To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps are taken to ensure that existing procedures avoid any risk of double counting by his inspectors of crew numbers on ferries.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that all inspections of the ferries are done by prior arrangement with the ferry operator? Would he care to comment on what steps his Department took to examine the allegation that appeared recently in the press to the effect that crew members were being shifted from ferry to ferry in order to make up the crewing complements?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The inspections are not all done by prior arrangement. I have checked carefully and repeat that some are not done by prior arrangement. My marine surveyors have found no evidence to support the allegation in the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm not only that the Government have implemented many of the proposals of the Sheen inquiry about ferry safety, but that all the people who work on our ferries are now working on ferries that are far safer than they have ever been in the history of Britain's ferry transport?
We have carefully implemented a great many of the recommendations of the Sheen report. We may have to consider more. I confirm what my hon. Friend says about the immense amount of work that has been done and the immense amount of work being caried out by my surveyors to make sure that ferries are sailing safely.
In the past few months there have been several major accidents and lack of safety has been central to almost every one of them. Those accidents were at Zebrugge, King's Cross and now in the North sea. In the light of that, would it not make sense for the Government, instead of taking the side of Jeffrey Sterling and P and O, to institute a proper inquiry into all the complaints about lack of proper inspection on the ferries? Would it not make sense to get on with the job and carry out an impartial investigation instead of siding with the management?
I do no such thing, as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well. I treat his remarks with contempt. We investigate carefully any allegations that are made, from whatever source they come.