The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I wish to inform the House today of the findings of the Royal Air Force Board Of Inquiry into the accident involving RAF Puma ZA938 in Iraq on 20 November 2007, which sadly resulted in the deaths of two servicemen, Sergeant John Battersby, Queens Lancashire Regiment, and Corporal Lee Fitzsimmons, Royal Marines. Our deepest sympathies remain with their families and friends. Two other servicemen were seriously injured in the incident.
The board of inquiry was convened on 21 November 2007. It considered a large amount of evidence. On 20 November 2007, ZA938 was supporting UK operations in Iraq as part of a formation of helicopters to deliver troops to an identified landing site. Due to the tactical situation, ZA938 made a steeper than normal approach to its landing site. It made a heavy landing, with a small amount of forward movement, after which it rapidly became unstable. Fearing that the aircraft might topple over, the pilot elected to take off again. During this manoeuvre the Puma struck the ground and rolled over onto its right side. The aircraft quickly caught fire and was destroyed.
The board concluded that the main cause of the accident was controlled flight into terrain, brought about by the handling pilots disorientation due to the use of an incorrect technique for a dust take off. A number of contributory and aggravating factors were also identified.
A redacted version of the BOI findings is being placed in the Library of the House and in addition, a redacted version will be available on the MOD internet site: http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/CorporatePublications/BoardsOfInquiry/.
The safety of our people is a principal consideration and we have therefore removed from the report information that might endanger the security or capability of UK and Coalition personnel. We have, however, tried to be as open as possible and have carefully considered the public interest arguments for and against disclosure of the information in the Report. We have ensured that each redaction is fully justified by an appropriate exemption in the Freedom of Information Act.
I remind the House that the purpose of the inquiry, in identifying those factors which contributed to the loss, is to identify lessons to be taken forward to minimise the risk of a similar incident happening again. The board President and the Chain of Command made a
number of recommendations regarding supervision; cabin security; adherence to standard operating procedures; post-crash management; aircrew qualifications; engineering issues; brown-out; and Aircrew Equipment Assembly issues that are now being studied closely. It made recommendations in 10 areas, which resulted in over 20 separate actions of which two thirds have been implemented and urgent work is underway on the rest.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Hutton): I have today placed in the Library of the House copies of the Ministry of Defences Autumn Performance Report. Success on operations, particularly those in Iraq and Afghanistan, remains our highest priority and the Armed Forces, supported by their civilian colleagues, continue to work towards this.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr. Mike O'Brien): My noble friend the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath) has today made the following statement:
I attended the Energy Council meeting on 8th December.
The Council agreed a general approach on the proposed re-cast of the Eco-design Directive, which establishes a framework for the setting of eco-design requirements for energy related products.
Following presentations by the Commission of its Communication on the Second Strategic European Energy, and by the European Investment Bank on finance for energy investment, there was a debate on energy security structured around questions prepared by the French Presidency. The debate focused on infrastructure, external relations and energy efficiency and interventions by Ministers will help to prepare the conclusions of the Energy Council and the European Council in Spring 2009.
The Commission and Presidency also presented information on a number of international relations events which have taken place or are due to take place under the French Presidency, including the EU-Russia Permanent Partnership Council and the Ministerial Conference of the Energy Community Treaty.
In the final part of the meeting, the Commission outlined developments on the SET Plan to promote increased cooperation of research institutes in pan-EU programmes. A communication on financing low carbon technologies is due to follow in 2009.
Over lunch, the Presidency updated the Council on progress on the Climate and Energy legislative package, focusing particularly on the Renewables Directive. The Presidency aims to reach agreement on the package with the European Parliament by the end of the year.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): I am announcing today that following an extensive review of the arrangements for private sewers and drains in England and Wales the Government have decided to transfer, from 2011, existing private sewers and lateral drains in England that connect to the public network into the ownership of the nine statutory Water and Sewerage companies (WaSCs).
Existing private sewers and lateral drainsthat part of the drain that extends beyond the property boundaryare currently the responsibility of the owners of the properties they serve, a fact that often comes as a complete surprise to owners, who usually assume that the sewer and lateral drain serving their property are the responsibility of the local WaSC or local authority, private owners have to meet the costs of repairs and these can be considerable.
Private sewers serve more than one property so ownership is shared and usually a large extent of the sewer will lie outside a propertys own boundary. Lateral drains serve one property but always lie outside the propertys boundary. Transfer provides the only comprehensive solution to a range of private sewer and lateral drain problems affecting householders, such as lack of awareness of their responsibilities and unwillingness or inability to coordinate or contribute to potentially high costs of maintenance and repair. It will bring simplification and clarity to owners, local authorities and WaSCs, all of whom typically become involved when these problems arise. Transfer will also significantly help address a lack of integrated management of the sewerage network as a whole, and provide much greater efficiency of effort and expenditure at a time when climate change and housing growth may impose greater demands on urban drainage systems. Having a much greater proportion of the sewer network in the management of the Water and Sewerage Companies means they will be able to plan maintenance and resolve problems more easily and comprehensively.
Transfer will take place from 2011 to allow the water industry and those businesses operating around it sufficient time to prepare for transfer. The costs of necessary future improvement and maintenance will, after transfer be shared by customers as a whole through an increase in the sewerage element of bills for the generality of customers. Although these are uncertain, preliminary estimates indicate increases of around £4 to £12 per year across the nine Water and Sewerage Companies in England.
