HC Deb 06 November 1980 vol 991 cc1472-546
Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen).

3.45 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Energy (Mr. Hamish Gray)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the Burgoyne Committee on Offshore Safety. I welcome this opportunity for the House to debate the report of Dr. J. H. Burgoyne's distinguished committee, and the Government's response to it.

As the House will recall, the committee was set up by the previous Administration in September 1978. Its terms of reference were: To consider as far as they are concerned with safety, the nature, coverage and effectiveness of he Department of Energy's regulations governing the exploration, development and production of oil and gas offshore and their administration and enforcement. To consider and assess the role of the certifying authorities. To present its report, conclusions and any recommendations as soon as possible. I have described the committee as "distinguished", and I am sure that there will be no differences in view about that. Dr. Burgoyne is himself an eminent authority in this field, being an independent consultant as well as visiting professor in industrial safety at the City university. London. His colleagues on the committee comprised Mr. E. G. Everett and Dr. M. M. Linning. both consultants to the oil industry; Mr. B. Hildrew, managing director of Lloyds Register of Shipping; two trade union representatives in Mr. R. Lyons and Mr. J. Miller, both national officers of their respective trade unions, the Association of Technical and Managerial Staffs and the Transport and General Workers Union; Professor B. McNaughton, head of the school of mechanical and offshore engineering at Robert Gordon's institute of technology, Aberdeen; and Mr. H. G. Riddlestone, associate director of ERA Technology Ltd., formerly the Electrical Research Association Ltd. Dr. R. Week, visiting professor in the department of civil engineering at Imperial College, London, was technical consultant to the committee.

By any standards, the committee did a remarkable job in a relatively short time in what is a very complex, important and sensitive field. The committee met for the first time on 11 January 1979 and completed its work on 24 January 1980. In the space of a year the committee met on no fewer than 40 occasions; made 14 visits to various offshore installations and land-based establishments; considered 65 written submissions of evidence and formally met 13 organisations to clarify or amplify their written evidence—as I have said, a truly remarkable record, which resulted in an extensive and extremely valuable report and a list of no fewer than 62 recommendations, together with the note of dissent by Mr. Lyons and Mr. Miller.

I am sure that I speak for the whole House when 1 express deep gratitude to the committee for all its diligent work and carefully thought out recommendations.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Why in the valuable document provided in the Library is there no detailed refutation of that crucial note of dissent by the two trade union representatives, Mr. Lyons and Mr. Miller?

Mr. Gray

The document which was placed in the Library deals in considerable depth with the recommendations. Since the minority report was diametrically opposed to the main recommendation, it is obvious that the Government must have considered both submissions before coming to a conclusion. I shall later try to deal in more detail with that matter.

The committee's report came at an opportune if grevious time for, as the House will sadly recollect, it was shortly followed by the tragic accident to the Norwegian accommodation rig. the "Alexander Kielland" which overturned in rough North Sea weather with the loss of 123 lives, including 24 British nationals. That disaster underlined for all of us the risks associated with winning hydrocarbons from below the sea bed in one of the worst environments in the world. We must clearly do all in our power to prevent a repetition of the "Alexander Kielland" and, more generally, to make the North Sea as safe a work place as it can possibly be. At the same time, however, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that industrial accidents can somehow be entirely prevented offshore or onshore by legis- lation, regulation or administration. All that we can hope to do in relation to the Burgoyne report is to set the best possible safety framework within which these difficult yet vital offshore oil and gas operations are carried out.

I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses a statement of the Government's response to all the recommendations in the committee's report.

Three of the report's recommendations are concerned with the organisation of offshore safety responsibilities within Government. This matter was outside the committee's terms of reference, but it has raised such important issues that the Government could not ignore them, and I welcome the fact that Dr. Burgoyne and his colleagues did not regard the limitations of their terms of reference as a barrier to making valuable and more wide-ranging recommendations in the cause of offshore safety.

These issues split the committee—the minority report or note of dissent is entirely concerned with them—and I suspect that the House will wish to devote much of its attention to them in this debate, but I should like to concentrate first on the more technical recommendations which make up the bulk of the report.

Many of these recommendations are concerned with points of detail on a wide range of offshore operations. Some draw attention to specific procedures and practices where safety standards might be improved, for example, in the matter of safety assessments during the design and construction of offshore installations, the fire protection of escape routes, and training in and qualification requirements for well control and diving. Other recommendations——

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot have two hon. Gentlemen on their feet at the same time.

Mr. Gray

I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Minister come back to the issue of diving later in his speech?

Mr. Gray


Other recommendations point to possibe deficiencies in offshore safety legislation, such as the question of the legal status of ancillary floating installations used for accommodation purposes, or the need for new regulations to cover, for example, engineering and operational safety in the construction and use of pipelines. The committee has in fact covered the whole spectrum of offshore safety operations in a very thorough and professional way.

The Government regard the vast majority of the committee's detailed recommendations as well conceived and sensible—indeed, a number merely give emphasis and support to measures we had already identified to be necessary. All the recommendations have been carefully reviewed. The statement that I have placed in the Library shows that almost all of the recommendations are accepted or that, where there is doubt about the practicability of implementing them, they are accepted in principle. Only one has been rejected entirely. Many have already been implemented in whole or in part and progress towards implementing others has reached an advanced stage.

The recommendation which we have not felt able to accept is number 6.11, which proposes that there should be a scheme of official approval of independent specialised surveyors which the certifying authorities such as Lloyd's, Det Norske Veritas and the American Bureau of Shipping may need to employ from time to time to help them with particular aspects of their task. The recommendation has been rejected on the ground that such official approval would be an unnecessary intrusion into the way that the certifying authorities manage their affairs. It would detract from their proper responsibility to decide who are best qualified to be employed by them in particular circumstances. It would also tend to confuse their ultimate responsibility to my Department for carrying out their survey, inspection and certifying role. But, as I have said, that is the only one of the 62 recommendations which we have felt it necessary to reject entirely.

Mr. Dalyell

Attendance in the House is fairly light and therefore I think that I am entitled to turn to submission 34 by the British Insurance Association on precisely this point. It says: Apart from the obvious commercial disadvantages, this policy has the following side effects:"— and it lists four which must be well known to the Minister. One is: (a) In spite of being accepted as the county's main independent source of expertise, the engineering offices have lost the opportunity to participate on offshore-technology at the construction stage, to the detriment of both their own stature and the national confidence in the industry". I do not want, in an intervention, to go through all four, but I think that the Minister has an obligation at the opening of the debate to say why the Government object to the BIA submission.

Mr. Gray

I thought that I had spelt out fairly clearly why we have not accepted that recommendation, it being the only one of the 62 not to be accepted. I do not think that I can give more detail than I have for our not accepting the recommendation, but I give the hon. Member the undertaking that if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye later in the debate, Mr. Speaker, I shall, by leave of the House, deal with the matter a little more then.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Speaker

Is this a point of order?

Mr. Dalyell

No, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

In that case the Minister must be allowed to continue.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Speaker

Order. It might be a thin House, but within the space of 10 minutes the hon. Member has risen to his feet four times. If everyone did that we should never make any progress.

Mr. Gray

There are currently three Government agencies with responsibilities for offshore safety: the Departments of Trade and Energy and the Health and Safety Commission with its executive, between them administering three Acts of Parliament.

The report challenges the allocation of responsibilities between various Departments and agencies in offshore safety. It contends that the present division of responsibilities leads to delays in preparing and amending safety regulations and that the regulations, when enacted, are at best overlapping and at worst conflicting, with divided administration and enforcement.

The committee came to the conclusion that one agency should take the lead.

The question of divided responsibilities and the need for change has been very carefully considered within the Government ever since the report was published. I believe that I can speak for all interested parties when I say that the need for change had been amply demonstrated by Dr. Burgoyne and his colleagues. The Government were, however, concerned that changes in administrative arrangements should not be rushed, because we simply had to get these arrangements right this time so as to meet the overall objective of contributing materially to the improvement of safety in the North Sea. So I make no apologies for not having come to the House before now on these important and difficult matters.

The main report and the note of dissent agree on the need for a single agency to oversee offshore safety and on the many detailed technical recommendations and I welcome that wide measure of agreement. But they are diametrically opposed on the question of which organisation should take the leading role. The main report comes down strongly in favour of the petroleum engineering division of my Department, whilst the note of dissent equally strongly advocates the Health and Safety Executive. Clearly no solution could entirely satisfy both points of view. But, as I shall try to demonstrate, the totality of the solution which has been decided upon has much to recommend it and should avoid the main criticisms which have split the committee.

In their approach to those questions, the Government have had a number of factors very much in mind. First, there is the nature of the North Sea environment itself and the nature of the installations required to carry out the hazardous and highly specialised business of exploring for and producing oil and gas offshore.

I do not need to tell the House that the wind and wave forces encountered, particularly in the northern North Sea where most of those activities take place, can be among the worst in the world. The structures have to be designed and built to withstand the sort of extreme natural forces which may occur only once in every 100 years. They are supporting many thousands of tons of com plicated equipment, some of which operates constantly at pressures up to and even exceeding 5,000 lb psi—pressures very rarely encountered in other industries. All the facilities and equipment which, in a comparable operation on land, would be separated and well spaced out, are necessarily closely packed together on an offshore platform. Moreover, the platform is a place where men have to live literally on top of their work place. So I hope that the House will understand when I say that offshore oil and gas operations are unlike anything encountered on land, and that they are of a highly specialised nature.

Secondly, and arising from what I have already said, it is clearly necessary that those who are responsible within Government for administering safety requirements in the offshore industry should have an intimate knowledge and experience of the complicated and specialised processes being carried out; of the facilities, equipment and particular hazards involved; and of ways of guarding against and dealing with those hazards.

We are fortunate in having a nucleus of such experts in my Department in the shape of the petroleum engineering inspectorate. Nowhere else in Government is that particular type of expertise to be found. And beyond the hardware and the processes, my inspectors must have immediate and continuing access to other experts who are trained in the relevant geological and geophysical sciences and in oil and gas reservoir engineering, which are all part of the general picture. Again, the only Government experts in those fields are in other parts of my petroleum engineering division. We do not have as many of those experts as we would like—they are generally in short supply—and they must be retained in my Department to advise my right hon. Friend on oilfield developments and operations more generally.

Mr. Dalyell

I am puzzled. Surely if someone other than the sponsoring Department was responsible for safety those very same experts would be available to that organisation. We are not arguing about the experts.

Mr. Gray

The argument that I am developing, and which I hope the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, is that one of the important reasons why we decided to accept the majority report—and let us not forget that it is the report of a substantial majority of the committee—is that my petroleum inspectors frequently require detailed information about safety and about the reservoir technicalities of the field. We believe that it would be a great mistake to divorce those. It is important that they are considered together, not in isolation.

We recognise that however specialised are those offshore operations we cannot afford to allow safety policy for them to develop without regard to what is happening on safety policy generally on land. I ask the House to bear those points in mind in considering the new structure for offshore safety responsibilities that I shall now explain.

The Prime Minister has agreed that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will assume full responsibility for offshore safety, save for the safety of ships and seafarers engaged in offshore work. That responsibility, as the committee recommended, will remain with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. My right hon. Friend will add to his existing responsibility for offshore structural safety and the technical safety aspect of fires and blow-outs the responsibility for offshore occupational health and safety under the 1974 Act previously held by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

In all the matters to fall within my right hon. Friend's sphere of responsibility, however, he will rely on the Health and Safety Commission—whose members include representatives of employers and trade unions—to provide him with advice on the making of policy, that is, the development of legislation and guidance to the industry, in so far as those are relevant to health and safety at work in connection with offshore installations. In addition, the commission will be made more clearly responsible for administering and keeping under review other relevant legislation for which my right hon. Friend has responsibility, such as the 1971 and 1975 Acts that I have mentioned.

In turn, and in all these aspects but one—which I shall come to later—the commission will look to the petroleum engineering division of my Department for advice rather than to the Health and Safety Executive. The exception is diving safety. Here, the PED and the executive will continue to act jointly in providing advice to the commission on policy. That is because the two organisations have worked together for some time now to produce unified diving regulations covering both on and offshore diving. Those regulations are due to be issued shortly and accordingly it seems sensible to keep them in harness for the time being, although the arrangement will be kept under review.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)

I apologise to the Minister for intervening, but I think that it may help with the progress of the House. Will the Minister indicate the exact nature of the liaison between the PED and the Health and Safety Commission? Many of us are not clear on that point.

Mr. Gray

Currently there is considererable liaison between the PED and the Health and Safety Commission. The difference is that in future, when my right hon. Friend assumes complete, overall responsibility for safety, we shall make use of all the possible advice that we can obtain. The Health and Safety Commission will be involved at each stage, especially when any advice on legislation is required.

The head of PED will continue to attend the executive's management board to present to it his division's proposals before submitting them to the commission, and also so that he may participate in the board's consideration and endorsement of those proposals from the executive concerned with occupational health and safety in other industries which could have relevance offshore. The Health and Safety Commission will continue to have an industrial advisory committee in that area, either a reformed oil industry advisory committee or a new offshore oil and gas industry advisory committee. The commission will be putting the question to the present advisory committee.

As regards enforcement duties, PED will continue to be responsible to the HSE under an agency agreement for enforcing the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in its application to offshore installations. In addition, responsibility for enforcing the Act in respect of pipe-laying offshore will be transferred from the Factory Inspectorate to PED. The PED will continue to enforce the provisions of the Mineral Workings (Offshore Installations) Act 1971 and the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-Lines Act 1975.

To strengthen PED on both policy and enforcement matters in the area of occupational health and safety, four experienced inspectors will be transferred to it from the HSE.

To summarise, we shall have a unified structure with the PED reporting through the management board of the Health and Safety Executive to the Health and Safety Commission, which in turn will advise my right hon. Friend. The cross-fertilisation which will take place at commission level will be further strengthened at the working level by liaison between the PED and the specialist and relevant areas of the Health and Safety Executive. These arrangements will very largely meet the recommendations of the main Burgoyne report. The rationalisation of the three organisations in question—the Health and Safety Commission, the Health and Safety Executive and the Department of Energy—will enable ministerial responsibility to be more clear-cut and direct.

