Civil Aviation

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th July 1959.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed. That a further sum, not exceeding £35, be granted to Her Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1960, for the following Services relating to the Report from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries (Reports and Accounts) on the Air Corporations and the Report on the Civil Aircraft Accident at Southall, namely:

CIVIL ESTIMATES AND SUPPLEMENTARY ESTIMATE, 1959–60
£
Class IX, Vote 1 (Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation)10
Class IX, Vote 4 (Civil Aviation)10
Class VI, Vote 10 (Ministry of Supply)10
Class VI, Vote 10 (Ministry of Supply) (Supplementary Estimate)5
Total£35

7.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

The Select Committee's Report on the Air Corporations merits a full day's debate, and there are many Members who will regret that this is not possible. To discuss it in half a day is bad enough, but to discuss it together with the Report of the Southall accident inquiry is almost impossible. Nevertheless, we have some questions to put to the Minister, and I hope that we shall get the information we ask for.

On the Air Corporations' Report, I want, first, to offer my tribute to the work of the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who produced it. It is a remarkably thorough and penetrating work. There is nothing superficial about it. It was also a unanimous Report which, although it probably means that some of the phrases might be a little more muted than would otherwise be the case, adds to the authority of its conclusions. The first thing that emerges from a reading of the document is the genuinely national character and purpose of our two Corporations. The Committee also pointed out that in the international sphere most of the companies with whom our Corporations have to compete are themselves nationalised undertakings, and that all, in any case, are protected and supported by their Governments.

The Select Committee's analysis of the financial results of the Corporations is well worth studying. To illustrate its point about the national purpose of the Corporations, it clearly shows that B.O.A.C.'s 1957–58 small overall loss was entirely accounted for by the loss of £591,000 on its associated and subsidiary companies. I gather that that amount will be greater in the following year. British European Airways made a modest overall profit—a large profit of £2½ million on its overseas services and a loss of about £1½ million on its domestic routes. In the case both of B.E.A.'s domestic routes and B.O.A.C.'s associated activities, the Report emphasises—and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee should appreciate this—that these services are operated not simply, or even primarily, in some cases, for commercial reasons, but for other wider and national political considerations. It mentions the B.E.A.'s Scottish Highlands and Islands operations and Kuwait, Airways, which was run at the direct request of the Foreign Office and which apparently cost the Corporation nearly £100,000 in one year.

When we have before us, as we have had in recent weeks, case after case of a private company coming to the House of Commons for subsidies from the public purse, it is remarkable that we have here two publicly-owned companies which are, in fact, subsidising other Government Departments. I am not myself certain, as the Report appears to suggest, that we should make direct Government payments for particular corporation services, but I am absolutely certain that here is another absolutely conclusive argument that the Minister should stop his policy of trying to pare off part of the Corporations' activities for the benefit of private companies.

The Select Committee also makes some wise observations about the associated companies of B.O.A.C. They point out, rightly I think, that we cannot view that Corporation's activities only in the light of profit-and-loss account. The Committee says: While the losses are definite and known, the gains are in part immeasurable", because there are many social and political benefits. But we ought to know where this money is going. I was very pleased that the Select Committee's Report stated quite definitely, in paragraph 184, that information about the working of the subsidiaries is "essential to the House". The Report goes on to recommend that that information be included in all future Annual Reports.

I have tried to follow this matter, but it has been most difficult for hon. Members to get the necessary information. I want to ask the Minister now whether he has been able to follow this aspect of B.O.A.C.'s affairs. The Corporation has lost £591,000 in one year on these companies and it is likely to lose about £3 million in the following year. We are entitled to be absolutely certain that the Minister is in full possession of the facts. I wonder whether the Minister has directed himself to this aspect of the Corporation's activities. I will tell him why.

On 4th February this year, after considerable difficulty in getting a Question down at all, I asked the Minister, in relation to the accountability to Parliament of the subsidiary companies, if he was aware that about £80,000 had been paid as compensation for loss of office to one particular individual in one of these companies. The Minister answered: If the hon. Gentleman has any particular case he would like to put I will look at it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1959; Vol. 599, c. 388.] Does the Minister wish the Committee now to know that he did not know of this case where one individual in this company had taken out, as a special payment, a sum of this order? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he knew about this or not? If he knew, why did he not tell the House frankly why the sum was paid? Moreover, if he did know, why did he not step in? This is clear evidence that money was being paid out very lavishly by this Middle Eastern company.

There were political factors, which is one reason why these airways were operating, and they are always more difficult to assess than ordinary commercial factors. There is here a special responsibility upon the Minister to advise the Corporation of the value to the country of operations of this kind. The fact of the matter is that Middle East Airlines has been one big sieve through which public money has been poured. I want to know whether the Minister has satisfied himself that the money was paid out for good reason and whether he had been making inquiries prior to my Question of February.

The Report also makes interesting observations about the operating efficiency of the two Corporations. I only wish that I had the time to go into some of these details. Of B.E.A. I was especially gratified, and so were many other hon. Members on this side, to note the extremely good impression which the Chairman of B.E.A. had made upon the Select Committee. Although the Minister behaved reasonably, I would remind him about the uproar there was among Conservative Members at the time that this Marshal of the Royal Air Force was appointed. They clamoured against his appointment simply and solely because this particular Marshal was known to be sympathetic to Labour. I am glad to know that that appointment has been entirely justified. I hope that there are some Government supporters who feel a little ashamed at the clamour they made at the time of the appointment.

The Committee draws a picture of the B.O.A.C. which is not so bright as that of its sister Corporation. When it comes to the detailed criticisms, one of the most important is that the Corporation is spending too much money upon maintenance. In the light of recent events I am bound to say that I would far rather be criticised for spending too much money on maintenance than for spending too little. The Corporation faces a difficult task in reorganising its engineering methods and reducing costs. I only hope that it does not make the mistake which was nearly made on another occasion in the Corporation's history of going too far in the direction of retiring or paying off too many of its skilled engineering staff at this stage, only to find later on that it has to incur further expense by recruiting and training skilled men all over again.

I should like to think that a much greater effort was being made to meet redundancy by expanding the services of the Corporation rather than by reducing its engineering staffs. [Interruption.] I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) will have his own opportunities for—

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am not disagreeing with the principle outlined by the hon. Gentleman, but would he not agree that where maintenance costs are just about double what they should be there is some ground for streamlining the organisation?

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

I do not disagree that there is room for streamlining. I am saying that the proportion of engineering costs to total costs can be reduced in one of two ways: by dismissing men, or by increasing the turnover. Instead of reducing staff, I should think there is scope for concentrating upon increasing the activities of the Corporation. There is no doubt in my mind that much of the trouble at London Airport with the Corporation stemmed from the fact that the men were facing redundancy at the same time as they saw the Corporation's activities restricted by Governmental policy and some of its operations contracted out to private companies. The Select Committee made a special reference to this factor when it asked a representative of B.O.A.C. why the Corporation had agreed to certain things. The answer was that it had to, because it was trying to "get along with" the Government's policy of sharing the traffic with independent operators.

That brings me to the references in the Report to the African services, which the Minister has licensed to independent companies to operate down both sides of the African Continent, the east and the west. I have many times raised this matter in the House and I wonder whether the Minister does not now feel, in the light of this Report, that now is the time when he should review his decision in this matter. The Select Committee pointed out that B.O.A.C. has consistently objected to these services. It stated that the services were making inroads into its own traffic and it protested vigorously, both to the Air Transport Advisory Council and to the Minister, about the licences being given to these companies.

Incidentally, I may say that, to add insult to injury, not only have the Corporations protested, not only have they had to accept these services running parallel with their own, but, in order to legalise the services, they have had to sign a document to the effect that in their view these services are operated only because it would help to develop civil aviation in the United Kingdom.

The Minister turned his back on these objections from the Corporations and in this Chamber he said that they ought not to be afraid of a little competition. Hon. Members opposite say, "Hear, hear," to this idea of competition. If it were competition they wanted, I should not mind. But they are not asking for competition, not true competition. In this connection, I think that the Minister is simply uttering a lot of clichés. Moreover, it shows that the right hon. Gentleman has no grasp of some of the elementary facts of the transport business. I will say what I mean. In roads, rail and shipping transport.

Over the years there has never been an acceptance of the fact that competition by the duplication of parallel services was uneconomic. First on the road, then on the railways, and on the shipping sea routes, we have seen little companies being taken over by big ones. We have seen the big companies merge until virtually there has been a monopoly. That has happened, not because of an argument about the merits of private and public enterprise, but as a result of facing the economic facts of transport, and the advantages of unification.

These companies which now want to come into the air transport business are largely backed by shipping capital. In their activities on the seas shipping companies do not practise competition at all. How many British shipping companies compete across the Atlantic to New York? Can anyone deny that there is a monopoly on the shipping route to West Africa? Who would dream of suggesting today that there should be another British shipping company competing with the present company operating on the route to Australia?

The Minister, or hon. and gallant Members opposite who talk about genuine competition in these matters should ask themselves what has happened to some of the independent companies which were allowed to operate under a Labour Government. I remember being asked, "Give these R.A.F. men a chance". We did, they had companies; what has happened to some of them? What about Air Commodore "Taffy" Powell who started Silver City Airways and who was praised in this Chamber? What about Freeman who came from the R.A.F. and started the very successful Transair? What about Wing Commander Barry Aikman who tried hard to keep the flying-boat services of Aquila Airways? They have all been bought out, taken over by companies dominated by shipping capital.

It is not genuine competition that these people want, it is simply an opportunity to put in some new capital, as they hope profitably, and which, as the Minister was naive enough to say on one occasion, cannot now find employment in the shipping business. The Minister has given undertakings to the interests concerned that he will make more room for them, if he has the opportunity after the General Election. It seems that this proposal for a new licensing authority is a device which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to employ to make available new opportunities.

On Thursday we gathered that the Minister's proposal now is to give to this central licensing authority responsibility not only for the allocation of routes but also for licensing from the point of view of safety standards. I think this a mistake. We know that some action regarding safety standards is a matter of urgency, but to ensure safety is largely a matter, I suggest, of better administration, adequate inspection and a sufficiently large staff for enforcement purposes. This should not be confused with the wider and bigger decisions about the allocation of routes as between one company and another. In my view, the Minister has spent far too much time on this question. Far too much thought has been given by the right hon. Gentleman to how to make room for the private companies, and he has spent far too little time on the question of the administration of safety regulations. I would have liked to ask more on this licensing authority, but I have not sufficient time in which to do so.

I should now like to put one or two questions to the Minister about the Report of the Public Inquiry into the causes and circumstances of an accident to Viking Aircraft G-AIJE. I think hon. Members will bear me out when I say that I have never seized the opportunity afforded by an accident to one indepen- dent firm to attack all independent firms. I think that wrong. My argument against independent companies, or some of them, is based on what I believe to be airline economics and the development of British aviation. I have never seized the opportunity afforded to attack the concept of the Minister, which I believe to be wrong, to give more power to some independent companies. I think it wrong that the operations of the Corporations should be split up, but I believe that to be wrong on the basis of aviation economics.

There is one other general remark I would offer. I am a little sorry that Captain Kozubski was attacked so strongly in the Report when, as I gather, he did not have an opportunity to answer questions. Apparently he did not appear, and I should have thought that far too much blame has been placed on him and far too little on some other people. After all, there were other directors, and a person who accepts the responsibilities which go with a directorship of a company ought to take full responsibility, and not be prepared to put the blame on others. But I believe also that the blame rests not alone on Captain Kozubski, or even on the other directors, but also on the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation who is responsible in this country for safety matters.

Photo of Mr Paul Williams Mr Paul Williams , Sunderland South

Surely there is an obligation on companies to maintain reasonable standards?

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

Nothing which I have said suggests the contrary.

I am conscious of the fact that we have only half a day in which to discuss these matters and that a lot of hon. Members desire to speak. I will, therefore, content myself by asking a few questions. May I ask the Minister what he really meant when, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) he said last week: If the hon. Gentleman studies this matter very carefully he will find that this company had already been prosecuted by my Ministry and that, in fact, another prosecution was pending … Then he added this: Other than that, I have no comment to make on the Report of Mr. Justice Phillimore."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th July, 1959; Vol. 609, c. 403.] That was an extraordinary thing to say. Here is a Report which has roused profound public interest; which has given rise to a good deal of anxiety among the air travelling public and which, indirectly, very strongly criticises the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. Yet the right hon. Gentleman says, after that brief reference, I have no comment to make. This Report is one of the most strongly-worded documents which has been published. I ask the Minister again, did he really mean what he said when he used the words: I have no comment to make."? It was in answer to a supplementary question, I agree, but I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have come to the House of Commons and volunteered information or made a statement attached to the Report of the Inquiry. There are precedents for that; but all we had was that brush-off from the Minister.

The Committee is entitled also to some explanation about the time taken before inquiries into these accidents are held and the findings of the courts become available. There has been concern about this for two or three years. I have asked Questions on several occasions. On 26th March, 1958, I asked if a shortage of investigation staff was the cause of the delays. The Minister told us that he had just appointed another technically qualified officer and that he might appoint another two, but that, in any case, as usual, he was quite satisfied. But the delays have recurred and now we have this case.

