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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his opening remarks that this tragic crash has generated strong feelings among all those who have been and continue to be involved in its consequences. The debate tonight has served clearly to emphasise this point, and I would like to take this opportunity, as others have, to express my sympathy to the families of the 25 passengers and four crew who were so tragically lost in that accident.
The House of Lords Select Committee report on this complex accident requires, and is receiving, full and detailed analysis. The points made by their lordships are being reviewed and, where appropriate, further detailed technical work will be undertaken.
One specific area that was widely reported this morning, particularly in the Scottish press, is that of the Boeing simulation. The Committee criticised the original Boeing simulation and, as part of the detailed assessment of the report that is being undertaken, it is right to seek Boeing's input. Indeed, I would expect hon. Members to criticise us if we did not do so. Boeing is the only company that makes the Chinook, and there is frankly no other way in which to carry out the simulation. We have asked that it review its original analysis of the final seconds of the Chinook's flight leading up to the crash.
The board of inquiry was set up to determine the cause of the crash. It was conducted in a professional manner and the final decision was made on the available evidence. The findings were based fundamentally on airmanship and duty of care principles. The essence of the judgment of gross negligence was that all the available evidence indicated that the pilots flew a serviceable aircraft at speed and at a low level into cloud-covered high ground.
In reaching its conclusion, the board had a wealth of expertise and experience available to it from all the relevant professional disciplines, including helicopter and aircraft operations and technical matters.
Other authorities, such as the Defence Research Agency and the manufacturers of the aircraft, its equipment and avionics supported and made evidence available to the inquiry. A number of technical issues have been postulated over the years as possibly explaining the accident. Indeed, the Defence Committee investigated the lessons of the crash and published a most helpful report in 1998. It concluded that there was no compelling evidence to support claims of fundamental flaws in the design of the Chinook or of its components. More recently, technical issues were also examined closely by the Select Committee of the House of Lords, whose report we are fully considering.
I should like to turn briefly to the points made during the debate and, in respect of her attempt to intervene, that of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). Compensation is a very complex issueI shall write to the hon. Lady and place a copy of my letter in the Library.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) is a distinguished lawyer and QC. The many points that he made about the details of the legal position are for the legal profession and not for a lay person such as myself until I am in receipt of the appropriate advice on the subject. I therefore cannot make any comments of my own on that subject until the advice that my right hon. Friend has indicated is being sought by the Ministry of Defence is to hand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill) rightly pointed out the great complexity of the equipment involved. He criticised the Ministry of Defence for dealing with the matter internally. That is so, but such is the case in virtually every complex issue that I have had to deal with over the past two years in this job, and I have so far had no cause to doubt the professionalism and attention to detail that goes into the advice that we are given, be it by our civil servants or by officers
(1) the provisions of the Orders of 20th November 2000 relating to Thursday sittings and meetings of Standing Committees shall apply as if that day were a Thursday; and
(2) there shall be no sitting in Westminster Hall.[Mr. Stringer.]
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): It is my privilege to present a petition of 3,577 residents of the parishes of Bishampton and Throckmorton, Pinvin, Wyre Piddle and Hill and Moor, and of other residents of Worcestershire. Some 90.5 per cent. of the residents of Bishampton and 95.1 per cent. of the residents of Throckmorton have signed the petition, which was collected in just over 10 days.
The petition states that those people are concerned that the proposal by the Home Office to locate an asylum seekers accommodation centre at Throckmorton is not in the interests of the asylum seekers themselves.
The petition states that that is contrary to national, regional and local planning policy, the site having already been expressly ruled out for any form of residential development in the structure plan approved by a Government inspector.
The petition states that the centre will overwhelm small local communities and that, following adjacent land use as the largest landfill site in the county and the emergency imposition of the regional foot and mouth burial site for 128,000 animals last April, this is an unacceptable burden on this small corner of rural Worcestershire.
The petitioners further deeply resent the refusal to allow them the opportunity to have their case judged through the normal democratic planning process as the Home Office has used emergency procedures under special Government regulations.
And the petitioners remain, etc.