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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 4 December 2007


Tax Information Exchange (UK and Bermuda)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Kennedy): A new tax information exchange arrangement with Bermuda was signed on 4 December 2007. After signature, the text of the arrangement was deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and made available on HM Revenue and Customs’ website. The text of the arrangement will be scheduled to a draft Order in Council and laid before the House of Commons in due course.

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

One Northeast Regional Development Agency

The Minister for Competitiveness (Mr. Stephen Timms): I have decided to appoint the new Board Members listed below:

The new appointments will all be for a period of three years.

The appointments will begin on 14 December 2007 and will expire on 13 December 2010.

I have placed further details of the new appointments in the Libraries of both Houses. They were all made in accordance with the code of practice of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

Communities and Local Government

Infrastructure for Housing

The Minister for Housing (Yvette Cooper): I am today announcing additional funding of £732 million of flexible infrastructure support for local authorities who have committed to high rates of economic and housing growth in the designated new growth points or in the growth areas designated in the 2003 sustainable communities plan.

In the housing Green Paper we set an ambitious goal of 2 million homes by 2016 to help respond to the
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increasing housing crisis, for example for young families trapped in overcrowded accommodation and unable to afford a home. The growth areas and growth points will play a critical role in helping us reach these targets delivering a total of 870,000 new homes by 2016, of which 210,000 are additional to existing plans. Following the housing Green Paper we have invited more authorities to join the scheme, particularly in the northern regions, either as new growth points or eco-towns, and I will make a further announcement on the selection of successful bids in February.

The 117 existing growth authorities have now set out their infrastructure plans in long-term programmes of development which they have put together with partners bringing together the future investments they need to create sustainable growth. These will facilitate major new developments, for example in town centre renewal, in opening up development sites, many of them brownfield, and to provide a high standard of community facilities and new green infrastructure.

For these areas I am announcing today funding of £224 million for 2008-09 with indicative awards of £336 million for 2009, 2010 and 2011, and a further allocation of around £172 million for 2009-11 once we have consulted on and reviewed the new approach to funding. Additional funding will also be provided in due course for other councils who come forward to back eco-towns or become additional growth points. Examples of projects set out in the programmes of development include:

Some of these schemes will need other funding sources and may take longer and cost more than is available in this round of funding—that is why our new approach gives authorities flexibility to so that they can use the funding where they judge it will be most effective in line with local government White Paper principles.

This is a new strategic approach which will enable local authorities to supplement mainstream funding for transport, education and health and give them greater scope to meet priorities locally. It gives them greater scope, for example to improve the quality of development schemes coming forward and ensure that these schemes benefit existing communities as well as new ones.

Local partners need to know that when they commit to growth, Government are willing to support them with additional funding to ensure that new housing developments are sustainable, good quality and that we invest in communities not just houses.

In addition to the funding I am announcing today we will shortly be inviting expressions of interest for the community infrastructure fund, which is run jointly with the Department for Transport of £200 million for transport schemes to support housing growth projects.

Looking to the future we need to find new ways to increase the resources available to partners to fund local infrastructure. We have introduced legislation in
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the planning Bill for a new community infrastructure levy that will increase investment in the vital infrastructure that growing communities need. The levy has the potential to raise hundreds of millions of pounds of additional investment on top of current Government funding and negotiated agreements, and can be spent on a wide range of community infrastructure—this could be major transport improvements, schools, parks and health centres.

All development creates some need for infrastructure, services and amenities and it is only fair that new developments pay their share. At present, infrastructure benefits for local communities are typically secured from major developments only.

Councils will need to draw up long-term costed infrastructure plans in order to apply the new levy. Those plans will need to be consulted on and tested to ensure the levy supports growth. Detailed arrangements will be set out in secondary legislation. The Government will continue to work closely with the main developer and local government bodies during the passage of the Bill as we draft regulations. We want to build on the innovative arrangements that some authorities have introduced, learning from their experience and providing a clearer and firmer footing for best practice.


Nimrod XV230

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): In addition to my oral statement to the House today, I am taking this opportunity to provide the House with further details of the findings of the Royal Air Force board of inquiry into the tragic crash of the RAF Nimrod XV230.

