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Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, did the noble Baroness say August of last year?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, indeed I did.

My purpose in reviewing all that has happened is to emphasise the close examination that has already been made of the case. It is true that opinions differ and hypotheses also differ, but at no point has anyone come up with any genuinely new evidence that would cause us to reopen the board of inquiry.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, has made some very trenchant criticisms this evening. Much comment has been made, and continues to be made, about the standard of proof required to sustain the judgment reached through a board of inquiry process. The inquiry was very thorough, as indeed have been all the subsequent departmental reviews which have followed the many and various submissions and letters on this accident. In making their final determination, the reviewing officers, both of whom are very experienced aviators, exercised their professional judgment. They did so in the full knowledge of the import and the impact on all those involved of their judgment, which was taken only after the fullest consideration of all the evidence. They were required to look at this tragic case in the most objective and impartial manner and that is what they did. The fact that others may disagree with that judgment does not make it wrong.

No government should overturn the results of a properly constituted board of inquiry because others disagree with the findings. The passage of time, and the view of hindsight, might make this to some a tempting proposition. However, this is not a political issue. It is an issue to be decided on the evidence. I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, nods his head at that point. I remind him that the board of inquiry sat for seven months. It then deliberated for around a year before it issued its report, a report which covered four volumes together with the supporting annexes. There is a huge amount of evidence on which that judgment was based. A Select Committee, if it is indeed set up, will have a very great job before it.

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If it is the feeling of the House that the course proposed by the noble Lord is desirable, your Lordships will wish to be clear about the principles under which any committee may operate. I am sure that your Lordships will not wish to provide a vehicle for some of, if I may say so, the more sensationalist members of the media; nor wish to see an attempt to overturn the board of inquiry report as a way of attacking the integrity of the two senior officers involved. These officers were required to consider their judgment against the stringent demands of the burden of proof which then existed for such cases. They took their decision on the basis of the facts and their detailed professional understanding, as senior RAF officers, of the very high standards under which RAF aircrew are required to operate.

A number of points were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, had many questions which he said had received no satisfactory response. The noble Lord, Lord Jacobs, reiterated his misgivings, which we have indeed discussed on a number of occasions. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, was mainly concerned about the requirement of proof by the manual in reaching a conclusion about negligence. That was to some extent echoed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, who expressed concern about the pilots not being represented on the day. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, reiterated her concerns over the lack of black boxes, a point about which I have been keeping the noble Baroness informed, as she was kind enough to say. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, reiterated his heartfelt concern about what really happened in the uncertain and difficult circumstances of that day. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, added his voice to our deliberations.

If your Lordships so decide, perhaps I may suggest that all these matters are ones that a Select Committee might look at. But I make one point. The air marshals will then be able to explain properly, in their own words, to the Select Committee why they reached the conclusions that they did, something they have not been able to do properly before.

It would be wrong to re-run the board of inquiry. It is important that all the views are carefully listened to and very carefully balanced. I must say that that has not always been what has happened in the past, although I know that the House today has been very balanced in the way that it has approached the issue.

Yes, the Government have reservations about the noble Lord's proposal, not least because of the thorough way in which the accident has already been investigated. I believe that successive Ministers have been fully and honestly briefed on all aspects of this case. I believe that Ministers of both parties have been honest in their dealings with this House and with another place. Nothing has been or is being hidden. That is because we believe that there is nothing to hide. It follows that we will, of course, co-operate fully with any committee that your Lordships may decide to establish.

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Finally, I am very grateful for the courteous and understanding way in which your Lordships have contributed to our debate this evening. It is an incredibly difficult subject. Every time we debate it in your Lordships' House I know that all noble Lords who are closely concerned with the issue are at pains to be detailed, cogent and sympathetic in what they are saying, but judgments must always be based on the evidence that we have before us. I should like to put firmly on the record my sincere and heartfelt sympathies for the families of all who lost their lives in this tragic accident.

Lord Jacobs: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can she confirm that if, by any chance, a new inquiry were to be opened, under the present rules it would not be possible to find against deceased persons?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as has already been said by other noble Lords, since the findings of the board of investigation were made, the rules have indeed been changed. It is not now the case that findings of gross negligence are possible against those who have died in such accidents.

8.54 p.m.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I agree with the Minister that it has been most valuable and constructive. I thank especially the Minister, both for her handling of her reply to the debate and for the very early indication that the Government will not oppose the Motion.

The noble Baroness said that the issue had been dealt with many times through a series of questions and debates answered by a series of Ministers and therefore suggested that we had covered the ground as fully as we can. The point is that all those Ministers, including the Prime Minister, who answered all those questions and all those debates were all talking from the same official brief. So it is not surprising that we have not had any different answers.

However, I shall not go into any of that at this point because it can all be left to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for saying that absence or shortage of resources is the least of all the arguments against the setting up of the Select Committee. As the Motion says, in accordance with the procedure of the House, the final decision is for the whole House to take. If the House decides, as I hope it now will, to set up a Select Committee to examine this issue, a Select Committee there will be; and if resources are needed, the resources should be found. I am most grateful to the noble Lord and to the noble Earl for making that point.

The integrity of the two air marshals or of anyone else involved is not at issue. Never at any time in the years that I have been helping to conduct this campaign have I cast any doubt on anyone's integrity; nor do I so do today. The air marshals were entitled, as part of a normal board of inquiry procedure in the

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Royal Air Force, to come to the conclusion they came to. They think that they were right; I think that they were wrong. That is what I hope the Select Committee will decide.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Vehicles (Crime) Bill

8.57 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 7 [Keeping of records]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 20:

    Page 5, line 36, after "keeping" insert ", and submission to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency,".

The noble Lord said: We come now to the question of the keeping of records by those individuals who will be licensed under the Bill as motor salvage operators. Clause 7 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations for the keeping of records by registered persons of the vehicles that they handle. Clause 8 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations to insist on registered persons notifying the DVLA of the destruction of motor vehicles.

There is sometimes a long period between a vehicle being taken off the road--either following an accident or when it has broken down--and the vehicle being destroyed. It is not always a quick process. Outside more or less any sizeable town, somewhere or other there is a breaker's yard with large numbers of old vehicles piled up. They are there for a reason; they are cannibalised and, over time, different parts are reused as opportunities arise. However, those cars, or parts of them, can also be used as the basis for creating illegal vehicles, which is the main concern of the Bill.

In those circumstances, we thought it wise to suggest that the regulations might provide for submission to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency of vehicle records by the keepers. Often those records will be in electronic form and thus submitting them should be extremely easy. If they were submitted to the DVLA, then should the police want to check on a particular vehicle which has been involved in a crash and has been taken off the road but had not yet been destroyed, it would not be difficult for them to trace in which salvage yard the vehicle was supposed to be. As things stand, unless those records are submitted to the DVLA, then other than by visiting every salvage yard in their vicinity, it will be impossible for the police to trace the vehicle.

That covers the sole purpose of this suggestion. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: I rise to support my noble friend on this amendment. The main benefit to be derived from this proposal would be to allow a police investigation of a suspect vehicle to identify that it had entered the salvage chain of supply and, if so where.

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