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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, it is generally understood that the director general took that step at the firm suggestion of the Home Secretary. Is that incorrect? It is only understood.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am not sure what the noble Lord means by "firmly understood".

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, put to the Minister was that it was generally understood that the Home Secretary had

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indicated firmly that it was his suggestion that the governor of Parkhurst should be removed. The noble Earl asked for the Minster's response to that suggestion.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Earl said that it was firmly understood. He did not say what the noble Lord has just said. The noble Earl said that something was firmly understood. Will the noble Earl repeat what he believed was firmly understood?

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, to the best of my recollection I said that the director general took that step at the suggestion of the Home Secretary. Is that correct or incorrect? That puts it in a simple form. The Minister has a lot on her mind. She could not understand the simple way in which I put it previously. That should be simple enough. Was that step taken at the suggestion of the Home Secretary?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it was not that I did not understand, it was that I did not hear. But I have heard now. I find it deeply depressing. I repeat that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, and the Director General of the Prison Service have all put the matter firmly on record in the formal annals of this House and in another place. Noble Lords have been persuaded by the press and the media. There is a readiness to understand the press and the media and not my right honourable friends.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, it is no good the Minister getting in a great state and telling us what does or does not depress her. Perhaps she will answer the perfectly simple question asked by the noble Earl, Lord Longford.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, noble Lords will have to forgive me for sounding a little irritated on this. I have said—and I have repeated what my right honourable friends have said—that the decision was taken by the director general. It was not interfered with, pre-empted, or predetermined by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. I do not know how many times I have to repeat that. It has been made clear on so many occasions that I can only believe that if any doubt arises, it arises from the popular press.

Mr Marriott's future will depend upon the outcome of the disciplinary investigation. Pending the outcome of that investigation, he will be carrying out other non-operational duties at Prison Service HQ. Any question of Mr Marriott's return to Parkhurst or any other prison is a matter for the director general at the appropriate time. No option is ruled out.

Let me now turn to other aspects of the Prison Service's work. In the coming year, in addition to security, the Prison Service will be implementing three key changes which have the common theme of meeting legitimate public expectations of what imprisonment should be like and improving protection of the public.

First, more rigorous criteria for the temporary release of prisoners were announced by the Home Secretary on 18th November. That will protect the public by setting tighter criteria for temporary release and ensuring that there is a fuller assessment of the risk to the public. I

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can give the House a categoric assurance that public safety will always be the paramount consideration in determining whether a prisoner should be granted temporary release.

In response to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, there is of course a place for temporary release in appropriate cases, but a balance needs to be struck, and the paramount consideration must at all times be the protection of the public.

Secondly, a system of incentives and sanctions for prisoners will be implemented across the service, to encourage prisoners to behave well and use their time in prison constructively. Prisoners will be required to earn facilities over and above the minimum through good behaviour and hard work. The facilities will be withdrawn if behaviour deteriorates. There is no confusion here. The policy is that of the Home Secretary, and the management of that policy will be the responsibility of the Prison Service.

Thirdly, a major new strategy is tackling drug abuse in prisons by reducing supply through better control and detection, including random urine testing, while reducing demand through support, education and counselling. I take all that has been said about improving all the counselling and other therapeutic methods that can be employed in the vexed area of treating prisoners.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, referred to performance indicators. The Prison Service's key performance indicators do not tell the whole story about the service's performance. A small number of key indicators cannot, by definition, cover all the service's activities. They cover, among other things, escapes, assaults, overcrowding, sanitation, regime activities, time unlocked, and cost per place. It is entirely right and proper that the service's performance in those areas should be monitored and that targets for improvements should be set by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

In terms of prison numbers, since 1989 the number of prison officers has increased by 4,000, while the prison population has increased by only 1,000.

After recent events, it is bound to take time to restore public confidence in the service. But the programme to improve security, and the other measures I have outlined, form a coherent and challenging programme of work which the Prison Service is determined to deliver.

In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is proving to be resolute, firm and calm. I believe that he deserves the support of us all, particularly in this House, in this most difficult of policy areas.

5.28 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who felt it right to join in our short debate, although I am disappointed that there were no speakers from the Conservative Benches. I am sorry if questions got under the Minister's skin at any time, but in the last analysis it was up to her—because she

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said she was present at every meeting between the Home Secretary and the director general—to give a reply of her own to the question: did the Home Secretary make any suggestion at any time to the director general about Mr Marriott's future? It was a simple question, and it deserved a simple reply.

We are grateful to the Minister for being here. We took a great deal of interest in what she said. I hope that on some future occasion we will focus on what was the central question. It was put by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, when he said that the relationship of the Home Secretary to the Prison Service is difficult and delicate. We know that that is so. No speaker has suggested otherwise. We have all been trying to find a way out and a way ahead. If we have failed to do so, these are matters to which we shall return at a future time.

The Prison Service is passing through a critical and difficult time. Morale is low. The country is deeply disturbed by recent events. Perhaps today's debate has opened up the issues a little wider, even if it has not resolved them. In that light, I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Accidents at Sea

5.30 p.m.

Lord Perry of Walton rose to call attention to the increase in the number of serious accidents at sea, and to the 1993 annual report of the Port State Control Committee; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there are 80,000 ships of over 100 gross tonnes afloat on the seas today. In 1993 only about 1,500 of them were registered under the British flag; but no fewer than 6,500 of them visited British ports.

We may nowadays be a relatively small flag state but we are a very important port state and round our coasts are some of the busiest waterways in the world. Thus we are much at risk from accidents and pollution. Despite that, only three vessels have been lost in the past three years in our waters and not a single life has been lost. But those figures do not include smaller vessels, including the bulk of the fishing fleet. That is not such a satisfactory story. In the same period, 91 ships were lost and 33 fishermen lost their lives.

Today, however, I want to talk about the world picture and the big ships. In the report of the Institute of London Underwriters, one finds that in 1993 the number of lives lost at sea in vessels of 500 gross tonnes and over was about twice the number lost in 1992; and the number lost in 1994 was more than twice the number lost in 1993. Those are disturbing figures. The most recent example was the loss of 900 lives on the "Estonia", which sank in the Baltic. That drew attention again to the problems of the safety of ro-ro passenger ferries, publicised by the accident to the "Herald of Free Enterprise" in 1989.

But there are many more ferry accidents not included in those figures because the ships are of less than 500 gross tonnes. Figures about them are extremely difficult

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to obtain. In 1993, two such accidents caused over 2,000 deaths. Furthermore, there have also been several major accidents in which, although no one was killed, there was enormous damage to the environment. Pollution from the "Braer" in 1993 attracted major attention and reminded the public of the other major oil tanker disasters of previous years.

That concern would be very much greater if the public were aware of the vastly greater number of incidents that occurred when there was great danger and where, either by extraordinary good luck or the dedicated efforts of all kinds of rescuers, damage to life or the environment was miraculously avoided. Sometimes those incidents involved serious damage to ships; in other cases, they were near misses which occurred without any accident ensuing. Several of them were mentioned in the report of the inquiry chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, entitled Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas, published in May last year. I am glad to see that the noble and learned Lord is to take part in this debate.

The inquiry had been set up as a result of the "Braer" disaster. I want to refer to one set of incidents from his report concerning what are called "dead ships": ships which have lost all power. In 1993, there were several incidents. The "Oligitria B", having lost power, anchored in one of the traffic lanes in the Dover Strait and remained there for 48 hours; the owner and the master failed to arrange for a tug, even when requested to do so. The hazard to other ships in the Channel requires no emphasis. The "Gran Piedra" lost power near the Scilly Isles and nearly ran ashore. The "Eloisa" lost power in the Thames Estuary. The "Ice Star" drifted close to oil platforms near Sumburgh Head.

What was truly frightening about all those incidents was the reluctance of owners and masters to incur the expense of a tow, despite the obvious danger that they were causing, not only to themselves but to many other ships. None of those dead ships gave rise to any loss of life, collision or pollution but they are all to be regarded as tragedies that might have happened. I was moved to suggest this debate by reading the 1993 annual report of the Port State Control Committee, which arrived on my desk last summer. I was horrified when I read it and wanted other people to read it and recognise the dangers.

Let me start with a little background which many noble Lords will know. A ship is subject to all the laws of the country in which it has been registered; namely, its flag state. Those laws require all ships to be of suitable standard and suitably manned. International standards are set by the International Maritime Organization and a number of conventions, which are then ratified by member states. They have no force of law until the member states legislate and have no effect unless that legislation is implemented. It is the implementation that is inadequate in many flag states.

In the United Kingdom the Marine Safety Agency, an executive agency of the Department of Transport, is responsible, but it delegates some functions to the classification societies, such as Lloyd's Register, which carries out much of the survey work for the issue of the necessary certificates. Without wishing to be

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complacent, it is fair to say that the United Kingdom as a flag state does a good job and is backed by responsible classification societies.

When the IMO conventions were introduced, most ships were registered in the major maritime powers. Nowadays, most ships are registered elsewhere, since many shipowners seek the cheapest registration in those flag states—sometimes referred to as flags of convenience—which fail fully to implement the international standards, even though they have ratified them and legislated to cover them.

In 1982 the problems created by the inadequacy of such flag states were such that 15 European states signed the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (which I shall refer to as the Paris MOU) which set up the Port State Control Committee. Other states had joined it and recently the European Union has drafted a directive which will give the Paris MOU the force of European Union law but which will still be based on the IMO conventions. All the states which are party to the agreement agree to inspect 25 per cent. of all foreign ships entering their ports. Each year the Port State Control Committee issues a report. It is the report for 1993 to which I refer.

In that year the signatories of the MOU carried out 17,294 inspections of 11,252 different ships which came from 111 different flag states. It is clear from the figures that some of the ships were inspected on more than one occasion. That can readily be understood, because one of the types of ship that is targeted for inspection by all those states is ships which have previously been found deficient. Nearly half of the ships inspected were deficient in one respect or another. The average number of deficiencies noted was over five per ship—43,000 in all.

It is bad enough that there should be so many deficiencies. But the very disturbing discovery was that 24 per cent. were deficiencies in lifeboats, liferafts, lifebuoys and lifejackets. Another 17 per cent. had inadequate and neglected firefighting equipment. Other major categories of deficiency were of navigational equipment, the construction of the hull, bulkheads and hatches and the equipment carried to prevent marine pollution.

