HC Deb 16 May 1988 vol 133 cc666-7
4. Mr. Barry Field

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when the last major emergency exercise took place in the Solent.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

The last major emergency exercise was conducted on 6 November 1986.

Mr. Field

My hon. Friend will be aware of the considerable expertise gained by the land-based emergency services from the major exercises involving road, rail and air incidents. I understand that my hon. Friend's attention has been drawn to the fact that a large ship recently lost its main propulsion engines while manouevring in the Solent. Given the problems of real-time exercises involving large ships, will he mount an exercise to give the emergency services the necessary expertise to deal with a large-scale emergency?

Mr. Mitchell

There is a major joint emergency plan for the Southampton, Portsmouth and Isle of Wight area known as Solfire. It is well prepared—it was updated in February—it is exercised from time to time and it will be exercised again in October 1988. It falls under the command of the harbour master and I have every confidence in it.

Mr. Colvin

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate Bristow Helicopters on tendering successfully for the air-sea rescue services for that area? Will he confirm that those services will be as good as, if not better than, those previously supplied by the Ministry of Defence? When are those services likely to come into operation?

Mr. Mitchell

The new service, operated by Bristow Helicopters, will be better equipped for night and all-weather flying than ever before. I am happy to announce that the new civil search-and rescue helicopter took up its post at 8 pm last night and was in operation at 11.06 this morning, when it was scrambled to pick up a sailor from HMS Newcastle who had suspected appendicitis.