The impression has been created, wittingly or unwittingly, that the responsibility for this delay rests upon the shoulders of the deputy-coroner of Middlesex. The Solicitor-General, when answering a Question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) last week, mentioned that the inquest had taken rather a long time and went on to concede that offences have now been disclosed by the investigation, but that action was barred by Statute. The implication was that the time which had elapsed was the result of the delay caused by the obstinacy of Mr. Gorsky, the deputy-coroner. Whose fault was this delay? This is a matter which we should look into very carefully. I tabled some Questions to the Minister on this point, and the impression I gained from the reply I received was that the inquest had continued and been resumed because at that stage there was no possibility of action being taken.

Let us look at what Mr. Gorsky said, in The Times of 28th January Mr. Gorsky is reported as saying: I adjourned the inquest at the request of the Accidents Branch of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. … When I was asked to resume the inquest before the public inquiry I was left to seek the information slowly and with difficulty. … I had hoped, not as a matter of right but as a courtesy that I would be kept informed officially or unofficially, but this was not so. This does not suggest an awkward coroner who is abusing his powers. This does not suggest that Mr. Gorsky was a man who did not want to co-operate with the Minister. This suggests that he was a coroner only too anxious to co-operate with the Minister. He halted the inquest at the Ministry's request, so he said, and resumed it only when requested to do so by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation.

Does the Minister agree with what the deputy-coroner said? During the time when some of us were thinking that action should have been taken, during the time when we thought that some prosecutions should have been put into train, the story which was spread about—I believe knowingly and wilfully spread about—was that the Minister was not taking action because some of his own staff were involved. I do not say that in criticism of the Minister, because it was not spread about by him. However, that was the story going around. I was very pleased, therefore that Mr. Justice Phillimore said that he had not looked into the minor matters which had been brought up about the air traffic control officers. In answer to Question 7 on page 20 of the Report, he said: I am entirely satisfied that the Air Traffic Control Officers not only did their duty but in fact did far more than they were strictly required to do and no possible criticism attaches to them. It is absolutely right that that should be made abundantly clear. But we are still faced with the delay. I hope that the Minister will tell us why there was no proper communication between him and the deputy-coroner.

I come now to a matter raised by Mr. Justice Phillimore concerning flight time limitations. Throughout the Report we come back repeatedly to the theme that this pilot and his crew were tired, that one contributory factor was fatigue, and that, moreover, there had been about ten previous prosecutions of this company for contravening Articles 34 (B) and 34 (E) concerned with flight limitations. The Report calls attention to what it calls a ridiculous loophole in these limitations.

Some hon. Members will remember discussing this matter in the House of Commons on 1st April, 1957. I had to complain then, speaking from this Box, about the delay which there had been in bringing the Regulations forward. There had been a delay of no less than twelve months since an original draft had been produced. We asked then why there had been this delay, because the subsequent draft was no improvement. There had been one change, and that was for the worst. We allowed those Regulations to go through, on the distinct understanding that they would be reviewed in the light of experience. We took that to mean that probably after six months' or twelve months' working they would be renewed again. That was the undertaking which the Minister gave us two years and four months ago.

Since then I understand that members of the pilots' organisation have been asked for their observations and they submitted comments some time last year. Nothing has been done. Those Regulations have not been tightened up. Now there is another accident. There has been a further loss of life which could have been avoided if there had not been this delay in tightening up the Articles relating to flight time limitations.

In paragraph 42 of his Report Mr. Justice Phillimore deals with the conduct of the six-monthly check. He says that in an earlier Report, for which he was responsible, into another accident to another Viking at Blackbushe, he had made certain recommendations about this check. The same recommendations were largely endorsed by another accident inquiry report dated 19th July, 1958. They were very relevant and cogent recommendations. If those re- commendations had been carried out, they would have made a reality of this six-monthly check of pilots. But months passed after the publication of the first Phillimore Report. On 26th March, 1958, I asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation: if he will now state the detailed steps taken by his Department to implement the recommendations made on 1st May, 1957, of the commission of the public inquiry into the accident to the aircraft G-AJBO, regarding the enforcement of regulations concerning air crew tests. The Minister answered: I hope to introduce by the end of this summer revised procedures for testing pilots following my acceptance in principle of the recommendations in the accident report dated 17th October, 1957."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1958; Vol. 585, c. 422.] That was on 17th October, 1957. There was another delay, and then, on 27th May, 1959, we have Mr. Justice Phillimore saying in paragraph 42: Certainly the loss of life involved in this accident … might never have occurred if the pilots involved had received the proper tests which a true six-monthly check would provide. The Minister has something to answer there.

I have taken a good deal of time and I must leave time for other hon. Members to make their observations, but I say this to the Minister. In the last month he has been criticised by two Select Committees, and by Mr. Justice Phillimore in this Report. I think that it is more than a coincidence that in recent months many representative bodies have asked for a separate Minister of Aviation who would give time to some of the needs of aviation. The Association of British Chambers of Commerce supported that idea, and the Royal Aero Club passed a resolution. I understand that the Guild of Airline Pilots and Navigators also passed a similar resolution.

Something has been lacking in our aviation needs. When we look at our two principle instruments—the two air Corporations—there has undoubtedly been a feeling of frustration. The Select Committee Report refers to "interference." As for safety, it is my belief that the Minister has spent so much time either on other sides of his Department—and it is a very wide-reaching Department and we cannot blame him for that—or on the politics of the business of trying to find ways and means of making it possible for private companies to come in, that he has had far too little time on the administrative safety side of the Department.

Had the right hon. Gentleman taken some action along the lines suggested by some of these questions, and by the recommendations of Mr. Justice Phillimore, we should not have been considering this accident report today. Had it not been for the Minister's political bias in favour of the private aviation companies, we should have had an even brighter Report on the two air Corporations from the Select Committee

7.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I welcome this debate, because these are matters that need discussing in detail. Perhaps I might just remind the Committee that my reason for not wishing to continue this discussion recently at Question Time was that, for example, the hon. Member for Fife, West, (Mr. Hamilton) said in a supplementary question: Does he not think that it is a reflection on his own Department that this kind of murder by private enterprise has to take place … "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th July, 1959: Vol. 609, c. 403.] I felt that when the House got that sort of mis-statement it was, on the whole, wiser for me to say that, at that stage, and in a supplementary answer, I did not propose to do other than rest on the very able Report of Mr. Justice Phillimore, which sets out the facts most clearly. I think that the thanks of the whole House are due to Mr. Justice Phillimore for that Report.

Nor do I accept for one moment the concluding ideas of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) on what Mr. Justice Phillimore said or thought. I am sorry that at the end of what was a very factual and fair presentation the hon. Member should rather have slipped into the very kind of political judgments on this very tragic accident into which I do not propose to follow him.

It is quite untrue to say that any Minister who holds my job does not have as possibly his greatest anxiety the constant thought that he is responsible for the safety of all those who travel by land, sea or air. I think that it is a disgraceful allegation against anyone who endeavours to do my job with a sense of public duty to say that he does not have safety considerations in the very forefront of his mind and policies. In the history of the accident at Southall, which I propose to give, it will be shown quite clearly that that was true. It will also be shown quite clearly that no blame whatsoever rests on the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation for not trying to exert the maximum penalty of the law in regard to this accident.

Before I set out the facts, perhaps I may just say, as I think the hon. Member for Uxbridge did, also, that I visited the scene of the civil accident only an hour or so after it happened. I, too, saw the broken homes and the tragedy, and I returned from the scene of that accident determined that, with the whole power of the Ministry, I would see that if there had been some failure justifying that any kind of charge at all that charge should be brought, and pressed to the uttermost.

I gave instructions to my Deputy-Secretary on the day following the accident that the whole effort of the Department was to be turned to investigating the accident, first, and secondly, if charges were to be brought, to see that they were not only brought, but pressed—and that is the truth—

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

The right hon. Gentleman has rejected entirely what I have said, but I have quoted the words from Mr. Justice Phillimore's Report, where he says: Certainly, the loss of life involved in this accident … might never had occurred if the pilots involved had received the proper tests… Why, therefore, is the Minister so categorical?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait until I come to that, but the immediate short answer is that, as the hon. Gentleman knows full well, the six-monthly checks of pilots are not mandatory, but something that any airline has to do as part of its proper control over safety and good management. I will explain in a moment the action we took to see that, as far as possible, those six-monthly checks were held, but if one company does not hold them the blame is not necessarily to be laid on the Ministry—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—and if Mr. Justice Phillimore's words are read with care hon. Members will see that that is so. I will deal with the question "Why not?" in a moment. The Committee is entitled to the history of the matter.

First, I assume that hon. Members have read the Phillimore Report and will not, therefore, wish me to go through it in any great detail. They will know the general course of affairs leading to the accident, and what I have to tell the Committee is what the Ministry did to see that this accident was fully investigated. To answer the allegation that, in some way or other, the Ministry had not carried out the proper inspections on this company—as, indeed, it carries them out on all the independent companies, and. of course, on the Corporations—the company concerned was inspected no less than eight times in the thirty-one months prior to the crash on 2nd September, 1958.

Applications by the company, to operate scheduled services were withheld for well over twelve months, and were granted only after the sixth inspection of the company, which was on 30th January, 1958, when no fault or irregularity was found. That inspection had been proceeded by one in October, 1957, following which, because it had revealed infringements of flight-time regulations, the company was successfully prosecuted. It was only following the sixth inspection, in January, 1958, which found the company satisfactory, and the seventh, in May, 1958, which confirmed the previous impression, that the company was allowed to undertake a number of air hop trooping flights. Notwithstanding those satisfactory inspections, the company was inspected for an eighth time on 26th August—just before the accident.

This is very important. This inspection revealed prima facie evidence of infringement of flight-time regulations. Therefore, approval for the company to operate scheduled services was at once withdrawn, and the company was taken off the Department's Fair List of operators suitable for enjoying Government contracts. The accident intervened, but the evidence collected at that inspection was at once sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Investigation into these infringements was overtaken by the very much graver issues suggested by the preliminary investigation, as I have said, into the cause of the accident because, as is well known—and as has been mentioned in a newspaper today, quite improperly—there is no doubt that the initial inspection by the police and by other investigating officers showed at least a suspicion that this aircraft was seriously overloaded.

It was on that basis, as I say, that I instructed the Ministry to do everything it possibly could, with my full knowledge and support, to concentrate its efforts on investigating these possibilities. This investigation was started as soon as possible and, to answer the hon. Member for Uxbridge, we asked the coroner—and I have no complaints to make about the coroner—to adjourn his inquest for a time in case a charge of manslaughter should be preferred.

The fact that, in the end, a charge was not so brought is not, of course, a matter for me or the Ministry, as the Committee understands. The reason for the adjournment was so that the prosecuting authority, the Director of Public Prosecutions, could satisfy himself whether a major charge, such as manslaughter, might not be preferred. When it was found that there was not sufficient evidence, the coroner was asked to resume the inquest. That is not a matter which the Ministry could decide.

It was the Ministry's duty to provide every shred of evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions. That it did. I do not think that it is right for me to express a view whether the decision was right or wrong. All on which I have to satisfy the Committee is that the Ministry gave full evidence to the Director on which he could base his judgment. That, I think, I have shown very clearly was done.

However, even after that there still remained the possible grave charge of overloading. This could not be taken up until the inquest had been concluded, because the coroner's verdict itself might have led to a charge of manslaughter. Therefore, the next step of the Ministry was to co-operate with the coroner to see that he got all the help that he needed to go ahead with his inquest. Mr. Justice Phillimore said that it took a considerable time to complete. I agree with that. That is not, of course, a matter for me. Coroners are their own masters in these matters—

Photo of Group Captain Clifford Wilcock Group Captain Clifford Wilcock , Derby North

Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)rose

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I should like to finish dealing with the history of this particular accident. Then I will be pleased to give way.

The story of events now goes on to the inquest which, as the Committee knows, in the end returned an open verdict, a matter not within the control of the Ministry or any Department of State. Coroners and coroners' courts are a law unto themselves. When the inquest finished counsel was again asked whether the evidence about overloading which emerged during the course of the inquest would justify the bringing of a charge. He advised that it would not. Thus the two major counts failed not through any inactivity of the Ministry, but because there was judged to be insufficient evidence to justify legal proceedings. That was certainly not a matter for me.

Unfortunately, during all that time little work could be done on one or two minor infringements which stood over. As the result of the very long time taken by the inquest—I am not blaming anyone for that, but it took a very long time, as Mr. Justice Phillimore said—there were only four weeks left at the end of that period when any action could be taken. It may be thought that even then we should have taken proceedings on a minor charge. I will explain to the Committee why we did not. Had we proceeded on a minor charge, and had the company put in a notice of appeal, the public inquiry could have been held up indefinitely.

I take full responsibility for this decision. I considered at this stage that as we had failed in any major charge the public interest was best served by having the public inquiry as quickly as possible as the only means left to us to bring out the facts of the case. Indeed, I was pressed by both sides of the House to do it. I take the full responsibility for deciding at that stage that rather than proceed with a minor charge, which could have led to indefinite delay, we should proceed forthwith with this inquiry.

