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Nimrod Review

Volume 715: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2009


My Lords, before I repeat the Statement today, I declare a past interest as a non-executive director of both the Defence Logistics Organisation and the Defence Procurement Agency and, when those two organisations combined, as a non-executive director of Defence Equipment and Support. I can assure noble Lords that I was not personally involved in any decisions relating to the matter before us today and I have no interest, pecuniary or otherwise, to declare in respect of the report.

I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of the two soldiers of the 3rd Battalion The Rifles who were killed in operations in Afghanistan recently.

With the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, seven weeks ago I addressed this House about Mr Charles Haddon-Cave’s report into the events leading to the loss of 14 service personnel aboard Nimrod XV230 on 2 September 2006. As I said then, it was a tough read. It spelt out in detail the many failings both in the MoD and in industry that led to that tragedy. I wish again to express my sorrow for what happened that day and to reiterate my sincere apologies to the families of those who died. I know that nothing that I can say will bring these 14 men back. What we must do now is learn all the lessons and take all the actions necessary to implement them.

Mr Haddon-Cave’s investigations were wide-ranging. His report was thorough and detailed. I want to thank him again for his efforts and for helping us to identify the changes that we need to make. Today I am setting out to the House how we are implementing his recommendations. Some of them are complex. I am therefore placing in the Library of the House a more detailed written response to the 84 recommendations.

This afternoon I want to focus on three areas: the creation of a new Military Aviation Authority; the changes that we are making to the management of airworthiness; and our relationship with industry.

The Nimrod XV230 was lost as a result of a number of failings in the MoD and industry over a period of some three decades. Opportunities to discover and avoid the dangers, particularly during development of the safety case, were missed. In part this was due to specific errors. It was also because the MoD’s aviation safety processes had become too cumbersome, complex and lacking in transparency and accountability. Despite the efforts of many hard-working men and women in the MoD and the private sector to deliver safe aircraft, the result was simply not good enough.

The report recognised and, indeed, welcomed the many improvements that we have made since the loss of XV230, but it also made it clear that we needed to go much further. I agree and I am today announcing the most radical reform to the MoD’s approach to airworthiness procedures since military aviation began.

First, we are creating a new independent Military Aviation Authority, which will regulate, audit and assure all military aviation activity. It will be led by a senior, three-star military officer, supported by a staff of around 250 personnel. He will provide the leadership for airworthiness and independent assurance that we and our industry partners are all operating to the highest safety standards. He will have been identified and appointed by February and the new authority will begin its work from April next year. The MAA will be independent of those who fly and maintain our aircraft day to day, ensuring that they operate fully within the regulations and are properly equipped, trained and resourced to deliver safe aircraft to the services.

In proposing this new organisation for the management of airworthiness, Mr Haddon-Cave wanted to ensure responsiveness in the face of changing operational circumstances and that a safe approach was adopted at all times. I agree, but to make his recommendations effective in the military environment some adjustments are necessary.

The single service assistant Chiefs of Staff must retain responsibility for determining that our aircraft can be safely released into service. The MAA will provide full assurance but will not carry out the release-to-service role directly. For operational emergency clearances, I have decided to opt for a tighter regime than Mr Haddon-Cave proposed, under which the assistant chiefs, not those who fly the aircraft at the front line, will be responsible for these clearances. The MAA will play an assurance role in this area, too. This refinement to the Haddon-Cave model will deliver his intent while retaining operational agility and improve on both our current and his proposed governance arrangements.

Mr Haddon-Cave also recommended a new approach to aviation safety cases. He was critical of our current approach, saying that it was bureaucratic and missed the point. I agree. We need to make it simpler and more relevant. The MAA will rewrite our instructions to include the improvements that the report recommends. I have instructed that we examine how to apply this best practice appropriately across the whole of defence. We are also auditing the standards of our current aviation safety cases to check that they are fit for purpose. The majority of this work has already been completed and will be finalised in the next couple of weeks.

