HC Deb 24 June 1932 vol 267 cc1442-6

Order for Second Reading read.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Sir Philip Sassoon)

; I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The object of the Bill is to give legislative force to an international Convention agreed upon at Warsaw, in 1929, for the unification of certain rules affecting the carriage of passengers or goods by air between and over the territories of different nations. The Bill itself is comparatively short and calls for little comment. The Convention is comprised in the First Schedule to the Bill. It will be seen that the Convention applies to all international carriage of persons, luggage or goods performed by air transport undertakings, including, with the consent of the State concerned, State air transport undertakings. It provides for uniformity in the nature and particulars of, and in the practice relating to passenger and luggage tickets and consignment notes. It regulates the rights and duties of the carrier, consignor and consignee; including the liability of the carrier in respect of the death of or injury to passengers, of the loss of or damage to goods or luggage, and in respect of delay. Put shortly, the carrier is to be liable within certain money limits for all damage and loss so sustained, unless he proves that he was not at fault.

Hon. Members will not expect me to go into details at this stage. They will readily appreciate the disadvantage and inconvenience which are inevitable, as long as international air transport is subject to different rules and regulations and answerable to different laws, according as it happened for the moment to be operating in or flying over one or other of a score or more of different nations. It is clearly to the advantage and convenience of everyone that these rules and regulations should be co-ordinated. The Convention, therefore, is a first and important instalment of an international code of private air law. It has grown naturally, as its history shows, out of the international nature of commercial aviation, to meet an obvious need. An international Conference on this subject was held in Paris as far back as 1925 when a draft Convention was drawn up. This preliminary draft was submitted in 1926 for revision to an international committee of technical and legal experts, who considered it with great care and thoroughness for two years. The revised draft produced by the committee underwent further substantial alteration at the Warsaw Conference of 1929, and was there finally agreed in the form of the Convention embodied in the Bill now before the House.

The Convention has already been signed by 23 Powers, and it now awaits ratification. This Bill, if it is accepted and passed by this House—it has already gone through all its stages in another place—will enable His Majesty's Government to join with other nations who wish to ratify the Convention. The question of ratification was considered by His Majesty's late Government in June, 1931. Following thereon, the principal foreign States interested were informed that His Majesty's Government were prepared to advise ratification, subject to general readiness on the part of other signatories to ratify and to the passing of the requisite legislation. That is the position which the Government take today. The Australian Government and the Governments of New Zealand and India, have decided to ratify or accede to the Convention. Several foreign nations have already ratified. France has passed a law authorising ratification, and other nations have taken preliminary steps towards the same end. A stage has been reached when it is reasonable to look forward to simultaneous ratification at an early date by a considerable number of important States, whereby the Convention will be brought into force as a substantial measure from the start.

Hon. Members will observe that the Bill gives power to apply to inter-Empire and domestic air transport the same rules as are established by the Convention for international air transport. It is considered in principle, and it is believed that it will be found in practice, that it will be more convenient if all air transport is subject to the same rules, rather than to two different sets of rules, the one for domestic and inter-Empire and the other for international air transport. The air interests chiefly concerned, as Members of this House know, have all been consulted throughout and have expressed themselves in favour of the application of one code for all services. As regards inter-Empire transport, the application of the new rules must also depend on the views taken by the Dominions, but there is no reason to believe that they will not be willing to come into line.

There are only two other points to which, I think, I need refer. It is not the intention of His Majesty's Government to take advantage of the Protocol to the Convention. For one thing, we have no State air transport service, but if we had we do not think it would be desirable to claim special privileges for it in this matter. As regards the second Schedule, persons entitled to make claims in cases of fatal accidents differ in different parts of the British Isles, under the present law, and it has been considered that for the purpose of an international Convention there should be a uniform rule for the whole of the United Kingdom. The purpose of the Second Schedule is to establish such a rule. With that short explanation, I hope we may get a Second Reading of the Bill.


We on this side welcome this Bill to give effect to an international Convention with regard to the rules relating to the air, and we congratulate the hon. Member on its introduction. I should like to express our satisfaction that the Government have decided not to sign the additional Protocol. I look forward to the inter-nationalisation of all air services, and I hope this will be a step in the right direction. I think the Protocol is an unnecessary reservation.


I apologise for not having been able to hear the right hon. Gentleman, and I want to ask one or two questions on which,. I think, we ought to have some light before we pass this Bill. In regard to Clause 2, I would like to ask whether lines 10, 11 and 12 make it impossible for subjects of this country going to law to have the advantages which the law of this country grants to litigants. Under the present law, if you get a judgment it may be that the judgment gives you power to distrain on the goods of the person against whom you have obtained judgment, but this Clause states but nothing in this Section shall authorise the issue of execution against the property of any High Contracting; Party. Does this alter the rights of a subject of this country according to British law? The second point I would like to ask is with regard to Article]0 of the Schedule, paragraph (2) which states: The consignor will be liable for all damage suffered by the carrier or any other person by reason of the irregularity, incorrectness or incompleteness of the said particulars and statements. Incompleteness of statement might be that you give a wrong destination for your goods, and the aeroplane might land in a place where the aerodrome is bad and a crash result. Would the sender be liable for damages in a case such as that, when it would be difficult to say whether it was through his fault in giving a wrong destination, or the fault of the pilot in having taken it on himself to land on a doubtful aerodrome? Again, in Article 20. paragraph (9), it is stated: In the carriage of goods and luggage the carrier is not liable if he proves that the damage was occasioned by negligent pilotage or negligence in the handling of the aircraft or in navigation and that, in all other respects, he and his agents have taken all necessary measures to avoid the damage. In regard to the difficulty of proof, how is that going to be established, when the Air Ministry in this country keep the results of all accidents completely secret? I think the Under-Secretary of State will agree that the reports of air accidents are confidential. How, therefore, can anybody get at the truth as to who is to blame for a particular accident? What about a company if they employ bad pilots and pay them badly? There is no trade union of pilots. I am sure hon. Members above the Gangway would wish to see pilots attain a high professional standard and have professional security. Suppose there is a blackleg company which pays its pilots inadequately. Undoubtedly if that were so, there would be negligent pilots, and the company would get away with it, although it would be to blame for employing such pilots. These are just a few points I would like to ask the Minister to elucidate before the House passes a Bill which appears, on the surface, to be harmless, but which should be watched.


With regard to the International Convention, I would like to ask, if this House agrees to the Bill how long will it be before it comes into operation? Shall we have to wait for all the other countries to agree, or only until a certain number of the high contracting parties have agreed?

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Sir P. Sassoon.]