HC Deb 07 March 1991 vol 187 cc557-67 10.51 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Colin Moynihan)

I agreed with the comments of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), who is not in his place—he sent his apologies that he had to leave the Chamber—about the attendance this evening. I hope that he agrees that, with remarkably few exceptions, what we have heard in the Chamber has been much more than merely useful—it has been salutary. Many speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House brought into sharp focus the human dimension of offshore safety, and I am glad that they did so. It was right, because all our debates on the subject and almost every action that has been taken on offshore safety since 6 July 1988 stand in the shadow of the terrible event of Piper Alpha. The human dimension of Piper Alpha always comes first to our minds and remains with us when the precise course of events or the technical implications are no longer to the fore.

The human dimension is no more than shorthand for the personal needs, fears and concerns of the 30,000 and more men and women who earn their living in the face of these hazards, and the needs, fears and concerns of their families and friends. It is right to focus on the human dimension because, at the end of the day, securing safety depends on the responsibility and watchfulness of individuals at every step of the process and every level of the organisation in question.

I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) for paying tribute to the Rev. Andrew Wylie. All those who know Andrew Wylie will be aware of the enormous contribution that he has made. It is no mere chance that when, with the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy, I visit several platforms offshore in a few weeks the first stop that we shall make will be to see Andrew Wylie. It was right to pay tribute to his knowledge, courage and humanity. When he retires, which will be all too soon, I hope that he will not be lost to offshore workers.

It has been clear from the outset that radical and far-reaching changes in the system of regulation of offshore safety must and will result from the implementation of the recommendations of Lord Cullen's report. Lord Cullen was given a wide-ranging remit and was able to probe matters to whatever depth he thought appropriate to identify the initial cause of the disaster, to understand how it escalated and to consider how similar incidents could be prevented. I firmly believe that the Government were right fully to accept Lord Cullen's conclusions. I confirm that in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). We fully accept all the conclusions, together with the recommendations that Lord Cullen made for the future.

There are five key goals in offshore safety, and they have been voiced in the debate. They are to improve the management of safety on offshore installations; to improve their design and equipment; to improve planning and provision for emergencies and for evacuation, escape and rescue; to strengthen the involvement of the work force in safety; and to strengthen the regulation of safety.

The Government have acted with consistency and dispatch in responding to the report. The Department's director of safety wrote to operators on the day the report was published requesting them to undertake action forthwith, without waiting for legislation, on a number of Lord Cullen's key recommendations, dealing with fire risk analysis, smoke and gas hazards, emergency systems and evacuation, escape and rescue.

Further action was highlighted by Mr. Petrie in the same letter on work related to the implementation of improved safety measures covering standby vessels, drills, exercises and precautionary musters and evacuations, personnel survival and escape equipment, pipeline emergency procedures, hydrocarbon inventory rises in pipelines, control of the process, permits to work, safety committees and safety representatives. I list those for the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), who asked what action had been taken on many of the issues. In fact, action was taken, and rightly so, within 24 hours on those key issues.

A great deal of work has been done since then. Inevitably, detailed work is involved to effect the transfer of responsibility to the Health and Safety Executive, but that work is already well advanced, thanks to the tremendous amount of work undertaken by officials in all the relevant Government Departments. The Department of Energy's safety directorate has been upgraded to an independent division within the Department in a way which will facilitate the transfer to the HSE.

Much has been said in the debate about the important role of engineers, and I am particularly pleased that such a distinguished engineer as Tony Barrel] has joined the Department from the HSE to be the first head of the new division.

I utterly reject the comments of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) about lack of political support from Ministers for the staff who work so assiduously and competently in the Department of Energy. Anyone who studies the Official Report will have witnessed time and again our commitment as Ministers to the outstanding civil servants who serve us and the country so well. I shall explain shortly how strongly I reject the allegations made by some hon. Members against the inspectorate.

As a result of the work that we are doing, we now hope to effect the transfer in April of this year. When the transfer has taken place, formal responsibility for offshore safety will pass from the Secretary of State for Energy to the Secretary of State for Employment, in whose domain the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive fall. My right hon. Friend made it clear earlier, and I repeat, that the new division will have the resources that it needs to continue to enforce the existing regulatory regime for the time being and to develop and implement the new regime.

