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Baroness David: My Lords--

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Minister--

Noble Lords: Next Question!

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, we have the luxury of only three Questions today. With your Lordships' permission it might be sensible to confine ourselves to perhaps two more questions on this subject. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Annan, will kick off.

Lord Annan: My Lords, can the noble Lord explain how the World Service is going to be maintained at its present level when, as I understood him to say, £8 million are being taken from the Foreign Office Vote for that service? Is it true, as rumour suggests, that many of the specialised people who work in Bush House, broadcasting in foreign languages, are going to be disbanded?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I shall answer the noble Lord's second question first, which is that I am not in a position to know the answer. I shall write to the noble Lord. The World Service obviously has to operate within budgetary constraints, as does the rest of government. As I have mentioned earlier, within those constraints we believe that there is considerable capacity for increased efficiency, which will mitigate the impact of those cuts on the service that is provided.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, what are the means and the sanction by which the undertaking my

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noble friend has given can be honoured, in particular as regards the World Service, on which I made my maiden speech in this House?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as I of all Members of your Lordships' House am most aware, Parliament takes a very great interest in matters relating to the BBC. I have no doubt that your Lordships will be only too ready to draw the attention of the Government to the concerns that they may have and, in particular, if noble Lords felt that there were severe threats or otherwise to the future of the World Service. That is the way in which Parliament can register its interests.

MV "Derbyshire": Loss Investigation

3.19 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will reconsider their refusal to permit a representative of the Derbyshire Families Association to be present during the further investigations concerning the loss of MV "Derbyshire" which they announced on 3rd May 1996.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, we have given sympathetic consideration to the request from the Derbyshire Families Association that it should be represented on, or have a degree of control over, the return to the ship. We have concluded that this would not be appropriate. The association is one of a number of parties with an interest in the outcome of the return expedition. For one of those parties, but not the others, to be represented on the return expedition could lead to suggestions that the findings lacked balance or objectivity.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that since that terrible incident, with its heavy loss of life, many of the next of kin, including the spouses and children of the men who died, have also passed on without knowing how their husbands and fathers died? At this stage, would it not be an act of great compassion, for which the Government could earn some plaudits, if they were to allow the surviving next of kin the right to appoint an appropriate representative to go on that exercise and to put forward a view on return? I am not suggesting that anyone would try to produce a phoney report, but surely after all the time that has elapsed and all the people who have passed on, the Government can recognise that they would gain some credit by such an act of compassion. I cannot see any reason at all why they should not do that.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we are sympathetic--I personally am very sympathetic--to the concerns of the Derbyshire Families Association. I pay tribute to its work over the past 16 years since the terrible and tragic loss of that vessel. It is because of the association's work that the issue is still largely in our thoughts. However, we must remember that the return expedition

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must be foolproof, for want of a better word, in terms of objectivity because it could lead to the reopening of the formal inquiry. That is why we believe that, in the long-term interests of finding out what actually happened and securing agreement on it, it would not be appropriate for a representative to accompany the expedition.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does not the Minister recognise that there is a world of difference between people who have suffered the most appalling bereavement and those with other interests such as the insurers, shipowners and cargo owners whose interest cannot be as profound? Does not the Minister also recognise that those involved in the association have suffered a great sense of injustice over a considerable period--some 16 years--that their case was not being listened to and that consequently all that they are asking for, as I understand it--perhaps the Minister will confirm the position--is for somebody to be present simply to observe what happens at the investigation? Therefore, instead of adopting an attitude of sympathy, would not the Minister be wise to offer a positive means of expressing that sympathy and to review what he has decided not only with a sense of urgency but, as my noble friend said, with compassion?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I recognise that members of the Derbyshire Families Association have a special interest on compassionate grounds, having suffered the terrible loss of their families and friends. However, although the other interested parties have a different interest, it is nonetheless a strong interest. I hope that the Government have shown their seriousness about getting to the bottom of the issue and finding out the real benefits for maritime safety by agreeing jointly to fund such a major expedition in two parts so long after the event. We are dedicated to finding a proper solution to the issue. That is why we have decided to take forward the mission in two parts. If there was an easy and proper solution to this, I would certainly take it. However, I really do not believe that we can allow anything to threaten the objectivity of the results of the expedition.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, what if the Minister were to secure an undertaking from any representative duly appointed by the Derbyshire Families Association that there would be no interference with the investigation and that the representative would be there purely and simply as an observer? Given that there has been a large measure of suspicion among the bereaved about indifference on the part of the Government over many years until fairly recently and until the International Transport Workers Federation initiated the inquiries, does the Minister recognise that to undertake in a positive and constructive manner what my noble friend asks would allay those suspicions?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord's contribution to the debate, but I hope that the suspicions to which the noble Lord alluded can be put to one side by the very fact that we appointed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, to conduct an independent assessment of the matter. The

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noble and learned Lord produced a full report which recommended returning to the wreck site. That is what we have done and I hope that that puts firmly to one side any suspicions which the association might have.

Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the assessment paid a considerable tribute to the efforts of the Derbyshire Families Association to get the matter further investigated and to keep it before the public eye? Will the Minister also confirm that the recommendation suggested that an expedition return to gather evidence, not to reach conclusions? There will no doubt be a later stage when the evidence can be examined. The Minister may wonder what contribution an observer can make which the Derbyshire Families Association and others have not already made by suggesting to the expert technical advisers what they should be looking for. If there is any suspicion that the expert technical advisers are in any way biased in favour of any particular solution, I personally can assure the Minister that that is not the case.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his contribution. I confirm what he said about the conclusions of the report and about the fact that this is an evidence-gathering mission which will take place in two stages. I concur with the noble and learned Lord that the purpose must be to gather evidence in as objective and professional a manner as possible. That evidence will then be debated before firm conclusions are reached.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if at some later stage blame were to be apportioned to one party or another, it would be tragic if, by virtue of an act of compassion in allowing observers to go on the mission, that party could attempt to wriggle out by saying that the families had been given a special privilege which had not been accorded to him?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. That is the point that I have been trying to put across, but my noble friend does it much better. The results of the expedition could lead to the reopening of the formal inquiry. I firmly believe that it is in the best interests of the families to be at arm's length from the independent assessment stage so that there is no question, accusation or taint of anything other than an objective and independent assessment of factual evidence.

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