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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I was not asking directly about the Government's policy but whether at its first meeting they were going to urge the IMO that seafarers' representatives be included on the panel of experts and that the terms of reference include those questions affecting safety to which I referred.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, those questions are important, and I have no doubt that any panel of experts will consider them. The UK is represented on the IMO panel of experts by the Marine Safety Agency. Again, in developing our policies it has always been our policy to consult fully unions representing mariners.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, the Minister attaches a high priority to various things. That is one of the platitudes that comes from the Civil Service the whole time. The Question asked whether the Government considered the proposals to be sufficient. The Minister did not answer that part of the Question asked by my noble friend.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord would be upset if I said that we did not attach a high priority to safety matters. Of course we do. Of course we can never be complacent, and say that everything is sufficient. That is why we are taking forward research and working with the IMO to develop further research into this important matter.
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, the Minister must be aware of the four recent tragedies at sea, all involving a heavy loss of life. They include the tragedy of the Swedish ferry with its very high loss of life. Will the Minister cast his mind back to the loss of the "Herald of Free Enterprise", which was the last tragedy to engulf us?
The committee which reviewed the case on behalf of the Government made a list of recommendations. Their implementation would provide maximum safety to people travelling on British ferries. Initially there was
Lord Carver: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the introduction of formal safety assessment as the principle for the regulation of ships' safety would enhance the safety not only of ferries but of all merchant shipping?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we need transport by sea in order to provide a service that is required by our industry and passengers generally. However, the Government's top priority is to ensure that that service can exist with the best possible safety standards.
Lord Greenway: My Lords, bearing in mind the unilateral action taken by our Government following the "Herald of Free Enterprise" disaster and the action that is expected from the Scandinavian countries following the recent "Estonia" tragedy, does the Minister agree that whatever comes out of this--be it measures to improve safety by fitting sponsons or transverse bulkheads--none will be much use without the maintenance of the highest possible crewing and operational standards, which we in this country are very good at?
The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, the Government and British Coal are currently exploring the different options for the services which are at present provided by British Coal Enterprise. No final decisions have yet been taken.
Funding has been agreed for the company's job placement and training activities until March 1996 and the Government are also considering a request for the funding of its other activities beyond March 1995.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's anxieties. Funding is available until the end of this year. However, the extent of the funding beginning April next year is not yet known. We hope to conclude these discussions as soon as possible but it is important to get the answer right.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that in the Government's plans for British Coal Enterprise we shall not see the spectacle of the chairman of the board having his salary increased by 75 per cent. one week, while the salaries of the company's lowest paid workers are reduced by 15 per cent. the next? Is he aware that the British public and the staff of British Gas are outraged at what can be described only as social fascism on the part of the British Gas board?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, vies with his noble friend the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, for asking the most ridiculous questions. The question has nothing to do with that on the Order Paper.
I am sure that the Minister will recall that when we were dealing with the Coal Bill there was enormous support for British Coal Enterprise, in particular the argument that it is better for there to be enterprise in the former coalfield communities so that workers will work rather than end up in receipt of any kind of social security benefit. Will the Minister assure us that the Government will bear that in mind when reaching a decision on the future of British Coal Enterprise? Do the Government agree that it is important that there should be enterprises and that that will happen in the near future in an industry that has been extremely successful?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I can give the noble Lord the assurances that he requires. He is right in saying that British Coal Enterprise has done a great deal. We are continuing that as regards job training. The matter at issue is what is to be done with the more structural side. We are looking at all the options. There is an argument for saying that there should be partnerships with other
Lord Haskel: My Lords, is the Minister aware that on 26th April the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that British Coal Enterprise will continue throughout the transitional and immediate post-privatisation period. As a result of that undertaking, will the Minister do all that he can to resolve the uncertainty?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord is right in saying that that undertaking was given. It is being fulfilled. The nationalisation period ends on 31st December 1994. Our commitment will carry on until then and beyond. I assure the noble Lord that we shall do all that we can to conclude the discussions as soon as possible. However, I repeat that it is important to get it right.
The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the law about pensions and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision in connection with the re-admission of South Africa as a member of the Commonwealth. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.