HC Deb 13 February 1945 vol 408 cc26-8
45. Sir Hugh O'Neill

asked the Prime Minister if he can now give any further details as to the circumstances of the aeroplane flight in Italy by the two honourable Members of this House who are still missing.

The Secretary of State for Air (Sir Archibald Sinclair)

I have been asked to reply. As the House knows, the hon. and gallant Member for North Bristol (Captain Bernays) and the hon. Gentleman the junior Member for Antrim (Mr. D. Campbell) were, in company with other hon. Members, on a visit to our Forces in Italy. The two hon. Members took off on the morning of 23rd January on a flight from Rome to Brindisi. They were in an "Expeditor" aircraft which was flown by an experienced R.A.F. pilot. The other hon. Members in the party left Rome in another "Expeditor" aircraft three minutes later. The second aircraft encountered a severe snow storm; the pilot decided against attempting to fly through it and he made a precautionary landing at Bari. Nothing has been- heard of the first aircraft since it took off.

An extensive search has now been carried out over all the land routes and out to sea along the stretches of coast over which the missing aircraft might have flown. I very much regret that the search has been unfruitful. The accident has been investigated by a court of inquiry. The proceedings are being sent home and I expect to receive them shortly. Meanwhile, the House will wish to join with me in expressing again our deep sympathy with the relatives of the two hon. Members, and of the other occupants of the aircraft.

Sir H. O'Neill

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that this machine was supplied with adequate radio installation? Was any radio message received from the machine before it was lost?

Sir A. Sinclair

I hope my right hon. Friend will not press for any answers on points of detail until the report of the proceedings of the court of inquiry has been thoroughly and carefully studied. Broadly speaking, however, it is true that the aircraft certainly was supplied with radio telephonic equipment.

Sir H. O'Neill

Will this House have an opportunity of seeing the report of the court of inquiry?

Sir A. Sinclair

No, Sir, that is contrary to all precedent and public policy. There is a question on the Order Paper for tomorrow about this matter.

Wing-Commander Grant-Ferris

Will the Minister satisfy himself that there was, in fact, two-way wireless equipment in this aircraft?

Sir A. Sinclair

That is certainly a point which will come out in the proceedings of the inquiry.

Mr. Edgar Granville

In view of the fact that these flights are going on all the time, has my right hon. Friend assured himself that aircraft of this type, the "Expeditor," a two-engined machine, are able to deal with the winter storms and the kinds of weather met with in that part of the world?

Sir A. Sinclair

Most decidedly. The "Expeditor" is widely used now, both by the U.S. Army Air Force and by the Royal Air Force, and is regarded as a most satisfactory communications aircraft.

Mr. Stokes

Was this aircraft equipped with de-icing apparatus?

Sir A. Sinclair

I said I cannot answer these questions. I should have thought that it was extremely doubtful, as this was not the kind of aircraft which would be so equipped.

Commander Locker-Lampson

Were the conditions such as not to warrant the plane starting?

Sir A. Sinclair

That is a question on which I must await the report of the inquiry.

Mr. Gallacher

In view of the concern felt in the country about this and other accidents, would not the Minister arrange for a special inquiry to be made and a statement issued which will reassuro everybody?

Sir A. Sinclair

No, Sir. I am very glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) is raising this question on broad lines in the House this week when I shall be able to satisfy the House that there is no ground at all for the perturbation which my hon. Friend opposite has expressed. Let me say, quite clearly, that every accident which occurs in the R.A.F. is inquired into, and that a prompt inquiry was held about this accident.

Sir H. O'Neill

Surely the House of Commons is entitled to know something about the details of an accident in which two Members of this House were lost when they were proceeding mare or less on public duty?

Sir A. Sinclair

Most certainly, but I should be grateful if Members would not press me for details, until I have had an opportunity of studying the report of the court of inquiry.