I turn to the criticism of our relationships with industry. My department has been working with BAE Systems and QinetiQ to address their failings identified in the report. BAE Systems has announced the appointment of Dr Chris Elliott to provide independent support to the group managing director in undertaking a review of the company’s approach to product safety. QinetiQ has appointed Sir Robert Nelson QC to oversee the company’s formal investigation, which will include a review of processes, structure and reporting. All their findings will be shared with us.

Partnership with industry has always been a part of ensuring that our troops are provided with the best possible equipment and support. We recognise that partnership does not mean that we can just transfer work to industry; we still have a role to play. That is why we are improving the skills of our people to ensure that we manage industry’s activities on our behalf more effectively. A review of the contract conditions that we put in place with industry is also being conducted. We will institute improved checks and audits by the MAA on industry compliance.

However, I acknowledge that we need to do more, so I have asked my noble friend Lord Drayson, as part of his work on the defence acquisition reform project, to establish a much clearer understanding of the different roles and interests of industry and the MoD and to be sure that industry’s efforts meet our needs.

In his report, Mr Haddon-Cave also criticised the personal conduct of a small number of civilians and service people who held positions in the MoD and in industry in the period leading up to 2006. A number of those individuals work for BAE Systems or for QinetiQ, both of which are conducting their own investigations. A number of others are now retired.

In relation to the two serving RAF officers who were named, neither officer currently holds a position in any way related to safety. An RAF police investigation is now under way. Honourable Members will understand that I am unable to comment further on these matters at present.

There is an expectation that, in some situations like this, investigations are accompanied by blameless suspensions of the individuals under investigation. We will look again at this to develop a common practice for all MoD personnel, military and civilian.

Mr Haddon-Cave’s analysis and conclusions on safety management in aviation have wider relevance and we are looking to see what changes we may need to make across other safety domains in defence. He made a number of broader observations on areas that were not the main focus of his report. Mr Haddon-Cave did not take evidence on the department’s approach to change management. However, I will ensure that his observations on these important issues are reflected in our planned work on the organisation and culture of the MoD and as part of the preparations for a future defence review.

Every effort is being made by my department to ensure that our Armed Forces have the best training and the best equipment, but we must recognise that the work of defence is inherently dangerous. We ask our Armed Forces to place themselves in harm’s way and this entails risk. At the same time, any organisation that wants to learn and improve must change and develop. Our Armed Forces cannot stand still in the face of developing threats and the need to work in hostile environments. It is also vital that we do everything possible to use public money effectively and efficiently. However, I am clear that change and development and the management of risk are not, and cannot be, incompatible with a clear commitment and approach to safety.

My honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and I have been clear throughout that the Ministry of Defence will be open and honest about our shortcomings and will respond vigorously to face the challenge to improve our performance. I regret enormously the death of those on the XV230 and apologise for the part that my department played in failing to prevent that. The measures that I have announced today reflect my personal commitment to improving the safety of military aviation and the safety of our Armed Forces”.

My Lords, I start by joining the Government in sending our condolences to the families and friends of the two soldiers of the 3rd Battalion The Rifles who were killed in Afghanistan.

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The subtitle of the Nimrod review is “A Failure of Leadership, Culture and Priorities”. This surely sums up its 583 pages. While we accept, as the Statement says, that the work of defence is inherently dangerous, this report requires questions to be asked and lessons applied. Fourteen lives were lost on the Nimrod XV230. We owe it to their families to establish as far as possible exactly what happened and to try to prevent it from ever happening again. We owe it to them to ensure that the Armed Forces have confidence in a safety regime that applies to the increasingly complex equipment that they are using.

Above all, the report shows that, where safety is concerned, cutting costs inevitably leads to cutting corners. Ultimately something will fail, be it from human error or from mechanical or systems failures. When this happens, the result, as painfully detailed in the report, will be catastrophic.

We welcome the creation of the independent MAA. The MAA will need to have competence to deal with industry. More and more, through-life capability management is being outsourced to industry and we welcome the Government’s commitment to institute improved checks and audits by the MAA on industry compliance. We particularly welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, has been asked to establish a much clearer understanding of the different roles and interests of industry and of the MoD and to be sure that industry meets the needs of the Government and the Armed Forces.

