It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I thank my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham for securing this debate and bringing this important issue to the attention of the House.
I am speaking in the debate because not only is the issue important for the safety of offshore workers, but it has affected my family. My brother-in-law Peter Ross was killed in the Cormorant Alpha helicopter crash on
I raised the issue of offshore helicopter safety recently as part of the inquiry by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs into the oil and gas sector. I asked the Minister what action was being taken to improve safety, and the answer could not have been more disappointing. The written response stated that the Government work with the Civil Aviation Authority and the oil and gas sector to consider any issues regarding health and safety when they arise. That is not good enough. The Government are passing the buck on their responsibility to protect offshore workers and ensure they return home safely, despite the fact that 33 offshore workers and crew have lost their lives through Super Puma helicopter accidents in the North sea in the past decade alone. There have been many others, and some have been saved when mistakes have been learned from. Sixty-five workers and crew were rescued in the North sea in the period in question. I am glad for every one of them and their families, and the people they know and love.
Those events have been happening despite a continuing decline in the confidence that offshore workers have in the safety of offshore helicopter transport. An Airbus survey of more than 5,000 offshore staff in 2017 found that 62% of those who had flown in helicopters were unlikely to fly in a Super Puma again if given a choice. That figure itself tells a story, and it is in spite of the recommendation by the Transport Committee in 2014 that there should be an independent inquiry into commercial pressures on offshore helicopter operations. Commercial pressure on offshore workers has increased following the fall in the international oil price in 2014, and we need to establish whether there is now commercial pressure of that kind on offshore helicopter operations, and whether it could affect safety.
I join the RMT and Unite the union in calling for an independent public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety. Not only is such an inquiry vital to restore confidence among offshore workers; it is long overdue, given the record of accidents in the North sea. I commend Unite for its Back Home Safe campaign, which I have joined in at many conferences. The campaign has been running over the past few years to highlight the need to improve offshore helicopter safety. I call on the Government to engage with the RMT and Unite and the offshore workers they represent. It is about time that concerns about safety were listened to and acted on, with a full independent inquiry. Let us not wait until more lives and more families are destroyed.