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Lord Carver: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that unhelpful reply. Is he aware that the service which the pilots provide is of great importance to the safety of shipping in the waters adjacent to our shores? A European Commission study has recommended that the service is made mandatory for ships of 10,000 tonnes and over and those carrying hazardous cargoes. If the Employment Agency Standards Office's interpretation of the Act is upheld, our pilots would have to increase their charges, discouraging shipowners from making use of their services or persuading them to turn to pilots of other nations.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, no one underestimates the value of the pilots and the work that they undertake. I cannot, however, agree that it necessarily follows that, were the interpretation of the law that the Employment Agency Standards Office is adopting to be followed through by this company, as we believe it should, it would mean that the fees charged have to be increased.
What I wish to emphasise to the noble Lord at this stage is that detailed correspondence has passed between the legal advisers to the company and the office. We await a reply from the company. I wish to make it clear that no precipitated action will be taken, although action could be taken under the criminal law or before an industrial tribunal.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, no one is attacking the quality or value of the work undertaken by pilots. At issue is whether or not this particular company is entitled under the law in place since 1973 to charge fees in respect of that employment. The advice given to the Employment Agency Standards Office is that that is not in compliance with the law and the company should comply. As I said, this is in no sense an attack on the value of the work undertaken.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, will the Minister agree that the Employment Agencies Act protects pilots and does not seek to undermine their rights, and that these state agencies should not be allowed to charge individuals for finding them work? Is he aware that it has been suggested to the pilots that, rather than seeking to exempt themselves from the law which protects them, it would be a better idea for them to form themselves into a company in order to deal with this issue themselves?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am certainly aware that an exemption is one of the proposals that they have put forward. My understanding of the position is that originally this company came into being as a co-operative, when the pilots drew together, but is now a wholly commercial company. What is at issue here is essentially whether fees can be charged to the pilots for the employment found for them or whether the cost might be shifted, as happens all over the country in a wide multiplicity of agencies whose fees are charged to those seeking the services of the pilot. It is not for me to indicate how that might be worked out in detail, but there is a relatively straightforward way in which this matter might be resolved.
Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it is the free choice of the pilots to operate through an agency, which they control absolutely through a code of practice and which frees them from the burden of necessary administrative work so that they can concentrate on the highly skilled and vital work of pilotage--their chosen profession?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, to deal with the second point first, I think there is some confusion. There was some belief that the pilots were originally subjected to the seamen's agencies, which were covered by the Merchant Shipping Act 1894. That has never been the position; they have always been covered by provisions under the 1973 Act.
Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a problem as to whether this Act applies, at any rate in the form in which the agency is putting forward the argument? However, leaving that point aside, am I right in thinking that there has been no complaint from shipowners, no request from pilots for protection, and no suggestion by the company that their work would be any better performed if they were subject to regulation? Against that background, would it not be more sensible to make an exemption order under Section 6 as being more in the spirit of deregulation and also in conformity with the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"?
As regards the noble and learned Lord's main point, I accept, and I cling to the quaint notion, that if there is an authority asserting a particular construction of the law and there are others who disagree with that, it might be appropriate for the courts to resolve the matter. Only when that matter has been settled might the issue of an exemption be addressed. There are two sets of exemptions; in principle, however, we do not favour the extension of further exemptions.
Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, is it not a fact that the Employment Agency Standards Office bases it case on the assumption that pilots are employed by the shipowner, whereas anybody who has anything to do with the sea knows perfectly well that they are advisers to the captain; and any sensible captain would be very unwise to reject the advice he receives? The pilots are in no way employees of the company that employs the captain.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, that is the very point. Certainly the pilots are not employees of the shipowners, the owners of the tankers or whatever it may be. The contention of the office is that they are indeed employees of the company and are hired out to work under the control of others.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): Yes, my Lords. Our conclusions are that it is a useful report and reflects the Government's recently published document, Building Partnerships for Success.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the expert opinions in this survey are particularly valuable because they are those of the parents of disabled children who therefore speak from direct personal experience? Is she further aware that most reported at least one unmet need; and over half reported at least five unmet needs? These families are particularly deprived and suffer severely and disproportionately. Therefore, should not the Government offer to help very much more than they do at present?
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord; these parents have a very, very difficult task. I also believe that, on the whole, mothers know best. The Government have a very good record in trying to help parents who have disabled children. The noble Lord will know that only this year we made a grant through the Family Fund of £23 million to families with severely disabled children. We have also helped through social security and housing adaptations, and we have helped carers through the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act, which was passed by this House last year.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that many of the children who survive today would not have survived 15 or 20 years ago, and that the stresses put on parents with very severely disabled children are far greater than, I think, any of us would be able to tolerate? Will she kindly look into the provision of much more respite care, or care within the child's home, so that at least the parents can get a break? Many go for nights and nights without sleep because their children are crying all the time.
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the noble Countess makes a very valid point. The special transitional grant for this year includes an additional £30 million for respite care. Looking at the additional £20 million that was spent last year, we see that there is more respite care around. The noble Countess is right that it should be targeted, and these families probably need it more than most.
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