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Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): Is it not true that the flight crew on that day had sought an alternative aircraft to make the journey?

David Davis: That is right. There is a trail of concerns about the aircraft, expressed particularly by Flight Lieutenant Tapper.

On the question of control jams, two expert witnesses—whom I described earlier—expressed the view that the most likely cause of the accident was a jam of some kind affecting the control of the aircraft, perhaps arising from detached hydraulic system components and arising immediately after an attempt to change direction in the aircraft.

Finally in terms of possible causes, in June 1997 a US Army report into Chinook safety considered an incident when a Chinook had barrel-rolled at about 1,100 ft and righted itself at about 250 ft. Following the incident, the helicopter was completely stripped down. No cause for the incident could be established. Let me emphasise this: a Chinook helicopter went out of control and barrel-rolled to within a second or so of total destruction, and not one single solid piece of evidence was found about the cause. Hydraulic contamination was thought to be most likely. The AAIB also discovered metal contamination in the same part of the Chinook ZD 576's hydraulic system.

Following the accident, the rudder pedals were found at 77 per cent. of full travel. This is an extreme position—almost full left rudder. Expert witnesses told the Lords Committee that such "an enormous rudder input" was unthinkable at high speed. This, combined with other control inputs found, suggested an

Both Sir John Day and Sir William Wratten accepted that the possibility of a control jam or engine malfunction could not be disproved. Again, I remind the House of the required level of proof.

In conclusion, there is a lack of evidence pointing to reasons why the pilots should have decided to change course and switch to instrument rules. Indeed, all the evidence indicates that they had no reason to do so. So why did the helicopter fly on into the mull? Well-known

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technical problems and episodes suffered by this very helicopter must surely point to at least the possibility that technical problems caused or contributed to the crash.

However, the MOD has given no benefit of doubt in either of these key aspects, even though many problems and doubts have been raised. In short, it has not been established to the required level of proof that it was the voluntary action of the pilots which caused the aircraft to fly into the hill. This is precisely why the Government should set aside the verdict of gross negligence.

If the Secretary of State is not willing to do that today—it would appear that he is not—I would like him to answer three questions about his proposed new simulation that will help his thinking in making his final decision. First, where will he get the new input data for his new simulation, since the old simulation failed partly because of a lack of inputting? Secondly, how will the simulation take account of any possible control system malfunction? The other one did not. Finally, will he see that any simulation is carried out by an independent body, and not by Boeing, which has a clear commercial interest in the outcome of this case? Will he also ensure that an independently monitored flight test of a representative RAF Chinook is carried out to verify that the simulated flight manoeuvres can be achieved and are not impossible, as was the case in his previous so-called evidence?

I hope the Secretary of State will take seriously the House of Lords refutation of the air marshals' judgment and the standards of proof required. He must accept that this is a matter of natural justice and see fit to clear the pilots' names. This is now a matter of honour, not just for the pilots but for the MOD itself.

7.56 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to respond to this evening's debate on the tragic RAF Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994. I must say that it is perhaps slightly surprising, in the light of events elsewhere, that the Opposition chose to debate this subject today. They are well aware that the Government are still carefully considering the House of Lords Select Committee report on the crash. It is therefore difficult at this stage to add to what has been said previously. The Government have up to six months to respond to the report, and we certainly aim to do so before that deadline is reached.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) set out the facts and I do not intend to repeat them. He did skate over one point, in response to a question from the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel). The board of inquiry was entirely properly constituted and reached its conclusions as a properly constituted board of inquiry would be expected to. The right hon. Gentleman should accept that there is no suggestion of division in the way in which it went about reaching its conclusions.

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Everyone recognises that what happened that evening has cast a very long shadow. It has had a devastating impact on the lives of the 29 families of those who lost loved ones in the crash. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say that I am completely sympathetic to the concerns of the families of the dead pilots; I also speak for the MOD when I say that. I entirely understand their wish to clear their relatives' names, but I must emphasise that we must also remember with sympathy and understanding the relatives of the others who so tragically lost their lives in this accident. This issue has touched all of those who have had to deal with it over the past seven years, including a series of chiefs of staff and Defence Ministers representing both sides of the House.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Has MOD policy changed in either of two respects? First, in future, would the MOD ever approve the concentration of such a large number of key intelligence personnel in a single aircraft? If not, that suggests a vested interest in blaming the pilots. Secondly, is it true that a decision has been made that, in future, in circumstances even of this sort, there would be no question of the MOD blaming deceased pilots? If the rules have been changed because of the case of these two pilots, is it not monstrously unjust that the two pilots themselves, who have led to the change in the rules, should nevertheless continue to carry the blame in perpetuity?

Mr. Hoon: Clearly it was not sensible for so many highly specialised people to be carried on a single aircraft, but I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's implication that there is a deliberate conspiracy to cover up the details simply to protect those who were responsible for the decision in the first place. I am sure that if he thinks about that for a second, he will realise that that is not a proper imputation to make at this stage.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hoon: Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to respond to the hon. Gentleman's second point.

The hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned the present rules, which certainly have changed. They have not necessarily changed as a result of this specific unfortunate incident, but they have changed. However, that creates a difficulty for the hon. Gentleman and those who support this campaign. Not only do they need to look at the evidence in the light of the information that they have today but, in my view, they have to put themselves in the position of members of the board of inquiry at the time, applying the standards and rules that they had to apply. It is all very well rewriting history and saying that it is possible to look at historic events in a different way in the light of our experience and current practice, but the only fair way of dealing with this is to put oneself in the position of the air marshals and the board of inquiry, who were subject to the relevant rules of the Royal Air Force at the time.

Mr. Dalyell: Before leaving the problems of previous Secretaries of State for Defence, would not my right hon. Friend have been understandably annoyed if he had not been told that legal proceedings involving the manufacturers were taking place? What does he say to

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Malcolm Rifkind, who has expressed public annoyance that he was not told? It is not exactly the best way for the Ministry of Defence to treat its then Secretary of State.

Mr. Hoon: Malcolm Rifkind is not here and it would perhaps be unfair to respond fully to that point. However, I agreed to see him when he wished to make representations about this matter. I hope that I am fair to him when I say that the conclusion of our conversation was to the effect that were he to be in the same position again he would not have reached the same conclusion that he reached originally. That is a perfectly proper judgment for him to reach, and I think that it is a fair account of the way in which he now puts the case. Nevertheless, when he considered the matter in the light of whatever evidence was before him at the time, he reached a different conclusion. As I said, I have discussed the matter with him and nothing that he said to me at the time persuaded me that there was at that stage any need to reopen the matter.

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