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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, since the imposition of the EU asset freeze on 18th February we have frozen personal assets to the value of £76,000. This is a small sum, but it is not surprising given the advance media publicity before sanctions were imposed. The key point is that Europe's financial markets are now off limits to those on the banned list.
Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. However, the Minister will be aware that additional names have today and over the past 24 hours been added to the original list by the EU. Do not these extra names and the extra measures announced reveal all too painfully that the earlier freezing of assets has entirely failed to deter Mr Mugabe and that much more pressure is now needed? Does the Minister agree that the earlier measures which have led to the freezing of £76,000a tiny amount given the total assets involvedwere clearly too little, too late? They were announced far too long in advance and assets were moved beyond reach by Zidco, ZANU-PF's trading company. Advice was received also from other
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord. I should perhaps clarify that the General Affairs Council is meeting now and will make a decision this afternoon on whether or not to extend the travel ban list. That decision has not yet been taken.
I do not agree with the noble Lord. It is clear that sanctions have worked. There is a general isolation of the ZANU-PF regime and we have built an international consensus that includes the Commonwealth, the European Union, the United States and others. That will continue to be our strategy. We need to work very closely with our African colleagues on this matter. We shall continue to do so and to keep up the international pressure on the Mugabe regime. But, as I have said in the House a number of times, it is obvious that we are dealing with a regime that cares nothing for its own people given the humanitarian, political and economic crisis that we are seeing.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, will the Minister consider encouraging the Government and our partners in the EU and the Commonwealth to make greater use of independent investigators to investigate the funds which are held, often in nominee names, in banks and other financial institutions, not only in the developed world but in off-shore banking? This is not easy to doit is not easy for Government's to dobut the use of independent investigators has much helped Nigeria to trace illicitly-taken funds. I believe that this would benefit the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, who urgently need this help.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I totally agree that the ordinary people of Zimbabwe need this help. They are facing a humanitarian crisis: up to half the population will require food aid by the end of the year. The situation means that farm workers will be thrown off farms, and will be out of a job. As regards independent investigators, I assure the noble Baroness that we are taking all the steps that we can.
Lord Blaker: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the NePAD agreement contains provisionsas does the new treaty on African unionfor human rights observation and good governance by the member countries. It also contains provision for peer pressure to be brought to bear by member countries on defaulters. Is not this the best potential source of pressure on Mr Mugabe? Are the African member countries of those two organisations exerting such pressure?
Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, as she indicated in a letter to me, the Zimbabwe authorities were allowed to import armoured cars from Germany for the exclusive use of Mr Mugabe and leading members of his regime? How did it happen that the assets that were used to pay for those expensive carsat a cost of 250,000 dollarswere not confiscated by the Germans?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I have no idea where the assets came from to pay for the vehicles. I gave the noble Lord as open an answer as I could. I shall check again, but I do not think that I have any further information that can help him.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that we welcome the indications that the General Affairs Council will agree tougher sanctions this afternoonalthough as she rightly says, it has not reached a decision yet? It is belated, but it is better than nothing. Will the sanctions now cover not merely the funds of individuals but also the funds of ZANU-PF and its various subsidiaries held in British and other banks? Has the Minister anything to tell the House about the reports that very substantial land allocations have now been made of seized land to the Libyan authorities and to Colonel Gaddafi?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, as I said, the General Affairs Council is meeting as we speak, so I am unable to give the noble Lord any further information with regard to any possible extension of the travel ban and the assets freeze. As to the question of land allocation to the Libyan authorities, I have no further information. If information becomes available, I shall happily write to the noble Lord.
Lord Elton: My Lords, on more than one occasion, I have heard the noble Baroness explain that, in spite of the travel ban, President Mugabe and some of his henchmen have been able to travel in order to attend international meetings of certain kinds. Should not that right be withdrawn and extended only to alternates attending on their behalf so that the effect of the ban becomes more widely real?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the current travel ban and assets freeze apply to the 19 named individuals. As I said, I cannot comment on a decision which is currently being taken by the General Affairs Council.
Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, will the Minister agree to return to this House at a later stage with more details about the activities of Zidco, the trading arm of ZANU-PFcurrently registered, I believe, in Liberiaand also with details of advice that has been given in the past to Zidco by companies which have been managed out of Guernsey?
Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the leave of the House, immediately following this business statement, my noble friend Lord Bach will make a Statement on the Mull of Kintyre Chinook accident. Following that, my noble friend Lord Whitty will, again with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on the foot and mouth disease inquiries.
This has been the most extensively examined air crash in the history of British military aviationnot only by aviation and engineering experts but also by at least 10 Ministers from across two governments: from the right honourable Sir Malcolm Rifkind to, most recently, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Ten Ministers have considered the case. Each new Minister has had the advantage of coming to this with an open mind. Every new Minister who has examined the facts of the case has come to the same conclusion.
The senior reviewing officers of the original RAF board of inquiry found the pilots grossly negligent. They concluded that the pilots had flown the aircraft at a consistently high speed at low level, and into poor weather that they had been warned to expect. These facts led the board of inquiry to believe that the only possible conclusion was that this accident was a result of a controlled flight into terrain.
Many have challenged this conclusion. As a result, in April last year, your Lordships set up a Select Committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Jauncey, to consider the justification for the findings by the senior reviewing officers. The Select Committee concluded that the reviewing officers were not justified in their findings that negligence on the part of the pilots "caused the crash".
The Government have now considered the Select Committee's report very carefully indeed. We have thoroughly examined the alternative explanations for the crash that were considered by the committee. We have painstakingly reviewed the complex technical, legal and airmanship issues which the report raises. We have sought further clarification from Boeing on the points made about its original work conducted as part of the RAF board of inquiry in 1994.
In order to leave no question unanswered, we have also asked Boeing to undertake further work to review its original analysis, including a full FADEC simulation. Those familiar with this case will know that the FADEC system, by controlling the fuel supply, maintains approximately 100 per cent rotor speed in all conditions and matches engine torque between the two engines on the aircraft. It has been argued that the failure of this system was a cause of the accident.
Our deliberations are now complete, and I am arranging to place copies of our response, together with copies of the further work by Boeing, in the Library of this House as well as in the Library of the other place. A number of theories have been put forward to explain the cause of this accident. Each depends on a particular interpretation of the evidence. That is why at the outset I want to try to set out those facts as best I can that are not in dispute.
We know that the first "way-point" entered on the aircraft's navigation computer was very close to the lighthouse on the western tip of the Mull. This way-point was the position where they needed to change or adjust their course to head towards Corran. Taking into account the weather conditions, they planned to fly their route at low-level under "visual flight rules", which means that they needed to maintain at least 1,000 metres of visibility. If during the flight they were unable to do so, then under the rules they would be required either to turn away from the poor conditions or to climb to a safe altitude of 1,000 feet above the height of any known obstacles. They would then have flown under "instrument flight rules"which would require them to fly with sole reference to their cockpit instruments.
We know that the aircraft took off from RAF Aldergrove at 17.42 hours. We knowfrom an exchange between the crew and air traffic controlthat, at just after 17.46 hours, the aircraft was seven nautical miles from the Aldergrove radio beacon. A number of witnesses reported the aircraft flying low as it headed for the coast. These sightings are consistent with a high-speed, low-level transit towards the Mull along the planned track.
We knowfrom the data in the SuperTANS navigation system on board every Chinookthat the aircraft was 0.81 nautical miles from the lighthouse when the pilots took the steps necessary to enter the second way-point89 miles away, at Corraninto the computer. Given their training and experience, the pilots would not have performed this task if they had been experiencing any significant difficulty in handling the aircraft. The Select Committee accepted that it was highly unlikely that the pilots would have entered the way-point change if they had thought they were not in control of their aircraft.
We knowfrom the power down recording in the SuperTANS systemthat the time of initial impact was 17.59 and 36 seconds; giving a total journey time of just under 18 minutes. From these facts we can calculate that the ground speed of the aircraft, from the air traffic control fix to impact, averaged 158 knots. This shows that the pilots had selected a high cruising speed for their crossing to the Mull.
We know that the ground speed at impact was at least 147 knots, from the evidence on the aircraft's instruments at the crash site, and corroborated by data extracted from the GPS system and the navigation computer.
