§ 4.1 p.m.
§ Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
I beg to move,
"That, in view of the treatment of the Report made by the independent tribunal appointed to investigate the accident at Prestwick Airport on 20th October, 1948, this House considers that provision should be made for a Report on the facts and causes of such accidents to be made by a statutory Court, whose conclusions should be accepted as final save so far as provision is made for appeal or re-hearing, in order that confidence here and abroad in the conclusions arrived at after hearing evidence may be more firmly established."
§ Mr. Rankin
On a point of Order. In view of the time that has been taken up by questions following the announcement of the business for next week, would it be within your discretion, Mr. Speaker, to exercise a little patience with regard to the time limit for the termination of this Debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
I will judge the best I can. All I can say at the moment is that I hope hon. Members will co-operate by making their speeches as short as possible.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
This Motion falls into three parts. The first covers the treatment of the report about the accident in question; the second, the proposals for dealing with such accidents in future; and, the third, the reasons for which we attach great importance to this case. With regard to the first part, I wish to direct my attention mainly to whether the Minister was right or wrong in substituting his own view for the findings of the court. The Minister admitted that he was wrong in publishing his dissent from the report before making any statement in Parliament. He has apologised for that, and I am not going to elaborate that aspect of the matter. Equally, as the times of the receipt and publication of the report are known to the House and speak loudly for themselves, I shall again not occupy time with them. But I want to make it plain that I must not be taken as dissenting from what has been said by my hon. Friends at another time.
I am very anxious not to be repetitive because it is known that this matter has been discussed in another place, but I do not want anyone to misunderstand me. If I do not repeat the strictures on 2100 certain aspects of the matter, it is not because I think the matter is any less serious or the actions of the Minister less deserving of blame. To me, however, at this stage, the greater importance attaches to the matters which I have mentioned as I think they are vital for the future of civil aviation and the reputation of our country.
As I have said, the first point I want to approach is whether the Minister can arrogate to himself the authority to make decisions on the causes of the accident and the circumstances thereof which under his own regulations he has already entrusted to a court. There is no doubt as to the attitude of the Minister. His attitude has been that the report of this court is clearly intended, as he has emphasised, to be advisory, and it was put by the Parliamentary Secretary in this House on 23rd November as follows:I should have thought that it is common procedure for an inquiry to be held and for the Minister setting up such an inquiry to accept or reject the findings."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 343–4.]We differ from the view expressed by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. We believe that the Minister should accept the findings, unless he believes that they have been made on no evidence at all. In our view, he is not allowed to change them because he takes a different view of the evidence, and, furthermore, he must, under his own regulations, draw the distinction between findings as to the causes of the accident and observations and recommendations to future action that he may take. That point is made clear in the regulations which have been in force, although re-enacted, since 1922, and in dealing with a former investigation in Regulation 7 of the Air Navigation Regulations it says:Where it appears to the Secretary of State that it is expedient to hold a formal investigation of an accident(2) The Court shall hold the investigation in open court in such manner and under such conditions as the Court may think most effectual for ascertaining the causes and circumstances of the accident and enabling the Court to make the report hereinafter mentioned.In sub-paragraph (7) it says:The Court shall make a report to the Secretary of State stating its findings as to the causes of the accident and the circumstances thereof."—2101 I ask the House to note the phrase in the sub-paragraph—and adding any observations and recommendations which the Court think fit to make with a view to the preservation of life and the avoidance of similar accidents in future, including a recommendation for the cancellation, suspension or endorsement of any licence or certificate.It is quite clear that the distinction is made between finding the causes of the accident and recommending as to future administrative action.
I want to deal with the point which has been attempted to be made that a distinction can be drawn—I submit it cannot—between facts to be found and inferences to be drawn from the facts. I say that on the wording which I have read, the remit to the court is to find the causes of the accident, and if the inferences come within those words, then that is a matter for the court. I want to emphasise one point which I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary had fully in mind. He said that in this case, contrary to many others, the Minister himself appeared before the tribunal, represented not merely once by one advocate in his own capacity, but twice represented again on behalf of the local staff.
For this is not a case of a Minister appointing an inspector and asking him to give a report to that Minister, who is in a judicial capacity. This is a case where the Minister actually appeared and submitted to the jurisdiction of the court, and his counsel indicated to the court what were the views of the Minister and appeared on behalf of the civil servants who were affected. This is not a case of civil servants being in the background and not being able to defend themselves; they appeared by counsel, they could have given evidence and they were represented in the court. That difference would be a substantial distinction in the matters the Parliamentary Secretary has mentioned.