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

There is one aspect which the Minister has not cleared up. I have not been in touch with the coroner and I am taking what was reported in The Times. According to what the coroner said, he resumed the inquest at the request of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. Had it not been resumed, but adjourned, as is the usual case while a technical inquiry is being held, a technical inquiry would have been held and the Minister would have had ample time to bring what he has called minor charges arising out of that investigation.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I am sorry. That is not so at all. The inquest was adjourned and any subsequent adjournment was a matter for the coroner. The first adjournment in question was clearly asked for by the Ministry because it was then believed that the Director of Public Prosecutions might find that a charge of manslaughter could be preferred.

As I have explained quite clearly to the Committee, in the end the Director of Public Prosecutions felt that could not be done. The hon. Gentleman has asked, "Why not continue the adjournment"? What would have been the sense of that when it was still possible that the completed inquest would itself bring in a serious charge, if such a charge were held to be justified by the facts? Therefore, to adjourn indefinitely the inquest and to proceed on a purely minor and technical charge would, I am sure, not have been the right thing to do.

I think that I have explained clearly the various steps which the Ministry took and I think that I have established to the satisfaction of all reasonable people that the Ministry did every single thing that it could—and it was certainly my wish that it should do so—to try to bring this company to justice if it were right that it should so be brought. The fact that the Law Officers felt that this should not be done is, of course, a mailer for them and it certainly is not any slur or any criticism of those in the Ministry who worked so hard and painstakingly to present all the evidence that, in the end, that evidence was found to be insufficient. They all did their best and anyone who says to the contrary is putting a quite unjustified slur on the technical officers of the Department.

I should like to deal quickly with one or two other matters which the hon. Member for Uxbridge raised.

Photo of Group Captain Clifford Wilcock Group Captain Clifford Wilcock , Derby North

The right hon. Gentleman appears to be trying to justify the Ministry in that there was no delay because of certain matters it had to investigate, such as overloading. Is he suggesting that it took the Ministry all that long time before the answers could be made to those things? Is not it rather the case that the Ministry tried to make one person, the managing director, responsible for the whole accident and take no responsibility itself?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not listened to anything I have said and I do not intend to take up the time of the Committee by going into it again.

To deal with the point about flight time regulations, the point meant, I think, was empty flying, that is to say, the time spent in the air flying an empty aircraft, which is not counted against the pilot's time on duty.

That is something which we have been worried about for some time and we propose to deal with it in the general revision of the Air Navigation Order, which we hope to secure before the end of this year. It is a matter which has to be discussed with a great many people and it also covers a great many other aspects. It fulfils the promise given that we would reconsider the regulations. It has, in fact, no reference to this particular accident, but I thought that the hon. Gentleman might like to know that we are proposing to proceed with these amendments of the Order.

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

The Minister said that we would all have read the Report of the accident. It says specifically in the Report that fatigue was a contributory factor and that if flight time limitations had been in force, then the accident might not have occurred. I am not talking about empty flying. There were other matters raised on 1st April, 1957, on which the Minister said he would come to the House within six or twelve months. It is now two years and four months.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

The hon. Gentleman, quite properly, is trying to make his case. I have the right to make my reply.

Some very wide and, I think, improper allegations have been made. The hon. Gentleman quite fairly said that he did not make them or associate himself with them, but many allegations have been made that this accident is merely an example of the general inefficiency of the independent operator. Frankly, I am not as concerned with safety matters as the operator is. It is merely my job to see that he flies safely. Hon. Members may like to know that there has been only one other case in recent years of an operator who has transgressed to the extent that I.A.T. undoubtedly did.

Secondly, the question of the statements by Mr. Justice Phillimore amounts simply to this. Of course, this company was in breach of all sorts of regulations. We should not have prosecuted it once: we should not have been taking it off the list again if it had not been so guilty. I heartily accept Mr. Justice Phillimore's views that all those things were probably contributory causes to this accident. But no police force, no Department which has to administer regulations, can guarantee that no firm or no burglar will ever succeed in breaking them. That is exactly what has happened here. It is not necessarily a criticism of the regulations that this firm succeeded in being in breach of a great many of them. So I do not think that that helps at all.

As to the question of the six-monthly checks of pilots, this was not delayed. In fact, on 23rd January, 1958, following the Report in October of the previous year, we had a series of meetings on these six-monthly checks which Mr. Phillimore, as he then was, said in his Report, the Blackbushe Report, were only matters for consideration. He knew clearly that we had no powers of enforcement. This is a matter which the Department has to oversee and in which it has generally to try to secure that the airline companies carry out this checking system.

As a result, we went into the whole of the points raised by Mr. Phillimore, as he then was. Although we had no statutory power, we had general agreement amongst the operators that the system would be tightened up, and, in fact, we wrote to I.A.T. on 15th November, 1957, informing the company of the recommendations, and it acknowledged this letter and undertook to comply with the suggestions. Again, it may be that I.A.T. did not implement the recommendations. All I have to say again is that the Ministry—because it is my responsibility—fully and properly fulfilled its duty, and more than its duty, in trying to keep this question of air safety properly in hand.

To sum up, the position is this. I have related the facts to the Committee. I have purposely tried not to comment upon them. I have merely tried to set out the facts as they exist and as they stand. The Committee must form its own judgment on them. My duty in charge of safety is to do no other than, as I have said, try to get at the facts, to see that justice is done where it should be done, and to see that the proper facts are presented to the proper authorities at the proper time. All that work has been fulfilled and accurately completed.

Photo of Mr John Eden Mr John Eden , Bournemouth West

My right hon. Friend has said that he is anxious to see that justice should be done. Can he tell the Committee whether it is a fact that the former managing director of this airline was given an opportunity, as it were, to appear in the dock and answer some of the charges made against him?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

Yes, I am advised that this man could certainly have appeared if he had so wished, and that he would have had every opportunity to make his case, to be properly heard and to be subject to cross-examination and all the rest.

Perhaps I may now say a word or two about the Select Committee's Report. I join with the hon. Gentleman in saying that half a day in which to discuss all these complicated matters is a quite impossible assignment. I also join with him and the whole Committee in expressing congratulations to the Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low). The Select Committee did a fine and painstaking job, and, as I said very shortly after the publication of the Report, I accept the Report as a factual and helpful study of the Air Corporations. Indeed, I went further and said that I accepted one of its main contentions that the Ministry was, on the whole, rather too mixed up with the Air Corporations. I will come back to that matter in a moment.

However, I do not accept the selections of a somewhat misleading nature produced by the hon. Gentleman this evening and by some sections of the Press. The Select Committee itself made it plain that Relations between Ministry and Corporations are clearly good, and the last thing Your Committee want to do is to disturb such a relationship. I am happy to tell my right hon. Friend that he has not disturbed the relationship and that it remains as good as it was.

I want to make one other point. As the Select Committee states, it was hampered by not being able to take evidence from independent air corporations or from the trade unions, and, to this extent, it was not quite able to survey the air field as a whole.

I want to deal with one point in the Committee's findings, and that is the much commented view that the Minister's non-statutory powers may add up to a degree of control greater than that envisaged by the statutes. I do not disagree with that. What I want to say—and it is my main point on the Committee's Report—is that that flows clearly from the, I will not say unworkable, but most difficult circumstances under which we have had to work due to the 1949 Air Corporations Act. I do not say that in any political sense, but I think I can say that the Act is not working at all well at the moment. I think I carry the whole Committee with me on that, although we may differ on how it should be amended.

To take two examples of the kind of interference, as I think it has been called in the Press, which flows quite naturally from present arrangements, in the House of Commons on 27th May, 1952, my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary announced in great detail—I believe the House debated it and divided on it—a new policy to give independent companies rather more scope. Therefore, that piece of interference, if it be so called, was not begun until Parliament had been clearly informed by one of my predecessors and had debated the issue, and I have acted under that policy ever since. But it was not a policy connived at through the back door. It was a policy fairly brought to the House and clearly expounded in the House.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge raised a lot of issues on this Report. I should like simply to say that I have never connived at any carving up of the Corporations. I have always believed, as my predecessors have believed, that there is a very important field in this expanding business of the air for the independent operator, and I challenge any Member opposite to deny that the pioneering work done in inclusive tours, in the car ferry service, and in other directions by independents, has not been clear gain to civil aviation as a whole. Indeed, that is proved by the fact that one of B.E.A.'s most attractive pieces of business is now in the inclusive tour market built up originally by the independent operators. All credit to them for that.

Any Government who wish to expand in the air would be absolutely wrong not to try to exploit the pioneering work of people who are prepared to put in their own money and risk their own capital in this job. That does not mean, as I often see in trade union journals, that one is deliberately trying to take business away from the Corporations. We are trying to increase the totality of that business so that the cake that we all cut should be bigger. I challenge anybody to deny that that is the right and sensible policy for civil aviation as a whole. I make no apology, therefore, for continuing this policy, and it remains the Government's view that independent operators have a valuable contribution to make to our prosperity and development in the air.

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

That was said in 1950.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

That may be. The hon. Member may like to know that in the Department we have put much painstaking work into this concept, which he appears to dislike, of a new central licensing body that will license both operations and the organisations themselves. That will have two advantages. One is that it will get the Minister a bit more out of this business of trying to sort out routes and services, which I think is right, and, secondly, it will give the Ministry—and this is at the request of the British Independent Air Travel Association—the power, which it now has on the roads, of withdrawing the licence of an unsatisfactory operator; in other words, a clear mandate to control the situation more satisfactorily than we can under the present Acts.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

As soon as may be in a new Parliament.

One other example of the policy of a Minister interfering with the Corporations concerns their capital investment. When I wound up the debate in the House last week, I was answering criticisms that Ministers do not interfere enough with the purchases of aircraft by the Air Corporations. I think, therefore, that the truth lies somewhere in between. Certainly, I think it is in the national interest that the Air Corporations should consult me about their capital investment, in which the Treasury either provides the money or guarantees the loans. That is inescapable so long as they remain nationalised.

I agree entirely with the Select Committee that when a Minister over-rides the commercial judgment of the corporations the fact should be clearly recorded. The only occasion—the hon. Member for Uxbridge mentioned it—when I have so over-ridden the commercial judgment of B.O.A.C., for reasons which I will not waste time to explain now, was when I asked the Corporation to operate a service in Kuwait. I wrote a letter to the chairman saying that I hoped he would note it in his report, which he did, which I thought was quite right and proper and clearly follows the recommendations of the Select Committee.

I do not disagree that the Ministry is too mixed up, but it is mixed up only because by a kind of friendly cooperation can we hope to operate the almost impossible situation created by the 1949 Act. We can only make it work by disregarding the rules and trying to regard the airline chairmen as friends and colleagues which, I hope, I do and always have done. I must pay tribute to Lord Douglas of Kirtleside and Sir Gerard d'Erlanger. The hon. Member for Uxbridge said that we had grumbled about Lord Douglas. I seem to remember the hon. Member grumbling about Sir Gerard d'Erlanger. Perhaps, therefore, honours are even on that score. They are doing a fine job for their country and I am sure that I carry the Committee with me in saying that.

For the future, I think that in the new central licensing authority there will be a new plan for the air which will allow greater freedom, a quicker rate of expansion and a fair deal for both the Corporations and the independent airlines. For the moment, Ministers have to work legislation if they are not prepared to change it. Obviously, I cannot change this legislation in this Session of the present Parliament. Therefore, I have to work it as best I may. That must be my reason for the charge that I go beyond the intentions of the Statute, as, I certainly agree, I do, but only for the purpose of trying to make a success of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.

I will answer briefly an important point raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge concerning the subsidiary companies of B.O.A.C. He was referring, I think, to a company called Middle East Airlines. Although that is an associate company of B.O.A.C. it is a foreign company in which B.O.A.C. has, I agree, invested a great deal of money. The Corporation does not necessarily, therefore, have complete control, because it is not a subsidiary. That is why I did not at the time know about the payment to the managing director, which, incidentally, was not money that he took out of the company, but money which was paid to him by the board for a contract over a period of years, not payment, I understand, for loss of office at the end of that time.

Of more importance is the fact that I agree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge that B.O.A.C. today would be making an operating profit but for two things. One is the American reluctance to grant Tokyo rights, which I regard as a grave breach of our international relations. The second reason is the heavy losses made by the Corporation's associate companies. I was glad to have my opposite number from British West Indies Airways, Mr. Rose, over here. We had some useful talks and I am grateful to him. A quite new situation can now come in the West Indies which will put the position on a much better financial basis.

In Middle East Airlines, however, I regard the situation as being extremely grave. Therefore, I have approached the chairman of B.O.A.C. and he has appointed Sir George Cribbett to go into the whole matter. He quite agrees that we cannot go on with the drastic losses in this company and that matters must either be wound up or some different arrangements come to. I thought that hon. Members would like to know that I took that decision some time ago. Sir George Cribbett has been putting in a great deal of painstaking work and I hope that he will soon come to a conclusion.