We know that the aircraft hit the ground at a height of 810 feet above sea level. All the evidence clearly points to the aircraft having flaredor "pulled up" in layman's terms; with its nose upward at an angle of 30
These then are the facts which have not been seriously challenged by anyone. What remains at issue is what happened in the last 20 or so seconds of the flight from the point at which the pilots entered the way-point change into the navigation computer until moments before impact when they pulled hard up in a clear attempt to avoid hitting the ground. Various theories have been put forward and we have considered each in turn. They are examined in detail in our fuller response which has been placed in both Libraries.
One hypothesis suggests that, because of the low cloud, the pilots had slowed down for the way-point change, intending to turn left to hug the coast towards the way-point at Corran while remaining at low level. The Select Committee has accepted that the aircraft was performing satisfactorily up to and including the way-point change. The Committee suggests that, having performed the required deceleration successfully, some catastrophic failure occurred in the last 20 or more seconds of flight. This failure caused the aircraft to accelerate out of control so that it flew at high speed into the Mull, with the pilots unable to control the aircraft, at least until the final few seconds.
Was it the crew's intention to slow down significantly for the way-point change? Boeing's analysis shows that, given a normal rate of acceleration, it would not have been possible to achieve the speed conditions for the final flare if the ground speed was below 80 knots at the way-point change. If the aircraft had slowed to around 80 knots at that point, then an even higher average cruising ground speed from the air traffic control fix to the way-point change would have been necessary. And, crucially, the aircraft would have begun to decelerate about one mile prior to the way-point change, and in the process to reduce power considerably, adopting a nose-up attitude for a considerable period. Such a manoeuvre is not consistent with the evidence.
In addition, the further analysis from Boeing shows that, given a normal rate of acceleration, it would not have been possible to accelerate from below 80 knots and achieve the speed conditions necessary to be consistent with the final flare just before impact.
Even if the aircraft had performed the manoeuvres necessary to slow to 80 knots at the way-point change, what plausible explanations could account for the pilots not being able to execute the turn and cause the aircraft to accelerate to the known speed at impact?
It has been suggested that a control jam of some sort could have occurred. For that to have happened, the aircraft would first have had to have been rotated nose down to an accelerating attitude, the power set to full, and the controls "frozen" to such an extent that neither a heading change, nor a climb, nor a speed change was possible. Moreover, this condition would have had to have remained fixed throughout the significant period required to achieve the acceleration. To achieve these conditions either simultaneous multiple failures would have had to have occurred to the pitch of the aircraft and have frozen the controls, or the pilots would have had voluntarily to conduct at least some of the extraordinary control combinations needed.
The Select Committee also explored the possibility that the "thrust balance spring attachment bracket" and other inserts detached before impact, as some of these flying control components were found to be detached at the crash site. But because the controls are hydraulically powered such a fault would result in a change to the "feel" of the controls and would have been detected by the pilots. Moreover, the aircraft would still be controllable. It is not credible that this could have caused the accident. In any event, the report from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch indicated that the brackets were likely to have become detached during the post-accident break up of the aircraft.
Despite suggestions from other commentators, the Select Committee accepted that the FADEC system and the trials of the Chinook Mark 2 that had been suspended at Boscombe Down had no bearing on this accident. In fact all the available evidence indicates that the engines were working normally up to the point of impact. The committee was also satisfied that the E5 software fault, which has also been the subject of much media speculation, had no relevance to this accident.
We have examined in detail all the alternative hypotheses put to the committee by witnesses. The question is, when taken in the context of the whole flight, are theyor any one of themplausible against what was a strict standard of proof needed at that time before a finding of negligence could be made against deceased aircrew?
As the committee observes, the standard of proof of "absolutely no doubt whatsoever" involves an even higher standard of proof than that applicable in criminal cases. I am, of course, aware that four of the five members of the Select Committee are distinguished lawyers.
It follows from this strict standard of proof that if there is another plausible explanation for what took place other than the one accepted by the board of inquiry, its conclusion cannot be allowed to stand.
No investigation into a serious accident can ever hope to answer every question with absolute certainty. Negligence can itself be the cause of an accident or it can be one of a number of factors. The reviewing officers were charged with considering all of the evidence as a whole; they were entitled to call on their own knowledge and experience of military flying, and take proper recognition of the very high standard of airmanship that is required of RAF pilots.