Another point which I think the House must take into consideration is that the Minister had been warned specifically of this very difficulty, and warned as short a time ago as 1st February, 1948, in a report submitted to him, upon which he gave his views in November, 1948—that is, actually after this accident had occurred and just before the inquiry. That was the report of the Newton Committee on Accident Investigation Procedure. If 2102 the right hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to go up one by-pass, there was one member of that committee whose qualifications he has a special right to know, as have I, and who is also a great authority on air law and is a Member of this House. In that report, as I say, the problem was raised and made crystal clear. I think it is important, because I know the difficulty which I have myself in keeping abreast of various reports, and I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House have a similar difficulty. May I, therefore, remind them of one or two of the salient points in that Report? In paragraph 42 the committee says:The gradual and progressive intervention by the State in the field of civil aviation, culminating in the Civil Aviaton Act, 1946, has inevitably forced the Minister into a position in which he is a directly interested party in the result of most accident investigations.They go on to say:It is, therefore, apparent that the Minister and his officers are in varying degree directly concerned in most accidents to civil aircraft in this country. We have had to consider whether it is right that in these circumstances the Minister should be in the position of having to decide whether a particular accident should be the subject of public investigation …They go on to discuss the point and in paragraph 43 they say, and they raise a point which this House will have to consider at some time:This raises a question of policy affecting in some degree other publicly owned industries such as the railways and coal mines. It may well be that consideration should be given to whether the Minister responsible for any publicly owned industry should have any connection with the investigation of accidents within that industry"—and I ask the House to note these words—other than that of an interested party.They continue to deal with the position of the Chief Inspector of Accidents, and in paragraph 45 they say—and at that time, when the committee was appointed, the predecessor of the present Minister was in office—that there had been no complaints as to the independence of the Chief Inspector of Accidents or any suggestion that any pressure had been put upon him. They accept that, as of course they would, but then they go on to say:Nevertheless, supported by the almost unanimous view of the witnesses we have heard, including Air Commodore …2103 —Air-Commodore So-and-so who, I gather, is the Chief Inspector of Accidents—we have come to the clear conclusion that the present position of the Chief Inspector of Accidents vis-á -vis the Minister and his Department is wrong in principle. The rule that no man should be judged in his own case is a basic concept of justice. It is as important that justice should appear to be done as that it should be done. We do not think it right either that the Minister should be required to exercise any discretion in connection with accident investigation procedure or that he should be directly responsible and answerable for the Chief Inspector of Accidents.I ask the House again to note that phrase:any discretion in connection with accident investigation procedure.That is not a new matter, but the interesting thing is that when the present Minister received the report, having had it put in these weighty terms, he pooh-poohed it as follows, in paragraph 10 of his Memorandum:With regard to the position of the Minister as an 'interested party' and that of the Chief Inspector of Accidents, which are considered in paragraphs 41 to 49 of the Report, the difficulty which the Committee envisaged is theoretical rather than real, as appears from the categorical statements in paragraph 45 of the Report.Unfortunately, facts have caught up with imagination and the facts of this accident have shown that they are real and anything but a mere matter of theory.
The Minister has completely misunderstood and underestimated the difficulties which arise from his being an interested party. They have now arisen, and we say that he should have known that this distinguished his position from that of a Minister of the Crown, such as the Minister of Town and Country Planning and the like, who is given quasi-judicial functions by statute but is not an interested party. Such a Minister is the person who has to determine. He gets the results of a local inquiry in order to learn local views but, having done that, he has to make the decision according to his general purview of the situation in the country. This is quite different; this is a Minister appearing before a tribunal and asking the tribunal to consider certain matters and then, having done that, trying to act as a court of appeal.
2104 I am very anxious, especially in view of what you said, Mr. Speaker, not to weary the House in any way, but I want to make it clear, because I believe this is a point of great importance which all quarters of the House have to consider in regard to the functioning of the Government. This is not a new matter. As long ago as 1932 the Committee on Ministers' Powers dealt with it and there are many parts of that report which bear on the matter. Again, I want to streamline it as far as I can, but there are certain matters which call for quotation. In dealing with the position of the Minister even in quasi-judicial matters the committee says, on page 76:The first and most fundamental principle of natural justice is that a man may not be a judge in his own cause.They go on to recommend, about three-quarters of the way down page 79:Where it appears that the policy of the Department might be substantially better served by a decision one way rather than another,"—and that applies where the servants of the Department may come in for blame—the first principle of natural justice will come into play, and the Minister should not be called upon to perform the incongruous task of dealing with the judicial part of the quasi judicial decision as an impartial judge, when ex hypothesi he and his Department want the decision to be one way rather than another.Again we find equally strong passages on page 80. In relation to these I do want to point out that even on the basis on which the Parliamentary Secretary claims to act, which I respectfully submit to him is a wrong basis—that even on that he would be excluded if these very wise words of the Donoughmore Committee were borne in mind.
