Clause 10 - Prosecution of offences

Seafarers’ Wages Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:45 pm ar 17 Ionawr 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Llafur, Dwyrain Abertawe

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 31.

Amendment 59, in clause 11, page 8, line 2, after “may” insert—

“following consultation with relevant stakeholders”.

This amendment would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to consult relevant stakeholders before giving guidance to harbour authorities as provided in clause 11(1).

Amendment 60, in clause 11, page 8, line 4, after “may” insert—

“following consultation with relevant stakeholders”.

This amendment would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to consult relevant stakeholders before giving directions to one or more harbour authorities as provided in clause 11(2).

Government amendments 32 to 36.

Clause 11 stand part.

Government amendments 37 and 38.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Clause 10 specifies that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, proceedings relating to offences under the Bill will be prosecuted by the Secretary of State. In practice, the Secretary of State will do so through the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. In Scotland, all criminal prosecutions are brought by the Lord Advocate.

This provision ensures that there is a clear and consistent process for the prosecution of offences under the Bill, and that such proceedings are handled by the appropriate Government agency. The clause is a critical component of the Bill’s enforcement mechanism and it will help to ensure compliance with its provisions.

Clause 11 as drafted will give the Secretary of State the power to give guidance to harbour authorities on how to exercise their powers under the Bill. The clause also allows the Secretary of State to issue directions to harbour authorities, requiring them to exercise or not exercise their powers under the Bill or to exercise them in a particular way.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

The Minister is being patient and I appreciate that. Will he clarify the difference between “guidance” and “direction”? I ask because, on an earlier clause, we agreed that harbour authorities will now have a duty rather than a power. I wonder whether the Secretary of State’s “guidance” is a weaker term than a “direction”. Will he explain the difference?

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As drafted, the Bill is weaker, and that is why we are replacing the provisions with a duty in all these areas, in order to strengthen the requirement. Whether, in some such areas, it was “guidance” or other wording, there will now be a “duty”. That makes the Bill harder, ensuring that the harbour authorities have to do things.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

Further to the intervention from the hon. Member for Easington and given that what we are debating is on the face of the Bill, are we talking about statutory guidance that will be issued? Guidance, as the Minister knows, is complex, in law and in statute.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I think we are talking slightly at cross purposes on this point. We are removing some of the things that were guidance for harbour authorities and an element of duty is now being opposed on them. That is what the Government amendments do.

The powers in clause 11 include the power to direct our harbour authorities to impose or not to impose a surcharge, whether generally or in any case or circumstances, and to impose a surcharge of an amount specified in the direction instead of the amount determined by the harbour authority’s tariff. That provision was intended as a safeguard in the event that a harbour authority did not impose surcharges in circumstances where an operator had not provided an equivalence direction, and to provide an incentive for the harbour authority to perform its role objectively.

Harbour authorities would have been required to have regard to any guidance under the clause and to comply with any direction given to them under the clause. Failure to comply with a direction under the clause is an offence punishable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale. That provision was designed to help to ensure compliance with the Bill’s provisions and to achieve its policy objectives.

Government amendments 31 and 35 remove the Secretary of State’s power under the Bill to give statutory guidance to harbour authorities. That is a consequence of changing harbour authorities’ powers under the Bill to mandatory duties. We will still provide guidance to harbour authorities, which we intend to consult on, but that will not have a statutory basis. Amendment 36 is consequential on those changes. The reason why there will not be a statutory basis is that harbour authorities will already have a statutory duty.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

That answers my question. Essentially, the statutory duties need the guidance about those duties to be issued, rather than it being of itself statutory guidance. The Minister has made that abundantly clear in an eloquent and persuasive way.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his generous assessment of my ability to describe the Bill’s provisions.

Government amendments 32 to 34 redefine the circumstances in which directions may be given to harbour authorities by the Secretary of State. As the powers are now duties, there is no longer a need for the Secretary of State to direct harbour authorities to exercise their functions. If they do not exercise those functions, they will be liable for prosecution, so the Secretary of State does not need to intervene. Amendment 15 to clause 7 is consequential on that change.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I rise to speak to amendments 59 and 60, which, as the Committee will be pleased to hear, I can dispose of in fairly short order. On clause 12, I will speak to amendments on removing some of the Secretary of State’s untrammelled powers. That argument happens in just about every Bill Committee—certainly every Bill Committee that I am on—because scrutiny and accountability are a good thing. I know that it is out of fashion for Governments to willingly draft scrutiny into legislation these days, but amendments 59 and 60 seek a stakeholder consultation before the Secretary of State can direct harbour authorities, which would provide for an additional layer of scrutiny.