The Government will now prepare and consult on draft regulations to implement the transfer. The regulations will also introduce steps to prevent the proliferation of new such private sewers, in order to prevent the future recurrence of existing problems.
On the economic and financial crisis, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary noted the importance of the discussion at the December European Council, in particular on the need for fiscal stimulus.
Ministers agreed GAERC conclusions on EU enlargement that: reconfirmed the Councils consensus in support of enlargement on the basis that the EU should stick to its commitments, apply conditionality fairly and rigorously, and improve communication; welcomed the European Commission Communication of 5 November on enlargement strategy and progress reports for candidates and potential candidates; and took stock of the progress of accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, urging both countries to redouble their efforts to implement the necessary reforms.
The presidency recalled the November statement by the G20 on the need to make progress by the end of the year. The UK spoke in support of the Commissions efforts in negotiating on behalf of the EU and noted that the financial crisis made a deal now more valuable than in July; it was important as a demonstration that member states could act on the G20 statement and provide a global response to a global problem. The presidency noted that if, as expected, a WTO ministerial were called later in December, the GAERC would meet in a parallel special session, as it did during the last ministerial in July.
Ministers welcomed the deployment of the EUs rule of law mission, EULEX, which began operating throughout Kosovo on 9 December 2008. They also approved conclusions, which the Government support, largely sharing the assessments in the Commissions progress reports for Western Balkans countries.
The Council welcomed the Commissions intention to present a study in autumn 2009 that will examine ways of taking forward Kosovos European perspective in line with the European Council conclusions of December 2007 and June 2008.
Ministers also recognised Serbias progress in improving co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), while reiterating the requirement for full co-operation. Ministers also underlined
the importance of Serbia taking a constructive approach to regional co-operation. They highlighted again that Serbia had the capacity to accelerate its progress towards the EU, including attaining candidate status, once the necessary conditions had been met.
Ministers once again expressed concern at the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They urged Bosnian leaders to address themselves to the reforms necessary for the country to move towards the EU and to meeting the objectives and conditions needed for closure of the Office of the High Representative. The EU would need to strengthen its role in Bosnia.
Ministers adopted conclusions that reaffirmed the EUs commitment to supporting the Middle East Peace Process into 2009 through a comprehensive regional approach. In particular the EU condemned all violence especially in Gaza and rocket attacks against civilians. The conclusions urged a halt to settlement activity and call for the improvement of the humanitarian situation in Gaza with the reopening of crossing points. The European Union also expressed support for the Egyptian mediation efforts for Palestinian reconciliation and welcomed efforts by the Arab League to put the Arab Peace Initiative back on the table.
The Council also approved in principle the building up of relations between the EU and Israel, while insisting that this deepening of relations encourage the Israeli authorities to do more to improve living conditions on the ground in the Palestinian authority and contribute to advancing the peace process. At the same time, Ministers welcomed the deepening of the EUs relations with the Palestinian authority and looked forward to further progress, including the possibility of a Summit.
The Council agreed conclusions that reiterated its support for efforts by the UN Mission in DRC (MONUC) on the ground and encouraged it to continue to strengthen its deployment in North Kivu; welcomed the adoption on 20 November of UN Security Council Resolution 1843 authorizing the expansion of MONUC; took note of the UN Secretary-Generals request to High Representative Solana for an interim European military force to support MONUC; and asked Solana and the Commission to prepare rapidly elements for a technical, humanitarian and political response, taking into account comments submitted.
The Council conclusions, which the Government strongly supports, reiterated the EUs deep concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, particularly as a result of the cholera epidemic and the continuing violence against supporters of the MDC; and recalled the importance of reaching a fair and viable power sharing agreement without delay; and demanded respect for the principles of humanitarian aid and, in particular, respect for the principle of impartiality and equal access to humanitarian aid for the entire Zimbabwean population.
The Government supports the Council conclusions, which welcomed Pakistans return to democracy and commitment to step up measures to counter terrorism and extremism, while underlining the importance of improving relations between Pakistan and its neighbours, particularly India and Afghanistan.
Ministers also committed to further developing EU political dialogue in a number of areas including: trade and development; intercultural exchange; non-proliferation; human rights; counter-terrorism; and radicalisation and education. They also agreed to intensify political dialogue in line with EU commitments to enhance engagement with Pakistan including, if possible, at an ad hoc summit under the Czech presidency in the first half of 2009. The conclusions acknowledged Pakistans request to initiate the process for an EU-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement and committed to examining all the options aimed at enhancing trade relations.
The Council adopted separate conclusions condemning the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India; strongly encouraging the strengthening of regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism; expressing the EUs hope that Pakistan will cooperate fully with India on the investigation into the attacks; and supporting continued dialogue between India and Pakistan to enable greater bilateral cooperation and overall regional stability.
Ministers agreed declarations on improving the military capabilities of EU member states and on international security; and formally approved the operation to improve maritime security off the coast of Somalia.
Ministers also approved a review by High Representative Solana of the implementation of the European Security Strategy, which Solana will present to heads at the December European Council. The Government can welcome the broad direction of the document and its key policy conclusionsgreater coherence, engagement with the neighbourhood and capabilities.
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