HL Deb 01 June 1992 vol 537 cc712-55

3.3 p.m.

Lord Carver rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on Safety Aspects of Ship Design and Technology (2nd Report, 1991–92, HL Paper 30).

The noble and gallant Lord said: My Lords, in introducing this report to the House, I should like to express my thanks to all those who contributed to it: to the members of the sub-committee which I chaired; to our specialist advisers, Professor Geraint Price and Captain Graham Botterill; to our Clerk, Mr. Andrew Makower; and to all those many individuals and organisations, both in this country and overseas, who gave evidence to us.

Perhaps I may first draw your Lordships' attention to the title of the report. It would not have been within the committee's remit to examine all aspects of safety at sea. Therefore, we did not examine in detail such things as the standard of training and certification of competence, although we recognised that they affect, and are affected by, the design and technology of ships and their equipment. It is generally accepted that about 80 per cent. of accidents involving ships are due to human error, so those maters are very important when considering the safety of ships and of those who sail in them. It must be one of the aims of the application of science and technology to reduce both the possibility of human error and the effects of it.

Public concern about some serious incidents notably the capsize of the "Herald of Free Enterprise" and the loss of the "Derbyshire" and a number of other large bulk carriers —and about the pollution caused by accidents to oil tankers, led the committee to doubt if modern developments in science and technology, including that of the science of safety management itself, were being adequately applied to ships: to their design and construction; to their operation; and to their maintenance and repair. It also led the committee to question whether safety was being given sufficient weight in ship design and technology and whether the organisation for regulating safety was keeping pace with developing technology. All the evidence we received showed that we were right in having such doubts and in asking those questions, although matters are improving in certain fields.

When we examined both the hazards to which ships, their crews and passengers are exposed, and the system which is designed to reduce those hazards, the committee soon found itself entangled in the complexity both of the industry itself (covering construction, operation and repair) and of the regulatory authorities which are involved. Shipping is truly international—much more so than aviation—and the United Kingdom's share in it, both in construction and in operation, has been very significantly reduced in recent years. The organisation for regulating safety has been built up over the past two centuries as a reaction to losses at sea which have affected either the pockets of the insurance underwriters or the emotions of the public—sometimes both.

It was the former, in the 18th century, which led to the formation of the classification societies of which Lloyd's Register was the first and remains the largest. Their function is to certify that the structure of the hull and the main machinery is designed to be safe and, through periodic inspections, is maintained to remain so. They are paid by the shipowner who, with their certificate, satisfies the insurer that his ship is safe to operate. That is all that the classification society is normally responsible for, and the results of its inspections are confidential to its client on whom it is financially dependent.

The other regulating body is that of the state to whose flag the ship is registered. Unlike aircraft, it does not depend on where the ship's home port may be, nor on the location of the registered office of the company operating it. The flag state imposes safety regulations as a condition of registration and is responsible for inspection to see that they are maintained. In many cases now, flag states, which do not have the resources to enforce those regulations, delegate that responsibility to a classification society. Those regulations are now generally internationally agreed under the umbrella of the International Maritime Organisation, a dependency of the United Nations. It has established treaties or conventions, the most important being those covering safety of life at sea and marine pollution (SOLAS and MARPOL). But the IMO has no power to enforce them and they apply only to those members of the organisation who sign them.

A final regulating system is that of port state control. Under the conventions, a flag state may inspect a foreign ship entering one of its ports. If it finds that its papers are not in order or that its state or its safety equipment does not comply with the IMO conventions, it can detain the ship until the deficiency has been remedied. It is not possible to inspect more than a limited proportion of ships in that way; but a significant step forward has been made in recent years by the co-operation of 14 European flag states under the Paris Memorandum, so that information about offenders is exchanged.

There are a number of serious flaws in the whole system. First, it depends on compliance with a set of rules based on past experience. This is liable to encourage designing either to do no more than just comply, or, at worst, to get around the rules. It does nothing to encourage innovation of any kind, least of all innovation to enhance safety. Secondly, it leaves certain very important areas untouched, notably that of general safety management, as the inquiry into the "Herald of Free Enterprise" revealed. Although certificates of competence of officers and crew are inspected in port, no one—with some exceptions—inspects the actual operation of ships at sea. Shipping is the only form of public transport for which the operating management does not require a licence.

A further disadvantage is that so many different bodies are involved in aspects of safety at sea. The whole system, as we discovered, is fundamentally unscientific. There is no proper analysis of risk and no reliable data on which to base it. It is in stark contrast to the regulatory regime in industries which take safety seriously, such as the chemical, aviation and nuclear industries. That was the conclusion to which Lord Cullen came when he inquired into the oil-rig industry after the Piper Alpha disaster and that is the conclusion to which we came when we examined safety at sea.

The flaws in the system have been aggravated by the depression in the shipping industry resulting from that in world trade generally. This has led to intense competition and a demand to cut costs. Builders, operators, classification societies and insurers have all been affected and as a result have been less inclined to demand high standards. One aspect has been the great increase in "flagging-out"; that is, transferring from the register of the older established maritime nations like ourselves to flags of convenience. The authorities of the latter may not have the resources, and sometimes not the will, to enforce internationally agreed safety regulations strictly. Another undesirable tendency is the emergence of ship owners who have no experience of, and not much interest in, ship operation. They employ ship management agencies who may themselves employ separate manning agencies to engage crews. The traditional link between owner and crew is thus broken and there have been cases of officers and crews having no common language.

A further unfortunate result of the depressed state of the industry is a significant increase in the average age of ships, with all that that means in liability to corrosion and structural or mechanical failure. There are too many ships afloat which, in better times, would have been consigned to the scrapyard. Of 10,000 bulk carriers registered, 3,500 are over 15 years old.

What, therefore, should be done about this unsatisfactory state of affairs? We have to take into account that only a small fraction of British passengers and freight, certainly of the latter, is carried in ships registered in the United Kingdom and therefore subject to British Government authority through the Merchant Shipping Act, and that an even smaller proportion is carried in ships designed and built in this country. The Red Ensign has a very good safety record and the Marine Directorate of the Department of Transport has a high reputation internationally, although its Surveyor General's organisation is undoubtedly undermanned.

So is it worth suggesting any change? We believe that it is; but we also believe that the way forward lies in much closer co-operation on a European basis and the development of a system in Europe which comes closer to that operated by the Coast Guard in the USA.

I now turn to our recommendations. First, in the long term, we recommend a fundamental change from prescriptive rules to a system more like that operated in other industries, as recommended by Lord Cullen, and accepted by the Government, for oil rigs. But we recognise the great difference between something static operating within the jurisdiction of one sovereign state, as is an oil rig, and the immensely varied nature of the international shipping industry. That is one reason why there is a significant difference between Lord Cullen's recommendation and ours; namely, that we fully accept that ours is a long-term aim and could not be implemented in the near future.

We therefore make a series of recommendations for the interim which we hope will lead in the direction of our recommended long-term aim. In the long term we wish to see safety regulation based on internationally agreed primary safety goals, setting performance standards covering structural strength, stability, manoeuvrability, performance in a seaway, operational competence, and safety management of every ship operation. Those standards would be based on quantified assessment of risk, on analysis of costs and benefits and on international agreement as to what level of risk was acceptable. They would be revised upwards from time to time as science and technology advanced and as the value of human life and the marine environment were reassessed. The operator of every ship trading commercially would then have to make a safety case to satisfy his flag state that his ship would meet those standards, subject to prescribed conditions. Those conditions would cover such things as maintenance; protective coatings and levels of corrosion; safety equipment; manning levels and crew competence; loadline and rates of loading and unloading; stresses on the hull; navigation and communication equipment; and safety management systems. The safety case would be completely reviewed every five years in the light of changes in the ship's trading pattern and in the condition of the ship. The prescribed conditions would form a "users' manual" for successive masters and a checklist for port control.

We fully recognise that such a radical and ambitious change could not at present be introduced, for three main reasons. First, the scientific base for analysis of all aspects of ship behaviour, of risks, and of the costs and benefits of measures to eliminate or reduce those risks either does not exist or is grossly inadequate and does not therefore provide the basis for setting primary safety goals, let alone getting international agreement to them.

Secondly, few ship designers and operators today, brought up in the old methods of prescriptive rules, would be able to produce an adequate safety case and even fewer flag state authorities could administer such a regime. They have difficulty enough in enforcing existing IMO conventions. But there are moves afoot in the IMO and elsewhere—for instance, within the major classifications societies—which lead in this direction and which should be encouraged. Some of our other recommendations should help in that direction.

One of the principal recommendations is for a reorganisation of the authority responsible for the regulation of safety at sea in the United Kingdom. We recommend that the Surveyor General's organisation of the Marine Directorate of the Department of Transport should not only be substantially increased in strength but that it should be reconstituted as an independent statutory Civil Maritime Authority on the pattern of the Civil Aviation Authority. The arguments that Lord Cullen gave for separating the regulation of safety on oil rigs from the government department that sponsored the industry seemed to us to apply equally to the shipping industry and that there were other valid arguments for making it independent. It would still have to depend on government finance to cover port state control, as does the Civil Aviation Authority for air traffic control. We wish to see it cultivating close contact with the Health and Safety Executive and with the Civil Aviation Authority and absorbing much of their expertise and safety culture as well as eventually becoming responsible for other functions connected with safety at sea.

A similar recommendation was made by the committee chaired by the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, who I am glad to see is to speak later in the debate. The committee reported on the shipping industry in 1970, but it was not accepted by the government of the day. This proposal would appear to be entirely in line with the Government's policy of delegating responsibilities from government departments to Next Steps agencies. I understand that the Department of Transport is at present engaged in a review of the Surveyor General's organisation, which is due to move with the rest of the Marine Directorate to Southampton in 1994—the centenary year of the Merchant Shipping Act. I hope, therefore, that the Government will take the "next step" which we recommend in that year.

Those are our principal recommendations. The others are: that the Government should do more to encourage ship science, and we have made some recommendations as to how they might do so; that the United Kingdom should set an example by establishing systems of positive reporting of dangerous incidents at sea which do not result in accidents, and of confidential reporting of potentially dangerous mistakes, as is done in civil aviation; that the IMO should, wherever possible, adopt performance standards rather than prescriptive ones and that the latter, where retained, should be derived from an agreed level of desired performance; that the European Community should adopt a standard of verifiable safety management systems for shipping based on that recommended by the IMO and impose it as a mandatory requirement for ships of any flag carrying passengers, oil or hazardous cargo in European Community waters, which we hope could lead the way to a wider acceptance of these systems within the IMO; that the classification societies continue to press for greater selective use of steels of guaranteed fracture toughness, as does the Ministry of Defence for the Royal Navy; that all ships over 20,000 deadweight tonnes should be required to fit hull stress monitoring systems and voyage data recorders; that flag state certificates issued by classification societies which do not meet the standards required for membership of the International Association of Classification Societies should not be recognised internationally; that there should be internationally recognised certificates for ship surveyors; that the coastal nations of Europe which have not already done so should be encouraged to sign the Paris Memorandum on Port State Control; that the Paris Memorandum should be strengthened in the following ways: by explicit concentration of inspection on ships flying the flag of any administration identified through the IMO as ineffective; by more open circulation of the results of inspections to all concerned, including classification societies and insurers; by extending inspection to operation in pilotage waters; by removal of the current restrictionon on reinspection within six months; and by inspection of all foreign-flagged ships entering a Paris Memorandum port for the first time.

The committee also recommends that other regions should be encouraged, under the aegis of the IMO, to introduce arrangements similar to those of the Paris Memorandum; that an international effort should be made to bring about a universally available global satellite navigation system; and, finally, that fishing vessels down to seven metres in length should be brought within the licensing, crew certification and safety regime in the United Kingdom, as favoured by the Sea Fish Authority and the Marine Accident Investigation Board. The report explains the reasoning behind those recommendations, but I do not have time now to give that. Some of our recommendations, including the principal and fundamental one, require international agreement, but some, including that for a Civil Maritime Authority, do not.