There is one other aspect that I should like the House to consider. It is stated that there is a further ground of natural justice, and it is said:It may well be argued that there is a third principle of national justice, namely, that a party is entitled to know the reason for the decision, be it judicial or quasi-judicial.Here I would ask the House to consider what the Minister's action was. His statement to Mr. McDonald is one of the most extraordinary which has ever occurred in an official document.You would not"—says the Minister—I am sure, wish me to go into the reasons which have lead us to this conclusion.2105 Apparently on that not the public, not K.L.M. who had come over here to appear at the inquiry, not even Mr. McDonald himself, was to know the reasons for which the Minister had overridden these findings.
There is the authority; and I have tried to make the point to the Parliamentary Secretary of the complete distinction which, I submit, exists between this case and the case of the action of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning with which we are all so familiar. I say once again I do not want any doubt about the point of view that, where the Minister has appeared in an inquiry, it is intolerable that he should try to act as a court of appeal. I am sure that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are not going to say that Socialism means that that should happen. If they are, let them say it frankly.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If that is what centralisation is going to bring us to, then it is a very serious matter, and I hope that we shall get it quite clear that it is not the view of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—if that is the case.
I want to say only one word—because I do not want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to think I have not considered it, and he may have had it in mind in considering the next part of our Motion— on the analogous procedures which relate to shipping, railways and coalmines. With regard to shipping, broadly there is the distinction—I am not going into any details—that there is power under the Merchant Shipping Act for a re-hearing to take place in certain circumstances. That is why we have put that matter in the Motion, in order that it may be considered and that the House may have the advantage of different views on that point.
The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley-Shawcross)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not included in his Motion the further power—I think under Section 474—which enables the appropriate Minister in effect completely to override the decision of the Wreck Commissioner in regard to negligence and at once to restore the ticket which the Wreck Commissioner has cancelled.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I think, with great respect, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not on quite the same point. I am making the distinction between the findings and the administrative action which may be taken. I do hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will consider this matter also from the constructive view. I shall not complain if he makes a defence. Naturally, I fully understand that. But I do want the House to consider it from the constructive point of view. I want this procedure to be a credit to this country—something of which people coming to this country can feel able to say, "We have absolute trust in that." That is why I have introduced this matter. I want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to know that we have considered the possibility of a rehearing, and I should be very interested in his point of view.
He will remember with regard to railways that, as here, a court is established which is given powers for getting witnesses as at a court of summary jurisdiction. I would remind him on that point that, although there is no power in the Minister to ask that the matter should go to the court—or, in the old days, the Railway and Canal Commission—in the connected case where the Minister was making rules for the prevention of accidents there was a power, if anybody objected, for the matter to be referred to the court. That is why I introduced the possibility of appeal. Again, I should like to know the right hon. and learned Gentleman's views, and I should be perfectly prepared to consider them.
With regard to the coalmines, there is only there obligation to lay, but my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) has informed the House before, I think, that when he was at the Ministry safety measures were under consideration, and, I think—I am speaking from memory—they are still under consideration; but that is a matter which many hon. Members in all quarters of the House do want to see revised at the present time.
But the point I am making is this. In my view, so far as my information goes, there is no precedent for disagreement with a court of this kind. I have been unable to find any. I have asked friends whose experience in these matters goes back for many years, and I notice that 2107 the Minister was unable to produce any precedent when he got the chance. So any one that has been discovered must be either of small measure or very lately found. That is the first point which I want to put to the House. I say that it is wrong on the regulations which we are considering; but it is also wrong on the wider point that it is contrary to natural justice, and contrary to the application of natural justice to the Government of this country, that the Minister should at once be a party, and arrogate to himself, in relation to the treatment of his own staff, the position of a court of appeal.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman permit me a question? Suppose a servant of an operating company were criticised. Would not the operating company have, to decide either, "That servant retains our confidence. We do not agree with this report, and we are going to keep him," or, "We agree with the report and are going to sack him"? Why is the Minister's position different from that of the operating company? He has got to decide whether to retain his servants.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The operating company could not arrogate to themselves the position of a court of appeal. An operating company cannot come down to this House and say, "Although there has been an inquiry, although a dozen parties have been represented and stated their views, that inquiry is merely an advisory matter which can be accepted or rejected." An operating company could not do it. They can take what action they like. Many people have lost litigation and still thought they were right. Even the hon. and learned Gentleman may have been in that unhappy position on certain occasions. But that is quite different from the hon. and learned Gentleman, or his client, coming down, and saying, "We supplant the findings of the court and we substitute our own, for it is an advisory matter that can be swept aside."
It is rather a difficult subject to deal with quickly, and I should be most grateful if hon. Members would not occupy my time by interrupting, if they can avoid doing so. I always like to give way, as I think the House will agree, but I do make this appeal. Of course, if anyone 2108 feels very strongly about anything and indicates that he wishes to interrupt, I will accept that that is the case and give way. If possible, for the moment I should like to continue uninterrupted, especially in view of what Mr. Speaker has said.