Sir Albert Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Perhaps my hon. Friend will clear up one point. Who will be responsible while these structures are being constructed in the shipyard? Which Department will have the responsibility of vetting them before they are sent out?

Mr. Gray

The Department of Energy will be responsible only for the offshore aspect, and the Health and Safety Commission while they are being built.

As, I said, the rationalisation of the three organisations will lead to clearer ministerial responsibility. I stress that the role of the Health and Safety Commission will be greatly strengthened by giving responsibility to my right hon. Friend for advising on policy and legislation across the whole spectrum of offshore safety. The Health and Safety Commission has been consulted and has accepted the arrangements, although I know that the members nominated by the TUC were inclined towards the solution proposed in the note of dissent, which took the view that for a Department sponsor ing an industry also to be responsible for its safety could lead to a conflict of interests.

I do not accept that. On the contrary, far from this being the risk, we must weigh very carefully the evident risks of doing the opposite—in splitting responsibilities unduly, having regard also to the limited numbers of experts available to us in this particular area.

Mr. Dalyell

Earlier in his speech the Minister said that the majority of the Burgoyne committee had come down against the trade union representatives who dissented. On this subject, it is not only important that everything is seen to be whiter than white, and in no way to be incestuous, but also that it should be quite clear to everyone that appearances are enormously important. In these circumstances, and on this subject if on no other, would not it have been right to give weight to the view of the trade union representatives rather than the view of the rest of the committee, even though it was the majority? Those of us who have dealt with North Sea accidents in our constituency work know only too well that it takes a hell of a lot of convincing that mistakes did not occur and that blame was not attached where, in the opinion of relatives, it might well have been attached.

Mr. Gray

The hon. Gentleman, unintentionally perhaps, is being a little unfair to the inspectorate. I have made frequent visits to offshore installations, and that point of view has not been put to me. Like the hon. Gentleman, many of my constituents are employed in oil and oil-related work, both on shore and offshore. I must admit that I have not had that experience. That has not been represented to me. Most of those who work offshore are reasonably satisfied with the conditions in which they work as well as with the safety standards that are observed. I agree that it can never be perfect, and we must do everything that we can to try to ensure that we make it as near perfect as possible. We believe that the steps which we are taking will be an improvement.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

The Minister has been generous in giving way, and I do not want to divert him too much from his speech. Perhaps he will go a little further with regard to his answer about responsibilities offshore and responsibilities if a rig or platform is being repaired. As I understand it, if a rig or platform is brought in to, say, Lerwick harbour for repair or maintentance, it will come under supervision of a different Department compared with if it is at sea. If it is under repair in a yard it will come under the Health and Safety Executive, but if it is at sea it will come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry's inspectors. Is that satisfactory?

Mr. Gray

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, because that enables me to emphasise the point that I made earlier. I think that it is satisfactory, because one of the main reasons why we have argued for the Department of Energy inspectorate looking after the offshore installation is that conditions in the northern North Sea are totally different from anything which can possibly be experienced in a yard or harbour. That is why we believe that those who have been directly involved in our own inspectorate are the most suitable people to be responsible for the offshore inspection.

Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)

The same argument can be applied to a whole range of industries, not least coal mining. Coal mining is a unique experience underground. Work on nuclear installations can be a unique experience. One could go through a whole list. Surely it is absurd to argue that, because a particular type of employment is different, it should be the responsibility of an entirely separate body. That absurdity had long been recognised until this fix was set up by the Department of Energy.

Mr. Gray

I cannot accept what the right hon. Gentleman said. It simply is not so. The safety of the workers in a yard where an offshore structure is under construction is the responsibility of the Factory Inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive. The structure itself, either under construction or repair, will be under constant review by the certifying authority acting for the PED.

Our solution is not a novel one. A number of different structures are in operation for safety at work in particular industries. For example, the safety of the workers in rail. sea and air transport—all special environments in their different ways—is organised differently from safety in the general run of manufactur- ing industry. These differences reflect the particular needs of the circumstances in those industries, and I am sure that that is right.

I believe that the proposals we have made for streamlining the Government machine should contribute significantly to bringing the detailed recommendations to fruition. But I should be deluding the House if I did not make the point that a great deal of work still remains to be done. It may take another year or two before we can finally close the Burgoyne file, but that is a measure of the wealth of detail that has come out of the committee's work.

We are pressing ahead as quickly as we reasonably can, and it is no disservice to Dr. Burgoyne and his colleagues to say that there will undoubtedly be room for fresh initiatives as new safety needs in this fast moving and technologically advanced area develop. We have designed the new administrative machine with this very much in mind. I am sure that it will respond in the most effective and efficient way.

Later, and by leave of the House, if I catch the eye of the Chair I shall try to answer any questions that hon. Members may raise with me during the debate. I commend the motion to the House.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Before my hon. Friend sits down, there are two questions which perhaps he could answer now so that the debate is better informed. Can he say whether at the end of the day this new apparatus of inspection, which I support, will cost more or less? Can he confirm that in no way shall we be removing the prime responsibility for safety in all circumstances, which must, of course, rest with the operators of the rigs?

Mr. Gray

On my hon. Friend's second point, I confirm that the operators will always have prime responsibility for safety. On his first point, we do not anticipate that there will be any significant difference in exercising the function, because what is removed from one body and taken over by another should be self-balancing.

4.20 pm
Mr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devon-port)

I beg to move, to leave out from House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: believes that the only way to safeguard against future accidents is for responsibility for all aspects of offshore safety to be held by the Health and Safety Executive. The House is debating an important subject for this country. There is no more important industry for this country's wealth and prosperity than the industry operating on the United Kingdom continental shelf, bringing oil and gas ashore to these islands, providing us with self-sufficiency in energy, and with revenues that, if properly used over the next 10 to 15 years, could be possibly the only way of reviving our industrial base. How we maximise our offshore oil is an issue of immense importance. In the discussion of that, it is also right that we should concentrate on the safety and health of the workers who work in an environment that all hon. Members will agree is exceptionally dangerous.

The figures in the Burgoyne report show that an offshore worker is twice as likely to have an accident as a worker in general manufacturing, and about half as likely to have an accident as a miner—an occupation that the House has long considered to be one of the most dangerous. An offshore accident is more likely to be fatal. That is particularly exemplified by diving. It is further clear that the major serious accidents occur in diving, drilling and construction in dealing with boats and cranes.

Many people believe that the figures in the Burgoyne report are a minimal estimate of the number of accidents, and there has been some criticism of the way in which those statistics have been compiled. Many people believe that accidents are more common than the figures show. But we must consider the whole of the Burgoyne report. I welcome its scope, and we can all join in congratulating Dr. Burgoyne and his colleagues on its overall comprehensive nature.

The "Alexander Kielland" disaster raises issues that are somewhat peripheral to the Burgoyne report, but it is important, in the light of that disaster, to analyse the Burgoyne report as it relates to it. Chapter 5 of the report discusses the coverage of the existing legislation and the different definitions of offshore platforms. The legislation is clear on the vast majority of installations, but there in some doubt about the status of certain types of ancillary structures that have come to be used in recent years. The report recommends a review of this legislation, which I welcome.

The "Alexander Kielland" fell within the scope of the Mineral Workings (Offshore Installations) Act 1971, and was duly registered by its owners. In the light of the disaster it is also to be welcomed that the report has recommended increased research into protection from deterioration of wire and other ropes in the marine environment, which is probably contributing to many accidents involving cables and cranes, and is of particular concern to the trade unions, and to fatigue endurance of welded joints, which most people think was the probable cause of the "Alexander Kielland" disaster. I do not wish to prejudge the report on the disaster, but I gather that the Norwegian Government hope to publish it soon.

The use of flotels has grown considerably in recent years, and most people would agree that there is a legislative grey area in that respect which should now be covered. Recommendation 6.10 of the report covers notification. There is a need for close inspection of structures of this sort, which are frequently converted into accommodation units from their former use as production platforms, especially as many of those units have recently reverted to drilling because of the shortage of rigs. In April Offshore Oil Weekly stated that their performance and structural integrity would need to be carefully monitored from now on. I have some doubt about whether the Department of Energy's petroleum engineering division has adequate resources to do so. I shall return to that matter later in my speech.

I am not satisfied that the Government have done everything that they should to check British rigs in the wake of the "Alexander Kielland" disaster, especially in comparison with what the Norwegians have done. Immediately after the disaster the Government asked the operators of structures of the Kielland Pentagon-type to carry out checks for cracks, and later several installations were called into the Firth of Forth for checks by the certifying authorities. I should be interested to know what action has followed those checks. There does not seem to be anywhere near as much activity in this country, in marked contrast to Norway, where stability conditions of the Pentagon type were tightened and a second type of rig was later ruled to have failed to meet the new tougher standards because it had too high a centre of gravity.

British attitudes have been different from those adopted in Norway. I know that in the case of BP's Drillmaster rig there was an independent inquiry under Professor Sir Hugh Ford, and BP invested extensively in modifying that rig. But do the Government believe that the BP Drillmaster would now satisfy Norwegian regulations? For example, Norway's maritime directorate asked for modifications to be made to a similar vessel, the "Henrik Ibsen", but it appears that British officials have been content to rest with the alterations made to the Drillmaster and did not request further changes along Norwegian lines. Obviously the Department of Energy is aware of some of the findings of the Norwegian inquiry into the "Alexander Kielland" disaster, and I gather that it took those into account when allowing the Drillmaster to resume production. In the light of the anxiety that exists I hope that the Minister will make clear what has been done about the Drillmaster and whether it would satisfy Norwegian regulations.

I hope that the Minister will also deal with the considerable anxiety about BP's future ordering programme for oil rigs. Is it true that BP is considering giving orders for two oil rigs worth £100 million to either Korea or Japan? We know that British Shipbuilders has the capacity and capability, that it is modern and efficient, and that labour and space are available at Scott Lithgow on the Clyde and Cammell Laird on Merseyside. It would be a scandal for BP to place those major orders overseas.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

One has been placed.

Dr. Owen

Yes, but there is some anxiety on the question whether there are two further orders, which must be placed in Britain. That is also related to safety. If we do not have a regular ordering programme and do not keep the expertise within this country we shall find that when we are asked to increase production, many of the skills will have been lost. We are talking about welding skills. The last accident was probably caused in that area. We have highly skilled welders, and they need to be retained in British yards. Their expertise needs to be retained. It is of considerable relevance to safety.

Let me turn to a number of the other recommendations. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has already said that the Government have rejected recommendation 6.11, despite the views put by the British Insurance Association in submission 34. We need more of an explanation about that. The Minister passed over it cursorily. The recommendation has won considerable acceptance. I imagine that cost is the argument against it. We shall have to look at that much more closely. I am not ready to accept the Government's rejection.

There appears to have been a grudging acceptance of recommendation 6.38, on the systematic collection of information on the reliability of equipment. The Government's reply states: The acceptability and practicality of such a scheme will be discussed with the Offshore Industry. That is inadequate. The Government will have to make clear whether they intend to treat the recommendation merely as a subject for discussion with the industry or whether they will urgently implement it. They should not be talking about acceptability. If they have accepted the recommendation, that is it. We need clarification on whether it is a qualified or a clear-cut acceptance.

Recommendation 6.50 is dealt with on page 9 of the Government's paper and is discussed in paragraph 25 of the minority report. It accepts the extension of the Safety Representation and Safety Committees Regulations 1978, but those regulations have still to come into force, and the Government are still talking only in terms of proposed extension. I hope that I am not being unduly suspicious. but I have to ask whether the intention to implement is definite. What do the Government mean by "proposed extension"? I should like much greater clarification of that.

The Government have accepted recommendation 6.64, that more consistent standards need to be drawn up in relation to training. They must tell us whether they will ensure that the operators have enough inspectors and whether, given the number of inspector posts advertised in trade papers, they are confident that present inspectors have adequate experience. This is a theme running through the whole subject. We all recognise that there is not a large number of inspectors, and their skills have to be used in the most effective way.

The major question of principle, on which our amendment is based, is whether one can allow the sponsoring Department to be responsible also for safety in the industry. That is an important principle, which the House has debated many times. When the Health and Safety Executive was established I thought that there was widespread agreement on both sides of the House that the principle would be that the sponsoring Department was not responsible for safety and that it would be deliberately taken away from that Department. That was the result of considerable experience over decades and many debates in the House. We knew the proven value of inspectorates that were divorced from the sponsoring Department.

The mining industry is a classic example. It is the most hazardous of working environments, and no one has suggested that the mining inspectorate should come under the Department of Energy. Everybody believes that it should be divorced from the National Coal Board. It has built up a massive amount of understanding, sympathy, expertise and, above all, independence in the mining industry, and is respected for that.

The Minister seemed to say that the petroleum engineering division in his Department had a great deal of skill in the offshore industry. No one denies that. But the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate had similar skills, and it was transferred to the Health and Safety Executive. No one is asking for those in the PED to be sacked. They will not even have to change from being civil servants. We ask that they should be transferred to the Health and Safety Executive and no longer be responsible to the Secretary of State for Energy. There is no question of their losing their expertise. The question is where responsibility should lie.

The first matter to be faced openly—it is well argued in the minority report—is that Norway has already made such a transfer. We do not have to follow everything done in Norway, but that was an important decision. The Norwegian Ministry of Energy lost its responsibilities for offshore safety on 31 December 1978. Since then, the Ministry of Labour has been responsible for occupational and structural safety offshore.

It is also noteworthy that one operator with experience in both the Norwegian and the United Kingdom sectors gave evidence to the committee that the Norwegian inspectorate was much tougher than the weaker United Kingdom system. The majority report recommended that responsibility should rest with the Department of Energy, but it said in a revealing statement in appendix 13: Nevertheless we gained the impression that Norwegian regulations were more detailed than those in the United Kingdom and that they were more rigidly and less knowledgeably enforced. The consequences were often time-consuming and expensive for operators. That is our basic anxiety. We all know that there has been massive pressure from the industry and the Civil Service for responsibility to be given to the Department of Energy. The reason is that people are afraid of extra expense. I make it clear to the House that that is not an argument that should carry any validity. The industry is making massive profits and earning substantial revenues. No one should be using cost as an argument in this context. It will not work.

