House of Lords
Friday, 18 January 2013.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.
Scrap Metal Dealers Bill
Relevant document: 10th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clauses 1 to 17 agreed.
Clause 18 : Review of Act
1: Clause 18, page 10, line 12, at end insert—
“( ) This Act expires at the end of 5 years beginning with the day on which section 1 comes into force.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 2 and 3. These three government amendments relate to the expiry and review of the Act. The Government made a commitment during the Bill’s Report stage in the other place to lay these amendments and I hope that noble Lords will view them in good favour.
Amendment 1 inserts an expiry clause into the Bill whereby the Act will automatically expire five years after commencement of the licensing requirement in Clause 1. Clause 18 contains a review provision and I would expect the Government of the day to carefully consider the outcome of the statutory review and bring forward an appropriate response to provide some long-term certainty for the regulation of the scrap metal industry.
While I am sure that the industry would prefer longer-term certainty, the review and subsequent expiry will see early action if this regulation is proving costly, difficult, or ineffective. That said, the Government are confident that the provisions in the Bill will have the desired effect and that any subsequent legislation will be based around this regulatory regime. However, having listened to the arguments made during the Bill’s passage in the other place for the inclusion of an expiry clause, we agreed to its inclusion, which is why we have laid this amendment today so that the Bill will automatically expire five years after commencement.
Amendment 2 modifies the review clause from five to three years. The statutory review will require the Secretary of State to assess the extent to which the Act’s objectives have been achieved and a shorter review period will therefore allow this consideration to be made at an earlier stage. This review will play a pivotal role in the development of future legislation and tie in with the timetable for bringing forward any new legislation after five years.
Finally, Amendment 3 reduces the scope of the review to remove the need to assess whether the Act should be repealed. This requirement is no longer necessary because Amendment 1 inserts a sunset clause—the expiry clause—and the Act will therefore automatically be repealed after five years. The review should, however, focus on assessing the effectiveness of the regime and recommending any future legislation required.
These three amendments will achieve the right overall framework for the future of this regulatory regime and allow for the Government of the day to bring forward effective long-term regulation following an assessment of the effectiveness of the Bill before us. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hold the noble Earl in the highest regard, so I know he will not take personally the criticism that I going to direct at the amendment which he has moved this morning. In my time here, I can recall a number of occasions when attempts have been made in this House to add a sunset clause to a Bill that has come to us from another place. In every case, these clauses had been felt necessary in order to improve an otherwise unsatisfactory Bill—often to insert a safeguard into a measure that was controversial or threatened civil liberties and human rights. That is not what we have in front of us this morning. This amendment will not improve the Bill; indeed, it will damage it in two material respects.
First, passing the amendment will delay the Bill’s enactment, as it would have to go back to the other place to get the amendment agreed. Given the track record of a small number of Conservative MPs who routinely try to use procedural devices to block Private Members’ Bills, who can be certain that those who threatened to talk out this Bill on 9 November—or some of their friends—would not attempt to do the same thing again? If, however, we pass the Bill unamended, it would not need to return to the House of Commons and could obtain Royal Assent almost immediately.
My second objection to the sunset clause is that it sends the worst possible signal to all those who are desperately attempting to tackle and defeat the metal thieves. Heroic efforts have been made in the last year by the British Transport Police and the civil police, local authorities, trade associations, reputable scrap metal dealers, the churches, the War Memorials Trust, the energy companies, Network Rail and the train operating companies and the Home Office. They have all worked tirelessly to bring down the incidence of metal theft, catch the offenders and ensure convictions.
As I said at Second Reading, as a result of all this activity, the British Transport Police told me that,
“there has been a decrease in reported metal theft of 52%”.—[Official Report, 30/11.2012; col. 412.]
There have been numerous press reports of successful prosecutions and convictions. In my own area recently, we saw the conviction of all eight members of a Romanian gang which had travelled from Birmingham to the Cotswolds to steal engineering cable from the railway worth nearly half a million pounds on the line between Evesham and Moreton-in-Marsh—two towns not known for their incidence of high crime. How can it make sense for this House now to agree an amendment which would take this vital new law off the statute book altogether in five years’ time and give whoever is in government then the headache of having to pass such a law all over again?
Thanks to the diligence of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, and the Commons sponsor, Richard Ottaway MP, we have an excellent Bill in front of us, which, as every noble Lord who spoke on 30 November believes, will do the job expected of it. I am aware that the Minister in another place gave a commitment to give this House the opportunity to consider the addition of a sunset clause—not to improve the Bill, but in order to buy off the two Members who habitually cause trouble for Private Members’ Bills. The noble Earl has fulfilled that commitment by moving that amendment this morning. It does mean that the House is obliged to accept it.
My Lords, I could not be here on 30 November, as I was chairing a heritage meeting in Lincoln, where we have suffered from lead theft on the roof of the Medieval Bishops’ Palace. I have been a church warden in Staffordshire for 17 years and the church of which I was warden suffered from lead thieves on more than one occasion. No one could be more wholeheartedly in support of this Bill than I am, and I warmly congratulate my noble friend and Richard Ottaway on all the work that they have done.
I share a number of the misgivings and concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, but if this is the price that we have to pay for government support of this Bill—and it seems to be quite a high price—then we have to pay it, because the sooner this Bill gets on the statute book, the better. I hope that my noble friend, when he responds to this brief debate, will be able to give us the assurance that the Government have not only moved this amendment for understandable reasons, but have moved it with a total determination to ensure that the progress of the Bill is not delayed or impaired in any way.
My Lords, before my noble friend Lady Browning, whose Bill this is in this place, rises to speak, may I ask the Minister how the Government intend to use the next five years, assuming that this amendment is passed? Are there any plans in view for the Government to include in a government Bill the very necessary contents of this Bill?
My Lords, I support the comments of my noble friend Lord Faulkner. I find it quite extraordinary, with all the work that has gone on to get this Bill through, and all the damage, cost and disruption to railways, sculptures, communications and churches that we have seen, that here we have the coalition supporting an amendment that will dump the same problem on the next Government in five years’ time. I hope they will reflect on this, because whoever is in government then—and I am sure it will not be the present coalition—will be blamed. It is really totally unnecessary to have this sunset clause. I hope that the Minister, on reflection, will withdraw this amendment so that the legislation can go through as quickly as possible and we can get some protection from these thieves through a system that will record transactions and enable the police to charge people, thereby reducing the thefts and all the damage they are causing.
My Lords, I declare an interest, as my wife’s family has suffered from metal thieves taking memorial plaques from the side of a church in Dewsbury. I feel strongly about this: I do not think there are many people in this House who feel as strongly as I do about deregulation, but it seems quite extraordinary that we have Bills coming before this House—mainly originating from European directives—where there is no possibility of having a sunset clause and where the Government are unable to proceed. This looks like a bit of window dressing. We should listen very carefully to the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, about the risk and the delay which will arise.
I hope my noble friend will tell us whether, if this amendment were not passed, the Government would continue to support this Bill with enthusiasm. It seems to be an unnecessary risk and an unnecessary delay to send it back to the House of Commons for further consideration. I understand the long-standing difficulties there are with Private Members’ Bills in the other place. My late colleague, Eric Forth, used to cause considerable irritation by what he regarded as a principled stand on this matter. However, this is a Bill which, as several speakers have said, is urgently needed. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Browning for the diligent way in which she has carried us forward. At this very late stage, I am sorry that the Government are proposing to put a spanner in the works, which will delay much needed legislation.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Faulkner and what has just been said by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. I declare an interest as I am involved with war memorials around the United Kingdom. Metal theft has meant disaster for those memorials, and it has caused immense damage, sadness and pain to a number of people.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, suggests that this amendment is the price that we might have to pay for the Government to agree to this legislation, and that it would speed things up. Surely it will slow things down and surely things would happen much faster if we did not have this amendment.
My Lords, following the deregulation point, I am concerned about the message that we are sending out to the world. We are asking people to put in place a new system for such a short period. To anyone who does not know the intricacies of parliamentary proceedings, this must seem a very odd thing to be asked to do.
I should briefly indicate the support of these Benches for the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. Small country churches and churches in urban areas, which often have small, very poor congregations, find themselves at the forefront of these metal thefts over and over again, and then they find themselves hard-pressed to get the insurance cover that they need. If these amendments go through, the development will be viewed with great alarm and great distress by many people in small churches up and down the country.
My Lords, I strongly support the points put by my noble friend Lord Faulkner. I have had experience of these procedures in relation to the Commons. In 1977, I introduced an estate agents’ Bill that tried to deal with the scandal, at the time, of members of the public depositing money in the care of estate agents, and then almost as soon as that money was received, the estate agents’ offices closed down, the estate agents disappeared and the money was lost. There was widespread support for the remedy of that abuse and the House of Commons supported the Bill, apart from two Members who persisted through all stages, not against the merits of the Bill—how on earth could they do so?—but simply on the grounds that there was far too much legislation and they saw no reason why the Bill should go through. The result was that, two years later, the incoming Conservative Government took up the Bill and eventually it was passed and the abuse was remedied.
However, at the time, there was a delay of several years when, as Members of this House will recall, house purchases were taking place at a very intensive rate. Estate agents were mushrooming all over the place, although they were not the reputable ones who would not have dreamed of carrying out such a scandal, but fly-by-nights. The abuse continued for several years because of the delay in the legislation coming into force. The warning given by my noble friend about the dangers of these amendments should be heeded.
My Lords, when I became a Minister at the Home Office in 2011, metal theft was part of my portfolio of ministerial responsibilities. At the very first briefing I received on it, I was immediately seized of the fact that legislation and change needed to happen. Of course, having been a constituency MP, I was already aware of the difficulties and the serious crimes that were being committed, as Members have again outlined today.
Reference has been made to the Report stage of this Private Member’s Bill in the other place, taken forward by Richard Ottaway. Having studied it, Members will see that more than 70 amendments were tabled on one day. The reality is that, whatever our views on the way in which the other place conducts its business, had an accommodation and a promise not been given, we would not have received the Bill in this House at all.
My starting point is that this is a necessary Bill. I am enormously grateful for the support that it has received across the House, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. He knows that I am very grateful for his support in taking this Bill forward. However, what I am about to say may sound old-fashioned, but I believe that it is important in another place and in this Chamber: I believe that if a mover of a Bill—in this case, my honourable friend Richard Ottaway MP moved the Bill in another place—and a government Minister give their word that they will do something, the honourable thing to do is to honour that pledge and I am now moving this Bill in your Lordships’ House.
Too often, politics is brought into disrepute because politicians play fast and loose with their word. A gentleman’s handshake and the word of an honourable man or woman is no longer held in esteem in this country and, passionate as I am for this Bill and as grateful as I am to the noble Lord for his support, I intend to do the honourable thing today if he chooses to move the amendment to a vote. I will keep the word of a politician and the word that has been given by a Minister. Others may choose to do as they will, but I believe that that is what I should do and that is what my political career for the past 30 years has taught me is the right thing to do.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Attlee for moving the amendment. Of course, a three-year review is already built into the substance of the Bill anyway, so it is not as though this will be put on the statute and left to see how it gets on. There are checks and balances here. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, not to press this to a vote.
My noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester has spoken powerfully on his objection to the amendment put forward by the noble Earl on behalf of the Government. It is not an amendment that has anything to do with the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the wording of the Bill; it has everything to do with the activities of a couple of Conservative Members in the other place who, apparently, were quite prepared to talk this Private Member’s Bill out, even though the Bill is supported by all political parties and widely supported by a range of organisations involved in the scrap metal trade or representing those who have been on the receiving end of metal thefts.
The reason these Members were able to wield such power, despite the insignificant minority view that they represent, was because the Government were not prepared to deal with this issue through a government Bill. They left it to be addressed in a Private Member’s Bill, which can be subject to the kind of action that we saw in the Commons. It led to the Minister in the Commons having to give an undertaking to put this clause into the Bill in your Lordships’ House in order to buy off the couple of Conservative MPs from talking the Bill out. That is the reality. Let us not beat about the bush on that score.
I hope that the Minister will do this House the courtesy of explaining why the Government did not address this vital issue through a government Bill, or alternatively take over the Private Member’s Bill themselves to prevent it being vulnerable to the kind of action seen in the Commons. It certainly cannot have been because no government time could be found, because it has been obvious this Session, in both the Commons and now in your Lordships’ House, that there is a shortage of business and not an excess.
I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester will be seeking a vote on this amendment, but he certainly has a very strong case, and the Minister will need to put up some strong arguments about why action by a couple of Conservative Members in the Commons should mean that this House should accept an amendment that the Government in their hearts do not believe is needed, except as a device to buy off two members of their own party who should never have been given the opportunity in the first place to take the action they did.
Clause 18, “Review of Act”, already contains a provision stating:
“Before the end of 5 years”—
you do not have to wait five years—
“the Secretary of State must—
(a) carry out a review of this Act, and
(b) publish a report of the conclusions of the review”.
In particular, the report must assess whether it is appropriate to retain or repeal the Act or any of its provisions in order to achieve the objectives. So what is the necessity for this sunset clause? To that extent, the issues are covered in the review. The review has to be carried out before the end of five years and the report has to assess whether it is appropriate to retain or repeal the Act.
I courteously remind the noble Lord that when his party was in office it, too, had mavericks on its Back Benches with or without anybody's agreement, who messed up Friday morning Private Members’ Bills. We should be careful of not reaping the whirlwind. If this House sets a precedent today that promises made in another place are not kept, that will affect not just this Bill but other rather important Private Members’ Bills that might come forward in the future.
This House has a right to assess the value or otherwise of the amendment before it. The reality is that the amendment will delay the Bill and put it at risk. It is for this House to decide, knowing that this Bill is widely supported by virtually everybody—whether it wants to delay it or put it at risk.
I will not ask the Minister to explain why the Government believe a sunset clause is needed in this Bill and not in virtually every other Bill that your Lordships’ House has discussed since the Government came into office, because I know that he cannot produce a credible reason other than that the Government had to bend to buy off a couple of members of its own party in the House of Commons.
We need to look at the possible consequences if the amendment is passed. For a start, it means that the Bill will have to go back to the Commons since it will have been amended in your Lordships’ House. If the amendment were not agreed or withdrawn, the Bill could complete all its stages in your Lordships’ House and be unchanged from how it left the Commons. It could then become law very quickly, which will not be the position if the amendment is accepted and the Bill has to go back to the Commons, presumably to continue to be dealt with under the Private Member’s Bill procedure. Accepting the amendment means further delaying the Bill; a Bill that virtually everyone apart from a couple of Conservative Members in the Commons believes is needed and needed fast.