The hon. Member for Dundee, West should accept that from the point of view of the HSE, Lord Cullen, Mr. Rimington and all the staff of the HSE, there is no way that the HSE would be prepared to take on the important functions of offshore safety that it is being asked to accept if the division were not adequately resourced. Those concerned have been parties to all the detailed discussions at official and ministerial level which have been taking place day after day to meet the earliest possible date for transfer. That is why my right hon. Friend said that at this stage broad agreement had been reached—not final decisions, because we must carry with us every party to the discussions in order to effect the transfer. As soon as those final decisions are made, the transfer will be effected.

Had we made them by today, we would effect the transfer as soon as possible, for we have no desire to hold up the important process of the HSE taking over responsibility and implementing Lord Cullen's recommen-dations. We have put a great deal of time and effort into that, and to meet our April target would be a considerable achievement that should be recognised as such by hon. Memberss in all parts of the House. I promise hon. Member who have raised that issue that we could not have acted faster—[Interruption.] I have obviously had a dramatic effect beyond hon. Members present in the Chamber, but it appears that all is now under control.

Mr. Ernie Ross

It is clear that the Government team do not want to answer the question or are not sure how to answer it. I will try again as the Secretary of State failed to answer me earlier.

Mr. Rimington was identified by Lord Cullen as the responsible person. On 12 December, when talking about resources and finance, Mr. Rimington said to the Select Committee on Employment: please forgive me if I seem a bit vehement, I am not intending to be rude in any way—of the need to secure enough money to discharge the offshore responsibility, which as a matter of fact Lord Cullen has laid explicitly on me. That is unfair. I cannot see how Mr. Rimington can possibly be held accountable. That responsibility must rest with the Secretary of State for Energy or with the Department of Employment. Mr. Rimington believes that he is responsible and that is not fair. He cannot possibly be responsible. That was the point that I made earlier.

Mr. Moynihan

In fairness to the hon. Gentleman, his interpretation of that exchange must be broader than that. He would be the first to realise, as all hon. Members realise, that the HSE is taking over responsibility for offshore safety. We have been debating that all evening. The HSE's resources are not directed to one individual to decide how he wants to spend that money. They are directed to the HSE. It will have to put a case together and have the support of its sponsoring Department. In turn, we will have to be satisfied before we hand over the safety divisions that we are handing them over to a body that is well resourced—adequately resourced at the present time —which had clear responsibilities and a clear programme to implement in respect of the Cullen report. If I have helped to clarify the position for the hon. Member for Dundee, West, I shall have achieved an objective. It is not the Government's intention to place all responsibility for offshore safety in the hands of one individual. It is our intention to hand it over to the HSE as soon as we can, and I hope that we can achieve the April target.

Mr. Ernie Ross

I hope that the Minister will consider my other points. The whole issue makes no sense because at the moment the HSE has difficulty recruiting staff. The total package that we are considering is for the whole department. Cullen has identified specific expenditure required for the new division. That is where there will be conflict.

Mr. Moynihan

The hon. Gentleman is talking rubbish. The report does not mention specific expenditure. It is the duty of Ministers to read the report and, having accepted the recommendations and conclusions, to work out an appropriate budget to implement those recommendations. We are doing precisely that as swiftly as we can.

As hon. Members have made clear, the key task for the new division in implementing the recommendations of the report will be the introduction of requirements for the new safety cases. That is the cornerstone of the new system. It is not the Government's view that the safety case, in its own right, is what Cullen suggests. We believe that the safety case is critically important, but the need to bring forward regulations as soon as possible is also critically important in the implementation of the recommendations of the report.

The report contains many other recommendations that do not fall directly within the safety case legislation. They will have to be implemented and some of them will require Government regulations. They will be brought before the House as soon as the HSE has had the opportunity to assess in detail the timetable and its implementation.

The safety cases should show that operators have met defined objectives on the adequacy of the company's safety management system, on the identification and control of risks to personnel from hazards arising from the hydrocarbon inventory on the installation and from other potential major hazards and on provision in a major emergency of a temporary safe refuge for all personnel on an installation and a means for their safe and full evacuation, escape and rescue if needed.

