|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Thomas: On Report, on 19 April, the right hon. Gentleman made a powerful case. His proposals attracted a huge amount of sympathy on the Opposition Benches, and indeed my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) attempted to offer another proposal for consideration by Government to solve the problem. I fear that I will not be able to support the right hon. Gentleman's new clause. I could not support it when he proposed it, and I could not support it if it was moved in the other place, since it would serve to kill off the Bill, simply because the Bill would have to return to the Floor of the House and there will be not be enough time to allow that.
I hope that there will be no need for the right hon. Gentleman to press his new clause, because I know that there is considerable sympathy and increasing understanding of the concerns that have been raised by the industrial and provident society sector about the Financial Services Authority proposals. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has heard the cross-party concerns that have again been raised on the Floor of the House. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for contributing and hope that he will press the Treasury and the FSA on that issue.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): Not being one of what the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) refers to as "the usual suspects", I am particularly grateful to have caught your eye this morning, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am conscious of the fact that, when we return from the Whitsun recess, I shall have been a Member of the House for one year. When I first came here, I was told, "You'll get used to it; it's just like being at public school." No doubt, almost every new Member is told the same. I had the good fortune to be educated entirely in the state sector, so I cannot judge whether that is true, but my good teachersthe nice teachersalways allowed us to bring in games on the last day before the holidays. It seems to me that this debate is somehow the parliamentary equivalent of that, so I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to be part of it.
I represent a constituency that does not often hit the national headlines. If I get a phone call from someone on the "Today" programme, for example, it is invariably about some cosy or couthie little story about Norway wanting to take back sovereignty of Orkney, or something crucial like thatit is never going to be about reform of the common fisheries policy, or anything that matters to my constituents.
Occasionally, however, we hit the national and international headlinesusually because of something for which the communities that I represent would rather not be known. One such incident occurred on 5 January 1993the day on which the motor tanker Braer ran aground on the island of Horse, south of Shetland. It was, by all witness accounts, a scene of total devastation.
At a meeting in Dunrossness on the south end of Shetland last year, a constituent gave me a photograph showing the tanker on the rocks. The scene that it depicted, some days after the grounding, was unspeakably awful. The pollution was such that people could not live in their houses, and they could not go outside without breathing apparatus. It is remarkable and, indeed, regrettable that, some nine years later, the implications of the Braer's grounding continue to occupy me as the Member of Parliament for the northern isles.
Before the grounding, Shetland salmon farmers enjoyed a premium for their product, but the premium was lost and has never been recovered. We will probably never know about some of the remaining implications because, as a community that relies on our reputation for being environmentally clean, we would be mad to ask about the impact of the heavy metals in the ground off the south end of Shetland. That is occasionally mentioned to me, but so much recovery has taken place that we would not wish to look too carefully at it.
One group of constituents still feels particularly aggrieved. The group had perfectly serviceable asbestos roofs until the Braer was grounded, but as a result of the oil spillage and of oil being in the atmosphere, or possibly as a result of the detergents that were sprayed on the oil, the roofs very quickly perished, became unusable and most of them had to be replaced. That was the subject of litigation between the residents and the international oil pollution compensation fund.
For reasons that I have never been fully able to understand, the local residents lost their case. I would have thought that it was almost a case of res ipsa loquitursomething that speaks for itself. They had a perfectly serviceable roof one day, a tanker dumped 84,700 tonnes of crude oil on their doorstep the next day, and the day after asbestos roofs start to failyet the judge said that the residents had not established a causal link. Having heard the evidence, the judge was in a better position to judge that than I am, but I have not been able to get it straight in my own mind.
The conduct of the IOPC during the litigation might best be described as playing hard ball. One of my constituents, Mr. Rae Tulloch, prepared a report for the IOPC on the background to the failure of the roofs. People in Shetland widely believed, for whatever reason, that the report, having been prepared in the immediate aftermath of the Braer's grounding, would go a long way to establish their case in court.
Regrettably, however, the IOPC refused to allow the report to be released. It resisted the legal procedures on the basis that the report was post litem motamit was prepared in contemplation of litigationand that therefore it was entitled to hold on to it. That has left a very sour taste in the mouths of many of my constituents, who feel that the report contains information that would demonstrate that their case was well founded.
The IOPC has told me that Rae Tulloch gave evidence during the litigation. That is absolutely true, but he was not able to refer to his report and counsel for the IOPC made several objections to information that he would otherwise have put in the public domain. From the IOPC's point of view, a line can now be drawn under the matter. The litigation has run its course and the IOPC can move
That is why I hope that the Minister will stress to the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions that this country needs to put pressure on the IOPC to release the report. The case will not cost it anything now and it cannot be sued again. If it has nothing to hide in the report, surely it also has nothing to lose by putting in the public domain.
It might be said that the IOPC was perfectly correct not to pay out for the roofs, or indeed any other claim, because, over the past two years, further information has been brought into the public domain by one of my constituents, Dr. Jonathon Wills, suggesting that the initial accident inquiry, which blamed bad weather and seamanship for the loss of the Braer after her engines stopped south of Sumburgh head, did not get to the root of the matter.
According to Dr. Wills, and there is much merit in what he says, the Braer was, in fact, unseaworthy by any normal standards long before heavy seas damaged the air vents and let water into the fuel. It also seems that the American shipowner, Michael Hudner, has been obstructive in the release of information that could settle the issue one way or the other.
The Braer's steam boilers were badly corroded and their water supply was dangerously contaminated. As a result, during the planned journey from Norway to Canada the engineers could not warm up the heavy fuel-oil to burn in the main engine and the auxiliary boiler, and used diesel instead. Even if the water had not got into the fuel tank, the Braer risked running out of diesel and steam long before it reached the refinery in Quebec for which it was destined. The boat was described by its owner, in the aftermath, as first-class
The director of the marine accident investigation branch has examined this matter, and he has described Dr. Wills's views as opinion. With all due respect to Admiral John Lang, whom I have met and whose views I would take seriously, I suggest that this matter needs to be considered again. It is more than opinionnew facts have emerged that deserve a proper public airing. A substantial body of opinion now says that the Braer inquiry needs to be reopened in some form or another. It is tempting, nine years after the event, to say, "Well, it's all happened." I suspect that the civil service attitude is that it can be put away in a box marked "sorted." These are important issues, however, which have an importance beyond the shores of Shetland.
The Government have an avowed policyI commend them for itof improving the standard of the merchant fleets and the safety of the ships using our waters. I commend them particularly for stationing a tug in the waters of the Pentland Firth and the Fair Isle channel. Significant improvements have been made. It seems, however, that this issue remains outstanding, and runs
I now want to deal briefly with a subject that is of immense concern to my constituentsreform of the common fisheries policy. The common fisheries policy is now an issue of fundamental credibility for the European Union. The scandalous practices that have developed as a result of its current formI take the view that it is accepted as having failed because of the terms of the Green Paper on reformcannot be tolerated by the House or by the fishing industry. After 30 years of the common fisheries policy, they will not be tolerated any longer. This is very much the last chance for proper reform of the common fisheries policy.