent years, and whose suffering will be relieved because of the Bill. He has done them a tremendous service in getting the Bill to this stage.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind words. I echo them back to her for the sterling work that she has done and for her impassioned speech on Second Reading.
There is still work to be done to help park owners to obtain a better understanding of their agreements, rights and obligations. We must address the issue of fuel poverty, which affects many park home owners in a variety of forms. I discussed that matter yesterday evening with the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker).
I hope that the Bill will now move on to the other place, where the noble Lord Best will take the lead in its scrutiny. I conclude by thanking the right hon. and hon. Members, site owners, park home owners and their representatives, and officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government who have given me so much support in promoting the Bill. Time does not permit me to name them all. I commend the Bill to the House.
I will be brief because of the time.
All Members of this House matter, and private Members can make a difference. This is a classic example of a Member, the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), making a difference.
This noble Bill was born out of the bitter experiences of too many of the 160,000 residents of the 84,000 park homes. I am pleased to confirm the strong support of the Opposition for the Bill. The House is united in saying that park home owners must enjoy greater security and an end to second-class and sometimes shameful treatment. Reputable park home site owners deserve no longer to be undermined or have their reputation damaged by the rogues. Just as there is no place for rogue landlords, there must be no place for rogue site owners. We hope that there will be robust enforcement of the notion that to be a site owner, one needs to be a fit and proper person.
All Members who have been engaged in scrutinising the Bill have received hundreds of e-mails and letters from all over the country. The best way to conclude is to read a sentence from one of the e-mails that I received, which is from Sheila Austin of Ladycroft park:
“The first 10 years of me living in a Park Home were great with a good owner, overnight our lives changed when Sines bought the park and as a consequence the last 11 years have been a living hell.”
The Bill is determined to bring to an end that shameful treatment and we are happy to support it.
The Government fully support the Bill and will continue to do so as it moves to the other place. As a junior Minister who is trying to shepherd the Growth and Infrastructure Bill through the House, I am in awe of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), who has achieved something to which I have not yet even come close by winning the support of Members on both sides of the House—we have sadly not managed to do that in respect of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. He has received warm words of support from both sides, including Opposition Front Benchers. That is down to his working hard, arguing passionately and highlighting clearly the benefits that the Mobile Homes Bill will bring to important and vulnerable people.
Although the measures in the Bill affect only a tiny part of the housing market—some 85,000 homes—they are hugely important to those residents, who, as I have said, are often older and more vulnerable. The measures will make a huge difference, ensuring that their health and safety is better protected, and that their rights as home owners are respected, particularly the right to sell the home to a person of their choice.
My hon. Friend is also to be congratulated on getting the balance right. The measures are carefully targeted at those operators who abuse their positions as owners. Decent site owners who run law-abiding businesses will not be adversely affected, and minimum burdens will be placed on them.
Further consideration will be given to the practical application of the measures in the Bill. The noble Lord Best will shepherd the Bill through the upper House—no one is more qualified or has a greater record of passionate commitment to the housing rights of the British people.
The Government will continue to work closely with key industry, resident and local authority partners on the development of the measures. I am happy to say that the Government will continue to support the Bill through every stage until it is on the statute book and the people living in mobile homes in our country can be sure that their proper rights are respected.
I have not yet had the great benefit of my hon. Friend’s help in any of my work, but I look forward to it and await with eager anticipation his contribution on Report and Third Reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. The House will agree that no debate, legislation or deliberation by the House is not improved by his contribution. We want a contribution from him in every debate we have for the rest of this year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney and I came into the House at the same time. His achievements as of today and the final passage of the Mobile Homes Bill, are far greater than mine or those of any member of the Government who was elected in 2010. I hope that he and his constituents are aware of that, but I am certain that residents of mobile homes throughout the country are aware of it. His name will be up in lights above those mobile home estates for many months to come. I therefore commend the Bill to the House and urge hon. Members on both sides of the House—present and absent—to vote for it in spirit and action.
Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), on whose behalf I have moved Second Reading, was called away. I am an ex-surveyor, so I have had an awful lot to do with property boundaries over the years. I thought I left them behind when I was elected, but all of a sudden—
The Deputy Speaker interrupted the business (Standing Order No. 11(2)).
Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 18 January.
