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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:
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 thatI believe that I am correctthe 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?
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.
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.
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
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 friendswe are the American people's best friends, as we share language and cultureas 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
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 calculationsespecially official calculationsare 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.