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Offshore Helicopter Safety — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:43 pm on 6th February 2019.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Minister of State (Department for Transport) 3:43 pm, 6th February 2019

That is a very interesting idea. I feel slightly as though I should withhold my own judgment, because I am not the aviation lead; Baroness Sugg is. I will absolutely take that issue up with her, because I recognise the concerns that the right hon. Gentleman describes.

It is clear that more needs to be done to provide reassurance about the safety of the helicopter fleet. As has been mentioned, after every accident the air accidents investigation branch conducts an independent and transparent investigation and publishes a very detailed report with a set of safety recommendations to the industry and the regulators.

Let me turn to some of the points that have been made, many of which are very important. My hon. Friend Scott Mann rightly reminded us that pilot error is the leading cause of death and injury in civil and commercial aviation. I echo the emphasis of my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon on embedding a safety culture.

To come back to a point made by Karl Turner , it is not quite right that commercial activity is antithetical to safety. I have lived and worked in communist countries, and I can tell him that the safety records in those places, which were notionally devoted to the wellbeing of workers, was absolutely lamentable. There can be commercial pressures in any safety-oriented situation, and they must be offset by a rigorous internal culture. That is why the emphasis that we and the oil and gas industry place on that is of such importance.

A point was made about the role of the CAA. The CAA not only goes beyond the EASA recommendations, but is itself audited by EASA. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East asked whether the Government wish to stay in EASA following Brexit. As I have repeatedly assured him—of course, this is a matter still for discussion—EASA is in many ways an offshoot of the CAA, and we would like nothing better than to have a comprehensive agreement that includes an appropriate relationship with EASA, whatever the legalities are, because we recognise what it does.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether offshore voters should have a majority vote on the introduction of new helicopter airframes. I cannot comment on the practicality of that. I would say, however, that offshore workers have, in effect, already spoken: they have made it clear that they do not have confidence at the moment. I think that is right.

I have very little time, and I want to allow the hon. Member for Stockton North a chance to give a final response. I thank him for securing this important debate, and I thank everyone who has made contributions—especially those who have brought their personal experiences to the table. The entire framework of the British Government recognises that those who rely on offshore helicopter operations must have their safety preserved. That is of the utmost importance. We also believe that all parties must continue to take whatever steps they can to minimise the risks in those operations and ensure confidence among those who travel in these aircraft.