I understand the noble Lord’s exasperation, but we have to accept the situation as it exists. It is unlikely that in the near future the procedure for Private Members’ Bills will alter. My noble friend Lady Browning put forward a real case for our reluctant acceptance of these amendments. She also made the point that we could reap the whirlwind. We could find many excellent Bills from your Lordships’ House sabotaged in the future. We have to bear in mind the realities of politics as they exist and the rules that govern Private Members’ Bills in the other place.
I have listened carefully to the arguments and seldom do I cross swords with the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, but surely, under the existing rules, all that the Government can agree is to put an amendment to this House, which this House must consider on its merits. It is not a matter of honour or honouring what has been done in the other place. We have been given an opportunity and personally, having heard all the evidence about the urgency of tackling this problem, I am grateful for being given the chance to consider an alternative proposal. But, as a Member of this House, it is my job to consider it and act on what I believe.
Clearly, it is a matter for this House to decide whether it wishes to consider the amendment on its merits. The amendment is not only not needed, it creates uncertainty in a situation where certainty in addressing scrap metal thefts is needed. The amendment would mean that nobody would know what the position would be in five years’ time. Nobody would know whether the changed practices and procedures provided for in the Bill will be permanent or whether we will be reverting back to the current arrangements in five years’ time.
What kind of message does it send to the law enforcement authorities? Are we to expect them to give some priority to enforcing the provisions of the Bill when we are also sending them a message through the sunset clause provided for in the amendment that we are so unsure about the need for the measures in the Bill that they will cease to be effective in five years’ time unless further legislation is passed?
What guarantees will there be that the Bill—
A three-year review does not mean that it automatically ceases after five years, which is the effect of the sunset clause. The two are different. The first is a review: the sunset clause means that the Bill ceases to exist unless further action is taken.
What guarantees will there be that the Bill, if the amendment is agreed, will not be subject to similar threats of being talked out that it has already experienced when it returns to the Commons once again as a Private Member’s Bill. It could be talked out either by the two Conservative Members already involved, who have after all already tasted blood, or through various amendments to the amendment that we are now considering by one or more other Members who might be less than impressed with what has already happened in the Commons and the way that the Government have dealt with it. They may feel that the Government should now be left with a choice of either having no Bill or bringing forward their own Bill.
The noble Earl does not know what will happen to the Bill if it has to go back to the Commons because it has been amended in your Lordships’ House. He cannot give any guarantees, since I assume that the Government are not at this stage thinking of taking the Bill over.
Agreeing to the amendment will create further delay and uncertainty for this Private Member’s Bill which, once again, will run the risk of being talked out in the Commons. The way to avoid further delay to the Bill becoming an Act and the way to avoid the uncertainty caused by the risk that it will be talked out if it has to return to the Commons, is to not agree to the amendment or, far better, for the noble Earl to withdraw his amendment.
Failure on the part of the noble Earl to do that will surely show that addressing internal party problems is of more concern to the Government than securing the passage of the Bill as quickly as possible in the interests of all those who have suffered the consequences of metal thefts, whether from our war memorials, churches or railways. I urge the noble Earl to withdraw the amendment and let us get this Bill to the statute book as quickly as possible and not delay unnecessarily. There is no dishonour in this House in doing that.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to this important debate. First, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about the need to use Private Members’ Bills. The noble Lord knows perfectly well how difficult it is to secure time for a government Bill. My noble friend Lady Browning’s comments reminded me of my Road Traffic (Enforcement Powers) Bill that I ran as a Private Member’s Bill in your Lordships’ House on behalf of the Labour Government and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I experienced similar problems trying to get the Bill through the House of Commons because of the sadly deceased Mr Eric Forth.
There is no benefit to be gained from inadequate reform of the scrap metal industry. The clause would allow for the system of regulation to be fully reviewed and assessed and for the government of the day to re-legislate in five years. The Government are not making these amendments because we do not have faith in the Bill delivering what is required. We believe that the Bill will be effective and that the review will bear testament to that.
How the House of Commons decides to handle a Bill is clearly a matter for that House. I agree that the House of Commons has problems in the way that it handles Private Members’ legislation—in a way that we do not. I do not accept that this Bill would be at an unacceptable risk if we sent it back to the other place amended. The Government are fulfilling their commitment, made in the House of Commons. We expect individual Members of the House of Commons to fulfil their commitments.
My Lords, I am confident that individual Members of another place will undertake to meet their commitments. Perhaps I may carry on.
We should not risk the House of Commons being reluctant in the future to accept government commitments in the circumstances of private legislation. My noble friend Lady Browning talked about honour and the word of a politician. How right she is to do so. We all know in our hearts what the right thing to do is. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, is correct in what she says—
My Lords, the noble Earl says that we all know in our hearts what the right thing to do is. As has already been said, the Government fully support this Bill—it has the support of all parties—so all this amendment is doing is delaying it and introducing real uncertainty as to what will happen to it in the future.
My Lords, I will come on to talk about the future, but I am confident that it is not a problem.
As I was saying, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, is correct as usual, but that is trumped by the need for the House of Commons to be able to rely on government assurances made in respect of a private Bill.
My Lords, does the noble Earl intend to tell us that the Government gave an assurance as to the result of your Lordships’ consideration or merely that the Government would table an amendment, which they have in honour fulfilled. However, it is for this House to decide. The Government cannot give a commitment that your Lordships will vote in favour of that commitment.
The noble Baroness is, of course, absolutely and precisely correct, but my advice to the Committee is to accept this amendment.
I was asked whether there are any plans for the Government to include the contents of this Private Member’s Bill in a government Bill. The current Government do not have any such plans and it would be for the Government of the day to decide on the most suitable legislative vehicle to relegislate in this area. I would also point out in response to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, when he identified problems with renewing legislation, that as a defence spokesman he will know that the Armed Forces Act has to be renewed by order every year and by Act of Parliament every five years, but that does not mean that members of the Armed Forces do not have confidence in the legal arrangements of the Armed Forces.
I was asked the broad question of whether the Bill could not simply be re-enacted after five years. The outcome of the review could well recommend that the Bill meets its requirements and should be continued after five years. The Government of the day would have to make the case back before Parliament; that could be one approach that is taken. The principle of parliamentary sovereignty means that any future Parliament can legislate as it sees fit at any given time, even if this means acting inconsistently with the previous parliamentary intention.
Noble Lords will be aware that provisions to extend the life of a Bill are relatively easy to make, either by a Bill with a tightly worded Long Title or through an appropriate clause in a rather wider Bill. That would meet the need and it is not a difficult thing to do, as experienced noble Lords well know. In answer to my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, I have already explained how the review system will work. Once the Bill becomes law, the fact that it was a Private Member’s Bill will make no difference. My noble friend Lord Forsyth asked whether, if an amendment is not agreed, a Bill can go to Royal Assent. Yes, of course it can, as all noble Lords well understand. If we do not agree this amendment, the Bill will go on to Royal Assent and become law. That is simple fact. However, future government assurances about Private Members’ Bills will carry a lot less weight, and I am not convinced that that is in anyone’s interests. Therefore, I beg to move.
My Lords, perhaps my words were not clear. I did not mean that the Bill would carry less weight, but that a government assurance made at the Dispatch Box in respect of private legislation would carry less weight. If future Ministers experience the same problems in the House of Commons, they will not be able to get out of the problem so easily.
I apologise for interrupting my noble friend once again. My noble friend Lady Browning, who is a lady of considerable integrity, has done what she said she would, the Government have done what they said they would do, and their assurances have been met. However, neither the Government nor the movers of a Bill can anticipate and pre-empt the decision of a House of Parliament.
Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.
Clause 18 agreed.
Clauses 19 to 23 agreed.
Schedules 1 and 2 agreed.
Bill reported without amendment.
Prisons (Property) Bill
My Lords, although it is short and relatively simple, I hope that the House will agree that the Prisons (Property) Bill is nevertheless important. In introducing it, I must congratulate Stuart Andrew, the Member of Parliament for Pudsey, for bringing it forward and successfully piloting it through the other place and express my gratitude to him for giving me the opportunity of continuing his work and putting it before your Lordships. I am conscious that it is not unconnected with the intention of the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill, recently taken through this House by my noble friend Lord Laming.
I do not think I need to delay the House by taking noble Lords through the straightforward text of the Bill, bearing in mind that its provisions are set out in some detail in the Explanatory Notes. However, because some Members of the other place questioned why it was required at all, it might be helpful if I explained its necessity. Very rightly, prisoners are allowed to have in their possession sufficient property to satisfy their daily needs. Such property is authorised by the governor or director of a prison, with each item being recorded on a prisoner’s property card. The purpose of this Bill is not to interfere with a prisoner’s right to have and enjoy authorised items but to deal with property he or she should not have or that has been adapted for an unauthorised use.
Mobile phones are one of the most unwelcome forms of unauthorised property in prisons. Not only are they linked with some serious crimes in prison but they are used to organise crimes, including murder and drug dealing, in the community. The Offender Management Act 2007 and the Crime and Security Act 2010 made the possession of mobile phones in prison a criminal offence and introduced measures to try to reduce the chances of their being smuggled in, on which the National Offender Management Service has since done some excellent work.
However, in 2009, the administrative court found that, in the particular case of a mobile phone, there was no lawful basis for permanent confiscation or destruction of property confiscated from a prisoner. As a result, the Prison Service currently has to store unauthorised property confiscated from prisoners in a central storage facility until their release, at which time the governor is required to return it if the prisoner from whom it was removed asks for it, which, in reality, very rarely happens. For example, in 2011 only 112 out of 41,000 mobile phones—of which only 49% were attributable to specific prisoners—stored at a cost of around £20,000 per year were claimed. Noble Lords will therefore recognise why, in the eyes of the Prison Service, the consequences of the administrative court’s decision are perverse.
However, the problem goes much wider than just mobile phones. Prisoners may be found in possession of unauthorised items, which, while not strictly illegal, are considered to be contrary to the safe and secure running of a prison or need to be controlled for reasons of space. Governors are also faced with the problem of authorised items that have been adapted for an unauthorised use, such as shoes or radios adapted to conceal drugs, or toothbrushes or razors adapted to create offensive weapons. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that it is unacceptable for prison governors and directors not to have appropriate powers to deal with these items.
Therefore, the Bill aims to put that right, supplementing the Offender Management Act and the Crime and Security Act, by giving governors and directors a statutory power to destroy or otherwise dispose of unauthorised, unattributed or adapted property found in a prison or a prison escort vehicle, should they consider such action appropriate.
It is important to note that the Bill does not require the destruction of any property but merely confers a discretionary power on prison governors and directors to destroy confiscated items. In cases where an item is illegal per se, such as a mobile phone, the presumption will be that it will be destroyed or otherwise disposed of, but where an item is not in itself illegal, I expect that governors and directors will confiscate it and then decide whether it should be held in storage, for return on release, or whether the prisoner should be required to have it removed from the prison.
There will be a six-month delay from the commencement of the Bill before any previously confiscated property can be destroyed or disposed of. In all other cases, prisoners will have a limited time period, yet to be agreed, during which they will be able to appeal against destruction or disposal, which safeguards the ruling that this should be considered only after all other options have been explored and deemed inappropriate.
However, the Bill is not about just the destruction of confiscated property. It also gives prison governors and directors what I think is an important option; namely, the power to dispose of an item, including the option of selling it. If confiscated items have a monetary value, why should that not be realised, with any profits raised not kept by the National Offender Management Service but donated to an appropriate charity? Governors could also donate such items directly to a charity or recycle them—subject, of course, to any security or other requirements. I would not want to encourage noble Lords to think that significant sums of money might be raised by this provision, because I suspect that most confiscated items will have little or no monetary value, but I think that it is an option that should be made available.
In order for this new power to be truly effective, it must be retrospective in respect of unauthorised cameras, sound recording devices and electronic communication devices or mobile phones found before the commencement of the Bill. Noble Lords will quite rightly expect that where a retrospective power is claimed, safeguards for its limitation and proper use are included. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will note that the retrospective provisions in the Bill are strictly limited, being intended primarily to enable the Prison Service to deal with the large number of mobile phones currently held in storage.
This Bill strikes a fair balance between a prisoner’s property rights and interests on the one hand and, on the other, the public interest in removing from prison and destroying property that may prejudice good order and discipline or prison security. Guidance on the exercise of the powers it contains will be given to governors and directors in a Prison Service instruction. I beg to move.
My Lords, one of the great attractions of Private Members’ Bills is that they often provide an opportunity to bring forward a non-controversial measure that is so straightforward and makes such sense that one is left wondering why it has not been done before. This appears to be one such Bill, and I welcome the fact that it does not seek to be overly complex, as sometimes can seem the case with legislation. I concur with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in congratulating Stuart Andrew on bringing this Bill forward in the other place and welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has brought it to your Lordships’ House.
I suspect that most people, had they given this issue much thought, would have assumed that the powers this Bill seeks to provide were already in place. My understanding is that governors, officers, parliamentarians and others will welcome the Bill because of the clarity it provides about the powers held by a prison governor or director. The aim of the legislation is clear and realistic, as we have heard. It will allow a governor of a prison, young offender institution or secure training centre to,
“destroy or otherwise dispose of”—
including by selling—any unauthorised property. Unauthorised property includes items that are unlawful to possess. We all know that unauthorised items such as drugs and mobile phones are found in prisons.
My first position in government was as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prisons Minister—now the noble Lord, Lord Boateng—and it does appear that, whatever the level of security, these items still find their way into prisons. Clearly, this proposed legislation does not mean that the work to address that issue will not continue, but it is in itself a useful, practical and sensible measure.
However, if the issue of drugs, knives, mobile phones and iPhones getting into prisons could be tackled, this Bill would not be needed—or would be rarely used. I will take this opportunity to ask the Minister about the action being taken to stop such unauthorised and sometimes illegal items getting into prisons. I am happy to have that in writing because it is the central problem that this Bill is seeking to address.
Although it has been argued that items can be stored in a prison for a certain period and returned to the prisoner on release, as we have heard, not only does the cost of that storage fall on the National Offender Management Service but there is the issue of whether it is appropriate to hold and return unauthorised items. I cannot imagine anyone suggesting that illegal items should be returned to prisoners on release. The current rules state that any article belonging to a prisoner that remains unclaimed for more than a year after he leaves prison, or a year after his death, may be sold or otherwise disposed of. But at present governors cannot destroy property, even unauthorised property, if the prisoner says they want it returned at some later date.
