Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con):
I should like to join in the tributes paid to those tragically killed in this incident. I am sure that the whole House appreciates the manner in which the Secretary of State has delivered this difficult statement. As a humble former paratrooper, I have every reason to appreciate the flying skills of all our Hercules aircrew, especially as most of them are at RAF Lyneham.
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My question concerns the search and rescue capability of our forces in theatre. I note from the statement that the last radio message was at 13.30 and that the crash site was not discovered until 45 minutes later. Is it the procedure that search and rescue missions are launched before aircraft are formally reported missing; and do British armed forces have their own independent search and rescue capability in theatre?
The Hercules took off at 13:24 GMT. Iraqi local time was about three hours in advance, but I shall use GMT. Six minutes after taking off, the crew relayed the information that there was a fire on the plane. Some of this morning's press reports said that the plane had been enveloped in flames. That is not accurate, but, as we now know, there was a fire on board on the right-hand wing. That information was picked up not by an air traffic controller, but by other British forces. There was no communication subsequently. At 13:55 GMT, which was the expected arrival time at Balad, the aircraft was officially declared missing. There were a number of eyewitnesses, but they were a fair distancesome kilometresaway. In addition, there were United States forces in the area, who, after looking for the site, discovered it 20 minutes later at 14:15 GMT.
I understand that that is the precise chronology. It has been explained to me that the message at 13:30 was not picked up by an air traffic controller, so there may have been a slight delay. I emphasise, however, that it is the strong and unanimous view of the board of inquiry, under Wing Commander John Reid, that following the incident the aeroplane was uncontrollable. Whatever happened after the time at which it was hit, the explosion separated the wing.
Whatever had happened as regards search and rescue, assistance or aid would not have averted what ultimately, tragically, transpired. After that, there was nothing that the crew could do, highly skilled and highly trained though they were. They were put in a position whereby nothing would have prevented the plane crashing in the way that it did.
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Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Today's ruling by the Law Lords that information obtained by foreign countries through torture cannot be used in evidence in British courts is of enormous importance. Have Ministers made any requests to make a statement on this important issue? If not, will you use your good offices to impress upon the Government the importance of having it discussed in the House of Commons?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I have no knowledge of such a statement being made, but the points that the right hon. Gentleman makes are now on the record, and no doubt everybody concerned will have noted them.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to raise the issue of the increasing tendency of Northern Ireland Ministers to avoid coming to the House to make important policy announcements. I refer in particular to the written ministerial statement issued on Wednesday of this week by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith), who is responsible for education in Northern Ireland. The announcement had already been made to the press and the public in Northern Ireland on the previous day, and it was reported at length in all the media, including the newspapers, on Wednesday morning. Is it not a grave discourtesy to Members of this House that a statement was not made on the day on which the announcement was made to the media and the public?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman will know that Mr. Speaker takes a very strong line on these matters. Again, the points that he has made will be on the record, and I have no doubt that Mr. Speaker will note them and take them into account.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to raise an issue of some importance. During Prime Minister's questions on 30 November, the Prime Minister indicated, as recorded in column 264 of the Official Report, that from the end of November there will be a six-month maximum waiting time for an NHS operation. On 1 December, 437 patients at my local hospital had been waiting for more than six months. This morning, I received a letter from the Secretary of State for Health in which she states that the maximum six-month wait is only a target and in any case does not come in until the end of 2005. Can I have some advice and guidance on how the Prime Minister's statement could be corrected?
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
I am extremely grateful that one of the many things for which Deputy Speakers are not
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responsible is prime ministerial statements. The hon. Gentleman must challenge those in the usual way, and he must do the same with the statistics.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As I am sure you are aware, in the past few weeks there have been several false fire alarms in Portcullis House. On Tuesday, when three were going off, large numbers of members of staff, members of the public and Members had to leave the building through the front entrance. There are specialised fire doors there, and as a former fireman I know what should happen: the revolving doors should automatically swing open so that we can get people out as safely as possible. Those doors were inoperative on Tuesday. When I approached the excellent security staff, they told me that that has been reported several times but nothing has been done. Do we have to wait for people to be injured getting in and out before those doors are fixed?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I understand the points that the hon. Gentleman makes, and they are of course serious. Again, they are now on the record and I have no doubt that the Serjeant at Arms will want to look into the matter to ensure that things are working as they should.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has there been any notification from Ministers at the Department for Transport about the award of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency helicopter contracts? Substantial concerns have been expressed about the capabilities and suitability of the proposed replacement helicopters. These are key safety matters that are especially felt in my constituency. Will there be any occasion for a Minister to come to the House to make a statement so that Members may express their concerns?
Mr. Secretary Hain, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Margaret Beckett, Mr. Secretary Darling, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Mr. Secretary Clarke, Secretary Alan Johnson, Ms Harriet Harman and Nick Ainger, presented a Bill to make provision about the government of Wales: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 12 December, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 100].
[Relevant documents: The Fourth Report from the Health Committee, Session 200405, HC 42-I, on The Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry; and the Government's response thereto, Cm 6655; and the Department of Health Departmental Report 2005, Cm 6524.]