Specific matters to be demonstrated in the safety case include the minimisation of hazards from hydrocarbons, the minimisation of the exposure of personnel to accidental events, the endurance of the temporary safe refuge, and analysis of fire risks and of the effectiveness of the arrangements for evacuation, escape and rescue.

In the meantime, all the existing legal requirements remain in force, and it is important that they are maintained. They will continue to be effectively enforced by the staff of the offshore safety division.

Lord Cullen welcomed the introduction of emergency shut-down valves, which led to regulations being introduced and a tough implementation regime, which was welcomed by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South. The fitting of those valves is rigorously monitored. Lord Cullen suggested that it would be inappropriate to introduce sub-sea isolation systems across the board. He felt it important to consider them and their valves within the safety case for each platform, because of the wide differences between platforms. Therefore, an analysis of each platform under the safety case will determine whether it is necessary to implement a sub-sea isolation system. For some platforms they will not be required on safety grounds.

It has been made explicit on a number of occasions —it should have been made explicit on every occasion—that annex B approval conveys no formal or informal safety approval or clearance. The approval has been discussed, not least with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, my officials and myself. We regard it as a priority that where operators make proposals which are in the design stage and have safety implications, it should be a priority of the inspectorate to be as helpful as it can in providing information so that there is no delay in design techniques or a specific design. It will not be possible to ensure that in every case, because certain issues are being rigorously debated, but where possible we have asked the relevant inspectors to be as helpful as they can, given the concerns that the hon. Member for Dundee, West rightly drew to the attention of the House.

Few operators have operations offshore and onshore, partly because of the petroleum revenue tax implications. A growing number of small companies are operating onshore and I shall happily provide the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South with the details of that. It would be inaccurate to say that the two overlap to the extent that he suggested.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment has accepted that the Government should implement recommendation 29. It will naturally be a matter of time before a final decision is made. My hon. Friend has not taken over responsibility for these matters yet, but the Department of Employment accepts that recommendation. We shall let the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South know as soon as a decision is made.

Lord Cullen considered the possibility of immediately implementing the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations, but explicitly rejected it. It is a critical point. He concluded that what was required was a new offshore regime that would differ from any onshore regulatory system. He went much further; he argued that in many areas, drawing broad parameters for all platforms would have been unwise and that a safety case needed to be designed for each platform. Clearly some prescriptive regulations would apply to all, but the thrust of his argument was that a safety case should be drawn up and each platform taken individually. To replicate the CMAH regulations offshore was explicitly rejected by Lord Cullen, as hon. Members know.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) rightly spoke of the sensitivity of the work forces of contractors and operators and the need for developments to bring the two together, for example, in accommodation and recreational facilities, rather than having a two-tier approach, one for the operator's staff and the other for the contractor's work force. I agree that it is important that that is achieved, for better industrial relations and for a better environment on all platforms. I hope that operators will respond to the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised on that issue and which I endorse.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned an offshore safety trust. I have not looked at that in detail, but I shall be happy to consider any suggestions from hon. Members about improvements to safety, though I would not want to deflect attention from the work of all who are involved in the implementation of the Cullen report. That must be a top priority. If there were a mechanism for enhanced safety which did not deflect from that work, we should consider it.

The location of the new offshore safety division led to three conflicting views. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) was reasonable not to demand that Lowestoft should be the site, given its proximity to so much gas activity in the southern North sea. I emphasise, as my right hon. Friend did earlier, that the location is a matter for the HSE and the HSC. The chairman of the HSC has said that he sees a need for a substantial increase in staff numbers in Aberdeen. That has been welcomed by hon. Members. I cannot pre-empt decisions to be taken by the HSE or go to the extent that some hon. Members would like on location. Undoubtedly there would be real difficulties in a comprehensive relocation of existing staff; some of the difficulties have been touched on in the debate, not least by Labour Members.

Mr. Salmond

The Minister will have to spell out what the difficulties are. What he should have heard from all parts of the House was the great virtue in having the nerve centre of the new operation located at the nerve centre and front end of the oil industry. Although the Minister cannot pre-empt the decision, he could give the House the assurance that the arguments have been well heard and understood, that the final decision will not be based on prejudice or on the previous practice of locating the headquarters of such bodies in London, and that he will take account of the arguments presented by hon. Members who represent the bulk of the oil and gas industry.

