HC Deb 28 March 1945 vol 409 cc1373-5
The Prime Minister

I deeply regret to have to inform the House that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Commander Brabner), Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air, who was travelling by air to Canada, is reported missing, together with the following senior Air Ministry officials and public servants:

  • Air Marshal Sir Peter Drummond, Air Member for Training;
  • Sir John Abraham, Deputy Under-Secretary of State, at the Air Ministry;
  • Mr. H. A. Jones, Director of Public Relations;
  • 1374
  • Mr. Twentyman, a senior official of the Ministry of Food;
  • Mr. Robinson, Private Secretary to Commander Brabner;
  • Flight-Lieutenant Plum, Personal Assistant to Sir Peter Drummond.
Commander Brabner was to represent His Majesty's Government at the ceremonies attending the formal termination of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in the Dominion. The aircraft, a Liberator of Transport Command, manned by a crew of exceptional experience, left England for the Azores on Monday night. It was last heard of when at 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning it sent a routine message to the Azores. At 5 a.m. it had reported its estimated time of arrival in the Azores as 9 a.m. The weather for the flight was favourable, Air-sea rescue searches were promptly initiated from the Azores and re-inforced from Coastal Command. A warship is also taking part in the search under Admiralty direction. Wreckage is reported near the aircraft's intended track, but so far no traces of survivors have been found.

I am sure the House will feel deeply the loss of these distinguished officers and in particular, so far as the House of Commons is concerned, the cutting short of the bright career which was opening before the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe. He had gained the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Service Cross in this war as a Member of the House of Commons, a distinction which I think is unique. Now his abilities, and the hopes that we had, have been cut short. His wife and the other relatives have been informed, and I am sure the House will wish me to express our deep sympathy with them in their great anxiety.

Earl Winterton

Will my right hon. Friend give favourable consideration to setting aside a day in the future, after Easter, for a discussion of this and other calamities that have happened?

The Prime Minister

We had a Debate the other day on the Adjournment on this subject, and I should hesitate to mortgage our time any further in the future. The crew were specially picked. The machine was the "Commando," the very one in which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I myself have made so many journeys. I cannot think anything short of the most intense care and effort have been taken, but such journeys cannot be wholly free from an element of danger.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there has not been any Debate on this subject in the House since the last report upon the recent accident to two hon. Members, and that there is considerable perturbation in the minds of hon. Members about this? Hon. Members do not want any particular consideration, but at least they do want some assurance that these matters are receiving full consideration.

Captain Peter Macdonald

Will there be a court of inquiry into this accident at the earliest possible moment?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, of course there will be a court of inquiry.

Mr. Bellenģer

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's last assurance and the fact that we have lost some Members of the House in these tragic circumstances, would it not be possible to associate a committee of this House with the inquiries that are to take place into this accident and to have some investigation other than a departmental one into the causes of the-se recurring accidents?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think the House will be advised to cast full responsibility for these essentially technical matters upon the Government of the day.