A general election having intervened between the publication of the report and today's debate, I realise that we cannot at this stage expect any substantive reaction from the Government; but I earnestly urge the Minister to press his right honourable friend the Secretary of State to give our recommendations serious consideration and that the Government should take the lead in the IMO, particularly in Europe, in improving safety at sea by moving in the direction to which the committee has pointed.

Britannia may no longer rule the waves, as she did off Ushant on that glorious 1st June just 198 years ago today, and may no longer be a leader in terms of ship building or in the number of ships flying her own flag; but we remain very much a maritime nation with essential maritime interests and should remain a leader, as we have been in the past, in improving safety for all those who go down to the sea in ships. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on Safety Aspects of Ship Design and Technology (2nd Report,1991–92, HL Paper 30)—(Lord Carver.)

3.22 p.m.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, it was a great privilege to serve on the sub-committee chaired by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. He has introduced the report clearly and comprehensively. I should like to make one or two comments on the report of a perhaps more detailed nature. There are two aspects of safety at sea: operational, which is concerned principally with seamanship, and the design and construction which is the concern of technology.

The first aspect applies to the ship as she is, and the committee's investigation considered matters of operational safety only as they were affected by technological development. The main thrust of the committee's investigation was design and construction issues, both as regards the specification of standards and their enforcement. The committee recognised that there is no such thing as complete and perfect safety. The question is whether existing arrangements achieve the highest practicable standards.

That objective is, of course, of principal importance in relation to ships carrying passengers, but it applies also to all ships operated for commercial purposes. In both cases, passengers and crew are entitled to assume that the ship is designed and constructed safely in every way, as well as being competently and safely operated. In passing, I hope that we shall never have regulations and licensing in this country which would prevent individuals, either alone or with friends, going to sea in any type of boat that they like, at their own risk, whether to sail around the world or to cross the Channel in a bath.

Ships operate in a harsh environment. The interface between air and water produces conditions, and thus stresses and loads on the ships, which are much more difficult to analyse logically than conditions in respect of vehicles operating on land or in the air. It is true that ships, unlike aircraft, can usually stop safely in the open sea if mechanical trouble develops, but near land they are almost as vulnerable as an aircraft, as witness the "Torrey Canyon" tanker disaster.

The committee identified both similarities and differences between the safety of ships and aircraft. The most significant, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, pointed out, is historical. Ships have sailed the seas from time immemorial; design has developed pragmatically through the principle of survival of the fittest; but only comparatively recently (during the past 150 years) has any detailed, scientific analysis of ship motion and strength been made. In the past, seafaring was always regarded as dangerous, and loss of life was accepted as inevitable.

In contrast, in civil aviation, significant growth has taken place only in the past 50 years. During that period human life has been regarded as much more valuable, and from the outset scientific principles have been applied to design and construction, including strength, stability, propulsion and equipment. The second difference is that each design of aircraft is produced in relatively large numbers, in series production, and it is possible—and almost always done—to make, test and modify prototypes. Critical parts are often tested to destruction by stress or fatigue loading. The whole aircraft is tested systematically for stability in flight, and modified if necessary, before production starts.

Ships are normally produced to the same design in ones, twos, threes and fours. It is impossible to make and test a prototype, although some testing of joints and components is possible and is done. The third principal difference relates to the limitation of disaster when damaged by collision. When there are two aircraft in collision there is virtual certainty of disaster, destruction and major loss of life; so immense resources are devoted to air traffic control and navigational equipment to avoid collision either between aircraft or between aircraft and the ground and structures upon it. In ships, it is impractical to extend even rudimentary traffic control outside limited congested areas such as the Straits of Dover. The chance of collision is of course reduced by good seamanship combined with new technology—for example, by electronic navigation systems such as radar, Decca and GPS; but collisions occur, and if ships sink or capsize rapidly when damaged, disaster and serious loss of life result. Therefore, stability and strength in damaged condition are vital considerations.

Thus, for those historical and other reasons, the regulatory arrangements for the safety of ships and aircraft have developed differently. For civil aircraft, there is one national authority (the CAA) responsible for all aspects of safety. It certifies each type for safety and airworthiness, and lays down and monitors inspection procedures to maintain safety. It works in conjunction with the International Civil Aviation Authority to co-ordinate standards and actions on safety when required.

For ships, as the noble and gallant Lord made clear, responsibility for safety in the UK is, in effect, divided between the Surveyor General's department in the Department of Transport which has responsibility for stability (in the normal or damaged state), safety equipment, lifeboats and the like, whereas responsibility is delegated to classification societies—Lloyd's Register in the case of the UK, and others—for structural strength and the monitoring of the structure of the ship during its life.

Calculations of stability in all conditions of loading and damage have been readily made for comparison with agreed standards relating to size and operations. But as regards the structural design of the hull, only limited calculations have been made. Detailed design has been largely governed by prescriptive rules developed over a long period from experience, as the size of ships increased, on the basis that those which were not properly designed with sufficiently strong hulls disappeared; they broke in half and so the next ship of that type was made a little stronger.

By and large, the system developed over the years, improved as time went on and has worked pretty satisfactorily. It is true that the safety record of merchant shipping generally has been good. However, it is now showing serious signs of strain, particularly as entirely new types of ship are designed, such as the roll on-roll off or ro-ro ferries like the "Herald of Free Enterprise", catamarans, small water plane area ships and hydrofoils.

In addition, new materials are being increasingly used: high tensile steel, aluminium, and fibrereinforced composites. More economical methods of construction are being applied and operating conditions, both as regards crewing levels and as affected by technological developments, are changing rapidly.

In these circumstances, in broad terms the Committee formed the opinion that is stated in paragraph 11.4 from which I wish to quote a short passage: Shipping must not be allowed to become a victim of its own long history … we consider that the time has come for radical change". In paragraph 11.1, we say: The evidence we have received … confirms the fears which prompted our inquiry: that modern science and technology are not being adequately applied in many of the fields which affect the safety of ships, the lives of those who travel in them, and the marine environment". These considerations led to the recommendation to accept as a goal a ship safety regime which is set out in paragraph 11.7. It would be based, first, on primary safety goals for all aspects of ship operations set by agreement through IMO. Secondly, a safety case should be made for every ship trading commercially, produced by the operator and approved by the flag state.

The advantages of that system are clearly set out in paragraph 11.8. In my view, a most important factor is that such systems would deal logically and effectively with all safety aspects of new and revolutionary designs which are not properly catered for under the present arrangements. It would also put primary responsibility on the operator who in turn, like an airline operator, would require the designer and constructor to satisfy him as to the safety of his ship and its compliance with all the safety requirements. A spin-off would be a greater incentive to promote progress in ship design on a scientific and reliable basis.

As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, made clear, the committee fully accepts that that long-term objective will take time to come to fruition. That opinion is clearly set out in paragraph 11.9. But I submit that the principle of a primary safety regime should be accepted now in spite of the practical difficulties of transition, as emphasised in paragraph 11.11.

The fact that a vision cannot immediately be made reality is no reason to discard that vision. Before our vision can be realised, three conditions must be satisfied. They have already been mentioned by the noble and gallant Lord, but I wish to repeat them. They are: progress in ship science and in the analysis of maritime risk; the emergence of a safety culture across the whole of the shipping industry; and a high and uniform standard of flag state control.

These points are clearly set out in paragraph 11.13 and the following paragraphs. I only draw attention to paragraph 11.15 which makes the point that in these days the public are not prepared to accept disasters such as the grounding of the "Exxon Valdez" which caused enormous environmental damage and the capsize of the "Herald of Free Enterprise". Already, as a result of those disasters much analysis and research has been carried out, but after the event. Surely, that is not a satisfactory state of affairs. We seek to ensure that the work of analysis, scientific investigation and progress is made before the disasters occur. That would be greatly promoted by the type of safety regime that we have recommended in the report.

It is no good repairing the stable door after the horse has bolted. We need to make the door strong enough before the horse has bolted.

Also, better risk analysis is essential. Paragraph 11.21 makes that point clearly. Past experience of failures in ships has led to big factors of safety being included in the strength of the ships' hulls. We may call them factors of ignorance because few calculations were made in earlier days compared with aircraft, where, because of the importance of weight, much smaller factors of safety existed. Therefore much more careful calculation had to be made.

If the provisions are to be effective, then analysis of the risks of reaching levels at which danger may occur is absolutely essential. Also, developments of high performance ships will lead to pressure, for example, for lighter hull weights for economic reasons. Those risks, too, must be properly evaluated.

Finally, I wish to make two points. First, the ship machinery—the electrical and electronic equipment of ships—is scientifically designed. Why should not the hull and its strength receive the same treatment? Secondly, ships are being progressively designed more as systems. Gone are the days when one designed and constructed the hull and put the engines in it, as well as fairly simple electrical and mechanical equipment. More and more ships are designed as systems, and systems involve interaction between all the different parts. An efficient system can only be designed safely if it is designed analytically and scientifically, not prescriptively.

I submit that there is a strong, logical case for a ship safety regime such as we have recommended. Great benefits would result, not least to the UK economy and British shipbuilding, if we take the lead. The practical difficulties are great and it will take a long time to move from the present regime to the new one of primary safety. That is a reason for starting now along the road and I strongly endorse the recommendation urged by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, that Her Majesty's Government should accept the principle, they should make it clear, without any doubt, that they accept it, so that we can progress along the road to the new regime which will greatly improve the safety of ships at sea.

3.39 p.m.

Lord Kirkwood

My Lords, it almost goes without saying that the shipping industry is still of vital importance to this country. As a nation we have always lived by trading in raw or manufactured goods and, despite the decrease in shipbuilding in the United Kingdom and in the number of ships flying the red ensign, there is still a great deal of trade in and out of our ports. We have the oldest and largest of the classification societies and the largest organisation dealing with marine insurance in London. For us as an island nation, shipping is vital to our economy. I do not believe that this will be changed by our closer links and closer involvement in the European Community, the opening of the Channel Tunnel or any expansion of air traffic.

However, there is a heightened public awareness of accidents occurring at sea with the consequent loss of life to seamen and passengers and of the pollution of the seas and the coastlines, particularly from oil tankers. The statistics that the committee received from the Salvage Association support the notion that most accidents at sea are caused by human error. Some two-thirds, or perhaps 80 per cent., of such accidents are caused by human error.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, the Chairman of the Select Committee that considered the safety of ships, is correct to draw attention in particular to ways of improving ship management and shipping operations and the quality and training of crews; to the setting up in the United Kingdom of an independent body, the Civil Maritime Authority, modelled on the Civil Aviation Authority, which would have overall responsibility for shipping safety; and to the suggestion that there should be some enlargement of the signatories to the Paris memorandum and amendments to make the memorandum more effective. I strongly support all those suggestions.

However, I wish to concentrate on ways of improving the safety of ships at the design and construction stage and of maintaining the structural soundness of ships throughout their lifetimes. Historically, safety in ship design and construction has been ensured by an authority requiring the process to comply with a set of rules concerning materials that may he used in construction, the size of the ship and other matters. The rules are prescriptive rules, as the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, mentioned. When technology progressed slowly this was a satisfactory procedure. The rules could be clear and simple and could be adapted to changed circumstances. However, technological change is now rapid and ship design is trapped by its own ancient history. Other newer safety-conscious industries such as the nuclear, chemical and aircraft industries, operate differently.

