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Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I was Malcolm Rifkind's special adviser at the time, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it would not have been the desire of the then Secretary of State in those circumstances to revisit the judgment of two air marshals sitting on the board of inquiry unless there was evidence for doing so. He quite properly supported the opinion of the air marshals. Since there has been new evidence, he has revised his opinion. The Secretary of State is in precisely that position.
Mr. Hoon: I have always made it clear on behalf of the Government that were there to be new evidence I would consider reopening the matter. That is why I believe it necessary to look very carefully at the report published by the Select Committee in the other place so that we can reach a proper result on the basis of its analysis of the facts and the interesting technical views that it expressed at the time. Again, that is why I find it slightly surprising that the Opposition appear to believe that the position of the Government and the House ought to be to accept the views of a Select Committee in the other place without any further consideration. I made that point to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, and notwithstanding the suggestion that he had answered me, I am afraid that he did not.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): The Secretary of State implied that the interests of the relatives of the deceased passengers were somehow different from those of the relatives of the deceased pilots. Surely they are entirely the same. All relatives of the deceased have suffered greatly and want to make sure that the Secretary of State gets to the bottom of the matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) is simply saying that there are reasons for doubt. Could not the Secretary of State give us a little hope by saying that he accepts that there are unanswered questions that he must take seriously when responding to the House of Lords inquiry?
Mr. Hoon: That is precisely why it is necessary to conduct a further examination of the report, of the basis of the report and of the evidence on which the board of inquiry relied. That is what the Government are doing. The difficulty I have this evening in responding to the
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil): Will my right hon. Friend share with us some of the ways in which his Department will look afresh at the issue in the light of the Jauncey report? The report placed a great deal of emphasis on the evidence question and what the weight of evidence should be. I know that my right hon. Friend is a distinguished lawyer; is he likely to seek advice from the Attorney-General or the Advocate General? Many of us are worried about this being an in-house MOD response, and believe that the whole Government machine should be involved.
Mr. Hoon: I will deal with both those points in due course. Before that, I should like to say something about the critical comments made by the Select Committee in the other place about Air Marshals Sir John Day and Sir William Wratten. Whatever views exist as to their conclusions, I hope that the House will accept that the air marshals' decision was taken neither lightly nor easily. The judgment was taken with the utmost care, the fullest consideration of all the available evidence and the application of the highest standards of professionalism and airmanship.
The air marshals are experienced and highly professional senior officers, both experts in their field. Sir John Day, in his evidence to the Committee, described it as the most difficult decision that he has ever had to make in his career. He has also said that it is the decision that he thought most hard about, being only too well aware of the immense consequences of what he believed his professional judgment required him to say. Nobody would wish to find someone negligent, especially someone who has died, unless they were convinced beyond any doubt.
In that regard, it was extraordinarily disappointing to hear Lord Chalfont on the radio this morning suggesting that the problem was that senior members of the Royal Air Force were "reluctant to change their minds and to appear to lose face." In my view, that is unfair, unnecessary and thoroughly disrespectful to those who have risked their life on behalf of this country.
I cannot this eveningnor should anyone reasonably expect me to do so on behalf of the Ministry of Defencegive a thorough examination of the various facts raised by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden. To do so, inevitably, as his three questions indicate, would go so far as to reveal a conclusion that I am simply not in a position to give. It would not be right and proper, on behalf of a Government who are studying this Select Committee report thoroughly, to respond in anything like the detail that he has requested. He has set out his views clearly on more than one occasion, and he is unlikely to change them. However, it is right for the Government to consider carefully what has been said.
David Davis: My earlier point was that the flaw in the air marshals' argument in the first instance was the heavy reliance on that simulation. All it amounts to is an electronic guess; it is a postulation of what might have happened. Even if we accept that the Secretary of State cannot comment on the underpinning of the re-analysisI do not accept that, but let us take it as read for the momentsurely he can tell us that independent oversight of the re-run of the simulation is possible. We should not simply leave it to Boeing, which is, after all, parti pris in this exercise: it has an interest in the reputation of its helicopter. No one would accept a simulation or evidence that depends solely on those who have something to gain from the continuance of this miscarriage of justice.
Mr. Hoon: I am prepared to make the evidence produced in the light of the remodelling process available for independent analysis. I shall certainly make it available to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, and others in the campaign will be able to subject it to appropriate scrutiny.
I am interested in a fact that the right hon. Gentleman rather skated over. One purpose of the process is carefully to examine the speed of the aircraft at the relevant time. He suggestedI am prepared to be corrected if I am wrongthat there was no evidence whatsoever of the aircraft's speed. However, if only on a basic mathematical assessment of the time taken in the journey's course, it is possible to estimate the likely speed simply by dividing the time taken by the distance travelled. That will provide an estimate of the average speed during the journeythat is not, I accept, conclusive evidence of the aircraft's speed at the point in question, but it is part of the purpose of the modelling analysis.
David Davis: That argument has been tried before, but the House of Lords rebutted it on the grounds that it was dependent on averages. The aircraft travelled at about 150 knots from Belfast, Aldergrove to the way point, but that is not to say that it did not slow down when it was looking for the reference point of the lighthouse. We simply do not know: that is the point. The level of evidence that we need is absolute certaintynot hypothesis, averages or a convenient guess that fits the case.
Mr. Hoon: I am not sure that I was right to give way to the right hon. Gentleman. I had just made precisely that point. Perhaps he feels the need to embellish it for me, but I pointed out that it was possible to provide some evidence of the aircraft's speed, but that it was not conclusive regarding the speed at the way point change. Nevertheless, it helps us to form a judgment about what
On the simulation that the right hon. Gentleman is recommissioning, does he accept the point raised by Tony Collins, a journalist from Computer Weekly, that modern aircraft are so complicated technically that it is impossible for the purchaser, or anyone but the manufacturer, precisely to understand what the computer code has done. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the same would apply to simulations in circumstances as unbelievably complicated as those of this crash?