Mr. Moynihan

There is no doubt that the arguments that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have put forward in the debate will be taken into account by the HSE. I will make sure that those arguments are noted. The issue has been widely debated inside the House and outside.

There are real conflicting problems, not least the amount of work that members of the division do in London, given that many of the operators have their headquarters based down here and that they would be travelling down from Aberdeen on a large budget to do their work. If it was proven that if inspectors and the whole division moved to Aberdeen, all the operators would follow, that is the sort of argument that the HSE would consider in the future.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce


Mr. Moynihan

Some hon. Members have made lengthy speeches and, with permission, I should like—[Interruption.] I will give way once more.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

I did not make the point in my speech, but the argument that somehow the centre of gravity is in London is disputed by the industry itself, which complains that its staff have to travel to London. The industry wants the centre to be based in Aberdeen. It is not satisfactory for Ministers to say, "We are sorry, the centre of gravity is in London," when the industry itself denies that.

Mr. Moynihan

I am not saying that the centre of gravity would necessarily remain in London for years to come, but when we looked at the costings we found that 80 per cent. of the work is currently done in and around London. That may well change. I simply say—I hope that it is a reasonable response—that if there are difficulties and arguments they will be listened to carefully by the HSC in due course.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the Burgoyne report. In 1980 the Government acted in line with its majority recommendations. It would have been impossible to act in line with the majority recommendations and with the minority recommendations as well because they disagreed, but we took on board the point made by the minority group that the role of the HSE should be enlarged.

Ten years later, the HSE has developed considerable expertise, which was no doubt one of the issues relevant to Lord Cullen's consideration of the changes that had taken place on which he reached the conclusion that, on balance, it was the time to move. Burgoyne decided to the contrary. We agreed with both, and a great deal has changed in the past 10 years—not least our responding to the concern put forward by some members of the minority group who argued that that should be taken on board, as it was. It has been a real factor in the Government's consideration of the acceptance of Lord Cullen's recommendations and the move across to the HSE.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale referred to the current application for power stations. The planning application is with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend will not expect me to anticipate the outcome of his considerations. However, my right hon. Friend's decision will be based on all the relevant factors and the issues that my hon. Friend has raised this evening are exactly the type of issues that the HSE will consider, because it is currently being consulted. My right hon. Friend will not make his decision until it is satisfied. I understand that my right hon. Friend has written to the district council and if it chooses to object to the application, a public inquiry will be mandatory.

The hon. Member for Dundee, West made an important point with which I wholeheartedly disagree. Lord Cullen found no evidence to suggest that the Department had put production considerations above safety or was not independent. I assure the hon. Gentleman that no such conflict has ever affected our determination to give top priority to safety. Lord Cullen's recommendations for a transfer to the HSE is made on organisational grounds, not to secure independence.

The hon. Gentleman's argument was therefore redundant and inaccurate. It would not have persuaded the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn.) when he was Secretary of State for Energy, and it certainly does not persuade us. If there were even a grain of truth in it, the hon. Gentleman would surely accept that Lord Cullen would never have suggested, as he did, that the inspectorate, which currently does excellent work in the safety division, should be the same men and women who will go across to form the safety division within HSC. He would never even have considered that if the safety inspectorate were jeopardised in terms of putting safety first. For that reason, I wholeheartedly reject what the hon. Gentleman says. It is an appalling slight on the outstanding work that the inspectors have undertaken for many years.

It was argued today that the operators were opposed to applying the 1977 onshore regulations offshore. In fact, that proposal was considered and rejected by Lord Cullen. It could not he right in the industry, in which union recognition is of limited extent, for the nomination of safety representatives to be entirely in the hands of the trade unions. There is no bar to members of trade unions becoming safety representatives if they are elected by the work force.

When the safety committees are reviewed this summer, as it will be two years on from their introduction, one of the key factors to be considered will be the arguments put forward by hon. Members today, including those put forward by the hon. Member for Dundee, West on behalf of his union. One consideration will be whether the safety committee structure has been effective in representing each and every member of the work force on each and every platform. Every platform has a safety committee and its representatives reflect each constituent part of those platforms. What is important is that their concerns are aired in the safety committee and responded to by the operator or, if response does not come forth, that they have an opportunity to contact the Department of Energy and the inspectors onshore. The proof of the effectiveness of that system is that they often do, and every time they do, those complaints and concerns are taken up. It does not matter whether a person is unionised or not—what matters is that that person's concerns are aired on the safety committee and there is a response to them.

