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Lord Dixon-Smith: I immediately plead guilty to the illogicality of arranging the amendments in such a

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way, but I did say that they were probing. There is a serious aspect to the matter. Although I entirely accept that what we are doing is forming the legislation so that it is consistent with extant road-traffic legislation, we are indulging ourselves in, if I may put it this way, cosmetic legislation—if the Minister's response is too depressingly true—and we are not yet in a position to enforce it. I do not accept that.

I accept that there are technical difficulties; I accept that we need high levels of training and may need some fairly sophisticated analytical equipment and experts to use it. However, that does not necessarily imply that we need very complex legislation to cover the offence. That is an entirely separate issue. We are now debating later amendments and not Amendment No. 35.

The group of amendments is tabled simply to elicit information. Sadly, I have not received the information that I particularly wanted. I had hoped that the Minister would say that it would be straightforward to enforce the drug offences. I never had any intention of not making the use of drugs an offence—I have every intention of leaving the Bill as it is—but I thought it legitimate to put the questions now in order to seek answers.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am very sorry that I do not seem to have communicated well. The noble Lord knows that we are making progress with road safety legislation. I understood him to be asking whether we would apply that progress to shipping and aviation. The answer is yes.

Lord Dixon-Smith: There is nothing between us and our purpose is the same. Our mental processes may be somewhat different but, at this stage, I am very happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 36:

    Page 33, line 7, leave out "fishing"

The noble Lord said: This part of the Bill contains an oddity. We are dealing with shipping and we provide a defence for those who use drugs for medical reasons or under doctor's orders. Subsections (1) to (4) all deal with shipping in general. However, subsection (5), which deals with the defence, is apparently restricted to fishing vessels. I find that slightly difficult to understand. I thought, again, that we had better find out what was going on. I think that the word "fishing" might have slipped in by accident. If it has, it would be sensible to remove it. I do not think that there would be any difficulty with that because, if the offence is general, the defence should also be general. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis: The matter was originally dealt with in 1974, so I congratulate the Opposition on catching up with the times. The substance of the argument at that time, if I recall, was that fishing vessels and other vessels were dealt with in separate regimes. Is that still the case?

Viscount Astor: Amendment No. 37 is grouped with that of my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith and not

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only takes out "fishing vessel" but inserts "ship", which comes to the same effect. That is intentional. I carefully studied the debate in another place. Perhaps it would be helpful if I quoted the Minister when a similar amendment was moved in Standing Committee. He stated:

    "Commercial vessels with smaller crews are likely to be operated on shorter voyages. In those circumstances, crew members who are unwell but still working should be able to wait until going ashore before taking medication that they know will impair their performance. Not doing so would risk not only their health but the safety of the vessel".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D, 27/2/03; col.371.]

The point was that those in fishing boats would not be able to wait and therefore that should be a defence. Fishing boats sometimes have very small crews. We do not want at any time someone to be on a vessel, whether it be a fishing vessel or otherwise, in need of medication but not able to take it.

I am sure that this was done in the days when the fishing lobby was perhaps stronger than it is now. Sadly, the fishing fleet is now a lot smaller in this country. However, it seems to me that the same rules should apply across the board, whether for fishing vessels or small craft. Both types of vessel suffer the same issues and face the same problems, which are entirely different from those of larger vessels with a number of crew working on them.

I read carefully Hansard from another place and was unable to discern the argument put forward by the Government for why this provision should be specific to fishing vessels. I would have been much happier if the Government had said that it applied to a smaller vessel or to a vessel with a limited crew. If there is one rule for fishing, that rule should apply across the board to other smaller vessels with professional staff.