As to the maintenance problems of B.O.A.C. it is in the interests of everybody employed by B.O.A.C. that the Corporation should get its costs in relation to those of its competitors. Of course, the Corporation can get more business, too, and so it is doing at the moment, but it must get down its costs. So far, the trade unions have cooperated extremely well in the plan for redundancies. I only hope that they will continue this co-operation. It is in the interests of us all.

I hope that the Committee accepts that I have told the truth about the Southall accident. It was not a pleasant job for me and I quite accept that the Opposition should raise their doubts and fears about this disastrous accident. I have tried not to comment politically. I have kept out of the path, into which we were all led in the House the other day, of drawing wider conclusions. I do not think that they can be drawn. I have tried not to do that tonight. I have merely tried to say that I hope I have done my duty and that the Ministry has done its duty. I leave it to the Committee to judge on the facts.

Select Committees are, by their very terms of reference, critical and that is a great safeguard for the House of Commons and for democracy. If, occasionally, I am criticised by a Select Committee, as I have been recently, I do not he awake at nights, provided I am satisfied in my conscience that I can say that although we all make mistakes and are very imperfect—certainly I am—at least I have tried to do what I thought was right in the national interest. I shall go on doing so.

8.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr Albert Hunter Mr Albert Hunter , Feltham

I am glad to have the opportunity of following the Minister. I wish to deal not with the latter part of his speech, but with the accident at Southall. My constituency and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) and Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffing-ton) are all around London Airport. Therefore, we are strongly interested in air safety. It is the duty of Parliament tonight to make sure that the Minister does everything in his power to make air travel as safe as possible not only for those who travel by air and for the crews, but also for the people who live in the large towns, the cities and the countryside.

The Viking aircrash disaster at Southall on 2nd September, 1958, killed seven people, the crew of three and four members of the public in the Southall constituency. The Report by Mr. Justice Phillimore has come as a great shock to the country. All hon. Members must agree that the Report is a damning indictment against the owners of the aircraft, Independent Air Travel. It is proper that Parliament should debate the Report and insist that action is taken by the Minister to ensure that such conditions as existed in Independent Air Travel are not again permitted in companies licensed by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation.

Part of my constituency adjoins the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Southall. Thousands of my constituents live in the area of the airport; indeed, some houses are only 400 yards from a runway. The Report of the Inquiry has caused concern against residents who, night and day, have aircraft taking off and landing at London Airport and flying over their homes. Representing them in the House of Commons, I feel it my duty to voice their concern.

Independent Air Travel was licensed to carry out its inclusive tours and also able, until the Minister intervened, to tender for Government contracts. On this matter, we must not mince our words. The lesson we can learn from the tragedy at Southall is to safeguard the future and to make sure that this does not happen again.

Let me briefly state some of the points from the inquiry held by Mr. Justice Phillimore. I take them from the Report, which, I take it, most hon. Members have read. These are some of the findings. The company was being run in a manner designed to keep expense to a minimum. The proper checking of training facilities was deliberately refused, with that object in view. It was surprising that the company, Independent Air Travel, did not have an accident before. The aircraft was not properly maintained, neither its engines nor its radio installations. The aircraft was overloaded. The pilot ought not to have taken off in this aircraft which, to his knowledge, was overloaded. The crew, as he must have known, were not of approved competence, and it was at a time when he himself was suffering from fatigue.

Photo of Mr John Eden Mr John Eden , Bournemouth West

The hon. Gentleman says that he assumes that most hon. Members have read the Report. He is paraphrasing some of its comments. Would he not also draw the attention of hon. Members to the fact that in the Report reference is made to the exceedingly good engineering condition of the aircraft and that no fault was found with that?

Photo of Mr Albert Hunter Mr Albert Hunter , Feltham

I promised that I would not be very long. If I went through all the Report I should be standing here a long time. The hon. Member has drawn attention to that part of the Report.

There is another paragraph of the findings which says that the conduct of the pilot and the whole course of events contributed to the policy of the company of keeping its aircraft gainfully employed regardless of regulations. Mr. Justice Phillimore also criticises the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation for not acting on previous recommendations that it should tighten up the regulations for the six-monthly checks of pilots.

Can it be wondered that, after such an indictment, people are shocked? I am not using this debate to attack the independent air operators. Many of them are good, reputable firms, and perform a useful service. I am attacking Independent Air Travel, a company which was a disgrace to the country. It is in the interests of the independent air operators that similar companies should not be allowed to exist.

Air safety has always been a watchword of the Air Corporations. I have been on a visit to their training school with my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), and we have seen the great care which the Corporations take at that school. I am glad to see that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary agrees with me. Every hon. Member should go to the training school, for it is well worth seeing, to see the great care and pains which the Air Corporations take to train their pilots and crews.

Air safety, as I have said, has always been a watchword of B.E.A. and B.O.A.C., and it should be the watchword of all airline companies. Parliament must insist upon it. We owe it to the people who travel by air, to the air crews, and to those who live in the towns and countryside.

Our national prestige is at stake. This country has been a pioneer in this great new form of air travel and in civil aviation. It is against our national prestige to have companies like the late company, Independent Air Travel, operating. We must make sure that this country's reputation for air safety is second to none. Just as, many years ago, Parliament had to insist that our ships which sailed the seas were seaworthy, so today we must insist that measures be taken to make regulations to ensure that in future air companies like the one indicated in Mr. Justice Phillimore's Report are not allowed to exist.

Let the Government act, and act now, and let Parliament insist that there shall be no more tragedies like the one which occurred at Southall.

8.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Nigel Nicolson Mr Nigel Nicolson , Bournemouth East and Christchurch

No person has a greater right to speak on the Southall disaster than the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter), whose constituency suffered—

Photo of Mr Albert Hunter Mr Albert Hunter , Feltham

No. It was the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) that suffered. My constituency adjoins Southall.

Photo of Mr Nigel Nicolson Mr Nigel Nicolson , Bournemouth East and Christchurch

—whose own constituency adjoins the area where the aeroplane crashed. Of course, as he pointed out, there is no guarantee whatever that a constituency which lies on the boundary of a great airport is not in some danger from an air accident.

However, I also, I think, have a right, perhaps an equal right, to intervene in this debate, because many of the management and the employees of the firm which operated this Viking aircraft were my constituents. I have, in addition to this constituency interest, to disclose to the Committee a personal interest, and I should like to explain to the Committee exactly what that interest is.

I was never a director of Independent Air Travel. My sole interest in the firm was that many of its employees were my constituents, and from time to time, as their Member, I did my best to help them. After the Independent Air Travel company broke up, since the crash, its former managing director, Captain Kozubski, formed a new company called Falcon Airways Ltd., and a month ago I joined the company as a director, although I have no shares in it. So the Committee will see that my interest, apart from the constituency one, is limited to speaking up for a man who for many years has been my friend, and for just over one month has been my partner. Even if there were not that slight personal interest I should still feel it my duty to speak in this Committee on behalf of the many people who sent me here as their Member.

I should like to give the Committee—I will do it very shortly—some idea of who Captain Kozubski is, and what sort of man he is. As his name indicates, he is by birth a Pole. He came to this country soon after his own was overrun by the Germans in 1939, and he served in the Polish Squadron of Bomber Command throughout the war. He won, serving with our Air Force, the Polish equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the D.F.C. with two bars, the A.F.C., and the Croix de Guerre. I do not advance that as an argument that his war record makes him the most suitable person to run a civilian airline, but I emphasise that he is a pilot himself, and some would say one of the greatest pilots this country has ever seen; a man who can understand the difficulties and, if hon. Members like, the shortcomings of other pilots; and, what is more, a man whose war service shows that he is a person to whom none of us would wish to deny that most elementary right of British justice, the right to reply.

If my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low) had not voluntarily given way to me, that reply would never have been heard and hon. Members, like the hon. Member for Feltham, would have remained convinced, as they would have had every right to be, that this Report is a true account of what happened on 2nd September, 1958.

It seems to me most unfortunate and unfair that Captain Kozubski was not called to give evidence at the public inquiry. I say that on two grounds. First, that it was essential that an inquiry which was to investigate so closely the affairs of the company should have called upon the managing director of the company, when the Report itself states that he was the driving force in it and that "the company's operations were conducted by him." It is not a pleasant thing for an hon. Member, particularly one who has had to declare a special interest, to criticise in any way one of the most eminent of Her Majesty's judges, but I am bound to say that I feel that Mr. Justice Phillimore should have exercised his power as chairman of the court to call this man and not wait until he, a foreigner in our midst, came to him and asked to be called.

Moreover, Mr. Justice Phillimore was obliged by law to call him and did not do so. I should like to call my right hon. Friend's attention to Regulation 9 (4) of his own Civil Aviation (Investigation of Accidents) Regulations, 1951, which reads: Every public inquiry held under these regulations shall be conducted in such a manner that if a charge is made against any person, that person shall have an opportunity of making a defence. Surely, that can mean only one thing—that when a report of this sort is published to the world the man most heavily criticised in it should have had a chance to give a reply to the allegations at the inquiry itself, and before the court had come to the conclusions which were clearly in its mind as it was hearing the evidence.

The hon. Member for Feltham had the impression, which I think every hon. Member and the world outside shares with him, that this accident was due primarily to three causes—poor maintenance of the aircraft due to the deliberate policy of the company to cut costs to the minimum, secondly, the fatigue and inexperience of the crew, and, thirdly, the overloading of the Viking prior to take-off.

As for maintenance, the Committee knows that an independent charter com- pany does not operate in a vacuum. It is subject to daily inspections by the Air Registration Board to start with, and the A.R.B. have on the spot at Hum and Blackbushe its own officers whose duty it is to prowl round the hangars and see whether the Ministry's regulations are being carried out and the aircraft are in every way fitted to take the air. In addition, there are the Ministerial inspections, of which my right hon. Friend has said there were eight in the case of this company. In answering supplementary questions on Wednesday, my right hon. Friend said that these inspections were carried out "to very high standards," and he three times repeated that phrase.

Is it to be supposed that these very high standards were relaxed in the case of I.A.T.? On the contrary, they were tightened up. The inspections were more frequent and more stringent simply because the company had been prosecuted for infringement of flight-time regulations in the past. They were keeping their eye on the company, and quite rightly. To suppose that the company was never properly investigated is a supposition which cannot be upheld. There were eight such inspections, two within three months of the accident. My right hon. Friend has described how after the inspection of May, 1958 and indeed just before it, the company was considered so satisfactory in all respects by his Ministry's inspectors, that it was granted a licence which I understand is technically known as the "Inclusive Tours Scheduled Services Licence" in association with B.E.A., a privilege which is much sought after and seldom awarded by his Ministry. How did it come about, if the company was run in the way alleged in the Report, that this privilege could have been awarded to it only six months before the accident took place?

That was not all. During the Jordan crisis of last summer the Air Ministry was very pleased to make use of the services of I.A.T. It used them to such an extent during that crisis that they went to Aden, Cyprus and as far afield as Christmas Island, and earned—and I mean earned—nearly £100,000 of public money last year working for the Government, and at the end of the operation the Air Ministry said that it was highly delighted with the company's performance.

Photo of Mr Albert Hunter Mr Albert Hunter , Feltham

Would the hon. Gentleman state who was responsible for the overloading of the aircraft, and would he state that Mr. Justice Phillimore said that his only surprise was—

Photo of Mr Nigel Nicolson Mr Nigel Nicolson , Bournemouth East and Christchurch

I hope the hon. Gentleman will allow me to pursue my argument. I apologise to the Committee if I take longer than I normally do. This is the last speech I am likely to make in the House of Commons and the one I have most wanted to make in the whole seven years I have been here.

The inspection of 26th August, a week before the crash took place, did not reveal a single error in maintenance by the company, not one. My right hon. Friend said in his speech this afternoon that it was as a result of that inspection that the company's licence to operate inclusive tours was withdrawn. That came as a complete surprise to me, and I have only had time since he spoke to check with one or two of those who know the company most intimately. They have told me, of course relying on their memories, that they believe that, after the inspection of 26th August, the licence to operate the tours was not withdrawn. What happened was that when the company applied again for the licence to operate similar tours in 1959, it was quite properly refused, not because of the inspection, but because of the crash at Southall.

I do not think it is surprising that the company should have gained so clean a bill of health—not totally clean, but as clean as it was, particularly on the score of maintenance. It had nine aircraft and employed over 100 people solely concerned with their maintenance. In the last seven months before the accident the company spent £150,000 in maintenance upon the aircraft, exclusive of the salaries and wages of the 100 men I have mentioned. In view of that, I ask my right hon. Friend this question: after that inspection on 26th August, would his inspectors have signed a statement to the following effect: … the policy of this Company was to keep its aircraft flying at all costs and without any real regard for the requirements of maintenance …"? Hon. Members will notice that this quotation is taken direct from the Report. This is what Mr. Justice Phillimore says the company was like. I am asking if that was also the opinion of the inspectors who inspected it rigorously a week before? Either that statement in the Report is true or untrue. If it is true, why did not the Minister's inspectors say so while there was time? If they knew it was true, or thought it was true, and still did not say so, surely they must share some of the responsibility for the tragic accident at Southall?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I must put him right on one point by reminding him of what I said. It was that on 26th August, the date he has referred to, just before the accident, the inspection revealed prima facie evidence of infringement of flight-time regulations. That was not a criticism of the maintenance. There was a breach of the regulations, and a clear breach, and approval for the company to operate scheduled services was withdrawn because of that evidence.

