HL Deb 12 December 1990 vol 524 cc495-6

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the recent research paper from Brunel University, they have reached further conclusions about the sudden disappearance at sea 10 years ago of the bulk carrier "Derbyshire".

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, the marine accident investigation branch is examining this paper. Our report on the conclusions reached will be submitted to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport shortly.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that satisfactory reply. Do the Government still have an open mind on whether changes in design for these very large vessels, or modifications to their sister ships, may prove desirable?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, after the loss of the "Derbyshire" the department investigated reports of defects in sister ships. Where appropriate, action was taken to rectify such defects. None of the three sister ships now sailing is under the United Kingdom flag. However, all will be required to meet appropriate standards at the time of their annual surveys. I should add that the formal investigation considered the effect of defects in the larger sister ships.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, will he concede that there has been and remains considerable anxiety concerning the mystery of the "Derbyshire", the largest vessel of its kind under the United Kingdom flag to disappear? Will he also inform the House why, at the time of the inquiry, counsel appearing for the Department of Trade was instructed not to call on Professor Bishop's report? That was clearly relevant. Can he also explain what action was taken in relation to the "Kowloon Bridge", a sister ship of the "Derbyshire", which appeared to suffer similar structural failures? These matters are not confined to the "Derbyshire". Are they matters which will come within the Minister's consideration when he looks at the report?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I appreciate that there is anxiety. However, I should point out that the formal investigation into the loss, which took place between October 1987 and March 1988 under a wreck commissioner, went very deeply into the issue. Regarding the report of Professor Bishop, the Question relates to new material which was not available at the time of the formal investigation. The original report could have been called for by any of the witnesses concerned.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I speak as chancellor of Brunel University. Will the Minister confirm that the late Professor Bishop, whose untimely death I mourn greatly, was one of the most prestigious marine engineers in the country? Anything that he wrote should be taken very seriously.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl. That is why we are investigating the latest material which has appeared.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, can the Minister explain why instructions were given by the department to its counsel at the time not to refer to Professor Bishops's initial report?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I was not aware that such instructions had been issued to counsel for the Department of Transport. But that is not relevant. Anybody else in the inquiry could have called for the report.

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