I cannot resist referring again to the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, where he outlined the history of the motor vessel "Stella". It was a ship built in 1965 which arrived in Southampton in November 1993. In the previous two years she had been detained in various Paris MOU ports on three occasions and was therefore a prime target for inspection. There were cracks in the ship's hull; there were hatch covers that were not watertight; there were perforations between the hold and the weatherdeck; the anchor had punctured a hole in the anchor recess; the emergency fire pump could not be started; the main engine room fire dampers could not be closed; and the main engine cooling water pipes had been mended by a temporary bonding material.

The ship was detained for a fourth time in Southampton and further inspections showed that it was wholly unseaworthy. The captain was told that the conditions for release would either be extensive repairs

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in Southampton or a tow as a dead ship to another port. I have quoted this example at length because it is a case where four different port state control inspections were necessary before the ship was certified as wholly unseaworthy.

I find it frightening that so many of the ships sailing around the coasts of Europe and of the United Kingdom are in such very poor condition and that so little is done about it. Port state control inspectors have power to delay and detain ships in ports if in their opinion the deficiencies which they uncover are so serious as to render the ship unseaworthy. Detention should always be enforced if the inspector believes it is necessary for him to inspect essential repairs before the ship leaves. However, inspectors are always conscious that delays may cost a lot of money and that shipowners are liable to claim compensation should there be any undue delay; and "undue" is a very vague term. It is not surprising perhaps that inspectors are reluctant to act unless very sure of their ground. Nevertheless, in 1993 no fewer than 926 detention orders were issued in Europe. That is a sharp increase from 588 in 1992. It is striking that of the 926 detention orders issued in Europe, no fewer than 309—one in every three—were issued in the UK, although only one in every eight inspections was made here. Either our inspectors were more stringent or, more probably, they were more courageous in risking the wrath of the owners about the costs of the delays. Yet their judgment must have been good, for no owner ever sued for compensation.

Finally, I turn to the quality of the crew rather than the quality of the ships. That depends upon training and it is in that regard that I claim a little experience. The initial training of officers is in three parts. First, there is a period of education in a maritime college—of which some are good and some are not. I am told that, for example, of 57 colleges in the Philippines, only four are recognised as of high quality. Some of the others may be delivering courses up to international standard, but from reports many clearly are not. College education is followed by a required period of sea-time training and practice. The quality of that depends upon the master who certifies it, and the standards of masters vary widely.

Finally, the responsible government authority gathers evidence through direct examination or otherwise and issues certificates of competency. A questionnaire was issued by the Nautical Institute on "Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping Convention (STCW)". It was published in July and gave some quite dreadful replies. One stated:


    "far too many flag authorities are able to issue so-called STCW certificates of competence which are not worth the paper they are written on".

Another stated:


    "national certificates here [country not named] are of an appalling and unacceptable standard".

Port state inspectors are required to accept such certificates without question even when they know that they are wholly spurious.

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Recognition of the numbers of ill-trained officers and ratings was one reason for the introduction by the IMO and national governments of mandatory on-board training. I must declare an interest in that form of distance education, having worked part-time with Videotel Marine International for 15 years to provide training materials on board several thousand ships for many nations in many languages. While that is undoubtedly helpful, it is not a substitute for proper initial training.

It is a sorry tale that I have told. It is not a new story; much of it has been told before, notably in the second report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, 1991-92, and in the report of the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, to which I have referred. But it is a story that needs to be told over and over again for it needs to be brought home to the Government and the general public in this country. The underlying reasons for the sorry tale are that shipowners are living in an intensely competitive market and some are prepared to cut corners in order to save money so as to reduce freight rates.

They often know little about their ships or crews because they employ a managing agency to operate the ships and hire the crews. Some flag states either actively or passively permit owners to cut corners by delegating the implementation of their control to inadequate classification societies whose main loyalty is to the owners or agents who employ and pay them.

Knowing the underlying reasons for the mess that we are in does not, however, help us to make progress in solving the problems. The report by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, made 103 different detailed recommendations. But even if the Government were to implement all the recommendations, it would not solve the problems, for that requires the full co-operation of all member states of the IMO and they cannot be forced to act. But action by port state control authorities could greatly improve matters and fortunately there are encouraging signs that things are moving. The Paris agreement has been copied first in Latin America and secondly in the Asia Pacific region and it is hoped that it will be implemented in the Caribbean, Africa and the southern-eastern Mediterranean.

Thankfully, the IMO is now much more favourably disposed to port state control. It is currently trying to amend the convention to delete the clause which requires port state inspectors to accept without question certificates issued by flag states. The British Government have made a grant of £20,000 to the IMO to support seminars on port state control and the IMO hopes that it will be repeated because training of the inspectors is vital if the system is to work fairly.

Despite the excellent job that the inspectors do in this country, many people believe that there are still too few of them to do a really thorough job and many inspections are necessarily too short and too superficial since the expenditure on each is strictly limited. Regrettably, the budget of the Marine Safety Agency is due to be cut this year. Much of the work of the Marine Safety Agency consists of inspections carried out as the flag state authority, although some of them have been

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delegated to the classification societies. In Lloyd's List of January 18th there is a report that the Government plan to delegate the inspection of the stability of ro-ro passenger ferries will be postponed because of public concern about the "Estonia" disaster. There are fears that such delegation may lead to a deterioration in safety standards. It is indeed true that those flag states which delegate the largest section of their responsibilities to classification societies have the worst records in port state control inspections. It is very regrettable that, especially at this time, the Government should cut the budget of the Marine Safety Agency and that they should plan to delegate any further powers to the classification societies.

As far as I can see, it is only through the operation of a reinforced and extended port state control that the steadily worsening state of the world's shipping can be improved in the relatively near future. Were unseaworthy ships and ill-trained crews to lead to detentions in many more ports, the message would soon be learned by unscrupulous owners: detention would cost them more than improving their ships and crews. The resulting inevitable increase in freight costs is the only way in which the ageing world fleet can be replaced by high quality and, consequently, safer ships. The Government must surely promote that by setting an example, not by cutting costs. With our busy waterways, we have an enormous amount to lose if we fail to act. I beg to move for Papers.

5.50 p.m.

Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Perry, for initiating a debate on such an important subject. The noble Lord mentioned the ro-ro ferry accidents, and it is to that topic that I should like to devote most of my remarks. However, I should also like to support and reinforce the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Perry, and his concern about the worsening of conditions, especially as regards pollution due to owners being reluctant to seek the assistance of tugs in sufficient time.

There is no such thing as absolute safety. The sea is a dangerous and unpredictable place, but it is our duty to ensure the safety of travellers to the maximum possible extent. Good seamanship demands two things: first, preventing accidents happening and, secondly, effective plans to deal with them if they do occur, so as to save lives. In the case of the ro-ro ferries, that second requirement has not been met. They are still very vulnerable to accident. It is clear beyond peradventure that the problem is the rapid loss of stability when water gets on to the car deck and the rapid capsize of the ferry, without giving any time, or giving very minimal time, for the evacuation of passengers and crew.

There are several important factors which help to minimise the chance of water getting on to the car deck which, as I say, is the main problem. We can look at the structures, improve the bow door sealing and the like; we can improve the operational procedures, which is already being done; and we can ensure that the ship is so constructed that the danger of serious damage in the case of a collision is reduced.

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However, I should emphasise that those issues are important but secondary. The problem is the rapid capsize of a vessel —a ro-ro ferry—when water gets on to the car deck. They are serious problems and we must tackle them more rapidly. Design standards must be improved so as to ensure that no disaster of a catastrophic nature occurs when there is an accident. Let us compare what happens in public places where many people gather. For example, a cinema or a theatre. Everything possible is done to prevent fire breaking out. Electrical installations and the structure are inspected, along with everything else. But arrangements are made—and inspectors make much of this—to ensure that, if the disaster of a fire does occur, people in that public place can get out in time by exits which are clearly marked so as to save at least the vast majority of those in that place.

The present situation on ro-ro ferries is unsatisfactory. Unmodified ro-ro ferries built before 1990 are quite unacceptable in the sense that they capsize very quickly when water gets on to the car deck. Those vulnerable ferries—that is, vulnerable when there is an accident, but perfectly safe under normal conditions—can operate into the next century. Even those ferries that were built after 1990 in accordance with the IMO safety of life at sea 1990 agreement are not entirely satisfactory. For instance, there is no requirement for ensuring safety after water enters the car deck and floods it. The improvements in the agreement relate almost entirely to helping to prevent flooding in a sea state of three, which is not a rough sea at all. I submit that that agreement needs to be strengthened very considerably if lives are not to be at serious risk in the event of accident on those ferries.

Her Majesty's Government have done their best to make progress with this difficult problem. After the "Herald of Free Enterprise" disaster, they sought to get IMO agreement to improve the standards of those ships. However, they found that that was impossible. Instead, a limited European agreement was achieved; but that still allowed some vulnerable ro-ro ferries to continue operating too long, as witness the "Estonia". In answer to a Question that I tabled last October, my noble friend Lord Goschen replied that, if she had been governed by the present regulations, the "Estonia" could have continued to operate into the next century to the year 2004.

New requirements are urgently needed. First of all, it should be a condition of issuing passenger certificates (in addition to meeting the SOLAS 1990 agreement) that owners should have to satisfy national authorities that, should flooding of the vehicle deck occur with or without associated spaces underneath, the ferry will survive nearly upright for a time sufficient to evacuate the passengers and crew and for rescue work to be effective. That is a most important point.

Secondly, modifications to existing ferries must be completed in the minimum possible time, abandoning the current extended time-scale, and reaching, as I say, well into the next century. That is not a hopeless proposition. It can be done. We know at least six different ways which have been proved by research whereby such ferries can be made less vulnerable in the

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event of water entering the car deck. Some ferry companies are already carrying out those modifications. Some of them have already completed the modification of some of their ferries. Of course, it can be a fairly expensive business and it will not be worth while modifying some ferries. However, we must enforce regulations that prevent those unmodified, dangerous and vulnerable ferries operating for so long as is now permitted. I suggest that they should no longer be allowed to operate after 1996. That should give time for a reasonable number of ferries to be modified and if the others cannot be modified, or if it is not worth modifying them, they can be scrapped.

Time must not be wasted on further research into the main problem. As I have said, the main problem is quite clear. However, research is needed to help to determine more effective evacuation arrangements should the ships run into trouble. The IMO should also continue to press home the adoption of regional agreements on acceptable behavioural standards and to impose them under the umbrellas of port state control to which the noble Lord, Lord Perry, referred. That is also a very important point. More work is necessary in that connection. Thirdly, sponsorship of research is required into the development of the SOLAS 1990 agreement for higher sea states than are now effective under that agreement.

I must stress again that there is great urgency in taking action on the matter. We cannot continue to accept the risk of another catastrophic accident where 500 to 1,000 lives might be lost. For example, if one of those ferries came into collision in mid-channel, there would be a real catastrophe. We cannot accept that responsibility for longer than is absolutely necessary.

