CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DEFENCE – CHINOOK CRASH – 19 March 2002

Dr Julian Lewis: 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?

[Geoff 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.

The hon. Gentleman quite 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.]