The prescriptive approach that is still largely followed in the shipping industry is quite literally "out of the Ark". God instructed Noah to build the Ark out of gopher wood. He instructed Noah to pitch it within and without with pitch. There was no discussion about the advantages of alternative materials for construction or different sealing compounds. God required that the ship should be 300 cubits in length, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. God prescribed that the ship should contain three storeys and that it should have a single window and a door in its side. There was no debate about size or alternative design solutions for the accommodation of the animals. It was simply a case of divine prescription. Noah did not graduate as a qualified naval architect so perhaps he was in no position to argue with God. As one witness has stated in the report, the trouble with the prescriptive approach is that it, "offers no incentive to do anything better than the minimum standard prescribed or to innovate". At worst it encourages rule beating.

A more enlightened approach to design standards adopted by the modern industries I have already referred to—the chemical, nuclear and aircraft industries—is to establish performance criteria where the designer and the constructor are required to demonstrate that those criteria can be met by their proposed design. The burden of responsibility for proving that a design is safe and meets the performance criteria now lies clearly with the designer. To paraphrase St. Augustine, the designer can do anything but it must be safe. That approach would, of course, require a different attitude to design and a knowledge of materials and structural analysis which most naval architects and marine engineers may not have. It therefore requires an investment in a new programme of education and training.

The report also draws attention to the increasing use of high tensile steels in ships and its attendant dangers. Those steels are used to lighten ships' structure and to allow more cargo to be carried. Therefore economic forces are driving the tendency to use those steels. However, there is a downside to what might be thought of as the introduction of high-tech steels into ship building. First, the thinner section that is employed means that corrosion can be a greater problem. Secondly, the structural members of the ship are more highly stressed and therefore fatigue cracks will grow more rapidly and eventually propagate as brittle cracks at the speed of sound through the entire hull. The lesson in all this is that strength is not all, as any metallurgist will tell us. The appropriate choice of materials is a subtle science requiring careful compromise.

The other concern that has been referred to lies in the inspection of ships during their operational life for the detection of cracks of a critical size which, under certain conditions of low temperature and high stresses generated by rough seas, can propagate spontaneously right through the structure in seconds. Such cracks may only be 10 millimetres in length in the conventional mild steels used at present in shipbuilding. The difficulty in visually detecting such cracks —a hammer and possibly a magnifying glass are used in that process—in large holds 85 feet high and in awkward areas can be imagined. The difficulty will be compounded as the world's fleet of large tankers and bulk carriers becomes more aged and more prone to cracking.

However, the Select Committee learnt that there are steels in existence used by the oil industry for piping in aggressive environments that are only marginally more expensive than the present ship mild steel. However they are significantly resistant to brittle failure. These so-called fracture tough steels can sustain cracks up to 10 centimetres without catastrophic failure. Obviously such a crack takes a long time to develop and is more easily detected. Therefore the safety of the ship is the more easily ensured.

The question arises of why the industry has not already stipulated these steels for use in ship construction. I find that difficult to understand but perhaps it has something to do with the culture bred by the prescriptive rule approach. The designer is told what material to use and there is no reason for him to inquire whether there is anything better. That culture kills initiative and it creates an inbred approach to problems. Designers tend not to look elsewhere for solutions.

I am sure that by focusing on the performance aspect of design, naval architects and engineers will be encouraged to be less blinkered in the practice of their profession and more adventurous in their thinking. However, safety considerations must always be borne in mind. I commend the report to your Lordships' House.

3.48 p.m.

Lord Flowers

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, has recently retired from your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology after having made a remarkable contribution to the work of the House. He has taken the chair of sub-committees on no fewer than six major inquiries into definitions of research and development, the greenhouse effect, nature conservancy, international scientific programmes and, finally, the safety of ship design and technology. We are debating that final subject today. The noble and gallant Lord presented it to us clearly. It is appropriate for me as chairman of the Select Committee to thank the noble and gallant Lord for all his work. I express the hope that he will not take his retirement too literally.

Speeches will be made today by several noble Lords who know much more about ships than I. The only expert knowledge I can offer is that I once stroked my college's boat at Henley, though as it was wartime, the event took place at Ely. From the safety point of view it was an uneventful voyage, although a severe test of the crew. I thought that I might nevertheless linger for a few moments more on the fears with which we began our inquiry—already mentioned by the noble and gallant Lord—that modern science and technology are not being adequately applied in many of the fields which affect both the safety of ships and those who travel in them and the marine environment.

Our fears proved to be amply justified, in spite of the valiant efforts of research scientists and engineers—at British Maritime Technology Ltd at Teddington and elsewhere in this country, including several universities, and in some other countries, a few of which we visited—to introduce scientific methods into the safety assessment of ship design and operation. Scientific method seems simply not to be part of the culture of shipping—and the word "culture" has been used by every speaker this afternoon so far—as it is of most modern industries such as aerospace, power generation, petrochemicals and gas. The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, referred especially to the aerospace industry. In contrast the shipping industry tends to see itself as a thing apart and its problems as unique. As a consequence the attitudes resulting from scientific risk assessment as practised by others are absent and techniques and materials available to other industries are insufficiently applied. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, dwelt on that last point in particular. High technology inspection methods for welds, automated scanning and the use of fibre optics are noticeable by their absence. In monitoring performance, in contrast to the aerospace industry, shipping shows little enthusiasm for voyage data recorders and ship event analysis, in spite of encouragement by Lloyd's Register of Shipping.

Instead, designers have to rely upon prescriptive rules, as the noble and gallant Lord explained, imposed by regulatory organisations which mostly lack enthusiasm for the application of scientific methods. After all, scientific assessments are difficult, requiring advanced knowledge of engineering and the properties of materials and extensive computer simulations, and, in the event, may prove to be wrong. By contrast, prescriptive rules are based upon many decades of practical experience of many different ships, and can therefore be relied upon. So runs the argument.

The head of the Marine Directorate of the Department of Transport put the practical man's approach clearly in answer to a question. He said: there is a kind of broad brush judgment … after there has been an accident which exposed a risk … learned judges, if it is that important, hold inquiries and make recommendations as to what should apply. Normally there will be widespread discussion … (which will) bear on the Government decision as to what will happen. I cannot pretend it is purely scientific. I would argue it is extremely difficult to make it scientific, and that the practical kind of approach does not produce too bad a result in most cases". One might have hoped that the responsible authorities in this country relied on rather more than post-hoc judgments, judicially arrived at or otherwise.

On the other hand one must certainly acknowledge the complexities of a more scientific treatment. As it was put to us at Haslar, a ship is: an irregular-shaped body with six degrees of freedom [i.e., to move along or around any of three perpendicular axes] at the irregular interface of two dissimilar fluids [air and water] acted on from all directions by continually varying forces". Put like that, it all sounds a little disheartening. Nevertheless, ship science has taken huge steps forward in the last 20 years, thanks especially to the use of mathematical models of structure and behaviour, for which even desk-top computers may at times suffice, and of techniques well known to civil engineering, such as finite element analysis, which allows a precise computation of stresses on a complex structure given the load.

That is not to say that a computable model exists for every problem. We were told that it is still difficult to model the dynamic behaviour of shifting loads, including flooding of the hull; or the response of the ship to extreme sea conditions, such as the dread "broaching to"; or the dissipation of energy in a collision. Compared with the relatively flourishing field of offshore structures, which involves many of the same technologies, the development of ship science and the necessary analytical tools, and the associated training of operatives, are at present held back by lack of investment.

There should be a vigorous programme of basic research supported by the research councils and co-ordinated for strategic purposes with the industry, which should also contribute—but there is not. Not only has there been a drastic reduction in British shipbuilding, the most obvious source of support for research, but even the programmes carrying government support, such as the Efficient Ship collaboration of the DTI, have been discontinued due to lack of interest on the part of the industry. As we said in our report: There is no general imperative to conduct forward-looking research in safety matters". What has been done by the Marine Directorate and by Lloyd's Register of Shipping has largely been in response to spectacular incidents which have focused public attention, such as the loss of the "Herald of Free Enterprise" and the unacceptable loss rate of bulk carriers. As our report makes clear: Even when the industry is healthy, money spent on safety is seen in most sectors not as an investment but as a cost". Prescriptive rules are all very well when only small departures from what has gone before are contemplated so that the pace of change overall is small and one can learn from experience. That is how nature develops in its evolutionary fashion when left alone by man, correcting its occasional mistakes, benefiting from its happier accidents and adapting to the slowly changing environment. However, evolution becomes insufficient when development moves apace under the influence of new materials and radically new designs and functions. It is no good, for example, as the noble Viscount remarked, applying rules appropriate to conventionally loaded vessels to a roll-on/roll-off ferry or those intended for a single-hulled vessel to a catamaran. Yet that is what happens when the regulator relies on prescriptive rules, any changes to which have to be approved by a multiplicity of ponderous authorities at home and abroad.

Similar situations have occasionally occurred in other fields. Your Lordships will perhaps recall the spectacular failure during construction of some of the early designs of box girder bridge. The routine stress calculations performed by the designers were simply not adequate when thin-walled box girders were involved. The problem was resolved by considering the behaviour of the box girder under stress from first principles, but it took a series of accidents and a painstaking inquiry (led this time not by a judge but by a nuclear physicist, the late Sir Alec Merrison, an expert in accelerator design) before the weakness of the prescriptive approach was recognised.

The criteria for a more scientific approach to design and regulation were admirably spelt out for us in general terms by Mr. John Spouge of Technica Limited. There should be scientific safety regulation if an activity is subject to significant hazards; if it is liable to accidents of high consequence so that they must be prevented, but low frequencies so that they cannot otherwise be predicted; if there is rapid rate of change so that the lessons of experience are soon out of date; or if there is likely to be public concern which will force the regulator to act in inappropriate ways. As Mr. Spouge observed: "Some shipping activities display some or all of them".

It is vitally important that there should be forward looking research into industrial safety. In most industries there is; but I have already given reasons why that is not so pressing a commitment in shipping. In paragraph 11.19 the committee urges that British ship science should not be left altogether to the mercy of market forces. It is needed not only by the most obvious supporters—the shipbuilders—but also by owners and operators, including the Royal Navy, and by regulators, including the Government, as well as by those who care for the marine environment and the wider shipping community which still accepts the leadership of London. All should contribute to the cost.

The Government particularly needs to draw upon indigenous ship science in order to make its voice credible at the ultimate table of the International Maritime Organisation. As well as encouraging the efforts of others, as proposed in our numerous recommendations, they should themselves be prepared to invest in the necessary basic research which underlies all the aspects of safety in ship design and technology discussed in the report.

4.1 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, in referring to this report I start by paying tribute to the hard work, fairness and objectivity of the chairman, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and to the valuable advice and assistance that the committee received from its two advisers, Professor Price and Captain Botterill, as well as the committee clerk Andrew Makower. The report owes a great deal to their work.

I find my work with the Select Committee fascinating. I always learn a great deal in the process of its investigations. This inquiry was no exception. I am no seafarer; only my husband's mate on a small boat of which he is quite definitely the skipper. So I felt from the start that he would be a much more valuable member than myself. However, as the committee began to uncover the present inadequacies of regulation and enforcement at sea, I found myself comparing the maritime scene more and more unfavourably with the work that I had to do as a young engineer in the research and development department of the newly set up British European Airways. We were operating old and sometimes pre-war aircraft—DH Rapides, Dakotas and JU52s—and choosing to replace them with new aircraft such as Vikings, Viscounts and Ambassadors.

In all our work air safety was paramount. Performance had to be calculated rigorously to ensure that we met the rules of the newly formed "provisional" (in those days) International Civil Aviation Organisation. We had to know the weights of passengers and freight and how they were loaded into cabins and holds and the consequent effect on centres of gravity, aircraft stability and handling characteristics. We had to calculate the effect of engine failure over mountains, the sea, or on take off—perhaps the most dangerous operation of all—as well as fuel reserves and safety factors to avoid structural failure. No area of aircraft design or performance was neglected in our search for the best safety case that we could make as owner and operator of the aircraft.

