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28 Jan 2003 : Column 773continued
Tom Brake: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. My question was actually on the subject of roads, to which he referred. Given that the Bill provides for prescribed limits on alcohol, why have the Government not considered using it as an opportunity to reduce the limit for drivers from 80 mg to 50 mg?
Mr. Darling: We do not have any plans to reduce the limit below the current limit. That is why the matter is not addressed in the Bill. Instead, we are introducing similar provisions in relation to both marine and aviation activities. Let me explain what we propose to do.
Clauses 75 and 77 implement the recommendations that were made by Lord Justice Clarke in his review of safety on the Thames after the Marchioness disaster. It was also a manifesto commitment of the Government. The Bill will make it an offence for any mariner to operate while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Off-duty professional mariners are included as well if they are on the vessel and they might be needed in an emergency to protect passenger safety.
Clause 77 applies to what are referred to as non-professional marinerspeople whose employment is not in the field. We could have extended the provisions that apply to professional mariners to all boats, whatever their size and speed, but we considered that they should be proportionate. There is a difference between what is needed in relation to a large passenger-carrying ship with a professional crew and in relation to a man rowing a boat in a harbour. We will consult carefully on how best to deal with non-professional mariners.
The Bill contains a power to exempt vessels with reference to the power of their motor, size or location. We want to consult on the repercussions, as we need to get the matter right. None the less, we are minded, for example, to exempt rowing boats, sailing dinghies and narrowboats. However, larger, high-powered recreational vessels such as jet-skis would probably be included. We want to strike the right balance to ensure that we get the legislation right. The proposed blood-alcohol limit is the same as that which applies to motoring80 mg.
David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): I thank the Secretary of State for that explanation. As a Member of Parliament representing a port area, I am amazed that such provisions have not already been introduced. Will he clarify what the research paper says about not extending the provisions to which he refers to non-professional mariners in Scotland? What legislation are they covered by? If the issue is important in England and Wales, how will we deal with it in Scotland?
Mr. Darling: This is a devolved matter, but perhaps it would help if I explained to my hon. Friend why I do not think the legislation needs to be extended in that way. At the moment, if a non-professional mariner is suspected of being responsible for an accident and has taken alcoholin Scotland, that can be established by the police asking them to take a breath testthat can be an exacerbating factor in the procurator fiscal deciding what charge should be brought against that individual. For example, if alcohol was present at the time of an accident involving a death, it might lead the procurator fiscal to conclude that the charge should be culpable homicide, as opposed to a lesser charge. The reason why we have drafted the legislation in this way is not only that the matter is devolvedif the Scottish Executive want to make changes, they can do sobut that the Government believe that the current powers and law would allow us to deal with someone who was not a professional mariner, but used a boat and caused a death or serious injury for a reason of which drink was thought to be a part. The existing law would allow the courts to deal with such a person.
Moving from the sea to the air, the position is slightly different. Perhaps I can explain what we are doing and then return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman). The Bill makes it an offence for somebody to undertake safety-critical aviation activities while they are affected by drugs or alcohol. Generally, the limits of enforcement will be on the same basis as for motorists, but there is an exception. As fast reflexes are essential on the part of aircrews and air traffic controllers, a lower limit of 20 mg will be set for those engaged in such activities. For all other aviation workers, however, the limit will be 80 mg.
On the incident to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside referred, I do not want to be drawn into the particular details, for reasons that she will understand. The new limit would mean that if somebody in an aircrew, for example, was found to have a blood alcohol content of more than 20 mg, they would be guilty of an offence under the Bill. Many companies have a similar requirement as part of their standing orders, as it were. It is right that the legislation on air and seagoing activities should be brought roughly into line with what has happened for a long time in relation to cars.
Mrs. Ellman: I thank the Secretary of State for his helpful answer. Can he give the House any information about the current situation? Is he aware whether the current position in relation to aircraft and alcohol consumption is causing particular difficulties?
Mr. Darling: I am aware that it has caused difficulties. A private Member's Bill that will be considered shortly adds to police powers to deal with someone who is affected by alcohol or drugs. The Government are well disposed to the measure, which is a welcome addition. However, current police powers, and those that Parliament will grant us in the Bill, mean that the police in this country have the ability that they need to deal with anybodya member of staff or a passengerwho is drunk and incapable. It is commendable that the courts visit stiff sentences on people who misbehave in aeroplanes because they pose such a danger to everybody else. It is grossly unfair to an aircraft crew if people who are the worse for wear can abuse them. They can expect the courts to deal with them firmly.
I want to deal with London Underground and clause 105. Before I consider the detailed provisions that amend the Greater London Authority Act 1999, it would be helpful if I explained the necessity for them, and where matters stand in relation to the transfer of London Underground to Transport for London. I appreciate that that matter is of interest.
On 4 December last year, I told hon. Members that I did not consider that a transfer of the tube could take place against the background of a challenge by the Mayor and Transport for London to the European Commission's decision that the public-private partnership arrangements did not constitute state aid. I also set out my position on funding, which amounts to approximately £1 billion a year for the next seven and a half years. That position has not changed. However, we made it clear in December that we would reconsider the grant if any major unforeseen needs arose. That remains the Government's position.
In the past few days, discussions have taken place with Transport for London. I spoke to Bob Kiley several times over the weekend. Good progress has been made on discussions to resolve the matter. Transport for London understands that no more money is on offer, except in the case of unforeseen expenditure, as we said last December. That enabled us to discuss with Transport for London a process that would lead to the transfer of London Underground on the clear understanding that all legal challenges are abandoned.
Let us consider the sections of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 that clause 105 amends and that may work to restrict the operation of some provisions of the PPP contracts when they are transferred to Transport for London. Unless alternative arrangements that are satisfactory to all parties, including those that bid for the PPP contracts, can be made, I do not intend to transfer London Underground until the amended powers are in force, subject to Parliament's consideration of the Bill.
Mike Gapes: As a London Member of Parliament, I welcome the fact that the Government appear to be making progress in persuading the Mayor that it is time to end the legal challenges and take the road of co-operation. I hope that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will persist in their efforts because Londoners are crying out for a resolution. We should get on with the investment that London's underground needs.
Mr. Darling: The majority of people in London now believe that whatever their differences or difficulties in the past, it is now time to get on with investing the money in the tube. I granted an indemnity to Tube Lines and Metronet because I believed that the time had come to make desperately needed investment in the tube. I am pleased that Transport for London accepts our position. We are not offering more money; we made the settlement last December. However, as we said then, the Government would have to consider unforeseen costs. The agreement, which is a development in the Mayor's past position, means that we can discuss methods of transferring the tube from London Underground to Transport for London. A smooth and orderly transfer is essential and in everyone's interests to clarify who is responsible for the tube.
Those discussions are continuing. As I have said, I have had a number of useful discussions with Bob Kiley of Transport for London. I very much hope that the matters can be resolved, because it must be in the interests of everybody in London that we get this money into the Tube, that management is put on a sound and permanent footing and that we get on with it. I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said.