4.15 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: If my memory serves me correctly, the Minister gave the reason that it was traditional that those in charge of fishing vessels should be allowed to use the medicinal defence. However, I remain unconvinced about that. Subsection (5) seems to allow someone to be in charge of a fishing vessel while their performance is impaired because of drugs. It seems unusual that legislation should allow that to happen.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am being pulled in two opposite directions. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, do not want to take away the fishing vessel defence. They had better not or—

Lord Clinton-Davis: I did not come down one way or the other. I was merely seeking information.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful for that. There are those in the Committee who would want not to take away the fishing defence, which has been in existence for a very long time, but to extend that defence to all commercial vessels. We really do think that that is going too far. If there is any compromise

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that might be reached to talk about smaller commercial vessels on a short voyage where the arguments which are applicable to fishing vessels would apply, we could think about that and discuss it between now and Report. However, we would be reluctant to do what the amendments do; that is, to extend the fishing defence much more widely.

On the other hand, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, wants to abolish the fishing exemption. I suggest that he keeps away from some of the ports in his home country if that becomes known.

Earl Russell: Am I right in supposing that there are certain circumstances in which medication may impair one's concentration but not taking medication might impair it even more? Let us suppose, for example, that the medication makes one drowsy and that not taking it puts one at risk of a heart attack. If that were the helmsman, I would rather he went on taking the medication.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am sure that that is right.

Viscount Astor: The noble Earl, Lord Russell, makes an extremely good point, and one which I was going to make. Very often in the summer I take a small water taxi on the west coast of Scotland from Crinan, and there is a crew of one. It is licensed to take 10 or 12 passengers. It is an extremely safe vessel, but I would be concerned if the captain of that assigned fine vessel was somehow unable to take any medicine if he needed to following the very clear logic of the noble Earl.

It seems to me that in those cases boats with a crew of one or two which are professionally licensed should have a similar defence, if that were necessary. I believe that the Minister offered to discuss that between now and Report to see whether there is a sensible solution. I am grateful for his offer. I leave it to my noble friend to deal with his amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Again, I was seeking to find out exactly what was intended. As I see it, fishing vessels are a very specific vessel whereas the problem can be a general one. The reality is that even on a large vessel with a crew of 20 or 30 which nowadays might be a super tanker with 200,000 tonnes of crude oil on board, although there is a multiple crew, there could be a flu outbreak on board. Half the crew or more could be acting under medical orders from the shore. That may or may not be reasonable. I agree that there are risks and one needs to be extremely careful. This is a transport safety matter.

However, I am glad we have had the debate. I believe we need to think about the wording a little more carefully. I am quite sure that "fishing" is too narrow. Whether we can arrive at a satisfactory wording, I do not know. The reality nowadays is that even ships in the middle of the Indian Ocean are capable of receiving medical advice. There might not be a doctor on board, but they all have satellite communication and so forth. They are not entirely adrift.

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I hope that we will think about this more. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 37 not moved.]

Clause 77 agreed to.

Clause 78 [Professional staff off duty]:

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 39:

    Page 33, line 30, at end insert—

"( ) Nothing in this section shall relate to voluntary members of a lifeboat crew."

The noble Viscount said: Amendment No. 39 concerns the national lifeboat service. Clause 78 concerns professional staff and lays down sensible conditions. It also refers to medicinal matters. Some lifeboat crew are professional, some are volunteers. Perhaps I should have included in the amendment the coastguard, and here I have an interest to declare. I am a member of the auxiliary coastguard. When I get on my water taxi in the summer I go to an extremely nice Scottish island where I have a small cottage and spend the summer there. Some 26 years ago I became a member of the local coastguard. I know that it is 26 years ago because last year they awarded me a 25-year long-service medal.

It used to be that ships got into trouble and the coastguard and lifeboat turned out, but now it happens more with yachts. On Saturday evenings, just as the pubs are closing, people trying to get back to their yachts or into their dinghies fall off, or drop the oars. Someone comes rushing in and says "Call out the lifeboat or the auxiliary coastguard". The problem is that we are all in the pub too and in not much better a state; a marginally better state. We would not want to have to feel that we are unable to do our duty because we have either had medication or for some extraordinary reason that medication and perhaps two pints of beer had impaired our judgment or ability.

This is a probing amendment to ensure that in an emergency those who are voluntary members of various organisations will not be prevented from carrying out their role. I beg to move.

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