HL Deb 30 November 1993 vol 550 cc494-6

3.2 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

When their inspectors will complete their survey of approximately 100 foreign factory ships lying off the Shetland Islands, in view of the recent serious accidents involving three of these ships.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, an intensified programme of inspection is now under way on those vessels. Bearing in mind the problems of access, particularly in bad weather, no estimate of the completion date for the programme can be made at the moment.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. Thanks to the local rescue services no lives were lost in the two ships which had to be abandoned. While the vessels assist British fishermen by providing a substantial market for their catches, do their standards of safety and pollution meet our requirements, and are they adequately insured?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, it is indeed a tribute to the skill and courage of our rescue services that no lives were lost in those extremely hazardous operations. We recognise that the commercial activities engaged in by the vessels are of great importance to our fishing industry. We expect them to meet the internationally agreed standards. Our current inspections of the ships are intended to establish to what extent they comply.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, raised the question of insurance. Are the Government pressing on eastern European governments the necessity for insurance? So far there has not been a catastrophic accident, but the relatively recent events must make the people of Shetland very worried about the possibility of a serious oil spill. If it is difficult to inspect the ships because they lie offshore and the weather is changeable, is it not all the more important that we do something about insurance for such vessels?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, there is no requirement in UK law for vessels other than oil tankers to have compulsory insurance for pollution damage. The prudent owner of a vessel normally takes out appropriate insurance cover. Until the recent incidents off Lerwick we had limited experience of uninsured vessels. The problem of insurance cover for those vessels in particular is one of the matters being given urgent consideration by the Government.

Lord Renton

My Lords, what proportion of the ships are British registered, what proportion are registered with countries of the EC, and what proportion are registered elsewhere?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I do not have the precise figures. I shall notify the noble Lord of them in writing if that is acceptable. However, I understand that the majority of the so-called klondyke ships are registered in eastern European countries.

Lord Richard

My Lords, the Minister says that there will be intensive examination of the ships. Can he tell the House how many people of student age there may be on these ships and whether the cut of 10 per cent. in student grants announced so extraordinarily this morning by Mr. Patten will apply to such students as there may be on those ships? Will he further note that on the whole we on this side of the House prefer Budget announcements to be made in the Budget and we hope that the Government take the same view?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I rise totally puzzled by the questions addressed to me by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. I cannot give him the figure for those under a certain age which he requested. If he would like, I shall write to him.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that virtually all the crews of these vessels come from eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Baltic states? Is he aware that two klondykers, both Russian, are now total wrecks near Lerwick and that the marine pollution control unit has done an admirable job in removing their bunker oil? Who will now be responsible for them and any nuisance which they cause?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I echo my noble friend's tribute to the marine pollution unit. The owners have abandoned the wrecks. As neither of the wrecks poses a threat to navigation no public authority has the power to remove them or to seek to recover the costs of their removal from the owners.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is it true that there are 100 factory ships? What proportion of their catches are landed in the Common Market area, and particularly in Britain? There must be some way of stopping the price of fish going up so steeply that many people in this country cannot afford it. Is it because the catches are all being syphoned off to central Europe?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, my noble friend is correct. There are a great many so-called klondyke ships lying off the Shetland Islands. The number varies as the ships move in and out of the area, but the figure he quotes is not far off the mark. I do not have details of the distribution of the fish from those vessels, but I shall write to my noble friend if he wishes.