It follows that if the senior reviewing officers were left with no "honest" doubt that the pilots were negligent, and that negligence was a causative factor in what happened, they would have failed in their duty if they had not found the pilots negligent. It would have been wrong of the reviewing officers to avoid such a finding on the basis of a hypothesis for which there was no plausible evidence.
The senior reviewing officers' finding of negligence was not dependent upon whether the pilots could see the Mull at the time of the way-point change. We can deduce that at some point the aircraft entered cloudwhich the crew had been warned to expectwell below safety altitude. The issue is whether at the time they did so the aircraft was fully under the control of the pilots. There is no other plausible explanation for the accident. The only realistic explanation therefore is that found by the reviewing officers of the board of inquiry.
As they approached land, the pilots would have been aware that their visibility was about to reduce significantly. Had they been flying with the minimum visibility allowed for Visual Flight Rules, by the way-point change they would have seen the landmass of the Mull and should have recognised their perilous position. They should have taken prompt action by flying higher or turning away. The finding of negligence is therefore based on the fact that they failed to take such avoiding action.
This is a very sensitive and emotive case. I recognise that some people would like us to have reached a different conclusion from that of the reviewing officers. Some former Ministers have since changed their minds about their original interpretation of the facts.
However, we require senior military officers to make decisions on the facts at the time, applying their judgment as professional airmen against the high standard of airmanship to which the Royal Air Force adheres.
We have therefore reviewed the material put forward by the committee with the very greatest care. We have probed the alternative hypotheses rigorously to see if there is any other plausible explanation that fits with the facts. And we have agonised over whether there was some way that we could exonerate the pilots posthumously. But on the basis of all the evidence, I am unable to do so.
Apportioning blame for such a terrible accident to men who lost their lives in it was not an easy task for those responsible. Reviewing the circumstances of the case has been one of the hardest duties I have been asked to perform as a Minister.
I know that this response to the Select Committee's report will be unwelcome to some. And, as I have consistently said before, should new evidence come to light the Secretary of State would be prepared to look at it again. Indeed, it was precisely the possibility of new evidence that led the Government to commission the further work from Boeing.
I hope that this Statement, and the supporting detailed analysis which is being published today, will assist the House in understanding the reasons why we have not been able to support the conclusions of the latest report into this tragic accident.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, we on these Benches are grateful to the Minister for repeating the long and detailed Statement on the tragic crash of the Chinook Helicopter ZD 576, but we very much regret and are disappointed that Her Majesty's Government are unable to provide time for a detailed debate by your Lordships before the Summer Recess. Once again, we on these Benches extend our deepest sympathy to all the families who suffered such tragic loss of life.
I have no intention of covering the facts and detail of the case in this debate. As your Lordships have heard, there are many technical facts in the Statement which need to be analysed carefully. I believe that the right and proper place to do so is when we eventually discuss Her Majesty's Government's response in full debate. However, it may be timely to remind your Lordships that the House of Lords Select Committee which was set up was tasked to consider the justification of those reviewing the conclusions. I repeat that it was tasked to consider the justification of those reviewing the conclusions of the Royal Air Force Board of Inquiry that both pilots of the Chinook helicopter were negligent. The Select Committee was satisfied that on the evidence brought before it and against the standard of "absolutely no doubt whatsoever" as required by the Royal Air Force Board of Inquiry rules, the air marshals were not justified in finding that negligence on the part of the pilots caused the crash.
How does the Ministry of Defence justify disagreeing with three other investigations into this matter? The Air Accidents Investigation Branch did not conclude that the pilots had been negligent. The fatal accident inquiry concluded that it had not been established to its satisfaction, and on the balance of probabilities, that the cause of the accident was the decision by the crew. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee found that the verdict of the Royal Air Force Board of Inquiry was unsustainable and should be set aside.