The aircraft manufacturers worked closely with us to achieve the highest standards possible. Nevertheless, it all had to be achieved against the highly competitive commercial backcloth of Air France, KLM, Sabena and Lufthansa; but they too had to obey the same rules. As has been said, by its very nature air travel becomes immediately dangerous if things go wrong. We had to do our best to prevent accidents and we still made a profit.

As the report says, absolute safety is an unattainable ideal, whether at sea or in the air. As Mr. Hawke of the MoD Chief Naval Architect's Department put it when the committee met him at ARE Haslar, and as already quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, a ship is an irregular shaped body with six degrees of freedom at the irregular interface of two dissimilar fluids acted on from all directions by continually varying forces. When one adds to that the effects on the ship's structure of variable loads in different holds and the bite of corrosion in a hostile environment, one has an engineer's nightmare. Differential equations and slide rules fail to find accurate answers. Even mathematical modelling on a computer and research in ship tanks have their limitations.

That leads to the need for all those engaged in the operation of ships to work together to ensure safety and do their best internationally to create so-called level playing fields of operation. In fact, in a highly competitive world that is not the case. There are many responsible ship owners and operators sending well designed ships across the world's oceans. This morning I arrived from the Hook of Holland safely at Harwich at 7 o'clock on "Mesteena Britannica". Unfortunately, however, as we have heard on many occasions, there are cowboys operating rustbuckets. The ships are over 15 to 20 years old and the sea has taken its toll both through fatigue of structures and corrosion of materials. The owners or managing agents may be far less responsible; they will have put their ships under lax flags of convenience and be taking far greater risks in parts of the world where substandard classification societies operate. The ships will have not so well-trained multinational crews who may not even understand each others' languages. The likelihood of accidents is bound to rise sharply.

The IMO is becoming much more effective. As we say in chapter 4, the wind of change is blowing in the right direction. But we should like to see it blowing more strongly. We do not want to wait for another "Herald of Free Enterprise" or "Exxon Valdez" disaster before change is bludgeoned through by public opinion, as my noble friend Lord Caldecote said earlier.

We want to see the whole maritime industry adopting a safety culture in all it does, as in the air transport industry and as we recommend in Chapter 11 of the report. However, as we freely admit, that is utopian by today's reality. Therefore we realistically make it a long-term aim. Nonetheless, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, said, the matter is vital and urgent.

Meanwhile, what else should be done? An important weapon in the safety armoury lies in port state control, which all witnesses agreed is in the last resort the only way to catch substandard ships. The system needs to be operated regionally if it is to drive substandard ships off the sea altogether and not merely into the port next door. The US coastguard operates rigorously and constitutes a region forming a big market on its own. The UK has always been a world leader in maritime safety. It still is, as is shown by the graph of losses on page 97. But sadly, with only 1.6 per cent. of the world fleet, the UK is no longer a big operator. We cannot go it alone. However, the ports of Europe collectively—not just the Community—receive about 37 per cent. by weight of goods traded by sea. Those ports form a strong market on their own as well.

The Paris Memorandum, operated by a group of European countries, not necessarily only those of the EC, is intended to produce uniform and co-ordinated port state control across Western Europe. It is an undoubted success. I quote from the report: the chance of a substandard ship getting through the region and out the other side is pretty remote". It is encouraging that the IMO secretariat expresses the hope that it: might be extended on a global basis through adoption of suitable IMO 'umbrella' provisions". That way would lie substantial progress; and we press for it. We recommend its extension to all coastal states of Europe. We recommend that its signatories should clamp down strongly on ships flying flags of administration identified by IMO as ineffective, and should take other stronger, regulatory action.

We welcome too the interest being taken by the European Commission in safety at sea which, by firm co-ordinated operation of port state control throughout the Community, could in the longer term force substandard ships out of business in that region. We also recommend that other regions under the aegis of IMO would follow its lead so that eventually the ideal of world-wide safe shipping can be achieved, with cowboys and rustbuckets disappearing into the past.

We recommend more open circulation of the results of inspections to all concerned, including classification societies and insurers. In this pursuit of openness—which we feel will lead to considerable progress in accident prevention—we also recommend that the UK should give a lead in establishing systems of positive reporting of dangerous incidents, including structural failure, and of confidential reporting of potentially dangerous mistakes along the lines of the systems used in civil aviation. The UK should encourage other flag states in IMO to do the same.

We also recommend that IMO be given the resources to maintain and analyse statistics of loss of life at sea on the basis of returns from flag states. Those statistics would serve as performance indicators and facilitate risk analysis. They would be of great value to insurers in setting differential premiums according to past performance of owners and operators. Many witnesses said that four out of five ship casualties are due to human error. If one takes into account the failure of components in extremely severe weather over a ship's lifetime one could say that the designer and manufacturer were at fault too. One would come nearer to a figure of 100 per cent. blame on the human factor as the cause of accidents.

On a number of occasions in our report, and in its recommendations, we say that if cost benefit analysis, risk analysis and the safety culture are to become paramount it will mean change in the education and training of designers, manufacturers and surveyors. That must be carefully planned so that those professionals are available when new methods of enforcement and control are put into action. However, all that is within the comparative safety of dry land.

The ultimate test of human expertise will probably be in a storm at sea aboard an older ship. It is then that the responsibility comes home to the master who needs to rely on knowledge of complex equipment and its operation and on the teamwork of the crew who may have to act very quickly in an emergency. If their knowledge of the high-tech equipment on which they rely is in any way sketchy, if they do not recognise the interplay of different forces, and if they cannot communicate in the same language, that ship is very much more at risk than it need be.

As we state, we did not set out to consider directly the question of training and manning but it is not possible to draw a line between the technology and the people who use it. Good training is essential and an excellent investment for safety at sea. But those that Rear-Admiral Henn of the US Coastguard styled the "bean counters"—the poor shipowner or managing agent who is not committed to his ships' masters or crews and is only interested in short-term profit—will regard such training only as a cost, not as an investment. They will regard casualties not as something to avoid but a factor to insure against—a thoroughly irresponsible attitude.

In paragraph 3.29 and 3.30 we state that the demands of the IMO Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping are not of the highest. That is true also of SOLAS and M A RPOL. Some flag states have neither capacity nor sufficient interest to enforce them. The consequent graph of loss ratios on page 97 of the report shows the disastrous results for some nations. It also shows clearly how the position relating to Liberia has improved recently. It has deliberately concentrated on setting and enforcing improved safety standards.

Better management of ships is coming up the agenda and action is being taken. The Department of Transport in our country is taking a lead. IMO has produced non-mandatory guidelines on management for the safe operation of ships and pollution prevention. SOLAS is considering action in that field too. Good management must mean the employment of well trained and qualified crews. It means regularly updating that training so that they fully understand the complex new equipment that is being installed aboard ships today and the interplay of forces to which the ship is subjected.

I am sorry that I shall have to leave the House for a part of this debate. However, I hope to return for the final speeches. I shall read Hansard with interest for the intervening part of the debate. Meanwhile, I commend our report to your Lordships' House and hope that the winds of change blowing in the field of maritime safety will become stronger and will continue to blow in the right direction with the wholehearted support of our Government, as we recommend. I hope that that will occur both nationally and internationally among all those responsible for the improvement of worldwide ship safety. That will be a most valuable development.

4.16 p.m.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, it was a great honour to be asked by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, to join the sub-committee which conducted this inquiry. As neither a scientist nor a technologist, I must confess to having been distinctly apprehensive. But such was the skill and tact of the noble and gallant Lord, and the friendliness of all members of the sub-committee including its chairman, that I survived. We all owe the noble and gallant Lord a considerable debt of gratitude for what I believe to be a quite excellent report, well timed and with important and far-reaching recommendations.

The report is visionary; and some may interpret that as meaning unrealistic. Certainly its conclusions are far reaching. Many of the recommendations that it makes have to be seen as long-term proposals for the future. While fully concurring with the committee's opinions, I shall start this afternoon with some of the measures which can be taken in the short term, relatively speaking, and which I believe will be of tremendous value and contribute significantly to ship safety. When, rather than if, I repeat points raised by my noble colleagues, I do so deliberately, albeit with apologies, as I believe them to be of sufficient importance to be so repeated.

The first point to which I wish to refer is the area classified by the report as risk analysis. The committee looked into the working of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) which was set up in 1979 as an independent unit within the Department of Transport. It is not, nor should it be, part of the Marine Directorate. Broadly speaking, its job is to investigate accidents involving or occurring on board any UK ship worldwide or on any other ship within UK territorial waters. The MAIB's objective in investigating accidents is to determine their circumstances and causes with the aim of improving safety and avoiding future accidents. It is my strong belief that the MAIB should, so far as possible, be brought into line with the Air Accident Investigation Bureau, an independent statutory body and therefore less vulnerable to political lobbying.

It is also my opinion that the MAIB's terms of reference should be widened substantially to enable it to carry out the widest research into and around both major and minor accidents as well as "near misses". The noble and gallant Lord has referred to that point. A system of positive reporting of potentially dangerous incidents and mistakes would obviously be of enormous benefit to a strategy of avoidance. Such reporting should be confidential, and I emphasise that point. The purpose, as it is now, would be to learn, not to apportion blame or liability.

Secondly, I support the recommendation for the reform of the Surveyor General's organisation. The SGO has an excellent record and reputation as a safety regulator but it suffers from the stigma of being part of a government department. Rightly or wrongly (I suspect mostly the latter) it is too often perceived to be lacking the independence that it should have. It seems to me entirely sensible that the SGO should be reconstituted as the Civil Maritime Authority, which would be an independent statutory body similar to the CAA.

My third point of practical improvement would be to increase —I could almost say "initiate"—cooperation and communication between the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy. Valuable work is carried out by the Department of Transport, researchers from commercial and academic backgrounds and the Admiralty research department. But at present there is a failure to pool knowledge and resources, which is patently absurd.

Fourthly, and having taken careful note of the evidence, I am entirely convinced of the paramount importance of ensuring that all ships of more than 20,000 tonnes deadweight should be fitted with hull stress monitoring systems and that voyage data recorders should become mandatory for all ships covered by the SOLAS convention. That could be implemented by the Government if it were to be a condition of classification.

Above all what is required to make real improvements in ship safety standards is a coordinated international effort. I therefore now turn my attention to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) mentioned by all noble Lords this afternoon. On 4th April 1991 it had 135 member states and two associate members. It is, however, an international forum and not an executive. It does not have powers of initiative or enforcement. However, under the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control—as my noble friend Lady Platt pointed out—14 European coastal states, together with Canada, the USA and the former USSR, have co-operated since 1982. The Paris Memorandum's object is to produce uniform and co-ordinated port state control across Western Europe and it was and is, considered to be very successful.

Again, I should like to highlight areas of practical application where the IMO could take immediate steps to improve safety using the Paris Memorandum as a framework. First, its efforts should be concentrated on ships from flag states where it is known that the administration is inadequate in the imposition of safety control. Secondly, the results of inspections which are carried out should be communicated to all—I repeat "all"—interested parties; that is the port state, classification societies, insurers and charterers instead of just to the flag state as at present. As a memorandum from the London Joint Hull Committee put it: the substandard operators would find it impossible to survive in the glare of such publicity". Thirdly, the rule that one Paris Memorandum state may not re-inspect within six months a ship which has passed an inspection by another state should be abandoned because, the very bad ship must be harried until she is brought up to standard". That was how a witness from the Nautical Institute put it. Fourthly, the Paris Memorandum could be amended to include the regulation that all foreign-flagged ships entering a Paris Memorandum port for the first time should be subject to automatic inspection, as is the practice in the USA.

