RYA expresses concern over bill
The RYA has expressed concern over the proposed Marine Navigation Bill published today which would empower Harbour Authorities to make ‘General Directions’ for navigational and non-navigational purposes.
Currently Harbour Authorities normally rely on byelaws, which often cover a wider range of activity and are the Harbour Authorities’ main tool for detailed management of their Harbours. General Directions are orders made by Harbour Authorities normally to regulate the movement or navigation of vessels within the Harbour and Harbour Authorities may only make General Directions if it has the express power to do so in its constitution and, before acquiring such power, it must justify why such a power is necessary.
Under this new Bill, all Harbour Authorities will have the power to make General Directions (if the Secretary of State so allows), which effectively allows them to criminalise otherwise lawful behaviour and in their own terms without having to first receive approval by the Secretary of State as would need to be done with the introduction of a byelaw and without going through any other moderating process.
Gus Lewis, RYA Legal manager explains: “The RYA’s primary concern regarding Harbour Authorities being granted an unfettered power to make General Directions is that Harbour Authorities are not currently law-making bodies but such a power would effectively render Harbour Authorities law-making bodies, without any of the safeguards usually imposed on such bodies.
“Even a Local Authority does not have the power to introduce byelaws without the approval of the Secretary of State but the Bill would grant un-elected Harbour Authorities, arguably greater powers to criminalise lawful activity, than a democratically elected Local Authority has.
“The power to make General Directions might be exercised to remove the public right of navigation and could be used to exclude public access to any part of a Harbour that is currently used by recreational craft and which may be needed or valued by them.”
Consequently the RYA has developed a proposal for independent adjudication of General Directions that offers clear safeguards specifically to address these concerns which it will present to the Department for Transport.
The proposed procedure will allow contested General Directions to be referred to, and reported on by, an independent person. The RYA believes that this would ensure that, in a contested case, a Harbour Authority’s case for the exercise of the power (and any recreational interests’ concerns about it) have to be fully explained and documented and are subject to independent and objective examination. The Harbour Authority would, however, retain ultimate discretion and authority to proceed with the proposed directions having considered the independent person’s report.
“If these powers are to be granted, the modifications proposed by the RYA represent minimum safeguards which we believe will not unduly hinder Harbour Authorities in their management of their harbours, but represent a sensible and proportionate approach to the issue”, concluded Gus.