Having made that first point, I now wish to deal very shortly with my second, which is this. We are not retrying the inquiry. The kernel of the case I am presenting is that the Minister should not have retried the inquiry. Therefore, as far as my contention is concerned, all I have to show is that there was evidence on which the court could come to its decision. For the benefit of hon. Members who have not got the sequence of events in mind I should like to go over them again, but in view of the shortness of time I do not think it would be fair to do so. I therefore make the assumption that hon. Members in all parts of the House have got in mind the sequence of events covering the arrival of this K.L.M. airliner, with 30 passengers and 10 crew on board, coming into Prestwick.
At Prestwick there are two runways, one on the sea side coming in from northwest to south-east towards the centre, and another on the inland side coming in from the east to the centre of the airport. Let me summarise the position thus: the aeroplane was expected at 11.15 p.m., or 23.15 hours, and the pilot was first of all directed to come in on Runway 32—the runway on the sea side, which comes from north-west to south-east. He was talked down on to that runway—that is, he was given G.C.A. directions to come in—and when he came down to 200 feet he found that there was a cross-wind from the south-west which, in his view, made it dangerous for him to land on that runway, so he went on to try to land on the other runway, Runway 26, but to land on that runway under visual observation by the pilot, still expecting of course to get the reports of the conditions at the time. It was in that second—
§ Mr. Beswick (Uxbridge)
I should like to interrupt here, because this is very important. On what evidence does the right hon. and learned Gentleman say the pilot was expecting to get weather reports as he went down unless he asked for them?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The pilot was a most experienced pilot; one of the most 2109 experienced living, as I think the hon. Gentleman will agree. He had been to Prestwick before, and the position was that there were periodic broadcasts of weather conditions in code which came a little after the half hour: a little after 23.00 hours, then a little after 23.30 hours. But in addition to that there was a "met." representative on the airfield making observations of the weather conditions. The "met." representative—who I think made his observations about 23.20 hours, and then they were reported into the control—reported the worsening conditions, the closing in of the cloud—he used the long word "deterioration"; and the hon. Gentleman, who knows far more about it than I do, will be familiar with the expression "closing in of the cloud"—and if the provisions of Form 2309 and the other forms had been followed, there should have been not only a code message to control, which would be broadcast at the periodic times, but a plain message which should in turn have been sent over the telephone to the pilot. If the hon. Gentleman wants the reference I will give it to him.
§ The Attorney-General
But at what time? I am asking the right hon. and learned Gentleman at what time he suggests this message should have been sent? Is he referring to six minutes past 11, eight minutes past 11, or 20 minutes past 11?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I will follow it out. I was trying to answer the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) by giving a general picture, but I will follow it out.
§ The Attorney-General
I apologise to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I must not interrupt him. I know it is difficult, and I do not want to be interrupted myself.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
It is difficult when one is trying to answer a question. I knew the experience and interest of the hon. Gentleman and I wanted to try to satisfy him. I am very anxious not to go into all the evidence, but my reading of the matter is that the "met." representative made the examination at 23.20 and then reported it to control, and control got it in code at somewhere about 23.30. I say they should have telephoned it at once.
§ Mr. Beswick
I am sorry to interrupt again, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the pilot had made a circuit expecting to get certain weather information. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman on what evidence he says the pilot was expecting such information unless he asked for it?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The hon. and learned Gentleman really must let me develop my own point. Let us get it quite clear. As I say, we are not retrying the matter. We are merely considering whether there was evidence on which they could come to this conclusion. I do not want to avoid the question, but I do ask hon. Members to restrain themselves from interrupting, if they can, otherwise it is very difficult to get these times in order.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. and learned Friend, but on the question he is being asked, is it not clear that, when the captain failed to land on the runway he intended to land on and went on a circuit, it must have been quite obvious that something was wrong, and that he would then expect further information relating to the weather?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend. I am sure he has put it far better than I could. If I had been given a moment or two to develop my argument I think I should have come to that point. The position is that a pilot in the position in which this pilot was, who had information that there were deteriorating weather conditions earlier, would expect when he had made this change to get further information.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
No, I really cannot give way again. I should like the hon. Gentleman to follow the way it is put in the Report at paragraph 75, where it is stated thatabout 23.30 on the night of the accident, the amount of cloud in the layer at 300 feet increased from 4/10th to 6/10th. That involved a substitution of 300 feet for 700 feet as the height of the ceiling.In paragraph 103 it is stated that this fact was not communicated to the pilot at tower control nor was it sent to tower control in plain language by the meteorological observer. In paragraph 88 it is stated that this was in spite of the fact that special provision is made for certain terms dealing with the weather, including deterioration in cloud and visability, to be given in code and in plain language. In paragraph 89, it is stated that it was the observer's duty to prepare and send to the control tower another form on which the state of the weather is stated in plain language. Any information on the form which was sent to the control tower was to be stated in plain language.