It is vital that the proper technical advice is passed up the chain and that the Armed Forces should trust that advice. Mr Haddon-Cave recommended a new approach to aviation safety cases. The Nimrod safety case was a lamentable job from start to finish. We welcome the Government’s acceptance that instructions need to be made much simpler and more relevant.

The report was very critical of two companies, BAE Systems and QinetiQ. The delay in their responses is not acceptable, as they both had plenty of warning. Did those two companies give the Government any reasons for that delay?

The report criticised two senior retired officers, General Sir Sam Cowan and Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger, for their roles as CDL during the key periods. Yet in all that they did, they were carrying out the strategy, policies and actions of the MoD, continuously reiterated and discussed with Ministers. If there was, as has been described in the report,

“a sustained period of deep organisational trauma”,

within the MoD, the Secretary of State must answer for that. In our parliamentary culture, it is Ministers who are accountable, both to Parliament and to the public, and it is wholly wrong that those retired officers should be pilloried in the press as they have been. What message does that send to serving members of the Armed Forces? I hope that the noble Lord will acknowledge the injustice done to them.

It will take more than a few tweaks to the bureaucratic structure of the MoD and DE&S to fix the shortcomings identified in this report. We need to see a thorough overhaul of the regime in the MoD, in DE&S and among civilian constructors to ensure that disasters like this do not happen again.

My Lords, I first enjoin these Benches in the earlier tribute to those who lost their lives yesterday in Afghanistan. To allow less than one hour for this House to respond to a major Statement does scant justice to the importance and complexity of the Haddon-Cave review. More particularly, it is totally inadequate given the tragic loss of 14 dedicated personnel aboard the Nimrod that was lost over Afghanistan in September 2006. I suggest that we really need—indeed, that we owe it to the relatives of the deceased—a much more thorough debate on the report and on the Government’s response.

The establishment of a military aviation authority, which we surely welcome, needs to be probed. Would it not be preferable for it to be chaired by a truly independent senior non-service person rather than a serving officer? Indeed, will there be any outside non-executive involvement or similar in that authority?

On the Haddon-Cave review itself, I pay tribute to that near 600-page tome as a remarkably comprehensive and detailed document, but I do have a number of questions. I echo very much the probing of the noble Lord, Lord Astor, in this regard, but given that Ministers have overall responsibility for their departments—certainly, for the financial resources allocated to them and for overall policy—why were no Ministers questioned by Haddon-Cave? Similarly, there was no questioning of either the Permanent Secretary or the second PUS despite, if I understand it correctly, the latter having overall responsibility for health and safety. Additionally, why were no non-executive members of the Defence Logistics Organisation board interviewed? I believe that we will be hearing from the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, shortly.

Haddon-Cave found against both BAE Systems and QinetiQ. On page 301, his report says:

“If BAE Systems had carried out the NSC task properly, the accident”,

would not have happened. In a press release dated 29 October 2009, BAE says:

“We accept full responsibility for these failings and apologise unreservedly for them”.

QinetiQ, as has been said, has appointed a former judge to oversee that company’s formal investigation.

However, the review also comes out heavily against two senior figures: General Sir Sam Cowan and Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger, both former Chiefs of Defence Logistics. Paragraph 17 on page 353 says:

“Two very senior figures bear particular responsibility for the episode of cuts, change dilution and distraction and its consequences”.

From my reading of the report, there appears little evidence to support these conclusions. It could be suggested that these former officers were only doing their jobs as instructed by Ministers and more senior officials. That is why I question the non-interviewing of Ministers. In terms of process, given the obvious distress to General Cowan, Sir Malcolm and their families that the besmirching of their reputations inevitably brings about, should they not at the very least be told of the review’s conclusions in so far as they concern them, providing an opportunity to challenge or refute before final publication?

The Minister’s Statement mysteriously tell us that:

“An RAF Police investigation is now under way”.

Can the Minister perhaps elucidate just a little? How extensive is the investigation? Does it just involve current serving officers? Indeed, who does it involve?

