HC Deb 01 August 1944 vol 402 cc1167-9
Mr. Cary

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Air, if he has any special statement to make about the British aircraft which crashed at Langley Road, Pendlebury, on Sunday last, and caused 75 civilian casualties and widespread damage to property.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)

According to the information available, the aircraft in question crashed when returning from operations. All the crew were killed, and, in addition, 70 civilians were injured; but, fortunately, my reports are that none of the injuries has proved fatal. The cause of the accident is being investigated. I am sure that the House will wish to join with me in expressing sympathy with the relatives of the crew and with those who were injured, to whom we wish a speedy recovery.

Mr. Cary

While thanking my right hon. and gallant Friend for his answer, might I ask if he is aware that there are two matters arising out of the Question about which it would be in the public interest to give a general assurance now? The first is in regard to damage to property. Will the War Damage Commission admit full liability, as if the incident had occurred as a result of direct enemy action? Secondly, out of the total num- ber of casualties 14 persons are detained in hospital, seriously injured. If any person suffers total or partial incapacity, or is injured in any way and deserves compensation, will the Ministry of Pensions deal with the case as though the injury had been sustained as the result of direct enemy attack?

Captain Balfour

As my hon. Friend and the House are aware, as regards damage to land and buildings, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer answers in respect of the War Damage Commission, and as regards personal injuries to civilians, that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions; I cannot therefore answer the questions.

Mr. Cary

If any argument or element of doubt arises, is there a special tribunal or referee to whom appeal can be made, to get an immediate decision; because, as my right hon. and gallant Friend appreciates, working people may suffer very great hardship if there is delay in these matters?

Captain Balfour

I appreciate that point, but that is not a matter for the Air Ministry; because as personal injuries can be caused by the instruments of many other Departments it has been decided to centralise such claims in the Departments I mentioned.

Mr. Bellenger

May I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer a question? He has, presumably, listened to the supplementaries which have just been asked. Will he take steps, if he is not in a position to answer now, to see whether the War Damage Commission are responsible; because, from my recollection of the Act, I think that they are liable only for damage from enemy action?

Mr. Buchanan

May I ask the Leader of the House, who has pust heard the questions on the serious casualties, if he will bear in mind that there must be a good deal of public anxiety, and if he will consult with the Minister of Pensions and the appropriate authorities, and, possibly, before we adjourn, make a statement on the matter?

Mr. Petherick

Could I ask my right hon. Friend if he will ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to approach the War Damage Commission and point out that this aeroplane was struggling home as the result of enemy action, and, consequently, it appears that the damage caused was the result of enemy action, even if somewhat indirectly?

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

I do not think the House should regard this as a unique occasion. There have been accidents of a similar kind. I have had an opportunity of consulting the Minister of Pensions, and my right hon. Friend says that this will fall to be dealt with by his Department.

Sir H. Williams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when a plane from Croydon crashed on one of my constituents it was not deemed to be enemy action?