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Fish Factory Inspections

Dr. Godman: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many foreign registered fish factory shops were inspected by officials of the Marine Safety Agency in each of the past four years; how many of these were judged to be inadequate; what action was taken against the masters and owners concerned; and if he will make a statement. [2041]

Mr. Norris: I have asked the chief executive of the Marine Safety Agency to write to the hon. Member.

Letter from R. M. Bradley to Dr. Norman A. Godman, dated 29 November 1995:

MUL 16 Minelayer

Mr. Allason: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport (1) what assessment he has made of (a) the threat posed to the safety of shipping and (b) the insurance status of the former Swedish minelayer known as the MUL 16 currently in Poole Harbour; [2103]

Mr. Norris: I have asked the chief executive of the Marine Safety Agency to write to my hon. Friend.

Letter from R. M. Bradley to Mr. Rupert Allason, dated 29 November 1995:

29 Nov 1995 : Column: 782


Mrs. Lait: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what remedial action has been taken following his assessment of the Marine Safety Agency's report on the QE II incident last December. [3608]

Mr. Norris: A report on the QE II incident has been completed by the director of operations and seafarers standards of the Marine Safety Agency. The director's report discloses serious deficiencies in the shore and ship management of the vessel by Cunard; it also identifies failings on the part of the Marine Safety Agency.

On the instructions of the agency's chief executive the following action is being taken with Cunard:

In addition, following the director's report, the agency's chief executive has instituted more stringent procedures governing the certification of passenger vessels; these will lead to much tighter control over the continuance in service of vessels on which refit work is in progress. The main changes are as follows:

    (1) the agency's surveyors have been instructed not to issue a certificate which is subject to conditions until they are satisfied that adequate steps have been taken by the ship's management and crew to apply and to enforce the conditions for the period during which they apply;

    (2) if a certificate is issued subject to special conditions, these conditions will be set down in writing and attached to the certificate, and they will be reinforced by written confirmation from the district chief surveyor to the owner or operator;

    (3) any special conditions, or an appropriate summary of them, will be displayed alongside the passenger certificate in a public area of the ship;

    (4) the agency's surveyors have been instructed that they should issue a full passenger certificate only after the completion of work needed to comply with the certificate, except in minor matters, where the surveyor may issue a certificate if he is satisfied that the work will be completed before the ship sails.

Appropriate action has been taken in respect of the agency officials involved.

The chief executive has also stressed to surveyors the importance of maintaining a close but objective working relationship with shipowners. All the agency's staff have been reminded of the agency rules on the acceptance of hospitality.

The full details of the incident are set out in the MSA director's report, which has been placed in the Library of the House.

Train Protection

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what advice he has received from the Health and Safety Commission and Railtrack on train protection strategy; and if he will make a statement. [3607]

29 Nov 1995 : Column: 783

Sir George Young: The Health and Safety Commission has considered Railtrack's strategy for reducing the incidence of signals passed at danger, buffer stop collisions and overspeeding. Historically, such risks have accounted for less than one third of all casualties in collisions and derailments, and about 3 per cent. of total casualties on the railway, excluding trespassers and suicides.

The Health and Safety Executive is pursuing, as a matter of priority, discussions with Railtrack and British Rail, and others as required, about action to develop and implement the wide range of measures to which they are committed in the train protection strategy. Objectives for reducing the risks in question will again be included in the annual railway group safety plan.

Railtrack and BR are pursuing five initiatives to reduce the incidence of signals passed at danger.

First, nine tenders were received by Railtrack for the development and pilot installation of a new train protection and warning system, and tender evaluation is proceeding to plan. This system is potentially capable of reducing risks arising from signals passed at danger, overspeeding and buffer stop collisions. The TPWS would enhance the existing automatic warning system by adding functions which would, if necessary, apply the brakes automatically on the approach to, or at, certain signals, and which could not be overridden by the driver. Trials of the TPWS will take place in 1996, and the aim is to start wider installation in 1997. The pilot trials and initial operational use will demonstrate the extent to which it is practicable to install the TPWS.

Secondly, the current trial of a driver reminder appliance, to reduce the risk of starting against a red signal, is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Subject to the outcome of the trial, the intention is to assess the fitting of the device to all traction units operating on Railtrack's infrastructure, with a target for complete installation by the end of 1997.

Thirdly, the existing automatic train protection installations on the Great Western and Chiltern lines should be brought into full service next year. Meanwhile, those passenger trains with ATP fitted are being run with a supervisor in support of the driver.

Fourthly, measures to improve braking performance and driver and systems performance continue. The pilot trials of an emergency sanding device to improve rail adhesion are encouraging.

Finally, and in the longer term, the reduction of risk arising from signals passed at danger and overspeeding is expected to come from a new primary control system consisting of radio-based cab signalling. Railtrack has invited tenders for a development contract for such a system as part of the project to modernise the west coast main line.

Copies of the full advice from the HSC and Railtrack, and my response, have been placed in the Library of the House.

National Air Traffic Services

Mr. Mans: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has for the future of the national air traffic services. [3606]

29 Nov 1995 : Column: 784

Sir George Young: I have now given approval in principle to a proposal by the chairman and board of the Civil Aviation Authority that their air traffic control operation should be incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of the CAA. This would help to clarify accountability and responsibilities and would mean that the directors of the subsidiary board would have the legal duties inherent in Companies Act status. It would achieve a greater degree of separation within the CAA between service provision and regulation and would pave the way for future privatisation, which remains the Government's longer-term objective.

Detailed proposals for establishing the subsidiary by April 1996 are now being developed. In addition, the Civil Aviation Authority will be working with my officials and the Ministry of Defence to ensure that the integrated civil and military air traffic control service currently provided by NATS is fully safeguarded under the new arrangements.

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