Another revealing part of the evidence that needs to be taken into account was supplied by the International Federation of Chemical, Energy and General Workers Unions. Its detailed memorandum said: It is particularly regrettable that the guiding principle for the application of occupational health and safety controls in the oil industry appears to rest upon paternalism—i.e. upon the assertion or hope that the company will do 'what is best for its workers'. The rights of workers themselves to decide under what conditions and to what guidelines they should work should be enshrined in legislation in any democratic society"— hear, hear— Operation and safety decision-making in the United Kingdom sector fall very far short of this standard, although the oil companies already have to abide by these regulations in the Norwegian sector. The more that one reads the detailed submissions to the committee the more one sees built up a strong case arguing against the recommendation accepted by the Government and put forward by the majority on the committee.

I have had ministerial responsibility directly relating to safety only as a Health Minister. There was never any question of leaving the safety of drugs to be decided by the Department of Health and Social Security. The whole basis of legislation rests on the Medicines Commission, an independent commission divorced from the DHSS and making judgments on drugs.

Many of the Medicines Commission's recommendations carry considerable costs, which have to be accepted either by the pharmaceutical industry or by the National Health Service. I had no doubt then that to have taken those issues of safety into the Department of Health and Social Security would have been an outrageous decision.

The Minister used as his precedents aviation and merchant shipping safety, and he also thrust in the railways. On re-examination he may wonder whether the railways example is clear. I am not an expert, but I think that he will find that the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive legislation covers a substantial part of the railways. Both the aviation and merchant shipping industries operate in special environments, but for a substantial portion of the time they operate outside the legal jurisdiction of the laws of this country. That is not the case with the United Kingdom continental shelf. 'Therefore, when we talk about offshore oil we talk about people who still operate under our legislation. Those are extremely poor precedents against the movement of hiving off safety from the sponsoring Department and putting it into the Health and Safety Executive, which is working extremely well.

We do not find the Minister's arguments satisfactory in principle, so we are left with his detailed arguments on how to produce this new arrangement. In some ways the hon. Gentleman may find that he has produced the worst of all worlds—a hotch-potch of advisory committees and committee structures with one section advising this and joint work being done in certain other sectors. The Minister called it cross-fertilisation. A dog's breakfast would be a more apt description of what he produced. Instead of a single unified authority for health and safety, we are getting an extraordinary amalgam of committees.

When a rig comes into harbour or on to the shore it comes under the Health and Safety Executive. A week later, when it is offshore, it is under the Department of Energy. Six months later it may come in again, and come under the Health and Safety Executive. In these periods there will be examination of and responsibility for weld fractures, wires, and other major issues.

The trade unions have a good record of taking an enlightened interest in health and safety. Therefore, we must take seriously their view on this issue. They fear that, unlike the Factory Inspectorate, many of those involved in the petroleum engineering division, who have considerable knowledge of the environment offshore, will not have the same degree of knowledge of the standards and specifications of cranes and wires that comes naturally to the Factory Inspectorate. The offshore industry is not so different in its detail from the criteria that have to be looked at by the Factory Inspectorate.

Mr. Gray

We see the separation of the two issues as a real danger. The inspectors of the Department of Energy have specialist knowledge not only of the equipment on the offshore installations but of what happens in the exploration and production of oil. We think that it is extremely dangerous to separate the two issues. We believe that it is dangerous to say to people "That is not your responsibility; somebody else has to worry about safety." That is why we see great advantage in what we have suggested.

Dr. Owen

They would still have that knowledge of the offshore industry if they went to the Health and Safety Executive. Their prime responsibility would have shifted to being prepared to ask for a cost from the industry if they thought that health and safety were in jeopardy. In the Department of Energy they wear another hat—to get as much oil ashore as possible to maximise revenues. That is asking a man to divide his loyalties. In those divided loyalties, the danger is that health and safety will take second place.

In submission 11, from Shell UK Exploration and Production, four lines up from the bottom of page 137 we see the statement: The Department of Energy Inspectorate has grown up with the offshore industry". That is a revealing but true statement. Some of its skills and knowledge have come from having grown up. The submission goes on to state that that factor is of help in dealing with safety. Many people fear that this intimate relationship that has developed will inhibit it from making criticisms and from imposing costs and other matters. That is Shell's view. It is entitled to want the Department of Energy to continue.

Sir Albert Costain


Dr. Owen

The hon. Gentleman will have his chance later in the debate.

The facts are clear. No one denies that most of the oil companies want the responsibility to stay with the Department of Energy. What we are saying—I hope that we shall be joined by a few Tory Members, because this is not an issue that should divide us on party political lines—is that a fundamental principle is being breached in an industry that is of great concern to the House because the Department of Energy is to be solely responsible for health and safety. It has many other responsibilities for the offshore industry—to get out as much oil as possible, to get the revenues and, under pressure from the Treasury, to consider the interests of the oil companies. We categorically and emphatically say that making health and safety its sole responsibility is insufficient.

Mr. Gray

I listened with interest to what the right hon. Gentleman quoted from the report, but it should be put in context. In page 137 there is the statement: The Department of Energy Inspectorate has grown up with the offshore industry and has acquired valuable knowledge and experience. In our view this level of expertise is not to be found in other Government Departments involved in offshore work. It would be of benefit to all parties if the Department of Energy's role were to grow.

Dr. Owen

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is pretending to be stupid or really is stupid. No one has denied that these people have the expertise. We have said that they should go to the Health and Safety Executive, stay in Government employment and remain as civil servants. That is what happened to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. Its members used to be in the old Ministry of Technology. When they were transferred to the Health and Safety Executive, they did not lose their expertise: they remained knowledgeable about the nuclear industry. Exactly the same thing would happen with the petroleum people. We are not saying that they should disappear overnight. They will have the same pension rights, salaries and other arrangements as now, but they will turn up at a different office in Whitehall. That is not asking too much, to try to get a better record of safety in this industry.

I believe that the Minister has been misled by his officials, or he has allowed himself to be persuaded by the industry to make a wholly false and wrong decision. We hope that the hon. Gentleman will catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although he seems intent on intervening. Perhaps his interventions are more revealing than will be his speech later.

Unfortunately, we shall feel driven to divide the House if the Government stick to their present course, and we hope to be supported by some Conservative Members. We hope that, even if the Government win the vote, having lost the argument they will seriously think again about this question. In my judgment, they will place themselves in an extremely vulnerable position if this industry's safety record continues to be as bad as it currently is. It is pretty bad. It involves double the risks of manufacturing industry. It is improving, and we have every right to expect it to improve a great deal more. But also, hauntingly in the background, is the danger of another disaster, such as that which happened to the "Alexander Kiel-land".

The Government should have bent over backwards to meet the justified objections of those who wish to see health and safety somewhat divorced from the commercial pressures that are bearing right through the Department of Energy by transfering it and giving sole responsibility to one authority—the Health and Safety Executive. If we do not get more satisfaction from the Minister this evening, we shall feel it very important to divide the House.

4.50 pm.

Sir Albert Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I am surprised that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) should have finished his speech by saying what he did before he had heard any arguments from Conservative Back Benchers, especially those amongst us who have had practical experience in the oil industry. I cannot claim to have had practical experience on North Sea rigs. I can claim to be responsible for the formation of a construction firm immediately after the war, when there was no British technology in the oil industry and the American firms were sweeping the board. I was responsible for forming a company which has built four refineries and has developed tremendous expertise in welding. I agree with the right hon. Member that welding is the issue here.

I have worked in the Persian oilfield and I have seen the oil industry develop. Let us get this matter right. We are dealing with an industry which is at the edge of our known technology. The right hon. Member based most of his argument on the assertion that, if a Department is responsible for production and safety, it will be so worried about production that it will ignore safety. Having worked mainly with British Petroleum I can tell the right hon. Member that as an oil company—not a Government Department—BP is just as conscious of the need for safety as any "Department of Safety" or whatever we call it. That is because it is working with men who are highly skilled technicians. If the element of commercialism is to be discussed in the debate, I mut say that it is in companies' commercial interests to see that these highly skilled and highly trained men do not take unnecessary risks.

I had something to do with Government inspectors during the laying of pipelines in the middle of the war. I was brought back from the Middle East to work on that. Government inspectors become part of a team. That is the point which the right hon. Member for Devon-port and other Opposition Members over- look time and again. They do not quite understand how one gets teamwork by having mutual trust. Where one is dealing with extremely dangerous tasks, one produces a team, just as teams of people are produced to rescue people trapped in coalmines. They work together and understand each other's language. If these inspectors get swept off into another Department, I believe that we shall lose their expertise and specialised knowledge. This is where the Minister's proposal appeals to me.

Some years ago, the most amazing little things happened. Cathode protection had to be developed at a certain stage, depending on the salt content of the water. We had the problem of electronic corrosion, which I think was part of the cause of the recent tragic accident, because people had not had that specialised experience.

Something has been left out in this situation, and in the Minister's statement, about which I should like to hear more. When these oil platforms were first built, the previous Government encouraged the building of sites, and those of us who were on the Public Accounts Committee—as two Opposition Members present were—did a good deal to encourage the international building of platforms. However, not enough has been done in their construction to give them the international Al. I should like to see much more general agreement amongst nations—Norway, ourselves, the United States and other nations—to the effect that we should have a standard of development and more interchange of safety knowledge. In that regard, not enough is being done now.

Dr. Owen

I have listened to the hon. Member's comments. He has great experience of the construction industry, as the whole House knows. However, did he oppose the transfer of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to the Health and Safety Executive? With his experience of the nuclear industry, does he think that that has been a good change, or is he opposed to that?

Sir A. Costain

I do not have experience of the nuclear industry, although in my constituency I have a nuclear power station being built which has had a number of disastrous complications. I am not qualified to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question. I do not speak often in this House. I try to confine my remarks and speak only when I know what I am talking about. When it comes to oil industry construction, I know what I am talking about.

It is teamwork. First, we have an industry which is responsible not only for profit but for production. We have got teams together who are able to understand each other. One chap might say "Bill, if I neglect that bit of inspection, Charlie might get killed, and Charlie has a nice wife." The people involved acquire a family spirit and they come together. Once one separates the specialists into the other Departments they become diluted and lose enthusiasm.

Equally, safety is so important on these rigs because the ordinary chap who wants to work on a rig, because the pay is good and there are good prospects, may have a wife and family who are not very keen that he should work on a rig if unnecessary risks are involved. What the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to appreciate on the commercial side is that it is in the commercial interests of the firms concerned to have maximum safety precautions.

Mr. Douglas

Some of them.

Sir A. Costain

The hon. Gentleman says "Some of them." Let us look at it practically. Let us suppose that the hon. Gentleman spent £30,000 or £40,000 training a man. Would anybody in his senses—leaving out the humane aspects—put that man to unnecessary risk? Let us leave politics out of this.

Mr. Douglas

I would not want to be unduly contentious. I said "some". The concentration in this House has all been on the oil companies in terms of North Sea safety. We are not really talking about the oil companies; we are talking about the contractors. Let us be frank about it. There are some cowboys around among the contractors, particularly in relation to the diving companies.

Sir A. Costain

I accept that, with all humility. However, I do not think that we are discussing certain contractors. We are discussing how the Government are to control contractors. As I understand it, that is what the debate is about. If it is not, I have got it wrong.

All I am saying is that if the responsibility is in one Department, the Minister can be attacked. If production goes wrong, he can be attacked. But if production goes wrong for lack of safety, he can say "I wanted to get oil production up, but the other Department wants to have belt and braces on safety, and that is holding up development."

I suggest that we accept the proposal, but I ask the Minister for some assurance about the international situation and international vetting of these constructions.

4.59 pm
Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

The House will have listened with attention and interest to the words of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain). He is an acknowledged expert on such matters.

Before I could support the Government, I should like to be reassured on three points. First, not only must the inspectorate be independent but it must be seen to be independent. Will the Minister reflect on the remarks made by the Royal Commission on atomic energy, which pointed out that, although certain bodies that advised on atomic energy were independent, the fact that they recruited people from Harwell and that their address was Harwell might give the public the impression that they were biased in favour of the industry. That might not be a compelling argument, but the Minister should consider it. Not only should the inspectorate be independent, as no doubt it will be, but the public and those who work in the industry must have faith in it. That means that it must been seen to be independent.

Secondly, the Conservative Party rightly criticised the previous Labour Government for their complicated legislation. Since coming into office, the Conservative Party has produced some of the most complicated legislation that I have seen in my 30 years as a Member of Parliament. I am not sure that such legislation simplifies matters in the North Sea. I acknowledge that there have been many serious and sad accidents in the North Sea. However, as the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe reminded us, the oil industry stands on the boundaries of modern technology. As the Minister said, the industry operates in one of the roughest areas in the world. Indeed, it is surprising that there have not been more accidents in the North Sea. Some credit should be given to those who operate there, not only for their courage but also for their care. Nevertheless, the North Sea is a dangerous area and safety measures should be not only adequate, but simple to apply.

Will it not complicate matters if two bodies are responsible, one for offshore sectors and the other for building and repairing rigs and platforms? Will the Minister clarify the diversion of responsibilities? If rigs, platforms, or modules go—as they frequently do—into, for example, Lerwick Harbour, either because they are in passage or because they are in need of repair or maintenance, will the responsibility change? Will they come under a different safety authority? If accidents involve employees of a contracting company who are repairing a rig, will a different body be responsible?

Many platforms, rigs or modules are towed round the shores of my constituency on very long towropes. We should like to know who is responsible for safety.

Perhaps I might draw the Minister's attention to evidence given by the Grampian police. No doubt the Minister will have read page 123 of the report. It draws attention to the difficulties that the police experienced over a barge with a complement of 186. It was registered in Panama, owned by a Dutch company and skippered by a Dutch master. It was on charter to an oil company. It was some distance from any platform or rig when trouble occurred.

