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Viscount Goschen: My Lords, on the noble Lord's first point, I can assure the House that we will take extremely careful note of recommendations that the Marine Accidents Investigation Branch might make in its inquiry not only into the grounding of the "Sea Empress" but also into the conduct of the subsequent salvage operation. We will therefore use those recommendations and the information put out by that independent inquiry to look again at the recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, to see whether they justify further work.

On the second point, it is important to know that until two years ago there were no government-sponsored tugs around the coast of this country. Subsequent to the Donaldson Report, we acted on its recommendation. We have held two trials--to put two powerful tugs for winter-only periods in Dover and in the Minches. We are currently reviewing the results of those trials. We will of course make clear our intentions for the future.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the ramifications referred to in the noble Lord's question are wide and very serious? Does he further agree that they have caused profound concern in Wales, and especially in south-west Wales, where this

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terrible tragedy took place? Could he say when the report of the Marine Accidents Investigation Branch is likely to be published? Will he give an assurance that the suggestion by the noble Lord that the matter should be referred to the Donaldson Committee will be considered very carefully? Further, will he tell the House whether the Secretary of State for Wales has been consulted on this matter, and what his reactions are?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord's first point, we understand the genuine concern of people throughout the country and especially within the region that has been hit by that very severe spill. Of course we understand their environmental concerns and concerns for the economy of the region.

Secondly, with regard to the estimate of time, the best indication is that the investigation into the "Braer" incident in the Shetland Islands took just under a year. We must give the chief inspector the time that he needs to make a thorough investigation into all the consequences and obtain all the information and all the facts as well as to interview all the witnesses that he needs to hear. We should not dream of constraining him in that regard. But I know that the chief inspector fully realises that the country is waiting to hear what his recommendations might be and his assessment of the situation.

On the noble Lord's third point, I believe that in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Murray, I gave a full explanation of the way in which we would take forward any recommendations that the chief inspector might make.

Baroness White: My Lords, is the Minister not aware that this very morning in Bangor, the Secretary of State for Wales made a very long and detailed comment on the whole situation? Has he not been informed of that? Has his office not been able to keep pace with what is happening in Wales? Is he not aware that this morning the Secretary of State appointed Professor Edwards to chair a steering group, which will have some extremely distinguished members in it, some of whom we know and trust?

We are still concerned about the rumours of commercial rivalry between local firms in the early stages at Milford Haven having seriously delayed effective salvage operations. I am astonished that the Minister has not been informed. All that information was available this morning. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, myself and several others have full details.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am astonished at the question and that the noble Baroness says that I am not informed by the Welsh Office. We have been working extremely carefully both at ministerial and official level between the two departments. The noble Baroness is confused between the technical investigation into what happened with the grounding and subsequent salvage operations and the environmental assessment that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales spoke about. They are two separate issues. Of course, we need to make sure that all the technical aspects are covered and that we learn all the relevant lessons for shipping safety. We must also make sure that we know exactly the consequences of the clean-up operation, including all the environmental consequences as well.

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There is nothing between the Secretary of State for Wales and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that those of us who in the past have carried the responsibilities that he now carries believe that he has acted prudently, sensibly and in the best interests of all concerned? I am sure that that would also be the view of the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench who is about to ask a question, for he too carried those responsibilities and is well aware of the difficulties which he experienced from time to time in dealing with such matters.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his very kind words. I would not seek to pre-empt the question which may be about to emerge from the noble Lord sitting opposite. My noble friend is quite right. These are difficult and complicated issues. We must make sure that we have the best shipping safety regime that we can practicably have and that we learn all the lessons that come out of that unfortunate incident to try to ensure that it is not repeated.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, from previous experience I am very much aware of the problems that the Minister faces. But does he agree that it is now self-evident that the narrow remit of the investigation currently being undertaken by the MAIB is insufficient? We already know that there are wide environmental implications involved and that wide international as well as national issues remain. The Government themselves to some measure are involved and their conduct has to be investigated. Is he aware that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, would be prepared to have his committee reconstituted in order to deal with these matters? Does he agree that that would be a much more thorough way of dealing with the matter, particularly in the light of his suggestion that we may have to wait for one year before the report of the MAIB is available? What is now being done in relation to Milford Haven to ensure that no further accident of that kind can happen before the report is tendered to him?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord is missing the essential point. The Marine Accidents Investigation Branch was set up to deal with specific circumstances such as this one. Following the awful tragedy of the "Herald of Free Enterprise", it was felt that the best way to investigate serious marine accidents was to set up a government body that would be totally independent of Ministers and officials from whatever department to investigate the cause of accidents and make recommendations to stop them happening again. The inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, produced a much wider ranging report which looked at all aspects of maritime safety and pollution prevention. It is only two years old. It was a very thorough report and covered all the issues.

We have said that we shall look very carefully indeed at the recommendations and the findings of the Marine Accidents Investigation Branch report. We shall then consider whether the recommendations made by the

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noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, only two years ago in his report, Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas, need to be re-examined. That is the essential point. We need to find out the facts and do it as quickly as possible.

With regard to Milford Haven, the chief inspector is able to put up interim recommendations and if he feels that those are required, he can do so at any point.

Wheel Clamping

2.57 p.m.

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have come to any conclusion on the regulation of wheel clamping of vehicles on private land and the legitimacy of fines imposed for the release of such vehicles; and whether they intend to introduce legislation to clarify the situation.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, the Government are still considering what action, if any, should be taken to regulate wheel clamping on private land. We are looking at detailed matters, such as the level of fines imposed by wheel-clampers, and whether there is a need for new legislation, as part of that consideration.

Baroness David: My Lords, I do not find that Answer exactly satisfactory. As wheel clamping has become a growth business of the 1990s, and a very lucrative one at that--it is said to be worth £150 million a year--should not some action be taken quickly by the Government? Should wheel clamping on private ground be made illegal unless clear warning is given, on a sign adequately lit, with a notice of the fine that is likely to be charged, together with the name, address and telephone number of the clampers?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, that is certainly one suggestion. The problem is neither so great as it was perceived when the Question was originally put nor so great as was anticipated by so many people. We know that many wheel-clampers have gone out of business, particularly the "cowboys" referred to in previous Questions. So, we are not convinced that this is quite the problem that it was. Also, there is now case law which has started to clarify what is legal and what is illegal in terms of parking on private land.

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