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Mr. Joyce: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can enlighten me about something. My understanding is that,

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if the weather was bad, the helicopter should have been flying at about 10,000 ft, but it was not; it was flying too low. So regardless of any problems with equipment—FADEC or anything else—the helicopter should have been flying high. If it had a massive problem, it might have plummeted from the sky, but it would not have hit the Mull of Kintyre. That is the crux of the issue, not the technicalities that the right hon. Gentleman and the Select Committee in another place have mentioned. Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on that fact?

Mr. Arbuthnot: I am happy to do so. The question of how bad the weather was is crucial to the board of inquiry's finding. Mr. Holbrook, the skipper of the yacht who saw the Chinook flying over and saw sunlight glinting on its side and guessed that it was flying at about 80 or 90 mph, said that he could see bits of the Mull from his yacht. He was asked three questions by the board of inquiry, and it constructed from his brief answers to those questions a view of the weather pattern, which, as the Select Committee report from another place shows, is simply not borne out by what was said then or by what Mr. Holbrook believed. I invite the hon. Gentleman please to read the Select Committee report from another place, which examines the evidence of the weather and what the pilots may or may not have been able to see from the height and at the speed at which we think they may have been flying.

I have just used the word "mistake". The air marshals made a mistake in thinking that they knew things that they did not know. I still believe that that was a mistake. I agree with the Public Accounts Committee report, which stated:

In fact, I believe that I can even pinpoint where the mistake took place. In paragraph 2 of part 4 of the RAF board of inquiry's findings, Sir John Day says:

But, in using the word "likely", he is applying the wrong test. Because the pilots have died, the proper test is one not of the likelihood, but of having absolutely no doubt whatever. I do not attack or belittle Sir John Day for applying the wrong test—I merely point out that he has done so. He is not legally qualified and he did not have any legal advice.

Dr. Julian Lewis: I know that my right hon. Friend is coming to the end of his speech. Before he finishes it, will he comment on the fact that—I believe that I am correct—the RAF has now altered its rules so that, if anything similar were to happen again, deceased pilots could not be blamed in that way? If as a result of this case the RAF has decided that it is an injustice to blame deceased pilots in that way, surely it would only be justice to absolve those pilots?

Mr. Arbuthnot: I believe that that is so. My hon. Friend is right to say that the MOD has changed the rules and has decided to leave the attribution of blame for

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negligence to the civil courts, and it is right to have done that. I am aware of no other case in which deceased pilots have been found negligent. This is the only case in which that has happened.

Given that, as a result of the air marshals' remarks, the RAF board of inquiry applied the wrong test, what are we to do? The MOD says that it requires new evidence, but that is wrong. All we need is the new realisation that the old finding is unsafe and always has been because, while an evident injustice remains, to leave it in the records is a dishonourable thing to do. It no longer dishonours the pilots because the world now acknowledges that their reputations have been cleared. They have died in the service of their country, and we can be proud of them. The people whom the present situation dishonours are those who have stubbornly, foolishly and unfairly refused to do the right thing. This issue is never going to go away until it is put right.

4.7 pm

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): I want to speak about Britain's involvement in the United States national missile defence programme, particularly the work that is going ahead at Fylingdales, the satellite tracking station in Yorkshire, not far from my constituency. Fylingdales is integral to NMD, but I first want to consider the international framework in which Fylingdales operates.

President Bush's state of the union speech set a framework of permanent global military intervention by the United States. That should give us all reason for concern. He said:

in Afghanistan—

It will encompass the whole world. He went on to say that, to handle the terrorist threat, we must

As has been said many times inside and outside the House, even if an NMD system had been in place, it would have contributed absolutely zero to stopping the terrible events of 11 September. The Bush Administration has never explained the logic of connecting 11 September to the star wars programme—quite simply, they are not connected. However, the emotions that that terrible terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre understandably evokes in ordinary Americans have been exploited by the Administration to push through the enormous increase in military spending that developing NMD requires. I shall come to that in a moment. By including North Korea as part of his so-called evil axis, President Bush is blatantly seeking to justify his harmful and destabilising star wars programme.

As many hon. Members are aware, much of Europe has reacted unfavourably to President Bush's speech. There are still considerable reservations worldwide about NMD. Hubert Vedrine, the French Foreign Minister, has described Bush's world view as simplistic and unilateralist, and I agree with him, as does European public opinion, as a growing number of polls in Europe show.

The permanent global intervention that President Bush's speech foreshadows will also include a new and even broader out-of-area role for NATO. It will therefore affect this country directly. Speaking at an international

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conference in Germany last weekend, the US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said that NATO needed

to develop

He also warned European allies that, if America does not get its way on this issue, it is ready to act outside its traditional alliances. He said:

That is an alarming development.

A report in The Guardian today should also cause us great concern:

[Interruption.] I am glad that that prospect draws a cavalier response from Conservative Members. I hope that they will be just as happy if that scenario occurs and there are many deaths as a result. What concerns me is that, in spite of much opposition from the French, the Germans and other European allies, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have refused to join in the public outcry about such blatant warmongering. In fact, a Foreign Office official said yesterday that military action, although not imminent, could happen in "a question of months." A Foreign Office spokesman later added:

Will the Minister tell the House whether we will acquiesce in and support such a worldwide extension of warfare?

Mr. Gerald Howarth: If the hon. Lady were faced with overwhelming evidence to her satisfaction that countries such as Iraq or Iran not only had the capability to attack this country and her constituents but had every intention of doing so, would she be content to wait until they attacked her constituents, or would she support her Government if they decided to make a pre-emptive strike?

Mrs. Mahon: No evidence has ever been produced that Iraq wants to attack this country, although, as a matter of fact, we attack Iraq almost weekly. I shall raise that issue at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels this weekend. If the Americans repeat their desire to extend the military action, the House should have further debates on the matter.

If we are America's best friends—we are the American people's best friends, as we share language and culture—as true friends, we should tell them that the escalation of military action will simply bring about another arms race, which will be devastating for the rest of the world.

I want to refer to the effect of national missile defence on military spending. As we know, the US military budget will climb to $360 billion this year and to $396 billion in 2003. US military spending already accounts for 17.8 per

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cent. of the Federal budget. By 2003, it is calculated that it will reach more than 30 per cent. in nominal terms—almost a quarter of the total budget in real terms. The United States already spends more than a third of the world's total military expenditure. That is more than the expenditure of the next nine biggest spenders combined and more than three times the amount spent by all its potential enemies. The budget increase is the biggest in military spending in two decades and military spending will rival that at the height of the cold war.

National missile defence accounts for a large chunk of Pentagon spending. A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office puts the cost of such spending at $238 billion over the next 15 years. We all know that such calculations—especially official calculations—are usually notorious for underestimating the eventual real cost. When I consider the poverty and despair in much of the developing world, I believe that such expenditure is an obscenity.

We have heard calls this afternoon for much more military spending. People say that there is no free lunch for Europe or for Britain. The Secretary-General of NATO is already calling for European allies to step up their military spending and he took what the BBC called the "unprecedented step" of declaring 11 September to be an assault on the alliance as a whole. He said that European forces would be unable to operate alongside United States forces unless budgets are massively increased.

I am also worried about the domestic programme. I want to defend our country, but I am not certain that spending billions and billions on star wars is the way to do that. A substantial increase in our budget would knock out our plans to improve health, education and to do something about the transport system. A serious debate about Britain's attitude to missile defence is long overdue. We need to consider the danger that it poses to Britain, which will become a target if we are involved, and the cost.

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