Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): May I say to the Secretary of State and to my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) that I am glad that this is not a party matter? The Secretary of State has shown evidence that he has approached this with an open mind, that there is no other plausible explanation with any proof attached to it, and that those on both sides of the House who are asking for any implausible explanation to be ruled out by evidence are going far beyond the natural consequences of the decisions that, sadly, the pilots took when they flew that aeroplane in the direction that they did, at the height that they did and at the speed that they did.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I would simply invite right hon. and hon. Members to look

22 Jul 2002 : Column 703

carefully at the facts, and to deal with each of them as they are set out in the report that we have made available to Members of the House.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Will the Secretary of State take it from me that a large number of us are genuinely sorry—in my case, on behalf of my constituents at Boscombe Down—that a statement has been made this afternoon that changes absolutely nothing? Will he tell me whether he has at any stage discussed this statement and the outcome of his deliberations with the Prime Minister?

Mr. Hoon: The usual discussions have taken place across Government for many years. I come to the House presenting a settled Government view.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Given that a number of independent, qualified and distinguished individuals who have investigated have declined to blame the pilots, and given that it is really rather undesirable for the Ministry of Defence to have the final say, would it not be best to appoint a senior judicial figure to review all the existing evidence and make a report?

Mr. Hoon: That is certainly a possible option, and I would not rule it out. I think, however, that the senior judicial figure would be much better served if new evidence could be added to the existing evidence, because he or she would then have something to deal with.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The right hon. Gentleman's statement was littered with uses of the word "plausible", referring to alternative explanations for the crash. Surely the problem is that what the Secretary of State, the senior reviewing officer and the board of inquiry are inviting us to believe is itself implausible. It is implausible that two pilots who had expressed doubts about the quality of their aircraft should then fly, at such a height and speed, into cloud and into the Mull, with a cargo of such value. There was no data recorder and no voice cockpit recorder, and one of the digital engine control units was destroyed in the crash. Does the Secretary of State accept

22 Jul 2002 : Column 704

that he cannot ask us to uphold a wholly implausible view without "absolutely no doubt whatsoever", and that he has not the evidence to sustain that?

Mr. Hoon: Sadly for the hon. Gentleman, the only explanation that fits all the known and agreed facts is the conclusion reached by the board of inquiry: that the pilots flew the aircraft at high speed, low, in contravention of the "visual flight rules", into the Mull. Unfortunately, that is the only explanation that fits the known facts. I wish it were otherwise, but that is the position.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): If the pilots had lived, albeit having done something negligent, would they not have been able to speak in their own defence? Was it not therefore deeply unsatisfactory that under the rules before this incident, deceased pilots could be blamed when they could not speak in their own defence? Is it not a fact that the reason for the belated recognition that that is unsatisfactory is this very case; and is it not a fact that a verdict of this kind could never be reached again as a result of dissatisfaction about what has happened in this very case?

Why does the Secretary of State not reconsider his answer to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), and say that it would be possible to revisit the circumstances and decide that the application of the rules to this case at that time constituted a basic injustice? Surely the revoking of the rules represents a belated acknowledgement that they were unjust when applied to the deceased pilots.

Mr. Hoon: I certainly agree that the two pilots would have been the best witnesses. Part of the tragedy is the fact that they are not available to give us their evidence. Nevertheless, neither the hon. Gentleman nor any other Member should try to avoid the fact that the best evidence is not available on numerous occasions. On such occasions, we must still try to make judgments on the basis of what evidence is available. That, sadly, applies to this case.

The change in the system does not undermine the fact that the reviewing officers and the board of inquiry considered the case in the light of the test and the rules that applied at the time. If the hon. Gentleman applies his perfectly logical reasoning to the situation, he will realise that if that were not the case any single decision made at any tribunal or court in our history could be challenged simply because subsequent generations took a different view of what test should have applied at the time. That would simply not be satisfactory.

