HC Deb 23 June 1980 vol 987 cc10-3
5. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on safety checks carried out on North Sea oil rigs.

Mr. Gray

Might I apologise to the House for the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not present for Question Time today? He is attending the meeting in Venice with the Prime Minister.

Annual surveys of selected areas of offshore installations are carried out every year with a major survey of all areas every five years. These surveys are made by certifying authorities, appointed under the Offshore Installations (Construction and Survey) Regulations 1974. The results of the most recent surveys of mobile installations were set out in my reply to the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) on 3 April.

Mr. Adley

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply but he must, obviously, be aware of the concern following the "Alexander Keilland" affair. Can my hon. Friend tell the House when the report of that accident will be completed, whether he will publish it and whether he is prepared to contemplate legislation, if necessary, to ensure that whatever safety recommendations are made will be properly adhered to?

Mr. Gray

My hon. Friend will be aware that the investigation into the "Alexander Keilland" disaster is being carried out by the Norwegian Government. They are keeping in close contact with us and when the report is made available to us the Government will certainly give it every consideration. We are determined that safety will continue to be a number one priority. We shall take the necessary steps to ensure that any recommendations in the report are put into effect.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Minister recognise two extremely important points? The first is that there is likely to be new building of semi-submersibles and that it is important that we get the most up-to-date information about the Norwegian experience so that that information can be made available to possible United Kingdom builders? Secondly, will the Minister indicate, in terms of the Burgoyne report, what his response will be to the extreme concern expressed by divers in the United Kingdom who feel that some diving companies are using divers with insufficient expertise for North Sea conditions?

Mr. Gray

I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance in answer to his first question. We are being kept fully informed by the Norwegians and we shall continue to keep in close contact with them. When the results of their findings are announced we shall pay particular attention to them. The Burgoyne report is being considered by the Government and we hope, shortly, to be consulting with outside bodies which have an interest in the matter. In due course the Secretary of State will make an announcement to the House about how we intend to proceed.

Mr. Benn

Is the Minister aware that the principle referred to in the minority report of the Burgoyne committee—that the Department of Energy is not the right body to exercise responsibility for safety, given the fact that it also has a duty to maximise the output of oil from the North Sea—is a matter that does not require any delay in terms of the accident that occurred in Norwegian waters and that it is a fundamental principle? Does he appreciate that people feel that as long as the same Department is trying to optimise our oil output and look after questions of safety, safety will not be the first priority and that the Government should give the issue urgent consideration?

Mr. Gray

I appreciate the point of view held by the right hon. Gentleman. Of course, the Government will carefully consider the minority report which we received together with the majority report.

We are extremely concerned, in relation to the divers, to ensure that the highest possible standards are maintained within the diving industry at all times. We shall continue to do that.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Should not my question about the Burgoyne report have been taken with this question?

Mr. Speaker

Is the hon. Gentleman giving notice that he intends to raise the matter on the Adjournment?

Mr. Dalyell

No, Mr. Speaker. Should not question 21, on the Burgoyne committee report, have been taken with this question?

Mr. Speaker

What I should have said was that there was a question about the Burgoyne committee report further down the Order Paper. There should not have been the reference to it.

Mr. Eadie

The House will welcome the undertaking given by the Minister that the Government are in close contact, and are collaborating, with the Norwegian Government. However, since there is a possibility that the report on the "Alexander Keilland" disaster might be published during the Summer Recess, can the Minister give an undertaking that he will make a statement to the House arising from that report?

Mr. Gray

I cannot anticipate the publication of the "Alexander Keilland" report. We have not had an exact indication as to when the report is likely to be available. I think that we shall have to wait until it is before taking the necessary action.