HC Deb 22 June 1953 vol 516 cc1475-9
33. Captain Orr

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will make a statement upon the Report of the inquiry into the "Princess Victoria" disaster.

36. Mr. C. Hughes

asked the Minister of Transport what action he proposes to take in view of the recommendations of the committee of inquiry into the loss of the British Railways' motor vessel, "Princess Victoria"; and if he will make a statement.

58. Mr. M. O'Neill

asked the Minister of Transport whether he has considered the findings of the tribunal set up by his Department to inquire into the loss of the motor vessel, "Princess Victoria," in the Irish Sea, on 31st January of this year, in which 133 lives were lost; and what action he intends to take against the owners in view of the findings of the tribunal that the loss of life was caused by the owners' default.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As the House will know, the main conclusion of the Court of Formal Investigation is that "Princess Victoria" was lost because her stern doors were not sufficiently strong and because the car space was not adequately provided with freeing arrangements. Before the Court's Report was received the Railway Executive had been in consultation with my Department and had already taken steps to strengthen the stern doors in four comparable vessels and to fit improved freeing arrangements.

I am arranging for the Statutory Rules which govern the provision of freeing arrangements to be examined in the light of the Report and if any changes in the Rules prove to be necessary they will be made. The Court's observations on matters connected with life-saving and rescue arrangements are also under examination. It is too early for me to say what the result will be.

The Report is also being very carefully considered by the British Transport Commission, who have, under the Merchant Shipping Acts, a right of appeal to the High Court.

Captain Orr

In view of the fact that this Report raises issues of extreme gravity, including the safety or otherwise of those who travel in British Railways ships, could my right hon. Friend say when hon. Members will have an opportunity of reading the full Report which, I understand, is not yet available, and can he also say whether he will represent to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that we should have a debate upon it at the earliest possible opportunity?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

There are other Questions dealing with one of my hon. and gallant Friend's points, but in case they are not reached, and in view of the immense importance of the subject, may I say that I shall hope to publish the Report next week. I would publish it sooner were it not that one of the assessors has asked to make a fuller explanation of the reason for three of his qualifications. As soon as those are received, they will be printed along with the Report. On the question of a debate, of course it is not for me, but I would point out that the British Transport Commission have 21 days from the publication of the Report, or 28 days from the pronouncement by the Court of its decision, to make up their minds on the question of an appeal. During that period it would clearly not be debate-able, though it is not for me to say.

Mr. Shinwell

In view of the criticisms levelled against the British Transport Commission in the newspapers and elsewhere, does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the major responsibility for ensuring that vessels proceeding to sea are seaworthy rests upon his own Department, which now undertakes the functions formerly vested in the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Clearly I have a considerable responsibility in this matter. The certification of passenger ships is my responsibility, though the load line regulations provide, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, for reference to Lloyds, should the Commission so decide, as indeed they did. The question of freeing ports was fully discussed in my Department many months ago and, on what seemed to be the best evidence available, was rejected. In so far as this had a bearing on the disaster I have a responsibility, but this may well come up with other matters before another court should such action be taken by the Commission.

Mr. O'Neill

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable uneasiness among the travelling public in Northern Ireland over the findings of this Report? Is he also aware that the local labour union in Belfast and the National Lifeboat Institution incurred considerable expense at being represented at these inquiries, and would he agree that some remedy should be found for compensating these people for the costs they have undertaken in the public interest?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

There is a question down on that very point.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider, having regard to the gravity of the issues raised by this Report, placing a copy of the minutes of the evidence in the Library?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I will consider that.

Sir D. Savory

Has the Minister already taken action on the recommendation that there should be a responsible superintendent at one of the terminal ports, either at Larne or Stranraer, because this would certainly go far to prevent further accidents in the future?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I hope I shall be forgiven if I answer my hon. Friend at greater length than is normal on a supplementary question in fairness to all concerned. Prior to 1948 there was a steamship manager at Gourock who reported to Euston. In 1948 Stranraer was placed under the Marine Superintendent, Glasgow. In March of last year, 1952, the full control of steamships was changed from Glasgow to Euston, but the technical services of a superintendent engineer at Gourock were made available to vessels at Stranraer. It was also then decided to put a district marine manager at Stranraer but this post, which has now been filled, had not been filled at the time of the disaster.

Mr. Callaghan

May I ask the Minister if, when he is publishing the White Paper, he will consider including in it any reports made by the Ministry of Transport's ship surveyors on the condition of this vessel?

Mr. Lennox Boyd

I will certainly look into that.

35. Mr. C. Hughes

asked the Minister of Transport if, in the light of the Report of the committee of inquiry into the loss of the British Railways vessel, m.v. "Princess Victoria," he will give an assurance that all vessels operated by British Railways are in all respects seaworthy.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The responsibility for seeing that vessels go to sea in a seaworthy condition rests primarily with owners and masters. Passenger ships operated by the Railway Executive are surveyed by my Department for passenger and safety certificates, and I am satisfied that they comply with the requirements of the Regulations. As regards the other vessels which are operated by the Executive, some of them are surveyed by my Department and others by Lloyd's Register of Shipping. There is no reason for thinking that the vessels operated by the Executive are not in all respects seaworthy.

Mr. Hughes

In view of what we have heard already, can the Minister give the House a definite assurance that all British Railways vessels, especially prototypes of the "Princess Victoria," shall be in all respects completely seaworthy?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The Transport Commission issued a fairly full statement on the steps taken in regard to comparable ships, and I do not think I can add to that.

Mr. G. R. Howard

Bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend has said about life-saving, will he bear in mind the recommendation, about which I have already written him, as to the advisability of self-propelled lifeboats in shallow draft vessels of this sort?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, I most certainly will.

54. Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

asked the Minister of Transport when copies of the Report of the inquiry into the loss of the m.v. "Princess Victoria" will be available to hon. Members.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The Report of the Formal Investigation into the loss of "Princess Victoria" will be printed by about the middle of next week. I have arranged for copies to be made available to hon. Members at the Vote Office.

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