Photo of Mr Nigel Nicolson Mr Nigel Nicolson , Bournemouth East and Christchurch

I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend has confirmed just what I thought. There was no criticism of the maintenance operations of the company at all a week before the accident took place; as far as maintenance was concerned, it was given a clean bill of health. So I ask my right hon. Friend again, but it is a rhetorical question, does he think that the verdict of the public inquiry upon this subject is one which would have been supported a week before by his own inspectors? If it is not true, the Minister should defend his own officers in defending the company, and say quite candidly to the Committee that the most pungent accusations made against I.A.T. in the Report are not true and cannot be true. If they were true his inspectors could have, should have and would have stopped these aircraft flying, but they did not do so.

I now come to a subject which the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) raised at Question Time on Wednesday. He gave the House to believe that he had information which showed that Lloyds underwriters had refused to insure the company, and he deduced from this that Lloyds knew better than the Ministry. I checked up on this. The hon. Member may have seen in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday—I called his attention to the cutting before the debate—that Lloyds underwriters utterly denied this. I should like to read the words. The Daily Telegraph said: Aviation insurance underwriters consulted in the City yesterday denied that there was any foundation for a suggestion made by Mr. Beswick … at question time in the Commons yesterday that Lloyds had at any time refused to insure the owners of the Viking that crashed at Southall. It goes on: There is always the possibility that an individual underwriter or company may for technical reasons have decided not to take a 'line'. That is a technical insurance term. This would not reflect upon the insured. I am sure that the hon. Member did not wish to mislead the House, and I hope he will allow me to put this matter right. The company was insured at Lloyds. It was considered a good risk, and it was considered a good risk because it had paid vast sums in insurance premiums and had made no claims at all. In the last year of its operations, in 1958, it had paid £30,000 for the premium on the insurance of its nine aircraft. The claim made during the six years of its existence amounted to £240. The Committee may be interested to know that that was in respect of one of its aircraft grounded at Rotterdam into which a lorry belonging to another company backed and damaged part of the fuselage, and in the end it was the company owning the lorry which paid the claim Therefore, no claims at all were made upon the insurance company. Far from this company being a bad risk at Lloyds the underwriters were reaching for its business, and one can understand why.

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

Perhaps I may be allowed to say to the hon. Gentleman that he is protesting a little too much. I think he is overpainting his case very seriously, and he is not doing his own firm any good. What the Daily Telegraph said is quite true, but it was not the whole truth. Nothing that I said related to matters prior to the accident. What I was saying, and what I intended to say—I said it in a supplementary question—was that Lloyds underwriters had not been able to accept a risk affecting the firm at a time when the Minister was permitting it to operate. That is what I said, and, to the best of my knowledge and belief, that is correct.

I will tell the hon. Member what happened. Following the operation of the company, of which he is now a director, of a Viking taken over from Independent Air Travel, part of the contract that Captain Kozubski took with him was that the aircraft should be maintained by Independent Air Travel, of which a director has just entered the Committee My information was that it was necessary for the hon. Gentleman's company to insure the aircraft and that when it made a proposal for the insurance it had to state which was the maintenance firm. The maintenance firm was Independent Air Travel. Lloyds sent a skilled assessor, a technical man, to Hum on 24th March, 1959. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] The hon Member made a rather serious remark in relation to me. and I am giving him the facts. The assessor's remarks about what he found at Hurn were heard by others on the aerodrome, and the net result was that the insurance risk was not accepted by those underwriters on the basis of Independent Air Travel doing the maintenance.

Photo of Mr Nigel Nicolson Mr Nigel Nicolson , Bournemouth East and Christchurch

I shall not pursue the matter of insurance, because it would take up too much time and I have so many more important things to say. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think that I am overstating the case, but that fact is that the company had flown 30,000 hours, which is 6 million miles, without a single accident.

We have a much closer check upon whether the company maintained its aircraft well. We have the check upon the Viking to which I shall refer to as Juliett Echo, its code name, after the crash itself. The Report is very forthcoming about this subject, but I shall read to the Committee what is not in the Report. This is what the Solicitor-General said in opening the case for the Crown at the Inquiry: The starboard engine had no internal mechanical failure,"— that was the engine that was suspect— no sign of one. Lubrication had been adequate. General operating conditions seem to have been satisfactory. I may summarise it by saying that from the wreckage there was no indication of any failure by either engine. The same is true of the airframe and the radio equipment.

When the chief technical officer of the Air Registration Board gave evidence, his summary was: The aircraft's performance was considerably above the average. I think that we can conclude that the Report's picture of maintenance is considerably overdrawn.

Now I come to deal with the crew. It is alleged that the crew members were inexperienced and fatigued. We know that Captain Mayger, the pilot, was a pilot of very great experience, with 13,000 hours with B.O.A.C. and the R.A.F. His co-pilot and first officer was Mr. Altena, a Dutchman, who had 1,000 hours as pilot and of whose ability as a navigator the Solicitor-General said at the inquiry: He was a competent navigator, had an excellent knowledge of radio navigation, and used radio aids to good advantage. These were skilled men.

There was a third man in the aeroplane, Mr. Howard. Mr. Howard need not have been there at all. Regulations demanded that on such flights at least two men should be taken, but there was no need of a third. Mr. Howard went on this flight solely to help with the unloading of the two Proteus engines, which were the cargo, at its destination in Israel. He had nothing whatever to do with the navigation, or pilotage, or engineering of the aircraft in which he was travelling.

When we read in the Report an alleged remark by Mr. Howard to one of the marshallers of the M.T.C.A. at London Airport, to the effect: Well, if that spare part is not available, as far as I am concerned the aircraft is grounded and I refuse to sign.", we begin to wonder whether the court of inquiry went sufficiently well into the evidence, for it is impossible for Howard to have made that remark. It was as if someone had said to a cabin steward in a ship, "Are we ready to sail yet?", in which case he would have answered, "Ask the captain". Howard was a nobody in this crew. He had no right to sign and he would never have demanded that right and nobody would have asked him.

The two important members of the crew were, therefore, not inexperienced. Were they tired? The Report says that Altena was not tired, but that "Captain Mayger certain was." That may seem a little surprising since Captain Mayger had had more sleep than Altena. Even disregarding that, let us look at what Captain Mayger had been doing in the twenty-four hours before he took off. On the previous night, that is Sunday/Monday, he went to an hotel near Basingstoke. His wife was with him. She was interrogated at the inquiry, but her evidence is not reproduced in the Report. She was asked how her husband slept and she said he had been sound asleep for seven hours. Q. During that night did your husband have a good rest? A. Very good. Before he left for Blackbushe the next morning he volunteered the information which his wife repeated in her evidence: I feel very fit this morning. He did not have to take off until 2.30 that afternoon. He had the whole morning free. He then did a thirty-minute flight from Blackbushe to London Airport. After he arrived at London Airport he probably stayed in the neighbourhood of the aircraft until about 4 p.m. Nobody knows exactly what he did after that, but we know from Mr. Rodger Winn who appeared with my right hon. and learned Friend at the inquiry that there was no evidence that Mayger was working after 6 p.m. All we know is that at 9 p.m. he arrived at the Berkeley Arms Hotel where he was to spend the night, and he went to bed almost immediately afterwards.

I am now coming to a point on which I wish to lay the greatest emphasis. There was no need for Captain Mayger to have left London Airport at 6 a.m. the following morning. It was entirely up to him to choose when he left. He could have left at mid-day or even at 4 p.m. If he was feeling tired, as the Report consistently alleges, one is obliged to ask oneself why he did not take a longer rest. The schedule for this flight gave five days in all to go out to Israel and return to Blackbushe. The aircraft was not required to be at Blackbushe until Saturday morning.

Half of Monday was taken up with the maintenance of the aircraft at London Airport. That left four days and nights in which to make a flight of twenty-four hours to Israel and back. The pilot was entitled to stagger his flight exactly as he wished, and that is the normal practice for any pilot. He could have made his first stop in the South of France, or in Italy, or in Athens. He probably intended to make Nice his first stop and go on the next day in what is, after all, an easy stage, to Israel, and spend two whole days coming back. One can only assume that because he chose to start so early when it was not necessary to do so, he was feeling, as his wife said of him, "fit and fully rested".

If hon. Gentlemen had had the opportunities which I have had of listening to the tape-recording of the messages that passed between Juliett Echo and the ground control during the last half-hour of that final flight, they would know that there was no trace of tiredness, or even anxiety, in the voice of either Peter Mayger or Mr. Altena. This accusation of fatigue is wrong, false and groundless, and should not have been made.

I now deal with overloading. This aircraft was undoubtedly carrying 400 kilograms more than it should have been. To what extent was the pilot forced to carry that overweight? He was not forced to do so. When he left Black-bushe he was given a manifest which showed precisely what he was carrying in the aeroplane before it was loaded with the two Proteus engines. In this document which Peter Mayger was given, and which he signed for, it is clearly shown that the stands, blocks and lashings necessary to secure these two engines to the fuselage weighed just over 400 kilograms.

When he got to London Airport he was away from his advanced base. In a sense he was en route for his final destination, even though he was in telephonic communication with Blackbushe. It was he who, quite rightly, had to decide how much petrol to put into that aircraft. The aircraft was loaded for him by B.O.A.C., and the Corporation signed the cargo manifest. Captain Mayger told Shell-Mex how much petrol he wanted, and he loaded in about 100 gallons more than the aircraft either needed or was at that weight entitled to carry. Those extra 100 gallons of fuel account wholly for this overweight.

The Report makes a very sinister comment upon this. It says that: If the load was correctly stated, it would have been necessary to land at Lyons, thus incurring additional cost and increased time. This is, of course, easy to understand if the Company was being run in such a way as to cut expenses to the minimum. There are two answers to that statement. The first is that the aeroplane, with that load, could have made Nice quite easily in one hop without carrying the extra weight of petrol. Secondly, contrary to what the Commissioner says, it would have been more and not less expensive for the aircraft to make its first stop at Nice rather than Lyons. The reasons are very simple. First, with Rome as the next stop, Nice is 20 miles further from London Airport than is Lyons. Secondly, handling is more expensive at Nice, and the transit longer, as Lyons gives free handling to aircraft which go there, as it is their municipal policy to attract aeroplanes to its airport.

So we find that the truth on this point is the very opposite of what is stated. If the company had wished to save money it would have had the aircraft stop at Lyons and not at Nice. It cannot be argued for a moment that Captain Mayger put this extra petrol on in order to make a cheaper journey; by going to Nice he was making a more expensive one.

Was Juliett Echo dangerously overloaded? My right hon. Friend said that he thought it was. I would put the contrary argument, that a Viking of this sort is dangerously overloaded when it is overloaded by about 2,000 kilograms. This aircraft was overloaded by under 400 kilograms. It is as if a driver was said to be driving dangerously when he drove at 32 m.p.h. in a built-up area. Certainly he exceeded the speed limit, and could be prosecuted, but he was not driving dangerously as, for instance, a car would be driven dangerously if, on its way from Marble Arch to the Arc de Triomphe, it went through London at 60 m.p.h.

The performance of the aircraft in the air immediately after take-off was such as to make it quite impossible to argue that it was dangerously overloaded. From take-off it rose 4,000 feet in the first four minutes. Hon. Members will find that evidence in Appendix "A" to the Report. The rate of climb was thus 1,000 feet per minute. That is not only exceptional for a Viking of that type but is surely a tribute to the standard of its maintenance. How could it climb with its admitted overload, at double the normal rate, unless it was a very good aeroplane, and unless the technical director of A.R.B. was right in saying that its performance was above average?

By the time it turned back from Dunsfold it had shed much of its load and used a lot of its petrol, and the Solicitor-General admitted in his speech at the public inquiry that it was most unlikely that overloading could do anything to explain the aircraft's high speed of descent in the last moments.

This part of the Report is summed up in these terrible words, about Captain Mayger: This man was put in a situation which no pilot should be required to face. I ask the Minister to imagine what Mrs. Mayger's feelings were when she read those words. Can she have drawn any other conclusion than that Captain Kozubski was her husband's murderer? Those words were wholly unjustified. They were untrue, and terribly cruel, not only to this man's widow but crueller to the man who was one of his greatest friends, responsible for his life and for the aircraft in which he asked him to fly.

I hope that I have been able to show to the Committee that the truth is that the aircraft was admitted to be fully serviceable, that the pilot and first officer were very experienced men, that the overload was neither necessary nor dangerous, and that Captain Mayger had chosen his own route and his own time of departure. If those are not the reasons for the crash, what were the real reasons? I think there were two reasons, neither of which has been gone into at all fully in the Report.