In paragraph 102, it is stated that no one in authority had permitted the abandonment of this duty, but a practice had grown up by which it was not performed. On that, the young man making the observation was excused, but surely there was evidence on which the court could come to the conclusion stated in paragraph 102 as to the lack of supervision of the meteorological conditions at the time. They say:… there was a grave lack of supervision in the meteorological office at Prestwick.As to whether that was relevant was made clear by counsel for the Minister himself.
§ The Attorney-General
The right hon. and learned Gentleman observed that two counsel appeared. One was instructed by the Crown Agent to represent the public interest and the other was instructed by the Minister through other solicitors to represent the Minister's particular interest.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will look at 2112 page 33 of the report he will see that it is stated:Mr. H. R. Leslie, M.B.E., Advocate (instructed by the Crown Agent for Scotland) on behalf of the Minister of Civil Aviation.
§ The Attorney-General
This procedure was made public some time ago—over a year ago—and has been applied in this country and applied in this case in Scotland. The Minister is separately represented. If the Lord Advocate or the Attorney-General desires to come in, he is entitled to come in to represent the public interest. In this case, this gentleman was instructed by the Crown Agent, and I am told by the Lord Advocate—I am afraid that I do not understand the Scottish procedure—that he was entitled to come in, in the same way as the Procurator-Fiscal comes in in other accident inquiries. When he made his speech, he made it clear that he was there to represent the public interest and not to defend the Minister.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
This report has been published for some time. If these corrections are to be made, it would have been better if it had been done before and not in the middle of my speech. I do not mind. The Lord Advocate is here. I am sure that he would not have chosen a counsel who would make any irresponsible statements. The statements have a great deal of weight. If they were made on behalf of the Lord Advocate, I would not say that they would carry greater weight than if they were made on behalf of the Minister, but they would have great weight.
What he said was that it was clear in the view of some meteorological people that the weather prior to and during the material hours of 11.00 and 11.30—he used that terminology—was getting worse as regards cloud and visibility. He went on to say that it would be a bold assumption that a pilot flying his plane and approaching an aerodrome has time to use decoding. He said that he could not refrain from expressing an apprehension that when it is set upon a document that deterioration should be given in plain, then it should be given in plain. Finally, he said:Is that a vital factor, Sir? The view has been strongly expressed in evidence that it certainly was, because to Captain Parmentier information of a ceiling of 300 feet would have meant one thing: 'I will not land'.2113 I do not mind if the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a distinction without a great deal of difference—that that gentleman was appearing for the Lord Advocate and the public and was not appearing, as we now hear, for Lord Pakenham. That was the view put forward by counsel for the Crown, and now the only basis on which the Minister of the Crown can defend this matter is to suggest that there was not the material and not the evidence on which that conclusion was arrived at. I have never heard of anything like it. The Minister himself, as I said, first of all gave no reasons. He then in a statement of 23rd November gave one reason. That is his expressed statement that the decision of the pilot to circle Prestwick at a height lower than the obstructions in the vicinity could not have been influenced by the action or lack of action of the staff of the Air Traffic Control or meteorological services.
The facts to which I have drawn attention and the summing up of Crown counsel blow that right out of the water. Then, of course, the Minister, changing his ground, went on to another suggestion as to the reason. Let it be remembered that he said that the first one, which I submit was blown out of the water, was made after careful thought. It was abandoned after a few days, and the second reason was given that because there was a periodical broadcast at six minutes or eight minutes after 11–25 minutes before the accident—when this aeroplane was 50 miles away and going at a cruising speed of 140 miles per hour—that was a sufficient answer.
I do not think that it is our function to retry this case. It is our function to demonstrate that there was ample evidence on which the court could come to this conclusion, and having come to the conclusion, it is indeed undesirable that the Minister should try to substitute his own conclusion. What confidence can be felt in the impartiality of our system of accident investigation if after that inquiry has taken place this substitution is going to take place. We must consider the effect Abroad. The need for an independent and trusted system of accident investigation needs little emphasis from me. Our own air services and the air lines of foreign countries—pilots and passengers—must depend on the effi- 2114 ciency of the meteorological and control staffs at our airports. If a fatal accident occurs, every one at home and abroad must have complete confidence in the fairness and independence of the investigation which must follow. The Minister's action has shaken our confidence.
I do not want any mistake to be made either in this House or out of it. I believe that our meteorological services are as good as any in the world. I believe that our technical knowledge and experience of flying control and its aids are unsurpassed. I am certain that that service and knowledge will be used to the maximum effect at this airport and elsewhere, but I am not happy about the factor of investigation. I say that it is necessary to revise this accident investigation procedure. I say that the court should be made statutory. It could be done under the regulations, but the results of doing it that way have been unhappy; and it should be final in this sense. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman did not misunderstand the word—"final" in the sense of being free from interference by the executive. I do not mean "final" in the sense of deciding further civil actions, because, as the Attorney-General knows, there may be other defences, or there may be apportioning of negligence to take into account. It is the practice in Crown matters, where there is a court of inquiry, to accept the findings for large portions of subsequent litigation.
