The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I told the House on 4 December that, following the board of inquirys report about the loss of Nimrod XV230, I would establish an independent review by a senior Queens counsel into a range of broader issues which were outside the scope of the BOIs investigation. I am now able to set out the details of that review.
The review will be conducted by Charles Haddon-Cave QC. Mr. Haddon-Cave has wide experience of aviation and safety matters, having been instructed in all the major aviation and marine inquiries in England in the last 20 years. His report will be published in fall, subject to considerations of operational security, together with my response to it.
to examine the arrangements for assuring the airworthiness and safe operation of the Nimrod MR2 in the period from its introduction in 1979 to the accident on 2 September 2006, including hazard analysis, the safety case completed in 2005, maintenance arrangements, and responses to any earlier incidents which might have highlighted the risk and led to corrective action;
to assess where responsibility lies for any failures and what lessons are to be learned;
to assess more broadly the process for compiling safety cases, taking account of best practice in the civilian and military world;
and to make recommendations to the Secretary of State as soon as practicable, if necessary by way of interim reports.
The review will have the full support of the Ministry of Defence. All relevant papers will be made available and everyone who can assist the review will be instructed to do so. In order to encourage openness, evidence given during the course of the review will not be used in disciplinary proceedings against the individual who gave it unless there is evidence of gross misconduct. The MOD will also provide Mr. Haddon-Cave, at his request, with a secretariat for the review.
BAE Systems and QinetiQ have confirmed that Mr. Haddon-Cave will have their full co-operation. The MOD and the companies are committed to ensuring that the review has available to it all the technical expertise that it will require. I would expect any other companies whose assistance may be required to follow suit.
It is of the utmost importance that an authoritative and independent analysis is conducted of the background circumstances to the loss of Nimrod XV230. The task which Mr. Haddon-Cave has undertaken will be complex but I have asked him to ensure that information that would assist our understanding of this tragic loss is published without undue delay.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has today launched its strategy for creating greater innovation within the defence supply chain. The MOD innovation strategy builds on the Defence Industrial Defence Strategy (DIS) published in 2005 as a Defence White Paper (Cm6697). The DIS set out a commitment to achieve a better understanding of the innovation process within the defence supply chain.
The new innovation strategy identifies the main challenges to innovation in delivery of our defence capability. It expresses actions to address these challenges in terms of five distinct pillars. These pillars show our intent to articulate our capability needs better, provide transparency in how we translate these needs and aspirations through to delivery of capability,
highlight our commitment to open architectures which will in turn foster insertion of new or improved technology, demonstrate our commitment to new business models that provide incentives for both customers and suppliers to achieve greater innovation and communicate our desire to maintain the pace of MODs acquisition processes.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2007 Autumn Performance report will be published today. The report highlights progress since the publication of the departmental report in May towards the Departments outstanding Public Service Agreement targets. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The report is also available on Defras website.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I announced on 7 September that I had asked Sir Bill Callaghan to lead a review of the regulatory framework for handling animal pathogens.
The purpose of the review was to take forward recommendations of the HSEs report on potential breaches of biosecurity at the Pirbright site in 2007 and Professor Spratts review of the safety of UK facilities handling FMD virus; in particular to consider:
Any changes needed to clarify and strengthen the regulatory framework for animal pathogens, in the light of that for human pathogens,
Any steps needed to ensure independence and clarity on the separate roles and responsibilities of funders, regulators, customers and the institutions themselves, and
Any steps needed to provide clear lines of accountability, inspection protocols and responses to non-compliance.
Sir Bill Callaghan was assisted in his work by representatives from HSE, HPA , DEFRA, the farming community and Professor George Griffin (Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens). I am very grateful to Sir Bill and his team for the swift and thorough way in which they have completed their task.
I am accepting all of the recommendations set out in the report and I am determined to ensure that DEFRA works quickly with the other Departments and agencies involved to take forward the necessary changes. I set out in more detail below the position in respect of each recommendation.
The regulatory framework for specified animal pathogens was first introduced in 1993, and there have been limited changes since then. The report recognises that there are in fact three overlapping but separate sets of legislation which apply to the handling of human and animal pathogens. This does not reflect the spirit or the substance of Hampton principles and making
changes here will also be of benefit to the industry in making the rules that they must work to clearer and more coherent.
I agree with the recommendation that DEFRA should not continue as regulator of laboratories handling animal pathogens because the report finds there was a conflict of interest. This was an area where I was particularly keen to have an independent view, as I felt that this was an issue that needed addressing. I acknowledge the comments that DEFRAs weaknesses as a regulator in this context were as a result of the regulatory system, rather than because of failings on the part of individual inspectors and because of the level of expertise within DEFRA and the resource allocated to this work.