Paragraph 23 of the executive summary on page 12 says:

“But for the delays in the Nimrod MRA4 replacement programme, XV230 would probably have no longer been flying in September 2006, because it would have reached its Out-of-Service Date and already been scrapped or stripped for conversion. The general history of procurement in the MoD has been one of years of major delays and cost overruns. This has had a baleful effect on in-Service Support and safety and airworthiness generally”.

None of us who specialises in defence in this House needs reminding of all this. My point is that, given the financial pressures on the defence budget, there is an increasingly obvious danger in running on and patching up across all three services.

Today’s Statement hints at other changes that may be needed across the safety domain in defence. All who have responsibility for our Armed Forces need to place the highest priority on safety, obviously commensurate with operational risk, if we are to avoid tragedies like the Nimrod ever happening again.

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their responses, particularly to the extent to which I think that they support the creation of the MAA and the changes that that brings about. I will therefore not go into too much detail on their questions, but pick on some particular points.

BAE and QinetiQ received the report at the same time as the House, when it went into the public domain. In the circumstances, it is entirely reasonable that it would take a number of months to respond to it. I understand the expectation is that there will be a response reasonably early in the next year.

I am afraid that I cannot comment on the report or on the comments about other officers. We are content that evidence was provided for the report’s recommendations. Therefore, we have dealt with all the recommendations in full and have set out in our written response what we are doing about the recommendations we are accepting, the ones we partly accept and the ones we are rejecting, even the ones we are rejecting that have in many ways been modified. An RAF Police investigation is being conducted into the actions of the two serving officers. It would be inappropriate to comment further on them or on the retired personnel. For that reason, no matter how hard I am pressed, I will make no further comment on that issue or on the extent and depth of the police investigation.

The organisational trauma and the importance of ministerial responsibility are clearly accepted in the Statement. However, I am happy to reiterate that today. The Secretary of State acknowledged in October and today that Nimrod XV230 was lost as a result of a number of failings in the MoD and industry over three decades. This was due to specific errors and to the fact that the MoD’s aviation safety procedures had become too cumbersome and complex. We are therefore accepting recommendations made by Mr Haddon-Cave in regard to these specific failings in order to improve military airworthiness. The broader pursuit of savings within defence did not cause the crash, but may have contributed to related failings. Mr Haddon-Cave’s observation regarding savings and change will be reflected in our work on the forthcoming defence review and in the work being undertaken to reform defence acquisition.

The noble Lord, Lord Lee, touched on the formation of the MAA and sought a debate in the House on that. I am afraid I have to give the standard ministerial response that that is a matter for the usual channels. However, the MAA is an important organisation. He asked why a serving officer should be involved. Having been involved in safety critical environments, I can see why there may be some attraction in that. Given the complex, technical nature of aviation safety—I am also familiar with that—I think, on balance, one has to recognise that you need somebody who is up to speed with that environment. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine anybody but a serving officer being involved. That concern is reflected in the safety structure of the Ministry of Defence under the new regime. The MAA will not report to the Chief of the Air Staff but to the Second Permanent Under-Secretary, who holds responsibility for defence safety. Within the structure of the Ministry of Defence, it is, I think, an organisation which is as independent as is reasonably practical while being—

I do not want to over-press a point and take up time, but the Minister has just admitted that the Second Permanent Under-Secretary essentially has responsibility for health and safety, so why was he not interviewed by Haddon-Cave?

Essentially, Mr Haddon-Cave was given a brief that allowed him to choose who he interviewed. I do not know or understand his thinking. He interviewed those he thought it was appropriate to interview.

I was also pressed on non-executive directors. In this complex matter it is all too easy to make mistakes, but I understand that it is intended that the MAA will have non-executive directors, or at least a director of part of its administration. If I am wrong on that, I shall, of course, write to noble Lords to clarify the matter.

We all take the gravity of this situation. Any accident is sad, but this was extremely sad. I hope that the Ministry of Defence has not been slow in accepting its responsibility. It is also true that the MoD has for some years been on an improving trend in terms of safety practices. Certainly, if one looks at the response to this tragic accident and goes through the work on the specific fleet, and looks at how the Ministry of Defence is following up the work on all fleets to assure safety and to see how it might be applied to other platforms, there is real change. Together the MAA and that change will improve and assure safety in the defence environment.