The first reason was pilot error and the second reason was the air traffic control system around London. As for pilot error, I think it is within the recollection of all hon. Members that the most experienced pilots flying for the most reputable airlines have, on occasion, made errors of inexplicable magnitude. I remember an air crash which took place last Christmas Eve not a mile from my house in Hampshire, when a Britannia of B.O.A.C. crashed, with heavy loss of life, because its crew had misread the altimeter by 10,000 ft. I remember another case not long ago when a B.O.A.C. airliner flew 90 degrees off its course right across the Sahara until it ran out of petrol—again the result of pilot error.

I have not much doubt that Captain Mayger made a pilot error in that he mistuned, as is suggested in the Report, to the beacon of Amsterdam instead of to Blackbushe. The beacon of one is much stronger than the other. He failed to check his position by the navigational aids at his disposal, such as the magnetic compass, or even by the sun, which was shining brightly at the time, which would have given him some clue that he was going in the wrong direction.

The second reason is related to the air traffic control system around London. I would ask the Committee to note that I use the word "system" and not "officers". It is right that I should read out to the Committee the passage in the the Report which has already been quoted once: I am entirely satisfied that the air traffic control officers not only did their duty but in fact did far more than they were strictly required to do and no possible criticism attaches to them. I am not seeking to attack them, but am merely saying that the accident was at least in part due to the fact that there was no system in force in the London area to make it essential that one airport shall exchange information with another about an aircraft in distress in its immediate vicinity. [Interruption.] I apologise to hon. Members for speaking for so long. My next point is crucially important, because it affects future operations as well as this crash.

What did London Airport know at the time of the final crash? It did not know very much, because it had ordered Juliett Echo to switch over to the Blackbushe frequency. But it did continue to keep in touch with the aircraft during its flight.

Air traffic control officers at London Airport noticed as early as 6.22 that the Viking was flying off its course. A message was sent to the aeroplane via Blackbushe to correct that error. As we know, the error was never entirely corrected. Soon afterwards a B.O.A.C. plane in the air near London Airport spotted the Viking in the air and radioed back to London Airport that it was still off course. Then four officers at London Airport followed the flight of this Viking on the radar screen. At first they were not certain that it was the Viking they were seeing. Later they became more certain, and at 6.26 the officer known as the Epsom stack control told Black-bushe again. By that time Juliett Echo was six miles south-east of London Airport. Various other officers saw the same thing and in the end they followed round the "blip" on the screen until it disappeared when the aircraft crashed.

That was what London knew. It was following the path of the aircraft on the radar screen. But Blackbushe had no radar, or none capable of reaching as far as the aircraft had then proceeded. All Blackbushe had was a short-range local radar belonging to the United States Navy and available to Blackbushe Airport on a thirty-minute call. Yet this was the airport in control of a machine known to be in difficulties and know to be losing height.

I will not pursue the story in any further detail. I will simply sum up this side of it in this way. London could see the Viking but could not speak to it. Blackbushe could speak to the Viking but could not see it. London knew its position but not its height. Blackbushe knew its height but not its position. If either airport had known both facts together the aircraft could have been taken over by London Airport and safely landed. In fact, the Commissioner put this question to the supervisor of the southern air traffic control centre at London Airport: It could easily have landed at London Airport, I suppose, if anybody had been able to direct it as to its position? To which the supervisor replied: Yes, depending upon its manoeuvrability and its ability to maintain height. In view of these disturbing facts which I have had to burrow out from the evidence—as hon. Members will find that there is no discussion of them in the Report—I ask the Minister these questions. First, should not there be throughout the twenty-four hours some central authority within the London traffic area responsible for plotting the flight of a distressed aircraft to whichever airport it has been directed? Secondly, should not it be an established practice that London Airport should take over control of such distressed aircraft when they enter the London control zone particularly when neighbouring airfields are known not to have the same facilities for observing or plotting its flight? Thirdly, should not one airport exchange full information with another about an aircraft known to be in distress and flying between their zones of responsibility?

Whatever we think about the Southall crash it has lessons which I have tried to draw about air safety in the London area as a whole. I asked my right hon. Friend to look at these facts both in the light of what happened on 2nd September last year and in the light of the possibility of future accidents. This Report is a charge of criminal negligence against a company.

Photo of Mr Nigel Nicolson Mr Nigel Nicolson , Bournemouth East and Christchurch

I had nothing to do with it except as a Member of Parliament representing the constituency near which was its main base. I feel that the Minister should either dissociate himself from the most stringent charges made in this Report or else he should show the Committee much more exactly how they can be justified. I have no interest whatsoever in the old company, but I have an interest in the director of the new company, Captain Kozubski, who was associated with I.A.T.

I thank all hon. Members for their extraordinary patience in allowing me this opportunity, the only opportunity there will ever be, to state the answer to the Report which hon. Members have in their hands.

9.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Clement Davies Mr Clement Davies , Montgomeryshire

The Committee is not in a position to re-try this case or question the decision of such an experienced man as Mr. Justice Phillimore, who spent seven days hearing the facts and had the assistance of experienced counsel on every side. In drawing up his Report, he has used the most strong and direct language that I have ever read in any report.

I am concerned with only one point, and I want to state that as shortly as I possibly can. It arises from two replies given by the Solicitor-General in the House last Tuesday. He said: I concede that there are now disclosed by the investigation offences against the Regulations, but, as I have explained, there is a statutory period of limitation already past in respect of those. The right hon. and learned Gentleman later said: The House will realise that one would be most eager to see that we never reach a position of this kind again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th July, 1959; Vol. 609, c. 182–3.] The Southall accident was a terrible tragedy. Seven people were killed. The aircraft concerned, and the owners of the aircraft, had been the subject of a previous inquiry by the Minister. Only a few days before the crash there had been a breach of regulations. Therefore, I should have thought that the Minister at once was put upon his guard to make a direct inquiry and should have been concerned to get that made as quickly as possible.

I understand that the deputy-coroner sat on either 4th or 5th September to open the inquest formally, but it must be remembered that in every case the coroner is very much dependent upon the police or some authority—in this case it may have been Scotland Yard—for such information as he can obtain, because he is not in a position to collect information and put questions to witnesses unless he has help from outside. We know that it was at the request of the Ministry that the deputy-coroner adjourned the inquest until the end of January. There had been a breach of regulations by this company before and this tremendous disaster had taken place, yet September, October, November, December and nearly the whole of January passed before the matter was brought again before the coroner. He summed up, I think, on 28th and 29th January. Thereupon the jury returned an open verdict.

Again time was allowed to elapse, because not until 18th February was Mr. Justice Phillimore appointed. He did not begin to sit until 16th March. The vital date was 2nd March. The accident occurred on 2nd September. Therefore, if proceedings were to be taken in respect of breach of regulation they had to be begun before 2nd March. I should like—and the Committee and the country are entitled to it—an explanation of that long delay. It is true that, as the Minister has said, there might have been the possibility of a serious charge of manslaughter being brought and that the Ministry was anxious about that, but that, apparently was cleared up at an earlier period to the satisfaction either of the Director of Public Prosecutions or of the Ministry.

That being so, and even allowing for the fact that the coroner's jury returned an open verdict and finished the matter only on 9th January, why was no step whatsoever taken against this company between 29th January and 2nd March? That is a question that, I think, is being asked even by the learned Solicitor-General, because he has asked what we are to do to see that this never happens again. That is the one question that worries me.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was present at the beginning of the debate, when the Minister, I thought, made absolutely clear exactly what took place.

9.16 p.m.

Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett:

It had not been my intention, in this debate, to touch on that part of it that deals with the accident at Southall, but so much has already been said on the subject that I feel constrained to make one or two observations. I speak as one who has spent most of his working like in a Service where, unfortunately, accidents of this type—often involving much greater loss, of life—occur from time to time; and as one who has presided over a number of inquiries into accidents, has convened other inquiries, and has had to consider their evidence.

I must say that I was entirely convinced by my right hon. Friend's explanation of his own action and that of the Ministry. We understand, of course, the reasons that prompt the Opposition to bring this matter forward in Parliament but, to be perfectly frank, I do not think that if one flogs over the ground too far one contributes in any way to air safety in the future. I entirely agree with what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). In this Committee we cannot rehear the case.

Although I was moved by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) I very much doubt whether, by challenging the findings of the judge in such detail he served to any great extent the cause that he has at heart. However, if he will allow me to say so, there is one point that he raised that I would like my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to deal with when he replies. Although I probably ought to be clear about it, I must say that I still am not quite clear about the circumstances in which persons who were blamed at the inquiry were not called as witnesses.

I understood my right hon. Friend to say that an opportunity was given to the managing director of the company. I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch to say that that opportunity was not given. Can we have that point cleared up? Was the opportunity given during the main inquiry itself, or after the finding was drafted or promulgated? Secondly, was it given formally in open court?

In these matters, I believe the procedure of a Service court of inquiry is in some ways superior to the proceedings of an inquiry such as this, because in the Service inquiry, if there is any question of blaming any individual, that individual is always called as a witness in open court. He will be told that he need not give evidence if he does not wish to, and then the first of a series of questions is put to him. If he refuses to answer, the position is quite plain and everyone understands. I should like my hon. Friend to tell us exactly what is the procedure of an inquiry of this nature.

I should now like to say a few brief words about the Report of the Select Committee. To begin with, perhaps the only remark in the speech of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) with which I agreed was that paying tribute to that Report. It is an excellent Report, and fully justifies the decision of the House to set up a Select Committee on the nationalised industries. Nevertheless, although I regard it as an excellent Report, I have an uneasy feeling that I speak with a lone voice in relation to those on either side of the industry when I say that I regard it as a disturbing Report. From the point of view of the travelling public or, perhaps I should say, the would-be travelling public, it reveals a shocking and, indeed, rather a ridiculous state of affairs.

I should like to read the opening words of paragraph 3 of the Report, which says: Since fares are fixed, competition is concentrated upon such things as the quality of service, the reputation for efficiency and punctuality, and the speed of flights; and the best way of winning traffic from competitors is by flying better aircraft than they have. Since it is pointed out a little later in the Report that the purchase of new aircraft involves about 80 per cent. of the capital development of these Corporations, it is obvious that, if competition is channelled into these particular lines, there is no prospect of getting cheaper air travel.

It is no answer to say, as is said and probably quite correctly, that the newer aircraft are as cheap, if not cheaper, to operate than the older ones, because enormous expenditure is involved in the development of new types and the change-over earlier than otherwise would be necessary in order to keep up to date or to keep up with the Joneses. Yet cheaper travel is surely the supreme need in the interest of the aircraft industry itself and the interest of the manufacturing industry.

There must be in the world today many hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in the middle income groups who would like to visit other continents and to see other races in distant parts of the world. In the days before the aeroplane was invented, this was impossible because of the time it would take. Anyhow, it would be impossible until they retired, by which time usually their incomes would be insufficient. Even now, although we have the aeroplane, it is still just as impossible on account of the cost.

One thing which I should like to see—it has never been published in any of the reports on the nationalised industries—and which I should like to put to my right hon. Friend, is that he might try to obtain one very important piece of information. I should like to see the breakdown figures of all passengers carried by B.O.A.C. into those whose fares are paid by the Government, those whose fares are paid wholly by the firm for which they work, those who are self-employed and claim that the visit is necessary for the conduct of their business and thus claw back a substantial part of the fare from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and those who pay their own fares. I think that in the case of B.O.A.C. the percentage who pay their own fares must be very small indeed.

As the Report makes quite clear in paragraph 74, the great obstacle, as hon. Members of the Committee know, to reducing fares is I.A.T.A. I was, therefore, very disappointed indeed that the Committee went on, in paragraph 76, so it seems to me, to accept the inevitability of the present state of affairs. I was, however, delighted to notice that my right hon. Friend's reply to the debate on the manufacturing industry the other day showed that he takes a very much more robust point of view of this matter.

I am bound to say, in passing, that I regret, and I hope that the country will take note, that from beginning to end in the speech of the hon. Member for Uxbridge he said nothing whatever to encourage the idea that we might get cheaper flying, yet that is the supreme need if this industry is to survive. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nor did the Minister."] My right hon. Friend said a great deal about it in the debate last week. I think that this is a matter which those who defend the present state of affairs have got to answer.

What is the reason for the basic difference between the development of sea travel and air travel in this respect? If we look back over this century we find that it would have been technically possible at any time during the past fifty years to build liners which could serve any of the routes in the world at a service speed of 30 knots. It was never done, except for a small number of ships, which were very often run at a loss and in many cases subsidised, on the North Atlantic route. The reason why this was not more general was that it did not pay. It would be technically possible today to build a replacement of the "Queen Elizabeth" which would cross the Atlantic at 45 knots, but I should be surprised if anybody suggested such a thing, because it would not pay.

The question that I put is this, and I feel that somebody who wishes to defend the present state of affairs should answer it. What valid reason is there for any difference in the case of air travel? There are certainly two undesirable answers. One is the factor that I have already mentioned. The passenger fare list is artificial in the sense that most passengers do not pay their own fares. But I think, also, that we have to face the fact—and I impinge a little on the debate that we had on Thursday last—that one of the things which have influenced the Corporations in their policy is that it has suited the aircraft industry to concentrate more attention on developing new types rather than on manufacturing and developing cheaper processes with existing types.