I also note the reports comments that the primary responsibility for managing risks must lie with the top management of any facility where work on dangerous pathogens is carried out. Any regulatory system is only as good as the people being regulated. The regulators role, whoever that regulator may be, is to provide assurance that the systems in place will deliver the desired objective.
The UK has a very important science base, which has built an enviable international reputation. The research carried out in this country including at Pirbright, plays an important part, not only in supporting our response to disease outbreaks, but also in the international fight against existing and emerging diseases. This position inevitably means that there is a need to handle dangerous pathogens in UK laboratories. The public, farming community and others have a right to expect that all possible measures will be taken to protect them and the environment. That risk can never be zero, but as the report points out, the regulatory outcome we must seek to achieve is one that provides an assurance that the risk of accidental release is as close to zero as possible.
The requirement for a duty to co-operate, between different occupiers on the same site, will be extended to all sites, including those which use animal pathogens, under the proposed single regulatory framework (stage 3).
DEFRA agree that this is in keeping with the Hampton principles of inspection and enforcement, and is in line with Government policy to simplify regulation. Work has started to analyse how this will be taken forward.
The containment level currently sets the main risk level. Under phase 3 of the proposed approach to the changes, Risk Assessment will be the fundamental principle that governs the new single regulatory framework. We acknowledge that it puts an onus on the person applying to do work to make a full assessment of the risks and present to the regulator any mitigation measures. This would also provide flexibility to reconsider the risk assessment as new evidence or other factors emerge.
We recommend that the regulator under the single regulatory framework be given discretion to agree with operators departures from the containment measures drawn up by ACDP, on the basis of risk assessments.
Although there are other Agencies which could be considered, DEFRA believes that HSE has the expertise and critical mass and since it works in the related field, is the most appropriate body to take this on.
We envisage that the regulatory role will ultimately pass to HSE. In the interim we recommend that inspections under SAPO continue to be conducted by DEFRA, but with support from HSE. We recommend that DEFRA enter into immediate discussions with HSE to formalise HSE's support of SAPO inspections by 1 January 2008.
We recommend that the ACDP is asked to begin work now on drawing up guidance on a single set of containment requirements for human and animal pathogens, to complement the single regulatory framework when it is introduced.
DEFRA will discuss with HSE and aim to make changes to SAPO as rapidly as possible, in line with best practice for introducing new statutory instruments. We have already started considering legal issues, DEFRA and HSE lawyers are working together to effect these changes within the shortest possible legislative timetable.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The Russian authorities announced yesterday that they planned to shut down the British Councils offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg on 1 January 2008.
Russias threatened actions are illegal. The British Councils presence in Russia is entirely consistent with international law, including the Vienna Conventions. Its presence and activities are also specifically sanctioned by a 1994 UK/Russia Agreement on Co-operation in Education, Science and Culture, signed by Russia, and which binds both the UK and Russia. The British Council is the designated agent of the British Government for the implementation of the agreement. For the past nine years, the UK has been keen to conclude a further Cultural Centres Agreement with Russia. Pending such an agreement being reached, the 1994 Agreement remains in force.
For Russia to carry out its threat would therefore constitute a serious attack against the legitimate cultural agent of the British Government, would show a disregard for the rule of law and would only damage Russias reputation around the world.
Damage will also be done to EU-Russia cultural co-operation. We are discussing with partners (including the EU and the G7), the implications of Russias threat. I am grateful to the European Commission for expressing its concern to Russia about the situation facing the British Council.
Overall, Russias threats set back bilateral and multilateral efforts to improve cultural links, severely affect large numbers of Russians who benefit from the British Councils presence, and damage Russias reputation around the world. We are urging the Russian authorities to reconsider. At the same time we are working closely with the British Council to ensure the welfare of their staff.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The House will be aware that, with the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I wrote to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on 7 August to request the release from Guantanamo Bay and return to the UK of five men who, while not UK Nationals, had been legally resident in the UK prior to their detention. These are the only individuals now at Guantanamo who have been identified as having been given leave to enter or remain in the UK under the Immigration Acts.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I decided to seek the release of the five in light of work by the US Government to reduce the number of those detained at Guantanamo and our wish to offer practical and concrete support to those efforts. In reaching this decision we gave full consideration to the need to maintain national security and the Governments overriding responsibilities in this regard.
Detailed and constructive discussions have since taken place between the British and US Governments, considering the circumstances of each individual case. The US agreed on 10 December that three of the five menMr. Jamil El Banna, Mr. Omar Deghayes and Mr. Abdennour Sameurwill be returned to the UK shortly as soon as the practical arrangements can be made. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been in contact with the families and legal representatives of Mr. El Banna, Mr. Deghayes and Mr. Sameur to let them know of this decision.
I should add that the decision to make this request does not constitute a commitment that they may remain permanently in the UK. Their immigration status will be reviewed following their return and the same security considerations will apply to them as would apply to any other foreign national in this country. As always, all appropriate steps will be taken to protect national security.