On 2 September 2006, Nimrod XV230 took off from its deployed operating base at 0913 GMT, en route to Southern Afghanistan. It was on an essential operational flight in support of Coalition forces. At 1111:33, approximately 90 seconds after receiving 22,000 lbs of fuel from a Tristar tanker, the crew experienced almost simultaneous bomb bay fire and elevator bay smoke warnings. Smoke was observed in the cabin coming from both the elevator and aileron bays. Shortly afterwards, the aircraft depressurised. The crew commenced emergency drills immediately and at 1114:10 transmitted a MAYDAY alert and turned to head for Kandahar airfield. At 1116:54, the aircraft was observed by a Harrier GR7 pilot, apparently in a controlled descent, with flames emitting from the starboard wing root and starboard aft fuselage. Members of a Canadian Army unit also observed the aircraft as it passed to the south of their position. At 1117:39, the Harrier GR7 pilot reported that the aircraft had exploded and he observed wreckage striking the ground. The crash site was approximately 14 nautical miles west of Kandahar airfield, some 400 metres north-west of the village of Farhellah.

A combat search and rescue team deployed to the crash site at 1207 and confirmed that there were no survivors. At 1257, the Canadian unit which had observed the aircraft’s final descent arrived and secured
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the crash site. At 1430, they were reinforced by a 22 man patrol from 34 Squadron RAF Regiment. The crash site lay in a depression, surrounded by higher ground containing housing and, as such, was not easy to defend. The crew’s bodies, personal effects and classified items were recovered as a priority.

The following morning the Canadian unit was withdrawn to support other Coalition forces engaged in fighting with the Taliban, at which point several hundred locals began to enter the site. The security situation began to deteriorate rapidly and at 0910 the RAF regiment patrol was withdrawn by air. The majority of the wreckage was removed within a short period of time, probably by local nationals.

A board of inquiry (BOI) was convened to investigate the crash with an experienced ex-Nimrod Wing Commander nominated as its president, supported by two squadron leaders from the Nimrod force headquarters at RAF Kinloss. The board members were not able to visit the crash site due to the security situation in the area and had to rely on evidence collected by the units who initially secured the crash site and interviews with key witnesses. Crucially, the accident data recorder and a badly damaged section of the mission tape (containing crew intercom recordings and position information) were recovered. This allowed the inquiry team to reconstruct as far as possible the events leading up to the crash.

The board, using a combination of evidence collected in theatre and expert analysis, concluded that, as air-to-air refuelling drew to a close, fuel escaped. This was either as a result of the action of a pressure-relief device in the main fuel tank, leading to an overflow of fuel during air to air refuelling, or from a leak in a fuel coupling within the fuel system This fuel moved rearwards, either internally or along the outside of the fuselage. It was then ignited following contact with an element of the aircraft’s hot air system. The fuel probably gained access to the pipe at a gap between two types of insulation. The subsequent fire penetrated the pressure hull, causing the aircraft to depressurise and also probably began to weaken the starboard wing. The aircraft’s hydraulic systems probably failed in the latter stages of the incident as a result of the fire and the flying controls were probably similarly affected.

After about five minutes, the fuel in the tank located at the base of the starboard wing, having been subjected to intense heat, began to boil. The tank began to breach and eventually ruptured, provoking a boiling liquid, expanding vapour explosion (BLEVE). At a height of about 1,000 feet above ground level, the weakened aircraft began to break apart into four large parts, which struck the ground. The board was unable to determine whether the BLEVE provoked the aircraft’s break-up, or whether the BLEVE was a result of the aircraft’ s break-up.

The board of inquiry found that the crew were all on duty and were properly trained, qualified and authorised. They had arrived at their deployed operating base on 21 August and had flown three sorties since their arrival, the last being on 27 August. The crew were all medically fit and considered to have been adequately rested prior to the sortie. The aircraft had not exhibited any significant faults while in theatre.

The board found no evidence that the maintenance or servicing conducted on the aircraft was a cause or contributory factor in the loss of XV230. It also
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concluded that, while the continued commitment to long term operations places pressure on the Nimrod force, there was no evidence of that this was a cause or factor in the loss of the aircraft.

Following the crash, and in conjunction with the board of inquiry’s investigations, a number of measures have been taken to ensure the continued safe operation of the aircraft. Additional maintenance and safety checks have been carried out on all of the Nimrod MR2 and R1 aircraft. Action has been taken to de-activate possible sources of ignition and enhanced inspection regime put in place to examine for signs of fuel leakage. We will be reviewing the Nimrod safety case and conducting an aging aircraft audit of the aircraft’s systems.

