HC Deb 16 May 1988 vol 133 cc663-4
1. Mr. Morgan

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on safety standards in the aviation, railway and shipping industries; and if he will institute an inquiry into the safety aspects of public passenger transport.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Paul Channon)

I regard safety as an overriding priority. Safety standards in the railway and shipping industries are the subject of continuous review by my Department. Safety in civil aviation is a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority. I see no need for a special inquiry.

Mr. Morgan

Does the Secretary of State agree that the public are demanding a thorough look at the way in which the pressure of continual competition is prejudicing public safety, particularly following the revelations in the Daily Mirror on Friday that only nine months after the original disaster another P and 0 ferry sailed with its bow doors open, precisely because of the pressure to make up time? That caused the original disaster, which was the worst, apart from the Titanic, in British maritime peacetime history. In the light of that revelation, does the Secretary of State agree that he must now look at this whole question? The public are demanding that he sets up a proper commission of inquiry.

Mr. Channon

I am conducting an inquiry into that important allegation, as is P and O. The hon. Gentleman rather overstates the matter when he says that the vessel put to sea. As I understand it, the ferry was moved from one berth to another inside the harbour.

Mr. Wilkinson

As aircraft cabin fires are by far the largest cause of death in otherwise survivable air accidents, has the CAA reported to my right hon. Friend on its assessment of the effectiveness of cabin sprinkler systems, which offer the best chance of saving life?

Mr. Channon

Water sprinkler systems are under investigation and tests have recently been carried out by the CAA. My hon. Friend raises an important matter and one on which I hope progress can be made.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Secretary of State also look into the fact that on 10 May 1988 the Pride of Bruges ferry did not have sufficient crew on board with the proper marine evacuation certificates and had to use its catering staff to make up the number?

Mr. Channon

The Pride of Bruges must have had the right number of crew on board with sufficient qualifications, or my surveyors would not have allowed it to sail.

Dr. Michael Clark

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing public anxiety about the number of near misses in the airways over the United Kingdom? Is he sure that air traffic controllers are properly trained? Does he feel that there should be more of them, or that different systems should be used to ensure the safety of our skies?

Mr. Channon

I disagree with my hon. Friend's analysis. If he looks at the figures he will see that the number of air misses is decreasing, not increasing, and that is an important point to bear in mind. The training of air traffic controllers is for the CAA, and the Select Committee on Transport is undertaking a full investigation of this and all relevant matters. Obviously, we shall wish to see what its report says. I have no evidence to suggest that the training of air traffic controllers is in any way inadequate.

Mr. Robert Hughes

It seems that almost everyone in the House and elsewhere is worried about ferry safety, except the Secretary of State, who is strangely reticent from time to time. Will he advise the House whether his Department sent a confidential report to the International Maritime Organisation? If so, will he publish it? Has he seen the other reports from an institute in Bradford about ferry safety and fatigue? Does he realise that the matter will get worse with commercial pressures, not better?

Mr. Channon

The hon. Gentleman's opening remarks were most unreasonable. He knows perfectly well that since I have been Secretary of State for Transport we have taken more measures on ferry safety than were taken in perhaps the previous generation. I resent and repudiate what he said on that score.

We have taken international action with the IMO to ensure that foreign and British ships coming into our ports are safe, and we are conducting a programme of research into all these matters and the allegations that have been made. It is regrettable that many Opposition Members make vague allegations, rather than specific ones, and never send us any evidence.

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