My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
Today I am publishing on the Department for Transport website (www.dft.gov.uk) the summary of responses to the consultation paper on exceptions for the application of alcohol limits for non-professional mariners. Copies have been placed in the Libraries.
Following on from that consultation, I am also setting out my intentions for taking forward the work leading to the commencement of Section 80 of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003.
Part 4 of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 introduced alcohol and drug legislation in respect of shipping. In particular, it established alcohol limits and a testing regime for alcohol and drugs that applies to both professional and non-professional mariners. The Act was commenced for professional mariners on 30 March 2004. Section 80 provides for offences by non-professional mariners and allows regulations to make exceptions from the offence of exceeding the prescribed alcohol limits in specified circumstances.
The consultation paper, the summary of responses to which I am publishing today, was launched on 31 March 2004. It invited comments on whether such exceptions should be in place for non-professional mariners when Section 80 comes into force, and, if so, how any such exceptions should be framed. The consultation also invited comments on which, if any, additional classes of persons should be designated as “marine officials” with the powers to detain a vessel pending the arrival of the police to carry out a test.
The document posed 22 questions to seek people’s views and welcomed general comments. The consultation ended on 1 August 2004, but responses received during August were also included.
It is now the Government’s intention to press ahead with the commencement of Section 80 and the preparation of draft regulations for an exception from alcohol limits to non-professional mariners. In framing the scope of the exception, I have taken account of the views expressed during the consultation by mariners and their representative organisations, as well as the views of the enforcement agencies that would be expected to implement the regime. I have also taken account of the representations made by honourable Members on behalf of constituents who have personal experience of the tragic consequences of accidents involving vessels where alcohol was thought to be a causal factor. What we are proposing will address the recommendations of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch investigations into these accidents. I also intend to consult on bringing jet-skis and other similar craft within the scope of the legislation under Section 80 as soon as possible.
Having taken account of all these representations, I have decided to propose that the exception under Section 80 should apply to persons exercising a function in connection with the navigation of a vessel which is less than seven metres in length and is not capable of a maximum speed of over seven knots. These parameters mirror existing provisions in international shipping legislation and so should already be familiar to mariners and the enforcement agencies. I believe that that represents a pragmatic balance between the need to improve safety and unnecessary regulation. Of course, this exception does not affect the offence, under Section 80(2) of the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, of impaired ability to navigate because of drink or drugs.
The Government now propose to prepare draft regulations and an impact assessment for public consultation before the Summer Recess. As before, we intend to hold meetings with stakeholders, as part of this further consultation exercise, and the views expressed will help to inform the final shape of the regulations which I hope to lay before Parliament early next year.