Business without Debate
General Anti-Tax Avoidance Principle Bill
Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (14 September), That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
Debate to be resumed on Friday 18 January.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In response to an urgent question on 19 November from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis), the shadow International Development Secretary, the International Development Secretary refused to give any commitment on whether she would cease aid to Rwanda in light of concerns about the regime’s connection with the M23 group, saying repeatedly that this was a decision she would take in December. Why has she then today, on what some might consider an excellent day to bury news, released a written statement saying that £21 million of support to Rwanda would not now be released, also pre-empting the publication today of the Select Committee on International Development’s report on Rwanda, which one would have thought she might have wanted to read first? Will the Deputy Speaker ask the International Development Secretary to come to the House to explain why the decision has now been taken today?
The hon. Lady has certainly got it on the record and made the point. I think it will have been heard on the Government Benches. I am sure that on Monday, if not satisfied, somebody may use other courses of action to bring this forward.
Liquid Nitrogen Drinks
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Syms.)
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak on the important issue of banning liquid nitrogen as an ingredient in cocktails and other drinks. It is important from the outset that I make it clear that I do not propose to prevent the usage of liquid nitrogen in food preparation and production. In my view, using liquid nitrogen to chill foods and drinks is acceptable, but to put it in drinks is extremely dangerous and must be stopped, not least because nitrogen boils at minus 196° centigrade, making it very dangerous in liquid form. The idea that someone could drink a cocktail that contains an ingredient that is minus 196° centigrade is obviously dangerous and must stop.
As a little background, I should say that this issue first came to my attention as a result of the serious injuries sustained by Gaby Scanlon from Heysham in my constituency. On her 18th birthday she went to a bar in Lancaster and drank two “nitro Jagermeister” cocktails costing £8.95. These drinks look very appealing because the nitrogen boils in the glass and creates a smoke effect. I can understand fully why Miss Scanlon wanted to try these drinks and I believe her actions on the night were those of a normal 18 year old. When she bought the drinks, she had a reasonable assumption that something she bought in a licensed bar was safe to drink. Sadly, however, the complete opposite proved to be true. What followed is really horrific. The liquid nitrogen froze her stomach and, as it boiled her stomach, it began to rupture, leaving her in the sort of agony that is hard to imagine. Clinicians at the Royal Lancaster infirmary took the decision to remove her stomach in emergency surgery. They say that she may have died without this procedure.
This is the only case of serious injury of this kind that has been reported in the media across the world, and to think that it happened here in the UK is shocking. We must take action before this problem becomes more widespread. As we know, there are lots of laws and regulations on the food and drink we consume, and it is illegal to serve anything that is injurious to health, but how many people know of the dangers of liquid nitrogen used in this fashion? Gaby Scanlon did not know, and, had I been in that bar at the time, I would not have known. Bars and restaurants across the country do not know either, yet they serve this cocktail daily.
Tonight, young people across the country will be served these drinks by staff at bars that do not know the dangers. No one believes that the bar that served Gaby Scanlon wanted to hurt her; it simply did not know the dangers. That lack of knowledge cannot continue. I appreciate the work of the Food Standards Agency in issuing advice to environmental health officers, but in response 80% of EHOs have said that there must be an outright ban on liquid nitrogen being used in this fashion and that it should not be used as an ingredient under any circumstances. I agree with them.
I do not support greater vigilance; I support an outright ban. In consultation with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Health can issue an emergency control order banning the use of any ingredient. It happens regularly when an ingredient is found to be unsafe but still in widespread use. The issuing of these orders is comparatively easy and does not require any sort of primary legislation, because the powers already exist. I hope that the Minister will update the House on what discussions have taken place between DEFRA and the Department for Health, and that he will say whether any other cases of this sort have been reported. Furthermore, what discussions has his Department had with relevant professionals and local authorities?
The last thing I want to do is play the blame game. Too few people know about the dangers of liquid nitrogen drinks, but that is starting to change. I am delighted that this debate has been covered by Radio 1’s “Newsbeat”, listeners to which are in the age group most at risk. I hope that coverage of this debate will warn even more young people of the dangers of these drinks. My message to all young people is that liquid nitrogen drinks are not worth the risk.
I call on Health Ministers to support an outright ban on the use of liquid nitrogen as an ingredient. If we take this opportunity now, we will prevent other young people from going through the shock, pain and disruption that Gaby Scanlon did. When someone walks into a bar or restaurant in this country, they have a right to know that what is being served is safe, and the House has a duty to enforce that right.