As I said earlier, modifications are available and some are already being carried out. We must press for that process to be carried along much faster. A timescale must be set after which ferries cannot be operated unless they satisfy new and more stringent agreements. If necessary, if we cannot get agreement with IMO, which I expect will be difficult because of its ponderous procedures, then we can perhaps get another agreement on a European basis. But if in the last resort we cannot get anything that is satisfactory to us, then we must act unilaterally through port state control and insist that all ro-ro ferries operating out of UK ports, of whatever nationality, come up to satisfactory standards which will remove their great vulnerability to the type of accidents which I have described.

6.1 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Perry, for having brought this debate forward today. It is a subject in which I have long been interested and about which I am greatly concerned. I would like to say how much I agree with the remarks just made by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, on the subject of ferries. I am glad that I did not, in my notes, address the same subjects—as well I might have—because the noble Viscount has covered them too well.

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I wish to speak about ocean going cargo vessels because I think that that is a wider subject which may be even more difficult to solve. This report of the port state control committee is horrifying. It will be horrifying to those who have been unaware of unsafe ships. However, it will be helpful, as it goes a long way to explain why there are so many marine casualties each year. The fact is that there are many ships trading which are either structurally unsound or without essential navigating equipment or which have unqualified watch-keepers, perhaps even unable to communicate with each other. There is no obligation to speak a common language. This situation is getting worse and it will continue to get worse as able young men are not going to sea because pay at junior levels is poor.

The underlying reason for unsafe ships is that there are gentlemen in various parts of the world who do not mind how they make their fortune. They buy a worn out ship cheaply, which they can now do as scrap prices are low. They flag from a state that pays little attention to its international obligations as a flag state, and they crew at minimum cost. They are able to get the ship classed and insured. That may seem surprising, but the insurance companies have no way of determining the real risk which they are taking on. If the ship sinks after a few voyages the owner will have made his money and if the crew are lost as well he does not seem to mind, and the fact may hardly be reported in the UK press.

In spite of all that the International Maritime Organisation and the plethora of regulatory bodies can do, this situation is getting worse. However, here I must commend the Ministry of Transport for inspecting more than the required number of ships calling at our ports and for publishing the list of ships detained each month with the reason and the name of the classification society. If only other countries would follow that example and accept Recommendation No. 34 of the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, on safer ships and cleaner seas, that would make a big difference. That was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Perry. Recommendation No. 34 would require ships, under the Paris Memorandum of Understanding, to carry log books which would be signed off as ships were inspected.

This horrific situation is complex and to discuss it fully would take all day, but in the few minutes at my disposal I wish to make a proposal which I hope will be helpful. Records show that approximately 80 per cent. of marine accidents are primarily due to human error. But the only international requirement is that members of the crew hold the necessary relevant certificates. In my view current training and certification do not take account of the increasingly high technology being used in ships and ship management. In addition, forged certificates can be bought in Bombay and in the Philippines. Unless port state inspectors have reason to believe certificates are forged, they do not have the power to question or to examine watch-keeping officers further. To navigate and manage a modern ship in confined waters requires much more than a crew with certificates. The crew must work together in a carefully co-ordinated way; essential maintenance must be attended to and all equipment kept in good order. At

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present, insurers have no way of finding out how well a ship is crewed and managed, but insurance must be one of the keys to this problem because, if ships could not obtain insurance, ownership of these ships would no longer be attractive.

It seems to me that there must be some way of setting up a body or bodies which would inspect ships with respect to crewing, management and all that goes with it. However, it is not easy to see how that could be done. There have, for instance, been suggestions that the classification societies should take this over and that they should charge the insurers. However, there are so many classification societies now of such differing standards that I doubt whether that would be practicable. It would require inspectors to have different backgrounds and training from those they presently employ for inspection of hull and machinery, and there would be additional costs. However, I hope that the cost of this would be accepted by insurers and P&I clubs. It would have to be passed on but it would be to everyone's advantage, as insurers would then be able to make a realistic assessment of risk, which they cannot do at present. I do not think it is unreasonable to hope that a heavy penalty would apply to poorly crewed and poorly managed ships and that modern well equipped ships with a good safety record might well obtain lower rates of insurance than at present.

Unsafe ships and the high casualty rate have significance far beyond that of loss of life, serious environmental threat and so on. The fact is that worn out, cheaply crewed ships have depressed deep sea freight rates to a level that has meant that well managed British flagged ships can no longer make money. There is no question of being able to write off the cost of depreciation of a new modern ship. The future of British shipowning is threatened and the future of British shipbuilding is threatened. Our Government are probably doing the best they can at the moment but I hope and trust that, perhaps with nudging from Government, the various other interested parties who have recently been fighting each other will come together to find a solution. I refer to the owners, the classification societies, the insurers, the regulatory bodies and so on. These interests are probably concentrated in London to a greater extent than anywhere else and it should be possible for them to get together and agree on a proposal such as I have suggested; that is, that they should arrange for a means of examining and checking on crewing and crew management.

I have been pleased to note that our new Commissioner in Brussels, Mr. Kinnock, has moved quickly in his new role with responsibility for transport and is energetically attacking the question of marine safety. I wish him luck and I hope that he will be supported by all interested parties. It is only a matter of time before we have a quite horrific accident—for example, a gas tanker colliding with a VLCC in confined waters. The fireball, the environmental pollution and the risk of endangering life if the accident happens near the coast, are almost unthinkable. It must be only a matter of time before that happens. The risk is there. The only thing we do not know is whether it

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will happen next week or next year. Some way must be found of improving this whole question of ship safety quickly.

6.9 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Perry for introducing the debate. It is timely that we should be discussing the subject in your Lordships' House because last year produced more deaths at sea than in the air and more seafarers were lost at sea than at any time since the Second World War.

I should like to follow the road taken by the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, and speak about ocean-going bulk carriers in particular, because that is where I have some experience, albeit more than 25 years ago.

Loss at sea was commonplace in the 19th century. Such tragedies became so extraordinarily common that in the middle of the last century action was forced upon Parliament through Select Committees. If in a leisurely moment any of your Lordships were to delve into the bound copies of The Times going back to the origin of the newspaper in the late 18th century, you would find in almost every edition accounts of losses at sea of a horrifying and dramatic nature. Such incidents were followed very closely by the public. Nowadays I am afraid the public only take notice when there are tragedies such as the loss of the ferries which occurred recently.

The marine Act of 1850 came about as a result of many losses at sea, but particularly due to the heavy loss of life among those emigrating to the Americas and on convict ships. However, what really caused Parliament to sit up and introduce regulatory law through the merchant shipping Act of 1854 was the enormous loss of life in the transatlantic timber trade from North America to Europe, in which large numbers of ships were lost over a few years. That was due to the overloading of ships in order to earn more from freight. When those ships met heavy seas the result was shipwreck.

It would be an omission not to mention in a debate such as this the extraordinary work that was done by the flamboyant Member of Parliament for Derby in the 1870s, Samuel Plimsoll, through whose efforts load line legislation was incorporated in statutory form. That made a great difference to world shipping and is an example of the way in which we led the world in this area.

Nowadays accidents at sea are due to a number of factors. When I left ship management in 1970, shipping, particularly in the case of bulk carriers, was entering a new era of larger ships and new technology. That created problems in terms of training seamen, as has been mentioned by other noble Lords. The larger vessels presented problems with loading and discharging. However, in the early years there were encouragingly few casualties.

I sailed on an early voyage of a large bulk carrier. The company for which I worked had purchased a vessel of 44,000 tonnes, which was very large for that time. I went on a voyage across the Atlantic. The ship was in ballast from Antwerp; it was loaded with iron ore pellets in the St. Lawrence and sailed to Baltimore, where the

25 Jan 1995 : Column 1111

cargo was discharged. I was discharged from the ship there while the ship continued to Japan. I was able to observe for myself some of the problems that faced the officers and engineers of the ship and the problems that might arise in the future as vessels became larger, and those problems have occurred.

Since the mid-1970s, well over 70 bulk carriers in excess of 100,000 tonnes have sunk. The reasons are the cause of enormous anxiety now. The causes of those shipwrecks have not been tackled seriously enough. The increasing size, the economies of scale and the pressure on speed of turnaround are factors. In particular, the speed of loading of iron ore into ships and the related discharge of ballast is now seen as creating extraordinary and unforeseen stresses on the structure of vessels.

There is perhaps a false sense of security both within and outside the shipping world because there are already onerous requirements on shipowners to have their ships registered, insured, inspected and classified by well-known and mostly reputable organisations throughout the world. However, there are no universal standards. Nor are there any recognised or universal minimum safety standards for ships or for the training of crews.

International confidence in the shipping industry is not high. That is not surprising, bearing in mind the record of losses and the muddle that exists among the various organisations involved. The financing of new tonnage, which is an extremely important aspect of creating world fleets that are safe and reliable, is a problem. In the case of a large bulk carrier, the most vulnerable period for a ship is between the ages of 12 and 20 years. Generally the age before scrapping of a ship of that type is 20 years. There are too many old vessels in the world, and, due to the current situation there is not enough confidence on the part of those who could finance new tonnage. There are too many problems, too many organisations and too much fragmentation of shipowning. In the case of tankers, the average fleet size is only 1.7 vessels. The oil companies themselves have very little interest in owning vessels these days.

My overriding memory of my days in shipowning, which I enjoyed, is, apart from meeting very charming, able and brave people, the tradition of secrecy which prevailed in the industry. Secrecy and the inability or unwillingness to share information went from the bottom to the top. That is still a traditional aspect of shipowning and it has to be overcome.

Ship inspections are undertaken by various bodies, including flag states, insurers, charterers, owners, protection and indemnity clubs, and potential purchasers. No information is shared properly between those bodies and it is not available to other interests. There is a huge and costly duplication of information. The secrecy is probably due to fear of competition, fear of legal liabilities and fear that a privileged position may be lost. That has always been the case in shipowning. However, the problems will continue until some way is found of collating all the information about ships in an international ship register which will meet the needs of

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all those who are interested in having an international fleet in which safety at sea and the protection of the environment are paramount.

The lack of financing for new tonnage will result in a continuing number of ships which are substandard and improperly manned. As has been said, the solution is the provision of an international database. The International Maritime Organisation has already announced that it is considering the possibility of undertaking that. But there has been a great deal of unease about the international database in certain quarters with regard to confidentiality, and so on. That unease must be overcome.