I now refer to a fundamental reform recommended by the report which, despite the undoubted difficulties associated with its implementation, should be pursued as a long-term objective. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, emphasised the point, and I make no apologies for so doing. The IMO should draw up a dossier of primary safety goals covering all aspects of ship operations including structural strength, stability and manoeuvrability. Those primary safety goals would be incorporated into a safety case for every ship to be produced by the operator and requiring the approval of the flag state. That would shift primary responsibility for the safety of a ship from the flag state to the operator. Such a unified standard of ship safety regulations would remove the variations in standard between flag states and place the onus on the operator to consider safety provisions as a priority and not as a minimum requirement with which he must comply.

It may be an idealistic goal, but that should not deter us from trying to attain it. The subject under discussion in the report is the whole approach to ship safety. Unlike the airline industry, which is relatively modern, the shipping industry has been with us for hundreds if not thousands of years. A huge framework is already in place, and by and large it has served us well. But we must beware of allowing historical inheritance to become a millstone instead of a rock upon which to build. Nor must we be frightened of facing up to the need for radical change.

I have been associated with the shipping industry virtually all my working life. When I started in the industry as the lowest of the low on the quayside in Newcastle I heard again and again the phrase, "Ah, yes, but the shipping industry is different". The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, referred to the same issue and I totally endorse his comments. I hope that it did not take me very long to realise that such a statement was absolute nonsense. Every industry or business has its particular quirks and, indeed, often some of its own language. However, the basic principles of the shipping industry are in no way different from any other. The problem of shipping is that it suffers from the millstone of history. Within its individual entities I believe that the industry either has already, or is in the process of introducing, modern management, and that is an extremely healthy trend. However, within the regulatory framework there is a lot to be done and a lot to be learnt from the younger industries which have not had to bear that historical millstone. In particular, there is a tremendous amount to be learnt from the aviation industry, as my noble friend Lady Platt said. I believe that the recommendations in the report go a long way towards giving the regulatory side of the shipping industry the shake-up that it so badly needs.

After listening to a formidable panel of witnesses and reading a great deal of evidence the committee drew the conclusion that the approach to ship safety had lost its way. One witness coined the phrases "reactive and ad hoc", lacking "strategic objective". In other words, the world responds to disasters but to a large extent fails to foresee and forestall them. The recommendations of the report seek to shift the emphasis to prevention by the adoption of an international strategy on ship safety. Perhaps that is why the report has been called visionary. As regards those noble Lords who might seek to dismiss it as impractical or fanciful perhaps I may refer to The Concise Oxford Dictionary. Under the entry for "vision" will be found the following: imaginative insight, statesmanlike foresight", and in particular for my noble friend on the Front Bench, political sagacity". At all costs I urge my noble friend to ensure that this report does not suffer the same fate as that of my noble friend Lord Rochdale over 20 years ago. I am delighted to see my noble friend in his place today; he will be speaking later in the debate. No action was taken to implement any of that inquiry's recommendations. It is vital that the Government should make a positive response to the report now before us.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, I am conscious of the fact that I am the first speaker this afternoon who was not a member of the committee. I am no scientist nor technologist but I have a fairly broad interest in the sea and ships. However, on behalf of those who did not sit on the committee, it would be remiss of me not to thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and his committee for a splendid piece of work. There is much information contained in the report and it should be recommended reading for all those engaged in the shipping industry. Raising safety standards and eliminating sub-standard ships is a far better way of getting shipping back on an even keel than resorting to government subsidies.

Perhaps I may turn first to the long-term recommendation which the committee made; that is, a safety case regime for ship operations based on primary safety goals agreed through IMO and administered by flag states. I realise that that is looking a long way ahead. However, I have a slight reservation in that regard. The committee relied very heavily on evidence from the Cullen Report. Offshore installations, certainly around the UK and on the continental shelf, operate in a limited geographical area. Safety cases there will all be submitted to one central authority for acceptance—the Health and Safety Executive's Offshore Safety Division—thus ensuring a consistent standard of safety. However, if shipping is to adopt the same form of action I believe—and I know that the Chamber of Shipping is extremely concerned about this—that the acceptance of safety cases for national fleets by the maritime authorities of the 135 member states of IMO will lead to widely variable standards for ships trading internationally. Port state control, which is crucial, as we have heard in our deliberations today, to ensure compliance with internationally agreed standards, would therefore become impracticable. Perhaps the Government should look into that.

As regards the short-term recommendations, I fully agree with other noble Lords who have spoken, that the Surveyor General's organisation of the Marine Directorate should be fully privatised and become the Independent Civil Maritime Authority with responsibility for running port state control. I am not entirely satisfied that funding should still come from the Government with regard to port state control and perhaps we should look at some other method of funding it. In order to remain totally independent, it would be better if the body were independent of government funding. That is something which could be looked into.

I particularly welcome the recommendation that the Government should support and indeed enhance UK ship science. On several occasions in this House I have called for increased funding for British marine technology and its competitors. That is most important and, indeed, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, touched upon that in his remarks.

Despite what one or two noble Lords have said, ships are becoming much more technical than they were. The days are passed when a shipowner went along to the builder and said, "Hello George, I would like another ship similar to the one you built for me last year, but I would like it five feet longer and two feet wider"—because that was how ships were ordered and built. We have come through the container revolution and we have seen many new specialist ships recently. We are now entering the realms of fast catamarans, small water plane area ships referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, and, indeed, we now see the superconductivity ship, a new Japanese invention, which is driven by magnetic hydrodynamic propulsion.

My worry is that we have been left behind in this area of new technology. I have never been one to shed crocodile tears over the loss of our shipbuilding industry. We ruled the world for many years and we must live with the troughs as well as the peaks. However, I am extremely anxious that we have rather missed out on the new technology. Anything which can be done to get us back into that world by supporting British ship science is highly to be recommended.

I should like to make a brief comment on the recommendation that classification societies should look for a greater selection in the use of stronger steel for shipbuilding. Last week I attended a tug and salvage convention in Italy. I heard an extremely telling comment from a US maritime lawyer on the strength of steel used for shipbuilding. He said that today the scantlings—that is, the thickness of the steel used for ships—could best be equated to the steel used for building a Rolls Royce which, if it were the equivalent, would be no more than the thickness of two sheets of paper. Therefore, steel for shipbuilding is nothing like as thick as it used to be. That is an area at which we must look in the future.

I now turn to the question of manpower, training, qualifications and the operation of ships at sea—something which the noble and gallant Lord and his committee have acknowledged is extremely important. I go further than that. It is absolutely fundamental to the whole question of safety at sea and I am only sorry that the committee was not able to devote further time to that most important subject.

Today we have a situation in the world where we are fast approaching a critical shortage of trained manpower at sea. By "trained manpower" I do not necessarily mean people who are trained in the latest technology, I mean people with the basic skills of seamanship. I come across this time and time again and it was borne out very much at the conference I attended which was held by the tug owners. They said that in all their dealings with ships both in harbour towage and when attending casualties at sea, the basic levels of seamanship today are not a patch on what they used to be some 10 or 20 years ago. How are we going to get round that, because it is a major problem?

Today life at sea is not as attractive as it used to be. Ships spend less time in port. They have very small crews and there is no one to talk to, which leads to an increase in stress. I believe that we must look in much greater detail at the whole question of training personnel to go to sea.

Besides that, many of the ancillary industries rely on properly trained maritime professionals. For example, we have been talking about the Surveyor General's department and the call for more surveyors. Where are those people to come from in future? Who will man the ancillary marine industries ashore? I believe that we have a more pressing problem in our country than in many other countries because our training has decreased rapidly over the past 10 years.

The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, referred to the "Exxon Valdez" incident and he said that we should take steps to try to avoid such incidents before they happen. I agree with him entirely and that is something to be recommended. However, in their very unpredictability, accidents are not always easy to predict in advance. I believe that knee-jerk reactions such as we have seen in respect of the "Exxon Valdez" in America and that country's oil pollution Act of 1990 are not the best way of going about things. The oil pollution Act has come in for a great deal of criticism; parts of it are almost unworkable. In addition, we are wasting large sums of money which could be put to much better use if matters had been thought out properly in advance by the people who are technically trained to deal with such emergencies. I refer particularly to the salvors. In many ways the dedicated salvors are much the best people to talk to if we are to go down the road of trying to avoid casualties in the future.

We must be very careful to avoid a situation where further unilateral action might arise. The committee acknowledged that in its deliberations and went so far as to say that if unilateralism broke out to a too great extent then the freedom of the seas would be affected. However, we must also guard against the temptation of the EC to become too involved in the technical regulation of shipping and in so doing merely duplicating the work of IMO. I know that there has been a call for an EC coastguard and that matter is being debated at the moment. I am sure that some noble Lords recall the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, during the debate on the humble Address. He said that we must be very careful as regards the EC. We have to make a choice: do we want democracy or bureaucracy? I believe that there is a great danger that if the EC becomes too involved in the matters that we are discussing today we could see further levels of bureaucracy coming in which will not enhance shipping but will have the reverse effect.

We must not go down the road followed by the US in the "Exxon Valdez" incident. That has been described as a virus which is spreading right across the whole of the marine spectrum. Unilateral action must be ruled out. I hope that the Government will react quickly and positively to this most interesting and commendable report and, as the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, said, not sit on it for 20 years as was the case with the recommendations made in the report by the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, in 1970.

The noble and gallant Lord said that we in this country must remain a leader in shipping matters, and I fully endorse that. My only worry is that unless we look far more carefully into the training of personnel we shall not have a shipping industry at all let alone remain among the leaders. I commend the report.

4.43 p.m.

Viscount Rochdale

My Lords, when it was first suggested to me that I should take part in this debate I hesitated because I thought that I might well be considered very much out of date. However, I was persuaded to make a contribution. I start by congratulating the noble and gallant Lord, his colleagues and staff, on what I regard as a most important report on the subject of safety in shipping. It is a very interesting, penetrating and most important report. However, perhaps I may say that the report comes none too soon. I would like to have seen it come far sooner.

The important aspect is that not only our industry but the international shipping industry operates in a period of tremendous worldwide change in every direction. They are changes which affect the shipping industry directly and indirectly. They are such that they have to be contended with. The changes which I have particularly in mind have all been mentioned this afternoon. They include the emergence of many new industrial states around the world. Many of the new states in the third world have shipping interests and some even have shipbuilding interests. There are enormous changes in the pattern of trade as a result of the changes in the world pattern. Those changes include the use of new materials in shipbuilding; the exhaustion of the sources of some materials previously used, and the introduction of others. There are also the years which saw laid-up and surplus shipping around the world. There is also the worldwide over-capacity of the shipbuilding industry; the ageing of many of the ships which are now sailing the seas; the virtual disappearance of the passenger liner service, apart from cruise ships and cross-Channel shipping, in favour of air travel.

No doubt there are many other changes going on all the time which all tend together to add to the complexity in which the shipping industry has to operate. As I see it, this complex climate for shipping can but lead to ever-growing competition. There are the ceaseless efforts by shipowners and others to cut costs wherever possible in a variety of different ways. There is the use by the shipping industry of the opportunities offered by the tremendous growth in applied technology to be seen in every other walk of life. We also have larger and faster ships with a quicker turn round in port. There is also the effort at cutting crew costs with all that that means, with more sophisticated means of organisation control.

Against all that medley of change, as I see it, in which the industry has to operate, there has been and is a kind of blanket over it in terms of the world depression which again must intensify competition in whatever way may be open to those affected. There is little doubt that that would have unfortunately encouraged the cutting of corners from time to time and encouraged competing interests to overstep the mark in one way or another and so endanger safety. The remarkable and gratifying factor about the report is that in this very complex field of human endeavour the committee has produced a report which seems to be acceptable to a very large extent, but not entirely, to the British Chamber of Shipping. That of itself is a cause for congratulating the committee. Equally, it is surely an indication of the fact that British shipping though sadly—I read somewhere the word "dramatically"—depleted in size as regards the proportion of world shipping which it represents, is still second to none in forward looking and in its safety record. I think that I am right in saying that.