As we have heard, mobile phones are some of the most commonly found items in prisons. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, did the House a service by being very clear about the dangers and problems that are caused by mobile phones in prison. In case anyone is in doubt, the use of mobile phones in prison is not a benign or minor infringement of the rules. I vividly recall, when I was a Member of the other place, the case of a constituent whose daughter had been murdered. The man convicted of the murder used a mobile phone to telephone the press about the case, and articles based on the interviews with him were profoundly distressing to my constituent. There are several more detailed aspects to that case that are not relevant to this debate, but I use it to illustrate the point—which was also very well made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—that the rule not to allow mobile phones in prison is there for very good reasons.
Clearly, mobile phones are legal outside prison—although some people who travel on public transport might have doubts about that—and it could be argued that these should be returned to a prisoner on release. Few prisoners would confess that a phone was theirs, and it is not always easy to identify ownership, so it is not always possible to return the phone to its “rightful” owner, and this Bill clarifies what should happen in such situations.
Following the High Court ruling in the case of Coleman in 2009, I understand—and it has been confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—that governors have been told that they do not have a general power to confiscate permanently or destroy a prisoner’s property, although they had previously done so. I also understand that items had been sold in the past and profits or proceeds have been made available to Nacro.
We are very supportive of this Bill, but it would be helpful to have some clarification on just a couple of issues. Will the Bill remove any possibility of legal challenge, as in the Coleman case, and ensure that there is not a case for compensation from prisoners for their property after they have left prison? What consideration has been given to how items will be disposed of? We have all read and heard reports of where computers have not been wiped. There is clearly a need to ensure that if items such as mobile phones, including iPhones, and small notebooks have information stored on them, it is removed before they are sold. Will the Government issue guidance on whose responsibility that will be and what should happen to the proceeds of any sales? I know that in the other place, although it was accepted that Nacro was an appropriate body to receive such proceeds, it was asked whether Victim Support could also be included. Other organisations may wish to be considered, but I suspect that we are not talking about vast sums of money.
This is a sensible Bill; it clarifies the law; and it has our support.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for introducing the Bill for your Lordships’ consideration and, as ever, for his important contribution. I fully acknowledge and pay tribute to his extensive knowledge of the Prison Service. As always, his knowledge and experience is of great assistance to the House; we are eternally grateful for that. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, for her full support of the Bill. Although, as has been acknowledged, the Bill is short, it is also essential. It will make a very useful contribution to the package of measures already in place to keep good order and security in our prisons.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, the Bill complements the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill, which I also supported in this House last month, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Laming. I also thank my honourable friend in another place, Stuart Andrew, for bringing forward this valuable Bill, which has the full support of the Government.
It may be of assistance at this juncture if I explain to the House the current arrangements for dealing with property that a prison governor or director has not authorised a prisoner to possess. When discovered, an item will be confiscated unless it is noxious, in which case it will be destroyed. If it is something such as an offensive weapon or a controlled drug it will be passed to the police for them to deal with; all other items may be confiscated but only temporarily. It is this anomaly, which the noble Baroness picked up, of being able only temporarily to confiscate an item and having to return it to a prisoner on release that the Bill aims to address.
The consequence of the current limited power of confiscation is that confiscated property has to be stored either locally at the prison 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 limitation on prison governors’ and directors’ authority cannot be right. It also places a considerable but unnecessary burden on the Prison Service in that it has to find storage facilities and meet the cost of that storage.
It is extraordinary what lengths prisoners will go to to try to smuggle illicit items into prison and the ingenuity that they show at times in adapting ordinary, everyday items for an illicit purpose. An illustration of that is the example highlighted by the National Offender Management Service’s north west search team, which reported the seizure of three weapons at Her Majesty’s Prison in Wymott, near Preston. During the course of a search of prisoner accommodation, three adapted slashing weapons, wrapped together in a strip of bed sheeting, were found wedged behind copper piping in a wing toilet. The weapons had been adapted from authorised items: namely, a disposable razor, toothbrush handles, a strip of bed sheeting and disposable razor blades.
The intention behind the Bill, therefore, is to provide a lawful basis for the disposal of all unauthorised property found in prisons or authorised property which has been adapted for an unauthorised purpose. It will give a discretionary power—that is important; it is a discretionary power—to prison governors and directors which will allow them to confiscate and then destroy, dispose of or sell property that prisoners have in their possession that they should not have.
The items that that includes are: those that would be illegal to possess in the community, such as illicit drugs; those items which can threaten prison security and good order, such as mobile phones, which the noble Baroness and the noble Lord mentioned, which are unlawful to posses in prison; authorised items that have been adapted to conceal illicit items, as the example that I mentioned illustrates; and items that have been smuggled into the prison or coerced from another prisoner. The Bill will provide the required power to deal with items such as these.
The power to destroy confiscated property is discretionary, and I assure the House that this power will be exercised in a proportionate manner. It is right that items that are illegal to possess per se should be destroyed. However, prisoners may also be found in possession of items which are not illegal to possess in themselves, but which they are nevertheless not authorised to have in their possession. Those items of property will, I believe, be dealt with differently in practice. I expect that both governors and directors will normally confiscate the unauthorised item and then, subject to concerns such as good order, discipline or prison security, will consider other methods of dealing with the property short of destruction or disposal. That may include authorising the item in question, holding it in storage for return to the prisoner on release, or requiring the prisoner to remove the item from the prison. However, destruction of property will remain an option for the governor should other disposal options be deemed inappropriate. As is normal practice, guidance on the exercise of the powers conferred by the Bill will be set out in a Prison Service instruction—a point on which the noble Baroness sought clarification.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, explained that the Bill will specifically enable the destruction or other disposal of certain property which was seized prior to commencement of the Bill and which remains unclaimed six months after commencement. The retrospective nature of this power obviously may cause some concern, but it is limited, and safeguards have been built in that I believe should provide reassurance to the House. However, in order for the power to be effective, a limited retrospective power is, in our view, necessary. The power will apply only to some unauthorised property found before the commencement of the Bill, namely cameras, sound recording devises and electronic communication devices; that is, as has been referred to previously, mobile phones. Noble Lords will be aware that mobile phones are some of the most unwanted items of property that we have in prisons. Again, as the noble Lord illustrated, there are examples where they are used for a variety of crimes within prisons. They can be linked to serious crimes and have been used to organise crimes ranging from murders to drug dealing in the community. The destruction of such property will assist in our legitimate objectives of crime prevention and public safety.
The Bill contains a specific provision to give prisoners and others an opportunity to claim back the property before destruction or disposal. The period for claiming back the property is generous enough, I think, at six months. I hope that the House will be reassured by that.
The noble Baroness raised some specific questions about legal challenge on items that have been taken; how those items will be disposed of; and the issue of the proceeds of the sale. If I may, I will take the liberty of writing to her after the debate with the detail; I will of course ensure that that letter is shared by placing it in the Library of the House.
As has been acknowledged by both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, the Bill is a common-sense measure. It strikes a fair balance between a prisoner’s property interests and the public interest in removing from prison and destroying property which may prejudice good order and discipline or, most importantly, prison security. I am sure that many ordinary people will be startled and surprised—as I was—to learn how the law stands. Prisons 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 one that rectifies an unacceptable anomaly. It will allow governors to run safe, secure regimes, with rules that are meaningfully enforceable.
Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for taking up this issue. I fully commend the Bill to the House; the Government are pleased to lend it their support.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, for their support for this Bill, which echoes the support given by all sides in the other place. I am also very glad to note that the Bill enjoys the full support of the Prison Governors Association and the Prison Officers’ Association, whose operations inside prisons will be made much easier by having statutory provision to take action against things which have always caused problems. I have no doubt that it will also resonate with the ombudsman. When you look at the cases that the ombudsman has to deal with in a year, most are to do with property and many are to do with legal property. I was always amused by how some ragged pair of old jeans became designer jeans when it came to a claim. There is also the business of being unauthorised and the question of space.
I am very grateful to the Minister for taking up the two questions raised by the noble Baroness about legal challenges and disposal. I look forward to that answer. I therefore very much hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Marine Navigation (No. 2) Bill
My Lords, the UK ports and shipping industry is a success. It works day in and day out. It is efficient and effective. Ninety-five per cent of the total volume of our import and export trade passes through our ports. It is one of this country’s greatest assets and enables our nation to compete on a global scale. I believe that my Bill will help the industry to grow even stronger and even more efficient, as it recognises the vital role that shipping must continue to play if the United Kingdom is to go forward trading as it does now.
I congratulate Sheryll Murray MP on steering this Bill successfully through the other place. Like me, she has a strong personal maritime connection, which underpins our desire to see this Bill enacted. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who has brought a number of marine navigation Bills before this House in recent years, some of which have included clauses also contained in this Bill.
Maritime traffic faces serious navigational challenges every day—dangerous weather, treacherous tides and currents, underwater hazards, congested waterways and narrow channels. In harbour waters, it is the responsibility of the relevant harbour authority to manage the risks posed by these threats and to understand how they are changing.
One of the tools used to ensure the safe passage of ships is pilotage. Competent harbour authorities are a subset of statutory harbour authorities given responsibility for, and granted powers to provide, pilotage services. Where a competent harbour authority deems pilotage is compulsory, no person shall have the conduct of a ship unless they are an authorised pilot or hold a relevant pilotage exemption certificate for that area. The pilotage exemption certificate mechanism permits competent mariners to pilot their own ship instead of taking on board a pilot. It recognises that regular users of a body of water can be as familiar with the navigational challenges present as a pilot.
Under the Pilotage Act 1987, a competent harbour authority is responsible for authorising pilots and pilotage exemption certificate holders whom they assess as competent. A competent harbour authority may determine how it makes that assessment, recognising that the factors influencing it will be local in nature. For a pilotage exemption certificate holder, the Act specifies that the competent harbour authority must be satisfied that the person has the skill, experience and local knowledge sufficient to pilot the ship within the specified harbour or area over which the competent harbour authority has powers.
Currently, the Act also requires that a pilotage exemption certificate holder be the master or first mate of the ship. This Bill seeks to amend this requirement so that any deck officer—that is, a member of crew with responsibilities for navigating the ship—may hold a pilotage exemption certificate if they are judged competent by the competent harbour authority.
The change will have an immediate benefit on ships where the crewing structure is suitable. It will make it easier to plan crew rosters. As someone who values aspiration and wishes to encourage people to do as well as they can and proceed up the tree, it will aid the career development of young British officers. UK ferry companies are investing in their young officers who are gaining professional experience and proven competency. However, at this time, they cannot apply to demonstrate this in a pilotage exemption certificate examination. Preventing capable officers from holding a pilotage exemption certificate does nothing to improve safety but hinders the nurturing of home-grown talent.
The Bill would also help the competent harbour authorities to manage risks by giving them the power to suspend the pilotage exemption certificate immediately where misconduct is suspected or where the pilotage exemption certificate holder is no longer competent; requiring ships navigating in their waters to report whose pilotage exemption certificate is being used, not simply that a pilotage exemption certificate is being used, as is currently the case; and providing a power for the Secretary of State to remove a competent harbour authority’s pilotage functions and so relieve it of duties and responsibilities where pilotage is no longer necessary.
Another tool for managing risks to safe navigation currently available to some statutory harbour authorities is the power of general direction. Depending on an authority’s legislation, general directions may be issued to all vessels in a harbour area or simply to particular types of shipping either in response to a particular occurrence or as a standing instruction.
Many harbours have secured the power of general direction through private Acts of Parliament or harbour revision orders, governed by the Harbours Act 1964. These routes are cumbersome and expensive to pursue, both for harbour authorities and government. The Bill would institute a simpler mechanism for obtaining similar powers of harbour direction and level the playing field commercially. Harbour directions could only be given to ships and relate to their movement, mooring and unmooring, equipment or manning.
There is a strong argument to say that if a harbour authority is responsible for managing risk in its waters, it should have the tools to do so. That many ports already possess the tools and use them successfully and reasonably is a mark that the proposal in this Bill to make it easier for other harbour authorities to obtain them is one grounded in both logic and proven experience. However, the Bill recognises that conferring the power on new ports should be subject to democratic procedure. Any harbour authority wanting the power will need to apply to be named in an order made by the Secretary of State, or Scottish or Welsh Ministers, as appropriate. There would be a public consultation on the proposal, which would give an opportunity for any objections to a harbour authority being designated with this power to be heard and considered. Later, should a harbour authority no longer need the power or prove itself incapable of using it properly, the order could be revoked.
Clause 5 would require an authority to consult before giving harbour directions. In the other place, it was argued that the Bill should also provide a procedure for resolving disputes about specific harbour directions. Based on the current positive experience of the powers of general direction, I see little need for creating an additional bureaucratic system to deal with what remains, at the moment, only a theoretical possibility. It seems to me that a non-legislative solution—an agreement between ports and port user groups on how to manage dispute resolution—would be greatly preferable.
The Shipping Minister, in a debate on this Bill in the other place, confirmed that discussions were under way between ports associations, the Royal Yachting Association, and the UK Chamber of Shipping to develop a solution on those lines. I know that real progress is now being made towards finalising the code of conduct on harbour directions, which will secure benefits for harbours and harbour users alike. I hope that noble Lords agree that there is no need for us to do battle on harbour directions until the RYA, the port associations and the UK Chamber of Shipping have completed their negotiations.
Another, quite different, risk faced by ports is that of crime and the need to maintain order within the port estate. Six ports in England maintain their own police force to manage that aspect of operations, whose constables have all the powers of any other police constable in relation to matters connected with the port but only within the port estate and up to one mile from its boundary. Increasingly, both ports and local police forces find this geographic limit to their powers very unhelpful. The geographic limit on port constables’ powers is clearly not sensible for the modern day. It is right that they should remain focused on matters connected with the port, or suspected criminals within the port estate, but there is no justification for hobbling their ability to carry out these duties and thereby putting additional burdens on local police resources.
I have mentioned the need for ports to monitor changes in risk as traffic patterns alter. Not often, but occasionally, a reduction in traffic can be so extensive as to render a harbour uneconomic to maintain. The Bill would help statutory harbour authorities to respond to such a situation too by providing the Secretary of State with the power to make a harbour closure order.
