|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Q10.  Stephen Williams (Bristol, West) (LD):
Bristol's economy and environment suffers from poor public transport; we have high bus fares from a monopoly provider and far too few passenger trains on
our local rail network. Will the Prime Minister instruct the Secretary of State for Transport to expedite plans for the Greater Bristol area to be given an integrated transport authority, so that service improvements can be brought about?
The Prime Minister: We are investing more in transport than we have ever done. We have not only increased investment in rail transport and moved to the electrification of some lines, but we are investing in bus transport, particularly with the help we are giving to pensioners on concessionary fares. I have not seen the Bristol proposal for an integrated transport system, but obviously I shall examine what the hon. Gentleman says.
Q11.  Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): We run the risk of being a generation of politicians that did not make the right decisions to tackle one of the biggest issues confronting us, which is climate change, and to minimise its impact on future generations. May I commend my right hon. Friend for the action that he has taken? He has been the first Head of State to recognise the need for leaders of Governments to attend the Copenhagen summit and to take part in those debates. Do not listen to the nay-sayers over there- [ Interruption. ]
The Prime Minister: The Opposition get very anxious. They have come out against wind turbines and wind renewables; the shadow Business Secretary said that Britain should not be used for that. They are against nuclear power, which is one of the keys to our having lower carbon in this country. The Conservatives should think again. If they want a consensus on climate change, they will have to change their policy.
Q12.  Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): As the Prime Minister knows, this is the international year of astronomy. Does he therefore support the campaign for dark skies, which is good for astronomy and also saves energy? If he does, will he play his part by turning off-or at least dimming-the lights in public buildings, including Downing street, where all the lights are on very late into the night?
The Prime Minister: I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was going to complain about European regulations, because that is normally what he does. All of us have a responsibility to save electricity and all Government Departments and all parts of government should be involved in doing so.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I am today publishing the report of the independent review that the then Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne), announced on 4 December 2007 following the loss of Nimrod aircraft XV230 over Afghanistan on 2 September 2006. Fourteen members of the armed forces tragically lost their lives on that day.
The Ministry of Defence must take responsibility for many of the failings identified in the board of inquiry. My predecessor said as much at the Dispatch Box in December 2007, when he announced that we were setting up an independent review under a senior Queen's counsel, Mr. Charles Haddon-Cave, to look into the events that led to the loss. I am grateful to Mr. Haddon-Cave, who has provided a rigorous and powerful report. It will be very distressing reading for many, and particularly for those families who lost their loved ones three years ago.
On behalf of the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Air Force, I would like again to say sorry to all the families who lost loved ones. I am sorry for the mistakes that have been made and that lives have been lost as a result of our failure. Nothing I can say or do will bring these men back, but for their sake, and for the sake of those families, friends and former colleagues who grieve, we can provide clarity about what actually happened, where failings occurred and what must be done to ensure that, as far as possible, this never happens again.
Flying, especially in a military context, is never without risk. We have an obligation to our people to understand and manage those risks and to ensure they are as low as reasonably practicable. The safety of our personnel is of paramount importance and that is why the report is so significant. Mr. Haddon-Cave was asked to review the arrangements for assuring the airworthiness and safe operation of the Nimrod aircraft over its service life, to assess where responsibility lies for any failures, to assess more broadly the process for compiling safety cases, taking into account best practice in the civilian and military world, and to make recommendations. In his report, Mr. Haddon-Cave has been critical of both the MOD and our industrial partners, at both organisational and individual levels. He has stated clearly that the loss of XV230 was preventable.
As he was asked to do, Mr. Haddon-Cave has also made a number of recommendations in his report about what we must do to learn lessons for the future. He has proposed new key principles around which we should base our airworthiness processes-leadership, independence, people and simplicity.
I met Mr. Haddon-Cave this morning and we discussed his report. It identifies numerous weaknesses in the airworthiness system that we will address thoroughly and urgently, but he has confirmed to me that his report does not raise concerns over the actual airworthiness of individual fleets, and I have been assured by the Chief of the Air Staff and the defence chief airworthiness engineer that our fleets remain safe to fly. I have full confidence in our people carrying out airworthiness duties, but we need to ensure that they are supported by an improved process.
Mr. Haddon-Cave also states that, in our pursuit of financial savings, the MOD and the RAF allowed their focus on safety to suffer. We accept this with regard to the Nimrod XV230. As a Department, we have a duty to continue to seek efficiencies in how we deliver defence, but I am absolutely clear that that must not be done with any detriment to safety.
The two officers still serving in the RAF who are strongly criticised in the report have been moved to staff posts that have no responsibility for safety and airworthiness. The RAF will now consider what further action should be taken in relation to these officers, in light of the evidence uncovered by the report. Mr. Haddon-Cave has, quite rightly, made it abundantly clear that he wants the Department to produce a considered response to his report.