It is not for me to discuss in any detail the recommendations of Chapter 12, as members of the committee have been able to do. I refer, for example, to the greater use of science, which is very important, to the reporting of serious incidents; and to the collection, analysis and publication of statistics which, again, is important. I refer also to the adoption and urging—I use the word "urging" conscious of the responsibilities of the IMO—by the IMO of the use of performance standards. There is also the question of management, to which the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, referred so eloquently a moment ago. There is an overriding need for first-class management both at sea and on shore. Although it might be outside the purview of the committee, that issue raises the whole question of training and of encouraging first-class young brains into the industry so that we can—we hope—minimise the human error to which the report so definitely refers.

I should like to refer specifically to one point that has already been mentioned. I was most interested to read the committee's recommendation in Chapter 11 that the Surveyor General's organisation should be reconstituted as a civil maritime authority, comparable to the Civil Aviation Authority, and very much along the lines that were recommended in 1970 by my committee's report to the government of the day. I am glad to note that what we suggested then, which was not carried out, has been advanced again now by the noble and gallant Lord's committee. I hope that something will be done about it. I understand that the British Chamber of Shipping takes the view that such a move would strengthen and enhance the status of the Surveyor General's organisation and the high regard in which the Department of Transport is now held internationally.

On a general point which I believe relates as much to shipping as to any other industry, perhaps I may say that I am convinced that there can never be any standing still in any industrial enterprise. There can be no plateaux. There can be no feeling that once the immediate objective is reached, one can sit back and relax. There must be constant endeavour upwards whether for imaginative enterprise or greater efficiency and the raising of safety standards. That should make the Red Ensign registration more attractive, contribute to the inevitable costs of improving standards, and strengthen still further the United Kingdom's influence in the IMO.

In conclusion, I once again congratulate the committee on what it has produced. Its recommendations undoubtedly call for considerable thought and study about how to marry what may well seem desirable and logical with what is thought to be practical by those who have to carry out the recommendations. Some of the recommendations may take time. Some may even demand a degree of compromise. Indeed, I suspect that the successful and thorough implementation of many of the recommendations will depend on arriving at a degree of compromise between the jealously held interests of the many different states that form the IMO. That may well prove to be one of the most difficult problems facing the industry.

This is a remarkable and most valuable report. Like other noble Lords, I most seriously commend it to my noble friend the Minister in the hope that he will persuade his colleagues in the Government to pursue its recommendations wholeheartedly.

4.55 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble and gallant Lord. Lord Carver, on what the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, has already described as his incisive and penetrating report.

Noble Lords who served on the committee have already dealt with the technical points about shipbuilding and port state control, which is what the body of the report relates to. However, I should like to emphasise that it is the man at the wheel, at the gauge or at the video monitor who has to read the situation. He is the man who is important at sea. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, that perhaps more emphasis should have been laid on that point by the committee but I understand, of course, that that is not a technical point.

The shipping industry is vital to this country. London is the world's maritime centre, being home to the IMO, Lloyd's of London, the Salvage Association, the Admiralty Hydrographer and the Baltic Exchange, which covers 40 per cent. of the world's shipping arrangements. Although the Baltic Exchange building was sadly demolished by the IRA, the exchange is now happily housed in the Lloyd's building.

As has been pointed out, the sea is an extremely hostile environment. Ships can and have literally disappeared without trace sometimes presumably through a hole in the sea or by being overwhelmed by rogue waves. The seaman encounters extreme danger and the modern trend, which is fuelled by competition between shipbuilders and shipowners, tends to promote new materials, used perhaps by cheaper labour, to build larger ships that will have smaller crews. That is a disastrous scenario.

The report deals with the structural issues involved. As it mentions, it is practically impossible to survey a 300,000 tonne ship without employing an army of surveyors over a long period. A smaller ship with a relatively larger complement of crew is much easier to handle. It contains more people who are easier and more confident in each other's abilities and efficiencies. One therefore has a happy ship. Larger ships with small crews could be described as ghost towns in the ocean. The sailors suffer isolation, loneliness and loss of motivation. It is vital that the men who man our ships are properly trained and that there is greater professionalism among seafarers—officers and men alike.

As has been clearly pointed out, the number of seafarers has reduced desperately. The report, Challenges and Opportunities, recommended that we should have 10,000 trained officers. I note from the report that 500 officers are now being trained each year. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will tell me whether my mathematics is correct —is it not true that we are unlikely to get 10,000 officers over 10 years if they are supplied at the rate of only 500 per year?

The report recognises the recent formation of the International Ship Managers Association, which I am sure will take the report on board. Its formation is a great step forward for the industry but we will still need officers and above all experienced masters to man the ships and deal with the situations ashore. They need a fund of tactical knowledge beyond the dreams of their predecessors. We have today the wave piercing catamarans and twin-hulled small water plane area ships. Forty knots is just a technical starting point. When I came across the Channel the other day there was a speedometer on the bridge of the ship. It registered 38.5 knots all the way. I understand that 50 to 60 knots will be well within the remit of ships of the future.

The need for control of these vessels in enclosed waters is of paramount importance. The report makes two primary recommendations which have been referred to by other noble Lords. They are the establishment of primary safety goals for ship operations in general and a safety case for each and every ship. I agree that these are perhaps utopian goals which foster the safety culture as opposed to compliance with the rule book culture. The report clearly points out the importance and vital necessity of changing from the compliance culture to the safety culture in all matters involving the marine environment. Indeed all sides of the industry demand action to reduce the number of disasters at sea.

Much research is being conducted but without a shipbuilding industry or a merchant fleet there is not much opportunity for science related research for the benefit of the United Kingdom. In this respect the report calls for a positive government commitment. A world governed by market forces may be a great political ideal which can be carried too far in allowing great national interests like the Merchant Navy to be neglected.

The report calls for encouragement of both owners and yards, of research organisations such as that at Teddington and of like companies. I suggest that universities should be financed to research the problems involved in ship construction. This is an opportunity to promote university based science research in the maritime field. The report forecasts that in the coming decade the cycle of demand may turn up. We will then have an opportunity to replace the ageing shipping fleets with British ships and British seamen.

I am slightly cautious—dare I say sceptical—about EC involvement, as seen by the committee, as a logical process in the development of a European safety organisation. Such involvement should be subject only to professional control through the IMO and not be liable to political mismanagement, be it from Berlaymont or any other political source. In this context the proposed Civil Maritime Authority is a brilliant concept, the need for which must have been staring us in the face for decades, ever since the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, first suggested it.

If for nothing else the report will be remembered for recognising and detailing the structure of this body. I urge my noble friend on the Front Bench to seize the opportunity offered by the committee with alacrity and enthusiasm. We need a merchant fleet and a shipbuilding industry and the men to man the ships. We have a long illustrious history of knowledge and expertise in all things maritime where we have been extremely successful. The report shows the way forward with admirable clarity. I commend it to your Lordships.

5.5 p.m.

Lord Fairfax of Cameron

My Lords, although I am not a member of the committee which produced the report I wish to speak as someone who has been involved for the past 10 years or so in the marine insurance sector. I have therefore some personal experience of the matters considered in the report. I have experience with one of the P and I clubs. These are the protection and indemnity associations, a rather arcane sector of the marine insurance world. In almost 100 per cent. of cases it is necessary for a merchant ship to be involved with the P and I clubs. They are concerned with liability insurance and have a very interesting role. More recently I have had experience with Sedgwick Group, one of the principal players in the marine insurance sector.

Based on that personal commercial experience, I can vouch for the fact that both the property and liability marine insurance sectors are seriously concerned about the dramatic recent increase in marine insurance claims. In that regard the report is timely. It is a first class and clearly expressed review of the scientific aspects of ship safety and of the background to the current world shipping safety environment. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, that the report is required reading for anyone involved in the industry. Although it deals with complex issues it is a model of clarity and simplicity. It is invaluable to those involved in the industry and to those who wish to learn about it.

In particular I commend references to some of the problems currently faced by the world shipping industry. The highest profile is perhaps that of oil tankers and oil pollution, so dramatically illustrated by the "Exxon Valdez" casualty a few years ago. A second area, which particularly concerns this country, with the loss of the "Derbyshire" and so on, is that of bulk carriers. Another area is new ship designs. High speed catamarans and similar craft and hatchless container ships pose new safety problems.

There is also the question of the size of modern tonnage. As the report clearly relates, many of these ships are unsurveyable. The burden of responsibility on some surveyors in conducting their daily business is an almost impossible one. It is sometimes commercially impossible for the ships to be surveyed properly. There is also the well documented problem of flags of convenience and varying standards of flag state control. Reference has been made to the tensions and conflicts of interest caused by the commercial pressures imposed on classification societies, insurers and surveyors as well as on flag states. The fact that registers and flags of convenience are operated in a commercial environment leads to some of the differences in performance referred to in the report.

The report draws attention to another problem. I refer to the relative recent weakness and underfunding of the International Maritime Organisation. The report rightly draws attention to the generally unfavourable performance of the world ship safety regime when compared with the airline safety regime and, post-Piper Alpha, the regime of the offshore oil industry.

However, the report takes heart from a few encouraging factors; I shall refer to them briefly. First, there is the recent move in the shipping community towards quality assurance. I have already mentioned the world of P and I clubs. My old firm, the UK P and I Club, which has as clients approximately 30 per cent. —that is, about one in three—of the world's merchant tonnage, is currently engaged in an extensive ship vetting and ship inspection programme simply in response to the massive increase in the number and size of marine casualty claims. One has only to look at Lloyd's List to see that that approach is also being carried out by the major oil charterers, hull and machinery insurers, and so on. Indeed, some shipowners are now claiming that when they enter a port they can have as many as eight or 10 different sets of surveyors crawling all over their ship. It may be an imposition for them, but in terms of maritime safety it may be a good thing.

The report also draws attention to recent innovations in safety design for oil tankers. It draws attention in particular to the oil pollution Act of 1990 and its recommendation of double hulls for tankers. That was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. As he said, some people consider that the ( )PA was to some extent a knee-jerk reaction by the American legislature to the expression of public opinion over the "Exxon Valdez" casualty in Alaska.

The lesson perhaps for shipowners is that if they were to take a more proactive approach (which this report recommends) towards ship safety, rather than just complying with the bare minimum, they might not suffer that sort of knee-jerk reaction.

Further positive factors to which the committee's report draws attention are the recent foundation by the classification societies of IACS and also the latest navigation and ship traffic control schemes. The report also usefully addresses scientific aspects of the latest technology available in the design, construction and inspection of ships. It also refers to the somewhat difficult area—that is, difficult, perhaps, to describe and difficult to grasp—of scientific safety regulation, including discussion of "safety case" formulation as opposed to what is described as a purely prescriptive approach. As the report recognises, I am sure that this is very much the ideal world scenario. While in due course one might reach the situation where such a safety case regulation regime could be in place, and while that may be highly desirable, I do not think that we shall see it in the immediate future. However, it is possibly something which the Government within the IMO or other international organisations, perhaps in Europe, should work towards. As has been said, the report also refers to an aspect more close to home; namely, changes in the constitution and role of the Surveyor General's organisation.

