Harbour, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 (Amendment) Bill 2015 - 16: Serious proposal or part of the Brexit debate?

This article was published prior to the publication of the post-Brexit agreement between the UK and EU which covers the relationship between the UK and EU following the end of the implementation period (commonly referred to as the “transition period”) created by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, and should be read in that context. For up-to-date commentary and information on our services, please see our Beyond Brexit page.

On 10 May 2016, Craig Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet, introduced a Private Members Bill to amend section 33 of the Harbour Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847. The Bill was introduced through use of the ''Ten Minute Rule'' which enables the member proposing the Bill to make a short speech on the merits of a bill they want to introduce (often as a way of drawing attention to an issue rather than a serious attempt at legislation).  The Bill is scheduled to have its second reading in the House of Commons tomorrow, Friday 13 May. However the Bill does not appear on the list of business for tomorrow and the House is not scheduled to sit. 

From the debate which took place in the House of Commons on 10 May 2016 (available here) it is also apparent that the timing of the Bill is primarily linked to the Brexit debate, and rules governing free trade in the EU, rather than any recent events. 

Nevertheless, the purpose of the Bill is interesting, as it would seek to amend section 33 Harbour, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847.  Section 33, the ''Open Port Duty'' is a key provision contained in the statutory harbour legislation of nearly all statutory harbour authorities and underpins the entire statutory harbour regime.  

Section 33 provides that upon payment of rates   "…the harbour, dock and pier shall be open to all persons for the shipping and unshipping of goods and the embarking and landing of passengers".  There is no distinction as to the type of ''goods'' which may be shipped and unshipped. Therefore, section 33, amongst other things, requires ports to be open for the transport of live animals.

The proposed amendment would allow local authority-controlled ports to proscribe, at their discretion, whether they will allow their port to be used for the transport of animals for slaughter abroad.   Craig Mackinlay MP, highlights the issues faced at the Port of Ramsgate between 2011 and 2014 (litigation and a serious disturbance associated with the transport of live animals for slaughter) and the ongoing transport of live animals through the Port, as a justification for the proposed amendment.  However, the Port of Ramsgate already has the power under the Harbours Act 1964 to apply for a Harbour Revision Order to amend how section 33 of the Harbour, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 applies at the Port.   

It therefore appears that Harbour, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 (Amendment) Bill 2015-16 is simply part of the Brexit debate and unlikely to progress.

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