HC Deb 09 June 1943 vol 390 cc685-7
13. Wing-Commander Hulbert

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he can make any statement about the loss, through enemy attack, of a civil aircraft flying between Lisbon and Great Britain last week?

17. Sir Malcolm Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether the British Overseas Airways Corporation's air-liner, destroyed by enemy action on 2nd June, left Lisbon by daylight; whether this is the usual practice in the case of air-liners leaving Lisbon for the United Kingdom; and whether he will give instructions that this practice must cease during war-time, in view of the danger involved owing to the presence at Lisbon of enemy agents?

Sir A. Sinclair

On rst June a civil land-plane, plainly marked as such, reported from off the Bay of Biscay that it was being followed and shortly afterwards that it was being attacked by an enemy aircraft. As nothing further was heard from it, it must be presumed lost. The Royal Air Force immediately undertook a search, and the Spanish Government despatched a destroyer. I regret to say that no trace of the aircraft or of its occupants has been found. Thirteen civilian passengers and a crew of 4 were on board. The aircraft was owned by the Dutch company K.L.M. and operated by them on the U.K.-Lisbon service under charter to the British Overseas Airways Corporation. As has been customary, the aircraft left Lisbon by daylight. The risks of interception on this service and the routes and schedules to be followed have been kept under review since the service started three years ago. That only one accident has occurred during this period shows that no undue risks have been taken. With the increased intensity of air warfare over the Bay of Biscay certain further steps have been taken to reduce the chances of interception, but it would not be in the public interest to give details.

The House will wish to join with me in expressing its sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives and its appreciation of the help so readily given by the Spanish Government in searching for survivors.

Wing-Commander Hulbert

Has any protest been made through the Protecting Power about this incident, and what compensation will be payable to the passengers?

Sir A. Sinclair

I cannot answer the second point without notice. The first point is a matter on which my hon. arid gallant Friend should address the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Shinwell

Were the improved methods of interception to which my right hon. Friend has just referred decided upon since the accident or before?

Sir A. Sinclair

I did not refer to improved methods of interception. I referred to the increased intensity of air warfare and the increased efforts of the Germans to intercept aircraft over the Bay.

Commander Agnew

Does my right hon. Friend accept responsibility for the protection of civil aircraft flying on this route, or is protection only afforded to persons who are travelling in the public interest?

Sir A. Sinclair

I accept responsibility for the protection of aircraft. I am respon- sible to this House, and I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that we do our best with the resources available.

Mr. Shinwell

There was some misunderstanding about my question. I understood my right hon. Friend to say that because of the increased intensity of air warfare certain improved methods of protection have been decided upon. Were those decided since the accident or before?

Sir A. Sinclair

The methods of routing and of avoidance rather than interception are under constant review. Routing is under constant study, and certain steps have been taken quite recently.

Mr. Lipson

What type of machine was this?

Sir A. Sinclair

It was a D.C.3.