The Grampian police drew attention to the difficulties it had experienced in establishing responsibility. The report has not dealt with that. The Minister might say that this subject was outside the report's terms of reference. However, the terms of reference were fairly wide. This evidence was accepted and printed. Are steps being taken, either internationally or in relation to the Continental Shelf Act, to remedy such troubles? No doubt the Minister knows, from his constituency experience, of the troubles involved in taking action. Such action can be complicated because of the interlocking of international companies.

Thirdly, how will the inspection of pipelines be carried out? As pipelines grow older, many changes occur. As the Minister knows, fishermen have complained about the dangers involved. There was a curious incident. A pipeline made of solid steel and coated with concrete rose to the surface near Shetland. That would appear to be contrary to the laws of Galileo and to all the laws since then. It was sunk with considerable difficulty. Are pipelines regularly inspected? If so, how, and by whom? Are reports published? It must be a difficult job. Can we be satisfied that there will be some regular supervision of pipelines? As they age and as the sea bottom changes problems may occur. Not only should the pipelines at sea be supervised but also the installations involved in the delivery of oil, both to inshore terminals and to tankers and other craft at sea.

This is an important report. The House is right to probe the Minister on such issues, because we do not often have a chance to discuss them. I hope that the Minister will respond to those points.

5.5 pm

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I agree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that the report is important. I have been prompted to speak as a result of the points made by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport, (Dr. Owen). He questioned whether it was wise for the Department responsible for getting such wealth out of the North Sea as quickly as possible, and almost regardless of cost, be responsible also for safeguarding the health and well-being of those who work there. High prices and wages are involved. The sky is almost the limit when it comes to paying divers and others who work on rigs, because the work is dangerous. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is probably the most dangerous work to be found in any industrial enterprise. There will therefore be a temptation to go to the limit when it comes to safety. I cannot speak from experience as an engineer, but I was briefed by the Royal Navy at Portsmouth about the dangers involved. In commercial operations, divers are going to depths in the North Sea that are beyond the limits to which Royal Navy divers are put. I realise that divers in the North Sea have largely been trained by the Royal Navy. There is some interaction between the Royal Navy and the contractors who use divers in the North Sea. They receive great help from the Royal Navy in that respect.

Divers are entering into the realms of the unknown. We do not know what the effect will be on men over the age of 35 or 40 who are forced to work for long periods at great depths. We are discussing a subject that touches the fringes of medical and scientific knowledge. The right hon. Member for Devonport is right to ask us to pause and consider whether we should do something more than take note of such an important report. Perhaps we should say "No". Perhaps a Department that is engaged in such expensive and important exploration and is the promoter of such activity, is nut the right body to hold the reins of safety.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the knowledge that he had gained as a Minister in the Labour Government. I, too, am familar with health problems, because I am a practitioner. I am not a medical man, but I am involved in the production of pharmaceuticals. As such I welcome the restraint that is put on that industry so that it does not go too far, too fast. That is in the interests of consumers, customers and patients.

The right hon. Gentleman made an important and telling point, but he did not do it as fairly as the Order Paper does. The Government ask us to take note of the report, but the Opposition say that the only way to safeguard against accidents is for responsibility for all offshore safety to be held by the Health and Safety Executive. That is not a drastic amendment, and I am in two minds. It may be that on this occasion the Opposition are the wiser of the two sides of the House.

The Government invite us to take note of the report. My hon. Friend has taken note of the conclusions that are set out in chapter 6 of the Burgoyne report. The principal conclusions are in paragraphs 6.5 and 6.6, and the first of those says: The Government shall discharge its responsibility for offshore safety via a single Government agency whose task is to set standards and to ensure their achievements. Paragraph 6.6 says: We consider that the Department of Energy is capable of discharging this responsibility effectively, provided it is suitably strengthened". The Opposition are saying "Let us strengthen it a good deal more and say that the single agency shall be the Health and Safety Executive".

I return to paragraph 6.6, which states that the Department of Energy is capable of discharging this responsibility effectively, provided it is suitably strengthened and seeks advice from other bodies on matters of common concern. The strengthening is to provide the ability to monitor and where necessary set safety standards in relation to the selection, training and qualification of offshore personnel. It lists where that advice could come from: The principal sources of advice to which we refer are the Department of Trade on marine safety, the Civil Aviation Authority on aviation safety and the Health and Safety Executive on occupational safety. If we are taking note of the report, I shall take especial note of paragraph 6.6. That paragraph must be emphasised, otherwise I shall be unable to support the Government's request that the House takes note of the report. If I am asked by the Government to support the concept that the Department of Energy will seek oil and at the same time will take on board responsibility for safety, that will not be good enough, but if they say "We take on board seriously what is stated in paragraph 6.6 of the Burgoyne report in detail", I shall agree with them. If that is not the Government's approach, I shall be impressed by the note of dissent by Mr. Lyons and Mr. Miller, which appears on page 58.

Mr. Harold Walker

The hon. Gentleman should not overlook what the Minister said. His speech followed carefully the wording of the note that was helpfully placed in the Library. On the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, the Government go a long way beyond merely taking note. The note states: The Prime Minister has decided that the Secretary of State for Energy should take over the present responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Employment for occupational health and safety offshore … This means that the Secretary of State for Energy will in future carry sole ministerial responsibility for all aspects of offshore safety save for responsibility for the safety of ships at sea and seafarers engaged in offshore work. They will remain as the report recommends, with the Secretary of State for Trade. The Government have gone a long way beyond merely taking note.

Mr. Crouch

The right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) is helpful to the House as always. I sometimes find the procedures of the House difficult to understand, even after 15 years. I go by what is written on the Order Paper. I am not sure how far I am required to go beyond what is set out on the Order Paper, whatever might be said. If my hon. Friend has taken us further than the motion that appears on the Order Paper, I can only take into account that he has the intention to persuade the House to go further.

The note of dissent by Messrs. Lyons and Miller does not incorporate a grave disagreement. It is an interesting approach to the problem. They feel prompted to say in the third paragraph of their dissenting note: Whilst we would be willing to accept the recommendation for a single Government agency, this must be based firmly on the principle that a Government Department substantially responsible for the direction and control of an industry should not in any way be responsible for the standards and enforcement of occupational health and safety in that industry. I am left in some difficulty. I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that there are parts of the report, including the note of dissent and the recommendations, that are worthy of debate.

I speak with a loose knowledge of the history of the nineteenth century. The building of the railways was rather similar to the exploration and the activities that are now taking place in the North Sea. Many people lost their lives in the building of the railways, and that happened in conditions that were not as hazardous as those in the North Sea. Surely we should draw some lessons from that episode. Perhaps we should have had more concern for the dangers that faced the original navigators, or navvies, the Irish immigrants that came to England to work. They came to build the railways across the Pennines, where there was so much loss of life and injury.

In the latter part of the twentieth century we should be doubly careful to indicate that Parliament is concerned. We should show the greatest possible concern for the health and safety of those who are involved in work in the North Sea, which is the richest opportunity before us. Whether that is best achieved by one Department, or by another, is a matter for debate. If it is decided that the Department of Energy should be the one Department, we should take into account the recommendations that appear in the Burgoyne report, especially the recommendation that the Department must rest strongly on the advice of the other agencies that have been mentioned.

5.18 pm
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)

I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and his support, albeit tacit, for the Opposition's amendment. I think that it is fair to say that in general terms we have come to the view that the Government have taken on board the excellent Burgoyne report. However, there are substantial key areas that are the subject of disagreement across the Floor of the House. That is because in these key areas the Government's response reeks of complacency. It is not unfair to say that that displays the general cavalier attitude of the Government towards the trade union movement. There has been no real attempt to answer the issues of principle raised by Mr. Lyons and Mr. Miller.

The Minister has growing experience of these issues. I apologise for the fact that I was not present to hear his earlier remarks. He must recognise that the attitude towards the safety of the men at the sharp end depends on a positive attitude and in their confidence in the organisation that enforces the regulations. That organisation, whatever it is, must display independence, intelligence and integrity in a way that is beyond dispute. That must be beyond dispute among those who embark on difficult operations in the North Sea.

I think that we are right to say that the responsibility for safety must rest primarily on the operators. Having put that responsibility where it should lie, on the licence holders and those on the operating committees for the various fields that are under exploration and development, the House knows only too well that we are talking of mammoth operations and developments and investments of £3 billion and more. No operator can engage in such programmes on his own. Operators have to employ subcontractors, which involves a variety of organisations that may or may not have the same degree of concern for the safety of personnel. I shall refer later to a particular area of concern—diving.

I wish first to follow up a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) concerning the Kielland issue, which greatly disturbs me. I recognise the professional calibre of the authorities that certify the rigs in the United Kingdom. The Kielland disaster resulted in the loss of 123 lives. At this stage I would not place any responsibility for that loss on the design of the rig or the constructors. I have an intimate knowledge of the French company that made the rig. I am not competent to judge the design. However, following that, Det Norske Veritas has required Peutagone rigs like the Henrik Ibsen and the Gulnare to conform to new requirements for residual structural strength, but Lloyd's, with eight such rigs on its register, has not so far found it necessary to require such modifications. That strikes me as a disparity of approach to these complicated structures, when they are operating in a similar environment. The Department of Energy has the responsibility in this debate to at least give its view on that occurrence. If the Norwegians find it desirable to ensure that the same design of rigs are structurally strengthened, why has one of the certifying authorities approved of by the Department of Energy not sought to do so? That is an important consideration. I hope that the Minister can deal with that point.

The key area is the relationship between the Department, the Health and Safety Commission Executive and the Petroleum Engineering Directorate. We require much more detail about the interplay of the staff. If the Government's view is that it should be as they propose, we need much more information about the staff and the numbers and expertise deployed.

We have had discussions about the onshore petroleum industry. When that is involved in a detailed survey like the Canvey Island survey—a hazard and safety audit—the people concerned are related to the Health and Safety Executive. There is not much difference in these complicated, onshore petro-chemical operations and those offshore.

I find the cosiness of the relationship between the Department of Energy and the oil companies disturbing. My point here is not unrelated to Kielland and concerns certifying authorities. Recommendation 6.8 states: We firmly uphold the principle of independent certification of critical features of offshore structural and operational safety. In conformity with this view, we recommend that the responsibility of the Certifying Authorities be extended, as far as is practicable, to cover the complete oil and gas pressurised system from the down hole safety-valve to shore or tanker connections. We believe that the present Certifying Authorities are sufficient in numbers and have, or can acquire, the skills necessary to undertake this extension of their responsibilities. In its response the Department says "Accepted in part", but it is not accepted at all. The principle of independent certification will be maintained. It could not be otherwise. It goes on, however: The adequacy of shut down systems both for wells and for the pipeline attached to the platform, will in future be considered by the Certifying Authorities. Approval of individual well pressure systems and of pipelines will however, remain the responsibility of the Department of Energy's Petroleum Engineering Inspectors. The only argument that the Minister can advance to support that case is that of confidentiality. On the Burgoyne committee were people who had operated in the North Sea, such as Matt Linning, who is well respected. They would have taken that into consideration, and they overruled the point. That is an indication of the cosiness of the relationship.

The body further recommends that there should be an appeals procedure when certification is not allowed. We are told that there is already an informal appeals procedure. We may or may not welcome that, but what is the nature of that procedure? What organisation does the Minister have or propose to second guess the certifying authorities? I respectfully suggest that we also need answers here.

Recommendation 6.28 deals with occupational safety. The suggestion is that some arrangement should be made in two years' time. The recommendation is that: Regulations should be made as soon as possible for the control of occupational safety during offshore construction. The Department's response states: The need for Regulations will be reviewed in the light of experience in two years' time. We have been constructing offshore rigs since 1964–65, yet it will be another two years before we have detailed regulations on that important aspect.

Regulation 6.42 concerns radio and radar sparking, and I recognise that the matter may have come to light because of public inquiries in my constituency. Will the Minister indicate what progress has been made in that direction? The tests involved are bound to be complicated and have a bearing on the installations taking place at Moss Morran and Braefoot Bay.

Recommendation 6.59 concerns languages. The point that I wish to make may seem trite, but it is important. A number of different nationalities are employed at sea and there is difficulty in getting the regulations read and understood by all personnel.

One aspect of the matter arose in our discussion about flags of convenience. I am not saying that it takes place in the North Sea, but it is possible to have people officering ships who are not conversant with the English language. That is highly dangerous in an emergency. A supply boat may be tied up and unloading, and key personnel may not be conversant with the language used in communication. It may seem to be a small point, but in an emergency it is crucial. We should not allow companies to use flags of convenience and particularly be officered by nationalities not conversant with the language used in emergency procedure.

The Minister, in order not to extend the debate, has not said very much about the progress we have been making about the five-zone approach to safety. He has not said how many of the vessels called for maintenance and fire fighting are on station. It hurts me particularly, because of my association with shipbuilding, to know that not one of the vessels so far on station has been built in a United Kingdom yard. Happily, we shall rectify that soon by the commissioning of the BP/BNOC vessel that is being built by Scott Lithgow.

I return tangentially to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport about the expertise gained in building semi-submersibles and production platforms. If we are entering upon a period in which the rig market will be buoyant, although I should not like to predict day rates too far ahead, I am sure that we shall see not far short of $100,000 a day next year. These are substantial sums of money and argue for the construction of semi-submersibles irk the United Kingdom.

For good or bad reasons—because of Government interference or lack of Government interference—we missed the opportunity last time. We cannot afford to do that again. We have lost one BP order to the Koreans, of all people; and the terms of the order ought to be examined. This is and order placed in a yard which says, putting it colloquially, "If you do not like the ship that we are building we will take it back and give you credit terms that will beat anything that you can be offered elsewhere."

We cannot allow this to happen. My right hon. Friend rightly suggested that there are some prospects, and I hope that they will improve. I hope that the Minister will feel able to respond positively to the feeling within British Shipbuilders and British shipbuilding that the building of another generation of semi-submersible rigs should take place in the United Kingdom. It is a scandal that not one of the rigs operating in the North Sea at present was built in a United Kingdom yard. That reflects on my own party when it was in government, as well as on the present Government.

