HL Deb 20 March 1989 vol 505 cc457-8

2.50 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why the proposed closure of the Peterhead Coastguard Centre has not been postponed pending the outcome of the inquiry into the Piper Alpha disaster.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, Peterhead Maritime Rescue Subcentre took no part in the Piper Alpha incident, except to assist with message distribution, a task which could have been done by any other station. Aberdeen Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre co-ordinates all major and oil related incidents off the east coast of Scotland. The closure of Peterhead will allow some strengthening at Aberdeen, which will be the best manned station in the United Kingdom apart from Dover. If the Piper Alpha Inquiry should make any recommendations about the co-ordination of search and rescue, they will be given the most urgent consideration.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, the noble Lord's Answer is not exactly what I had hoped for. Will not the closure of the station, and any others, adversely affect the safety of those using the sea? Indeed, without the help of Peterhead station during the Piper Alpha disaster a terrible situation could have been even worse.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, 1 am afraid I have to disagree with my noble friend. As I said in my original Answer, all that Peterhead did during the Piper Alpha incident wasto relay a number of messages, which could have been done by any other Coastguard station. Therefore, we remain convinced that Aberdeen will in fact, with a greater number of people there, be in an even better position to deal with major incidents such as that which occurred on Piper Alpha.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, is it then the case that the allegations at any rate are untrue that Peterhead, if not directly involved with the disaster, took a considerable amount of pressure off Aberdeen at a vital moment when Aberdeen was deeply involved? Secondly, what damage would there be if this closure was postponed until after the inquiry? It seems anomalous to have an inquiry and to make major decisions in the area just before it is due to report.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, first, we do not accept that it is a major decision so far as the Piper Alpha inquiry is concerned. As I said in my original Answer, all that Peterhead did was to assist with message distribution, which is a task that could have been done by other Coastguard stations. Peterhead and Aberdeen are only 24 miles apart, which is much closer than most Coastguard stations. The flank stations will in future be Forth and Pentland, which can assist in a similar way. Therefore, I simply do not accept that it would be right to change our decision. All the arrangements for the closure have been made. Six extra staff are going to Aberdeen, of whom four will be transferring from Peterhead. Peterhead will remain as a sector office. A person will be in the existing building so there will still be facilities for co-ordination with the local people.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, how can the Minister say prior to the outcome of the Piper Alpha inquiry that the closure of Peterhead will not present a problem? Surely he is making a judgment in advance of what the inquiry may report. The inquiry may report a serious need for increased attention to the North Sea.

There is one point in the previous supplementary question which the Minister did not answer. What would be the cost if the closure was postponed, as I believe most sensible people consider it ought to be?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I perhaps disagree that most sensible people think that should be the case. We have obviously looked into this matter extremely carefully and have made our decision. If the inquiry recommends any changes in the Coastguard structure in North-East Scotland, we will of course give them full consideration. However, that does not necessarily mean that Peterhead Coastguard station has to be kept open.