HC Deb 24 November 1937 vol 329 cc1218-20
61. Mr. Montague

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air what is to be the composition and terms of reference of the promised committee to inquire into the subject of civil aviation?

Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead

In accordance with the announcement made in the course of the Debate, on the 17th instant, my Noble Friend has set up a Committee of Inquiry consisting of Lord Cadman as Chairman, Sir Warren Fisher and Sir William Brown. No formal terms of reference have been given to the Committee, but my Noble Friend has written to the Chairman as follows:— I am most grateful to you for accepting the Chairmanship of the Committee which I have set up to inquire into matters raised in the recent Debate in the House of Commons. I do not think it is necessary to give the Committee formal terms of reference, as the scope of the inquiry was clearly stated by the Under-Secretary of State in the course of the Debate. While broad questions of principle on which the policy of the Government has been fully explained to Parliament would not fall to be reviewed by the Committee, I should wish the Committee to exercise the fullest freedom in examining any matters raised in the Debate whether affecting the Air Ministry or Imperial Airways; and I think the Debate itself affords the most convenient terms of reference. The Under-Secretary stated that I should discuss with the Government Directors of Imperial Airways the system employed by the Company in dealing with its staff, including the methods by which pilots and others are enabled to have their grievances or representations fairly considered. It is my intention to discuss this with the Government Directors. At the same time I should very much value the opinion of your Committee on this matter, and I should therefore be much obliged if you would treat this question also as included in your inquiry. My Noble Friend wishes me to add this: He realises that there were possibly several hon. Members who desired to raise certain points during the Debate but could not do so in the short time available. He would, therefore, welcome the Committee dealing with questions not specifically raised in the Debate provided that they have not already been settled by existing Cabinet decisions. The Committee have been informed that they are at liberty to discuss such questions.

Mr. Montague

Does the Minister realise that in every quarter of the House this is regarded as a trick on the part of the Ministry?

Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead

No, I must say that I do not.

Mr. Montague

Can the Minister say what qualifications the members of this committee have for dealing with the question, for instance, of the dismissal of pilots? What qualifications have they? Who are they? Why should they be called upon to deal with questions of this character?

Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead

The hon. Member asks me for their particular qualifications to deal with the specific questions of the dismissal of pilots. He will see that my Noble Friend intends to discuss the question of the system under which pilots' grievances are dealt with himself personally with the Government directors, as stated by myself in the House a week ago. He is merely asking, in addition, for the opinion of this committee on that particular matter.

Mr. De la Bère

Why is it that the Secretary of State is not a Member of the House of Commons?

Mr. Attlee

May I ask the Prime Minister whether the matter can be reconsidered in view of the fact that in a Debate in this House very strong opinions were expressed that an independent inquiry was desirable, and that that was met by an offer from the Under-Secretary. The committee that has been appointed consists of one member who is a Government director, another who is a Government official, and a third who has been Secretary to the Minister for Air. In the circumstances that is not giving the House a proper independent inquiry.

The Prime Minister

I was not aware that the announcement of the composition of the committee would arouse the feeling to which the right hon. Gentleman has given expression. My Noble Friend, I am quite certain, considered that in making those appointments he was setting up a committee of complete impartiality and of experience to enable them to give a valuable opinion, but, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I will communicate with my Noble Friend.

Captain Balfour

In view of the fact that the committee is largely going to question statements made by members of this legislature, does the Prime Minister think it is right that members of the Executive should have any functions in that connection?