With regard to diving, I have some information from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who apologises for being absent. His union has been actively pursuing these matters. The Under-Secretary of State for Employment knows that we had a very fruitful deputation to his Ministry on 30 July. My hon. Friend's union supports the minority submission and is anxious to obtain information—as I am and as are my hon. Friends—about the Government's attitude towards the certification of divers.

This is a key issue. I refer to the letter of the Underwater Training Centre of 14 July 1977 to operators. It is worthy of some analysis by the House. The chairman of the board of control said: The Centre was formed specifically so as to minimise the chance of accidents occurring, particularly with mixed gas diving in the North Sea. Despite constant approaches to the diving contracting companies and despite Government grants to employers, a total of only 46 mixed gas divers have been nominated for courses at Fort William in the last 12 months. It is obvious that the contracting companies are either hopeful of obtaining foreign divers, who may or may not have the right qualifications, or they are holding back in the hope that someone else produces the necessary qualified divers. Surely the contracting companies, if they continue in this vein, are not acting in the best interests of their diving staff nor of the major oil companies A serious accident occurring during mixed gas diving could not be hushed up, following the Ekofisk blow-out. Because of your joint legal responsibilities with the diving contracting companies, I believe that the oil companies themselves must ensure that the quality of training received by the sub-contractors' personnel and by the divers operating in the North Sea is of the highest possible order. That was in 1977.

Hon. Members who have read the report of the Public Accounts Committee will know about the disastrous and scandalous happenings at Fort William. Obviously, the Minister is intimately concerned with this matter. What happened at Fort William is a national scandal. The House is entitled to know how the Government propose—with the oil companies and with the Association of Diving Contractors—to rectify the position, but, most pertinently, how they intend to ensure that the training of divers and their supervision will end with certification. The Norwegians and other nations have this, and with our background of diving experience in the United Kingdom, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot have it as well. We have a responsibility to ensure that these matters are adequately dealt with in this House.

I trust that the Minister will endeavour to respond. I apologise to my colleagues for raising so many points, but obviously I am intimately concerned with these issues. I hope that the Minister will realise that, if we are to have safe operations in the North Sea, we have to have the confidence of the people involved. We must not have the sort of offhand attitude to the trade unions that is characterised by the Prime Minister. They have to be involved. If they feel that they have trust in the Health and Safety Commission and in the Executive, we have to listen very carefully to them, and to deploy better arguments to refute their case than those which have been deployed by the Government this evening.

5.36 pm
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

I should like to take the opportunity to make a brief intervention in the debate. It is a very important debate, for a number of reasons. One of the saddest features of it is that many Labour Members will be taking part in it without being able to question the Minister or to press him very closely on the extent to which safety regulations are broken in the North Sea and the extent to which safety regulations are the concern of the Government.

It is interesting to note a statement made recently by the Secretary of State for Energy at a Texaco dinner. He went out of his way to congratulate the multinational oil corporation, Texaco. He gave the game away to many of us when he said: The development of our North Sea oil reserves has taken great skill and massive investment, and has probably been achieved faster than in any other oil province in history. That is exactly what concerns Labour Members in this debate. We are concerned about the speed with which the oil companies wish to extract this vital resource from the North Sea, and with the direct involvement that the Department of Energy has with them in ensuring that the rate of extraction is maintained. We are concerned that they should be responsible for safety in the North Sea. That is why we would certainly support the recommendations in the minority report calling for a separate organisation. We feel that that organisation should be the Health and Safety Executive.

Many of us on the Labour Benches would argue that the real total figures of deaths and injuries in the North Sea are being concealed from this House. I have asked the Minister's Department over 20 questions in an effort to elucidate the facts about the accidents which have occurred either in the North Sea or in the rig yards. There is one thing that is common about the answers to those questions. It is that the Department never gives a straight answer. It will use any excuse rather than answer correctly and allow hon. Members to press it on these matters. Some of the answers that I receive say that the information is not available. When one contrasts those answers with the information that is available on technology and commercial matters one cannot accept that the information is not available.

Another method by which the Government seek to evade giving information is to pass the matter from Department to Department, thereby hoping to lose the inquiry. A matter can be passed from the Department of Energy to the Department of Employment and then to the Department of Trade—anywhere, in a circle, in the hope that the hon. Member will give up. Time and again, an answer states that separate figures for a category are not available.

One has only to look at the answers to find that the Department eventually catches up with itself and starts to give away the fact that the information is available. In a reply I received on 24 July 1980, the Under-Secretary of State for Employment told me: I regret that separate figures are available for fatal and serious accidents to persons working on the construction of oil and gas reception facilities in the United Kingdom from 1969 to 1979". In two similar answers the Minister gave just about the same answer. It is interesting to note, however, that he makes the one mistake of saying "I regret that separate figures are available" in two separate answers on the same day. I have waited for those figures to be made available, but they have not yet arrived.

Opposition Members are worried that there is a cover-up in the Department of Energy. Unless responsibility for reporting and investigating accidents is taken away from the Department, hon. Members will not be able to ascertain the truth about what is happening on oil rig yards and in the North Sea. I argue that answers given by the Department of Energy underestimate the extent and seriousness of accidents that occur in the North Sea.

Reference has been made to divers. Inshore divers are never included in any list of North Sea accidents. It is essential that the Minister gives an assurance that hon. Members can question him and get answers about accidents that occur in the North Sea. If he fails to give that assurance, the Opposition will have to divide in support of the minority report. The Department of Energy cannot be the relevant Department for dealing with accidents in the North Sea. The Health and Safety Executive is the relevant organisation. It is time that this subject was taken away from the Department whose concern in the first instance is ensuring that the rate of extraction from the North Sea keeps up with the wishes and aspirations of the multinational oil corporations.

Mr. Harold Walker

I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that we are not debating whether responsibility should be taken from the Department of Energy and given to the Health and Safety Commission. Following a decision by the then Prime Minister in 1976, this responsibility already rests primarily with the commission. The issue that now arises is that the Burgoyne report and the Government want to take back responsibility from the Health and Safety Commission and put it with the Department of Energy.

Mr. Ross

I thank my right hon. Friend for reminding me of the situation. We would wish to support the minority report in this debate. This matter cannot to be left with the multinational oil corporations and with the Department of Energy which are so closely linked. It must be kept within the Health and Safety Executive. I hope that this will be confirmed by the Minister.

5.44 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

This debate on offshore safety is one of high importance and one that has evoked speeches to which the Government are bound to give close attention. The speeches have been made by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have an intimate knowledge of the industry. I speak as an hon. Member who has many hundreds of constituents involved in the offshore oil industry, travelling over some of the most difficult waters of the North Sea in conditions of great hazard. They exemplify the kind of personal courage that is characteristic of the pioneers of this new industry.

The record of the industry to date has been one of remarkable achievement. High safety standards have been established. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has indicated, we are fortunate that the industry has not suffered the sort of disasters which, in such hazardous circumstances, it might not have been wholly surprising to see come about. There is, however, a great issue of principle at stake in the debate. It arises not only in connection with the exploitation of the offshore oil resources but in connection with any great productive industry.

The issue is whether it is appropriate that the sponsoring Department of the industry, whose prime concern must necessarily be the maximisation of production and the protection of that industry as it perceives its interests, should be responsible for safety. This issue is not confined to the offshore industry. It has been considered in the case of the nuclear industry, which others would consider at least potentially a hazardous industry.

In taking the decision that safety matters should not be left with the Department of Energy in the nuclear industry but should be reposed in the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, the Health and Safety Executive and the Department of the Environment, the last Labour Government did not cast any doubt on the competence of the Department of Energy or any doubt upon the rigorousness with which safety matters had been considered while responsibility remained with that Department. It was, however, recognised that the work or reconciliation of different interests had to take place from time to time. Whether it was more important to reach certain levels or standards of training quickly or to give extra weight to considerations of thoroughness of training were questions that had to be resolved, but should be openly resolved, on the basis of debate between those whose specific responsibility was for safety and those whose specific responsibility was for training.

There are other areas in which the questions of safety arises. It seems that the Burgoyne committee, notwithstanding the general acceptance that can be given to its specific recommendations on the areas that need to be tightened up, tended to doubt the general principle that it is embodied in the Opposition amendment. This principle was firmly laid down in the minority report. I share the views expressed by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) that the minority report is extremely compelling in this matter. Paragraph 3 of the note of dissent points to the principle that I have outlined in general terms. It states: Whilst we would be willing to accept the recommendation for a single Government agency, this must be based firmly on the principle that a Government Department substantially responsible for the direction and control of an industry should not in any way he responsible for the standards and enforcement of occupational health and safety in that industry. The House should take that seriously and assent to it tonight. I hope that the Minister will feel compelled to reconsider the issue.

The main report recognises the startling structural inadequacy of the Department of Energy to take on the single agency task of safety. It recognises that there would have to be substantial changes in any event, whatever solution the Government decided upon. It is difficult to argue that the upheaval necessary in the Department of Energy to carry out the recommendations of the main committee would be any less than that required to strengthen the role of the Health and Safety Executive.

The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) rightly stressed the importance of employees and employers being regarded as the first line of defence against accidents at sea. No one would quarrel with that. The hon. Gentleman will not doubt that Government and public agencies must have responsibility for setting realistic standards for judging whether employers and employees are meeting the safety standards. I do not wish to diminish the necessity for agreement between employers and employees. The debate is about where ultimate Government responsibility should lie.

Sir Albert Costain

I must have expressed myself badly. I was saying that specialised workers and employers create a team with Government officials. We are considering whether Government officials should be in the Department of Energy or another Department. I say that the Department of Energy produces the better team.

Mr. Maclennan

Government officials and the industry must come together. However, the officials involved in promoting commercial interests will not necessarily be the same as those involved in safety matters. From the industry's point of view it is perhaps a matter of marginal importance whether the individuals involved in safety are housed in the Department of Energy or in the Health and Safety Executive. There will be two teams, one of which will deal with safety. For the reasons argued in the minority report it is appropriate that that team should be firmly outside the ambit and control of the sponsoring Department, the prime interests of which are not necessarily or clearly related to safety.

5.55 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

I pestered the Leader of the House in May, June and July for this debate, so I am grateful to the Government for finding time for it. In no curmudgeonly spirit I say that we might want to return to the subject once again when the Norwegian inquiry has been published—which I believe will be in December. It was helpful of the Minister to place in the Library a guide to his acceptance or otherwise of the recommendations.

I make no apology for returning to the topic, which was so eloquently raised by the Opposition Front Bench and by my hon. Friends the Members for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas), Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). I refer to the minority report, which was discussed at Question Time on Monday. The Minister should understand that some of us feel deeply that an improper relationship is involved. Indeed, it is an incestuous relationship. The sponsoring Department has no business getting involved with health and safety.

I make no apology for going into this matter in some detail. Let us consider the Minister's argument. He said "Ah, we must understand that the majority of the Burgoyne committee was of the Government's view." I have friends on the Burgoyne committee, of whom Matt Linning is one. Each member of the committee is associated with the oil industry. Dr. Burgoyne is an oil industry consultant. Mr. Hildrew is managing director of Lloyds Register of Shipping. Professor McNaughton, Mr. Riddlestone and Dr. Weck are also experts in the oil industry.

There was no lay member or umpire on the committee. I am not insinuating that there necessarily should have been, but in the absence of a lay element it is doubly important that in a matter that overwhelmingly affects the trade unions special heed should be paid to what the trade union representatives said.

If the minority report had been accepted, would the arrangements affecing the civil servants involved be different? For example, if the minority report were accepted—not to put too fine a point on it—would it mean upheaval for certain civil servants living in the London area? The answer might be "No." I want a clear statement from the Government that they have not been suckled into rejecting the minority report because of the convenience of civil servants.

All I want at present is an assurance. My question is not rhetorical but genuine. There is a suspicion that part of the reason why the Government have not accepted the minority view and why pressure was put on the Burgoyne committee is that it did not suit civil servants to be inconvenienced.

The Minister said that workers on rigs live on top of one another, and that this presented difficulties. That is another reason for having a change of responsibilities.

I make no apology for going through certain points made by Mr. Miller and

Mr. Lyons. In paragraph 3 they state: a Government Department substantially responsible for the direction and control of an industry should not in any way be responsible for the standards and enforcement of occupational health and safety in that industry. We are entitled to ask for the general philosophy on this issue. I understand the Government's opinion on this subject to be contrary to what is almost a central belief. I am surprised that Ministers from the Department accepted the contravention of that principle.

I come next to paragraph 7. Secondly, the Bingham report on Sanctions Busting records that one of Beckett's assistants. Alan Gregory (later Chairman of BP Trading) asked Shell if information received on sanctions busting could be passed to the Under Secretary of the Commonwealth Office 'on a purely personal basis', so that if 'there were any further signs of Ministers wishing to sound off on this subject the appropriate discouraging noises could be made'. The suggestion here is that top civil servants failed to pass vital information to Ministers. Paragraph 8 states: The possibility of shared values and membership of closed groups amongst offshore managements can have tremendous implications for the independence of inspectors involved. It is our view that any unification of responsibilities under the auspices of the Department of Energy, as the sponsoring Department, entails a continuing risk, to the possible detriment of safety standards. With the certain growing economic and political significance of oil, this danger is unlikely to be reduced in the near future. As my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and others have quite often said, there is a very quick transfer between the Department of Energy and outside bodies. I have had cause, in a case in my constituency, to be grateful to Ministers in relation to my constituent, Alan Blackshaw. But there are quite a number of civil servants, not only at permanent secretary level, who make a move out of the Department of Energy. I do not want to personalise this issue, but we have all seen the reports about Sir Jack Rampton going over to a key position in industry within a very short time.

It is in those circumstances that the Department, to protect its flank, must be seen to be whiter than white. I assure the Minister that, as he must know from his constituency of Ross and Cromarty, there has been enormous dissatisfaction about injuries in the North Sea and what has happened about them. There was a long case in the mid-1970s of a diver from Bathgate who lost his life. His family were far from satisfied about what happened after the accident. They may or may not be right, but it is insufferable that such dissatisfaction could be intertwined with the feeling that perhaps those in the industry in the North Sea are all in it together. Even if there was no cover up—I am not saying that in that case there was—it is of the utmost importance that it should be seen that there is a separate judgment by an outside organisation, as is taken for granted in the mining industry. In that industry it would be unthinkable to have this degree of cosiness.