A requirement on the Secretary of State to consult will help to ensure the openness and transparency of the Secretary of State’s actions. Imposing a duty to consult will ensure that any guidance is exposed to critical comment from stakeholders, which may improve said guidance. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee said that the power in clause 11 was “a completely open-ended power”, and that the whole Bill could therefore be modified by directions that are not subject to any form of parliamentary scrutiny.

The Government accepted that argument in the other place in relation to clause 3 and amended it appropriately, so I would be very keen to hear the Minister’s explanation of why the same principle is not applicable to clause 11, taking into account that, in responding to the points about the powers to direct in clause 11, Baroness Vere said:

“We have looked very carefully at the powers of direction for the Secretary of State in Clause 11. We have concluded that to remove them would significantly reduce the effectiveness of the Bill. These powers of direction form an important part of the compliance mechanism under the Bill.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 October 2022; Vol. 824, c. 1513.]

Our amendments do not seek to remove the powers, merely to add a layer of scrutiny. [Interruption.] I slow down as I am about to conclude, to allow the Minister to get back to his seat. What could possibly be wrong with an additional layer of scrutiny?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings 3:00, 17 Ionawr 2023

I intervened on the Minister earlier, on the issue of guidance, because, now that he is clear that the guidance issued is of a more general nature—rather than the specific statutory guidance that would have been necessary to effect the provisions of the Bill, which will now be provided by powers in the Bill implicitly—that provides the opportunity for the Minister to ensure that that guidance is contextualised around the broader narrative.

I mentioned earlier the 2015 “Maritime growth study”, which I commissioned regarding skills and recruitment of people to the sector. That study also recommended that the Government develop

“a vision and set of strategic objectives” with “quantifiable targets and goals”. I wonder if, in issuing guidance around this Bill to those in the sector, the Minister can ensure that the context is precisely the delivery of those recommendations.

If I might add to that briefly, that report also recommended a ministerial working group for maritime growth to implement a national strategy accordingly. I wonder whether any progress has been made on that. The Minister may not have an immediate answer to that, but I would welcome his further reflection on it during the passage of this legislation.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank both the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and my right hon. Friend for their views on this. Just to be clear, Opposition amendment 59 would require the Government to consult with relevant stakeholders before issuing guidance. As per amendments 31 to 35, tabled in my name, there is no longer a provision for statutory guidance, given the responsibilities under the new duty. However, as we intend to provide some guidance to harbour authorities, I would assure hon. Members on both sides of the Committee that we intend to consult widely on any guidance that is issued, and it is unnecessary to say as much on the face of the Bill.

On the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings raised about the broader maritime growth strategy, I would be very happy to write to him with any specific updates that we have. I know that this is an important area that he feels passionate about.

Opposition amendment 60—this will be similar to my response to amendment 59—would require the Government to consult with relevant stakeholders before issuing directions. As per amendments 32, 33 and 34, tabled in my name, directions can only be made to instruct the harbour authority not to comply with its duties in a particular way. The need to use those powers of direction might arise when there are issues of welfare, national resilience, or the need to import medical supplies, and a ship should not be refused access. Such scenarios may be very time-sensitive, and the need to consult could significantly slow down that process. We assure hon. Members that we will consult where possible, but on that specific point—it is the reverse, as it were—it would not be appropriate to make that a legal requirement on the face of the Bill because of those issues.

Amendments 37 and 38, tabled in my name, change the power to make a direction to specify a harbour authority in respect of a particular harbour regarding the power to make those regulations. That is consequential on the amendments to convert harbour authority powers into duties, as, now that harbour authorities are required to request declarations, impose surcharges and refuse access to harbours, it is important that they have clarity on the relevant harbour authority for a particular harbour. The amendments will further ensure consistency and reduce the administrative burden of giving directions on a case-by-case basis.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.