HL Deb 05 November 1997 vol 582 cc1377-9

3.11 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will issue guidelines to local authorities on what steps they should take to ensure that other users of the sea are not put at risk by motor boats and jetskiers.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the proposal that the Government should issue guidance to local authorities about these and other non-regulated pleasure vessels is under consideration following wide-ranging consultation. The newly merged Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is in an excellent position to bring together those dealing with marine safety, harbours and coastal local authorities to review means of improving safety. The responses are being analysed.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. Does she agree that the problem could be alleviated if local authorities were required to enforce a similar code of conduct? That would, I hope, include educating the users of powered watercraft who, unlike sailors, have no knowledge of wind directions or how strong it is before they go to sea. Most of them do not belong to sailing clubs which nearly always discipline and teach their members.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, one of the possibilities being considered in the review is the creation of guidelines to provide for a uniform by-law that can be adopted by all local authorities. The Government are not aware of any evidence that local authorities would be reluctant to adopt and co-operate with such a policy. But I agree with the noble Lord that the first step is education rather than legislation. That is being pursued by a number of groups. On behalf of one of those groups I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, for the work that he does for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, will the Government consider in this connection the position of estuaries where many of these activities take place? My understanding is that the estuary is a black hole in our law. It is not covered by any of the normal laws that empower local authorities to take action, since an estuary is regarded as a branch of the sea and therefore open to all-comers.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I am aware of the sensitivity of the relationship between beaches and estuaries with regard to bathing water under the previous government and the former Secretary of State for the Environment. I am aware that the issue of estuaries and safety has been brought to the attention of those who are taking part in the review. Over 150 responses have been received including those relating to estuaries.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that many parents instead of teaching their children to row boats put them in charge of dinghies with outboard motors whether they be in estuaries or coastal waters? Would it not be a good idea to have legislation on a minimum age for a child to be put in charge of a boat that is motor-powered?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the issue of regulation, including whether a minimum age should be introduced, is one that has been expressed as part of the review. Another point that has been put is the difficulty of policing and monitoring such regulation.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the problems that we have discussed exist also in inland waters, particularly on lakes? Is my noble friend able to assure the House that if guidelines are produced they will apply also to inland waters? Further, can my noble friend inform the House whether the users of motor boats are required to register or to prove their competence before they take out such craft?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, under existing legislation local authorities' powers are limited to the impact on bathers. Therefore, that factor would have to be taken into account in regard to other areas of water. As to the requirement that people should have training or experience, while those responsible organisations in this area seek to ensure that there is proper training there is at the moment no legislative requirement for vessels under 49 feet.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, some people enjoy the noise and excitement of jetskis and motor boats; other people loathe them. In this age of devolution does the Minister agree that local people know whether they have a problem? If the powers were widened or guidelines were given, should it not be a local government decision rather than a central government decision?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, as part of the consultation a view has been expressed about the possibility of producing stronger guidance. The question of noise nuisance is being considered. The noble Lord who tabled this Question rightly identified the concern that neither users nor the public would know where they were if there were different regulations in different places. All of these issues must be balanced as part of the review.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that if the seeming desire of some of the population to ban legitimate activities continues it will not be too long before we shall all be wondering what to do with ourselves on a Saturday afternoon? More seriously, is not the best way forward to make use of existing legislation with regard to speed limits, to couple that with education, and to set aside certain designated areas where these activities which annoy some people can take place?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I would be very surprised if the result of the consultation was a recommendation to the Government to ban this activity completely. Local authorities' powers relate to bathers and can be used only to protect bathers. I agree with the noble Lord that it would be tragic if the use of such personal watercraft were to be banned because of abuse by certain individuals. We must seek to control the menace.

3.18 p.m.

Forward to