Much can be learnt from the aviation industry. It has developed a method of international control and inspection which is simple and effective compared with that which prevails in the international shipping world. Surely that is the way to proceed. I hope the Government will do everything they can to encourage the achievement of that aim.

6.20 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Perry, for giving us the opportunity to discuss shipping, a subject dear to my heart.

However, before doing so, I omitted an important matter when I last spoke. Therefore, I should like to put on record my grateful thanks to all the officials with whom I had the honour to serve when I was a Minister for their extremely hard work and conscientiousness. I believe that sometimes in the press and in this House they are somewhat knocked. But those officials did a very good job for me, and I am grateful to them.

There are two aspects to the debate today: first, the number of serious accidents; and, secondly, the question of port state control. There is a link between the two but not a major link. Let me first deal with port state control.

Anyone or anything which adds to safety is surely to be welcomed. But port state control is very limited. It is but the last line of defence. If one presses too much on port state control, it diverts attention from the more important issue of flag state control. Shipping is a worldwide business, but port state control is a regional operation. It is particularly good in Europe; but there is now port state control in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region. However, within Europe itself there are differences between ports regarding the uniformity of standards applied, the interpretation of the conventions, and communication. The noble Lord, Lord Perry, referred to MV "Stella". I wonder whether the MV "Stella" was not a classic case of a ship obtaining different treatment in different ports before it came to Britain and received the proper treatment.

If we become too regional, the problems which already exist in Europe will become magnified, and discrepancies and differences around the world will be multiplied. I do not think that that is good for safety. The problem of language is a difficulty which also needs to be addressed with regard to safety.

A lesser but important point is this. It has been put to me by captains that if we impose too many inspections on a vessel when it is in port, the people who should

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be doing other important jobs—I refer to the captain supervising the loading, and checking documents—could be distracted. They can be distracted by port state control, the insurers' inspectors, the underwriters, and the hull people coming on board in that short period in port.

More importantly perhaps, the memorandum of understanding under the Paris convention has already been amended and needs updating on a regular basis. If we become too regionalised in port state control, we shall see those discrepancies appearing time and again in different parts of the world; and those discrepancies will be magnified.

Port state control is useful, but it is merely a snapshot of a vessel in port at a specific time. There is no doubt that such control catches some substandard vessels, but others will get through. I hope that we do not pay too much attention to port state control at the expense of other matters which I believe may be more crucial to safety at sea and preventing accidents.

Let me turn to what I believe is the important part of the debate: the number of serious accidents at sea. There is no doubt that shipping is safe in most areas of the world. If one compares the statistics on shipping and aviation—they are very safe forms of travel—with the statistics on cars, one will see what a good and safe form of transport shipping is. But it is not perfect. Of course I agree with what has been said before: that absolute safety cannot be guaranteed in any form of transportation.

When considering passenger vessels, one bad accident can distort the statistics. However, if one considers the cargo vessels, some rather different statistics appear. According to Lloyd's Register of Shipping, all cargo carrying ships of 1,000 dead weight tonnes or over had an average loss ratio of ships at risk between 1980 and 1993 of 5.3. What is interesting is that if one considers the individual years, in each year between 1980 and 1986 the average for each year was above the 13 year average. In the years 1987 to 1993, the average for each year was below the average for 13 years. Therefore I contest the point made that the number of serious accidents at sea has increased. The issue needs attention, but I believe that there has been an improvement.

Shipping is very different from aviation. There is a different structure. It is a diverse and fragmented operation by its history and nature. It is possible for one person to own a ship. He can lease that ship to a company in a different country. That company or individual could have the ship managed by a management company in a different country which could employ a multinational crew. Although different from aviation, that factor in itself is not necessarily bad. Things could go wrong if that ship were flagged in a state which did not take its duty seriously, using a multinational crew which held dubious certificates; using no common method of communication or common language so that they could act in concert at a time of accident; and if the ship traded in ports where there was no port state control—and that, of course, is easily possible.

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How do we address those problems? I believe that we should have one worldwide body to do just that. We are lucky that we have such a body in London: the International Maritime Organisation. It is by far and away the best and most suitable organization to address the shipping problems of the world. I pay tribute to the secretary-general, Bill O'Neil, for the enormous amount of work that he has done to improve the standing of the IMO.

The IMO comprises member states which agree standards and monitor those standards. I believe that position to be fundamentally wrong. The member states are gamekeepers and poachers because they are also the flag states. We should separate those functions, as we have done so well in this country, and allow the member states to set the standards. It is worth considering whether the IMO should be the enforcement agency throughout the world.

Having said that I believe that the IMO is good, it follows that I do not believe that regional bodies are the right answer. The European Commission gave a great deal of assistance to me in obtaining the ferry standards that I believed we should have had—an issue which the IMO ducked. However, although the European Commission has competence in the area of shipping, it is not competent to act in the area of shipping. I hope very much that although it can play a part, it will recognise that the proper body is the world body, the IMO.

I turn specifically to the UK. I congratulate the Government on all the work that they have done to raise standards, and in encouraging our shipping companies to raise standards. But what really matters is the crew. I would rather have more poor ships on the seas with good crews than class ships on the seas with poor crews. As has been pointed out it is human nature which causes and aggravates accidents, and sometimes alleviates them.

We should do more on training. I am glad that we introduced the development of the certificated seafarers scheme. That, plus the general assistance for training scheme, has helped. I hope that my noble friend Lord Goschen and my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will look at the issues again and strengthen the provisions. I believe that we have the potential to face a difficult situation in the years to come. The UK sits at the high table when it comes to safety. Unless we have men of experience, of the right training and the right qualifications who have been to sea, then I fear that in future years we will not have the force that we have now when we sit at the high table. Our voice is listened to now and I hope that it will be listened to in the future. That is where training and encouragement to join the merchant marine is so important.

However, it is not just a question of the Government and our shipping companies, there is the whole area of the classification societies and the insurers. We have the best classification society in the world in this country—Lloyd's Register. It is doing a good job through the International Association of Classification Societies. But what about those who are not members of the society and who do not have the same standards as Lloyd's? I

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think that the insurance industry could do more, too. It does not differentiate enough between what is and what is not a class ship. Last year, 1,100 ships left the books of the major classification societies. Where did they go? Some were undoubtedly scrapped, some probably are casualties and are not sailing. The others are still on the high seas. The serious question is: who has classed them and who has insured them? They should not be allowed on the seas if the major companies do not do that.

In summary, I believe that we are heading in the right direction. We need to strengthen the one world body that we have—the IMO. I do not believe that the regional bodies should be given any more encouragement to take up the mantle. The Government should continue to press on the training and continue to fund it. What is important is safety, the environment and instilling into every company throughout the world that the safety culture is inherent, from the managing director to the directors, to the divisional head, to the captain. If those people think safety, then so will the newest recruit.

6.31 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, I join with other noble Lords who have spoken in thanking and congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, on raising an issue which, I have no doubt at all, is of great importance and great urgency. It is also, sad to say, a matter of great complexity. It is extremely difficult within the time that noble Lords have to discuss the subject, to go into the matter in any depth. Listening to the speeches that have been made up till now, I kept thinking: "Ah, but there's a qualification". However, I have put aside qualifications because it is necessary to deal with the matter broadly.

Lack of safety at sea has two obvious results. First, it endangers the lives of the seamen concerned, including those who go to sea to try to rescue people. Secondly, it exposes the coastline to pollution. Both are important and it is quite wrong to try to rank them in any order. They are different, but they have the same cause.

It is worth remembering that the United Kingdom coastline is 8,000 miles long; it is the third longest coastline in Europe. Furthermore, all that coastline is subject to passing traffic and merchant ships seeking to call at our ports. I have said it before and I say it again, we live virtually in the middle of a maritime spaghetti junction.

The sea is inherently much more dangerous than the roads. It follows from that that we need safety standards for shipping which are much higher. We have safety standards. I do not compare them particularly with standards for the roads, but they are certainly not as high as they ought to be, for the simple reason that they require international agreement. The lowest common factor invariably obtrudes.

Even on the basis of those standards, it is clear that of every 100 ships sailing past our shores or calling at our ports, 60 will be found to be deficient in one respect or another. It is also clear that of every 100 ships, eight are so seriously unseaworthy that they cannot be allowed to sail the seas until repairs have been effected.

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Of course, we do not inspect all the ships, but that is a perfectly fair and reasonable extrapolation from the results of inspections of ships which we are able to examine.

In this country alone, during December there were 26 ships under detention because they were in the serious category. I add—if further evidence is required as to the risks which are involved in our own waters—that during the course of the inquiry which I chaired, we asked for details of all incidents occurring round the coast of the UK which either caused pollution or had the potential to cause serious pollution. The answers are set out in the appendix; in summary, there were 34 incidents in 61 weeks. That is a serious incident every fortnight. If we were concerned with similar low standards on the roads or similar obvious risks on the roads, there would be a public outcry.

Clearly we shall not put it right unless, first, we find out why it is happening. The primary responsibility for the state of ships, both in terms of structure and of manning and training, is that of shipowners and ship managers. Some succeed—and it is only right that tribute should be paid to them—in putting high standard ships to sea. On a recent visit to Australia I was pleased to hear people refer to international standards and the Shell standard. I am sure that they would equally have said the same of other major oil companies. However, that illustrates that it is accepted that higher standards are adopted by really good shipowners.

Some shipowners succeed; some try but fail. However, a great number of shipowners simply do not try. Let us be fair about it, they have considerable problems. Shipping is an international activity with international competition. Furthermore, there is over-capacity and the two add up to low freight rates. The solution, in essence, is that it must no longer pay, and it must be seen not to pay, a shipowner to run an unsafe ship. That, of course, immediately raises the question of how on earth we achieve that. I agree that the first line of defence is the flag state. It is the flag state's responsibility. The flag state has far greater facilities than any other state to achieve safety in the shipping flying its flag. But again, the story is a sad one. Some flag states undoubtedly succeed, and I hope that by ignoring the odd accident we are one of them. I believe that we probably are, although I would be happier if there were a greater degree of self-monitoring. However, let us assume that we are among those who succeed. Again, there are some who try and fail but, alas, there are a large number of flag states which do not even try. They deliberately refrain from trying because it costs money. They are able to attract more and more vessels to their flag as a nice little earner.

The Institute of London Underwriters has shown that the flag states which have the greatest number of total losses are those whose fleets are now expanding; contrariwise, those who have the least losses appear to be unable to attract ships.