Opposition Members and all who have equated trade unionism with enhanced safety—an equation which I wholeheartedly reject—will have the opportunity to put their case to the HSE when the regulations are reviewed this summer. We are committed to undertake that review this summer and it will take place. No doubt, during the review the very same arguments that have been aired today will be aired again. It was interesting that Lord Cullen accepted that this was no time to change union representation on the safety committees and that it was right to wait until this summer to assess the effectiveness or otherwise of the committees.

In conclusion, I shall turn to the last few substantive issues——

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Could the Minister give his observation on recommendation 21.84, in which the Lord Cullen recommends that there would be a benefit from the recognition of trade unions? Surely he must agree that the atmosphere in which people operate is critical to building confidence in the regulation. By recognising unions, an atmosphere of confidence would be established, which would surely help everyone.

Mr. Moynihan

In the Cullen report there are three paragraphs which concentrate my attention virtually every day. One is 21.84, which has been quoted extensively today and which cites evidence and states that it admittedly came almost entirely from trade union witnesses—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may scoff at Lord Cullen's words—I am simply quoting from the report. He was prepared to accept that the appointment of offshore safety representatives by trade unions could be of some benefit in the making the work of such representatives and committees effective. He goes on to say, however, that the position offshore is affected by a number of issues, which he quotes extensively in 21.85. Having weighed the evidence, he concludes: I consider that it would be inappropriate for me to recommend any change in the method by which safety representatives are chosen. Time and again today we have heard the first two paragraphs quoted, but never the conclusion, in which Lord Cullen rightly weighs up the evidence and draws his view. Time and again we hear just one set of evidence which is reported in here. The report also states that there are a series of other important issues: trade union membership is still relatively limited in relation to the total offshore workforce; trade unions have been `recognised' only to a limited extent; and the employment of offshore workers is fragmented between a number of different employers", and a whole range of other factors. Nevertheless, Lord Cullen reaches that important conclusion. He then says that we have an opportunity to review the matter when we consider the effectiveness of the safety committees, and we shall be able to do that—we give that commitment today —when a full review is undertaken two years after implementation of the committees.

I hope that that satisfies the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) about the process that we are pursuing, as it is entirely the process that Lord Cullen put before the House in the report, and that we have accepted.

Mr. Dobson

Does the Minister intend to reply—as far as is possible in the time available—to the questions that I asked about the Cam Spirit, alias the Silver Pit?

Mr. Moynihan

I am always keen to assist the hon. Gentleman, so I shall do that now.

The hon. Gentleman is right—the court found the Silver Pit to be deficient in a number of respects. It is the responsibility of an owner to maintain his ship to acceptable standards and, in the light of the court's report, the Department of Transport took action with regard to ad hoc inspections undertaken by marine surveyors. It was made absolutely clear at the time that the vessel acting as standby for Piper Alpha that night had been praised by the court for its role in the rescue, although it found that the boat's general state of repair had been poor. It placed no responsibility for those deficiencies on the master.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Silver Pit was operating in the North sea, and that that was a disgrace——

Mr. Dobson

Will the Minister give way again?

Mr. Moynihan

No, I am going to answer the hon. Gentleman's question about the Cam Spirit.

Mr. Dobson

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not say that. I posed a question—in the interrogative mode, as I believe it was called when I was at school. Is it true? It has been reported to me and we have pursued it. We have tried to find out the facts from the owners, but the owners have been unwilling to give us the facts. I asked the Secretary of State for the facts—I did not assert that what I asked about was the case.

Mr. Moynihan

I apologise. There was, however, a clear implication to that effect, which was heard by my hon. Friends and, I am sure, by Opposition Members.

The Cam Spirit has been out of service for a major refit. It cannot and will not go back into service until it has been examined by Department of Transport surveyors.

Mr. Dobson

Since being in service—and, with its crew and master, performing an admirable task on the day of the disaster—has the vessel been in operation in the North sea?