My Lords, I am sure that everyone welcomes the establishment of the MAA, as I certainly do. Will the MAA have the power to recommend the immediate grounding of any type of aircraft where it considers that to be appropriate? If not, why not? If it does have that power, who at the Ministry of Defence will have the responsibility to see that such an instruction is immediately implemented?

My Lords, the MAA will have that power. It will audit, in a sense, everything that is done on the safety environment, all the inter-service documentation and any significant alterations, and it will have an accident investigation capability.

I will write to the noble Lord more specifically on that, but my understanding is that the power will be clear.

Does my noble friend agree that General Sir Sam Cowan and Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger have in fact been traduced by the Haddon-Cave report? I speak in this case from personal knowledge. I was invited by Sir Sam to be his senior independent director on the board of the Defence Logistics Organisation in 1999, and to continue in the same role by Sir Malcolm Pledger in 2003 until his retirement in 2005.

As the Statement acknowledges, Mr Haddon-Cave took no evidence to support either his general conclusion that the Defence Logistics Organisation was in disarray or his specific conclusion that further damage was done by the arbitrary imposition of a 20 per cent cut in costs. Mr Haddon-Cave could have asked me. It was not chaotic, and there was no sense that the Ministry of Defence’s traditional commitment to safety was being threatened. I think that I would have been in a position to know. I chaired, and indeed had set up, the defence logistics audit and risk committee, which consisted entirely of other independent non-executive directors, like me, who were on board throughout the Defence Logistics Organisation. In that forum anyone worried about safety could readily have said so, and they did not.

It is quite wrong to say that a 20 per cent target for cuts was imposed. There was an aspiration, fully supported by Ministers, of reducing costs by 20 per cent over four years—a goal which should have been well within our reach in the course of putting together three organisations that were fundamentally doing the same thing.

I would ask the Minister to accept that no matter how dreadful and how tragic the accident, and how much our sympathy goes to the families of the dead, it cannot be right wrongly to blame honourable men.

My Lords, I recognise the contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, to defence, and her role. I can agree with her statement to the extent that Haddon-Cave admitted that he took no evidence in this area. Our acceptance of the report specifically concerns acceptance of the recommendations which we believe to be evidence-based. I cannot proceed further on that subject in view of the police investigation.

My Lords, I apologise for arriving a little late after the Minister began the Statement—which of course I had read, having seen it in the Printed Paper Office earlier. Like him, I have spent a great deal of my life involved with both civil and military aviation, first in the Army and, secondly, in the United Kingdom’s commercial helicopter world.

One of the organisations whose work I have sometimes been frustrated by, but mostly respect, is the Civil Aviation Authority. The Statement refers to the creation of a military aviation authority. It is an abundantly sensible idea to regulate, audit and assure all aspects of military aviation. As there is to be a military representative on the board of the Civil Aviation Authority, is there to be civil aviation expertise available on the board of the Military Aviation Authority? Perhaps the noble Lord can also say whether the role of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch—which used to be part of the Department of Trade and Industry but is probably somewhere else now—will be maintained or developed to enhance the military’s ability to investigate military air accidents.

The Statement makes a lot of sense in many respects but is the sort of Statement that requires time to digest. I have read a very large part of Mr Haddon-Cave’s massive report, which raises two further questions in my mind. One relates to the Statement yesterday on the Nimrod MR2, which apparently is to be withdrawn a year early. What does that mean? A year earlier than what? What will be the effect of the withdrawal of the MR2, which yesterday’s Statement said was to be done on financial grounds and had nothing to do with air safety—which I wholly respect? Is any gap in capability likely to be generated by that? Will he also say where the Nimrod R1 stands? I know that there are only three of them, but whether all three are available is a matter of conjecture. They play a vital part in our various intelligence activities.

