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Lord Cope of Berkeley: I did not detect much in the way of argument in that reply; merely a statement that the Government consider that the time limits in the Bill are reasonable. However, that is the nature of the discussion on this matter. There is no way in which to decide objectively what is the right period of time. We shall reflect on what the Minister said. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Carter: I beg to move that the House do now resume. I suggest that the Committee stage should not begin again before 8.30 p.m. Perhaps I may also remind noble Lords who are to take part in the debate on the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that we have allocated the dinner hour for this debate--that is, one hour. It would be for the convenience of noble Lords who are to take part in the Vehicles (Crime) Bill if that debate could be concluded within the hour.
Lord Chalfont rose to move to resolve, That, whilst recognising that the final decision will be a decision for the whole House, it is desirable that the Liaison Committee should consider the appointment of a Select Committee to consider all the circumstances surrounding the crash of Chinook helicopter ZD 576 on the Mull of Kintyre on 2nd June 1994.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I apologise for the apparent confusion about the wording of the Motion, which is of course as it appears on the Order Paper and not on the speakers' list. However, I hope that my intention is clear. In the words of the Companion, I am asking the House to agree to this resolution as a formal expression of the decision of the House that an ad hoc Select Committee should be set up without delay.
Perhaps I may begin by making clear at once that this Motion does not imply criticism of Ministers either of this Government or of their predecessors. The accident to which the Motion refers took place under a Conservative government. A succession of Ministers, both of that Government and of the present one, have dealt with it in a perfectly normal way on advice from their officials in the Ministry of Defence. Of course,
It began at approximately twenty minutes to six on the evening of 2nd June 1994 when Chinook helicopter ZD 576 took off from the Royal Air Force station at Aldergrove in Northern Ireland. The crew of the aircraft were two experienced special forces officers--Flight-Lieutenant Tapper, the captain, and Flight-Lieutenant Cook, the co-pilot--and two Royal Air Force crewmen. There were 25 civilian and military passengers, most belonging to the Northern Ireland intelligence community. Their destination was Fort George in Scotland. However, at about 6 p.m. the helicopter crashed on the Mull of Kintyre.
That is all that is known as fact because all four crew and all 25 passengers were killed, and the aircraft carried no accident data recorder or cockpit voice recorder--the items known popularly as black boxes. Therefore, anything else about the incident is speculation or subjective judgment, except one thing. There is one other fact which is of vital importance and which I ask your Lordships to bear in mind throughout this brief account. It is as follows. At the time of the accident, Royal Air Force regulations contained the following sentence:
Incidentally, since the crash of that helicopter, that has been altered and boards of inquiry are no longer able to make any apportionment of blame. Noble Lords may regard that change in RAF regulations as significant.
On 3rd June, the following day, a Royal Air Force board of inquiry assembled to inquire into the accident by order of Air Vice Marshal Day, the Air Officer Commanding No. 1 Group--an officer who will figure prominently in this story. After examining more than 20 witnesses, the board of inquiry came to the conclusion that on the available evidence it would be incorrect to criticise either of the pilots for human failings.
That finding was, on the orders of Air Vice Marshal Day, reviewed by two senior RAF officers--the relevant station commanders at Odiham and Aldergrove. Group Captain Crawford at Odiham concluded that,
Those conclusions were based on the subjective judgments that these two senior Royal Air Force officers were quite entitled to reach. In their position--they were reviewing the board of inquiry--they were entitled to reach those conclusions. However, subsequent developments suggest that there is a distinct possibility that they may have reached wrong conclusions, especially given the requirement that there should be absolutely no doubt whatever about the causes of the accident.
The first of those developments was the setting up in Scotland of a fatal accident inquiry in 1996 under the direction of Sir Stephen Young, an experienced Scottish judge. After taking 16 days of evidence and taking into account all the evidence that was available to the RAF board of inquiry, Sir Stephen dismissed the air marshals' findings and concluded that the cause of the accident could not be established.
Meanwhile, the families of the dead pilots had mounted a campaign to clear the pilots' names, and in April last year three senior members of the flight operations group of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Captains MacDonald, Hadlow and Kohn, compiled a detailed report--an independent report--on the crash. Those three experienced aviation experts, one of whom, incidentally, was a former service helicopter pilot, concluded that the case was,
In July last year, the noble Lord, Lord Murray, a former Lord Advocate, examined all of the evidence independently and concluded that the two air marshals may have misdirected themselves in overruling the
Finally, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who was Secretary of State for Defence at the time of the accident and who accepted the verdict of the air marshals, said recently that if he had known at the time what he knows now, he would never have accepted the verdict.
What is known now that was not known then? A great deal. There have been serious doubts about some of the computer software equipment on board the aircraft. I will not weary your Lordships with all of the technological details except to say those problems were serious enough to cause flight trials on the Mk II helicopter--the type involved in the crash--to be suspended on 1st June 1994, which was the day before the crash. Various other events have come to light since 1994, but this is neither the time nor place to catalogue them in detail. They will certainly emerge in evidence before any Select Committee that your Lordships may decide to set up. Meanwhile, throughout the whole of that period, numerous approaches have been made to the Ministry of Defence asking it to review the verdict of gross negligence in the light of all of the evidence, and either to set it aside or to reopen the inquiry. Every approach has been rejected, usually on the pretext that "there is no new evidence". All the evidence is already available--it is the interpretation of that evidence that is in question.
My aim today is to remind your Lordships once again--it may become boring but it is necessary to say this--of the requirement that is set out clearly in the RAF regulations at that time that deceased aircrew should not be found guilty of negligence unless there was no possible doubt whatever about the causes of an accident; and to point out that a number of distinguished and experienced people, including judges, aviation and computer experts, former Ministers and politicians of all parties have the gravest doubts. It seems to me that only two air marshals and their colleagues in the Ministry of Defence apparently have no doubt whatever, and it is on their subjective judgment that two outstanding special forces pilots have been found guilty of making a joint decision--the decision must have been made by both of the pilots--to risk their own lives and those of their passengers and have been deemed to be guilty of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, described in your
It is for that reason that I seek the establishment by the Liaison Committee of this House of an ad hoc Select Committee. Of course, if the Minister, when she replies, would undertake on behalf of the Ministry of Defence to reopen the inquiry, I would at once withdraw my Motion. If, however, she cannot do so, I shall not be surprised. I should have much sympathy with her because she will be speaking from the same official brief that has been provided to every Minister, including the Prime Minister, who has had to answer questions on this matter.
For my part, I can give the following undertaking. If a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, having examined all the evidence, concludes that the verdict of the air marshals is fair and just, that will be the end of the matter so far as I and the families of the pilots are concerned. I have their permission to say that. On the other hand, if the Select Committee that is set up finds that the verdict was unsafe and unsound, we expect the air marshals and the Ministry of Defence to accept that decision. That would be no reflection on the integrity or professional reputation of any of the RAF officers concerned. Anyone can make a mistake in all sincerity and with the best intentions.
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