I listened with a mixture of amazement and despair to the plea of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that we leave it to the IMO. I mention, merely en passant, that it is true I am older than he is. But I am certain that I shall never live to see the day when the IMO is in a

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position to control shipping on a world-wide basis, which is how he would like to see it controlled. I hope that he will live long enough. But that is the sort of term that we are talking about, and we cannot afford to wait. I very much regret that the Paris memorandum suggested that there should be a limit to the amount of port state control, as that would merely relieve flag states of their responsibilities. There are other ways of dealing with flag states, but it takes time.

Port state control is our only defence at the moment. I congratulate the United Kingdom on raising its rate of inspection to 30 per cent. when its obligation is 25 per cent. I congratulate the UK on publishing the monthly list of "ships of shame", to borrow the Australian term. I congratulate the UK upon the leadership which I happen to know it has exerted in recent months, albeit without much self-publicity. But it will not succeed until shipowners are convinced that the risk of sending an unsafe ship to a European port is just not worth it. We cannot do it on our own; we have to do it on a regional basis. There is not time to try to do it on a world basis; it just will not happen.

I hope that it will be possible for the Government to extend their "ships of shame" category to include United Kingdom ships. They are not inspected under port state control, but under a different system with a different name. I have always thought it wrong that none of the Paris memorandum states publish the results of snap inspections on their own ships. They ought to do so, in order that there might be a comparative picture.

As has been pointed out, there are other players in this game apart from government. There are charterers who have to be convinced that it really is not worth paying the cheapest rate in the light of the risk of the cargo not arriving or arriving damaged. There are hull and machinery underwriters who have to be persuaded that it is not very sensible to take a low premium to get business which turns out to be unprofitable. There are cargo underwriters who are in much the same position, except that there are special problems for them. There are the P&I clubs' underwriters, who are undoubtedly in a very special position because there is no "them and us" mentality. It is not a case of "us" making the claims and "them" paying them. They are self-insured on a mutual basis. Their standards of information are very high indeed. What all those have in common is that they need a pooling of information. I would like to see a sort of Dun & Bradstreet of the sea, but we shall not arrive at that for a little while. There should be a permanent flow of information between government and each of these organisations. It is beginning to happen, but it needs encouragement.

Then there are the classification societies. I should like to be able to express my unalloyed admiration for the big classification societies, the members of IACS. I regret to say that I cannot do so. If one looks at the monthly statements made by the Government it will be found that the classification societies are to some extent unfairly blamed in that they are named when all that is wrong is that the radio operator does not have a certificate, which is nothing to do with them. If one looks down the list carefully one finds cases of wasted and corroded hulls which must have been passed by

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major classification societies within a time which casts grave doubt upon the standard of their work. They are improving—let us say that loudly and clearly—but there is room for more to be done.

Perhaps I may just make a few more points very quickly; I appreciate that I risk running over time. Of all the bodies that noble Lords may find surprising, there are the missions to seamen. They do an immensely valuable job in providing a channel of complaint which seamen dare use and that information can very often be passed on to those who can take action. And there is the media. The media highlighted the case of the "Stella". I hope that they will continue to highlight similar events.

I seem to have slipped out of the congratulatory mode, but I have one last word of congratulation for Her Majesty's Government on having stationed the two support tugs in the guise of salvage tugs in Stornoway and Dover. Both have been used already, which speaks for itself.

I return to the point that I have been making all along. It would be nice to tackle this problem on a world basis, but we have no chance of doing so within any reasonable time. We have to pin our faith on port state control. There is a crucial, indeed a critical, level of effort in port state control at which shipowners will begin to come into line. I cannot put a figure on it, but until that critical level is reached, things will merely continue as they are at the moment. I hope that we can increase our effort until we reach that critical level.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Carver: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, for moving this Motion, and in particular for drawing the attention of the House to the interesting 1993 report of the Paris memorandum on port state control.

The noble Lord, Lord Perry, has already mentioned that the Select Committee on Science and Technology published a report almost three years ago on safety aspects of ship design and technology. I chaired the sub-committee which produced that report. I find it gratifying that the Paris memorandum report shows that significant progress has been made in improving certain aspects of port state control in the direction that we recommended. However, I do not intend to discuss those aspects. Other noble Lords have enlarged upon them. I wish to draw attention to some other aspects of ship safety.

The Paris memorandum report itself emphasises that port state control is only one element—a secondary tier—in the enforcement of ship safety regulations, and that too great a reliance on it could create a disincentive for negligent flag states to improve their safety performance; and would, in fact, contribute to a situation where port states would implicitly subsidise non-compliance by flag states.

The main burden of our report was the lack of scientific background to the methods by which ship safety is regulated and the regulations enforced. We proposed that in the long term—we accepted that it would be in the long term—prescriptive rules should be replaced by a safety case, based on quantified risk

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analysis, covering all aspects of ship design, construction and operation. In their official response to our report, the Government gave that idea a cool reception. But, during the year that followed, the more progressive minds in the marine directorate of the Department of Transport prevailed over the traditionalists. In April 1993 the Government forwarded an excellent paper to the International Maritime Organization, drawing attention to our report and recommending that the Marine Safety Committee of the IMO should set up a working group to consider proposals made by the Government for the introduction of formal safety assessment, as they preferred to call it, as the basis of regulation in addition to prescriptive rules covering hull and machinery design and construction. I understand that a further paper on the subject was submitted to the Marine Safety Committee at its meeting last month. I should be grateful if, when he replies, the noble Viscount can say how it was received and report on what progress there has been in this field.

There was one specific recommendation that we made in relation to that concept to which we had no clear response and on which, so far as I am aware, no action has been taken. It was that the European Community (or Union as it now is), should adopt a standard of verifiable safety management systems for shipping based on ISO 9002 and IMO Resolution A647, and impose it as a compulsory requirement for ships of any flag carrying passengers, oil or hazardous cargoes in European Union waters. That might go some way towards what my noble friend Lord Cooke suggested. I hope that the Minister will clarify the Government's attitude to this and, if they do not regard it as acceptable, explain why.

This brings me to the difficult issue of what part the European Union and the Commission in particular should play in the field of ship safety. The Commission produced a document in February 1993 called A Common Policy on Safe Seas. I hope that the noble Viscount can tell us when he replies whether any of its recommendations have been accepted and what is now the status of that document.

Our report made no other recommendations specifically related to the European Union. But a certain body of opinion felt that the Union should play a larger part. It was suggested that, as around 28 per cent. of world trade at that time passed through European ports, it would be possible, if all littoral nations co-operated, to impose higher standards than those accepted as mandatory within the IMO, and thus exclude ships of flag states which refused or failed to enforce those higher standards. It was even suggested that there should be a European coastguard with responsibilities and powers akin to those of the US Coastguard.

But there are arguments in the opposite direction, largely indicated by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, a fundamental one being the importance of maintaining the greatest possible freedom of operation of shipping worldwide. Those who support that suggest that any move towards different mandatory standards in different areas could operate against freedom of operation and lead to discriminatory measures in retaliation. There was also a certain fear that the Commission was trying to

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take over the Paris memorandum organisation of port state control, important members of which, such as Norway, Poland, Russia and Canada, are not members of the Union.

It seems to me that the best way forward is to encourage members of the Union to make mandatory for their own shipping safety resolutions which have been recommended by the IMO but not yet made mandatory because of failure to obtain wide agreement on them. I shall be grateful if the Minster, in his reply, can explain what he sees as the role of the European Union in this field.

There are one or two other matters to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention. The first is the quality and quantity of ship surveyors available not only to the Marine Safety Agency but also to classification societies. With the drastic rundown in both the shipbuilding and the ship operating industries in this country, is there not a danger that there will develop a severe shortage of experienced surveyors of the quality needed both to inspect and to maintain high standards? What are the Government doing about that?

Another factor is the future of the Marine Safety Agency. We welcomed its formation, though it did not go as far as our recommendation that it should be a statutory authority similar to the Civil Aviation Authority. But, since its formation, the Government have attempted to farm out a significant proportion of its survey work to private bodies, which, in practice, means generally to classification societies, which are the clients of the shipbuilders and operators. Are the Government satisfied that the MSA has the funds, the personnel and the powers which it should have in order to maintain high standards of safety in all respects? There are some of us who doubt it.

We also recommended that the MSA should become responsible for functions other than those it inherited from the Surveyor General's organisation, including marine traffic control. Are the Government satisfied that their relations with the coastguard, Trinity House and the air-sea rescue services, including the RNLI, are as good as they should be? Finally, we recommended that the Government should find ways to encourage ship science. What have the Government done in that respect in the three years since we reported? Not much, I think. I believe that I have asked the noble Viscount enough questions.

6.54 p.m.

Lord Kirkwood: My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Perry for initiating this debate on accidents at sea. He and other noble Lords very clearly and adequately dealt with some of the issues of the 1993 annual report of the Port State Control Committee. That document concentrates mainly on organisational and management issues; the problems of the responsibilities of port state control as against those of the flag states; the standards of inspection; the penalties of delay and detention; the selection of ships for inspection; and collaboration and co-operation with other countries. On the technical side, the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, referred to the stability of ro-ro ships. I want to

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concentrate on another technical issue; that is, the technical aspects of the deficiencies encountered during inspection.

The report refers to,


    "alarming levels of corrosion in essential structures, particularly older bulk carriers".

Consequently, members (of the Paris memorandum) embarked on special bulk carrier inspection programmes, focusing on the structural integrity of those ships.

Annex 4 to the report provides information on the number of deficiencies in various categories. Perhaps I may briefly outline them. The major categories are life saving appliances, 24 per cent. deficiencies; fire fighting, 17 per cent.; safety in general, 13 per cent.; and navigation, 12 per cent. The rag-bag category termed "Safety in general" is further broken down, and within that defects in the construction, hull and bulkheads of the ships amounted to something like 20 per cent. That may appear to be a small part of the whole, but since such things as life saving appliances and to some extent fire fighting equipment are needed only where failure of the structure occurs, structural integrity is clearly of prime importance.

For much of what I am about to say I am indebted to Mr. John Jubb, who is an expert on structural failures in bulk carriers. This is in fact the title of a lecture that he is giving at this moment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. I am concerned with catastrophic failures of ships at sea—catastrophic in human terms, with the loss of life of crew and officers, and catastrophic in engineering terms because failure of the ship's structure is so rapid, perhaps a matter of seconds, that there is no opportunity to send out Mayday calls or to take to the lifeboats.

The reasons for those catastrophic failures are complex. They include bad design resulting in stress concentrations in critical parts of the hull; corrosion which results in the thinning of ship's plate and structural members; and fatigue, which causes cracks to grow slowly at first to a critical length, at which point the crack propagates as a brittle failure through the whole structure at the speed of sound (several hundred metres a second). Brittle fracture is catastrophic and occurs without warning, and corrosion can aggravate the situation.