I do not necessarily blame the people in the industry for that. They grew up in a climate of two world wars, in an age in which it was necessary to produce an aeroplane which flew higher, faster and further. If only we could get back to competitive fares, I suggest that the aircraft industry and, in turn, the Corporations would set themselves very different targets. If we consider the two principal types being flown by B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., the Britannias and the Viscounts, I suggest that they represent a certain finality in air travel, because they have a performance in height, speed and range which enable them to operate with reasonable consistency to a fairly tight schedule on all the principal air routes of the world.

Suppose it had been firmly decided by the Corporations that they would stabilise on this particular performance, say, for thirty years. By how much could the cost of the aircraft and, therefore, the cost of the travel be brought down during that period? What might not have been achieved? To people of my sort of age this Report is a depressing one. So far as we are concerned, there is not the slightest hope or prospect of our ever benefiting from the development of air transport. We shall never travel to distant continents, unless somebody else pays our fare for us.

The travelling public, or perhaps I should say the potential travelling public, has come a very poor last among the people considered so far in the policy of the Corporations and the industry. In consequence, it would not be saying too much to say that for the vast majority of the people of the world we would have been much better off if the aeroplane had never been invested at all, because all that most of us get at the moment is noise and higher taxation in time of peace, and bombs in time of war. It is for that reason that I wish my right hon. Friend all possible success when he joins issue, later this year, with the other nations interested in this question of the fixing of fares.

9.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Pargiter Mr George Pargiter , Southall

We have listened, first, to forty-five minutes of defence by an hon. Member of a company in which he has an interest. We have now been listening further to matters which are hardly germane to this debate.

Photo of Mr George Pargiter Mr George Pargiter , Southall

We have wasted enough time—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

If the hon. Member reads what is on the Order Paper, he will see that what has been said is perfectly in order. Otherwise, I would have stopped hon. Members.

Hon. Members:

Withdraw.

Photo of Mr George Pargiter Mr George Pargiter , Southall

Whilst the subject was relevant, the remarks were highly irrelevant.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

So will the hon. Member's be.

Photo of Mr George Pargiter Mr George Pargiter , Southall

My concern is about the aircraft crash at Southall, in my constituency. I was on the scene of the crash shortly afterwards. If the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) had been there, he might not have been so concerned as he has been in the defence of the people who have been so scathingly condemned in this Report.

I want to come to certain of the facts arising from the inquiry. Some whitewashing has been done. The coroner took an inordinately long time. Of course, we cannot control what coroners do. It is just as well that we examine some of the facts. I wrote to the Minister on the day of the crash and asked for a full public inquiry to be held. He kindly replied immediately saying that there would be a full public inquiry, and I was happy. I asumed that in the next couple of days, a commissioner would be appointed and the inquiry would commence. Instead, we find that not only was a commissioner not appointed, but that nothing was done in that direction until February and, even then, the hearings did not commence until the middle of March. These are vital facts.

The inquest was opened formally at the beginning of September. It was necessary for the coroner to issue the necessary certificates for the bodies to be buried and this was done. The inquest was adjourned, I understand, at the request of the Accidents Investigation Branch and not at the request of the coroner.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I am not sure that the hon. Member was present for the first part of my speech, when I explained all that in great detail.

Photo of Mr George Pargiter Mr George Pargiter , Southall

It is equally true that the ground upon which the coroner was asked to adjourn the inquest was that it was pending the inquiry—in other words, that the inquiry would proceed. The inquiry did not proceed. At the end of October or, possibly, the beginning of November, although there had been no inquiry or request in the meantime, the coroner received a request through the local superintendent of police to resume the inquest. There may be no significance in this, but it seems to me to be a peculiar set-up concerning the investigation.

The coroner endeavoured, I understand, to obtain information from the Accidents Investigation Branch and from the Director of Public Prosecutions about what had been happening in the meantime and what they could produce for him when he re-opened the inquest. He was unable to get any satisfactory answer. The inquest, however, was resumed. It had to be adjourned for witnesses to be brought back. There was an unwillingness, I gather, or not very much willingness, by the departments concerned to produce witnesses. That does not look very good, but these, I am told, are the facts. The inquest had to be adjourned again so that certain witnesses could be brought back to be examined.

It might be arguable what a coroner must do in a matter of this nature. Obviously, a coroner is entitled in any way he thinks fit to seek the causes of people's deaths. In spite of all that anybody has said to the contrary and of the criticism that may be offered, a coroner is entitled to call any witness he wishes in order to establish the cause of death. If he can establish negligence on the part of anybody so that he can return a true verdict, he is entitled to examine witnesses and to call for any evidence or witnesses whom he chooses. It seems to me there is not very much that can he said about this.

I would ask the Minister to deal with these points because there are criticisms which I have heard outside and which I should like to be dealt with. One of the difficulties happens to be the relationship in certain cases between officers in the Department and the private companies. Many of them are senior officers who happen to hold pilots' certificates. They have to get in a certain amount of flying time, and they are dependent on the private companies for getting in that flying time. It may make for nice relationships, but I am not at all sure it makes for the best sort of relationship when it comes to inquiries which may have to be made about infringements of regulations. I should be glad to have a denial of this, but in view of these things which have been said, I think it just as well we should get the position cleared up.

Having regard to the reasons for the lapse of time—for which apologies have been made, none of them very satisfactory—I should like to know whether or not it is true that any senior officer has been transferred from his job because of his connection with this matter. I should also like to know—I do not suppose I can get this information—the nature of the communications which were made to the Department by Members of Parliament other than myself about this accident. It may be that they were quite satisfactory, but I listened to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch, and I wonder.

I should like to know whether it is true or not, on the general question of inquiries, that there were inquiries following the Blackbushe disaster, the Aquila disaster, and also the aircraft crash at Wigan; and whether, in each of those cases, by the time when the inquiry was completed, it would have been Statute-barred had any action been required.

Then there is a question relating to the whole set-up. In this case in particular there is further evidence of considerable delay, the cause for which, in my view, comes back to the culpability of some people in some Department or another. I understand that in the Accidents Investigation Branch there is a peculiar situation, for that Department is housed in the Ministry of Civil Aviation but is not of it. I think it is just as well to have the position cleared up and to know where the responsibility lies, and in fact what is the relationship between the Accidents Investigation Branch and the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and also what are the relations with the Attorney-General's Department, and incidentally, what are the connections between them and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

I ask these questions, but no answer to them and no one will bring back the people whose lives have been lost. I may have seemed to have been unkind in the strictures I have made. I should like the hon. Gentleman to believe that I am doing this in the interests of my constituents, because I think it is our duty to raise these points and because I think these are questions which want answering. If my strictures are denied, I shall be quite happy to accept that, but these are things which have caused disquiet, and the disquiet has grown up over a long time, and we ought to get these matters cleared up and make sure that such things do not happen again.

9.38 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

I understand the situation of the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter). This accident did affect his constituency tragically, as we all know, and it is quite natural that he should want to put a number of questions about it. I think, however, that it was unfortunate that he did not have enough time to develop the themes which he had in mind.

I should like to begin what I have to say to the Committee by saying at once that the rumours which he admits he has heard about whether senior officials of my right hon. Friend's Department have been transferred, and things of that kind, are quite untrue. I am sure he will be glad to have that assurance.

I cannot satisfy the hon. Member upon one point, that we should communicate either to him or the Committee generally communications made to my right hon. Friend by other hon. Members.

Photo of Mr George Pargiter Mr George Pargiter , Southall

I did not expect it.

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

I am glad to hear that the hon. Member did not think that that was likely to be done. It is not constitutional practice that it should be done, otherwise things would be quite intolerable.

As to the hon. Member's last point, the position of the Chief Inspector of Accidents is that he is attached to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, but he is not part of the normal Departmental structure. He reports direct to my right hon. Friend and is to a very large degree detached, and is completely impartial in all his investigations, as are his staff.

Photo of Mr George Pargiter Mr George Pargiter , Southall

Was it known to him by 11th October that three was a prima facie case?

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

I cannot say. I cannot answer whether the Chief Inspector knew by a certain date that there was a prima facie case. If the hon. Member will examine carefully what my right hon. Friend said, which I do not think he was here earlier to listen to in full, he will find that he explained the timetable involved in this—and I may have time to say a word or so about it myself. I think that he will be satisfied as to the situation.

I should like to say something about our inspection system, because it seems to me that it would be of general assistance to the Committee and to the country to know what my right hon. Friend is responsible for in respect of inspections of aircraft companies. We try to carry out an inspection about every six months. The purposes of the inspections made by our officials are twofold. First, it is to try to acquaint operators with their responsibilities, and, secondly, to check that their operations are in accordance with the regulations and with good operating practice.

The Committee knows that aviation is constantly developing and increasing and a great many flights are carried out by all these different organisations. It is quite obvious that we cannot examine all the documents and records relating to all the flights. Therefore, we are forced to carry out a series of spot checks which cover a cross-section of the operations and the aircraft. They are of two types. The first is a check of the operating base itself—loads, trim sheets, training records, and so on—and also checks of aircraft. We try to cover, in conjunction with the Air Registration Board surveyors, the question of the maintenance of aircraft; and my right hon. Friend was quite right in telling the House last Wednesday that we insist upon a very high standard.

To give the Southall accident a little more perspective, I would remind the Committee that it is in the interest of the companies themselves that their standards should be good, because, after all, they are carrying the public and they have a good deal of money involved in the aircraft. It is to their advantage to keep their standards high.

As for pilots, the main checks are twofold. There is a check on the pilot's competency, and we are talking, of course, of pilots who are licensed and certified and who have obtained the original qualifications. There is a periodic check of their competency, and tests of their qualifications to fly on the route. Regulations 44 and 45 place the responsibility for carrying out these tests on the pilots upon the operators themselves. My right hon. Friend has no statutory power to insist upon these checks being carried out in any particular form. In fact, we advise on these checks, and, as the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) said, Mr. Justice Phillimore in his Report, and again in a previous Report, recommended certain changes which he would like to see in the form of this six-monthly check, in particular, on pilots.

As my right hon. Friend said earlier, when we knew of these recommendations we did what we could, within the limitations under which we work—namely, that we have no statutory power to force them—to try to persuade the independent operators to carry out the sort of new procedure to which Mr. Justice Phillimore referred. It is unfortunately the fact, and I must admit this frankly to the Committee, that when Mr. Justice Phillimore was conducting the inquiry into the Southall crash, he neither asked for, nor did we volunteer, the information as to the alterations that had been made in the practice of a six-monthly check following his earlier recommendation some year or so ago.

It may well be that in the course of perhaps the next Session, or in a new Parliament, we shall have to ask Parliament for additional powers to enable us to do a number of things covering the whole question of licensing. My right hon. Friend has already outlined broadly what we are seeking in this connection, and we shall have to look at that in due course.

The Committee will realise from what I have said that, in view of the number of operations involved, we cannot be expected with the best will in the world, to check everything. It follows from this that we cannot invariably detect some deliberate concealment. In the case of the Southall crash the opinion of Mr. Justice Phillimore—based upon a lengthy consideration of the evidence of a large number of witnesses, evidence which was taken on oath, evidence which was tested by cross-examination by a whole galaxy of distinguished counsel—was that this was a company which had, in effect, falsified records relating to the training of pilots.

We could not, and cannot, be expected invariably to detect the falsification of records of that kind, although we do, in fact, find out this kind of thing by a process of cross-checking. As is clear from the Report itself, and from the documents which are displayed as appendices to it, even Independent Air Travel could not cover up the fact that it was not checking its pilots correctly all the time.

Before I pass from this part of what I want to say, I feel sure that the Committee would endorse a tribute to the officials of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, who have a very difficult but very responsible job to carry out in trying to maintain these very high standards which we rightly set ourselves for safety in the air. We cannot guard against every eventuality, but I claim that, in the majority of cases, we are able to maintain these high standards.

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

What I was going to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, and I apologise to him in so far as it is a little way from what he has been saying, is this. He has emphasised again and again that the Ministry tries to enforce these high safety standards. We were told earlier today by the Minister that as a result of the insistence on high safety standards neither Falcon Airways, of which the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) is a member, nor Independent Air Travel, are on the Fair List, or are allowed to carry passengers in accordance with the Air Transport Committee's licences. Yet the fact is that every week, and since May, both companies have been and are carrying 600 passengers a week to the Continent, passengers on inclusive tours. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why, despite all these precautions, this is still happening?

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

This is the first time that I have heard that allegation and it is something which I would very much like to look into. If the hon. Gentleman has some evidence or information that he wants us to investigate along the lines of the question he has just put to me, I certainly hope he will let us have it so that we will look into it. As I have said, we cannot cover every possible eventuality. What we try to do on the safety side is to maintain the highest standards we can within the confines of what I have tried to explain.

Now I want to come to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson). I am sure that the whole Committee will be sorry to know that his speech is the final one that he proposes to make in this Chamber. He felt extremely deeply about the subject of this debate and, with the best will in the world towards by hon. Friend, I must agree with the comment made subsequently by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), that whatever one thinks about the Report of the Commissioner the House of Commons is not the place to rehear the whole of the case. Much of my hon. Friend's speech consisted of comments on the Report. The Report is not the responsibility of my right hon. Friend. It is the responsibility of Mr. Justice Phillimore. However, there were a number of points mentioned by my hon. Friend to which I should like to refer.

