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Jet Skis (Licensing)

Volume 683: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2020

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a system of licensing for drivers of jet skis; to create the offence of driving a jet ski without a licence; and for connected purposes.

Jet skis, or otherwise motorised personal watercraft, are powerful machines of up to 300 hp, which can lead to speeds of up to 40 mph on water. They are easy to tow and to launch from any beach. Compared with other watercraft, they are not expensive and their use has been growing for many years. I have been told that, this year, sales of jet skis in my constituency and in Gwynedd are up by 30%.

Hon. Members may be surprised that in the UK, anyone can use a jet ski. No licence is required. There is no compulsory training or test of competence. The recommended lower age limit is 12 years. Local authorities and other bodies have limited regulatory powers, such as setting speed limits in some areas and specifying launching areas, but enforcement is difficult and can be expensive in a time of cuts.

In my opinion and that of many boat owners, local residents and people who just want to use our wonderful beaches in peace, local byelaws and speed limits within yellow buoys are not sufficient. In the words of a local beach warden who spoke to me this summer:

“I can tell them till I’m blue in the face not to come close to the bathers, but there’s nothing I can do to stop them”.

My own local authority, which has led the way on this matter, passed a motion last month calling for proper regulation of the use of jet skis. The police and crime commissioner for North Wales, Mr Arfon Jones, has voiced his support. Chief Inspector Mark Armstrong of North Wales police told me:

“Bob blwyddyn yn ardal Gwynedd a Môn rydan ni yn gweld achosion o bobl yn cael eu lladd neu eu brifo yn arw ar ôl digwyddiadau tebyg. Every year, in Gwynedd and Anglesey, we see cases where people have been killed or seriously injured as a consequence of incidents like this.”

Current regulatory measures are useful but cannot be a substitute for what is really needed, and that is a proper licensing system, with training and a test of competence, and proportionate enforcement, properly funded. Antisocial and, less commonly, the dangerous use of jet skis, sometimes associated with prior alcohol consumption, has long been a problem. This year though, anecdotally at least, the problems seem to have got much worse than usual. Perhaps because of covid more people have taken their holidays in the UK, and their jet skis are easy to tow and easy to launch, but this is not a short-term problem. My predecessor, now Lord Dafydd Wigley, campaigned for legislation after a tragic jet ski accident in our Caernarfon constituency more than a generation ago. It is significant that the current House of Commons Library paper on jet skis dates from 2010.

I am sure that the majority of jet ski users are both responsible and law abiding. There are also responsible commercial users, who quite reasonably do not want to be burdened with regulation. Proper quality training is available, for example from the Royal Yachting Association. I am grateful to Mr Howard Pidding from the RYA for his briefing on this matter. He details the work that a number of organisations are already doing to enhance the safety and encourage the responsible use of jet skis, including the RYA personal watercraft proficiency course, a guide on effective management schemes, advice on signage and safety videos in collaboration with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. He says that improved communication and education will reduce incidents and I am sure he is correct.

There are also considerations about the liberty of all to use our waters—our freedom of the seas, which is very dear to many people. However, this Bill does not aim for a general system of regulation of all marine leisure use. It is to address the special case of jet skis.

Tragically, this summer, we again had fatalities associated with jet skis on the shores of Gwynedd. There were deaths elsewhere, in constituencies represented by the supporters of the Bill, and there were incidents of injury. Many hon. Members will have heard reports and seen pictures of jet skis being driven at speed close to bathing beaches, sometimes even where children were swimming, or craft being driven at high speed even where there are speed limits, accidental collisions with boats and near misses, the disturbing of people fishing from the shore, such as at Doc Fictoria in my home town of Caernarfon, and incidents of jet ski drivers intruding into nature reserves. There have been incidents of aggressive and threatening use. Only this morning, I was sent a picture of a jet ski on the Menai Straits performing a tight circle around a lone kayaker.

Just one other example will suffice. Yesterday I received a video of an incident on 21 September, from someone I will not name, for reasons that will become obvious. The video is just 10 seconds long and it is a shame, with all these screens around us, that I cannot play it here in the Chamber for those 10 seconds. The person who took it was on what looks to me like a paddleboard a little outside the yellow buoy area. He describes the circumstances like this:

“The jet skier was in a party of people, including a couple of youths, who were all taking turns on the jet ski. They were pulling high speed stunts within the yellow buoy restriction zone. There was nearly an accident with some young swimmers.”

The video, taken from the paddleboard, then shows the jet ski driver, a burly man in his forties, driving towards it at increasing speed and, crucially, outside the yellow buoy area. As he gets near, he swerves towards it, looking directly at the camera and shouting something inaudible, which is probably unrepeatable in this Chamber. He then turns away, causing a heavy wake, and makes off at speed, back towards the shore and back towards the yellow buoy area.

The action is clearly very dangerous and could have resulted, had he misjudged his speed or direction, in a direct injury, possibly the need for rescue or even a drowning. The paddleboarder, in his email to me, adds:

“When the video was shared on a local Facebook page, others commented that they had left the beach early due to the noise and irritation.”

That last point is particularly significant in Wales and other tourist areas which attract people specifically because we offer peace and quiet to enjoy our extraordinary natural environment. Tourism accounts for up to a third of our economy in some areas.

The UK is the only state in Europe without a licensing system. There is a long list of other countries around the world that control their use. The Department for Transport proposes to bring forward a consultation on draft legislation that will consider bringing personal watercraft within the definition of a ship for the purposes of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. I am not against that and it would possibly catch the burly gentleman I described earlier. It might deter some irresponsible users, but I believe it is not a substitute for proper regulation.

Lawmaking is a long slow grind, even without Brexit and covid clogging up the works, but the overwhelming support I have had on jet skis, with not a single person against, will, I hope, persuade the Government to act with a proper licensing system. It cannot come too soon.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Hywel Williams, Liz Saville Roberts, Ben Lake, Sir Roger Gale, Geraint Davies, Paul Maynard, Jim Shannon, Tim Farron, Pete Wishart, Sir David Amess and Claire Hanna present the Bill.

Hywel Williams accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 February, and to be printed (Bill 209).

We will now suspend for three minutes. If we can please have sanitisers on the Dispatch Boxes during that period of time. Thank you. Please leave with caution.

Sitting suspended.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 2 June 2020 (Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Programme)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after their commencement.

Subsequent stages

(2) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(3) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Maria Caulfield.)

Question agreed to.