An important factor in the whole problem of structural integrity is the critical crack length above which catastrophic failure occurs. This is primarily a property of the material—in this case steel. A high strength steel—which is an attractive material to ship designers because it is a way of saving weight and more cargo can be carried—will have a critical crack length of only a few millimetres, almost undetectable by normal visual inspection. A grade A steel, usually required for shipbuilding, will have a critical crack length of a few inches, though no fracture toughness requirements are specified for that steel. A grade D steel, which is required for naval ships, will have a critical crack length of about one metre. That clearly gives a hugely increased safety margin as well as making a sub-critical crack easily detectable. It seems incredible that, when the steel industry has been

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developing over the past 10 years very clean steels with fine grain size for constructional purposes—both of which give greater toughness to the steel—for little or no extra cost, those materials should not be made mandatory in the construction of present-day ships.

I want to finish by making some remarks on inspection for defects, with quotations from Mr. Jubb. In his paper he writes:


    "Actual structural failures highlight the uncertain ability to detect defects before they reach a critical length ... Unfortunately while there are many references to quality management in shipbuilding literature, there are no quality systems that address visual inspection including cleanliness and illumination".

Further on he says:


    "The enhanced survey requirements concentrate largely on thickness measurements and fail to address quantitative and authoritative assessment of crack size at any location, and local corrosion losses at the edge of plates adjacent to the weld".

He goes on to recommend the inspection procedures developed by the CAA and the FAA for the aircraft industry to be adopted also by the shipbuilding industry. That was also the conclusion of the Carver Select Committee, of which I had the honour to be a member.

There is no single or simple solution to the problem of the structural safety of ships. But it should begin with a requirement to design structures from first principles so that high stresses in critical parts can be avoided. Secondly, the minimum fracture toughness requirements of materials used in construction should be specified and the use of new tough steels should be encouraged. Finally, a quality system of visual inspection for structural defects should be established and adhered to.

7.2 p.m.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Perry, for instigating this debate today. It is more than six months since last we had an opportunity to discuss shipping and all its ramifications.

I do not have to remind the House that the sea is, and always has been, a dangerous element. If we look way back we see that there has been a constant rise and fall in accidents at sea, often relating to certain types of ship. In the last century gross overloading went on for many years. That was finally put an end to by Mr. Samuel Plimsoll. The loss of the "Titanic" ensured that enough lifeboats were available for passengers. In the 1920s there was a spate of collier losses due to broken hatch covers. Research into that resulted in the arrival of modern steel hatch covers. More recently we have had many accidents involving explosions on large tankers, which has led to the introduction of all kinds of systems with inert gas and so forth. Today, as we have heard, the spotlight is falling on bulk carriers and ro-ro ferries. I shall have more to say on that subject in a moment.

Against all of this one must put the decline—the quite drastic decline in some instances—in the fleets of traditional maritime nations. Among that number is the United Kingdom. There has also been a drastic decline in well trained personnel. I shall have more to say on training and personnel later. This has been counterbalanced by a rise in nations new to shipping which in many ways cannot hope to emulate the

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standards that we have built up over the years. It is a complex and wide-ranging problem but things are being done.

Port state control is one example. I join my noble and learned friend Lord Donaldson in saying that port state control is one of the most effective ways yet devised to assist in raising standards. I do not think it will eliminate substandard ships entirely, but it is a good step in the right direction. The problem is that the inspecting authorities vary in their forms of inspection. If we can tighten up that area, the whole system will be very much more efficient. Against that, as I said a moment ago, some of the nations new to shipping find it very difficult to enforce certain of the standards that come out of the IMO. However, we are making progress and reports of offending nations and ships are now being circulated.

While I am on that subject, perhaps I may turn to some points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, in his report. He thought that a better way of doing this would be for the shipowners to pay for port state control. Not all shipowners are entirely happy about that. Their argument is that the system that exists at present—not everywhere but in a good many cases—under which offending ships pay is a far better way of going about it. It is a similar concept to that relating to pollution, under which the polluter pays. I believe I am right in saying that when a ship is inspected it is not charged. If it passes it does not have to pay anything. But, if a ship has faults, the surveyors might have to come back once, twice or several times. From that second visit they charge. The defaulting ship owners are in effect paying. That is the right way to go about it.

The noble and learned Lord also proposed a self-targeting system for ships coming to our shores and other shores for the first time whereby they would have to give 48 hours' notice of arrival, thereby allowing the authorities suitable time to gather an inspection committee. It sometimes happens that, for a number of reasons, a ship is unable to give notice. I am slightly worried that such a ship might fall into the category of being detained, which is the stick, for 48 hours. That may cause problems if it happens to be a passenger ship or a tanker, which may be dangerous. There is a slight worry on that principle and I think that we shall have to look at it a little more carefully.

The noble and learned Lord's report is excellent. It has been very well received. The Government's reply is fairly imminent and we all look forward with great interest to hearing what they have to say. Before leaving that subject, I would endorse fully what my noble and learned friend said with regard to the missions for seamen, which do a tremendous job.

I shall now turn to safety at sea and to bulk carriers, which have been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. A large number of those ships have been lost. By and large they have been elderly ships, 19 or 20 years old, and almost all of them have been carrying iron ore, a particularly heavy cargo. This problem is being addressed in a number of quarters. Lloyd's Register carried out an investigation in 1992 which revealed the disturbing fact that operators expected their ships to be damaged as a consequence of the environment in which

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they operate. Studies continue and one particular project which is under way at the moment is being undertaken by a number of learned bodies such as Lloyd's Register, a Japanese shipbuilder, the Australian Maritime Engineering Co-operative Research Centre and BHP Transport, a large Australian operator of bulk carriers, particularly ore carriers. The study is looking into all kinds of ways of monitoring stresses in bulk carriers with meters and a variety of electronic equipment. That is a very good way forward which in due course may help enormously, though I have a certain worry in that it probably means more VDU screens on ships' bridges and the poor officer of the watch these days has quite enough to look at without extra screens.

Perhaps I may now turn to ferries. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in his general safety comparison with other modes of transport, was quite right. Despite the press coverage, ferries are not necessarily dangerous, although they can be under certain circumstances. Indeed, all ships are dangerous under certain circumstances. I do not believe that the noble Earl mentioned an actual figure, but I understand that it is something like seven times more dangerous to travel in a motor car than it is on a ro-ro ferry. That must be taken into account. The problem is being addressed. Naval architects are hard at work trying to produce ideas to keep these ships afloat longer, and that is very much to be welcomed. I believe that Her Majesty's Government were quite right to resist the sealing of bow doors because I do not believe that to be necessary. Some of our ferry companies know exactly what they are doing. Some of them have fitted third doors to the ferries they brought from the Baltic. Their feeling is that they prefer to implement some of these features themselves. They know what is best in many instances. They have tightened up their procedures, insist on not sailing until all doors are shut and various other things.

I refer quickly to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Perry, as regards the Government postponing the delegation of ro-ro ferry inspections to the classification societies. My understanding is that those societies are already involved. They inspect ships as do the Government inspectors. That applies to all passenger ships and not just ro-ro ferries. The Government have put this delegation on ice because of the IMO studies, and that is quite understandable. I ask the Minister: what is the position as regards cruise ships? Are the Government to go ahead and try to save costs by doing away with double inspection?

I should say a brief word about manning, as time is running out. It is estimated that there will be a shortfall of 750,000 mariners by the year 2000. I find that very disturbing. Where are the new crews to come from? Are we training enough people? A great many intelligent people want to go to sea but there are no berths for them. Some are going into marine-related industries but they have no sea experience. Today those jobs are filled by former seafarers, so there is a shortfall. Basic seamanship, which is most important, is lacking and tends to be overlooked. I believe that that may possibly have been one of the problems with the "Estonia",

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which may have been travelling too fast in conditions that did not warrant it. It is a problem of basic seamanship.

My time has run out. Finally, I concur with what the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said, as regards the IMO. It is the best body to deal with many of these problems. Shipping is an international world these days and it should be dealt with internationally by the IMO. At times I am slightly worried by Europe. There is a danger that it might come in and add another level of bureaucracy, which is something the shipowners certainly do not want.

7.14 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, in entering the debate in order to wind up for our side, I feel a good deal of trepidation. We have listened to speakers, all of whom, as I learned before I came into the House, have a specific expertise in the subject which we have been discussing. It would be ridiculous of me to claim any such expertise. Therefore, I shall try to stick to making comments in a way which reflect my knowledge of life in general rather than pretending to be an instant expert for this occasion.

A great many speakers have spoken vividly about something which struck me when I began to look at the briefing material with which I have been supplied; namely, the enormous number of different agencies which are operating in this field—the owner, the insurer, the classifier, the person who looks after the ship and the crew. There is a mass of people, all of whom are scattered across the world and who operate in the private sector. I do not mean that in any derogatory sense; it is simply a matter of fact. It has been suggested by one noble Lord or another that somehow we need to regulate them in the interests of safety at sea, which is a subject in which this country has historically taken a long and sometimes quite distinguished interest. If the Minister wishes to respond to any of the comments which I make, I hope that he will do so in the sense that I have put all my questions to him in the context of this very difficult situation where, as I say, we want a regulatory function over international organisations, all of which operate, as my noble friend said, in mutual secrecy and in the private sector. It is obviously an extremely difficult situation.

I now turn briefly to the subject of insurance, which is obviously connected to the ageing of vessels. As my noble friend and others have said, it is one of the proximate causes of accidents at sea, particularly among bulk carriers. Is there anything which the Government can do, either alone, with other states or through the IMO, to get at or influence the more irresponsible classification societies which, looking at the matter from my inexpert position, are one of the niggers in this particular woodpile? Are there any specific objectives which the Government should set themselves in dealing with the particular problems associated with the insurance of ageing ships?

For example, I have read suggestions from at least one person, and probably more, that as bulk carriers grow older they should perhaps have their loading limits reduced. That is something which we might pursue. The

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noble Earl, Lord Caithness, suggested that the IMO should become the policeman of these and other matters. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how he believes such a policing function can be set up and put into effect. I come from a background where there is a great deal of interest in international organisations of every kind and a great willingness to believe in their effectiveness. Nevertheless, it is precisely in this area where the difficulty lies of reconciling the individual and the regulatory power of an international organisation. That is where we get into our greatest difficulties.

I turn briefly to the subject of policing, or port state control, which set this whole debate going. Not only do several noble Lords who have spoken consider that control by the flag states is what is really desirable; the Paris Memorandum is also in favour of it. The 1993 report says in several places that the policing is only a fragile substitute for what should be happening. I was struck by the fact that the area of influence is actually growing.

