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Mrs. Ray Michie: As my hon. Friend is aware, the report refers to problems with the full authority digital electronic control--FADEC--system as one possibility for the accident. Is he aware of a report in The Herald in Glasgow today, stating that the Ministry of Defence has carried out research into wind shear? That is

Apparently, helicopters are highly vulnerable to wind shear and are incapable of increasing engine power quickly enough to pull free.

I draw my hon. Friend's attention to that fact because there are so many theories and possibilities, but no definitive evidence to justify blaming the pilots.

Mr. Rendel: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that new fact to my attention. That could be new evidence that the Secretary of State might want to consider. I had not heard of it before; it is undoubtedly relevant and is a further possibility that should have been discussed. The finding that pilot error was the only possible cause must be highly questionable.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission looks back on past criminal cases where there was a finding of guilt. Such cases can be reconsidered in many circumstances. The Government should use that as a precedent in this case, so that they can reconsider and, if necessary, change the findings of the original board of inquiry.

In relation to the claim that there is no new evidence, I draw the attention of the Financial Secretary to comments made after the board of inquiry. When the original board of inquiry met, Wing Commander A.D. Pulford, its president, Squadron Leader E. J. Gilday and Squadron Leader P. L. Cole stated of Flight Lieutenant Tapper--among other things--that

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the second of the two pilots.

After that, the board of inquiry report went up through various layers of the Ministry of Defence until it reached Air Vice-Marshal J. R. Day, who said:

When the report finally went to Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten, he agreed, concluding that

The important point about the quotes from both the original findings of the board of inquiry and the findings of the Air Vice-Marshal and the Air Chief Marshal is that no new evidence was produced between the two different, completely contradictory findings, which were based on the same evidence, being reached. If anything proves that it is possible to reach two completely different conclusions on the same evidence, surely it is those quotes.

Begging the pardon of my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), even if there were no new evidence about other possible causes of the crash, it is absolutely clear that, even based on the original evidence, it is entirely possible to conclude that the two pilots were in no way to blame. Therefore, to my mind it is complete nonsense for the Secretary of State simply to say that, because no new evidence has been produced, he cannot overturn what the Air Chief Marshal and the Air Vice-Marshal said at the time. Since the original findings of the board of inquiry were reached, the verdict has been changed by the MOD itself without any new evidence being produced. So it cannot be beyond the Secretary of State to change that verdict again without any new evidence being produced.

I remind the Minister that Air Vice-Marshal Day, Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten and the Secretary of State stand on one side of the argument. The opposite conclusion, based on precisely the same evidence, has been drawn by the board of inquiry, the Scottish courts that looked into the matter, various RAF and aeronautical experts, various computer experts who considered the question of FADEC, the Public Accounts Committee, the public in general and the relatives and friends of the crew, above all others. Virtually everybody else who knows anything about the matter has concluded, on the same evidence, that the two pilots cannot properly be found guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Just those three people have concluded that the pilots should be found guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.

Surely that must suggest that the matter should be reconsidered and that the Secretary of State was wrong to dismiss the PAC report in the way he did--so quickly and without taking a serious and objective look at the report and why it said what it did. I believe that the PAC will not allow the Secretary of State to get away with his dismissive response to our report. I for one shall not do so.

Mr. Alan Williams: The Chairman of the Defence Committee has attacked our Committee for not calling

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either of the senior officers concerned. Does the hon. Gentleman think that we should perhaps consider holding a special hearing to which we should call both as witnesses?

Mr. Rendel: As the right hon. Gentleman will know, that would be a question for the Committee and for the Chairman, not just for me. However, I have a lot of sympathy with the view that, if the Secretary of State is entirely determined not to review his response to our report, we may need to hold another hearing at which those people could be called to explain, if they are able to do so, what possible reasons there could be for their having so dramatically overturned the findings of those who took part in the original board of inquiry.

I want to say a few words about the workings of the PAC in general, now that I have a year's experience on the Committee. Although we do excellent work, there is a lot that we do not cover or do not cover adequately. A huge amount of work comes before us and the National Audit Office produces a huge number of reports--no doubt it could produce more. I am sorry that the Chairman has had to leave the debate for the moment, but I hope that he will take the time to read my speech and consider the possibility of suggesting to Parliament that a second Committee or a sub-Committee be set up so that we can increase the frequency and depth of our hearings, although some other method of achieving that might be used. Subjects that could and perhaps should be properly reviewed by the PAC are being missed, although the work load for the members is colossal if we participate fully and properly in each hearing, given all the paperwork that goes with them and the need to read the reports produced subsequently.

There is a need for a more formalised structure for members of the Committee to ask further questions towards the end of a hearing. Under our system, the Chairman usually starts a hearing with a quarter of an hour of his questions, then we take it in turns to ask questions for a quarter of an hour. To ensure that hearings keep to time, the Chairman, rightly, is extremely strict, much to the annoyance of those of us who have just one further question towards the end of the 15 minutes. However, he is very generous in allowing members to return to a particular point at the end of a hearing, although there is no formalised structure under which that can be done.

A lot of members would like to ask questions based on answers given by people who spoke earlier in a hearing, so there is a difficulty for those who are lucky enough to contribute at the beginning. Officially at least, that early contribution could be a member's last chance to speak, even though points raised by other members may seem to have received inadequate answers. Members may want to ask a supplementary question about such answers, so there is a case for establishing a formalised structure under which members could re-enter the debate towards the end of a hearing.

There is a need to establish the possibility of holding a second hearing, perhaps a month after the original one. One such example has just been raised by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West and there might be others. Supplementary evidence might be provided after the event or members of the Committee may realise either that they

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had not got to the point or, on reading the transcript, that an answer was inadequate and that more questioning was needed. People should have the chance to review the transcript and consider whether further issues need to be aired and further points made. At present, that can be achieved only by asking the NAO to put further questions to the witnesses in writing. That is perhaps less satisfactory than bringing the witnesses before the Committee for a second hearing.

There is a need to establish the possibility to make a formalised input to the recommendations of our reports. I may be inexperienced in these matters, but there are few ways in which one can ensure that a particular recommendation is made, at least before a draft report is produced. Members can talk to the NAO, as I have done, to suggest particular recommendations that it might like to include in a draft report for the Committee, but there might be a case for establishing a more formalised way in which to make such recommendations. Of course, it is possible to change the report after the draft has been produced, but that is a rather more complex matter. After a long hearing, it is often difficult to get many complex and detailed changes made to the recommendations. It might be preferable to make such changes at an earlier stage.

I am proud to have had the chance to serve on the Committee for the past year. I am delighted to have done so, because the Committee does vital work on behalf of Parliament. It involves some of the most important tasks that Opposition Members or Government Back Benchers can perform on behalf of Parliament and the nation. I hope that, with the House's agreement, my party will allow me to continue as a member of the Committee for some time to come.

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