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Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I apologise for not saying earlier that I will not be moving Amendment No. 14, which is grouped with this amendment. I am sorry that I failed to convince the Minister. I do not think that he is right in saying that, if the provisions are extended to harbour masters, they must be extended to a whole group of people. The people I seek to include are those who carry out the role of giving instructions. That is a very different job. In the same way as air traffic controllers give instructions to aircraft, harbour masters give instructions to shipping. They should come under the same rules.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, at Committee stage we debated Clause 77(5) where fishing vessels have a defence because sometimes they have a small crew. They are at sea for a long time. It may be necessary for someone to take a drug for medicinal purposes to enable them to get home, thereby not endangering the rest of the crew and any passengers. We debated this concept and I understand why the fishing vessel exemption was included. However, there are similar occasions where fishermen, due to the sad decline of fishing stocks around our shores, do a lot of other things. Sometimes they act as fishermen and sometimes not. They may take people on trips round islands. They may take people sightseeing or mackerel fishing, even diving. They do a variety of things. Sometimes the distances are just as long as when they were fishing. Some boats have a crew of three, two or even one. A licensed operator can run a charter boat with a DTI licence to carry up to a dozen people with a crew of one. If the captain needs to take a drug on medical advice he should be able to do so and have the same defence as those in the fishing industry.
This is not about large ships. They have large crews and there would be someone else to take over the responsibility. The defence was originally put in to protect crews of small fishing vessels. There has been an explosion round our shores of small vessels plying various trades. They should have a similar defence. What we do not want is for the skipper of a charter boat with eight or 10 passengers on a 12-hour trip being reluctant to take along medicine in case it would be an offence. But by not doing so he could endanger the lives of his passengers.
The Minister has been kind enough to discuss these issues with us between Committee and Report stage. I am not sure whether this amendment is the right one but it is an important issue. I look forward to the response of the Minister. I beg to move.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am relieved that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, did not move Amendment No. 15, because I have a long speaking note about fishing vessels. Amendment No. 16 is defective. The number "three" is arbitrary. In our opinion, simply stating a maximum crew size does not cover the various cases. There are issues of time spent at sea and the availability of other crew members to take over duties.
The fishing exemption covers small vessels, with small crew, undertaking long voyages. There may be circumstances in which it is better for crew members to take their medicationeven where there is a warning of drowsiness and against operating machinery or drivingrather than not taking medicine and risk being in a worse state.
If one is in charge of the kind of vessel that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is talking abouta single person going out with someone else, a customer fishing, diving or whatever, or carrying a passenger from one place to another, that person will make a judgement about whether they are better off taking a
We do not want to define circumstances to allow this medical defence on certain commercial ships. If we had to do so, we would have to describe the circumstances in which such a ship could be operated safely in all foreseeable situations under normal operating conditions but at a manning level that was so low that the seafarer who was under the influence of a medicinal drug had to remain on duty in order to maintain a safe ship.
It is not a problem for commercial ships over 500 gross tonnes, because the marine and coastguard agencies apply the merchant shipping hours of work regulations. They state that the minimum safe manning levels are those required for all foreseeable circumstances and working conditions to permit the safe operation of the ship under normal operational conditions.
Commercial ships under 500 gross tonnes that operate with small crews are likely to be operated on shorter voyages in coastal waters close to a port. In those circumstances, our advice would be to wait until they go ashore before taking medicine that would impair their performance. On that basis, I invite the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, not to press the amendment.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, if one follows the logic of the Minister's answer, it shows that subsection (5) is unnecessary. The noble Lord says that one should not prescribe; one should not need to; someone will take a sensible decision; no one is going to prosecute someone coming back in these situations. If that is the case, why is the exemption for fishing vessels needed? It seems that that is the same analogy. Why do fishing vessels need this exemption? Will people be standing on the pier waiting to jump on fishermen coming back, any more than they are going to jump on anyone else?
I do not see the justification for the Minister's arguments. I am sorry to say that he has missed the point. I accepted, in moving the amendment, that whatever one choosessay, a crew of threeis arbitrary. The definition of fishing is probably arbitrary too. The Minister has not persuaded me, and I do not regard his answer as satisfactory. I shall come back at Third Reading. One solution would be to have some form of tonnage, or some combination to make it work.
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