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Viscount Goschen: My Lords, clearly it is in the shipowners' and operators' own commercial interest to ensure that their vessels are in the best possible condition. The Government's role in this matter is to ensure that safety standards are adhered to.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, can the Minister say when he expects to receive the report? Is the noble Viscount aware—he does not seem to have shown the awareness that the situation demands—that the incident concerning Britain's most prestigious liner certainly raised questionmarks about the efficacy of our surveying procedures, as well as causing grave concern to the international maritime world? Does the Minister believe that that ship should have been allowed to sail? If he does, is it not time that the international standards to which he referred were revised? Therefore, would he be prepared for the International Maritime Organisation to take the appropriate procedures to remedy a situation of this kind?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the prestige of the vessel concerned and the influence of such events on our country's international reputation. Again, however, the Marine Safety Agency, which was the agency responsible for surveying the vessel, has a worldwide reputation of the highest order for both integrity and expertise. Special considerations were taken into account at the time. The ship had undergone a thorough survey by the MSA during its refit period and was inspected before it left

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Southampton. Additional work was required, and the MSA issued only a limited passenger certificate to cover that number of passengers.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, while it may have been a case of poor commercial judgment rather than any breach of safety regulations, are Her Majesty's Government aware that, as a result of publicity surrounding such occurrences, there now exists a breed of person who, armed with a camcorder, makes a point of recording any breach of regulations (safety or otherwise) with a view to selling that information to newspapers for gain or to suing the company concerned? Is not that a process that is to be wholly deprecated?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord is essentially right, but the Government are of course interested in any evidence or information of wrongdoing in the operation of ships, so in that sense the practice is not wholly to be condemned.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, bearing in mind that no one would condone some of the conditions on that ship and the inconvenience they caused to the passengers in view of the price charged these days for such a passage or holiday, have the Government any reason to believe that the passengers on the QEII were in any more peril than they are on the car ferries that sail to the Continent which are given full approval for every trip they make?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, one cannot draw an exact parallel. We make ro-ro ferries as safe as we can. The noble Lord will be aware of the inspection the MSA undertook of all bow doors and sealing arrangements of all ferries operating to and from the UK. So far as concerns the QEII and its voyage to New York, the vessel was given a limited passenger certificate for approximately half of her complement. We are satisfied that safety was at no point compromised.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, how does the Minister reconcile that response with the fact that the US coast guard detained the vessel because it was not satisfied as to the safety conditions under which it was sailing?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the MSA and the US coast guard were working extremely closely on this matter. They were applying the same international standards. I agree that there was a small difference of interpretation between the two agencies. At the end of the episode, the US coast guard chose to endorse its certificate, but the MSA was satisfied that the ship met the required safety standards and issued a full certificate. That was on leaving New York.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, the Minister has said that there was a small difference between the British and American authorities. Does he agree that the small difference meant that the ship was allowed to leave Southampton, and it was not allowed to leave New York?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, no, that is not true. The ship was allowed to leave Southampton with a restricted certificate; that is, for approximately half the

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number of passengers that it would normally carry. In addition, other specific security and safety measures were put in place. Various parts of the ship were closed. There were increased fire patrols and so forth. The difference in interpretation occurred in New York. It concerned one of the vessel's vertical fire sections.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that at the height of the Falklands conflict my noble friend Lord Callaghan, who was then a Member of the other place, advised the nation that an early landing on the Falkland Islands was to be expected because it was impossible to keep troops sailing around in circles for long periods while still maintaining their fighting effectiveness? Does he recognise that troops using the QEII in this condition would have been rendered less fit for active service at the end of their voyage? Therefore it is something that the Government should take seriously into account.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord asked a question that I did not expect him to ask. I am not sure that the condition of the aft swimming pool was of major consequence to fully armed troops about to embark upon an expedition to the South Atlantic. The condition of the vessel is a serious point. I have made it clear that extra safety requirements were put in place and insisted upon by the MSA before the vessel was allowed to sail to New York.

Friday Sittings: Starred Questions

2.53 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked the Chairman of Committees:

    What are the grounds for banning Starred Questions at Friday sittings of the House.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, the House decided on 10th January to discontinue Starred Questions on Fridays after a suggestion by the Group on Sittings of the House. It was part of a package of proposals to reduce the burden of business on the Floor of the House; in particular, to enable the House to have more Friday sittings, allowing the House to rise earlier on other days of the week, so lightening the burden on all Members of the House. To have continued to take Starred Questions on Fridays would have added to the burden on Ministers, and would have taken up time that otherwise would have been saved.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but is he aware that to take Starred Questions on a Friday would in no way inhibit having a Friday sitting and that, on the contrary, Starred Questions are an effective part of the House's control of the Government? Can he seriously say that if they were restored on a Friday it would in any degree inhibit the House from sitting on a Friday?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, first, I would agree with the noble Lord that Starred Questions are one of the means of, as he has put it—

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I would not quite have used the word—"controlling" the Government. In our debate on the Procedure Committee's report which recommended the proposal, I ventured to suggest that part of the duty of the House was to protect Ministers. I took the view, as was clear during the course of the debate, that there is a clear distinction to be drawn between protecting Ministers in order that they can carry out their public duties for the benefit of the public as a whole and protecting them from proper scrutiny. Not only would that be wrong, but we should probably be failing in our duty if we did it. I come back to the point that the proposals stemmed from a recommendation of the Leader's Group on the Sittings of the House. The proposal was taken up by the Procedure Committee and recommended to your Lordships. Your Lordships felt inclined to accept that recommendation on 10th January.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees will recall that I raised this matter during the debate on the Procedure Committee's report. To my recollection the House took no notice of what I said, and agreed the committee's recommendation. Will the noble Lord advise me whether it would now be in order for any Member of the House to put down a Motion providing for Questions to be asked on Fridays? Could that be discussed and voted upon?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I shall answer the noble Lord's final point first. It is of course open to any of your Lordships to put down whatever Motion your Lordships felt appropriate provided that it was proper, in order and within the procedure of the House. Perhaps I may comfort the noble Lord to some extent on his first question. To my certain recollection, it is not the case that your Lordships did not pay attention to what the noble Lord said. I paid close attention to it and responded to him during the debate.

Lord Renton: My Lords, bearing in mind that our performance should compare reasonably favourably with that of another place, is the noble Lord aware that in another place several score of Questions are tabled for answer by Ministers every day that the House sits and that about 12 or 15 are normally answered every day, whereas in your Lordships' House, even if we were to have four Questions tabled on a Friday, we should have had only 20 Questions in the whole week? Cannot that important factor of great distinction be borne in mind during further consideration of this matter?


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