Perhaps the most widely recognised mitigation measure for the navigational challenges faced by mariners is the lighthouse. The work of the three general lighthouse authorities, the GLAs, that serve Britain and Ireland, covers more than simple lighthouses. There are other physical and electronic aids to navigation too. In 2014, Trinity House will have served mariners for exactly 500 years. For 230 years, the Commissioners of Irish Lights and Northern Lighthouse Board have done the same.
The Bill will provide clarity in law on two aspects of GLA activity. Clause 8 will specify the area of sea where each GLA may operate. Clause 11 will make it clear that when marking wrecks lighthouse authorities may use electronic means as well as physical aids to do so. In both cases, the provisions confirm the existing practices of the GLAs that help to keep mariners safe.
Clause 9 concerns the ability of the GLAs to earn income from commercial activity by harnessing spare capacity. The considerable expertise of the GLAs in maritime matters is widely recognised and in demand commercially. The existing legislation permits them, subject to the Secretary of State’s approval, to enter into commercial agreements for the use of spare capacity, whether staff or other resources.
However, on occasion, a commercial agreement would require the purchase or hire of additional resources to deliver it in full. Regrettably, the GLAs are compelled to reject these opportunities as being outside their current powers. The Bill would provide the powers necessary to be able to enter into such commercial agreements—again, only with the Secretary of State’s approval.
To sum up, this Bill will greatly assist the ports and shipping industry by removing unnecessary restrictions and granting very necessary freedoms. It will facilitate shipping companies’ rostering of crew and development of talented officers, while always upholding existing safety standards. It will make it easier for harbour authorities to secure vital powers of harbour direction or to relinquish their powers, if appropriate, to reflect changing traffic patterns. It will ensure that ports police and the GLAs have the powers they need to continue delivering essential services efficiently and effectively.
Our valuable maritime sector is eager to see these measures implemented. I very much hope that noble Lords will agree to bring to an end the lengthy wait that it has endured for these measures to make it onto the statute book. I commend the Bill to the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very pleased to welcome this Bill and to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for taking it forward in this House. A number of matters are covered in this Bill, and it will not be surprising to noble Lords, given my background as a fourth generation lighthouse keeper, that I will concentrate on the parts of the Bill dealing with the general lighthouse authorities.
The measures in this Bill relating to the GLAs are long overdue. Representations about these issues have been made for some considerable time, and it is good that these are now at long last being taken forward. I was sorry that the Marine Navigation Bill of 2008 did not get beyond the draft stage, and I am delighted that both the Government and the Labour Opposition supported this private Member’s Bill in another place.
First, Clause 8 provides for the first time clarity on the area of geographical responsibility of the lighthouse authorities. As is often the case, legal experts do not agree on meanings of Acts of Parliament, and it seemed never to be possible to get agreement on the meaning of the expression “adjacent seas and islands”, as set out in the Merchant Shipping Act. Notwithstanding the lack of agreement on the precise meaning of present legislation, the GLAs provide aids to navigation, including marking hazards outside the 12 nautical mile limit, as well as lighting internationally recognised sea lanes for the purpose of traffic separation. Added to this is the need to light buoys or beacons on potentially hazardous wrecks outside that limit. This Bill will give legal certainty by making it clear that the responsibility of the GLAs includes the area beyond the territorial seas and up to the outer limit of the UK’s pollution control zone—in other words, 200 nautical miles. It is not new that hazards are marked outside the territorial limit. The iconic Bell Rock lighthouse was built, with parliamentary approval, some 200 years ago, and was outside of the then three nautical mile limit.
Over the years that I have spent in your Lordships’ House, I have quite often taken part in debates where there was understandable concern about the costs to shipowners of light dues and the need to keep these as low as possible. I do not have an issue with that, provided always that the safety of the mariner and the environment is not compromised. So secondly, I welcome the measures in Clause 9, which will provide for more opportunity for GLAs to generate more income for the General Lighthouse Fund. The Merchant Shipping Act, as the noble Baroness said, allows for any spare capacity to be utilised for third-party commercial work, provided such work is not outside the scope of the statutory responsibilities of the GLAs. In reality, the GLAs are constrained in that they are limited to using ships or property assets. One example of that is that the Oban base of the Northern Lighthouse Board is now utilised by small cruise vessels for berthing.
In the period 2011-12, some £4 million was raised by the GLAs from commercial activities. There is little doubt that the measures in this Bill will allow for greater opportunity for commercial work by allowing the purchase of ancillary assets and services which, while not necessarily required for statutory duties, nevertheless can and indeed must be used for exploiting spare capacity.
These past few months, the NLV “Pole Star” has carried out quite a bit of interesting contract work, including recovery of waverider buoys, their guard buoys and seabed frames. The last-mentioned part of that work is extremely delicate due to the fragile nature of the instruments on these seabed frames. No doubt that was greatly assisted by the dynamic positioning capabilities of this very versatile ship. The commercial work carried out by the “Pole Star” included multibeam surveys, camera tows and grab sampling of the seabed. Those are the sort of skills that are available and can be brought to bear whenever there is spare capacity available. That can now be enhanced by the purchase of assets to enable that additional work to be undertaken.
There are a lot of clever people in the employ of the general lighthouse authorities and the Bill will allow for consultancy work and other services which can provide a greater possibility of increasing commercial income and so alleviating some of the costs of the General Lighthouse Fund. It is important to point out that none of these additional activities will prejudice the statutory role and responsibility of the general lighthouse authorities. Purchase of assets from the General Lighthouse Fund for contract work outside of statutory responsibilities will require the consent of the Secretary of State, as has been said, and, clearly, will be given only where the benefit outweighs the costs.
Thirdly, and finally, for the GLAs, I refer to Clause 11. This will provide an extension of the ways in which the GLAs can mark a wreck where there is a danger to navigation. The amendment proposed to the Merchant Shipping Act would allow the wreck to be marked by a non-physical device such as the relatively new automatic identification system as well as the more traditional buoys or beacons. The beauty of marking by electronic means such as AIS means that a hazard can be quickly marked before it is possible for a lighthouse tender to get out to a wreck to lay buoys, beacons or other physical markers. This must enhance the safety of the mariner and provide better protection of the marine environment.
As an aside, I hope that nautical colleges are teaching that the AIS is used not just for tracking other vessels by the watchkeeper on the bridge of ships or by coastal vessel traffic services stations, but is used increasingly as an aid to navigation. I was on the bridge of a ship recently and was talking to a deck officer cadet in his final year who was adamant that it was dangerous to use AIS as an aid to navigation. Clearly, he had never been taught about the concept of virtual AIS, either at Warsash Maritime Academy or on board the ships on which he had served as part of his cadetship.
I again welcome the measures in this Bill which will assist the GLAs to better carry out their good works and at the same time help keep down costs to the shipping industry. I know that other matters are covered in the Bill but I hope that nothing will get in the way of it having a safe and speedy passage through this House and on to the statute book.
My Lords, noble Lords may be a little surprised to find me straying from my usual area of interest in international development policy to join this Second Reading debate, but I have three reasons for doing so: first, a long association with some major ports and with the Royal and Merchant Navies; secondly, historic family ties with the development of pilotage and coastal shipping; and finally, the content of the Marine Navigation Bill itself. By the end of my speech noble Lords may wish that I had stuck to my preferred policy area. Nevertheless, I shall plough on, or perhaps “sail on” is the right expression to use.
In my younger days, I had the good fortune to win a place with the Admiralty as a student engineer based in Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, home to Nelson’s HMS “Victory” and in its heyday the largest industrial complex in the world. There I spent my formative years studying and training in a naval shipping environment. Noble Lords who are familiar with the south of England will know that just along the Solent lies the commercial port of Southampton, famous for its ocean liners connecting the United Kingdom to North and South America, Africa and the Far East. Cunard, P&O, Union Castle—all the great shipping lines sailed out of Southampton and through the Solent with its two tides a day, mixing with the warships out of Portsmouth, the submarines out of Gosport, the ferries to and from the Isle of Wight, France and Spain and, during the summer months, mingling with literally hundreds of pleasure craft on a daily basis.
The skills you learn during your formative years seem to embed themselves more readily, and the grounding I gained in marine engineering from the Admiralty—when we had an Admiralty, that is—together with an awareness of the procedures of sailing, particularly small craft in busy sea lanes, are not entirely forgotten. I believe that they may have some relevance when it comes to examining this Bill.
My second reason for contributing to this debate is in recognition of my forefathers who for generations earned their living as master mariners on the west coast of England and beyond. The family business was running a fleet of coasters under sail down the Bristol Channel and beyond to Wales, Liverpool and Ireland. They sailed out of Watchet, an historic port on the north Somerset coast. Along that coast the tide rises and falls by more than 40 feet and bars were built across harbour entrances to retain sufficient depth of water to keep ships afloat at low tide. At other times harbour bars created a navigational hazard which added to the constraints that needed local pilotage knowledge and skilled deckhands to bring ships under sail safely into port. Coastal ketches and sloops that my ancestors sailed generally had a crew of four or five when under sail at sea. To sail them into or out of Watchet harbour, however, needed extra hands provided by the local community. They were known as hobblers. “Hobbling” is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ad hoc unlicensed pilotage. Some might say, “Those were the days”.
Hobbling was lucrative and thus became a competitive occupation. Hobbling families vied with each other to glean advance information of shipping movements ahead of their rivals and secure hobbling work. They would race out to ships in the channel in their rowing boat, put a pilot aboard if the skipper did not have local knowledge, and then sail the ship into its moorings. Inevitably, violence broke out among the three Watchet hobbling families until, in 1864, the landlord of the London Inn, himself a master mariner—one George Chidgey—brought them together and thrashed out agreements to share the work and responsibilities in a sensible manner; thus was formed the Watchet United Sailors Benefit Society and for the first time the long established Watchet Hobblers’ pilotage was regularised as a precursor to the pilotage system we are debating today. Some time during this period, a family ketch, the “Florrie”, was sunk in a storm off Land’s End with the loss of all hands, who all came from several generations of Chidgeys, and thus effectively brought to an end my family’s engagement in merchant shipping.
That brings me to my third reason for speaking in the Second Reading of this Bill. Alerted by the various depositions from organisations affected by the Bill, I took the time to study what proved to be an excellent briefing pack provided by the House of Lords Library. As noble Lords will know, this is not a new Bill. It started under a previous Administration and has been recycled as a Private Member’s Bill. There is nothing wrong with that. However, reading through the briefing pack, I found that issues being raised now in your Lordships’ House seem to have been raised previously and, to a degree, debated in another place in a previous Parliament. Therefore, I take it that the outcomes then, which involved tweaking of elements of the Bill, particularly Clauses 2 and 5, as the noble Baroness has mentioned, have not entirely laid to rest the concerns expressed. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity to debate this further in this House.
I refer specifically to concerns regarding pilot exemption certificates being awarded to crew members other than masters or first officers, who are, of course, also known as mates. For example, Alistair Singleton of the Liverpool Pilotage Service Ltd, by his own reckoning an authorised pilot with 36 years’ experience in the shipping industry, has written to me about his concerns. He tells me that the proposed amendments to the Pilotage Act 1987 give him a great deal of concern, pointing out that pilotage in the UK is, first, a public service whose development over time should be carefully weighed before making changes. Mr Singleton says that,
“it demands that the highest standards are maintained for the protection of the environment and the safety of life at sea. Their relaxation for profit is not appropriate”.
I cannot help thinking that that is a sentiment with which my ancestor George Chidgey, master mariner and latterly landlord of the London Inn and founder of the Watchet United Sailors Benefit Society, could do nothing but agree.
Noble Lords may well have received a four-page letter from Captain Cockrill, chairman of the UK Maritime Pilots’ Association. In it, he comments on the proposal to deregulate pilotage exemption certificates and, in a covering letter together with a six-page analysis of the impact assessment in the Bill, he argues that Clause 2 should be deleted in its entirety. I noted that, in evidence to the Transport Select Committee, Captain Cockrill was particularly concerned over this issue and by the fact that, as he claimed, no risk assessment statement had been provided.
Furthermore, I have heard from Mr Tim Nuttall, another Liverpool pilot, who has called into question the belief that competent harbour authorities would not issue pilot exemption certificates to unqualified individuals thus compromising safety of navigation. He cites his experience of a case at the port on the Humber, where the services of well over 100 experienced pilots were dispensed with to be replaced with unqualified, inexperienced mariners from around the globe—this is a serious claim. The outcome was claimed to be a litany of serious accidents, collisions, groundings and near misses, keeping the marine accident investigators extremely busy for a decade—something that I am sure can be checked.
Finally, I have received a letter from Gus Lewis, head of legal and government affairs for the Royal Yachting Association. This association is the national body for a whole range of recreational and competitive boating. Its headquarters are in Hamble and were opened by the Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal while I was the constituency MP. In due course, I took as my life peerage territorial title the Saxon village of Hamble-le-Rice. I therefore take more seriously than some the issues that it has raised with me, in particular its concerns that Clause 5, on harbour directions, would effectively grant lawmaking powers to harbour authorities, as it argued in its briefing paper.
While there may inevitably be an element of self-interest in the representations made, safety at sea leaves little margin for error. As my ancestors established, effective organisation and legislation are essential to establishing and maintaining the highest standards in seafaring. They are principles that we must not lose sight of.
My Lords, I feel that I should begin by declaring an interest, but I may go on declaring it too long and bore your Lordships. I speak in my capacity as secretary and treasurer of the House of Lords Yacht Club and do so rather nervously, as I have the vice-commodore on my left and the commodore who is about to speak after me.
I have a belief that sea is in the blood. I have the same problem as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, pointed out in relation to his family: I am the Scottish Mitchell-Thomson McEacharn—the Ben line, the McEacharn line, the Scottish line. We could not earn very much money, so we sailed the world. We set ourselves up in Australia; we were the first harbourmasters in Otago in New Zealand and, for ever and a day, we have a family rule that we must die at sea and have our latitude and longitude on our lair or on our tombstone. Even if we do not, and if I were to pass away today here, the rule would be that, on my lair in Scotland, the latitude and longitude of this particular Bench would be there.
I have an interest, obviously, because of my sea background. I think that I began in the boating world at the age of five, punting a rather ropey punt on my grandfather’s lake and being reminded that it was his father who in the First World War, and not being able to continue in the Army, had pressed into service his yacht “Venetia”, which was then fitted with depth charges and was off Harwich to patrol for submarines. However, it was unable sail to fast enough, so that, when the first trial took place, the stern blew off and the vessel was in port for the rest of the day. He received a remarkable letter from the Admiralty, that is still in my family, thanking him for his glorious service during the war and making him a commander in the RNVR, in which capacity he had himself painted. Provided with this certificate was a note stating that he had received 100 guineas by way of a prize or a reward. This was framed in the downstairs loo, as we would call it, and put on the wall with a note from him stating that, when he was on his seat, he would forever remember the historic meanness of the Admiralty.