I think I recall that, many years ago, the noble Lord flew me to an oil rig. The Secretary of State announced yesterday that the Nimrod MR2 would be brought out of service 12 months earlier than planned. He emphasised, as do I, that that was not related to the Haddon-Cave report. I thank the noble Lord for that acknowledgement. There will, as a result, be some reduced capability and the initial deferring of the MRA4 capability. My understanding is that the reconnaissance versions will be kept, with sufficient capability to support our forces. If I have to trim from that, I will write to the noble Lord.

I welcome the noble Lord’s comments on the CAA and the MAA. They are analogous to a degree but, as he will know, the CAA environment is very much one in which many airlines operate common types to a very prescribed situation. The MAA acknowledges the inevitability of national sovereignty in operating special types of aircraft. So in many ways it will need a different sort of capability, and in some ways a more enhanced capability than the CAA.

The civil accident investigation branch will continue to support military accident investigations. In addition, we will grow our own military accident investigation capability. There will be regard in the MAA for the value of CAA experience, with the idea of the cross-fertilisation of directors. As I understand it, that is being pursued. If I have to demur from that, I will of course write to the noble Lord.

I am assured that the MR1 out-of-service date is not affected by yesterday’s Statement. So the reconnaissance version will continue as planned.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I, too, greatly regret that Mr Haddon-Cave did not consider the role and responsibilities of Ministers. Following the SDR in 1998, the failure of the Government adequately to fund the proposed new defence strategy led to more and more extreme attempts to extract the required pint out of a half-filled pot.

Where matters of flight safety were concerned—in which both those in the aircraft and maybe innocent people on the ground could be at risk—there should not have been presumptions of economies without far more rigorous consideration. There was not “a clear commitment and approach to safety”, to which the Statement now aspires.

The ministerial directives to amalgamate the single service logistics into the DLO, against the considered advice of the Chiefs of Staff, and subsequently further concentration of the DPA into the DE&S, proved to be an organisational overload in these key areas—so much so that neither were the anticipated 20 per cent economies in four years achieved, nor were key priorities affecting flight safety followed. The Nimrod accident is one but not the only failure that can be laid at, or will be attributable to, this ministerially misdirected policy.

The MoD is once again facing a position where financial resources and aspirations are seriously mismatched. We learn that there is to be a new Military Aviation Authority of some 250 people, but will Ministers, considering how to resource this and the other connected new arrangements that they have undertaken to implement, accept that the current levels of funding for defence are inadequate for our commitments? Commitments must be cut back rather than expecting to find unrealistic and unrealisable economies to resource new large structures and balance the books. What cost do the Government expect to have to find to set up and run the new MAA?

I also regret that the two senior officers charged by Ministers to restructure and achieve unrealisable savings should be held so personally to blame for the systemic failure of the MoD in setting out the policy they were to implement.

My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his comments but he will forgive me if I do not respond to them because he seems to have made some general remarks on costs and on the present funding of the Armed Forces.

The essence of the issue before us today is flight safety, and the Ministry of Defence has secured the appropriate money to ensure proper funding for flight safety standards over the years. I have spent some time being briefed and I have talked to people about the flight safety standard aspired to. I have also talked about the concept of ALARP and about the catastrophe rate that one aims to prevent. I do not believe that there is a money problem there.

For a series of technical reasons, a catastrophic event was caused by errors in the design of the aircraft over a number of decades. We acknowledge that in the safety review, which was instituted by the DLO in a commitment to look at its ageing assets and make sure that they were satisfactory, there was an opportunity to find those design defects. If they had been found, the catastrophe would not have occurred. However, while the pressure to change and become more efficient may have had some distracting effect, the accident did not occur for the want of appropriate investment. Indeed, we have put sufficient money into the Nimrod so as to maintain appropriate safety standards.

My Lords, as a rifleman, I join in the condolences for the families of two members of my regiment who were killed in Afghanistan yesterday.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen of Pimlico, and my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig, I am particularly concerned about a very disappointing admission in the Statement: namely, the very serious blemish in Mr Haddon-Cave’s report about the way in which he traduced the names and reputations of two distinguished senior officers. Of course, the hurt that they have suffered from sensational and erroneous headlines is nothing like that suffered by the families of the 14 servicemen who lost their lives. Nevertheless, I regard the way in which they have been treated as wholly unacceptable and a stain on the Ministry of Defence.