The first relates to the calling as a witness of Captain Kozubski, the former managing director of Independent Air Transport. My hon. Friend pointed out that Regulation 4 of the Investigation of Accidents Regulations provides for a person who is to be charged to be called. But what he did not go on to say was that there were two other Regulations, 5 and 7, which enable a person to become a party if he wishes.

In this case what happened was that Captain Kozubski was the managing director of the company, and he was served with, notice, just as the other directors of the company were, in that capacity. The other directors of the company, as I understand it, gave evidence, appearing before the inquiry. Captain Kozubski chose, for reasons best known to himself, not to do so. However, I must make it perfectly clear to my hon. Friend and the Committee that it was perfectly open to Captain Kozubski at any time to have given evidence had he wished to do so.

I am informed that he was present at the Court of Inquiry for part of the time, presumably, I suppose, sitting as a spectator. He was certainly present during the inquest for a lot of the time. He certainly must have known that these sort of charges were to be made about him, because this was what witnesses were saying. It was open to him under Regulation 7 at any moment, had he chosen, to come forward and say to Mr. Justice Phillimore, "I wish to give evidence. My name is being blackened. I want to defend myself". That is my answer to my hon. Friend on the first point.

The second major point taken by my hon. Friend was the question of air traffic control. Here, he put a number of questions to me, which, in effect, amount to this, "Should there not be some kind of a permanent 24-hour watch kept by the air traffic control system for distressed aircraft?" In view of the shortness of time, I am paraphrasing what my hon. Friend said. The answer is that there is in existence such a system, but what went wrong in the case of the aircraft Juliett Echo was that not until almost the very end of its fatal flight did the aircraft declare an emergency. Therefore, so far as the controllers at both Blackbushe and London Airport knew this was an aircraft on a normal flight.

It was true that the captain had reported that one of his engines was out, but as the hon. Member for Uxbridge, who has great practical experience of flying, which I have not, knows very well, the fact that an aircraft has an engine out is in these days not considered to be an emergency condition at all. Aircraft are quite accustomed, and are designed, to fly on less than the full number of engines.

Frankly, if Captain Mayger had at any moment from the time that he reached the Dunsfold beacon onwards announced that he was in trouble, and required the assistance of the controllers on the ground, that would instantly have been given to him, but, in fact, he did not do that. It is a great tragedy and a pity that he did not, because if he had we might not have had this fatality. I must say to the Committee with all sincerity that Mr. Justice Phillimore finds in his Report no justification whatever for blaming the air traffic control staff. They knew nothing about it.

Photo of Mr Nigel Nicolson Mr Nigel Nicolson , Bournemouth East and Christchurch

I do not blame the officers at all, as I said, but, in fact, they knew that Captain Mayger was in trouble, because he said, "I am finding difficulty in maintaining height." Blackbushe knew it, but London Airport did not.

Photo of Mr John Hay Mr John Hay , Henley

As I tried to explain, Captain Mayger may have said, "I am finding difficulty in maintaining height", but he did not send out the international distress call which would instantly have brought all the services to his aid—the simple word "Mayday". That was, in fact, said by Altena, the co-pilot, at the very last moment before the aircraft went into the ground. It was not until that moment that anybody on the ground really knew that the aircraft needed an emergency service.

In fact, what actually happens, as I think most hon. Members know, is that our air traffic control system is based primarily on providing a system which avoids collision in the air. I do not see how it can be said that a system of that kind, which is intended to avoid collision, should always be on the look-out for aircraft off course, unless it has some idea that something has gone wrong with the aircraft in a serious way.

Here was an unidentified aircraft which appeared on the radar screen. Fortunately, it was identified and it was realised that it was Juliett Echo, and it was given a new course to steer to get it into London Airport or Blackbushe. In fact, by that time, as the Report shows, the pilot had lost control of the aircraft and could not maintain asymmetrical control and the aircraft went into the ground.

In the limited time at my disposal, I have tried to deal with some of the major issues which have arisen out of the inquiry into the Southall accident. I conclude by saying that the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation at once accepts that this is one of those tragic things from which we must draw experience and lessons. My right hon. Friend does not pretend, and it would be quite wrong for me to stand at this Box and pretend, that everything is perfect and that there is absolutely nothing wrong, because it is always human experience that one has to draw lessons from what happens.

My right hon. Friend has said several times that we intend to look very closely

into the whole of the licensing system, not only to cover the aspect of safety, but also to cover the sort of operations which can be carried out by some of the independent companies. Some of these companies, it is clear, can drive their aircraft and can drive their pilots. That is possible under the system, as the accident shows, although it is, fortunately, very rare.

We will try, in the course of the next Parliament, to introduce the necessary legislation and thereby try to ensure that this kind of thing does not happen again. But I think I may say with confidence that the whole of this story makes it clear that no blame can rest on my right hon. Friend or upon the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. That is the view which I ask the Committee to commend.

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

Since we do not accept that view, I beg to move, That Item Class IX, Vote 1 (Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation), be reduced by £5.

Question put:

The Committee divided: Ayes 180, Noes 220.

Division No. 171.]AYES[9.58 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W.Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)
Albu, A. H.Deer, G.Irving, Sydney (Dartford)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)de Freitas, GeoffreyIsaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)Delargy, H. J.Janner, B.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Dodds, N. N.Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.
Awbery, S. S.Edwards, Robert (Bilston)Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)
Bacon, Miss AliceEdwards, W. J. (Stepney)Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech (Wakefield)
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)Jones, David (The Hartlepools)
Benton, Sir GeorgeFinch, H. J. (Bedweilty)Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)
Beswick, FrankFletcher, EricJones, T. W. (Merioneth)
Blackburn, F.Foot, D. M.Kenyon, C.
Blenkinsop, A.Forman, J. C.Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.
Blyton, W. R.Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)King, Dr. H. M.
Boardman, H.Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.Lawson, G. M.
Bonham Carter, MarkGeorge, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then)Lee, Frederick (Newton)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.Gibson, C. W.Lindgren, C. S.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.)Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Bowles, F. G.Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.McAlister, Mrs. Mary
Boyd, T. C.Grey, C. F.MacColl, J. E.
Braddock, Mrs. ElizabethGriffiths, Rt. Hon. dames (Lianelly)McKay, John (Wallsend)
Brockway, A. F.Griffiths, William (Exchange)McLeavy, Frank
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)Grimond, J.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Brown, Thomas (Ince)Hale, LeslieMahon, Simon
Burton, Miss F. E.Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)Hamilton, W. W.Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)Hannan, W.Mason, Roy
Callaghan, L. J.Hayman, F. H.Mayhew, C. P.
Carmichael, J.Healey, DenisMikardo, Ian
Cattle, Mrs. B. A.Herbison, Miss M.Mitchiton, G. R.
Champion, A. J.Hobson, C. R. (Koighley)Monslow, W.
Chapman, W. D.Holman, P.Moody, A. S.
Cliffe, MichaelHolmes, HoraceMorris, Percy (Swansea, W.)
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)Houghton, DouglasMorrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)Mort, D. L.
Cronin, J. D.Howell, Denis (All Saints)Moss, R.
Crossman, R. H. S.Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)Mulley, F. W.
Cullen, Mrs. A.Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)
Darling, George (Hillsborough)Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)O'Brien, Sir Thomas
Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)Hunter, A. E.Oram, A. E.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)Hynd, H. (Accrington)Orbach, M.
Oswald, T.Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Symonds, J. B.
Owen, W. J.Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Padley, W. E.Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Paget, R. T.Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)Thornton, E.
Palmer, A. M. F.Ross, WilliamUngoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Panned, Charles (Leeds, W.)Royle, C.Viant, S. P.
Pargiter, G. A.Short, E. W.Wade, D. W.
Parker, J.Skeffington, A. M.Warbey, W. N.
Paton, JohnSlater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)Weitzman, D.
Pentland, N.Slater, J. (Sedgefield)Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Plummer, sir LeslieSmith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Popplewell, E.Snow, J. W.Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir FrankWilliams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)Sparks, J. A.Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Probert, A. R.Sprlggs, LeslieWinter-bottom, Richard
Pursey, Cmdr. H.Stewart, Michael (Fulham)Woof, R. E.
Randall, H. E.Stones, W. (Consett)Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Rankin, JohnStrauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)Zilliacus, K.
Redhead, E. C.Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Reid, WilliamSummersklll, Rt. Hon. E.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Reynolds, G. W.Sylvester, G. O.Mr. Pearson and Mr. Simmons.
NOES
Agnew, Sir PeterFarey-Jones, F. W.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.
Aitken, W. T.Fell, A.Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)Finlay, GraemeLloyd, Ma). Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)
Alport, C. J. M.Fisher, NigelLongden, Gilbert
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)Fletcher-Cooke, C.Loveys, Walter H.
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir WilliamForrest, G.Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby
Arbuthnot, JohnGammans, LadyLucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)
Armstrong, C. W.Garner-Evans, E. H.Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Ashton, Sir HubertGibson-Watt, D.McAdden, S. J.
Astor, Hon. J. J.Glyn, Col. Richard H.Macdonald, Sir Peter
Atkins, H. E.Godber, J. B.Macleod, Rt. Hn. lain (Enfield, W.)
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.Goodhart, PhilipMcMaster, Stanley
Baldwin, Sir ArcherGough, C. F. H.Macmillan. Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)
Barber, AnthonyGower, H. R.Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)
Barlow, Sir JohnGraham, Sir FergusMacpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Barter, JohnGrant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)Maddan, Martin
Batsford, BrianGreen, A.Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horneastle)
Baiter, Sir BeverleyGresham Cooke, R.Maltland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)
Beamish, Col. TuftonGrimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.
Bennett, Dr. ReginaldGurden, HaroldMarshall, Douglas
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)Hall, John (Wycombe)Mathew, R.
Bldgood, J. C.Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.Mawby, R. L.
Biggs-Davison, J. A.Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Bingham, R. M.Harris, Reader (Heston)Medllcott, Sir Frank
Birch, Rt. Hon. NigelHarrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Bishop, F. P.Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)Nabarro, G. D. N.
Black, Sir CyrilHarvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)Nairn, D. L. S.
Body, R. F.Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)Neave, Airey
Bossom, Sir AlfredHay, JohnNicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)
Boyle, Sir EdwardHeald, Rt. Hon. Sir LionelNicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)
Braine, B. R.Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.Noble, Michael (Argyll)
Brewis, JohnHenderson, John (Cathcart)Nugent, Richard
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.Henderson-Stewart, Sir JamesOakshott, Sir Hendrie
Brooman-White, R. C.Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)Hill, John (S. Norfolk)Page, R. G.
Campbell, Sir DavidHirst, GeoffreyPannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Cary, Sir RobertHolland-Martin, C. J.Partridge, E.
Channon, H. P. G.Hornby, R. P.Peel, W. J.
Chichester-Clark, R.Horobin, Sir IanPeyton, J. W. W.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame FlorencePlckthorn, Sir Kenneth
Cole, NormanHoward, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Cooper, A. E.Howard, John (Test)Pitt, Miss E. M.
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.Pott, H. P.
Corfield, F. V.Hughes-Young, M. H. C.Powell, J. Enoch
Courtney, Cdr. AnthonyHutchison Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)Price, David (Eastleigh)
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir HarryPrice, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho
Cunningham, KnoxJenkins, Robert (Dulwich)Profumo, J. D.
Currie, G. B. H.Jennings, J. C. (Burton)Ramsden, J. E.
Dance, J. C. G.Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)Rawlinson, Peter
Davidson, ViscountessJohnson, Eric (Blackley)Redmayne, M.
D'Avigdor-Goldsmld, Sir HenryJones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)Rees-Davies, W. R.
Deedes, W. F.Kaberry, D.Renton, D. L. M.
de Ferranti, BasilKeegan, D.Rldsdale, J. E.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.Kerby, Capt. H. B.Rlppon, A. G. F.
Drayson, G. B.Kerr, Sir HamiltonRoberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Elliott, R. W. (Ne'castle upon Tyne, N.)Kershaw, J. A.Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. EvelynKirk, P. M.Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Errington, Sir EricLancaster, Col. C. G.Roper, Sir Harold
Erroll, F. J.Langford-Holt, J. A.Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Russell, R. S.Taylor, William (Bradford N.)Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Sharples, R. C.Teeling, W.Webbe, Sir H.
Shepherd, WilliamTemple John M.Webster, David
Smithers, Peter (Winchester)Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Speir, R. M.Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Stevens, GeoffreyThompson, R. (Croydon, S.)Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Steward, Harold (Stockport S.)Thornton-Kemsley Sir ColinWilson Geoffrey (Truro)
Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir MalcolmTiley, A. (Bradford, W.)Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.Wood, Hon. R.
Studholme, Sir HenryTweedsmuir, LadyWoollam, John Victor
Summers, Sir SpencerVosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)Wall, PatrickTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Legh and Mr. Bryan.

Original Question again proposed.

It being after Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.