HOUSE OF COMMONS
Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
DRAFT DANGEROUS VESSELS (NORTHERN IRELAND) ORDER 1991
Thursday 28 February 1991
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The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairman: Sir Anthony Meyer
Adams, Mrs. Irene (Paisley, North)
Ashby, Mr. David (Leicestershire, North-West)
Beggs, Mr. Roy (Antrim, East)
Bellingham, Mr. Henry (Norfolk, North-West)
Benton, Mr. Joe (Boode)
Colvin, Mr. Michael (Romsey and Waterside)
Fields, Mr. Terry (Liverpool, Broadgreen)
Hamilton, Mr. Neil (Tatton)
Hunter, Mr. Andrew (Basingstoke)
Jones, Mr. Owilym (Cardiff, North)
Loyden, Mr. Eddie (Liverpool, Garston)
Luce, Sir Richard (Shoreham)
McCartney, Mr. Ian (Makerfield)
Needham, Mr. Richard (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)
Redmond, Mr. Martin (Don Valley)
Stott, Mr. Roger (Wigan)
Tapsell, Sir Peter (East Lindsey)
Thorne, Mr. Neil (Ilford, South)
Viggers, Mr. Peter (Gosport)
Mr. R. J. Rogers, Committee Clerk.2 3 Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Thursday 16 April 1991
[SIR ANTHONY MERYER in the Chair]
The Parliamentary Under-Secrertary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Richard Needham): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Dangerous Vessels (Northern Ireland) Order 1991. The order will parallel similar powers introduced in Great Britain by clause 22 of the Dangerous Vessels Act 1985. Its purpose is to make good a deficiency in the powers of harbour authorities to deal with potential emergencies. Nearly all harbour authorities have powers exercised by their harbour masters to regulate the way in which ships enter and leave port, the berthing of ships and their movements within the ports. Those matters have not been tested in the Northern Ireland courts but it is doubtful whether our powers include the power to prohibit a ship from entering a port or to require a ship to be removed entirely from a port. The order, although limited in its purpose, is entended to strengthen the powers of harbour authorities by allowing harbour masters to give directions prohibiting the entry into, or requiring the removal of a vessel from a harbour. The order will also provide the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland with a power to override such directions. The proposals have received a general welcome. I received six formal responses during the consultation period and all supported the broad thrust of the proposals. The order is a modest but useful measure which will clarify an uncertain area of the law in circumstances which, I hope, will occur very rarely but it could be important in preventing a disaster. I recommend the order to the Committee.
Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan): I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) has joined me in Committee. I was feeling lonely. I have read the draft order and I am familiar with the way in which the harbour authorities in Great Britain operate and with the powers of harbour masters because I spent five or six years in the navy. Consequently I think that the order is welcome and useful, but I am a little confused. The Order will give the harbour master authority to decide for himself whether a vessel is dangerous or could constitute a danger. The order will also give the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland an opportunity to override that decision. Article 5 of the order provides that, "the Department may, for the purpose of securing the safety of any person or vessel (including the vessel to which those directions relate), give directions under this Article to that harbour master requiring him—(a) to permit the vessel to …enter… the harbour". 4 I am confused as to why it is necessary to extend that power to the Department of the Environment when the harbour master will have already taken the decision. Harbour masters are usually experienced people, but the Department of the Environment will be able to countermand their directions. Will the Minister give an example to illustrate the circumstances in which the Department of the Environment would override the decision of the harbour master? That is the only worrying query that I wish to raise. In all other respects the order is simple, welcome and effective.
Mr. Needham: I thank the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) for his thoughts on the order. It is nice to hear him speak, for once, without indulging in his usual litany of complaints about the way in which the Government conduct the business of Northern Ireland. Perhaps he accepts that the order can be dealt with in this forum without being debated on the Floor of the House, although I am never clear about where he draws the line between what should be debated according to the procedures of the House and what should be debated in Committee. No doubt he will explain that at some future date. The answer to his perfectly fair question about article 5, as to whether the harbour master could or should be overridden by the Department of the Environment, is that there might be circumstances in which a harbour master would be loth to allow a vessel into a port because he believed that it would endanger his port. However, there might also be circumstances in which the Department of the Environment would tell the harbour master that, in the wider public interest, it would be more sensible to allow the vessel in. For example, if a ship were sailing up Belfast lough emitting poisonous substances, oil or other pollution into the sea, or threatening serious damage to the wider civilian area, that ship would have to go somewhere. We cannot risk the possibility of another "Flying Dutchman" case, where a ship was doing immense damage and nobody would take it in. There are circumstances in which a harbour master would decide, quite rightly, that it would not be in the interest of his port to allow a ship in, but, in the wider interest, that ship should be allowed to enter. The power is being given to the Department of the Environment to cover such circumstances.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Dangerous Vessels (Northern Ireland) Order 1991.
Committee rose at twenty-five minutes to Eleven o'clock.5
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
Meyer, Sir Anthony (Chairman)
Hamilton, Mr. Neil
Tapsell, Sir Peter