In closing, I want to wish Miss Scanlon well. She is slowly but surely returning to health, and the whole House will want to offer its good wishes to her and her family.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) on securing this debate and on his continuing strong advocacy for his constituents. I know that he has been a diligent and hard-working constituency MP since he was elected, and I pay tribute to his work in bringing forward this issue. As a doctor, I was sad to hear of the ordeal that Gaby Scanlon endured when she went out to celebrate her 18th birthday, and of the distress caused not only to her but to her family and friends. I acknowledge my hon. Friend’s determination, therefore, in following up on the serious injury suffered by his constituent.
As my hon. Friend rightly outlined, the incident on 2 October has attracted considerable media attention. Tonight being a Friday night, I am sure that many young people will be going out into bars and clubs in the places they live or perhaps further afield. This debate has also attracted attention in Australia and New Zealand. As we know, this is the first time that the Food Standards Agency has been made aware of a food incident involving the use of liquid nitrogen. I say “a food incident”. The FSA, a national body working in close partnership with local licensing authorities, has responsibility to ensure that food and drink in our restaurants, bars and clubs and elsewhere is served responsibly and safely. When it became aware of the incident, the FSA immediately issued a warning to raise consumers’ awareness of the dangers of consuming drinks containing liquid nitrogen. The FSA also encouraged all environmental health officers to be vigilant about the use of liquid nitrogen in food or drink when carrying out their routine inspections of food and hospitality premises.
I hope my hon. Friend will be reassured to hear about the controls that are already in place. Food law prohibits the sale of harmful foods and drinks in the UK. Manufacturers, retailers and businesses in the UK have a legal obligation to ensure that the food and drink they serve to the public is fit for human consumption. There are industry safety and handling guidelines around the use and storage of liquid nitrogen. Business owners are responsible for training their staff, making them aware of the potential risks of using liquid nitrogen and having appropriate safety measures in place to protect staff and consumers. Existing legislation prohibits the sale of food and drink that is unsafe. Enforcement of both health and safety measures and food safety legislation is the responsibility of the relevant local authority—in this case Lancaster city council. Businesses selling alcohol that are convicted of food safety offences can have their alcohol licences withdrawn by the local licensing authority.
It is worth touching on the wider point about the glamorisation of alcohol—sometimes by the food and drink industry, but particularly by wider sectors of the media. As I have said, tonight many young people will go out to bars, clubs and other settings in town centres and elsewhere, including the village and market town pubs in my constituency, to enjoy an evening out with friends. On the whole, things will pass successfully and without any adverse incident. However, we know that there has been a problem in parts of the country where certain bars and clubs have been irresponsible in their marketing of alcohol. It is the responsibility of licensing authorities to ensure good practice in the performance of their local bars and clubs and to ensure that they are run responsibly. With regard to the premises in question, that is something that I know the local council will look at seriously in the ongoing investigation in this case.
We expect those who sell and promote alcohol to do so responsibly. The alcohol industry in general has made a core commitment, through the public health responsibility deal, to foster a better culture of responsible drinking. We are grateful for the national recognition of the importance of the issue by the alcohol industry, but the Government’s alcohol strategy goes further in fostering responsible drinking, aiming to cut the number of people drinking to harmful levels. It addresses both health and social harms, describing co-ordinated actions across Government, and includes a commitment to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol to tackle the sale of heavily discounted alcohol, with further action to ensure that local authorities have the licensing powers they need to protect local communities. The strategy will deal not just with binge drinking, but with all activities to do with responsible drinking, promoting safe places for people, young or old, to go out in town centres in the evenings. On 28 November, the Government launched a consultation on a number of areas set out in the strategy, including a recommended price of 45p per unit of alcohol. We are taking that action to ensure a sensible price for drinks that cause harm.
What is the local authority doing in this case? Lancaster city council is rightly investigating the events that led to Gaby’s very serious injury. The full details of what happened in this incident are not yet publicly available, because of the ongoing review and investigation of the case by the city council. However, I can reassure my hon. Friend that once they have concluded, government departments such as the Food Standards Agency will consider whether further guidance is necessary. As I outlined earlier, initial action has been taken to warn consumers of the risks of consuming drinks containing liquid nitrogen and to ensure that local authorities are vigilant in their inspection of food businesses with regard to the sale of this product. We do not yet have all the information about what happened in the bar in Lancaster, so we need to wait for the conclusion of the investigation by the council. However, I reassure my hon. Friend that we will take the results of that investigation seriously and the FSA will consider them. We must ensure that what happened to Gaby does not happen again to other young people.
Question put and agreed to.