We have a not fiercely dynamic, but nevertheless dynamic, institution here which is gradually extending its powers of control and inspection by encouraging the spread of its methods of operation to other regions, most notably the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific Basin. It is also in favour of establishing something to which many noble Lords have referred; namely, a database through which countries can exchange information about the ships which they have inspected, the faults they have found and the really bad eggs, as it were, that they have discovered. Again, I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response, but I should have thought that Her Majesty's Government might take an interest in trying to extend the operation of port state control to other areas of the world. Areas that are conspicuous by their absence are the Mediterranean basin countries, the Middle East and a good deal of the Far East. Is there any way in which we can use our influence to encourage the continuing expansion of the role of port state control through the activities of the member states of the Paris Memorandum?

I should like to refer briefly to the basic problem of ship construction. I was struck by the words of, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, who, like my noble friend Lord Kirkwood, described the inadequacies of the design and construction of bulk carriers and ro-ro ships. That made me think about the enormous care that is taken to ensure that aircraft are constructed in a very controlled way. With aircraft we do not have the same problems of deficient standards or the inability to control the standards to which aircraft are constructed. That may be because airline construction is in the hands of relatively few large companies, whereas shipbuilding is far more widely scattered across the world. Other noble Lords have referred to the newcomers in the world of shipbuilding. But even if more companies are involved in shipbuilding than in airline construction, it seems to me that the number of companies is relatively limited. It is extremely important that all governments begin to impose, or to require, more severe certification as to a ship's seaworthiness along the lines that we have gradually begun to require for aircraft, particularly those

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used for passenger transport. That would have to be carried out through an international organisation of some sort or another.

Following the tragic loss of life on the "Estonia", everyone was made aware of the way in which ro-ro ships operate if water enters either through holing below the waterline or because of faulty front or bow doors. We have all become aware of the extent to which water can destabilise a vessel. Many people and organisations, including most recently the Royal Academy of Engineers, are urging the Government to take unilateral action in response to such disasters and to insist that all such vessels should be able to remain upright for 30 minutes following an accident at sea.

I believe that it was the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, who made it plain that, although older ships are not required at present to conform to such standards, there seems to be retrofitting of, for example, stabilising bags and other equipment such as that to subdivide the vehicle deck once it has been filled. Even if, for reasons of competition, we cannot insist on a car deck being permanently divided, I understand that there are ways in which the deck can be divided after it has been filled in order to prevent water rushing through the ship and destabilising it, as happened with the "Estonia". What are the Government doing to further that important aim of trying to ensure that existing vessels are safe for the future?

In reading for this debate, I noticed that a number of people are suggesting that the situation is becoming so competitive for the companies which operate ro-ro ferries that it is difficult to insist on increased safety standards. However, in conclusion, I draw your Lordships' attention to the comments of Sir Alastair Morton of Eurotunnel who spoke recently to a group of risk assessors, making an interesting point which is relevant to this debate. He said that whereas the Channel Tunnel has had to be created to what are almost super-safe standards, Eurotunnel and the lines using the tunnel are nevertheless competing directly with shipping which does not have to comply with the same level of safety standards with which he, quite happily, is having to comply.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, on having initiated this excellent and well informed debate which has enabled a good deal of expert opinion to be offered. Perhaps I may touch first on one of the points that has just been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and say that one of the most significant reasons for the safety differences between aviation and shipping is that so far, thankfully, there is little evidence of flags of convenience in relation to aviation.

We have had the great benefit of listening to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, who, with his committee, has produced a superb report. I ask the Minster to recognise that this short debate must not

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be seen as a substitute for a major debate in government time on that report when the Government have published their reply. The report deserves no less.

I am delighted to see the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, back in harness. It was nice of him to do what he did vis-o-vis his officials. I am sure that they appreciate it. I do not agree entirely with some of the noble Earl's points; but I shall come to them in a moment.

Tonight we are talking essentially about sub-standard ships which shame their owners and their flags and which are a source of major risk to the marine environment and the marine facilities of the nations that they visit. We are also talking about ways of at least mitigating, if not eliminating, some of those risks. We are therefore reflecting not only on the role of port state control in relation to that, but also on that of flag state control. I entirely agree with all those who have said that flag state control has to be improved. Indeed, we must improve our own.

Back in 1977 when I was the Minister responsible for shipping, I put forward an idea to IMCO, as it was then—the IMO succeeded it—to set up a marine safety corps. That idea was adopted and implemented for a time. The idea was that the developed shipping nations would make surveyors available to the developing countries, providing expertise so that they could create a better infrastructure for flag state control. Sadly, that idea seemed to fall into desuetude after a couple of years. Is there any chance of it being revived? The need is great.

Port state control must never be seen as an alternative to flag state control. I am not in any way seeking to diminish its importance, but all it does is to identify deficiencies in ships that should never have been allowed to develop in the first place—the fault of flag state control; the fault of the shipowners. But we are talking as well tonight of the flags of shame where flag states have virtually no connection with the vessels sailing the flag, let alone any proper infrastructure of regulation.

Some of the statistics we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Perry, and others illustrate how some flags have declined in terms of effectiveness. That means there has been a diminution of effective control. That has arisen through economic stress, the recession and other reasons. But over the past 40 or 50 years, the maritime world and administration have been slow to recognise the iniquity of flags of convenience. After all, what is it? It is a system designed to enable shipowners to contract out of fundamentally important responsibilities; responsibilities for civilised treatment of seafarers; to contract out of taxation and internationally agreed obligations.

It has been commercially tempting for some shipowners to overlook technical and structural deficiencies; to cut corners; and too many have been aided and abetted by shippers and charterers—all in the name of commercial pressures.

The Paris memorandum arose because there was widespread concern about ineffective monitoring and supervision by large numbers of flag states. It did not however seek to tackle the basic problem posed by the very concept of flags of convenience. It focused on

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substandard ships. It may have been easier to do that. Perhaps it was the only pragmatic way of proceeding. What is reflected vividly in the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, is "the quite appalling record" of defects in vessels visiting our ports. Some of those statistics have already been alluded to.

Too many geriatric rust buckets sail between ports or, perhaps more accurately, almost sink between ports. It is all catalogued in the report—corroded ballast tanks and safety brackets; the widespread neglect of lifesaving appliances and fire equipment—amounting all-in-all to a callous disregard of human life. When a flag of convenience seeks to improve its standards, like Liberia, what happens? It loses out. It is deserted by many, once again on the ground of commercial pressures.

The task of responsible maritime administrations must be to wage unremitting war against the type of practices that have been described. The price of failure is, indeed, unacceptably high. What has led to that catastrophic state of affairs? Undoubtedly, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said, it is the decline in influence of respectable flags.

A number of noble Lords referred to the classification societies, some of which collude deliberately in declining standards and compete unfairly with the long-established societies. They all too readily accept changes in class of vessels rejected by the more reputable societies; they issue certificates which bear little relationship to the true condition of the vessel; they force down standards all the time so far as concerns the more respectable classification societies, but they, too, are belaboured by the fact that they are in a somewhat invidious position, because they are in a client/adviser situation. That weakens the force of their activities.

A good deal has been said tonight about the IMO. I do not believe that it is to blame for tardy behaviour and ineffectiveness. It is the fault of the member states of the IMO. Too many have a vested interest in opposing reform. Some are too poor to undertake the necessary changes. Combined, that can so easily, and has so frequently, frustrated reform. I do not believe that we can place entire faith in the IMO. I support completely what the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said about Bill O'Neil. He is a superb leader, but he has what I have just referred to in the background of all his activities.

It is possible to engage in a limited form of regionalism to make progress. It has been done. It was done by the French, effectively, in 1976 with the "Amoco Cadiz"; it was done by the noble Earl with regard to the "Herald of Free Enterprise" in another limited way. It can take place, and it needs to be stimulated. The IMO should not be replaced by the European Commission. Of course not. It needs to be stimulated by regional activity and influence. There is a critical need to buttress international co-operation; to ensure that the Paris memorandum has wider effects in other parts of the world.

Some of your Lordships referred to the number of surveyors. I posed a number of questions in advance to the Minister who is to reply to the debate. I share the concerns expressed on that subject. Do we have sufficient surveyors? How many are employed by the MSA as compared with, say, five years ago? What is

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the potential for recruitment now that our own fleet is in a state of decline? We rely upon those seafarers to become surveyors in the public and private sectors.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, and others, referred to social affairs, in effect, on board ship. So much human error is responsible for shipping accidents. We hear a great deal about that, but we do not hear much about the poorly trained crews; the crews unable to communicate with one another; the appalling conditions found all too often on board; bogus pay books, suggesting that seafarers have been paid much more than they actually receive; and so much fatigue through working excessive hours. Will the Government be committed to the draft ILO Convention 109 in that regard? What steps are they taking to ensure that Convention 147 is applied in our port state control procedures?

I shall say a word about flag state control and the "QEII". That episode did not reflect well on our flag state control. I ask the Minister to indicate why that ship was allowed to sail to New York last December. We saw on our television screens frightening pictures of debris in the corridors, which could have had a devastating effect in the event of an accident. Why did that ship go to sea? Why did the United States coast guard feel compelled to intervene and detain the ship? How consistent was that with the surveyor's report at Southampton?

Many speakers have spent a good deal of time—I do not have much time to deal with it—on the issue of ro-ro vessels and bulk carriers. We need to take particular care in relation to vessels of those classes. We seem all too often to react to catastrophe: the "Estonia" incident happened and so we geared up our activities. When the "Herald of Free Enterprise" incident happened, we did the same. Why is there not more continuing vigilance over those types of vessels? We know that a great deal of work is being done in the IMO and DG.7, and I wish my friend Commissioner Kinnock well in everything he has to undertake. But speed is of the essence. Solutions must be dictated less by cost in financial terms and more by cost in human life.

I want to end on a matter which I consider to be serious. On 21st December 1994 the Secretary of State wrote to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about the scope for greater private sector participation in ship survey and certification work, as part of the deregulation process. The Secretary of State said that in the case of ro-ros, the brake would have to be applied. So far so good; I agree with that. But we have to look at the motivation. I have the letter, and he made it clear that if a major accident were to occur after safety supervision had been sold off, then the Government would be accused of putting commercial considerations above safety. In the light of the "Estonia" he suggested that delegation of hull and machinery surveys of ro-ro passenger vessels should not proceed. He said:


    "When the decision was made in 1993, we had no reason to believe that the inspection of hull and machinery was especially safety critical".

What rubbish! Who advised him to come to that conclusion? I have never heard such nonsense.