We know that the public sector is inevitably mean and inevitably short of money, but we do need the private individuals. I pay great tribute to my noble friend who has introduced this Bill for what she has managed to do down in Cornwall. It is quite remarkable in that area how she has single-handedly almost transformed people’s attitude to the whole of the inlet business. We have a coastline in the United Kingdom that is as long as India. It is full of ins and outs, which to some extent means shellfish. When you go down there and visit the lobster factories, as I call them, where she has persuaded fishermen to take lobster eggs and grow lobsters that are then exported, you realise the importance of it.
Inlets and outlets—maybe they are called havens or harbours—are areas that need development and exploitation. I shall speak today principally on the role of the private sector. After punting across a lake, I then ended up trying to get a Seagull outboard motor with a small aluminium exhaust to go down the depths of the Arran. Over time, we ended up with small boats where we all trained at young age. My son first drove a Dellquay Dory at the age of three, sitting on your knees so that you could have health and safety. Over the years, as I had sailing boat—all, I have to say, on borrowed money—I would ask families where they had only children, and parents were worried that they might lose their children during the holidays if they had only one, if they would like me to take them. We would have gangs, and we would deal in adventures. We had to go across to France of course to invade France, but, on the way back, in order to be sure that my navigation was okay, we would ring lighthouse keepers. At a young age, they ring Niton Radio. My son would ring Niton Radio and they would say, “Hello, Callum, how are you? Is it going all right?”. You somehow felt secure if you had been in touch with a lighthouse keeper. If you were going past Portland Bill and wanted to take the inner route, and you were nervous about the tides, you would ring the lighthouse keeper. I always really wanted to be a lighthouse keeper or possibly to have my own lighthouse.
It is against this background that I have this deep affection for the sea, but also, I would like to return to the leisure sector. One day, I received a letter asking whether I would like to accept the appointment to be chairman of the Greater London and South East Council for Sport and Recreation, responsible for planning and development of sport and recreation in Greater London, Surrey, Sussex and Kent, so help me God. I think that they wanted a Lord, and I did not know that we had a committee of 300, which included the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Royal Parks. But that did not matter; the idea was to try to get people to go out and play games and play sport. This became something of a passion: how could you make something possible? Among the areas that we looked at were inland waterways, the whole of the Thames and the whole of Docklands, trying to encourage shallow-water diving. At Greenwich, there was an old Henry VIII graving dock which the council was going to fill in and get rid of. We managed to find the enthusiastic diving brigade which said that this would be a perfect place for training divers, and the other lot said that it would be a perfect place for training canoeists, so we had the divers diving at night. And then the local people wanted to fish, so we stocked it with fish as well. There were also little holes in the ground where you would put in a pole and an umbrella, and we brought things to life.
It was then that I realised that we were responsible. In Greater London, Surrey, Sussex and Kent, you had all the water areas, the inner lakes and others—what could you do with them? Over time, in my boat or boats, I have visited every single haven, harbour and creek right the way down to the end of Cornwall. There are moments of great excitement when you decide, “Let’s go into the Beaulieu River at night for the first time”. When you wake up in the morning, when everyone else and all the young ones are asleep, and you see a stag swim across that river in front of you, that is emotion. What I am trying to point out is that this private sector is absolutely critical to the whole of the maritime world. It is also a considerable nuisance. The sorts of things that we would encourage people to do would be to look at the history of windsurfing, which was meant to have started in Hayling Island with someone with a broomstick on a door. Before you knew it, once it was mentioned, a whole lot of the young were out there on doors, causing absolute havoc with the tide going the wrong way.
Looking at these inland creeks and waterways, there is this need to make sure that the private sector—if that is what it is called—co-operates fully and is fully trained on all aspects of navigation. One exercise we would do sometimes was to take a small Dory and go from somewhere such as Birdham in Chichester harbour through the little cut into Portsmouth harbour to review the fleet. You would arrange for one of the ships there to stand up and wave. It was creating the activity on the water that caused an enormous amount of fun.
I am trying to point out that if we are to be involved in this area, we have to bring together the private and public sectors and the training of individuals. A bunch of children who have capsized in the way of a tanker coming into a harbour can cause a lot of chaos. However, if you explain to people at a young age what the rules and regulations are during their training for sailing or for driving motorboats, you can get a long way. I speak here today on behalf of the private sector but, more importantly, for the young. Once you have got their enthusiasm the sea is in the blood for life, as it is with me.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to participate in this debate. I first declare my interest as president of the United Kingdom Maritime Pilots’ Association; I am also a harbour commissioner in the port of Fowey in Cornwall. This seems to be something of a Cornish Bill because the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, comes from Cornwall—as does Sheryll Murray MP, who introduced this Bill into the Commons. It is rather nice to think that this Bill, which I am sure will pass, will be a Cornish-originated Bill. Perhaps the rest of the country has something to learn from this; anyway it is good.
As has been said, the draft Bill was published by the previous Government and I made one or two attempts to take it forward in various marine navigation Bills, so of course I generally welcome this Bill. However, when I did my Bill I was required to seek the consent of the Prince of Wales, so I consulted the clerks here as to whether that was needed for this Bill and if not, why not. Helpfully, the counsel to the Cabinet Office has published two versions of a 50-page manual on when, how and whether you need the consent of the Queen or the Prince of Wales to any Bill.
I think some of it is redacted but the key thing is that this Bill does not apparently need the consent of the Prince of Wales—even though he is the harbourmaster of St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly—because, as the clerk said,
“there is no requirement in the Bill that any harbour authority exercises”,
the duties put on it in this Bill. The clerk then said that,
“the text at line 34 on page 3”,
of this document,
“says a ‘harbour authority may give directions’”.
If the harbour authority was required to give directions, the Prince would have to give his consent but as the word is only “may”, he does not. That is all right then; we can carry on with the Bill. I hope that I have all the quotes right, as it is quite a complicated document.
Looking at the principle of this Bill and of other government legislation in the maritime sector, it has generally been based over the years on light regulation and on the assumption that all parties behave in a sensible and professional manner. The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, emphasised how important it was to carry on with this so as to encourage as many people to use the water as possible, without getting in the way of others. The problem here is that the pressures on ship owners and crews to save money are nowadays immense: hence tiredness, cutting corners and, often, language problems. Most of the time, it is all right and nothing happens. There are sometimes small incidents and occasionally, sadly, some things one might term disasters, be they oil spills, cruise liners hitting rocks or whatever. We can all say that it will never happen again but, sadly, it occasionally does. In considering this Bill, we should make it proof against one or more parties acting stupidly, dangerously or whatever because the consequences could be catastrophic. I hope that they do not happen very often.
I take as support in this a quote from the Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty insurance company. Earlier this month, in releasing its annual report on ship losses, it said,
“it reveals the main reason for incidents seem to be human error”.
It emphasises that,
“self regulation initiatives and technological improvements such as the introduction of … ECDIS in July”,
“to reduce accidents, but only if coupled with effective training and management oversight”.
That is an important issue, which I want to speak about when it comes to the pilotage exemption certificates in Clause 2.
There has been much previous debate about Clause 2 over the years in the Commons: about whether it should be there at all and, if so, whether the amendments in this Bill, which add “deck officer” to,
“the master or first mate”,
should be there. The Government say that this is a deregulation benefit but it is really not very clear to whom the benefit applies and by how much. When the noble Baroness winds up, perhaps she can help to quantify this because from the mass of evidence that I have received—the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, referred to having received a lot of this too—I know that the current PEC requirements under the 1987 Act have been developed and are of long standing over centuries.
I was very interested to hear of the pilotage arrangements for Watchet because I was there a couple of years ago and, with that rise and fall, it is some harbour. There is an old pilot boat in the museum there, which I think has been recreated. It shows how dangerous it was and what the importance of local knowledge was there.
I am not sure where the pressure for this change is coming from. The Chamber of Shipping seems to have confirmed my view that it is coming from a very small sector of the shipping industry; basically, a dredging company in the Thames. There, you have three people on the dredger: the master, the first mate and a third person, who is perhaps the deck officer. Because of the working time directive requirements, the master likes to dump the aggregate on the quay while the first mate likes to do the dredging, so somebody has to drive the ship in between and it obviously has to be the deck officer. We can debate whether such a person has the right training or experience. We will need to debate further whether it is appropriate for such a definition to be applied to bigger shipping. I have seen no substantive argument from the Chamber of Shipping or others to support the claims that this change needs to take place.
There are two key issues here. One is that if the phrase “deck officer” is to be applied properly, it has to have a proper definition of how they are trained and what qualifications they have. I suggest there is also an issue as to what managerial responsibility they have in relation to the master. It is fine to say that he might be the navigation officer. However, if he is also employed and the boss, two levels up, is the master it might be a brave person who overruled that master. While it is not overruling, because the master is in charge, it is a different relationship from just providing the navigation information. There is a lot more work to be done on this, and I hope that we can discuss this more with the noble Baroness between now and Committee.
I shall quote one or two comments about this. The first is from David Phillips, chief harbourmaster of the PLA, who says that,
“pilotage is possibly the most important risk control measure that ports have … It is important to understand that the act of pilotage is a command function. To exercise command at sea requires a measure of experience that will come from sea experience”.
The UK Harbour Masters’ Association wrote to Sheryll Murray on 26 November, saying,
“It is essential that the role of pilot is, in the interests of marine safety, restricted to only the most experienced navigation officers signed on the vessel’s articles or other official document of engagement”.
I met my noble friend Lord West outside. He apologised that he could not be in this debate but allowed me to quote him as saying that he thought that this change in the definition of who could have a PEC was actually dangerous.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, quoted from the House of Commons evidence. Its Transport Select Committee report of 2008 into the Draft Marine Navigation Bill said:
“We are extremely concerned at the proposal in Clause 4 to amend the provision for pilotage to extend the scope of who can hold a PEC. 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”.
The only safe way is to remove Clause 2, but I look forward to discussing this with the noble Baroness between now and Committee. I hope that we can reach agreement before then without causing too much delay to the Bill, because I want it to go through.
I turn to Clause 5 and the power of general direction. It is an important part of a CHA’s role, and the current process is very long-winded. This is an important clause, giving harbours the powers to do this more quickly. I have been involved in debates with the ports and the shipping and leisure industries. Most of the time they have to work together, but I suggest that the Bill has to make provision for when they do not. We have all had examples of where this has gone wrong; noble Lords will have seen an interesting video clip 18 months ago of a racing yacht in the Solent going across the bows of a tanker, with the spinnaker getting caught in the racing yacht’s anchor. The mast came down but luckily no one was hurt. What surprised me was that the entire crew were serving naval officers. If the Navy can get it wrong, one or two other people can probably get it wrong as well.
I am not having a bash at the Navy, because there are equal stories on the other side. I heard yesterday from the Royal Yachting Association that, after the ports had said, “We’ll work together. It’ll all be all right. We’ll be very friendly. We’ll consult. The leisure industry needn’t worry. It’ll be all right on the night”, the port of Dundee, which already has the powers, is requiring users of recreational craft, presumably including dinghies, to submit passage plans to the Forth and Tay Navigation Service in advance of putting their boats in the water or going to sea. That goes beyond what is necessary, desirable or even appropriate. If that kind of thing can happen without consultation and listening to those whom they have consulted, it confirms that there is a need for something better than what is currently in the Bill.
I generally support Clause 9, regarding the general lighthouse authorities. It is good for the GLAs to be able to invest and go into commercial business, but I hope that it will bring benefits to the shipping lines and those who pay the light dues. Hopefully, it will improve the efficiency of the whole thing.
With those few words, I wish the Bill well. I hope that we can get it to Royal Assent without too many delays.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. We have crossed swords many times on these matters. I am delighted, in declaring an interest as an older brother of Trinity House, to hear him say something complimentary about the lighthouse authorities. He is normally on the opposite tack.
One of the delights of marine Bills—which, let us face it, do not come up very often—is that we go off on different tacks in all sorts of different directions, and we have some very interesting history lessons from various noble Lords. I was most interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey said, because I live just over the hill from Watchet and I know it well. It is probably not realised that Watchet was a commercial port until just a few years ago. There was a local shipping line called the Willie line—I hasten to say that it was spelt with an “ie”—that regularly ran a large vessel in and out of Watchet. You never know what is going to come out of the woodwork in these debates. Accordingly, my noble friend Lord Selsdon always entertains us in a most delightful way.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for introducing the Bill, which, as she and others have said, relates to matters that have been sculling around for some considerable time. This gives us an opportunity at least to put these various measures on the statute book.
I will not say much about the general lighthouse authority provisions because they have been exceedingly well covered by the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie of Culkein. Needless to say, they are very much welcomed. I think that the original right of the general lighthouse authorities to use vessels for commercial purposes, when time allowed and they were not required for their statutory purposes, goes back to when the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, was Shipping Minister in this House. I was in a meeting with him and he suddenly came up with this out of the blue, which delighted me and indeed the general lighthouse authorities. That was in 1997, so the GLAs have been able to do that for some time. This extends that right and allows them to act as consultants and to use various moneys out of the General Lighthouse Fund, if required, if they need to buy some specific equipment that is going to assist their ships being hired out to someone else. As I understand it, the proviso is that there still has to be a profit for the General Lighthouse Fund in the longer term. That will certainly please the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, because I am sure that he will greatly welcome anything that will lessen the burden of ship owners.
With regard to the wreck-marking side, even this week one of the Trinity House ships had to steam at high speed down the Channel to Torbay, where a Greek tug was towing a dead ship to Turkey for demolition. The tow overtook the tug and holed her, and she was leaking oil. Eventually the larger ship sank so Trinity House had to go and mark that wreck, which it has now done with four buoys just off Torbay.