The point I desire to make is that a court of inquiry should establish the causes of an accident, and the Minister should not be entitled to say that the inquiry is merely advisory. He should not be entitled to say that he is the final person to say what are the causes of the accident; that they are causes which do not affect his own people. I am prepared to consider arguments the Attorney-General may advance in favour of something in the nature of a rehearing, or reference by way of appeal or otherwise to the court, if he thinks it is necessary for the Minister's position. I am prepared to consider that, and that is why we have put it in the Motion.
We say that the court should be made the statutory final arbiter as to causation of an accident and not the Minister affected. We cannot persist in a position where foreigners come over here, 2115 incurring expense and much loss of time, to appear before these inquiries, and then find, in the words of the Parliamentary Secretary, that it is open to the Minister to accept or reject the findings because he does not like them, which means his Department does not like them. This unhappy incident has shown the necessity for a complete change.
I have mentioned our assets of knowledge and technical skill which can be fully deployed to advantage. But we have another great asset we prize and is the envy of other nations, and that is the excellence of our judicial search for truth and justice. If that asset is impaired or destroyed, then it is a very great disadvantage to our country. It is because the Minister's action has, for the moment, created that impairment that I consider him blameworthy in this matter, and it is for that reason I move this Motion.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) ended on a non-political and public-spirited note in which Members on all sides of the House will be most ready to concur. I wish it had characterised some earlier parts of his speech. This Debate does not involve an ordinary political issue. If it had done so, I should have felt free, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman obviously felt free and obviously is free, to take a party and even a partisan line. It is an issue which raises considerations of an important constitutional and legal character. I myself, owing to the procedure which has been adopted—I shall refer to it later; it was publicly announced—am involved in protecting the public interest in the course of these inquiries.
In this case the public interest was represented in Scotland, contrary to the views which the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with great justification, I agree, sought to put to the House, not having read the speeches. The position was made clear by Mr. McDonald in the very first page of his report, which I suspect the right hon. and learned Gentleman of not having read, because if he had read it I am sure he would have drawn it to the attention of the House when I interrupted. On the first page of the report there is the statement: 2116Mr. H. R. Leslie, M.B.E., Advocate, instructed by the Crown Agent for Scotland in the public interest, took the leading part in the proceedings.I have a similar interest in proceedings of this kind when they take place in England, and I will say later on how that interest is discharged.
I shall attempt to approach this problem, which is an important and serious constitutional problem, and one which raises most interesting questions concerning the general machinery of government to which we are accustomed here, in as non-partisan a spirit as I feel able. I will say at once that, while I do not accept the precise form of machinery indicated in the terms of the Motion, I have only one complaint to make about the principle of the proposal contained in the Motion, namely, that we should review this whole question of our accident investigation machinery, and it is that it is linked with, and indeed based upon, the Prestwick case and involves, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman quite frankly makes clear, a censure on the Minister of Civil Aviation. If this question as to the suitability of the present machinery had been raised by Members opposite at the time the Newton Report was published, and at the time the Minister issued his memorandum commenting upon that report and set out the procedure he proposed to follow, then I should have accepted these criticisms as being made in better faith than perhaps they are at this time.
May I quote from paragraphs 9 and 10 of the Command Paper, in which the Minister gives his reasons for not accepting the recommendations to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has drawn attention?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The Attorney-General has referred to the time when this matter was first raised. I am informed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) that he raised it twice on the Adjournment.
§ The Attorney-General
Members opposite should be a little slow in saying "Hear, hear." Did the hon. and gallant Member raise the matter after the Newton -Report?
§ The Attorney-General
I am much obliged. I do not want to be unfair. The date given for the Minister's memorandum is November, 1948, and the date on which the hon. and gallant Member raised the matter, according to my notes, is November, 1947. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member can tell me when he raised this point.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the first Adjournment Debate was on Friday, 3rd July, 1947, and the second on 17th March, 1948? Does he realise that when the Newton Committee had reported to the Minister, we on this side pressed for the publication of their report, that the Parliamentary Secretary refused, and that it was not until November last year that it was published?
§ The Attorney-General
Hon. Members should be a little slow in saying, "Hear, hear." They got rather vociferous in their rejoicing a moment or two ago when it was thought that I was mistaken in saying that the matter had never been raised in the House by any kind of Motion at all, or on the Adjournment, after the publication of the Newton Report. The Newton Report was published in November, 1948. Not one month, not two months, but 12 months had gone by in which Members opposite, if they had desired to make a Parliamentary criticism of the Minister's procedure, had the opportunity of doing so in the House. They did not do it.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
On a point of Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made a very serious accusation against Members on this side of the House. The fact is that the Newton Report was written on 1st February, 1948, and was in the hands of the Minister for something like 11 months before it was published.