Those, briefly, are some of the factors and considerations in the report which caught my attention. Perhaps I may comment upon them. Ship safety, along with motherhood and apple pie—as the Americans say—is one of the things of which we are all in favour. But why should the UK Government be concerned with this area, especially at a time when, as many speakers pointed out, the UK flag merchant shipping is not only small but in danger of disappearing altogether? That presents its own problems. If one does not have a merchant shipping industry or a shipbuilding industry, where will one get the surveyors and experts of the future? It is a very real problem. As anyone engaged in shipping knows, normal progression is to work on a ship before going ashore and performing such roles. Otherwise, one does not have the practical experience required. One cannot become a competent marine surveyor overnight. That aspect was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam. I wholeheartedly endorse his remarks. However, that is a different subject and one which we do not have time to debate today.

Therefore, at a time when the UK fleet is in danger of disappearing altogether, why should the UK Government be particularly concerned? First, as the report says, it is perhaps because we are an island nation. People's expectations here of ship safety are increasing. There were the "Exxon Valdez" and the "Herald of Free Enterprise" incidents. But there was also another incident about 10 years ago which involved a French ship the name of which is not important. She dropped some containers of radioactive cargo overboard in the Channel after a casualty. In the event, it was not that serious; but it could have been. Such incidents are frankly unacceptable to the public and, at a time of raised consciousness about environmental matters, I think that that is quite right. Moreover, ship casualties have a tendency to affect people, as was seen with the "Herald of Free Enterprise". One of the early pages of the report refers to an incident where thousands of people drowned on a ferry. The scope for damage not only to the environment but also to people, and in particular to passengers, is huge. It is something about which we as an island nation should be concerned.

The reason that I believe it is most important that the Government should take this area very seriously, and, if possible, take the lead, is because historically, and now, the role of shipping in the UK is of great importance. I am talking my own book here to some extent as I am involved in the sector. However, the UK, in particular London, remains the world centre of the marine insurance industry and, arguably, of the world's shipping community. Indeed, insurers apart, one has only to think of the number of shipbrokers, bankers, average adjusters, lawyers, and surveyors in London and, as has been pointed out, the presence here of the International Maritime Organisation itself, to realise that London and the UK really are at the very centre of the world shipping community. Therefore, it is absolutely right that the United Kingdom Government should take a lead in the area.

I should like to add one caveat. Previous speakers have drawn attention to the matter. I refer to the whole question of the human factor. While the report is very valuable in its own right and under its own terms of reference, we cannot get away from the human factor in any debate on this subject, whether 80 per cent. of casualties, or something less, are caused by the human factor. No doubt the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, would defend the report against the charge—if charge it be—that it did not touch upon the question of manning by saying that it simply was not in the terms of reference. I have a 40-page report with me from the UK P and I Club which is concerned solely with that very issue. Either way, the human factor is terribly important as a percentage in casualties. Thus, technology and science can only be part of it. The report does talk about a more scientific approach to the human factor in terms of safety case formulation, so it is partly relevant. But it is, nonetheless, an area in its own right and one which perhaps deserves a separate debate.

There is a saying in shipping that it is better to have a bad ship in good hands than a good ship in bad or inexperienced hands. That is true. We could have the most technologically wonderful ship but it would not be so in inexperienced hands, and we have heard some of the relevant considerations; crews who feel alienated from the management, operators or owners who may fail to communicate. These are often more serious considerations than the technological quality of the ship itself. Sight should not be lost of that factor, although strictly speaking that is not a consideration for this report.

Subject to that caveat I urge the Government to take serious note of what I have found to be an excellent report and of its recommendations, including the eventual goal of a safety case regime for ship operations and, in particular within the UK, reviewing the role of the Surveyor General's organisation and its establishment as an independent statutory Civil Maritime Authority.

We owe it to ourselves as a continuing pre-eminent country in a world-shipping environment not to allow the report to gather dust. I strongly commend the report to the Government.

5.22 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, like so many others I should like to start by saying how much I admire this report. It is a work of enormous breadth and erudition and it makes a number of very important recommendations. One can only hope that they will be acted upon.

The debate was extremely interesting not least because it gave us the opportunity of hearing, apart from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, to whom I shall refer later, among others the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale. As Minister for Shipping I read his work in some detail some years ago. It is a pity that a number of important recommendations were overlooked by successive governments. One of the problems of course is time. Parliamentary time is the enemy of so many constructive ideas. However, I believe that in some respects we did operate on what he had to say and I do not think that the charge which was launched against successive governments that the report had been totally overlooked is entirely true.

I am also delighted, as the noble Viscount pointed out, that the report has received the support of the Chamber of Shipping. That is a very powerful and influential ally to the report. Unfortunately, the influence of the Chamber of Shipping has not been so marked on the Government when it has come to the revival of the British flag. But we all live in hope.

The point just made by the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, about the human element is also extremely critical. Perhaps it has not been touched on quite so much, but one could not expect the report to cover absolutely every element of shipping policy. Evidently the committee felt that it was outside its terms of reference and it had to draw the line somewhere.

The point that was nevertheless made was an important one and was very well reflected, unfortunately, in the tragic episode of the "Amoco Cadiz" some years ago. This was a superlative ship but manned by an inexperienced crew and sailing under a flag of convenience. That was hardly a tribute to that sort of regime.

In this debate we are asked to take note of this impressive report. My profound hope is that governments throughout the world, including and in particular our own Government, will do more than simply take note. I hope that as this Government prepare to assume the presidency of the Council of Ministers in a few weeks' time they will not lose sight of some of these recommendations in a field which does not always capture the public imagination, as I believe it should, since this is an industry which is so vital to the well-being of this country. I hope too that there will be debates within the European Commission (the Commission has been referred to and it gave evidence in connection with the report); the European Parliament and not least the IMO. It is not enough however to take note. We have to ensure that the issues raised are fully debated on the international stage and that those recommendations which are capable of reasonably swift implementation will be acted on with the least possible delay. Tributes to the report are not enough in themselves. It is action that is required; that, indeed, will be the most formidable tribute of all. The same applies to reputable classification societies, to insurers, to ship owners and to the shipping trade unions.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, will be the first to acknowledge that it is not simply him or even his supporting hands on his committee. It is all those who gave evidence—and, not least, the supporting staff—and the way in which this highly technical evidence given in such great volume was so skilfully marshalled and evaluated, that struck me as one of the most remarkable things about the research that was undertaken.

I cannot, and would not attempt to cover in what has to be a relatively short speech, all the issues that have been raised in this debate or more particularly in the report. But I should like to concentrate on a few specific areas and to conclude by putting a number of questions to the Minister. I hope that, if he cannot respond immediately, he will do so after further reflection.

The background to the report lies in the catastrophes which have occurred and which have been enumerated in the report. As in the field of environment, so in the field of safety, progress by catastrophe—if one can deign that to be a policy—seems to be the order of the day. So it was with the capsize of the "Herald of Free Enterprise" and its miserable story of shoddy management and the other dreadful disasters; notably the one in the Philippines in 1987 when unbelievably, in one incident, 4,386 people perished in a shipping accident; and then there was the environmental disaster of the "Exxon Valdez". We should have learnt by now, indeed, that "progress by catastrophe" is not a policy at all. We need to try harder to anticipate. It is, after all, much more costly to engage in crisis management than to try more purposefully, as the report suggests, to anticipate the problems.

Then we have the serious questions regarding bulk transporters, too many of which are demonstrably inadequate; an increasing number just seem to disappear. Obviously this gives rise to a serious and urgent need to consider the construction of such vessels since their capability and the use to which they are put is often open to grave doubt. It is particularly noteworthy that while wave characteristics have remained unchanged since the beginning of time these have been virtually ignored in the rash of extending ships in order to carry vast amounts of crude oil without evidently giving sufficient consideration to the essential characteristics of those vessels when they are so extended.

Next we come to a point which has been made by a number of noble Lords in the course of this debate —the decline of British shipping. There were 1,305 vessels in 1979. There are approximately 300 today. It is the decline of an industry which, in the joint report of the General Council of British Shipping (as it then was) and the Department of Transport, was said to remain "a major national asset". I believe that it is a major national asset, and that was clearly the view most of your Lordships expressed during the debate. Is that the view of the Government as a whole? I am sure that the Department of Transport believes that that is so, but there is precious little evidence of the Government having any shipping strategy. I believe that the reason for that is that the Department of Transport has lost too many interdepartmental battles, notably with the Treasury. That has been accompanied by the decline of the shipbuilding industry.

Here I should like to enter a criticism of the European Commission and of the member states for concentrating upon the distortions of competition between shipbuilders in the European member states while paying inadequate attention to those industries in the Far East and South East Asia where the real problem lies. In turn, as the report points out, that cumulative impoverishment of the shipping industry as a whole has had a crippling effect on research and development and ship science.

Resort to flags of convenience over the years has, to say the least, been unhelpful in terms of achieving the safety culture upon which the report places such emphasis. Even when flags of convenience strive to achieve higher standards, as is the case with Liberia, they are increasingly abandoned by unscrupulous shipowners, who merely want to contract out of certain obligations and they go to other flags of convenience. That, and the ageing of fleets—our fleet in particular has aged greatly—exposes ships to greater risk and has led directly to lower safety standards; lower standards of maintenance; fewer qualified crew members; lower pay; and lower standards of crew accommodation. All that, of course, contributes to lower operating costs and lower maintenance costs, but also to a higher proportion of vessels being lost at sea.

A number of your Lordships dealt with the subject of training. The training of seafarers is critical to the well-being of our fleet. Training has declined. The report makes some powerful observations about training with which I shall not weary the House at this stage. It was the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, who was unable to be here for the whole of the debate, who drew attention to the fact that the report says that too many shipowners see safety and environmentally related expenditure—if I may insert that —as a cost rather than an investment, and casualties as not something to avoid but something to insure against.

In that context, I should like to add two points in parenthesis. It is a great pity—and this is not the fault of the report's authors—that governments in the European Community and elsewhere seem to have overlooked the application of ILO Convention No. 147. It is not properly or uniformly applied, and it is not referred to in the report, but I believe that it should be an essential element of port state control.

So far as the "Herald of Free Enterprise" is concerned, we still wait to hear from the Government whether they consider that the view of so many naval architects that that, and similar vessels, was fatally flawed in its construction—having no bulkheads—is a correct interpretation of the situation. I should like to know when and where the Government propose to make a statement about that matter because, after all, research has been going on for a very long time.

Against that background it is not surprising that radical change is called for in the report. There is a suggestion that regulators need to take greater account of human error, the reasons for it and the consequences. Reviewing the role of classification societies is important, especially with the proliferation of rather dubious classification societies to which equally dubious shipowners can have recourse. The report's recommendations require the Government to react with some speed.

What about the role of insurers? That too is equally significant. At paragraph 3.27 on page 20 it is said: Marine underwriters appear corporately willing to insure anything". That is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Another point which should be picked up is the need for much greater transparency when dealing with shipping casualties. The tragedy of the "Bowbelle" and "The Marchioness" in 1989 raised an issue which I had not appreciated before but which causes me great anxiety. There, the Chief Inspector of Accidents raised certain pertinent issues vis á vis the role of the Department of Trade. According to the report, the department appended to the published version of the report an alternative text omitting those remarks because they were, "not justified by the facts". It is as though a party to litigation sought to conceal highly relevant evidence on the partial grounds that it was not justified by its view of the facts. The Minister should look into that matter, and although I would not expect him to do so now, I should like to hear from him in relation to that point.

There are many other important issues with which I should like to deal but do not have the time; for example, primary safety goals. Perhaps I may turn briefly to enforcement. Port state control is not the perfect instrument to which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, referred. It is an advance, but it must never be seen as anything but complementary to flag state control. We have, above all, to avoid the concept of ports of convenience. That requires uniformity of inspections, of the skills applied, and of the quality of inspections. If that does not happen—there is some reason to suppose that it does not happen throughout the European Community—we should worry.

