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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I was not asking directly about the Government's policy but whether at its first meeting they were going to urge the IMO that seafarers' representatives be included on the panel of experts and that the terms of reference include those questions affecting safety to which I referred.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, those questions are important, and I have no doubt that any panel of experts will consider them. The UK is represented on the IMO panel of experts by the Marine Safety Agency. Again, in developing our policies it has always been our policy to consult fully unions representing mariners.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, the Minister attaches a high priority to various things. That is one of the platitudes that comes from the Civil Service the whole time. The Question asked whether the Government considered the proposals to be sufficient. The Minister did not answer that part of the Question asked by my noble friend.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord would be upset if I said that we did not attach a high priority to safety matters. Of course we do. Of course we can never be complacent, and say that everything is sufficient. That is why we are taking forward research and working with the IMO to develop further research into this important matter.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, the Minister must be aware of the four recent tragedies at sea, all involving a heavy loss of life. They include the tragedy of the Swedish ferry with its very high loss of life. Will the Minister cast his mind back to the loss of the "Herald of Free Enterprise", which was the last tragedy to engulf us?

The committee which reviewed the case on behalf of the Government made a list of recommendations. Their implementation would provide maximum safety to people travelling on British ferries. Initially there was

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hesitation about the recommendations. Have the Government now implemented those recommendations and has the work been completed?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we accepted all the recommendations of the "Herald of Free Enterprise" inquiry.

Lord Carver: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the introduction of formal safety assessment as the principle for the regulation of ships' safety would enhance the safety not only of ferries but of all merchant shipping?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, there is a strong case for taking fully into account the considerations which the noble and gallant Lord mentions.

Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that at today's Question Time this is the third subject in respect of which safety may be incompatible with efficiency?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we need transport by sea in order to provide a service that is required by our industry and passengers generally. However, the Government's top priority is to ensure that that service can exist with the best possible safety standards.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, bearing in mind the unilateral action taken by our Government following the "Herald of Free Enterprise" disaster and the action that is expected from the Scandinavian countries following the recent "Estonia" tragedy, does the Minister agree that whatever comes out of this--be it measures to improve safety by fitting sponsons or transverse bulkheads--none will be much use without the maintenance of the highest possible crewing and operational standards, which we in this country are very good at?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I fully agree with the noble Lord.

British Coal Enterprise: Funding

3.31 p.m.

Lord Haskel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their plans for British Coal Enterprise and in particular whether they will ensure that it will be able to continue funding workshop provision and small business loans beyond March 1995.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, the Government and British Coal are currently exploring the different options for the services which are at present provided by British Coal Enterprise. No final decisions have yet been taken.

Funding has been agreed for the company's job placement and training activities until March 1996 and the Government are also considering a request for the funding of its other activities beyond March 1995.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that it is usual for offers of

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workshop provision and loans to small businesses to be valid for 90 days? Will discussions be concluded by the end of this month so that further offers can be made, otherwise all the work of British Coal Enterprise will come to a halt at the end of this year?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's anxieties. Funding is available until the end of this year. However, the extent of the funding beginning April next year is not yet known. We hope to conclude these discussions as soon as possible but it is important to get the answer right.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that in the Government's plans for British Coal Enterprise we shall not see the spectacle of the chairman of the board having his salary increased by 75 per cent. one week, while the salaries of the company's lowest paid workers are reduced by 15 per cent. the next? Is he aware that the British public and the staff of British Gas are outraged at what can be described only as social fascism on the part of the British Gas board?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, vies with his noble friend the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, for asking the most ridiculous questions. The question has nothing to do with that on the Order Paper.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the people at British Gas will not think that it is ridiculous.

Lord Peston: My Lords, the question may have nothing to do with the Question on the Order Paper but it is a good question and was deserving of a considered answer from the Minister.

Lord Strathclyde: Out of order!

Lord Peston: My Lords, which part was out of order? I am never out of order because we do not have a concept of "out of order" in your Lordships' House.

I am sure that the Minister will recall that when we were dealing with the Coal Bill there was enormous support for British Coal Enterprise, in particular the argument that it is better for there to be enterprise in the former coalfield communities so that workers will work rather than end up in receipt of any kind of social security benefit. Will the Minister assure us that the Government will bear that in mind when reaching a decision on the future of British Coal Enterprise? Do the Government agree that it is important that there should be enterprises and that that will happen in the near future in an industry that has been extremely successful?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I can give the noble Lord the assurances that he requires. He is right in saying that British Coal Enterprise has done a great deal. We are continuing that as regards job training. The matter at issue is what is to be done with the more structural side. We are looking at all the options. There is an argument for saying that there should be partnerships with other

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regeneration bodies. The fact is that there should be regeneration and we hope that there will be in these areas.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, is the Minister aware that on 26th April the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that British Coal Enterprise will continue throughout the transitional and immediate post-privatisation period. As a result of that undertaking, will the Minister do all that he can to resolve the uncertainty?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord is right in saying that that undertaking was given. It is being fulfilled. The nationalisation period ends on 31st December 1994. Our commitment will carry on until then and beyond. I assure the noble Lord that we shall do all that we can to conclude the discussions as soon as possible. However, I repeat that it is important to get it right.

Pensions Bill [H.L.]

3.36 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the law about pensions and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

South Africa Bill [H.L.]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision in connection with the re-admission of South Africa as a member of the Commonwealth. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

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