We have continued to adapt our Nimrod force maintenance and operating procedures in response to the emerging findings of the board of inquiry and the lessons identified from ongoing operations in the Middle East and the United Kingdom, just as we would for any other aircraft.

The Chief of the Air Staff’s professional judgment is that, taking all these measures into account, the Nimrod aircraft fleet remains safe to fly. I have accepted his assurance on this and his opinion that all necessary safety measures have been implemented.

The board of inquiry made 33 recommendations in total, relating to maintenance policy, the fuel and hot air systems, air to air refuelling, operational issues, aircraft modifications, post crash management, engineering and personnel. Twenty one of these recommendations have been accepted outright by the chain of command. Eight of the recommendations are actively being considered. One recommendation (Recommendation 5, to determine a specific life for fuel seals) has not proved possible to implement but mitigating action has been taken.

One recommendation (Recommendation 17, to investigate the utility of parachute escape on Nimrod aircraft) has not been taken forward as it is not considered feasible. One recommendation (Recommendation 20, to review the design of No.1 fuel tank) has not been taken forward but the issue it sought to solve has been addressed by other means. One recommendation (Recommendation 28, to increase the RAF's stocks of BOI kits) has not been taken forward because BOI kits could be made available from Royal Navy and Army holdings.

The detailed recommendations of the BOI and the chain of command’s response to them, are as follows:

1.The Nimrod maintenance policy is reviewed to ensure that maintenance procedures reflect the increasing age of the aircraft.

This recommendation has been accepted.

2.The Nimrod ageing aircraft audit is reviewed to include aircraft systems.

This recommendation has been accepted.

3.The Nimrod safety case is reviewed, reassessing the factual data used forinterpretation and categorization of hazard and risk.

This recommendation has been accepted.

4.A safety review of the Nimrod fuel and hot air systems is completed.

This recommendation has been accepted.

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5.A life for the FRS Series1 fuel seal be determined, based on the designersrecommendation that fitted seals are replaced after 25 years.

The recommendation that fuel seals be given a specific life has not been accepted because experts advise the life of seals will vary considerably, according to the conditions of their installation in the aircraft. Further studies have yet to identify any predictable ageing mechanism and it has therefore been impossible to define a common finite life for the approximately 400 fuel seals fitted to the Nimrod aircraft. Experience shows that replacing fuel seals may actually introduce more problems than it solves.

6.A maximum installed life for fuel seals of other material types is determined.

This recommendation is under consideration. A review is being conducted to determine whether the regulations for the lifing of seals are adequate.

7.A one-off inspection of the integrity of each Nimrods fuel system, between Ribs 3 starboard and port, be conducted with access panels removed and the system pressurised.

This recommendation has been accepted.

8.An inspection regime for fuel seals be initiated as recommended by Eaton Aerospace.

This recommendation has been accepted. A comprehensive inspection of fuel couplings is also underway.

9.A procedure is developed to pressure test the fuel vent system at the fuselage to wing interface.

This recommendation has been accepted.

10.Detailed instructions for the correct fitting and locking of FRS couplings and seals be incorporated formally within the Nimrod AMM and publicized widely.

This recommendation has been accepted.

11.Hot air system. Existing limitations, prohibiting the use of the supplementary conditioning pack (SCP) and of the cross-feed pipe in the air be continued.

This recommendation has been accepted.

12.Nimrod air-to-air refuelling (AAR) procedures are reviewed in the light of the boards report, to establish appropriate levels and rates of refuel, which will prevent overspill of fuel from tanks.

This recommendation has been accepted.

13.A study be initiated to determine the cause of pressure surges during air-to-air refuelling and their long-term effect on aircraft fuel systems.

The feasibility of the recommendation is being examined and a technical proposal on how this could be implemented has been requested,

14.A statement specifying that the maximum normal operating pressure of 50 psi during air-to-air refuelling be reintroduced into the Nimrod aircrew manual.

The recommendation has been accepted.

15.Air-to-air refuelling refuel rates in the dynamic simulator are changed to reflect actual refuel rates to provide more realistic training.

This recommendation is under consideration.

16.Existing limitations, prohibiting the use of the No. 7 fuel tanks, introduced following the loss of XV230, be discontinued.

This recommendation has been accepted.

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