HL Deb 13 May 1987 vol 487 cc627-8

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that the DHSS took all necessary measures to help the survivors and the relatives of the victims of the "Herald of Free Enterprise" disaster.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to report that the Department of Health and Social Security acted promptly to set up an advice centre at Zeebrugge to handle claims and inquiries. Additional DHSS staff were present at Gatwick Airport and Dover to help those returning from Zeebrugge, while all claims were dealt with speedily at one nominated office in Dover.

The Secretary of State for Social Services decided that all medical costs incurred in Belgium by victims of the disaster would be met from public funds.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for his reassuring reply and for his account of the efficient service that has been provided by the DHSS in the face of that stark disaster, may I further ask whether the Government have expressed suitable appreciation and gratitude to the Belgian authorities for their invaluable assistance at that time?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, on 22nd May my noble friend the Minister hopes to visit the six Belgian hospitals which looked after the United Kingdom victims to present each of them with a specially commissioned plaque in recognition of the care and support that they gave to those involved.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, I am sure that we would all wish to associate ourselves with the thanks of the House to the members of staff who had such difficult work to do in this terrible disaster. Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether there are any claims still outstanding, and also whether any money payments were in the shape of grants and not loans so that people will not be expected to repay any financial help that was given to them.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, first, I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, in congratulating our staff on their efforts. I remind her of my first Answer, which showed the great lengths to which the department went in order to be able to help victims as soon as possible both in Belgium and at the port of entry in the United Kingdom. The victims of the disaster are spread throughout the United Kingdom and the department has not collated any special statistics relating to them after they passed into the United Kingdom. However, I can assure the noble Baroness that claims were given the prompt attention of the department, and as in any emergency we have endeavoured to expedite them as speedily as possible.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister also consider paying tribute to the many voluntary organisations which helped at that particular time?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to do so.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, has it been taken on board that the most important thing on this sort of occasion, and which ought to be made compulsory, is that there should be a complete and accurate list of the names of all those on board; and that this is most important not only for the relatives of those who die but also to make sure that the ship is not overloaded, which on this occasion seems to have been a bit marginal?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I feel that that is a question which has nothing to do with the department.