§ The Attorney-General
If that is the standard of intelligence which is to be 2118 exhibited by hon. Members opposite in this Debate, then we shall not get very far. I do not see what reason there was for the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who was particularly interested in this matter, if he thought the decision of the Minister on the Newton Report was wrong, as expressed in the Minister's memorandum, not to raise that matter at any time between the beginning of last November and the present.
Here is what the Minister said, and what apparently was accepted by Parliament at that time, in the sense that Parliament acquiesced in it, a Paper was presented to Parliament and the Minister made a statement about it. No attempt was made in Parliament to challenge the Minister's decision as to the machinery he should adopt. This is the quotation:The circumstances surrounding accidents to aircraft vary so infinitely that it is not possible to define a category for formal public investigations which would be satisfactory, practical and reasonably logical. Each case must be decided in the light of all the attendant circumstances and the requirements of the public interest. While it is considered that the right course is for the Minister to decide each case on its merits, it has been concluded, after a review of past practice, that there should be more Court Investigations in future, and in paragraph 16 below are set out certain specific criteria to which the Minister will give particular attention in so deciding.With regard to the position of the Minister as an ' interested party ' and that of the Chief Inspector of Accidents, which are considered in paragraphs 41 to 49 of the Report, the difficulty which the Committee envisaged is theoretical rather than real, as appears from the categorical statements in paragraph 45 of the Report. The exercise of what is in a sense a quasi-judicial discretion, in addition to his usual administrative and executive responsibilities, is part of the normal functions of a Minister of the Crown and the Committee do not contend that there is any risk that the Minister would exercise his discretion dishonestly and decline to direct a public investigation lest misdeeds of his officers should come to light. Moreover, the fact that the Minister is answerable to Parliament for the exercise of his discretion is the best possible safeguard that it is properly exercised. Nor can it be seriously suggested that an Inspector of Accidents might so fail in his duty as to conceal blameworthy conduct by the employees of the Ministry.I can understand that Members on all sides of the House are anxious about the situation which has arisen in the Prestwick case, and I do not complain that the matter is the subject of investigation today or the suggestion that we should review the whole of the machinery. When we have the Prestwick case out of the 2119 way, when we have disposed of the complete misconceptions which not only exist about it, in the mind of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby, but are, I think, widely held in the country; when we have shown, as we shall show beyond the possibility of doubt, that the conduct of the Minister is not open to the real attack which is being directed against it; when we have shown that the Prestwick case in itself is no ground for substituting new machinery for that which exists at present; once it is realised that there has been no question of the Minister acting as a kind of court of appeal, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite said, but merely of exercising his constitutional duty as a Minister responsible to Parliament for the discharge of certain functions, I shall be only too happy to discuss with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby in what form better machinery might be established for the important task of investigating air accidents.
Now let me come to the criticisms which the right hon. and learned Gentleman directed against Lord Pakenham. There was one matter on which he made not, I think, no challenge but only a slight challenge, and on which I need make no defence. The Minister has fully agreed that the procedure he followed in making known his dissent was mistaken. I think myself that if a different procedure had been followed it is very unlikely that our present anxieties would have arisen at all. The Minister, if I may say so—and he fully concurs in this, and has apologised for it—ought to have made his communication to Parliament in the first instance; he ought, when expressing his dissent, to have stated clearly the reasons which, as he thought, compelled him to reach a different conclusion. He ought to have shown that in order that when his opinion, for that is what it was, was set alongside Mr. McDonald's opinion, for that is what it was, it could be seen that Mr. McDonald's opinion was quite manifestly wrong. In all good faith the Minister did not take that course, and he has recognised his fault and apologised for it.
I do not minimise the matter myself, but the real criticism which has been directed against the Minister is related to the substance rather than to this more 2120 procedural point and, therefore, I shall leave that aspect of the matter, with the Minister's apology, in the hands of the House. Nor shall I take up unduly the point which the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby made about the time which the Minister took before he published his dissent. Some of it was occupied in negotiations with the Dutch Government about publication of the report. Mr. McDonald, having heard the evidence and having the whole matter fresh in his mind, took six months to make up his mind about it. The Minister, having to go through the whole thing afresh and having to read this volume of evidence and all the documents, took five months before he published the statement which he did.
I move from that to the real gravamen of the charge against the Minister, and it is that he is not entitled to dissent from the findings of a court of inquiry. That is the real matter which has given rise to so much public anxiety about what has occurred. I said "public anxiety." It is stange—I say no more—that there has been such confusion about the constitutional and legal status of this kind of tribunal in the minds of certain noble Lords and in certain newspapers which really ought to know better, but it is not strange that in the minds of the ordinary public there should have been great anxiety and misunderstanding, of which I am afraid occasional political advantage may have been taken.