I repeat that I am not saying that there was anything underhand or that there was a cover-up in that case. I say only from personal experience that it must be doubly clear that the organisation that is passing judgment on what did or did not happen in a tragic accident should be seen to be separate. There has been reference to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). I know that he and his union feel that equally strongly. I hope that he has a quick return to the House.

I come to paragraph 12 of the minority report, which states: No offshore safety committee visited by us has ever seen a PED inspector. PED told us they have never needed to meet safety committees or safety representatives offshore, or advise them of their visit offshore. That needs some explanation. I find it astonishing in the context in which it is put, and it provides another reason why the Government should handle this issue with kid gloves.

Paragraph 15 states: The vast majority of offshore accidents, including even many of the most technologically-celebrated ones, arise out of circumstances which would be perfectly comprehensible to an ordinary Factory Inspector. Indeed, the ' unique' aspects of offshore operations are frequently overstressed, a tendency probably exacerbated by the retention of direct and agency responsibility within a specialised Department. What was the Minister saying in his opening speech to the effect that this was all so complicated and technical that others could not pass judgment? My position here is like that of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). I have visited Alverstoke, which is the naval diving establishment, and I have also visited the establishment at Loch Linnhe, Fort William. I will pass on judgment on the latter, because I was impressed when I went there on 4 January 1979. I was totally surprised.

I just do not accept that all these judgments are so technically advanced that the Factory Inspectorate is not in a position to make the necessary kind of judgment.

Paragraph 18 states: One operator having experience in both Norwegian and United Kingdom sectors gave evidence to the Committee. This leading trans-national corporation found the Norwegian Inspectorate much 'tougher' than the 'weaker' United Kingdom system. Norwegian inspectors, for example, make sudden inspections, with legal rights to seize seats on helicopters without notice, unlike the United Kingdom situation where advance notice is given to the operator for access, with all that that implies. The operator, of course, prefers the United Kingdom system; especially the close relationships' enjoyed with the Department of Energy. The fact that in an official report both trade union representatives should state their belief that that was the situation, regardless of whether it was true, seems to me sufficient reason why the Government should be quite clear about separating the various organisations. On this, therefore, I simply say that the purpose of a second reading debate is surely to allow the Government to think again. There would be no loss of face. Ministers have heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and several other Labour Members. They have heard the hon. Member for Canterbury, who has considerable industrial experience. How is it that we are all reiterating the same point? On this sort of matter the opinion of the House of Commons should be taken into account, so I leave the matter there.

I should like to go through other points that have been raised, and I quote here from page 2 of the briefing that was placed in the Library. In addition the pressure systems and well head equipment of each well are designed to take account of the particular geological specifications of the well. This information is made available in confidence to the Department of Energy by the operator and could not be passed on to the Certifying Authorities". I wish to know why it cannot be passed on to the certifying authorities. People at Heriot Watt want to ask the same question. At the bottom of the page it states: The Certifying Authorities are being asked to draw up minimum requirements for notification. The question arises of when that will be done, as it is an urgent matter.

Paragraph 6.11 states: Consideration should be given to a scheme of official approval of independent surveyors qualified to undertake specialised surveys, if required, on behalf of the Certifying Authorities. The Minister will recollect that that was one of the recommendations that he rejected. He said: It is considered that this would not be appropriate. Official approval of independent specialised surveyors to be employed by Certifying Authorities would detract from and confuse the latter's certification responsibilities. The experts on the Burgoyne committee did not think that there would be any confusion. They said: It … was suggested that the work of the Certifying Authorities could be facilitated if the Secretary of State were to grant and publish approvals of suitable specialist organisations to undertake specified surveys for the Certifying Authorities. I must return to the point on which I interrupted the Minister in his opening speech, namely, the evidence from the British Insurance Association. It states: Apart from the obvious commercial disadvantages, this policy has the following side effects:

  1. (a) In spite of being accepted as the country's main independent source of expertise, the engineering offices have lost the opportunity to participate in offshore-technology at the construction stage, to the detriment of both their own stature and the national confidence in the industry.
  2. (b) This in turn inevitably makes competition for future work both home and overseas all the more difficult.
  3. (c) Because of their long-established activity in the in-service/statutory inspection field, the engineering offices present an invaluable source of expertise which should be called on in the interests of safety in offshore installations. Lack of prior involvement at the pre-commissioning stages makes effective contribution in the in-service phase more difficult.
  4. (d) This continuing failure to draw on the country's main source of appropriate expertise must throw doubt on the efficacy of a system intended to ensure the operational safety of our installations in the face of an increasing public demand for greater measures to prevent losses.
We support steps which might lead to the imposition of specific requirements on Certifying Authorities to stipulate the need for independent inspection and certification of certain items by approved UK inspecting organisations. The engineering offices would be glad to cooperate in drawing up advice and guidelines to the Department both on the degree of inspection required and on the criteria for approval of inspecting organisations. I do not apologise for having read that, because it is crucial. It is a case that must be answered when the Minister replies tonight and not at a later stage.

Paragraph 6.13 states: UK civil and criminal law should be applied to vessels engaged in pipeline works and the problems of its application to attendant vessels should be thoroughly investigated". The Government replied: This will be examined in the wider context of consideration of the Law Commission's Report on the Territorial and Extra-Territorial Extent of the Criminal Law. There are however formidable difficulties in the way of extending UK law in general to foreign flag vessels. During the summer I talked to a number of people in the industry. They think that it is unacceptable that foreign flag vessels should not come under British law. Difficult though the lawyers may be, I do not believe that it is beyond the ingenuity of the Foreign Office lawyers—Sir Ian Sinclair and his colleagues—to find some way around that difficulty. I am asking Energy Ministers to tell their advisers and the legal Department of the Foreign Office "This is a must. It is a requirement from Government." We must be able to alter the law to cover foreign flag vessels.

Paragraph 6.19 states: Guidance should be given to Employers and Offshore Installation Managers on reconciliation of the conflict regarding their responsibilities introduced by the application offshore of the 1974 Act. The Government replied: These recommendations are being considered, but it may prove difficult to draw a clear distinction between the responsibilities of Employers and Offshore Installation Managers. What is the difficulty in drawing that distinction? There may be some difficulty, and I look forward to the Minister's reply. Some of us do not see any difficulty.

I return to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline. Paragraph 6.28 states: Regulations should be made as soon as possible for the control of occupational safety during offshore construction. The Government replied: The general duties of the Health and Safety at Work Act already apply and HSE has issued Guidance Notes. The need for Regulations will be reviewed in the light of experience in two years' time. I ask the question a second time—why should that take two years? Perhaps we have twice the chance of an answer.

I return to the central issue. I repeat my question: as it is almost the unanimous opinion of those who have spoken, other than the Government Front Bench, will the Government not think again, without any embarrassment and without any loss of face, and accept the view of the two trade union representatives on those issues on which the trade unions have a special right to have a determining say?

6.17 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I wish to emphasise the importance of the Burgoyne minority report. It was instituted not because of satisfaction with the safety standards in the North Sea operations but because of dissatisfaction and concern. The Minister exuded complacency about the whole situation.

My hon. Friends have emphasised that the minority report favoured an independent body to supervise safety aspects. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has read out paragraph 18, I shall not trouble the House with reading it again, but it makes it clear that the minority members of the committee pointed to the cosy relationship that exists between the oil companies and those responsible for the present safety arrangements through the Department of Energy.

I must emphasise the concern felt by the public about the way in which senior civil servants from the majority of Departments linked to industry nip swiftly from their highly paid senior Civil Service jobs into the boardrooms of the big corporations with which they have been dealing. They never join a trade union or a charity as an adviser. They always go into highly paid jobs in the boardrooms. The link is too close for comfort, and too close for the satisfaction of the public.

It may be that affairs are conducted with absolute probity, but when senior civil servants during the course of their employment are in close contact with the big corporations, and then join their boards, people say "What were they doing during the course of their employment on behalf of the Government? Were they lining themselves up for a job? When safety is at stake will a senior civil servant, because of that relationship, take the weaker position in view of the possibility of later joining a company?"

The Minister will say "That is absolute nonsense. We have total and utter confidence in all our senior civil servants". We have a lot of confidence in civil servants, and they often operate assiduously and with great competence, but as long as there is transfer on retirement, or part way through a Civil Service career, into lucrative jobs, a question mark will remain over the attitude of some of those people.

I emphasise that in principle the idea that the supervision of the safety of the offshore oil and gas industry should come under the Health and Safety Commission is right. It is right to take it away from the sponsoring Department. We have done it in relation to all the other sponsoring Departments, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The example of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has already been mentioned. It has been moved from the Department of Energy. The Mines and Quarries Inspectorate has been moved, and no one for a moment would contemplate its going back to the Department of Energy. No one would contemplate the idea that factory inspectors should go back to the Department of Industry. Why not follow that pattern and move responsibility for safety to the Health and Safety Commission': It seems a sensible conclusion.

The report points out the difficulties of the present legislative enforcement pattern. It says on page 136: The division of regulatory authority causes confusion and practical problems for an offshore operator", and it goes on to give illustrations. Its analysis that duplication causes problems is right, but its conclusion that all administration should be allocated to the Department of Energy is wrong, because there should be a body of expertise concerned solely with safety. My hon. Friends have emphasised repeatedly that it is not a question of discarding the expertise that exists. The experts would be transferred to a body concerned with the imposition of standards of safety.

The Government's atttitude is not at odds with their attitude to safety in other areas. Not long ago the House debated and voted on the Notification of Accidents and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1980. They were introduced by the Under-Secretary of State for Employment. It seems to me that when a major, or, indeed, a minor corporation is bent on increasing profits, safety is placed at risk. Safety comes second to profits. That is why there is a regulatory system—to try to prevent such occurrences causing loss of life and injury.

We have a system of sanctions, under which firms that act in that way are prosecuted. That sanction is there to ensure that safety and human life and limb come before profit. In evidence to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which considered those regulations, a member of the Department of Employment said: 'The major purpose in these regulations is not to prosecute but to encourage and exhort and persuade compliance with the regulations". That is the attitude of the Department of Employment, and it fits in with that of the Department of Energy. Rather than placing safety at a higher level of importance, it diminishes it. It produces a lower level of safety in all its various aspects, which is a matter of grave concern to the House.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

As the hon. Gentleman has referred to me and to the regulations that I introduced, perhaps he will accept that the attitude of the Health and Safety Commission and of the Executive is that it is far better to educate and exhort than to prosecute, although in an extreme case one must prosecute.

Mr. Cryer

I was about to point out that the notion that transferring responsibility to the Health and Safety Commission would produce an instant solution is not necessarily right. As the Burgoyne committee points out, further facilities are required. These should be made the responsibility of the Health and Safety Commission, and the commission should be beefed up.

I have been a critic of the commission for adopting the very attitude that the Minister mentioned in his intervention. As he knows full well, the general drive of the Health and Safety commission comes from the sponsoring Department—the Department of Employment—and, if it were to breathe down the neck of the Health and Safety Commission, the commission would respond accordingly. Many members of the commission, such as the people on the ground and those who carry out the inspections, want to institute prosecutions for breach of regulations, but they are inhibited by the attitude of the executive, and that springs from the attitude of the Department of Employment.

All that I am saying is that the desire to inhibit the pursuit of higher safety standards springs direct from Government Departments. The criticisms that I have raised about the commission and the executive derive from the present attitude of the Department of Energy.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South East)

I am following the hon. Gentleman's remarks with the closest of interest. I agree with him that the Health and Safety Executive's attitude should be toughened up. I have had long experience in my constituency of a residential population being exposed to industrial hazard. However, to be fair to the executive and to my hon. and learned Friend's Department, I must tell the House that during the past year the HSE has instituted one successful prosecution and served three enforcement notices against the hazardous installations with which we must live. I suggest that that is a movement in the right direction.

Mr. Cryer

The hon. Gentleman is right. All that I am suggesting is that the transfer to the commission and executive should be accompanied by a few digs in the right direction. The hon. Gentleman agrees with me on this matter. It is a question of constant scrutiny. He has usefully pointed out that there are some good moves in the right direction. However, the principle is right.

I conclude by making two further points. The first relates to the principle of putting safety one stage removed from the sponsoring Department. That principle is right. Whatever our criticisms of the commission and the executive—and they will always exist because this is an evolving situation—it is part of our job in the House of Commons to exercise scrutiny and to bring some of our reservations to the attention of the public. The more that we debate and examine, the better will be the implementation of safety standards. I have strong reservations about the Government's notion of maintaining the application of safety standards through the sponsoring Department.

My final point relates to cost. The question of cost is always raised as a sort of spectre in the application of safety. We must say again and again that higher safety standards do not increase costs. In fact, they reduce them. The cost of accidents is enormous, and not only in the short term. There is the cost of recovery of both people and materials. The cost of pollution in the industry about which we are talking can be open-ended, The cost in terms of lives and strained industrial relations can go on for years after the accident. It can involve relatives. There is the cost of legal actions, not to mention the tattered and frayed relationships that result. They are all costs on industry, and if we avoid accidents we avoid those costs.

In both the short and the long run, the improvement of safety standards reduces costs. The question of costs is a misnomer. Higher safety standards will not cause greater expense; they will save money. On all counts, Labour Members want the implementation of the minority report—it seems to be the more practical section of the report—and we hope that the Government will take action. I hope that my hon. Friends will indicate their strength of purpose and feeling about this matter by dividing the House on the amendment, which is right in principle.

6.30 pm
Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I apologise to the Minister for not being present during most of his opening speech. I support the demands and persuasions from many hon. Members that the minority report of the Burgoyne committee should be considered again by the Government. I agree that this is not a question of political confrontation. We are involved in a process of persuasion. The Minister would gain more politically if he were prepared to accept the views that have been expressed and the arguments that have been deployed.