22 Jul 2002 : Column 703

22 Jul 2002 : Column 705

Point of Order

5.45 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will recall that, at columns 476–77 last Thursday, in relation to the statutory instrument Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 105) on Invest to Save Budget Round 4 Projects and Local Government On-Line, I raised the fact that, as at half-past 3 on Thursday, the relevant statutory instrument was not printed and was not in the Vote Office. The Chairman of Ways and Means gave a ruling at the time:

That was a pretty strong ruling. I subsequently discovered that a copy was not even in the Library, which must be pretty close to contravening the rules of the House.

We discussed the statutory instrument in Standing Committee at 4.30 pm today, and we discovered that it had not even been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. That seems to be pretty close to breaking the rules of the House, if not actually breaking them. It is certainly breaking the spirit of the workings of the House.

This is an extremely sloppy way of working the part of the Government. I raised the matter in Committee on a point of order. I asked for the instrument to be postponed, but the Chairman ruled that he was empowered to consider only whether it had been properly considered by the Committee. I would like you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to rule that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister should follow better working practices when laying statutory instruments in the House. It was not even an urgent statutory instrument. It could have been laid in the House in the autumn.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I believe that that procedure is not unprecedented.


Endangered Species (Offences)

Mr. David Amess presented a Bill to provide for the punishment of offences relating to endangered species; to make consequential amendments to certain enactments; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Thursday 14 November, and to be printed [Bill 185].

22 Jul 2002 : Column 706

Mobile Telephones (Re-programming) Bill [Lords]>

Order for Second Reading read.

5.48 pm

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill has been debated in another place and I am pleased to say that it has been passed there without amendment. It is a short and perhaps slightly technical Bill but it seeks to tackle a fast-growing and significant problem: the theft of mobile phones. There has been much public, parliamentary and media concern in recent months about mobile phone theft and street crime in general. The Bill will help to deal with some of those concerns.

We are determined to tackle street crime through a comprehensive programme of measures across government, the police service, the courts and the criminal justice system. The Bill should be seen as a part of that wider programme. It is fully supported by the police and the mobile phone industry as part of the fight against street crime.

There is now a broad body of evidence, some of it anecdotal, some statistical, that the theft of mobile phones has contributed significantly to the rise in street robberies. Therefore, tackling mobile phone theft can play an important part in driving down street crime.

A Home Office report on mobile phone theft was published in January 2002. It showed that in 2000–01, mobile phones were stolen in 28 per cent. of all robberies, compared with 8 per cent. only three years previously. Since 1995, there has been a 600 per cent. increase in mobile phone owners. There are about 50 million mobile phone users in the United Kingdom. Clearly, the opportunity for mobile phones to be stolen is significantly greater than a few years ago. None the less, the only conclusion that we can draw is that robberies involving mobile phones are increasing at a much greater rate than robberies in general.

In the Metropolitan police area alone, the percentage of offences in which a mobile phone is among the items stolen has risen from 25 per cent. in 1999–2000 to 50 per cent. in 2001–02. In January this year, the police estimate that 31 per cent. of all robberies and snatch thefts in London targeted mobile phones alone, while 20 per cent. involved a mobile phone as well as other items, so 51 per cent. of all street crime in London in that month involved a mobile phone.

As we all know, the police in London and other major cities, where most street robberies take place, are clamping down on street crime. They are tackling mobile phone theft, with the support of the other criminal justice agencies, local authorities, schools and employment services.

One strand of that work has been to find ways of reducing the number of mobile phones stolen. In January 2001, we set up a steering group with the police and the mobile phone industry to consider the practical measures that needed to be taken. Significant progress has been made, especially with the network providers Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile, Orange and Virgin. Following extensive discussions throughout last year, and prompted by the

22 Jul 2002 : Column 707

evidence of the scale of the problem in the report to which I referred, Vodafone and O2, which were previously not able to bar handsets on their own networks, have now invested in the technology needed to do so.

Next Section

IndexHome Page