Merchant Shipping (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1997: Report and Final Stages.

Amendment No. 2 is an alternative to amendment No. 1 and amendment No. 3 is related. Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, to delete lines 18 to 24, and substitute the following:

"(a) by the repeal of sections 221, 222, 224, 225 and 238, and".

The purpose of amendment No. 1 is to repeal in full section 221 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, thereby removing not only the offence of "desertion", as the Bill proposes, but also that of "absence without leave".

I gave an undertaking on Committee Stage to take legal advice on the consequences of repealing in full section 221. The Attorney General's office advised that the removal of the offence of absence without leave would have to be considered in the light of relevant InterNational Labour Organisation conventions. Other relevant issues would also have to be considered, including the relationship of employer and employee in the merchant shipping sector.

I am concerned that a too hasty removal or updating of the absence without leave provision might have undesirable and unforeseen consequences. I propose, therefore, to leave the matter for fuller consideration in the context of more comprehensive revision of merchant shipping legislation which I promised to have undertaken as soon as practicable.

This Bill, dealing as it does with matters requiring speedy attention, is not a suitable vehicle for a comprehensive revision of maritime legislation. In that context, I note that the United Kingdom's 1995 Merchant Shipping Act provides penalties for "absence without leave", indicating the continuing relevance of such a provision for a maritime nation.

In amendment No. 2 I am carrying out a tidying up exercise removing a reference to "desertion", an offence which will no longer exist following the enactment of this Bill, from that part of section 221 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1984, which is not being repealed.

In regard to amendment No. 3 tabled by Deputy Bell, I acknowledge that I indicated on Committee Stage that I would consider on Report Stage the repeal of section 6 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1947, if I were repealing in full section 221 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. Deputy Bell is proposing the repeal of section 6 in amendment No. 3. Section 6 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1947, provides for a fine not exceeding £10 on summary conviction for the "absence without leave" offence, specified in section 221 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. Until the provision in section 221 of the 1894 Act, dealing with "absence without leave", is repealed or revised, I would consider any amendment of section 6 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1947, to be premature and to be covered by the caution expressed by the Attorney General's office. In view of this, and while I appreciate the point of his amendments, I ask Deputy Bell to defer them for the more comprehensive Bill, in line with the advice of the Attorney General. Amendment No. 2 in my name tidies up relevant aspects of the legislation.

I am satisfied from the Minister's explanation that a reasonable attempt has been made to meet the points set out in the amendments in my name on Committee Stage. In view also of his assurance that the relevant section of the Act referred to by him will be dealt with in due course, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, to delete lines 20 to 23 and substitute the following:

"(ii) in paragraph (b)—

(I) by the deletion of ‘; if the offence does not amount to desertion, or is not treated as such by the master,', and

(II) by the deletion of ‘; and also, except in the United Kingdom, he shall be liable to imprisonment for any period not exceeding ten weeks with or without hard labour',".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 3 not moved.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 5, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:

5.—The Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1994 is hereby amended by the repeal of subsections (4) and (5) of section 1.".

This deals with a technical matter relating to the citation of legislation. The Attorney General's office has advised that the amendment is not necessary and is not appropriate in the Bill. I understand Deputy Bell has been satisfied on that question.

On the basis of the Minister's reply and that the matter is adequately covered I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Are we dealing here with section 4 also?

No, just amendment No. 4.

Will we be returning to section 4?

Not on Report Stage.

Can I speak on section 4? Does amendment No. 4 relate to the exclusions? I do not have a copy of it before me.

The Deputy can make a brief comment on Fifth Stage. Amendment No. 6 is an alternative to amendment No. 5 and both may be taken together.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 6, to delete lines 23 to 27.

In this amendment to section 6 I am proposing to remove the Bill's commencement provision. This will bring all sections of the Bill into effect with the enactment of the Bill and do away with the need for ministerial orders to commence the Bill's provisions. I am delighted to have been able to include in the amendment Deputy Bell's proposals in amendment No. 6. I am removing the commencement provision by deleting subsection (3) of section 6. I am, therefore, meeting Deputy Bell's proposal and going a step further. I trust this will be acceptable.

I thank the Minister for taking that on board. I am pleased the section has been strengthened and I welcome his decision.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 6 not moved.
Bill reported with amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank Deputies for their contributions on the Bill. Its key provisions as originally published centred on the overhaul and updating of elements of Irish shipping law. These include introducing increased penalties for breaches of safety regulations, the removal of out-of-date penal sanctions for certain offences committed by merchant seafarers, the introduction of a provision to allow EU nationals and corporate bodies to register ships in Ireland and the provision of special exemptions for certain categories of small passenger vessels.

The Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine amended the Bill at my request to provide a legal basis for borrowing by the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The need for this amendment arose because the Commissioners of Irish Lights needed to secure financing facilities in connection with their purchase of an ultramodern vessel to service aids to navigation. I thank the Deputies for their support in this matter.

I am pleased to have been able to accommodate some of the concerns of Deputy Bell by tabling Report Stage amendments to further amend section 221 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and to bring all sections of the Bill into effect when it has been signed by the President. This meets the points made by the Deputy.

I assure Deputies who expressed concerns on Committee Stage regarding passenger boat exemptions that every effort will be made by my Department to ensure that no diminution of safety will be permitted by virtue of any exemption granted by regulations made under this Bill excepting boats from licensing requirements. Several Deputies, especially Deputy Finucane, were concerned about his matter.

I am pleased with the Minister's statement that there will be no dilution of safety standards because of the exemptions to the Bill. Will he assure the House that his marine surveyors will ensure that safety procedures are adhered to?

On Committee Stage the Minister stated that exemptions would include canoes in which individuals or groups are undergoing instruction. The area of adventure centres must be looked at because responsibility for them is very diluted. The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation does not have a responsibility, nor does the Minister, even though many of them are concerned with exclusively marine related activities. In addition, despite education centres which are controlled by the Department of Education and Science and the vigorous promotion of adventure centres, which are undergoing expansion, by Bord Fáilte, the regulatory body is the Association for Adventure Sports. Although it does excellent work and tries to issue safety standards, etc., there is no underpinning legislation. We will encounter difficulties if we do not introduce regulations in this area.

I thank the Minister for his co-operation on the amendments I put down on Committee Stage. It is refreshing when a Minister takes on board amendments put down in good faith by Opposition parties. Given that we co-operated with passing the legislation as quickly as possible to facilitate the purchase of the new vessel, the Minister may extend an invitation to the Opposition spokespersons to the launch of the ship.

I will keep that in mind and will ask my officials to communicate along the official lines. I appreciate the important point made by Deputy Finucane about the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. Following Committee Stage I wrote again to the Minister. It is especially important we liaise closely and ensure there are clear regulations which are implemented fully.

On the question of the Marine Survey Office we will make our experts available. I appreciate the point made by the Deputy that there is a need for co-ordination. To this end we are liaising with the Minister.

Question put and agreed to.