We will now examine all aspects of the report, produce a full response and update the House before the Christmas recess. I have set this challenging timetable because I want to ensure that we can act with confidence that the right decisions will be made and that the necessary work will be seen through.
We have not been idle waiting for the outcome of Mr. Haddon-Cave's review. Let me set out briefly what the Ministry has already done in the three years since the loss of Nimrod XV230. We have implemented a comprehensive programme of work to ensure that we can have confidence in the safety and airworthiness of the Nimrod aircraft as it is today. This involves implementing the recommendations of the board of inquiry, and includes ceasing the use of the air-to-air refuelling system, as well as of the aircraft's relevant hot air systems while the aircraft is in flight, and adopting an enhanced aircraft maintenance and systems inspection regime. We do not allow Nimrod aircraft to fly without having had their engine bay hot air ducts replaced, and we have introduced an ageing aircraft systems audit focused on guaranteeing the safety of the Nimrod's systems for the remainder of its service life. This included a forensic-level inspection of a Nimrod aircraft.
We have applied these lessons to other aircraft as necessary, taking steps to examine, review, strengthen and improve the systems for assuring safety and airworthiness. We are aware that the implications stretch more broadly across defence to other items of equipment, and so we have also scrutinised our safety management processes and organisation with great care.
Safety is now given absolute priority at the highest levels in the MOD. It is the first point on the agenda at every senior management team meeting, and this flows down throughout the organisation as a whole. As a demonstration of our commitment to improved safety and airworthiness, we have also established a new senior post, that of the defence chief airworthiness engineer, to provide improved assurance to me that the whole technical airworthiness process, from end to end-that is, from industry through project teams to the front line-is in accordance with the Department's regulations. Mr. Haddon-Cave welcomes this in his report as a step in the right direction. We are working hard to ensure that we capture the lessons from incidents and inquiries to improve our safety. As an organisation, the MOD is changing its culture and approach to put safety first.
All these measures ensure that we can continue to fly the Nimrod safely and that it can continue to conduct its essential work in the remaining months of its service
life. Mr. Haddon-Cave undertook at the outset of his review to issue an urgent interim report outlining his concerns, if he found evidence that the Nimrod fleet was not safe to fly. As he says in his report, he has not found it necessary to do so. He states in his report
"that appropriate and timely steps have been, and continue to be, taken by the MOD and the RAF to address the immediate airworthiness issues raised by the loss of XV230 and the BOI report and subsequent discoveries about the Nimrod fleet. Indeed, the level of scrutiny now applied to the Nimrod fleet is such that it is probably one of the most closely monitored operational military aircraft fleets in the world."
The report is a tough read. Its subtitle-"A Failure of Leadership, Culture and Priorities"-is a stark judgment. We are determined to address this and the clear message in the report that we have to do more. I pay tribute, as does Mr. Haddon-Cave in his report, to the Nimrod communities, whom I commend for their skill and professionalism. The Nimrod continues to have an important role in the defence of this country, and the current fleets are, on current plans, very shortly to be replaced by new aircraft.
Our armed forces are truly the best in the world, and we are committed to providing them with all the support that they need, including learning the lessons and making the changes for the better if tragedies occur. Let me say again that the safety of our personnel is of paramount importance. In the case of Nimrod XV230, we failed. We cannot undo this. Nothing will bring back those 14 men, and for their grieving families, the loss will be with them for ever. I will do everything in my power to guard against anything like this happening again. I am today placing a copy of Mr. Haddon-Cave's report in the Library of the House.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): For the families of those whose lives were lost, today will bring back painful memories and reawaken emotions of grief and anger. Our thoughts are with all those families today.
The House owes a great debt to Charles Haddon-Cave for the report. It is a formidable indictment and describes multiple and repeated systemic failures. It is genuinely shocking. Its most damning central conclusion is that there were previous incidents and warning signs that were ignored, and that the loss of the aircraft was avoidable.
"was a lamentable job from start to finish. It was riddled with errors. It missed the key dangers. Its production is a story of incompetence, complacency, and cynicism."
The report is critical of the Nimrod integrated project team, and of QinetiQ and BAE, including specific individuals. How will these be dealt with, and how can we ensure that technical guarantees given to Ministers in the future by these and other companies can be relied upon and independently verified?
"Financial pressures and cuts drove a cascade of multifarious organisational changes, which led to a dilution of the airworthiness regime and culture within the MOD, and distraction from safety and airworthiness issues as the top priority."
"The shortcomings in the current airworthiness system in the MOD are manifold and include...a failure to adhere to basic Principles...a Military Airworthiness System that is not fit for purpose...a Safety Case regime which is ineffective and wasteful...an inadequate appreciation of the needs of Aged Aircraft...a series of weaknesses in the area of Personnel...an unsatisfactory relationship between the MOD and industry...an unacceptable Procurement process leading to serial delays and cost-overruns; and ...a Safety Culture that has allowed 'business' to eclipse Airworthiness."
