HL Deb 16 May 1994 vol 555 cc76-8

7.27 p.m.

Viscount Goschen rose to move, That the regulations laid before the House on 28th March be approved [14th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

These regulations extend the requirement of higher survivability standards to all existing roll-on/roll-off, or ro-ro, passenger ships when operating to or from ports in the United Kingdom. Similar provisions are already in force for new ships—that is, those built after 29th April 1990 —by virtue of the Merchant Shipping (Passenger Ship Construction and Survey) (Amendment) Regulations 1990.

Conclusions of an extensive research programme, sponsored by the Department of Transport following the "Herald of Free Enterprise" disaster, have confirmed that the standards of survivability introduced for new ships provides adequate protection against rapid capsize after sustaining collision damage while operating in moderate seas.

The steering committee, which was set up to monitor the Ro-Ro Ferry Safety Research Programme and which is made up of representatives from all sides of the shipping industry, recommended that a higher standard of damage stability be applied to all existing ro-ro ships. To this end the committee recommended agreement to be sought at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and, if unsuccessful, to approach European maritime administrations with a view to a regional solution. Should both approaches fail, it was further recommended that the United Kingdom consider unilateral action.

The department, on accepting the recommendations of the committee, proposed that the higher standard to be applied to existing ships should be that standard introduced internationally for new ships.

Noble Lords will appreciate that the recognised procedure for introducing international safety measures is to submit proposals to the IMO. That procedure is fully supported by the United Kingdom. However, despite lengthy discussions at the IMO, the application of that higher standard to existing ro-ro ships was not accepted.

Having exhausted all the avenues for international agreement, the Department of Transport, officials from the European Commission and member states of the European Union, together with Norway and Sweden, opened discussions which have led to a regional agreement. The introduction of these regulations upholds the obligation of the United Kingdom with that agreement and will ensure that all ro-ro passenger ships travelling to and from United Kingdom ports comply with the same standard of survivability previously restricted to new ships. The regulations provide for penalties to be imposed for contravention.

I am confident that the regulations will be an important contribution towards improvement in ro-ro passenger safety. I beg to move.

Moved, That the regulations laid before the House on 28th March be approved [14th Report from the Joint Committee]—(Viscount Goschen.)

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the regulations which, as he said, follow the dreadful accident and sinking of the "Herald of Free Enterprise" in March 1987. Correspondence between my honour-able friend Mrs. Joan Walley and the Minister had a great deal to do with the speeding up of the investigation and the ultimate production of the regulations.

It is unfortunate that international agreement could not be reached but it is good that agreement has been reached at least with some of the contiguous, important maritime nations. We can only hope that it will extend even further in future. As we know, the problem applies in particular to the English Channel, which is one of the most congested waterways in the world. I understand that something like 40 million passengers travel by ferry from the United Kingdom through that extremely busy shipping lane.

I wonder whether the Minister can clarify the position with regard to catamarans. It may be that he would rather write to me on the subject. I should like to know whether they are covered by the regulations. Of course, the regulations apply only until something happens as regards the size, volume or increase of speed of traffic which causes us to change them. However, apart from the point regarding catamarans, we approve of the regulations and believe that they come before the House not before time.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, I welcome the regulations and I congratulate the Government on bringing them forward. As my noble friend said, after the terrible disaster which resulted in the sinking of the "Herald of Free Enterprise" in 1987, long discussions took place and research programmes were undertaken in order to reach agreement at the IMO on a much higher standard of safety, which had been defined. Unfortunately, as my noble friend said, agreement could nor. be achieved. The Government rather expected that. They gave an undertaking at the time that if agreement could not be reached at the IMO, they would go forward unilaterally or if possible with our European friends.

I know that the negotiations have been difficult, and long-winded, as often happens in relation to the IMO. However, it is extremely satisfactory that we have reached agreement with our European friends, and I congratulate the Government on carrying out the undertakings which they gave some years ago with regard to safety on existing ro-ro ferries.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Caldecote and the noble Lord, Lard Carmichael of Kelvingrove, for their warm welcome of these important regulations. Both noble Lords mentioned the "Herald of Free Enterprise". Of course, the SOLAS 90 standard would not have prevented that tragedy, the causes of which were addressed in an initial set of recommendations based on the findings of the inquiry

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, asked about catamarans. My advice is that they must comply with the same standards. The fact that they have a double hull does not exempt them from those standards. I shall take further advice and if that is not the case, I shall write to the noble Lord. Once again, I thank the two noble Lords who have spoken. I commend the regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.20 p.m.

Moyed accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The sitting was suspended from 7.36 to 8.20 p.m.]