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This matter needs explanation. Short-term postponement is wrong. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that that is out of the window once and for all.

7.40 p.m.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, this has been a most interesting and well-informed debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, for providing us with the opportunity to discuss this most important issue of maritime safety. I echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, concerning the expertise of the other speakers, which of course includes the noble Baroness herself.

I shall attempt to answer many of the points raised this evening but there has been a great range of matters raised. I should begin by assuring the House that it remains this Government's firm commitment to seek and maintain the highest practical standards both for marine safety and for the prevention of marine pollution. We are currently acting simultaneously on a number of different fronts in pursuing that commitment, not least through our consideration of the report of the inquiry chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, to which I shall turn later.

The Motion tabled by the noble Lord calls attention to recent serious accidents at sea. By far the worst of them was the "Estonia" disaster last September. Such a tragedy reminds us all of the ever-present dangers of the sea. As a result of that tragedy, maritime safety in all its aspects has once again assumed a high profile and is undergoing a period of rigorous reassessment.

Preventing such accidents is of paramount importance. But such is the international character of the shipping industry, that no single country acting alone can hope to achieve that goal. That is one of the strong threads that has emerged from the debate this evening.

It has also been highlighted that international negotiations can be painfully slow, as we learnt in the aftermath of the "Herald of Free Enterprise" disaster. Our research, commissioned in the wake of that disaster, demonstrated conclusively the shortcomings of the then existing survival capability requirements for ro-ro passenger ferries in the event of damage following a collision or other severe accident. That is why we pressed hard in the International Maritime Organization for the worldwide adoption of a superior standard. We were not successful with that pressure. That is why consequently we brokered an agreement with our European Community partners, plus Norway and Sweden, to apply the desired higher standards to all ro-ro passenger ferries which were engaged in international journeys to and from United Kingdom ports.

We shall shortly be publishing a list of all ferries plying international routes to and from our ports, giving details of their current post-damage stability capability and the dates by which they must be modified to meet the requirements of the higher standards or be withdrawn from service. The list will show that the majority of those ferries already meet the required new

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standards. We are awaiting further details on some of those vessels for which our information is not yet complete.

It is regrettable that we were forced to act outside the forum of IMO negotiations in order to implement the higher standard. There has been much discussion this evening with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and my noble friend Lord Caithness, about the value or otherwise of smaller regional solutions, or indeed unilateral action. I firmly believe that the problems affecting shipping today require worldwide rather than regional solutions. But, if one cannot get exactly what one wants, in some circumstances it is wise to press for what one can get. As my noble friend Lord Caldecote recognised, and indeed the IMO must appreciate, we reserve the right ultimately to act alone, if necessary, to ensure implementation of the safety standards that we consider appropriate for our passengers and for the protection of our marine environment.

Since the loss of the "Estonia", enormous international attention has once again been paid to the question of the safety of such vessels. We are confident that those ferries serving our ports are safely maintained and operated. I am sure that the House will recall that in the immediate aftermath of the "Estonia" disaster, we ordered the Marine Safety Agency to conduct urgent checks on the bow doors of all such vessels which serve our United Kingdom ports. The results of those checks confirmed that generally high standards were being maintained. That is to be expected on ships which are already subject to a vigorous inspection regime. We have not stopped at that and action is being taken in respect of such ferries that were found not fully to comply with international requirements.

A great deal has been said this evening also about the value and the role of the IMO. I am pleased to add my backing to the remarks concerning the secretary general which have been made this evening. The IMO has now established a steering committee and a panel of experts to consider urgently what extra measures might now be taken on ferry safety. Experts from the United Kingdom are actively participating and are represented on that panel. We expect the panel to look again at the question of damage stability and to consider whether the standards that we have in place at the moment are adequate, following the likely circumstances in which we believe the "Estonia" was tragically lost. The results of the panel's deliberations should be available in May, with a diplomatic conference to adopt any agreed amendments to the SOLAS Convention later this year.

One area for particular consideration will be the question of the need for a safety case regime for ro-ro ferry operations. In 1992 the report of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, recommended the adoption of performance rather than prescriptive standards and that for the longer term—he acknowledged the longer term in the course of his remarks—we should consider a safety case regime for ship operations.

The Government's response to that recommendation highlighted the difficulties arising from the international character of the shipping industry and especially the potential for wide variations in interpretation and

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implementation by the various maritime administrations around the world, as well as the need for international agreement on safety standards.

Nevertheless, we have developed and taken forward those recommendations in international discussions. In 1993, the IMO reacted favourably to the United Kingdom proposal for the adoption of what is termed "formal safety assessment". That is an approach which is goal orientated. It facilitates the introduction of performance-based requirements and embodies the philosophy and principles underlying a risk-based system of safety management. The objective is the adoption by the IMO of formal safety assessment as a means to ensure that the regulatory framework for international shipping is both risk-based and consistent, and thus avoids the emergence of differing approaches. Significant research work is in hand in support of those objectives and to demonstrate the benefits and practicability of the new approach.

It would be absurd to suggest that the maritime world does not face very significant problems indeed. Too many of the world's maritime administrations are failing to honour their obligations under international agreements, whether through lack of capacity or lack of genuine commitment. The work of the IMO's relatively new Sub-Committee on Flag State Implementation is therefore to be very warmly welcomed indeed.

Perhaps I may turn to a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. It is the flag state failure which has led to the necessity for port state control. That was a theme developed also by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. The fact that those administrations have failed in their responsibilities as flag states is not encouraging in relation to any potential responsibility in terms of being port states. The noble Baroness suggested that there should be wider imitation of the action taken by the Paris memorandum of understanding. Port state control is active in other areas of the world. The Tokyo memorandum is now active in the Asia-Pacific countries and is using similar guidelines to those used in the Paris memorandum. The Latin American MOU is also developing along similar lines. There are similar plans for the Caribbean.

Those seafaring nations which accredit themselves with responsibility in the implementation and enforcement of international standards cannot afford to stand idle while others fall short of the mark. That is why the inspection of foreign ships has become a major line of defence since the Paris memorandum on port state control was agreed in the early 1980s.

Real progress has been made by those countries, including the United Kingdom, which are members of the Paris group. The noble Lord, Lord Perry, referred to the 1993 annual report produced by the secretariat of that group. That report shows clearly that there is still much to be done to eliminate the use of sub-standard ships. On the other hand, it gives evidence that MOU administrations are not only inspecting more ships but that they are learning to target their inspections with increasing accuracy. That idea of targeting was one of the themes developed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson.

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This improves the chances of identifying and, if necessary, detaining the worst offenders. Since that report was published, more work has been done to improve targeting, including the consideration of the proposals made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson.

We take very seriously our responsibilities for the inspections of foreign ships. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, and that of other noble Lords for the activities of the Marine Safety Agency's inspectors in inspecting so many vessels. We inspect at least 30 per cent., as against the 25 per cent. that is our undertaking.

Attention has also been drawn to the fact that we now publicise cases where ships have been detained. That is a strong, positive measure. It met with some opposition initially but, on balance, I believe that that has been a very worthwhile measure indeed.

It must be stressed that the recent attention focused on port state control should not be allowed to detract from the need to ensure that flag states honour their international obligations. The MOU annual report makes that point and it is a sentiment which the United Kingdom supports wholeheartedly.

The report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, which was commissioned in the wake of the loss of the "Braer", contains many recommendations aimed at improving safety and preventing pollution. It offers a comprehensive agenda for future action by us and others. The Government have already welcomed the report, as has the shipping industry, and it has generated considerable interest abroad. Discussions with other shipping Ministers in the Paris MOU and the European Union have left me in no doubt about the importance which they attach to the report and its recommendations.

Many of the report's recommendations cannot be implemented unilaterally but require international consultation and agreement. The Government intend to publish their response very shortly. That will identify those areas in which we have already taken action where we feel that unilateral action is appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, my noble friend Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and other noble Lords identified, as did the report, the human element as a key factor of most maritime accidents. Good management is important, and we are encouraging the widespread use of the IMO International Safety Management Code before its mandatory introduction. We welcome, and have encouraged, the European Commission's proposal that the code should be applied to ro-ro ferries operating to Community ports by July 1996. And we continue to support strongly the current revision of the Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping at IMO.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, asked about how we view the role of the European Union within this issue.

We believe that the European Commission is to be commended for its efforts in developing a Community policy on safe seas. Since the Ministers of the member states welcomed that policy in June last year, a wide

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range of proposals for Community legislation has been discussed. Many other proposals are currently being developed, and we shall continue to play an active role in EC negotiations.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, raised the issue of the "QE2". Bearing in mind that I am slightly short of time, I shall address that matter as quickly as possible. That incident provoked a great deal of comment in the national press. Before the vessel left Southampton for New York, it was thoroughly inspected by the Marine Safety Agency to ensure that it met the international convention standards. Refit work was not complete in all areas and hence the agency was able to issue a safety certificate only for a limited number of passengers for the voyage to New York.

Although I am satisfied that proper standard procedures were followed in that case, I have asked the chief executive of the Marine Safety Agency to consider the matter as part of his review of the agency's survey and inspection instructions.

A number of noble Lords raised the issue of delegation of survey and certification. I should like to reassure noble Lords that safety will in no way be compromised by that measure. There has been extensive consultation on those regulations. Our plans have been publicly known since August 1993. They have received support from the industry. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, mentioned, it is important to note that the classification societies to which the functions will be delegated already have sole responsibility for major areas of ship safety under the international conventions. We are confident that they are capable of increased responsibility under delegation.

A number of points were raised in relation to the Marine Safety Agency to which I would be delighted to respond but I do not have time.

There is still much work to be done to make our ships safer and our seas cleaner. But we are confident that our active approach to the development of maritime safety policy, both at home and in the international sphere, testifies to our commitment to the highest standards. The Government accepted all the recommendations made in relation to the "Herald" disaster, and we have been building on those important lessons ever since. Our strategy must be to continue to anticipate potential threats to safety and correct them in advance.

We believe that United Kingdom ships and seafarers are as safe as any in the world. Our survey and inspection regimes are as stringent as those of any other respected administration. The expertise of our professional staff in the Marine Safety Agency is unparalleled. But we cannot afford to be complacent and we shall not be so. I thank all noble Lords for all their comments and suggestions. I consider that this debate marks a further step towards our common goal of safer ships and cleaner seas.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Perry of Walton: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I have learnt a great deal. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that flag state control is the best way in which to achieve

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everything, but it will not work and it will not work in time. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, for reinforcing what I was trying to say and for saying so much better than I that port state control is the only way in which that will be achieved quickly. I thank the Minister for his remarks and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


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