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Lord Spens: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. Is he aware that a major structural fault as regards the Serious Fraud Office is the decision to allow it both to prosecute and investigate? As a result, it finds great difficulty in seeing the wood for the trees and what is in the public interest. That may be witnessed by the decision to prosecute the Maxwells a second time compared with the failure to prosecute anyone in Lloyd's, as we heard yesterday. Is the noble and learned Lord aware that there have been more suicides caused by distress among names of Lloyd's than pensioners of Robert Maxwell?

Is the noble and learned Lord further aware that an article today in Private Eye states that far from prosecution of the Maxwells being in the public interest, it was decided to be in the self-interest of the Serious Fraud Office and its preservation?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the purpose of the Serious Fraud Office is to prosecute fraud. The fact, if it be a sad fact, that there have been a number of suicides in connection with financial responsibilities in Lloyd's does not appear to me to be evidence of fraud.

As regards the noble Lord's first point, in a subject as complex as this it is important that there should be a close relationship between the investigation and the prosecution. One of the difficulties in this area is that the investigation can become so broad and diffuse that it is difficult to bring a case forward for prosecution. Those judgments are made, within the structure that has

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been suggested and used by the Serious Fraud Office, in a way which seeks to bring those various considerations together.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that many of the SFO prosecutions are launched on the basis of evidence received from inquisitorial inquiries; and that such inquisitorial inquiries were condemned by the commission under Lord Salmon many years ago as giving rise to many injustices?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, before a prosecution of this kind can proceed there has to be an investigation by someone who acts as an investigator. If one calls that inquisitorial, I am content to use that description. Indeed, every prosecution has to be preceded by some degree of investigation. I do not think that the late Lord Salmon was thinking of that specific type of investigation in the passage to which my noble friend referred.

Merchant Navy: Officer Training

3.15 p.m.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw attention to the fact that the title of the Chamber of Shipping has become transmuted into the title of the Chamber of Commerce, which I regret.

The Question was as follows:

    Whether Her Majesty's Government share the concerns of the Chamber of Shipping, the maritime trade unions and others concerning the need to stimulate the training of British officers for the merchant fleet and, if so, what action they propose to take.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the Government recognise the value of providing training opportunities for British seafarers. We provide substantial assistance through the government assistance for training and the development of certificated seafarers schemes.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, and for accepting again the commitment by the Government to increase the training of the number of cadets and retraining of senior officers. Is he aware that the introduction of GAFT in 1989 had a significant effect on the increase in the number of cadets, but that, regrettably, through the fall of the value of that allowance over the years, the number of cadets has fallen considerably? Will he consider uprating the GAFT in line with the increase in inflation in order to administer a further stimulus to achieve the objective which all of us share?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his continuing welcome of the government assistance for training scheme. It is true that

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that scheme has been extremely successful. Some 2,500 seafarers have been assisted through its auspices. Since 1987 the number of cadets coming into the industry has more than doubled.

The level of the grant is a matter that we are keeping under review. We shall be announcing our proposals when releasing the details of our budgets for this scheme.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, although many British ships are now flying other flags, and are technically no longer part of the British merchant fleet, for reasons which have been rehearsed many times in this House does my noble friend agree that it is still in our national interest that their officers should be recruited from British cadets who have had training of the highest standard?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend that British cadets who become British officers have very high skills indeed. They are valued across the shipping world. It must be remembered that not only do they serve on British-owned and British-registered ships but also on many foreign-owned ships. There is a continuing demand for the high skills that British officers have.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that the British merchant fleet is still decreasing, as it has since this Government have been in office?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the fact that there has been a decline in the UK flag fleet is symptomatic of what has been happening across the world. With the international nature of shipping and the low-cost economies of some offshore registers, there has been a severe decline across all the original major registers. We must ensure that this country has a strong shipping industry and that a good supply of British officers is coming through the system to make sure that that continues.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the training of British officers could be stimulated if we were able to increase the merchant fleet of this country? Does he further agree that in order to increase the merchant fleet of this country, the Government should make strenuous efforts to stop our partners in Europe subsidising shipping industry; and in addition achieve the harmonisation of capital allowances so far as concerns ships?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the widespread use of obvious state aid is not a competitive measure for shipping as a whole. We have seen a number of countries introducing favourable and expensive regimes but that distorts the market in shipping. We believe that the right way to approach the problem is to continue to oppose widespread, totally untargeted state aids and to provide assistance for training, as well as to deregulate, so far as is possible

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and consistent with safety. We also believe that it is right to take a number of targeted measures to ensure the competitiveness of our fleet.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, as a former serving officer of the merchant navy, I wish to ask the Minister whether he believes it is vital for us to have an efficient, well-run merchant navy. Should all training include not only officers but also deck-hands and engineers in the ships which are important to our country? The training must cover everyone who mans a British merchant navy ship.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I join the noble Lord in recognising the quality not only of British officers, as has been mentioned, but also of British ratings. I believe that the training balance is about right. It is important that we bring on the supply of officers, but also that the role of British ratings is not ignored.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, is the noble Viscount able to state how many government departments share responsibility for Britain's maritime affairs? Will he confirm that it is 15? If not, then what is the figure? Will the Government proceed to reinstate the system introduced by my noble friend Lord Callaghan when he was Prime Minister, whereby one Cabinet Minister was designated to look after the overall interests of the country at sea?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I have the good fortune to be designated as the Minister for shipping within my department, the Department of Transport. So shipping would come directly under my department. Of course, other departments such as the Scottish Office also have an interest, as do the Treasury, the Department of Social Security and others. However, the Department of Transport has the overall prime interest in the industry.

Lord Gainford: My Lords, will my noble friend say how long a period of shore-based training is necessary for aspirant merchant naval officers? My interest is that in my late teens I was a merchant navy cadet at the school of navigation at Southampton and the course was for one year.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I understand that a raw recruit could expect to spend about three to four years in classroom training and sea time. If the recruit had other relevant experience, the time would be considerably reduced.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is there not more than a hint of complacency in everything that the Minister has said today about the merchant fleet? First, is it not clear that even since his last Statement on 29th November, the catastrophic figure of 271 ships under the British flag has further substantially declined? Is it not a fact that despite the measures to which he referred, which we welcome, at present Britain trains barely one-third of the number of cadets required to meet our existing needs, and that is especially at a time when the world is suffering from a considerable shortage of skilled seafarers? Does the Minister accept

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that without a continued supply of skilled and experienced maritime professionals, Britain will no longer have the resources she requires to run safe ships, to provide vital services and to provide an influence in maritime affairs in the councils of the world? Is that not a huge dereliction of responsibility?

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