The loyalty of our Armed Forces to their Queen, to Ministers and to their officers is a byword. Service men and women expect their loyalty upwards to be matched by similar loyalty downwards to them. As this traduction amounts to disloyalty downwards to two distinguished people who had demonstrated loyalty upwards throughout their professional lives, it has damaged respect for the MoD in the Armed Forces, who now fear that their loyalty may similarly not be returned. That state of affairs is as dangerous as it is regrettable, particularly when we are fighting a war. I urge Ministers to take urgent steps to ensure that such totally unsubstantiated and unbriefed “broader observations”, to quote the Statement, are never again allowed to be published in their name. In particular, I ask the Minister what steps are being taken to put the record straight and to state publicly that General Sir Sam Cowan and Air Chief Marshal Sir Malcolm Pledger were wrongly pilloried for initiating financial cuts for which Ministers were responsible.

My Lords, the concerns expressed come from the report, not from the MoD. The MoD has carefully avoided any comment on these individuals for the reasons I gave earlier. Clearly, there is a police investigation, which means that there is a case, but I absolutely refuse to give any further indication of that. I do not know of the gravity of the case. Until that police investigation is complete, the MoD will not be making any statements about the officers who are presently employed or the officers who have retired. The MoD is very proud of its staff; it is very proud of the way in which they reacted to the challenge of this tragedy review, of the work they have done since and of the loyalty that they have applied to their task. That was made clear in the Statement.

My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks about the two soldiers who died yesterday in Afghanistan. They died in a noble cause. I hope that their relations will feel that.

Is the Minister aware that this Statement will be widely welcomed by all concerned, and especially by the bereaved families who simply look for the truth and for clarity? I commend the Government on a speedy response to what is a very tough, blunt and detailed report from Mr Haddon-Cave. Given the scale of the disaster and the grief caused to so many people, it is right and proper that the report should be radical and that the Government should respond so clearly and decisively. I hope the recommendations will be implemented without delay.

The Defence Secretary said in the Statement that Mr Haddon-Cave had made a number of broader observations about areas which were not the main focus of his report. A number of noble Lords have mentioned the generalised comments that he made about the management of change. In doing so, as has already been said, he strayed too wide of his remit. I was the Secretary of State for Defence at the time of the 1998 Strategic Defence Review and I take full responsibility for its recommendations. He makes a number of comments about it. If Mr Haddon-Cave was going to come to conclusions on the impact of that review on management conduct in the Ministry of Defence, he should have done so only after hearing from those who were concerned and involved, and especially from Ministers, such as myself and my noble friend Lord Gilbert, who was the Minister for Defence Procurement at the time.

As he did not seek such evidence, it was particularly unfair and unjust to name General Cowan, whom I appointed as the first ever Chief of Defence Logistics, and his successor, Air Chief Marshal Pledger. I sincerely believed at the time that they could, without any risk to safety or efficiency, achieve a 20 per cent cut in the costs of the new logistics organisation over a period of four years. I did not think that that was an unreasonable target, given the past and given the synergies of bringing together three service logistics organisations. Even today, I do not think that that was a dangerous strategy.

My Lords, it is good to have the endorsement of my noble friend Lord Robertson’s response. We will be taking the recommendations forward as speedily as possible. We have accepted the recommendation: the MAA will form from April 2010 and be fully operational from April 2011. There should be an announcement in February as to who is to head it, and the task of looking for an appropriate location for it will start in the new year.

I do not feel that it is sensible for me to comment further on Mr Haddon-Cave’s observations on individuals. I stress that the Government were careful to ensure that his recommendations, on which we have acted, were evidence-driven, and it is those recommendations that we are reporting to the House today.

Motion to Adjourn

Moved by

My Lords, in moving that the House do now Adjourn, I repeat all our best wishes and seasonal greetings to all Members, staff and Officers and, in particular, to our Lord Speaker, who, I am sure the whole House will agree, deserves a well earned rest over the holiday. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.07 pm.