The Bill is welcomed by a wide range of people, including the British Ports Association, the UK Major Ports Group and the UK Chamber of Shipping. The two bones of contention, if I may refer to them as such, concern yachtsmen’s fears about the new harbour directions and pilots’ fears about extending the licensing of pilotage exemption certificates. I have spoken on behalf the Royal Yachting Association and the British Marine Federation in this House over many years. Consultations with the yachting fraternity have been going on widely since the Bill started in the Commons. As we have heard, there is a new code of conduct on harbour directions, which I understand will be more or less completed next week. This will be overseen by a national directions panel which is made up of representatives from the two major ports organisations, the UK Chamber of Shipping, the Royal Yachting Association and various fishery organisations. It is expected to meet at least once a year—or more if necessary—and to oversee this whole business of harbour directions, which are a great step forward from the old, expensive and time-consuming process of harbour revision orders.
Pilots play a vital part in marine safety. They are rightly proud of their profession. I can remember deliberations here on the Pilotage Act 1987, which I think was one of the first occasions when the Moses Room was used for Grand Committee. That removed pilotage from the pilotage associations, one of which was Trinity House, which was responsible for some 40% of pilotage in the country. Since then, it has been a bit of a curate’s egg: good in parts, some not so good. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, about the sacking of all the Humber pilots. My understanding was that the pilots, who completely ran their own show, were demanding too much money which was making is commercially difficult for the port authority to operate. Pilots are not infallible. I have only to remind the House of the “Sea Empress” incident off Milford Haven, where the initial cause of the accident was pilot error, which led to the grounding.
Pilots have to move with the times, as do we all. Today, shipping is very different from what it was 15 or 20 years ago. Some ships—for instance, ferries—now have three crews. They are used 24 hours a day. It is not like the old situation where a ship had a master and a first mate, and they stayed there, often for some considerable time. Regrettably, I am afraid that manning standards have also been a huge cause of concern. Ships are operating with fewer and fewer people. This means that those officers who have pilotage exemption certificates may have been on watch for God knows how many hours, and they have, statutorily, to take rest from time to time, so somebody else may be required when the ship is coming into harbour.
When this first arose, there was a lot of hoo-hah and stories that cooks could put themselves forward to get pilotage exemption. Of course, that could never happen. It is up to the ports to issue these certificates There is absolutely no way that a port is going to issue an exemption certificate to someone who is not properly qualified. I remind your Lordships that it has been common practice in the Merchant Navy for years for younger officers to be overqualified for the actual job they are doing on a ship. On some ships, you may have a third officer who actually has a master’s—or certainly a mate’s—ticket. They are also operating on ships which come in and out of harbour regularly, so they know the waters of the harbour. The pilots’ fear is perhaps slightly overstated on this. It will not result in fewer jobs for pilots. They should be far more concerned over something that is coming up in 2015 when, under new EU regulations, the sulphur limits allowed in fuel will be reduced even further, to the point where, fuel being as expensive as it is—around 30% of the overall costs of a ship’s operation—it will be impossible for them to remain in business. There may therefore be fewer ships around, especially on these regular routes and particularly those going up into the Baltic.
Concerns have been raised and that is absolutely right. They have been discussed and looked at, and some concessions have been made. However, I detect from most corners of the House—perhaps not the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley—that this is a welcome Bill. It should be given a fair wind.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Wilcox on introducing this important Bill. The great advantage of being tail-end Charlie is that you can tear up the speech that you were going to make because so many points have been made. I was particularly pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie of Culkein, talking about the lighthouses, an area of interest to me. I agree with him that it is crazy that we have not been specific about where the lighthouse authorities can operate. He will know that we have Whale Rock, on which the Northern Lighthouse Board currently has to put two buoys. Trinity House has many more examples. For the lighthouse authority not to have had that certainty needed to be addressed a long time ago. I am glad to see it in the Bill.
I, too, support the enabling of the lighthouse authorities to undertake certain commercial activities within defined limits; that will certainly help. Of course, the marking of wrecks needs attention and is now well covered in Bill. The second half of the Bill needs to be welcomed, and has been.
More controversial are Clauses 1 to 4 about pilotage, particularly Clause 2. I declare my interest, such as it is, as having twice been Minister of Shipping. I was, I suppose, part of the gestation process of the Pilotage Act 1987 when I was Minister for Shipping in 1986; my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara gave birth to that Act, because I had moved on to the Home Office by that stage. I remember full well the long discussions with the pilots’ association. They have done and continue to do a very good job. Of course, the nature of pilotage has changed, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, says. I cannot remember it, but certainly my ancestors could remember that if you had a good easterly gale in the Pentland Firth, you took on a pilot and you did not see him again; he wound up in America. Times have moved on a little since then.
The pilots were one of the most “conservative with a small c” bodies that I had come across, and were reluctant to change. I recall being told in 1986 that if we introduced the Pilotage Act there would be many more accidents at sea and at entrances to the harbour. That has not happened. I can understand the pilots’ concern, but it was misplaced. I also think that it is misplaced on this occasion. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, has just said, there are good controls which the competent harbour authority must ensure. My honourable friend, during consideration in Committee of an amendment to the Bill in another place, described the definition of deck officer as:
“‘an officer in charge of the above-deck workings and manoeuvres at sea of a ship or boat’””.—[Official Report, Commons, 30/11/12; col. 539.]
That makes it fairly clear that this is a responsible person for consideration of an exemption certificate.
The useful Explanatory Notes state that,
“the relevant competent harbour authority is satisfied that that person has the skill, experience and local knowledge, and sufficient knowledge of English for safety purposes”—
that is important in Scotland where more people speak Gaelic—
“to be capable of piloting one or more specified ships within its harbour”.
That is pretty straight. I am therefore inclined to support my noble friend Lady Wilcox on this; the Bill has got it right on this occasion. I would hate there to be any reduction in safety at sea. I was the Minister in charge when the “Braer”, not the “Sea Empress”, went down. That was not a matter of pilotage. We all know what happened, and I will not comment further, but it is no joy at all for there to be any shipping accident whatever in our waters, or any other waters. Nevertheless, I still support the Bill as it stands.
That takes me on to my old sparring partner, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I am less sanguine than is the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, about the noble Lord, who was very nice about the GLAs, for a change—which slightly surprised me—but I wonder whether, given what he said, he really wants to get rid of Clause 2. He knows full well that the Bill will not reach the statute book if that clause is removed. I listened earlier to the noble Lord; he was waxing eloquently on the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill and said, “This Bill must not be amended because it will not reach the statute book”. Now he is happy to say, “Let’s take Clause 2 out of this Bill and it will sail through the House of Commons”. I am much more cynical about the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I would not be at all surprised if, deeply underlying that, was the intention that if we get rid of Clause 2, we will not have Clauses 8 and 9 relating to the lighthouse authorities.
Overall, I support the Bill unamended and wish it a fair wind.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on her involvement in taking the Bill through your Lordships’ House. It addresses a range of specific issues and contains a number of the provisions of the 2008 draft Marine Navigation Bill of the then Labour Government, many of which were introduced into your Lordships’ House by my noble friend Lord Berkeley. For that reason, we indicated support for the Bill in the Commons and for its passage, following discussions, to your Lordships’ House.
The Bill contains provisions relating to: the power to remove harbour authorities’ pilotage functions; the granting of pilotage exemption certificates; the circumstances in which a harbour authority can suspend or revoke a pilotage exemption certificate; the offence by the master of a ship of not giving a pilotage notification; the giving of harbour directions to ships within, entering or leaving the harbour of a designated harbour authority; the power to make a closure order so that a harbour authority can and will stop maintaining its harbour; the extension of the geographic jurisdiction for the current six ports police forces in England; issues relating to the area in which each general lighthouse authority may operate and the carrying out of commercial activities by general lighthouse authorities; the arrangements for the marking of wrecks; and the drafting of regulations relating of standards to be met by seafarers.
There are two specific aspects of the Bill to which I shall refer. The first is Clause 5, which deals with the designation of harbour authorities that can give directions to ships, which effectively means craft of any size, relating to their movements, their mooring or unmooring, their equipment and their manning within that harbour authority area. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the Minister will know, concerns have been expressed that the power to give directions may not always be used in a proportionate or reasonable manner in relation to small craft in particular. It would be helpful if the noble Baroness and the Minister—if the Government are supporting the Bill—indicated what safeguards will be place to minimise the likelihood of this happening and, if it happens, what procedures will be in place to enable decisions by a harbour authority to be challenged, other than by pursuing the matter with the harbour authority that has made that decision.
My second point concerns the issue that has been mentioned on a number of occasions, the change in respect of pilot exemption certificates. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the Minister will be more than aware of the concerns raised by the UK Maritime Pilots’ Association, which clearly fears that the changes proposed have rather more to do with cutting costs than they do with anything else, and are concerned about the safety implications. The Bill amends the Pilotage Act 1987 so that any bona fide deck officer, which includes the master or first mate of a ship, may hold a pilotage exemption certificate, provided that the harbour authority is satisfied that they are capable of piloting one or more specified ships within its harbour. Currently, only the master or first mate of a ship can hold such a certificate.
Perhaps noble Baroness can define what is meant by the term “deck officer”, and say how junior an officer can be to be a deck officer if it is envisaged that, when carrying out their pilotage role, they could challenge the decision by the master of the ship. Again, it would be helpful if the noble Baroness and, indeed, the Minister, if the Government are supporting the Bill, can say: from what source pressure for this change is coming; what the difficulty is with the present arrangements that is so significant that it can be overcome only through the proposed wording in the Bill—not through any mean not involving legislation; over what period of time, how frequently or consistently, and in what circumstances, the difficulty has arisen; whether the change proposed in the Bill will be to the financial advantage of any groups of individuals, organisations or companies; and, likewise, whether the change set out in the Bill on pilotage exemption certificates will be to the financial disadvantage of any groups of individuals, organisations or companies. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, could also say what the assessment is, in view of the concerns that have been raised, of the impact that the proposed changes in granting pilotage exemption certificates will have on the current number of authorised maritime pilots. Is the assessment that it will lead to an increase, a decrease or no change as far as their numbers are concerned?
The proposed change in the Bill on pilotage exemption certificates could potentially result in a number of deck officers on a ship having a pilotage exemption certificate for a specific harbour. An increase in the number of deck officers on a ship with the certificate presumably means—but I may be corrected on this—that some or all of the deck officers are going to be piloting the ship within the harbour less frequently than would be the case under the current arrangements, where it is only the master or the first mate of a ship who holds the pilotage exemption certificate. Is there or will there be any requirement that the holder of a pilotage exemption certificate has to undertake the piloting of the specified ship within the harbour concerned a certain minimum number of times over a laid-down period? If that is not the case—and perhaps it is the case—will the harbour authority be able to satisfy itself that no deck officers with a pilotage exemption certificate for a specific ship, in respect of that harbour, will have lost the skill, experience and local knowledge required through lack of undertaking the pilotage responsibility?
Furthermore, will the harbour authority be able to put a limit on the number of bona fide deck officers who can hold a pilotage exemption certificate for their harbour in respect of a specific ship, or will it have to grant one unless it can show that at the time the certificate was sought, the individual did not have the skill, experience and local knowledge required? I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, or the Minister, will be able to respond to the points I have raised either today or within a short period of time—certainly before the next stage in the passage of this Bill through your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Wilcox for her concise and cogent introduction to her Bill; the House would expect nothing less. I also thank all noble Lords who have taken part in its Second Reading today. The Bill covers a variety of issues affecting maritime activity, but all are focused on giving responsible organisations greater freedom to act to maintain and enhance safe and efficient operations.
I recognise that some noble Lords have concerns about the potential impact of one or two clauses in the Bill. It is right that we should give careful consideration to those concerns. My noble friend Lord Selsdon made one of his usual fascinating speeches; they are not to be missed and are essential reading and viewing.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked why the Prince of Wales’s consent was not required for this Bill. The House authorities confirmed to parliamentary counsel that the Prince of Wales’s consent was not required for this Bill, so it was not sought. The Prince’s consent was required for the previous Bill because it made provision about lighthouse authorities and therefore directly affected the Duchy as the local lighthouse authority for the Isles of Scilly. That provision is not part of this Bill. As the noble Lord acknowledged, the Bill does not impose measures on harbour or local lighthouse authorities; it enables them to seek changes to their powers if they choose.
Pilotage is a profession that emerged in the earliest days of maritime trade, in recognition of the need to provide valuable ships and their cargo with safe passage into harbours or through dangerous waters. The Rolls of Oleron—a code of sea laws first promulgated by Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 12th Century and introduced in England during the reign of King Richard I—exacted severe penalties on any pilot who lost a ship in his care. He was to be beheaded. Whether this draconian punishment served to improve standards of pilotage, I could not possibly say. I can say, however, that it forms no part of our current pilotage legislation—the Pilotage Act 1987. Although this may be an extreme example of an earlier legal provision now deemed redundant, it is reflective of the tides of change and the need to modernise legislation on occasion. This Bill contains such modernising legislation.
The 1987 Act gave the function of managing pilotage services to individual Competent Harbour Authorities, which are best placed to understand the potential dangers to shipping in their own waters. This Bill would give the CHA greater control over Pilotage Exemption Certificates, the PEC mechanism. My noble friend Lord Caithness talked about some of the worries that people had when he introduced that legislation.
My noble friend Lady Wilcox eloquently explained the purpose of PECs and I only wish to add that we in the Government consider that PECs are a proven, sensible and safe mechanism that forms an important element of pilotage provision in the waters of a CHA. Nothing in this Bill reduces the standards by which a PEC applicant is to be assessed. It concerns only eligibility.
The evidence from the Chamber of Shipping is that this measure could provide great encouragement to ambitious deck officers in the UK ferry industry. Opening up the path of progression, subject to careful examination, rewards both dedication and hard work and helps the ferry industry to prepare the next generation of senior officers.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, suggested potential pilotage problems on the Humber. In making his argument against Clause 2, I did not recall him explaining why the CHA would issue a PEC to an incompetent person. As I said before, the clause concerns only eligibility. Further it is not clear to me why an officer can be first mate on one ship and have a PEC for a particular ship and harbour but if, for some reason, he becomes second mate on a similar ship, plying to the same harbour, he cannot have a PEC. The law, as it stands, also means that you can have only two PEC holders on any ship.
The noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Greenway, touched on the problem of the shipping industry being under intense commercial pressure and we know they are quite right. Like the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, does not explain why Clause 2 in my noble friend’s Bill requires a CHA to lower the standards of pilots. The clause concerns only eligibility. The noble Lord also questioned whether a second mate on a dredger would have the necessary qualifications. The answer is that the CHA will not grant a PEC if the officer is not competent of piloting that ship in that harbour.