I should like to ask the Minister a few questions. When will a full debate be held to discuss Her Majesty's Government's response to your Lordships' Select Committee report? Will the Minister confirm that the evidence relied upon by the committee in coming to its conclusion was not limited to the evidence that was freshly before it and was not available to the air marshals but that there was other evidence, which it identifies, which led it to the conclusion that it reached? Why does the Ministry of Defence now accept that "no honest doubt" is a sufficient reason to support a finding of gross negligence when the Royal Air Force Board of Inquiry rules require that there should be "no doubt whatsoever" to support a finding of gross negligence? I should be grateful if the Minister will answer those questions in his reply.
Lord Roper: My Lords, from these Benches, we thank the Minister for making this Statement in this House in advance of his noble friend in another place. It was, of course, a response to a Select Committee of this House.
There will no doubt be considerable disappointment among those noble Lords who served on the Select Committee that the Government have been unable to accept the fully argued conclusions in their report earlier this year. We on these Benches wish to join the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, in expressing our considerable sympathy with all the families of those who lost their lives so tragically on this occasion. We can well understand the serious feelings which the fathers of the pilots still hold. That is why this matter is one of continuing concern on these Benches as elsewhere.
It is a detailed analysis and I understand that further material is to be made available to us in the Library. We are grateful to the Minister and the Secretary of State for having spent so much time and care in reviewing the material and attempting to provide the House with a detailed analysis of each of the alternative hypotheses. As the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, said, it is too early to analyse that response in detail today. In the Statement, the Minister drew attention to the committee's observation that the standard of proof was "absolutely no doubt whatsoever". A little later he says that no investigation into a serious accident can ever hope to answer every question with absolute certainty. That seems to suggest that the task facing such a board is almost impossible and that in the future the whole procedure will need to be re-examined.
We believe that noble Lords will wish to return to this subject after they have had a chance to study in detail the reply and remarks made today. I am pleased to see the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms on the Bench opposite. I hope that he and the usual channels will be able to arrange a full debate in this House as soon as possible after we return in October. We can then express in detail the views of the House not only on the important report of your Lordships' Select Committee but also the reply today from the Minister.
Lord Bach: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, and the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for their measured remarks today. I am grateful for what they said. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, that we are not repeating a Statement made in another place. Another place will follow us on this occasionthe noble Lord, Lord Roper, mentioned the reasonbecause a Select Committee of this House has reported. It is only right that a reply is made in this House, whether before or contemporaneously with a Statement in another place.
I understand that the usual channels will decide the date of a debate. That there will be a debate in the autumn has already been stated in this House in clear terms, and I confirm that today from the Dispatch Box. Perhaps I may point out that it is fairly unusual for a Statement to be made at the same time as a response from the Government to a Select Committee's report. The reason that we chose to do so is that we consider it a matter rightly of great import to this House, and a matter with which the House has been engaged for some time. Whatever noble Lords feel about the merits or demerits of what I have said, I hope that the House will accept that we are attempting to show the House some respect in making the Statement. Likewise, the Secretary of State is doing the same today in another place.
The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, raised the point about "no honest doubt". We have taken advice from outside Government, as one would expect a government department to do in these instances. I make this point also in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Roper. The phrase "no doubt whatsoever" was a very high standard of proof. But it is, or was meant to be, achievable. We are satisfied that this standard was reached in this case as, after detailed examination, every other hypothesis was implausible and the only conclusion that the reviewing officers could reach, therefore, was a controlled flight into terrain.
As regards the details of the response and the extra evidence being made available, I agree with both noble Lordsit is, of course, a matter for noble Lordsthat it is best to leave that until our important debate which will take place on another occasion.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, we welcome the thrust of the Government's Statement in response to the Select Committee report. The Government have not been persuaded to do a U-turn on the consistent support which has been given for the board of inquiry findings by Ministers of both political parties in both Houses at the Dispatch Box.
Noble Lords may agree that there will be much important detail in the Government's response to the Select Committee and I believe that it will be inappropriate to make snap responses or judgments until the Government's views have been studied. I welcome the opportunity for a debate in October when there will have been time for such study and reflection.
The Minister mentioned the importance of the airmanship aspect of this tragedy. Can he say why he feels that this is such a critical factor in the professional judgment of the board of inquiry and its findings? Does he agree that the attacks in the media and elsewhere outside Parliament on the integrity and professional judgment of the two air marshals are now without foundation and should not be continued?
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