This report must act as a wake-up call for us all-for politicians, for industry and for the military. Cutting corners costs lives. Wars cannot be fought on a peacetime budget, and there is a moral imperative that those who are willing to risk their lives in the armed service of their country should know at all times that everything is being done to maximise the chance of success of their mission and to minimise their risk in carrying it out. The failure to do this resulted in the death of 14 servicemen-the avoidable and preventable death of 14 servicemen. The report concludes:
"In my view"-
"was lost because of a systemic breach of the Military Covenant brought about by significant failures on the part of all those involved."
Mr. Ainsworth: I do not retreat from many of the comments made by the hon. Gentleman. Mr. Haddon-Cave asks us to implement an entire new airworthiness system and to address further the culture that he sees as the basic problem within the MOD and in parts of the armed forces. The only thing that I can say in mitigation is that that has been recognised, and recognised some time ago, and that a lot of work has been done throughout the time that I have been a Minister at the MOD to try to put those systems in the right place. Having looked at Mr. Haddon-Cave's report, we have to make absolutely certain that we are going to the lengths that we need to to make certain that we recalibrate that culture within the Department. I am not sure whether we have got there yet, so there is more that we have to do.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a wake-up call, probably for far wider than just defence. The pursuit of efficiency is something that every organisation must do-public sector, private sector, Government and the rest. But sometimes organisations lose sight of some of the basic fundamentals as they try to drive in those efficiencies. We need to consider matters in detail, and we need to use the report as a tool to get the change that is absolutely necessary within the MOD. There were glaring dangers apparent in the aircraft for decades, and there were opportunities to spot those dangers, which were simply missed. My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, apologised to the House for that. We knew that that was so at the time of the board of inquiry, and we need to repeat it and to have some due modesty about the situation that we find.
Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD):
I thank the Secretary of State for his necessarily very sombre statement to the House this morning. This is a tragic case of an accident that could have been avoided. The 40-year history of Nimrod has, as the Secretary of State just acknowledged, been very difficult. Many critics of procurement in the
MOD have their own candidates as to which has been the most bungled procurement. The distinction of Nimrod is that it has culminated in the tragedy of unnecessary deaths, and today's report will certainly reawaken the sense of grief in the families and communities involved.
I welcome the candour of the Secretary of State's admission of fault by the Government, and I welcome his saying that the MOD is changing its culture and approach to put safety first, but I regret that he had to acknowledge that that is necessary and was not always the case in the past.
This has not been a good few weeks for the Government, with Bernard Gray's report last week indicating a culture of poor process, indecision and mismanagement, and we must all hope that lessons are learned. The case under discussion has been one of wake-up calls from previous incidents not being heeded. The report in 1998 gave warnings that were not taken on board by those managing the project, and, as today's report says, that was the
"best opportunity to prevent the accident",
The report is also damning of industry, which it accuses of "incompetence, complacency and cynicism." There is always a danger with flying military aircraft, but some of those issues were unnecessary and avoidable, and the lives of personnel have been lost. BAE Systems, as our biggest defence contractor, finds itself on the wrong end of some scathing words. Its involvement in the Nimrod safety case was
"poorly planned, poorly managed and poorly executed, work was rushed and corners were cut."
In addition to the errors in industry and in the MOD, Mr. Haddon-Cave refers in the report to "organisational trauma" in the MOD between 1998 and 2006 as a result of the 1998 strategic defence review. I hope very much that Ministers will dwell upon that and ensure that the forthcoming strategic defence review avoids any similar aftermath. Where will Nimrod feature in the new review? Can we please be assured that all the lessons of this appalling story will be learned for the future?
Mr. Ainsworth: I do not disagree, again, with many of the hon. Gentleman's comments. We are not unaware of the weaknesses in the procurement system. We commissioned Bernard Gray's report in the first place and we published it last week-I think that it was only last week-to help us to address those issues. Mr. Haddon-Cave, in his report, refers to procurement as part of the cause of the problem, and we need to make absolutely certain that we learn the right lessons, not the wrong lessons.
In the Nimrod saga, there has often been a focus on the safety of the aircraft itself and whether it should be grounded. Charles Haddon-Cave focuses on the systems themselves, and that is where the focus needs to be. There were systems that simply did not fit the purpose for which they were designed, and, instead of being distracted by other issues, that is where we must focus our attention and that is what we must put right. As the hon. Gentleman has said, safety cases have become completely distorted to the point where they simply are not-or were not, in this case-value for money or of any benefit at all. Putting those systems right has to be our overriding priority.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|