My noble friend Lord Caithness talked about the definition of a deck officer. Many years ago I came across the term “deck officer” and I have no difficulty at all in understanding what we mean by it. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Wilcox will take comfort from the support of my noble friend who, as he pointed out, is a former shipping Minister with considerable experience. My noble friend teased the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on the effect of the passage of the Bill if we did not include Clause 2. I thought I heard the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, say that he hoped that the Bill will indeed pass.
I turn to harbour directions. Since 2000, the Department for Transport has encouraged harbour authorities to secure powers of general direction to support the effective management of vessels in their harbour waters. This recommendation has always been a prominent feature in the Port Marine Safety Code, the non-statutory guidance produced by the department and Maritime and Coastguard Agency in association with representatives from the ports industry, trades unions, and other maritime experts. Given that ports have long been advised to seek this power in order to manage risk effectively, it is very welcome that this Bill seeks to provide a straightforward mechanism to do so.
The Royal Yachting Association has been doing sterling work with the ports associations and the Chamber of Shipping to develop non-statutory safeguards. A code of conduct on harbour directions is envisaged and a draft version is already well advanced. At their most recent meeting on Monday 14 January, discussion focused on a few drafting tweaks that are still required and I expect it will be possible to report further progress at Committee stage. This is a perfect illustration of how the mature maritime sector can be trusted to get on with the job without requiring government interference.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about problems of the Port of Dundee applying directions to recreational users on passage plans. The Port of Dundee confirms that it is its intention that this direction will apply to work boats and not to recreational users. Full consultation took place and changes to directions were made where necessary.
The General Lighthouse Authorities—the GLAs—are three distinguished organisations with proud histories of serving all those who navigate around these islands. The safety of mariners is their raison d’être and this goes beyond their statutory duty of providing aids to navigation. Just last autumn, a Northern Lighthouse Board ship passing St Andrews spotted red flares sent up from a fishing vessel taking on water. The incident ended happily, thanks to the alertness and presence of mind shown by the GLA crew.
The three clauses relating to the GLAs would confirm operational practices of benefit to the modern mariner and allow the GLAs to undertake additional commercial work. In doing so, it would enable the generation of additional income to pay for the GLAs’ essential role in providing marine aids to navigation around Great Britain and Ireland. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie of Culkein for giving us a more detailed insight into this activity.
I am always grateful to have the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, on my side, but we are fortunate to have several experts available in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord pointed out that GLAs’ commercial operations have to show a profit. I also point out that the Department for Transport improves significant contracts so matters cannot get out of control with large loss-making contracts undercutting commercial operations. That simply would not happen.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about the potential for PEC holders on a ferry, perhaps, losing experience because there were several PEC holders on the given ship. My understanding is that the PEC holders are reassessed by the competent harbour authority every 12 months. If they started to get rusty, they would experience difficulties in renewing their PEC.
I trust that I have provided some reassurance to noble Lords that the Bill would protect and enhance marine safety and that there are real safeguards to ensure that the powers of harbour direction are used appropriately. I join my noble friend Lady Wilcox in commending it to the House.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate today which, as is so often the case in your Lordships’ House, has given us the benefit of much experience, from shipping Ministers to lyrical speakers and sailors in smaller boats.
I thank all noble Lords, of course, and especially my noble friend the Minister who has stated the Government’s position clearly and has responded to the principal issues raised in the debate. I shall not repeat all the answers that he has so succinctly given, but I will of course answer every question that has been asked between now and Committee. I am happy to discuss them with everybody who wishes to get themselves in order before we reach to the next stage so that the Bill can go straight through.
My noble friend referred to the considerable maritime experience in the House and I echo his thoughts on that. We have the noble Lords, Lord MacKenzie and Lord Greenway, from the GLA, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the former Minister for shopping—
Shipping! That was a Freudian slip: the noble Earl is always buying boats. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, strongly outlined the view of the United Kingdom Maritime Pilots’ Association, as I would expect him to do as the president. He felt that the availability of pilotage exemption certificates to deck officers would be too great a step. I understand the concern expressed out of a desire to ensure that the strong record of maritime safety in UK waters is maintained. I reassure the noble Lord and the UKMPA that that is close to my heart. It would be ridiculous to try to bring forward a Bill such as this without having “safety, safety, safety” written all over it because of the pilots’ wonderful record thus far.
I do not believe that Clause 2 would undermine safety because neither ports nor shipping companies will wish to see underqualified crew members holding and using pilotage exemption certificates given the potential cost that they would have to bear in the event of an accident. I do not believe that owners of ships are sitting somewhere else and not worrying about where their ships are but just wondering if they are making enough money. Enough people have been to sea and enough legislation put through both Houses over the years to show that we as a maritime nation have far too much care for our sailors to allow that to happen.
To assist people, the Guide to Good Practice that accompanies the Port Marine Safety Code can be used to promote the standards of competence that a suitable applicant for a pilotage exemption certificate would likely have to achieve. The guide can be refined easily and quickly in the light of experience and changes in certification standards, which makes it ideal for purpose.
My noble friend Lord Selsdon spoke from the heart about the rights of recreational mariners to indulge their passion for sailing without unreasonable restrictions being imposed on them by harbour authorities and lyrically emphasised how important it is to train our young people to love the sea and be part of our boating community, and to be safe and well taught. I will admit to having a family of very keen sailors. However, I also have sympathy for harbour authorities because they are charged with the serious business of managing risks to safe navigation in their waters, but may not have the right tools to do so. Recreational mariners as much as commercial shipping are done a real disservice when this is the case. My noble friend said that the Royal Yachting Association agrees that this is a shortcoming that needs to be rectified, and it is to the association’s credit and that of the British Ports Association that they are working together on a non-statutory code of conduct to ensure that the power of harbour directions is used in a sensitive way with the views of all port users being heard in the process of making and resolving disputes about harbour directions.
Notwithstanding these two issues, I am very pleased that there has been so much support for the Bill in this House. I believe that the time is right to move on, and I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Mental Health (Discrimination) (No. 2) Bill
My Lords, just over a year ago during the previous Session, I introduced the Second Reading of what can accurately be described as a close sibling of this Bill. I said then that I would be brief, partly because although there was no threat of snow, it was taken even later on a Friday. Noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I will be brief again for the reason that this Bill, while it is very important to our society, is blisteringly simple. Its straightforward purpose is to make inroads into one of the last of the major discriminations in our society; namely, the discrimination against people suffering from mental ill health.
I believe that as a society we can be proud of having removed discriminations in law on gender, disability, sexual orientation, age and ethnic origin. However, it is quite remarkable that there remain blatant and, I would say, disgusting discriminations against those suffering from mental ill health. I am glad to report that since the Second Reading of my previous Bill, the Department for Education has removed the discriminations on school governors that were covered in that Bill. I also draw to the attention of noble Lords the clause concerned with the disqualification from jury service. That situation has been improved. However, everything else remains the same. I will not reiterate the details, not least because they have been extremely well summarised in the Cabinet Office briefing which is available to us all. Suffice to say that the Bill removes a number of clearly outdated and dysfunctional discriminations against the following interesting groups of people: MPs, company directors and, more widely, all potential jurors.
This comes at a time when we are beginning to see the first green shoots of a change in public attitudes to mental ill health. For far too long it has been stigmatised, as everyone will be aware, and let us make no mistake that it is still heavily stigmatised. However, we can see the start of greater public awareness that mental ill health is an illness like any other, be it a frozen shoulder, a broken leg or the flu bug. The fact that a Member of another place could stand up and describe himself as a “practising fruitcake” and a week or so later be elected as chairman of a very important Select Committee speaks for itself as to the progress that has been made. A number of so-called public figures have now, for some time, bravely paraded their brushes with mental ill health and talk about it just as they would talk about breaking a leg or getting a horrible illness, such as a heart problem or whatever. Stephen Fry and Ruby Wax come to mind, who have not jumped on any bandwagon but have been at it bravely when it was not popular and was risky for them.
However, we are a very long way from removing the stigma of mental health. This Bill is one step along that way. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, on bringing forward this Bill. I believe that I am the only former Member of the other place taking part in this debate, so I am delighted about the support—often courageous support—given to the Bill by honourable and right honourable Members. It is generally held that about 18% of adults in the UK suffer from at least one form of common mental disorder. This means that in any one Parliament, over 100 MPs fall within that category. Although I understand that just one Member of Parliament was removed for the reason of unsoundness of mind in the 20th century, this Bill has obliged elected Members to be far more conscious of the problems of mental health. Psychiatric disorders take many forms: depression, anxiety, bereavement, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias and adult ADHD.
More Members of Parliament recognise the human costs of these disorders as well as the costs to the economy in terms of welfare, sickness, absenteeism and the loss of productivity which sets the economy back by £41 billion a year, merely in England. Mental health consumes 14% of the NHS budget. That is why we should all welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, is setting up a new charity, seeded by a £20 million grant from the Wellcome Trust, to conduct,
“research that helps our understanding of the brain’s innate characteristics and responses to external influences in order to reduce the burden of psychiatric disorders”.
I hope that this charity is a great success, because a great deal of work still needs to be done on mental disorders. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, warrants our praise and gratitude for setting up this charity.
My Lords, I am extremely pleased to see this Bill reaching Second Reading, after enjoying wide cross-party support in the House of Commons and, indeed, among noble Lords in this House. I take great interest in this Bill, having been a keen advocate for most of my life for greater tolerance and understanding about the problems of mental health and for tackling the extreme and dangerous discrimination and stigma which attach to these issues.
We have heard much about the unfortunate and arbitrary discrimination that has been enshrined in our laws for far too long, in terms of mental health and being a Member of Parliament, school governor, or company director, or serving on a jury. It is high time that these pernicious exclusions of what amounts to a significant part of the population are done away with, and I give my wholehearted support to this Bill.
I know that noble Lords do not need persuading of the value of the Bill, but it is worth reminding ourselves, just for the record, of some of the reasons why this is so important. I am sure that noble Lords are well aware of the recent report by the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, which found that mental illness is widespread, growing and generally more debilitating than most chronic physical conditions. For example, one-third of all families in Britain have a family member with mental illness. Nearly half of ill-health in those aged under 65 is due to mental illness, and only a quarter of those needing treatment receive it. It is estimated that 6 million adults have depression or anxiety and 700,000 children have a mental health disorder. There is an economic effect as well: mental health problems account for nearly half of absenteeism at work and a similar proportion of people on incapacity benefit.
We also know from the excellent work undertaken recently by Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Time to Change campaign that out of 2,700 people surveyed, 80% said that they had experienced discrimination, two-thirds were too scared to tell their employer about their condition, 62% were too scared to tell their friends, and one third were too scared to seek professional help. These are shocking statistics and unworthy of a modern society, so everything we can do to address the stigma of mental ill-health and demonstrate our commitment to removing the discrimination that comes with that is vital.
That is what this Bill starts to do. It is not going to change the world, at least not overnight, but it is a significant step in sending a clear and unambiguous message that mental illness should be treated on the same basis as any illness. That is the key principle at stake here and one that we recently affirmed in this House during the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill, which confirmed that mental health should be treated on a parity of esteem with physical illness.
Some may think that this does not affect many people. Very few people actually seek political office or become directors of corporations or school governors and we are not all asked to serve on a jury—although that might come in time—but that is not the point. The Bill affects us all because it is about the kind of society in which we want to live and work and ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to achieve their ambitions without arbitrary discrimination.
The Bill is also about protecting people. As we have heard, there is a much greater risk that people will not come forward about mental health problems if they fear discrimination. This Bill will help ensure that if a Member of Parliament, a school governor or a director of a company has a mental health problem, they can be confident about seeking help, certain in the knowledge that they will not lose their job as a consequence.
On the basis of fairness, equality and human rights, I support this Bill; on the basis of ensuring the health of people, I support this Bill. I urge all noble Lords and the Government to do the same.
My Lords, I rise to give my enthusiastic support to this measure. Given the conditions outside and what I am sure is the desire of noble Lords to get home as soon as possible, I can probably signify my support fairly formally—or, at any rate, briefly.
As someone who has had a bit to do with anti-discrimination and equality legislation in my time, I am a bit embarrassed that it should be necessary to bring a Private Member’s Bill to remedy the injustices this Bill seeks to correct. I suppose any piece of generic, comparatively unfocused legislation like the Disability Discrimination Act, and now the Equality Act, is bound to miss a few specific provisions—pockets of discrimination, which, to our shame, remain hidden away in the interstices of the statute book. We should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for winkling them out and bringing them to us today so that we can root out once and for all these anomalies, which, inappropriately in the 21st century, continue to disfigure our legislation and have unaccountably escaped the consolidator’s pruning knife.
Perhaps we should not be altogether surprised that these anomalies should have survived, because of course they reflect the particular stigma that mental illness has traditionally attracted, and still attracts—greater even that that attaching to physical disability. For that very reason, we should warmly welcome this Bill as sending a strong message that the outdated attitudes reflected in the discriminatory provisions that the Bill sweeps away are no longer regarded as appropriate in a civilised society.
Like other noble Lords, I do not propose to say anything about the specific provisions of the Bill, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, pointed out, are fully covered in the briefing which has been provided. Rather, I will simply give the Bill a warm welcome, thank and commend the noble Lord for bringing it before us today and express the hope that your Lordships will give it an enthusiastic Second Reading and speed it on its way.
Of course, that will not be the end of the story. As the noble Lord said, the Bill makes just an inroad in the problem of discrimination which still attends those who suffer from mental illness. Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Royal College of Psychiatrists point out that there is still a good deal to do before parity of esteem between physical and mental health is achieved. That means valuing those who suffer from mental illness equally with those who suffer from physical illnesses.
They say that several things need to be done to improve outcomes for those who suffer from mental illness. The notion of parity needs to be embedded in the NHS constitution. Mental health services should be funded to a level which accords with the scale of mental illness. Currently, mental illness accounts for 23% of all illness, but receives only 13% of the NHS budget. Waiting times for mental health treatments need to be comparable with those for physical illnesses. They recommend annual health checks for people with mental health problems, and enhanced training on co-morbidity to avoid people with severe and enduring mental health problems dying 20 years younger than the general population.
The Bill can be a springboard to end wider discrimination, which is still endemic in the delivery of mental health services, and to move towards the parity of esteem which the advocates for those who suffer from mental illness desire. Given that, this time around, the Bill has already passed all its stages in the Commons before reaching us, I trust that, with a fair wind and a helping hand from the Government, it will now reach the statute book with the minimum of delay.
