Mr. Speaker, with your permission and that of the House, I should like to make a short statement about the public inquiries which it is proposed to hold into the causes of the two recent Comet disasters off the Italian coast. Her Majesty's Government are anxious that these inquiries should be held as soon as possible. I cannot, however, at this stage indicate the date on which they are likely to begin. Salvage operations are still going on and the examination of the wreckage and the collection and sifting of evidence will necessarily take some considerable time. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation has already informed the House of the exhaustive technical investigation which is being carried out under the co-ordinating authority of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply.
The preparation of the case has been remitted to me under the Civil Aviation (Investigation of Accidents) Regulations, 1951, but the appointment of a Commissioner and Assessors to inquire into such matters lies with the Lord Chancellor of the day, and I think it right to inform the House now that, in view of the great importance of these inquiries, my noble and learned Friend has come to the conclusion that they should be presided over by a Lord of Appeal, and that the same court should inquire into both cases. He has accordingly asked the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cohen, to preside over the court which will conduct the inquiries into both accidents, and the House will, I know, be glad to hear that he has accepted.
The Italian Government, whose assistance has been invaluable in both the Comet accidents, have appointed two Accredited Representatives, Colonel R. Miniero and Signor R. Roveri, to be present at both inquiries.
The South African Government have appointed Lieut.-Colonel L. E. Lang and Major J. J. Granzier as Accredited Representatives at the inquiry into the Naples accident.
The names of the Assessors will be announced later.
Whilst expressing what I am sure will be the general opinion of the House—that the inquiries under Lord Cohen will command great confidence— and whilst appreciating that the extraordinarily complex technical investigations which have to be completed will necessarily take some time, I should like to ask the Attorney-General, if he will give his personal assurance that, as far as the preparations for and the administration of the inquiries is concerned, not a single day will be unnecessarily lost because of the quite exceptional importance of these inquiries.
I can certainly give the House that assurance. At the same time, I am sure the House would think it desirable that every possible step should be taken to ensure that the best available information on all technical matters should be before the inquiries.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend take steps to ensure that at the inquiries careful investigation will be made to see whether or not there was any evidence of sabotage?