Mr. Moynihan

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I tried to obtain the details of the answer to the question that he has asked—in the interrogative mode. I obtained the answer, but I will find out more details.

Whatever those details are, however, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that it is incumbent on the Department of Transport to finalise the revision of the standby vessels code. We accept that. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear, the important issue is that future regulative requirements in respect of standby vessels will be matters for the HSC and HSE as part of the overall programme of implementing the Cullen report. I am advised that, to meet the standards in the new code, vessels will have to satisfy the technical requirements set out in recommendation 89. The hon. Gentleman read out the requirements at length, and I am sure that he will welcome that initiative.

In an extensive speech, the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) referred to permits to work. The Department's technical investigation identified possible failings in the generation of Occidental's permit-to-work system as an element in the disaster. The system had also broken down in the case of an earlier accident—the Sutherland fatality, in 1987—for which Occidental was prosecuted and fined following an investigation by my inspectors. There have been detailed regulations governing permit-to-work systems since 1976. The Department issued a statement of intent in August 1989, proposing that they be updated. The proposals, which were presented to the inquiry, have been generally welcomed. Lord Cullen recommended greater harmonisation of the key features of permit-to-work systems, but not standardisation. He realised that each system needed to recognise individual circumstances.

Mr. Salmond

I know that the Minister would not want to end his speech without picking up the point about the 73 cases of suspected blacklisting documented by the offshore information centre. I believe that he vastly underrates the importance of the fear of victimisation and informal blacklisting in the North sea. Will he give a guarantee that, if such cases are documented by the centre, some of the firm action referred to by the Secretary of State will be taken against the companies responsible?

Mr. Moynihan

All hon. Members take allegations of victimisation and blacklisting very seriously indeed. It is incumbent on all Ministers to take up cases brought to their attention by any hon. Member. There are other means of recourse outside the House—not least the employment legislation and industrial tribunals. If there are specific examples of extant blacklists, I urge the hon. Gentleman, and all other hon. Members who referred to them in the debate, to draw them to our attention. We cannot act in a vacuum.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) argued that the Shell list was a list of people whom Shell refused to re-employ because they had disobeyed the offshore installations manager. I reject the description of offshore installations managers given by the hon. Member for Dundee, West. It is critical for safety reasons that offshore installations managers be obeyed. After a while, Shell decided to rescind the ban on the employment of those individuals. No evidence was brought to our attention of a blacklist distributed to other companies by whichever operator—[Interruption.] If there is evidence, it should be drawn to our attention. We should certainly act on it.

The whole House heard the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South say that he does not wish to bring these cases to the attention of Ministers. He prefers to go directly to the operators. I made the offer to him again today, as I have on previous occasions, that as a Member of Parliament he should bring details concerning his constituents to my attention. We shall certainly pursue those cases, as we have in the past, and as we shall continue to do in the future. The hon. Gentleman is right about going to the operators to discuss employment matters directly with the employers and their employees, and he is also right that there is recourse to industrial tribunals. Those two avenues should equally be pursued on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Doran

I made my comments on the basis of my experience with Department of Energy Ministers, and I do not intend to withdraw them. The Minister has no understanding whatever of how the Shell blacklist operated. Every contractor who wanted to employ someone on a Shell platform had to check with Shell, whose computer system recorded against the name of every registered individual a mark which indicated that that individual was unacceptable. Shell admitted that publicly. When we raised the matter in the House, the Minister and his colleagues ignored it.

Mr. Moynihan

I have said to the hon. Gentleman on many occasions that that dispute was between Shell and its employees. The premise of the dispute was disobeying the instructions of an offshore installations manager. That had important safety implications which have now been resolved. We examined that case in detail and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy answered questions on it, as I did. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to draw further cases to our attention, we shall certainly look at them.

In conclusion, I hope that the House will accept one issue above all others. Our commitment to implement the Cullen recommendations is complete. Our determination to implement them as soon as possible is full. We shall continue to approach this issue with vigour. We hope to achieve the early deadline of April. We are doing everything that we can to do so. I hope that every hon. Member recognises that safety must be, and will remain, the prime consideration. It will underpin all the work that Department of Energy Ministers do.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Lords Commissioner to the Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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