My Lords, I, too, want to speak only briefly, but I give wholehearted support from this Bench for this important Bill. We were very pleased to note the stated objective of the current Government to make mental health a priority, stating that there is no health without mental health. We see this as an area where the church is well placed to make a significant difference. To that end, we committed ourselves to working with our partner churches and mental health professionals to end the stigma experienced by people with mental illness and to make our churches, schools and other institutions places of inclusion, welcome and ministry. Through the programme Mental Health Matters, which offers a wide range of training events and resources for parishes, we are working to make mental well-being a priority in our churches today—no spiritual health without mental health.
However, one of the barriers to both mental and spiritual health is to be found in anything that reinforces, or fails to reduce, the stigma which many who have experienced mental health problems find continues to dog them for the rest of their lives. That is particularly true for those who have been sectioned, and that is further reinforced when they are barred from participating with their fellow citizens in certain areas of our common life. The reason for such barring seems to be predicated on the view that recovery from mental ill-health is not possible; but it most certainly is.
I could cite the case of a very good priest in my diocese who was once sectioned, but who is now fully recovered with a most effective ministry—perhaps even more so than it might have been, given his empathy for others going through a similar experience which he can offer as a result. I think, too, of a solicitor, also sectioned, after a severe bout of postnatal depression, who is now debarred from jury service under current regulations but who is, ironically, giving excellent legal advice to others for whom no such bar exists.
From my experience, I suggest that sometimes people find themselves sectioned largely because medical intervention to deal with their mental health problems has not been made available at a much earlier stage. Had it been, the whole of the rest of their lives may well have been different.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, for promoting this Bill, which offers many people simple justice, proper opportunities to fully participate in the political, legal, commercial and educational process of our country, and, even more, the prospect of living the rest of their lives with a new but much deserved peace and hope.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Stevenson on pursuing this concern so assiduously. I also would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Members of Parliament who spoke about their own experience of mental illness, which took considerable courage. I hope that it signifies the beginning of the end of the discrimination that people with mental illness experience not just in their everyday lives but in some policies, such as the law that we are seeking to change today.
The passing of this Bill will be a crucial step in addressing discrimination against people with mental health problems. Current legislation enabling the removal of the seat of an MP following a period of detention in a hospital is simply outdated. The idea that anyone suffering from a mental illness is incapable of becoming well again is very much against the principles of mental health recovery. I should draw the attention of noble Lords to my interests as a psychiatrist, albeit no longer in clinical practice, and my previous role as president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which I know has briefed many speaking in the debate today. With confidence, I can say that mental health problems are treatable. The majority are highly treatable, some having a better prognosis than physical illness.
With appropriate support and treatment people can return to previous levels of functioning, just as people with physical illnesses do. In keeping with the Government’s commitment to parity of esteem for mental and physical ill health, as outlined in the mental health strategy, we must treat those who experience mental illness in the same way as those who have physical illnesses. It follows that, if someone who suffers serious physical health problems such as cancer or cardiovascular disease, no matter how debilitating, is able to retain their seat in Parliament, so should those with mental health problems, even if they require reasonable adjustments to be made to enable them to continue to be present in the workplace. The Disability Discrimination Act requires that of employers and workplaces. Parliament should be setting a benchmark for standards in equality, not lagging behind. It should be possible for Members of Parliament to seek help for and to be open about their mental health problems without fear of discrimination.
To pick up on points made by other noble Lords, some people end up being detained for treatment because they have been afraid to seek treatment earlier—a stitch in time really does save. The right to occupy a position for which you are well qualified should not be prevented simply because of the experience of mental ill health. Sometimes that mental ill health comes about because of some quite devastating life experience. Yesterday, I was fortunate to visit Headley Court, where I saw members of the military services receiving rehabilitation, and to visit in particular its mental health and cognitive services department. I saw the very positive way in which that rehabilitation service helps people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or having difficulty adjusting to life with the injuries that they have acquired on the battlefield, return to their previous lives and make whatever adjustments are required. I was very impressed by the attitude and opportunities being offered to servicemen. We need to see that very positive attitude to getting people back to work being provided in all employment situations.
I welcome the Second Reading of this Bill and hopes that it truly represents an important milestone in the efforts to achieve positive outcomes for people with mental illness. I trust that the Government will fast track this Bill so that it becomes law at the earliest opportunity. I look forward to the Minister’s assurances on this; it is in line with the Government’s commitment to ensure parity of esteem. This important issue must continue to be tackled at both national and local level, and I hope that we will see further improvements in the services offered for people with mental illness so that they achieve true parity, such as sufficient funding for mental health services, as has also been raised.
The final point that I want to make is that people need improvements, and access to and choice of high-quality services. They need evidence-based treatments—and, importantly, we need increased funding for mental health research to make this a possibility. I thank all those who provided briefings for Peers, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and for their commitment to continuing to raise these important issues.
My Lords, I forgot to put my name on the list, but I hope that noble Lords will permit me a couple of minutes to make two points that have not been made so far in this debate. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for his work in bringing this issue back to the House.
The legislation that the Bill seeks to repeal was passed because, at the time, Members of Parliament thought that they were protecting people vulnerable because of mental illness and the organisations named in the Bill. Since then, there have been two significant developments that make this Bill appropriate. The first is that the Mental Health Act 2007 states that mental disorder,
“means any disorder or disability of the mind”.
The effect of that, which was intended by the then Labour Government, means that today mental health legislation extends to a very wide range of people, including those who have mild depression. People who would never believe it until it happens to them can find themselves subject to mental health legislation and being excluded from the duties set out in the Bill. That should not be the case.
Secondly, the Mental Capacity Act 2005—a piece of legislation of which the last Labour Government should be rightly proud—enshrines in law the common understanding that we all have, that people with mental health problems or learning disabilities can vary day to day. Their condition can vary; it can sometimes be good and sometimes be bad. Since the legislation was passed, it has become much more common for people with mental health problems, such as those who are bipolar, to state at a point when they are well that they know from past experience that they may during a period of illness make unwise decisions. They can make an advance statement that says, “Now that I am well, I wish to say that if during my illness I make unwise decisions, I wish those decisions to be ignored”. That makes episodes of mental distress much more manageable than they ever were in the past. For those two reasons, it is very important that we pass the Bill. For example, with juries, there is no reason why a major trial should be jeopardised, because people can recuse themselves; they can go to see the judge and make sure that they are not holding things up.
There is one other reason why this provision is important, and I refer back to the new organisation of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, Insight: Research for Mental Health. It is the objective of everyone who works in mental health services to fund research that will one day find the cause of mental distress, new treatments and ultimately, one day, a cure. If we continue to debar people from aspects of public and economic life, in particular from roles that give them meaning, we delay the point at which we will be able to find those treatments and cures that will enable people with mental health problems to do as they do in many cases now—to continue to function day by day as valued and valuable economic and social contributors to our society.
For all those reasons, this is not just a Bill that we should commend. It is one that we should ask the Government not only to pass but to help to be implemented as quickly as possible.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, if too brief. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for bringing the Bill back to your Lordships’ House.
In having this debate, we signify that attitudes have changed, but we are also helping to move those attitudes on. I have devoted much of my life as a trade unionist to fighting discrimination in all its forms, but I know only too well that, despite all the efforts outside Parliament, what happens in this House and the other place is often pivotal and a signifier of a decisive change in the public mood.
Mental health is one of the huge policy challenges of the 21st century. As we have heard, Parliament needs to do many practical things with regard to policy and organisational issues, but in lifting the veil of stigma, signalling that public attitudes must change and turning the corner on attitudes to public health, there will be no more important moment in Parliament than when this Bill is agreed to.
As my noble friend Lord Patel highlighted, we know that the proportion of people who have mental health episodes in their life is high. That is why it is both important and useful to have people in the other place and in this House who are willing to talk about their experiences and how they came through their problems. I know that we will fully succeed in changing attitudes only when people feel able to speak openly of their own personal experiences.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ryder, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, have indicated, in the past, Members of the other House have not talked of their own personal experiences. That was so until the recent debate when Charles Walker, Member for Broxbourne, and my honourable friend Kevan Jones, Member for North Durham, spoke bravely and openly about the issues that have affected them. No one can dispute that they are, and have been, very effective MPs because they can often better understand the issues affecting many of their constituents. Their experience also shows that mental health can be an issue for anyone, anywhere, from all walks of life, at any time. It does not necessarily have to be permanent either. As with any chronic condition, it is how someone adapts and learns to live with the condition that makes them able to participate in society.
As we have heard, the presence of Section 141 in the 1983 Act is a barrier to those who may have had mental health problems in the past or who may still be grappling with them. Those individuals should be welcomed into Parliament with open arms because their experience is valuable. Parliament must reflect all of society. If it does not, it is a lot less effective and will therefore not make good legislation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Low, indicated, the changes in this Bill are long overdue. Mind and other mental health organisations have long campaigned for these laws to be repealed. They are clearly discriminatory and there is widespread agreement among MPs, political parties and all noble Lords in this House that they have no place in a modern and fair society. However, what is worse is that they are symptomatic of the prejudicial view that having had a mental illness makes you incapable of being a citizen with all the rights and responsibilities that that implies. They stigmatise this illness unlike any other. They put out the message that anyone with a mental health problem is not fit to be an MP. It is a message picked up, in my opinion, by all employers and is something that we know is experienced by the overwhelming majority of people who have suffered mental illness.
By adopting these measures, we can send a clear message to all employers that we need to address mental health problems in the workplace and put an end to the discriminatory attitudes that prevent capable people working. But we cannot expect people to be out and proud when laws that stigmatise mental illness still exist.
Every time a citizen is summoned for jury service, as I was a couple of years ago, they are reminded in the most explicit terms that someone who has suffered a mental illness is a second-class citizen. By passing the Bill, we will send a clear message that discrimination is wrong and that people have a right to be judged as individuals, not stigmatised or discriminated against.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Stevenson for taking up this Bill for a second time. His Bill in the previous Session was the genesis for the Bill before us today, and it is regrettable that there was not enough time in that Session to carry it through both Houses. I am very grateful to my noble friend for his continued support and pursuit of the opportunity for legislative change on mental health. I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating Gavin Barwell MP, who expertly guided this Bill through the other place before it reached this Chamber.
We all accept that this Bill is modest in size, having only three clauses and one schedule, but its practical and symbolic effect is of great significance. I can assure the House that it has the full backing of this Government. Tackling stigma, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others, and discrimination is at the heart of the Government’s mental health strategy. The provisions of the Bill are of integral importance to the Government's commitment to reforming mental health legislation and are in line with the Government's policy, No Health Without Mental Health.
However, this is an issue which goes beyond government. Shifting public behaviour and public attitudes requires a major, substantial and sustained change in the public at large—in effect, a wide social movement. Organisations representing the interests of people with mental health conditions are campaigning to inspire people to work together to end discrimination surrounding mental health. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ryder, I pay tribute to the brilliant work of Mind and Rethink Mental Illness on their anti-stigma campaign, Time to Change. I therefore agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Stevenson that this is an opportunity to make legislative changes and to give a powerful and symbolic statement that discrimination against mental health is no longer acceptable.
As I listened to the beginning of the debate, I reflected that when I became a parliamentary candidate in the Shipley constituency, there were two, large mental hospitals there, Scalebor Park and High Royds. High Royds had been built as the West Riding Asylum, with its own railway siding, in the late 19th century. I think we all recollect to some extent that people whom we would now recognise as having autistic conditions, depression, chemical imbalance and a whole range of things which are now eminently treatable and understandable ended up being put away there for life.
I am dimly aware, partly because my son has just completed a PhD in mathematical neuroscience, that understanding the workings of the brain and how to treat chemical imbalances and various interactions between experienced physical conditions and mental conditions is one of the most exciting areas of health. That also needs to feed into our better understanding of what is treatable, what is acceptable and how, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, said, particular traumatic events can interact with one’s physical conditions to lead to temporary conditions of the brain which affect our mental balance. There is a great deal that we have to do in educating our public and putting money into mental health services in those areas which overlap with this very widespread condition, which so many people suffer from. This Bill helps enormously to take changing attitudes forward.
Perhaps I may clarify one small point. When this Bill had its Third Reading in the other place, Philip Davies, who is now the MP for the Shipley constituency, raised several important questions on it. My honourable friend the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform wrote to him to address those questions. I am placing a copy of her reply in the Library of both Houses, so that noble Lords and Members of the other place have the opportunity to read it.
Repealing the provisions in this Bill would fit well with the Government’s ultimate aim that,
“fewer people will experience stigma and discrimination”,
as a result of mental health conditions. We all welcome this Bill; I hope that it continues to enjoy cross-party support on all Benches. That is support to which it has become accustomed so far and I hope that your Lordships will provide it with a smooth and timely path to see it through, without amendment, to its much deserved conclusion.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken today and for the support that characterised all their speeches, obviously enough, but I also thank them personally for the subtleties and insights contained in every single set of remarks. I hope that this short debate will be read widely; perhaps people will read it because it is short. It will show people that we understand some of the contemporary realities and that we are not completely isolated. It is an important point.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank some of the many people who have been involved in the progress of this Bill. I join with the Minister in paying tribute to the superb way that Gavin Barwell MP has steered it through another place. It is worth adding, as others have said, that there is this wonderful phenomenon concerning Kevan Jones and Charles Walker, who is the chairman of the Mental Health APPG. They have been and are tireless. Anyone who knows either of them does not want to get in their way in their pursuit of removing stigma from mental health. I would not be here—perhaps we would not be here having this debate, although they might have got someone else—if Mind, Rethink and the Royal College of Psychiatrists had not been absolutely dedicated to making this happen. Their back-up to me personally and to this cause has been terrific.
I could thank many others. This Bill has gone across four departments. I am not sure whether one is supposed to say this but I do not care; I want to pay tribute to a number of outstanding public officials who have been involved in the Bill, one or two of whom may be present today. I would particularly like to mention, in the presence of the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Exeter, the late Christopher Jones, who worked for many years on mental health for the Church of England and who, sadly, died last year before he could see the possibility of the Bill hitting the statute book. Your Lordships will note that I am not taking anything for granted. His support and encouragement were crucial. I knew only him, not his family or his colleagues. If it is appropriate to take that message back, I would be very grateful because he was quite superb.
Finally, as an independent Cross-Bencher, I think it is appropriate for me to compliment the Government and the Opposition on embracing this Bill so thoroughly and constructively. I thank them.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 1.39 pm.