I think it is important that health and safety should be divorced from the Department of Energy, because of the particular position of the Department. As I understand it, its main strategy, within the limits of its new depletion policy, is to try to get as much production as possible. Financial penalties are visited on contractors and oil companies if a major flaw is discovered relating to safety, because drilling or production may have to be shut down. For the contractor, a decision whether to shut down is serious. The financial pressures faced by enforcement of the regulations are greater for the oil and gas industry than in manufacturing, where the incidence of danger is less likely.

The Department of Energy should think again about this matter in relation to what happened in the early days of oil development in the North Sea. The Offshore Supplies Office, which had been given the job of attracting contracts to the United Kingdom, had the first duty of helping the oil companies to make progress with their work so that oil could be produced in the interests of the State. If that is the case with procurement, if there is too cosy a relationship between the Department of Energy and the oil industry the Department may have to accept some pressures without accepting some of the allegations that were made by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer).

For instance, if there were a major shutdown of oil supplies in the Middle East and a serious safety hazard was likely to develop in the Forties platform, and the United Kingdom was facing the problem of the supply of oil, where would the Department place the emphasis? It might have to accept the risk and keep Forties in production, regardless of safety. The Health and Safety Executive, having the primary task of looking after safety, might take the contrary view. I am deliberately exaggerating the circumstances in order to put the matter into perspective, because many of the accidents occur to individuals, as in the case of the "Alexander Kielland". Nevertheless, that exaggerated example points to some of the pressures that can be put on individual officials in the Department.

For those reasons, I support the view that the minority report is more acceptable for those who work in the offshore industry. The emphasis should be put on protection, and I hope that the Government will sensibly and sensitively agree to the change that has been suggested by the House.

6.35 pm
Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)

For the first time, I am beginning to feel some sympathy for the Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has just passed me a note saying that in addition to the Minister there have been eight speakers in this debate, all of whom I have listened to, and I cannot recall one who supported the Minister's argument. It is true that the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) made some half-hearted remarks if not of support of at least not in opposition to the Minister. At this stage we are 71 to 1 against the Government, and I intend to make it at least 8½ to 1 now. I hope that the Government will take account of and reflect the attitude of the House today.

This debate is part of what has been a long struggle to give decent standards of protection to men and women at work. There has been a slow advance in the 200-year period since the Industrial Revolution, marked by the Factories Acts, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, and so on. But we have had our setbacks as well as our advances. I am afraid that the Government are trying to give us another little setback today, but I hope that the Minister will take account of the views of the House and that they will be reflected in his reply.

The report is long, highly complex and technical. I expect that many people thought that it was not within their understanding. But at root, as the debate has shown, it is essentially concerned with one straightforward, important and serious question. Where should the responsibility lie for ensuring the adoption and maintenance of standards that will apply in a highly dangerous industry?

The Burgoyne committee was not asked to examine that. Indeed, the minority report pointed out that that lay outside its terms of reference. Those terms of reference were: To consider so far as they are concerned with safety, the nature, coverage and effectiveness of the Department of Energy's regulations governing the exploration, development and production of oil and gas offshore and their administration and enforcement. To consider and assess the role of the Certifying Authorities. To present its report, conclusions and any recommendations as soon as possible. I find it difficult to understand why we have spent a whole afternoon debating a matter that fell outside the committee's terms of reference.

I should like to take up some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas), because it gives me an opportunity to talk about a matter that is before the Public Accounts Committee and to say something about the origins of the underwater training centre at Fort William, with which, as a Minister, I was involved at the time. I was involved in setting up that centre. I do not know whether to feel proud or whether to hang my head.

Reference has been made to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), because before he was in the House he was extremely concerned, as we all were, about the growing fatality rate in the North Sea, particularly among divers. We were absolutely convinced that something must be done about this. We decided to begin by requiring every diver who was diving in the British sector of the North Sea to be properly qualified. This would mean that he had to have a certificate of competence which meant passing the necessary medical examination, reaching the appropriate standard of fitness and maintaining it and undertaking an appropriate course of training. But there was no appropriate training facility available at that time and if we were to make that a condition of issuing a certificate we had to ensure that the would-be diver had access to the appropriate training facilities. That meant that we had to provide those facilities. My view about that at the time was recorded in the documents at the Department of Employment. I refreshed my memory about it recently when I visited the Department and looked at the documents. It is all there.

In 1974 I set out instructions about the way in which these facilities should be set up and how they should be financed by the oil industry, preferably through appropriate levies administered through the petroleum industry training board, but that if it was not possible, it should be done by the establishment of an agency operated by the BNOC that was being set up at that time.

That is the way that we envisaged the operation. In order to dive in the North Sea, people would need the appropriate training, according to the depths to which they were diving. They would have to pass the medical examination, we would have to provide the medical facilities, and the whole thing would be financed by the oil industry.

I am hesitant about commenting in advance of the report on the work that has been done by the Public Accounts Committee, but it did issue an interim report that seemed to indicate that I had some responsibility for matters that had been misjudged and had not gone well. I very much regret that, and I do not intend to go further into these matters this afternoon. However, I hope that the Committee will take account of what I have said to the House and of what I put in a letter to it.

I return to the main issue before the House. I shall say something about the historical background behind the setting up of the Burgoyne committee. We begin by looking at the Robens report to Parliament and the recommendation that led to the creation of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The central theme of the Robens philosophy comes down against the fragmentation of responsibility for occupational health and safety and its division between different Government Departments. That report pointed out that the Department of Energy was responsible for coal mining and oil, and so on; the Department of the Environment had the responsibility for noxious and toxic emissions into the atmosphere and for the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, and so on. The report said that all this fragmentation was nonsense and that these various responsibilities should be brought together under one independent body, which would not have divided loyalties and obligations to the basic work of any Department. It suggested the establishment of a single body to administer the whole area of occupational health and safety and to bring forward recommendations that would eventually lead to one comprehensive and codified statute law and regulations.

Of course Parliament embraced that report and we turned it into legislation—the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. I take the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Dr. Owen), who said that this was not a party issue. It is not. Conservative Members have perfectly good credentials in these matters and the main work of drafting the Act fell to the then Conservative Government. I was very happy to take it over and make some modifications, which the whole House endorsed.

That Act was not achieved easily. The Department of Energy did not readily surrender its responsibility for the Mines and Quarries Inspectorate. It fought like a tiger, because it did not want to see its empire diminished. The Department of the Environment fought like a tiger against surrendering the Alkali Inspectorate. The Ministry of Agriculture vowed that it would not give up its responsibility for agricultural safety. The battles were fought and, in the main, were won. We have seen the benefits in improved occupational health and safety and the falling off in accident and fatality figures over the years. I hope that that trend long continues.

However, we did not win the battle for offshore health and safety. We put into the Act a power to extend the Act to offshore activities by Order in Council while we discussed the matter further with the appropriate Department. By 1976 the case had become so overwhelming that the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) made a statement to the House saying that we would make the Order in Council on the primary responsibility for health and safety in the North Sea and that this would pass through the Health and Safety Committee. The Department of Energy was not ready to give up as easily as that. It had lost only one round.

I wonder whether hon. Members have seen that delightful and amusing programme on television called "Yes, Minister". You, Mr. Speaker, and I have been Ministers and we know that sometimes that programme comes very near the truth. The "Humphrey" in the alpartment of Energy must be smirking all over his face because he has won again. His Minister is here, acting as the stooge for Humphrey, who is sitting in the box, no doubt. Perhaps he will say "We will set up a committee". Like all Government-appointed committees, the key will lie in who is on it. They will include carefully hand-picked people, so that the Government can be certain in advance that the committee will come up with the answers that they really want. They will also make sure that the terms of reference are sufficiently elastic, so that with the passage of time they can be bent sufficiently to include those things that were specifically excluded. That is why we have this report this afternoon. It is all to do with the preservation of the empire of the Department of Energy and the vested interests to which my hon. Friends have referred, and are referred to in the minority report.

Paragraph 7 of the minority report is straightforward about the conflict of interests and the interchange of personnel. We do not wish to question the integrity of any employees, but the report goes on to give two examples. It says: in 1978 Dr. Jeremy Bray, MP said of Angus Beckett, a Head of the Petroleum Division, His view was that whatever was good for the oil companies was good for Britain… . He was so obviously in the pockets of the oil companies that I don't think they had any respect for him.' Secondly, the Bingham Report on Sanctions Busting records that one of Beckett's assistants, Alan Gregory (later Chairman of BP Trading) asked Shell if information received on sanctions busting could be passed to the Under-Secretary at the Commonwealth Office, 'on a purely personal basis', so that if 'there were any further signs of Ministers wishing to sound off on this subject, the appropriate discouraging noises could be made'". Shades of "Yes, Minister" again. I do not know who advises the producers of that programme but I think that there must be some mole in the Department of Energy earning a bit on the side.

The grim side of this is that on the receiving end, way down the line, are those poor people whose lives are at risk in the North Sea, and many whose lives have been snatched away from them in the most grim and gruesome circumstances. I shall not harrow the House with the descriptions given to me, when I was responsible for occupational health and safety, of some of the terrible tragedies that have occurred in the North Sea. Those who are putting forward the proposals ought to be aware of them, because they may feel that they should carry a heavy responsibility for any such tragedies that occur in future.

The Minister spoke of liaison between the HSE and his Department. The note of dissent takes up that aspect and says: In spite of requests from the HSE, as part of the Agency Agreement, for detailed information on fatal and serious accidents, so that there could be consultation over the investigation and reporting, PED does not appear to have complied on a regular basis. Scrutiny of investigation reports on serious or fatal accidents has tended to indicate absence of some necessary factual information; insufficient consideration of legal aspects necessary to identify contraventions of laws or regulations; absence of first-hand statements taken by PED inspectors; delay, sometimes considerable in assembling papers which are not normally accompanied by a covering report on the lines of the Factory Inspectorate accident report; and insufficient consideration being given to enforcement procedures generally or legal proceedings in particular. The whole House knows that the risk of accidents in the industry is in excess of that in almost any other industry. It is obviously dangerous work, yet the service of the PED has so far not included the service of any prohibition or improvement notices. The note of dissent continues: No offshore safety committee visited by us has ever seen a PED inspector. PED told us they have never needed to meet safety committees or safety representatives offshore, or advise them of their visit offshore. I find that astonishing, in view of the legitimate concern that built up over the years and led to my arranging with the chief inspector of factories that, in the relatively much safer environment of onshore factories, inspectors making visits are required to talk to the representatives of workers and are required by section 28(8) of the 1974 Act to pass on to those representatives any factual information relating to their health, safety or welfare.

We have imposed that statutory obligation in respect of much safer establishments and it seems extraordinary that the PED inspectors have never met safety committees or safety representatives offshore, and have never advised them of visits offshore.

We have heard many quotations from the minority report. My hon. Friends and I are at one with those who compiled the report, and it seems that we are not alone in that. I am not attacking the Government on traditional party lines. I am saying "Please listen to those in the House who know something about these matters and have been involved with them over the years." The Government must do what is right for the blokes whose lives are at risk in the North Sea.

We are all concerned to get the oil and gas ashore and to get the benefits of it for this country—the Government want to use the revenue for cutting taxes and we want it to be used to build schools and hospitals, but that is a separate argument—but we do not want that to be at the expense of workers lives. Those who have produced the report are not sufficiently sensitive to the health and safety needs of those working in the North Sea.

Not only Labour Members take that view; we have heard it from the Liberal and Scottish National Benches, and even from the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), who has an honourable record in these matters. I hope that the Minister will tell us that he and his officials want to think about what we have said and will have further discussions with the Department of Employment. If the Government do not agree that until they have had those further discussions they will leave the motion before the House, meaning only what it says—take note and nowt else—we shall have to put our views on record and divide the House.

If the Government do not listen and respond to us, the Minister and his colleagues will have a heavy responsibility to bear for the fatalities and serious accidents that will undoubtedly continue to occur in the North Sea.

6.56 pm
Mr. Gray

By leave of the House, it might be convenient if I try to deal with some of the points that have been raised in our interesting debate.

The right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker), the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and others questioned the membership of the committee and the views of some of the members. I remind them that their Government set up the committee and that we are accepting the majority view of the members appointed by the previous Government.

There is no conflict between us on the issue of safety. We are every bit as anxious about safety as is anyone on the Opposition side. There is also little conflict about the report. The recommendations are broadly acceptable to both sides. The one exception is the recommendation that attracted the attenion of the trade union members who submitted the note of dissent.

We believe that the suggestions that we are prepared to accept from the majority report and the action that we propose to take as a result will ultimately lead to greater safety offshore than would the suggestions of Opposition Members.

I return to the theme that I developed earlier. We believe that it would be highly dangerous to separate safety from the production functions of offshore installations. If we have people saying "We are not responsible for safety, somebody else is", we shall be taking serious risks in the conditions prevailing in the North Sea—probably the most hazardous oil exploration conditions in the world.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) asked about recommendation 6.11—the official approval of independent surveyors for specialised surveys. That is the one recommendation that we are unable to accept. The hon. Member for West Lothian gave our reason for rejecting that recommendation. It would not be appropriate for the Department of Energy to give official approval for independent specialised surveyors to be employed by certifying authorities. That would detract from and confuse the authorities' certification responsibilities. The terms of appointment of the certifying authorities require them to accept reputable independent agencies. Many are recognised. It is not a question of cost. The reasons are, first, the difficulty of ensuring full coverage of the many organisations involved, and, secondly, that it would detract from their ultimate responsibility.

It may be that Opposition Members do not agree entirely with that, but after a report such as this, which has been prepared by a distinguished group of people, the time comes when the Government must take a view. That view may not be the same as that of the Opposition. However, we took the view that the recommendation was not sufficiently compelling for us to accept it.

The right hon. Member for Devonport referred to the data bank on plant and equipment failure. There is no doubt about its value. The discussions mentioned in the Government's statement will be concerned with how to obtain proper coverage of these failures and how to assemble it to be credible and useful. Therefore, I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman on that point.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked what steps were being taken to ensure that there would be no repeat of the "Alexander Kielland" disaster. I reiterate that I am reluctant to make any comment on the "Alexander Kielland" disaster at the moment. When I was in Norway earlier this week I was given an up-to-date report on how the attempts to right the "Alexander Kielland" were proceeding. Until we see the report that is being prepared as a result of the investigations in Norway, it would be unwise to comment.

