Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster
Mr Peter Rees (Dover)
I thank my right hon. Friend for the statement and for his decision to make an immediate grant to the Dover district council disaster fund. His prompt visit and that of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Zeebrugge to see the aftermath of the disaster was much appreciated. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and I appreciated the prompt visit that the Minister with responsibilities for shipping paid with us to the coastguard station at Dover and to the headquarters of Townsend Thoresen on Saturday.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that many people in east Kent will wish to be associated with the tributes that he has paid to the rescue services, and with the expression of gratitude that he made to our neighbours in Belgium for their prompt and sympathetic response?
I welcome my right hon. Friend's prompt decision to set up a judicial inquiry under the Merchant Shipping Act. Will he ensure that the judge and his assessors are accorded all of the resources and assistance that they require, so that, while their inquiry will be a thorough one—it must be that to command confidence—it will also be a fairly speedy one? The obvious uncertainties over the reasons for this incident, and therefore over the passage of the ferries, may prejudice the ferries, which have had, until now, a well-deserved reputation for efficiency and safety in carrying millions of people across the Channel every year.
Will my right hon. Friend consider whether, in incidents of this kind, the methods of contacting and informing the families of those directly involved could be sharpened up? I know that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe and I came across one or two distressing cases over the weekend of families who were left in considerable uncertainty for a long time. One appreciates that, when an incident has occurred in foreign waters, and the primary responsibilities for the rescue lie with foreign authorities, the difficulties may be considerable, but I know that my right hon. Friend will be sensitive to that particular point.