The committee has recommended that British ship science should not be left altogether to the mercy of market forces. That point was picked up by one or two of your Lordships. What is the Government's view about that? A number of recommendations relate to the status and work of the IMO. I happen to believe that it has done invaluable work. It is an agency of the United Nations which, to a large extent, has become depoliticised. That is a remarkable commentary on that organisation's work. If it does fail, such failure is not due to anything but the shortcomings of the member states themselves. Some years ago I introduced a new initiative at the IMO. It dealt with the establishment of a maritime safety corps where richer nations were to contribute their expertise and technology to the poorer nations, including flags of convenience. It seemed to start off well, but following 1979 or 1980—I cannot remember exactly, but I am not blaming the Government in terms of dates—the idea seemed to wither on the vine. I wonder why that was, because it seemed at the time to have been a useful initiative.

I come finally to questions about our own situation so far as the department is concerned. With respect to the Surveyor General's organisation of the Marine Directorate of the Department of Transport, specific recommendations have been made about inadequate staffing. Is that a view that the Government accept? I believe that the report is correct about that issue. It is also suggested that the United Kingdom's commercial fishing vessels down to seven metres in length should be brought under the licensing system. I wonder what the Government's view is on that.

One of the most important recommendations was that the SGO should be reconstituted as an independent statutory civil maritime authority funded by the Government and working in close consultation with the Health and Safety Executive. That is another issue which is urgent and I hope that the Government will respond promptly to it.

I have two more questions to ask the Government, one of which I also pose to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, concerning surveyors. I understand that few surveyors are being trained at present by commercial concerns. One has to ask, where are these independent surveyors to come from and who is to provide the resources for this training? That is a critical question relating to the proposals of the noble and gallant Lord.

I hope that the Government will give an assurance that they will give careful consideration to the recommendations in the report and will act on many of them. I believe that maritime transport continues to have a unique place in our economy in relation to environmental policies, and as part of an integrated transport system which we believe is essential to the trade and industry of an island nation. I hope that that is the view of the entire House.

5.40 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, for initiating this debate today. It is some years since your Lordships had the opportunity of such a wide ranging debate on marine safety.

The noble and gallant Lord, and the other Members of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, who participated in the work on Safety Aspects of Ship Design and Technology, are to be congratulated on producing such a thorough and readable report. It is both informative and thought provoking, and, I am pleased to note, largely complimentary about the work of the Surveyor General's organisation, as were the comments today about the high standing of the Marine Department. I am also grateful to all noble Lords who took part in the debate. Having listened to everything that was said, I shall read Hansard with care when it is printed and it will be seriously considered in the department.

There is much in the report on which I am unable to give a substantive response today, and which must await the Government's full written response later in the year. I know that your Lordships will understand that. Indeed, some of the more wide-ranging recommendations in the report will require deep consideration because they involve quite fundamental changes in the way in which ship safety has so far been dealt with, both conceptually and organisationally.

I should like, however, to take this opportunity to make some general observations on the Government's approach to maritime safety. While there are undoubtedly some difficult problems which need to be addressed by all concerned with the safety of shipping, I should like to remind your Lordships of the generally good safety record of world shipping, and of UK shipping in particular. The recent National Audit Office report on ship safety highlights this. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will be interested to know that losses of UK ships fell by 75 per cent. between 1978 and 1989. The percentage of the UK fleet tonnage lost over this period was 0.08 per cent., while the world average was 0.35 per cent.

I know that your Lordships will agree that we must not lose sight of what has been achieved, even if there is much more left to be done.

The report rightly reminds us of increasing public expectations in safety, and this is important because new risks arise all the time. I should like today to address particular aspects of the problem. Let me start with an elementary but vital point. For shipping standards to be as effective as we would like, they must have an international framework. It is not something we can do on our own; indeed, we should not be expected to do so. As your Lordships well know, the IMO—based in London—has taken a leading role in the post-war years in developing higher standards for ships. I wish to congratulate the new Secretary General of the IMO on giving such a clear and determined lead. All member countries have a responsibility to support the IMO. My noble friend Lord Fairfax of Cameron, whose expertise brought an added dimension to our debate today, was right to remind us of the need for proper financing of the organisation.

Thus, I can confirm, on behalf of the Government, that the UK remains convinced that international agreement is the best way to proceed. Important work is at present being done in IMO on the way in which ships are managed and operated, the way in which other administrations meet their responsibilities, and in the prevention of pollution from tankers. Let me make it clear that the UK will continue to play a full role in this work.

It sometimes happens, however, that not all flag administrations at IMO see problems as meriting the attention which we think they should. A recent example of this is the UK effort to improve the internationally accepted damage stability standards of ro-ro passenger ferries. My noble friend Lord Caldecote mentioned the importance in particular of passenger ships. I must admit that we were disappointed that IMO could not reach agreement to apply the higher standards to existing vessels more quickly, although I accept that a number of positive steps have been taken to improve the survivability of these ships. As the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, said, perhaps a changing culture is needed.

Despite the concerns of my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam, we must now see whether we can get more support in Europe for the wider application of these higher standards, especially for those ships using our ports. We have been encouraged by the positive attitude of the EC Commission on the matter, but I take the point of my noble friend about involving the European Community too much in what is essentially an international matter.

One reason we prefer international action wherever possible is because shipping is such an international business. This factor is relevant to many of the report's recommendations, in particular the recommendations advocating the safety case approach. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, argued it persuasively and most of your Lordships commented forcefully on it. I take particular note of what was said today. I can well understand the intellectual appeal of this approach. It is already used where there are major industrial hazards—as in the nuclear and chemical industries—and it is now being extended to the offshore industry. However, shipping is diverse, international and controlled by many different authorities. As some of your Lordships said, it has a different history. Indeed, the report recognises the difficulties that would arise in applying a safety case regime to shipping.

It must be open to question whether many of the world's shipping companies have the expertise, let alone the resources and interest, that would be required to make this approach effective. The problems of policing and enforcement are also well covered in the report.

Nevertheless, we recognise that it is important to place the onus for safe operation on the owner and operator, and to provide sufficient flexibility to cater for different circumstances and new developments. This is why the UK is again in the forefront of developments at IMO to regulate operational procedures and require safety management certificates for the safe operation of ships and for pollution prevention. We fully recognise the importance of operational factors, but these must complement regulations and, of course, observance of regulations is also important.

Thus, at least for the foreseeable future, we believe that however much one might wish otherwise, a significant part of the safety requirement must be clearly specified or, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, might say, safety will be subject to an adapted and updated form of Noah's rules.

However. I believe that the present situation can be improved in a shorter timescale; if the international conventions were fully observed throughout the world, to the same standard as is maintained in the United Kingdom and by other likeminded administrations, the problems identified in the report would give rise to less concern. Unfortunately, a number of flag states and classification societies do not fulfil their responsibilities as we think they should and we welcome moves at IMO to try to achieve a higher standard of flag state compliance.

In this context I, like the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, am sympathetic to the report's recommendation that classification societies should meet uniformly high standards. This has wide-ranging implications and implementation must rest within the international shipping arena but the Government will certainly be lending their support to moves in this direction. Meanwhile we have no alternative but to maintain a robust regime of port state control, in conjunction with other Memorandum of Understanding members, to ensure that substandard ships in our waters are rapidly detected and dealt with. I am happy to reaffirm that the Surveyor General's organisation will continue to meet its target of a 30 per cent. rate of port state control inspections, well in excess of the 25 per cent. laid down in the MOU.

My noble friend Lord Geddes will be pleased to hear that we are in favour of targeting ships of states whose record on safety is poor and we are pressing this line through the Port State Control Committee. When a foreign ship is detained in the UK the Classification Society, the flag state and the IMO are advised of the defect found, and the data placed on the MOU record on the release of the ship. In addition, the UK would like to see the further extension of European membership of the MOU, but that in itself is not enough. I wish my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle were in her place as she mentioned that point. It is essential that not only existing members but also applicants comply with all the necessary inspection requirements. We cannot have more than one standard and that standard must be the highest.

On a more domestic note I welcome the attention given—a whole chapter—to fishing vessel safety in this report. However, I was severely disappointed that only one noble Lord spoke on that subject today. This is a topic which does not always get the study it deserves. A number of tragic incidents in recent years have highlighted the problems in this area and I share the report's concerns.

We are seriously considering the scope for bringing fishing vessels of below 12 metres in length within an extended structured safety regime. Whether this could best be achieved by extending the current survey and certification scheme, or by adopting a safety code, is presently under consideration. Preliminary indications are that a safety code for the smaller fishing vessels will be the best option. If so, we will develop a code which could be accompanied by a short statutory instrument. I am delighted that the industry has indicated that it will participate fully in these deliberations through the Fishing Industry Safety Group. Meanwhile the Government have decided to increase considerably the number of inspections of fishing vessels, particularly those under 12 metres in length.

Finally, the committee's recommendation that the Surveyor General's organisation should be reconstituted as an independent statutory civil maritime authority has wide implications. I listened with care to your Lordships' comments on that matter. I listened in particular to the speech of my noble friend Lord Rochdale who has taught the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, myself and all other shipping Ministers who have held ministerial responsibilities in the past 20 years much about shipping matters. He has, if I may term it as such, a vested interest in these matters.

The need for the Government to have the benefit of access to high quality professional advice on marine safety matters is clear. Identifying the best form of organisation to achieve this is more difficult, raising questions about the right relationship between policy and executive work and about the degree of independence that is desirable. It needs to be considered against the background of general Government policy on citizen charters, contracting out and the establishment of agencies.

I assure your Lordships that the Government will give careful consideration to this proposal. I include in that consideration the suggestions put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, whose experience in the shipping world is well known. However, this is one of the several matters on which I am not at this stage able to give any substantive response. It is because I am in that position that I shall not speak for much longer. Your Lordships will see the Government's full consideration of the report in the fullness of time. I confirm what the noble and gallant Lord has said as regards the Surveyor General's organisation. We are conducting an in-house study of that organisation at present and we shall take into account all the strands, including what this report has stated about that organisation.

As this most welcome and stimulating debate draws to a conclusion I wish to emphasise the overriding priority which the Government attach to safety at sea. The Select Committee has provided a most timely contribution to the wider debate on maritime safety. The Government will give most careful consideration to all the issues raised in the report and to the points made by noble Lords during the debate this afternoon.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Carver

My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in the debate. I thank them for the valuable comments they have made on the report. I also thank noble Lords who have made congratulatory remarks about the report and about my chairmanship of the sub-committee that produced it.

It was particularly useful to hear comments made by several noble Lords who were not members of the sub-committee who produced the report. Some of them made comments on fields which we had felt were not within our terms of reference to pursue. It would not be appropriate for me to make comments at any length now on what has been said. I am sure your Lordships would not like me to detain you for many moments longer from playing trains. However, I have three short comments to make.

First, a great many speakers have mentioned training and manning. We did not feel it was within the remit of the Science and Technology Committee to go into that matter in any detail although we recognise its great importance. An advantage of a debate like this is that it enables noble Lords who were not involved in the committee to draw attention to aspects of this matter that we did not pursue in any detail.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked where we thought the additional surveyors would come from to implement our recommendations. I cannot pretend that we studied that matter in any great detail. However, it is important to stress that we are keen that a civil maritime authority should be set up as soon as possible so that it can take the initiative in a number of fields, including the field the noble Lord mentioned, rather than have a Treasury establishment committee dictate the establishment of the Surveyor General's organisation.

Thirdly, the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, stressed the following point. We fully recognise that a safety case regime poses considerable problems as regards enforcement. We mentioned that in paragraphs 11.10 and 11.11 of the report. We stated that being able to introduce such a regime would depend on a high and uniform standard of flag state control.

I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will give due consideration to all the points we made. We look forward to receiving an early written response from the Government to our report.

On Question, Motion agreed to.