All the installations similar to the "Alexander Kielland" and operating on the United Kingdom continental shelf were thoroughly examined shortly after the accident, and necessary modifications were made in some instances. Such minor defects as were disclosed were not considered to be critical. The owners of other types of mobile installations were required to carry out safety checks, particularly in relation to structural stability. No significant defects were found. We still await the report of the comminssion. Until it is received, I cannot comment further.

Mr. Douglas

It is true, as I indicated, that the Norwegians found it necessary to make structural changes and to reinforce at least two rigs, one being the "Henrik Ibsen", but Lloyd's did not find that necessary. Surely the Department of of Energy has a view on the reasons why Lloyd's took a different view from Det Norske Veritas.

Mr. Gray

The hon. Gentleman will recall that the alterations to the "Henrik Ibsen" were carried out on the volition of the owners, not under any pressure. They did that of their own volition. The Government must take the advice of the certifying authorities. We are satisfied that we were given the correct advice. If the hon Gentleman requires any further information, I shall provide it.

Recommendation 6.50 on the timing of the application of regulations offshore was referred to by the right hon. Member for Davenport. The draft extending these regulations offshore is being considered by the Health and Safety Executive's legal advisers. The consultations over the draft have been protracted because of the complex employment practices in the offshore oil industry.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about transferring responsibility for this matter to the Health and Safety Executive. I make no criticism, but it would mean divorcing the Petroleum Engineering Division Inspectorate from immediate and continuing access direct to other petroleum specialists in my Department. In the event of a major accident or emergency such reservoir engineers, who are limited in number, must be retained in my Department because of the nature of their main responsibilities for field developments and operations. These are points of which Opposition Members and even the authors of the note of dissent may not fully have been aware, but I assure the House that they are vital.

Mr. Maclennan

I am at a loss to understand what that last statement meant. Similar considerations must have arisen within the nuclear industry. That is a high technology industry, with officials in the responsible Department, in the sponsoring Department and in the industry, who must retain responsibility for safety matters. However, that does not mean that it is not necessary to bring in outside authorities and officials to double check and to give an independent and authoritative analysis of problems of this kind. Where, if there is a difference, does the difference lie?

Mr. Gray

I cannot accept that there is no difference. There is a great difference. The nuclear establishments are on shore, and that makes a great difference. Offshore, it is imperative that the inspectorate has easy access to other specialists within the Department so that they may benefit from the knowledge that can be given to them on production and exploration. I repeat that it is imperative that the two functions are not divorced.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked about the possible extension of the United Kingdom civil and criminal law pipe-laying vessels and other vessels attending installations. There are formidable difficulties in the way of extending United Kingdom law in general to foreign flag vessels, which account for a fair proportion of the vessels engaged in our offshore areas. This recommedation will be examined in the wider context of the Law Commission's report on the territorial and extra territorial extent of the criminal law. That point was also made by the hon. Member for West Lothian. We intend to follow this up to see whether anything can be done about it.

The right hon. Member also asked about pipelines and their inspection. Pipelines are inspected by the owners and the pipelines inspectors of the Department of Energy. Pipelines are usually inspected externally from submersibles. The Department is collaborating on research into internal remote inspection devices.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) made an in- teresting speech. We always pay attention to his advice, because he is never afraid to express himself clearly, whether or not he agrees with his Front Bench. I suggest that offshore activities are spearheading diving developments. We should not confuse naval diving with offshore diving. They are substantially different. However, experience gained in naval diving can be extremely useful in offshore diving.

Mr. Dalyell

What is meant by "Offshore activities spear-heading diving developments"?

Mr. Gray

The hon. Gentleman is a real nit-picker. On this occasion he has picked yet another. There is nothing particularly intricate about that expression. The diving industry is more widely represented offshore in the oil industry than in any other sphere. For the hon. Gentleman's benefit, that is what the expression means.

The PED diving inspectors are, with one exception, ex-Royal Navy divers. I remind the hon. Gentleman, who was anxious about this matter—I hope that I have removed any qualms that he had as a result of my opening remarks—that we are extremely interested in the whole aspect of safety. It is for that very reason that we believe that our solution will, in the long term, be better than what is contained in the minority report for those who work offshore.

Mr. Crouch

Is my hon. Friend asking the House in his motion—which is all that I have—to take note of the Burgoyne report—the whole report—or is he asking us to take note of the conclusions and recommendations only? Or is he asking us to take note of a paper which was lodged in the Library by his Department and which is not before this House but is to be found in the Library? I must ask that question, because all that we are seeking to do tonight is to decide whether to take note of the Burgoyne committee report. It is that and nothing more.

Mr. Gray

My hon. Friend will accept that the normal procedure is that, when a report is submitted to the Government, the Government give a view on that report. The Government have given a view. The way in which we did that was by lodging in the Library our responses to the recommendations that were made. This debate is on a take-note motion, of both the report and the Government's responses.

Mr. Harold Walker

I cannot hear the Minister.

Mr. Gray

I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon.

Mr. Harold Walker


Mr. Gray

I shall not give way.

Mr. Harold Walker

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With respect, the question put by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) is very importtant. The answer will determine the way in which the House is to vote. The Minister is replying to the hon. Gentleman. I think that the House must understand what we shall be voting on shortly. Is it merely on the question that the House takes note of the report, or is it, as is implicit in the paper in the Library, on the basis that the House and the Government accept the principles and the recommendations?

Mr. Gray

The right hon. Gentleman is correct. It would be rather strange if the Government did not give a view when a distinguished committee reported to it. The Government's responses to the report's recommendations are clearly set out in the paper that was lodged in the Library. That is a normal state of affairs. Therefore, tonight, hon. Members may care to interpret the take-note motion as meaning accepting what the Government will be doing, or to vote for the Opposition amendment. If the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) is correct in saying that the Health and Safety Executive is in the pocket of the Department of Employment, the amendment is unnecessary.

Mr. Harold Walker

We must have this cleared up. The Minister accepts that the motion before the House is that the House takes note, but then he goes on to talk about the House possibly interpreting that as acceptance by the Government of the recommendations, and of that being a matter for the House. The Government cannot have it both ways. I do not wish to accuse the Minister of sharp practice, but it is getting near to that when we are being asked to vote for something which the Government subsequently say is something very different and far-reaching.

Mr. Crouch

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am afraid that we have to involve you in this matter, because the time will come later this evening when you will put the Question on the motion to the House. As I understand it, we shall first have to decide on the amendment to the motion. Perhaps we shall divide on that, and then you will put the Question on the motion that we take note.

Can you advise me whether you are asking me merely to take note, or are you asking me to do more than take note, and to take note of the Government's intentions? It is important that the Government should make clear their intentions, either in writing in a paper in the Library, or in a statement by the Minister this evening.

What are you asking me to do, Mr. Speaker? Are you asking me to take note of the Burgoyne committee's report in its entirety, including the note of dissent, or are you asking me to take note and add a rider to the effect that I must bear in mind what the Government have said? This is extremely important, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I have no doubt that it is important, but the hon. Member has been a Member of the House for a long time and he knows that I am not asking him to do anything. All that I intend to do is to put the Question.

Mr. Gray

The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas) asked a number of questions. He asked, first, about offshore installations. The technical advisory committee is available to advise on disputes between the owner of an installation and the certifying authority. The committee, which meets on an ad hoc basis, consists of officials from the Health and Safety Executive, the Department of Trade, naval constructors, the Meteorological Office and the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences, and it is chaired by a member from the Petroleum Engineering Division.

The hon. Gentleman made some other points about the "Alexander Kielland", which I think I have dealt with and about which I shall write to him.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the certification of divers. Under the new unified diving regulations, which will come into force during 1981, a diver will not be able to dive unless he has a certificate that he is competent by training or experience. A proposal from the TUC and the CBI is under consideration for approval by the Health and Safety Executive for a diver training certification board to be set up, with expert membership.

The hon. Member for West Lothian and the hon. Member for Dunfermline raised the question of recommendation 6.19 and asked the reason for the time lag. The difficulty is that the Mineral Workings (Offshore Installations) Act 1971 puts the main responsibility for safety on the owner and the offshore installation manager, whereas the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 puts it on the employers of the individual workers, who may be contractors or subcontractors. Both Acts now apply to offshore installations, so there is a serious difficulty which needs further consideration. We intend to take action on those matters.

The hon. Member for West Lothian also asked whether the minority report was rejected because acceptance of it would have involved inconvenience for civil servants. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman had in mind the fact that most of the headquarters of the HSE is to be dispersed to Merseyside, but I assure him that this has no bearing on the decision.

On the subject of civil servants, I should like to put the record right in connection with a reference that the hon. Gentleman made to Sir Jack Rampton, the former permanent secretary at the Department of Energy. I refer the hon. Gentleman to Hansard for Wednesday 5 November and the answer that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department gave when he was asked about Sir Jack Rampton. He said: Since the hon. Gentleman has tabled his question, I must tell him that the Government have received no such request from Sir Jack Rampton to take up a business appointment. Were any such request to be received, it would have to be considered in accordance with the rules."—[Official Report, 5 November 1980; Vol. 991, c. 1287.] I hope that that clarifies that point.

I have dealt with the hon. Gentleman's point about the composition of the committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) made a very helpful contribution to the debate. His view and his experience of the construction industry must be envied by some Opposition Members. The Department of Energy is playing a leading role in the North-West European harmonisation group, which consists of officials of countries bordering the North Sea. The committee is committed to the harmonisation of regulations on the continental shelf on matters of safety and pollution. That point was also raised by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland.

I suspect that the House is anxious to move on to other business, so I do not propose to detain hon. Members. [Interruption.]

Mr. Maclennan

What about the diving school?

Mr. Gray

The hon. Gentleman knows that negotiations about the diving school are taking place. It would not be right to make any detailed comment now. We all have the same objective, and we are anxious to see the school continue successfully.

Mr. Maclennan

Before the Minister concludes his speech, can he tell us what weight the Government give to the fact that hon. Members are virtually unanimous in their belief that the Government are wrong on the central issue of taking responsibility away from the Department of Energy? It is understandable and right that he should state the Government's view. Nevertheless, will he give some weight to the opinions that have been expressed by hon. Members from all parties before he makes any final decision?

Mr. Gray

The hon. Gentleman has rightly asked for the Government's view, and I have given it. The Government have taken considerable notice of the minority report. We believe that we are acting in the best interest of those who work on offshore installations. Therefore, the Government do not intend to change their mind.

Mr. Dalyell

What about safety representatives?

Mr. Gray

Many safety committees are now in operation.

Mr. Dalyell

How many?

Mr. Gray

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman how many without having been given prior notice. It is up to those who work on the offshore installations to set up safety committees. Some companies have done so. The operators have every right to set up safety committees, and the initiative should usually come from them.

Mr. Harold Walker

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. At present, those who work onshore are covered by

the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and they have a statutory right to appoint the safety representatives and committees if their unions request that. Those who work on offshore installations do not have that statutory protection. Is the proposal to be made effective? If so, when?

Mr. Gray

As regards offshore installations, it is a condition of their licensing agreements that companies should make facilities available to trade unions. There is no question of that being discontinued. The ultimate decision rests with those who operate them.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 60, Noes 99.

Division No. 490] AYES [7.22 pm
Adams, Allen Grimond, Rt Hon J. Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Alton, David Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Penhaligon, David
Anderson, Donald Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Haynes, Frank Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Hefter, Eric S. Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Home Robertson, John Rooker, J. W.
Campbell-Savours, Dale Homewood, William Rowlands, Ted
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Horam, John Snape, Peter
Crowther, J. S. Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Steel, Rt Hon David
Cryer, Bob Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jones, Dan (Burnley) Strang, Gavin
Dalyell, Tam Lyons, Edward (Bradford West) Tinn, James
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) McElhone, Frank Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Dixon, Donald McKelvey, William Welsh, Michael
Dobson, Frank Magee, Bryan Whitlock, William
Dormand, Jack Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Douglas, Dick Mitchell, R. C. (Solon, Itchen) Winnick, David
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Morris, Rt Hon John 'Aberavon)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Moyle, Rt Hon Roland TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Foster, Derek Newens, Stanley Mr. Joseph Dean and
George, Bruce Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Mr. George Morton
Graham, Ted
Aspinwall, Jack Gray, Hamish Neale, Gerrard
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Greenway, Harry Needham, Richard
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds) Nelson, Anthony
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouh N) Neubert, Michael
Bendell, Vivian Hannam, John Newton, Tony
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Henderson, Barry Onslow, Cranley
Best, Keith Hicks, Robert Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Biggs-Davison, John Hoeg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Parris, Matthew
Blackburn, John Holland, Philip (Carlton) Percival, Sir Ian
Body, Richard Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Pollock, Alexander
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Proctor, K Harvey
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Hurd, Hon Douglas Renton, Tim
Budgen, Nick Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Burden, Sir Frederick Lester, Jim (Beeston) Rossl, Hugh
Butcher, John Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Cadbury, Jocelyn Lyell, Nicholas St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Carlisle, John (Luton West) McNair-Wilson, Michae (Newbury) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Carlisle Kenneth (Lincoln) Major, John Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Marlow, Tony Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Behills)
Colvin, Michael Mather, Carol Sims, Roger
Cope, John Mayhew, Patrick Speed, Keith
Critchley, Julian Meyer, Sir Anthony Squire, Robin
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Moate, Roger Stainton, Keith
Elliott, Sir William Moore, John Stanbrook, Ivor
Faith, Mrs Sheila Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth) Stradling Thomas, J.
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Onester) Wakeham, John
Garel-Jones, Tristan Murphy, Christopher Waldegrave, Hon William
Gow, Ian Myles, David Ward, John
Wells, John (Maldstone) Wickenden, Keith TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage) Wolfson, Mark Mr. David Waddington and
Wheeler, John Lord James Douglas Hamilton

Question accordingly negatived.


Main Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of the Report of the Burgoyne Committee on Offshore Safety (Cmnd. 7866).