HC Deb 27 November 1995 vol 267 c914
6. Mr. Denham

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the role of the Marine Safety Agency on ensuring compliance with the safety of life at sea—SOLAS—and health regulations. [648]

Mr. Norris

The Marine Safety Agency aims to ensure the compliance of United Kingdom ships with international ship safety standards. It also checks a proportion of foreign ships calling at UK ports for compliance with those standards. It has similar functions for standards of food hygiene and supply, and catering facilities for crews on board ships. Of course, the application of public health and food hygiene regulations to passenger areas is a matter for port health authorities.

Mr. Denham

Will the Minister confirm that the United States coastguard report on the QEII's arrival in New York in December criticised the Marine Safety Agency, called for action against it, and said: I do not see how any country could interpret Safety of Life at Sea regulations as was done in this case."? Although the QEII's problem voyage is—thankfully—history, does not that disturbing episode raise a question about the ability of the Marine Safety Agency to guarantee safety for passengers stepping aboard any vessel leaving any port in this country? Is not a top-to-bottom shake-up of the MSA required, so that it does what the Minister says that it does, and ensures that regulations are interpreted in this country as they are in the United States and other countries?

Mr. Norris

In my experience, the MSA does a first-class job, as, I would think, the majority of the hon. Gentleman's constituents employed in the marine industry might have occasion to tell him. As he knows, the MSA is conducting an investigation into the matters surrounding the QEII sailing in 1994. My understanding is that that report will be issued shortly.

Mr. Matthew Banks

May I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Government Front-Bench team on their response to the recent Transport Select Committee report in relation to safety at sea? Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the Government work at international level to raise safety standards on our seas, because passengers do not simply travel on safe British ferries?

Mr. Norris

My hon. Friend is entirely right. He will know, as I do, that the Government's intention is to apply the highest possible standards in that regard and that the International Maritime Organisation is currently in session discussing that very topic.