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The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Under the rules of procedure for boards of inquiry, the higher authority is responsible for convening the inquiry and reviewing its findings. In the case of the Chinook accident on the Mull of Kintyre, the Convening Officer and his Air Officer Commanding in Chief (the reviewing officers) reluctantly concluded that the pilots had continued to fly their aircraft towards the Mull below safety altitude in unsuitable weather and in direct contravention of both visual and instrument flight rules. In allowing their aircraft to do this, the pilots had not exercised the skill, care or judgment they were known to possess. Consequently, the conclusion was that the pilots were grossly negligent.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We are always prepared to consider any relevant new evidence. We have considered the points Mr Burke has raised but found nothing to justify reopening the findings of the RAF board of inquiry.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: It is possible to be certain of the cause for something happening even though the precise details of events leading up to it are less definite. The decision of the RAF board of inquiry into this accident was that there was no doubt that the actions of the two pilots were the direct cause of this crash and that this amounted to gross negligence.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Not when taken in context. At the earlier stages of the inquiry a range of scenarios, or possible causes, were considered. The conclusion arrived at was that, irrespective of the precise detail of the sequence of events, there was no doubt that the aircraft had been flown in a way that constituted negligence.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Chinook Mk2 is a modified Chinook Mk1 and there are, therefore, no procurement costs available for this variant. The Chinook Mk2A was procured in 1995 at a unit cost of some 20.2 million US dollars. This figure excludes the cost of engines, which were provided by the Ministry of Defence from existing stock holdings. The replacement cost of a Chinook engine is currently some 2.1 million US dollars.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Excluding one-offs and ground station costs, the cost to supply and fit Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (which include cockpit voice and flight data recorders) to each aircraft of the RAF Chinook Mk2/2a fleet is £320,000 (at 1999 prices).
Whether Chinooks operating in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq respectively are from the Mark 2/2A fleet; and whether they are being equipped with cockpit voice and flight data recorders.[HL3581]
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Chinook helicopters recently used in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, and currently used in Northern Ireland, are Mark 2 aircraft which were not fitted with cockpit voice and flight data recorders. Chinook helicopters have not operated in Iraq since the Gulf War in 1991. A programme to fit cockpit voice and flight data recorders to the Chinook Mark 2/2A fleet as part of the Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) should be completed by August 2001.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): The Government have now identified two more badger culling trial areas. One will be located in Gloucestershire and the other in Devon. This brings to 10 the number of areas in the trial, in line with the advice of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG), overseeing the trial.
The Government are committed to a wide-ranging strategy aimed at finding a science-based solution to TB in cattle. The badger culling trial is an important element of that strategy, designed to establish what role, if any, badgers play in the spread of TB in cattle; and whether localised culling of badgers helps to reduce TB in cattle herds. The trial is subject to strict welfare safeguards, including independent audit, and will not endanger badger populations. The ISG expect results to be available by the end of 2004, possibly earlier depending on the strength of any association between TB in cattle and badgers.
Baroness Hayman: The Rockall fisheries zone (RFZ) was relinquished in 1997 when the UK acceded to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Article 121(3) of UNCLOS prevents "rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own" being used to generate exclusive economic zones. Maintenance of the RFZ would not therefore have been compatible with UNCLOS and so would have been open to legal challenge.
Unregulated fishing in this area risks undermining EU management measures aimed at conserving stocks. That is why, at the Fisheries Council in June, we called upon the European Commission to press for the adoption of specific management measures by the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) to constrain fishing in the area. We were supported by a number of other member states, The European Commission has undertaken to pursue the necessary action in NEAFC.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): The prices of branded medicines are controlled indirectly by the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS), which limits the profits which companies can make from the sale of these products to the National Health Service. Within this ceiling on overall profits, companies have freedom of pricing with a high price on one product being balanced by a lower price on others. A new scheme was introduced in October 1999 under which the prices of medicines covered by the PPRS were reduced by 4.5 per cent. overall, representing savings to the NHS of around £200 million per year. The new scheme incorporates an inquiry into the extent of competition in the supply of branded medicines to the NHS, which will inform the mid-term review of the PPRS, which will be undertaken after April 2002.
Pharmaceutical companies often concentrate their research in particular therapeutic areas in which there may well be few suppliers. New products benefit from intellectual property protection which rewards and encourages research. In this particular area there has been a tendency for products to be launched at a common European price. Although their relative prices in different countries may be affected by currency fluctuations and controls of the kind exercised by the PPRS, they are at a similar level in other European countries.
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