We are rightly jealous of our system of justice in this country. No one must tamper with it, and the impression got about, largely I think because of the mistaken procedure which the Minister had pursued and partly for reasons of a more political kind, that something like tampering with justice had, in fact, taken place in this matter. That is a complete misconception. There are really two matters which the House has to consider here. First of all, the legal question of the Minister's legal rights in a matter of this kind, a question which, of course, by no means concludes the matter; and secondly, a question of constitutional propriety—to what extent should the Minister exercise these strict legal rights? The Minister has never for a moment claimed or considered that it would be proper for him to exercise the undoubted legal right which he enjoys, hot above anybody else but in common with every- 2121 body else, completely to disregard the findings of these administrative tribunals. That he ought to act in these matters in a quasi-judicial capacity was something he himself asserted in that paragraph of the memorandum on the Newton Report, which I read just now to the House. For a Minister to act in a quasi-judicial capacity in matters in which he or his Department is concerned and interested is by no means an uncommon feature of our constitutional arrangements, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows far better than I do. Quite clearly, the Minister would have been wrong if he did not treat his position in this matter as a quasi-judicial position.
On the other hand, there are some—and hon. Members opposite who tell us they expect to form an administration some day ought really to have this matter in mind, because it is an important question of administration—who seek to exalt this quasi-judicial tribunal into a position of infallibility where its pronouncements, ex cathedra as it were, could compel the Minister to abdicate his own legal and constitutional responsibility to the Crown and Parliament. The Minister would have been equally at fault if he had accepted that proposition. That is the practical proposition which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has put before the House, and which he would have to operate if at any time he occupied a seat on this side of the House.
Consider the strict legal position and where it would lead. Suppose the court had found—I am not suggesting that it should have found so, but there is no question at all that it could easily have found it—that this accident was solely caused by the negligence of the pilot. The representatives of the pilot or the representatives of that great airline, K.L.M., would have been immediately entitled—not to come to Parliament, because they cannot come here—to come to this country and in the newspapers publish, as the Minister did, a statement that they did not accept that finding. They would have been entitled to say that the court had completely misread the evidence and that the conclusion was entirely unjustified.
Suppose the tribunal had come to the conclusion that some individual, perhaps, employed at the airport had committed some breach of the regulation, for which 2122 there could be a prosecution, and that, consequent upon that report, there were criminal proceedings taken against him, it would have been open to any two lay justices sitting in petty sessions to reach a diametrically opposite conclusion. Indeed, Mr. McDonald's opinion would have been completely irrelevant and inadmissible in any legal proceedings.
Cases of that kind have not infrequently occurred. Not very long ago, although it seems a long time now, I was concerned for the defence in one of these tribunals under a Statute to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred. It sat for 31 days, and in the end published a report containing findings of the gravest kind, which, if well-founded, might have justified charges of a most serious criminal kind. In fact, charges were made, and the Solicitor-General appeared to prosecute. Apart from one quite technical offence, the whole case was laughed out of court. Quite recently a wreck inquiry, after a long hearing, decided that a particular ship was unsea-worthy. Immediately there were civil proceedings in the ordinary courts, and one of His Majesty's judges decided, that on the contrary, the ship was perfectly sound. That is a position with which we are familiar in the administration of our law.
The fact is that anybody involved in the inquiry, whether represented at it or not, is entitled, once the inquiry has concluded—not, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman quite incorrectly suggested, to cancel the findings or conclusions of the court or to over-ride them because the findings and the conclusions remain on record for exactly what they are, the opinion of the court—but to say that he disagrees with the court's opinion. Anybody can say that. I am not claiming for the Minister that full liberty of disagreement, although it is perfectly clear—and if the right hon. and learned Gentleman challenges it, I have no doubt he will do so now—that legally the Minister is entitled to disagree. I am not claiming that with constitutional propriety he ought to do anything of the kind; and that leads me to the question—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want to put a false point because this is a high constitutional matter. Legally, in the 2123 sense of anyone being able to get an injunction against him, I agree, but here the legality is completely bound up with the constitutional position, and there is no dichotomy.
§ The Attorney-General
One has to see what is the legal position, because the legal position of these tribunals is totally different from that of the ordinary courts of the land. Where there is a decision by one of the courts of the land, the Minister is bound by it; where there is a decision by one of these administrative tribunals the Minister is not legally bound by it; and then one has to see what is the constitutional responsibility and the proper constitutional practice for the Minister to adopt in regard to such matters. The Minister must approach the problem from quite a different point of view from that of the airline operator or somebody else who may be deeply concerned in, and represented at, the inquiry. That is quite manifest. On the grounds of public policy, because of the importance of maintaining his position of strict impartiality and, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, of ensuring public confidence in the system of accident investigation, the Minister ought, as a constitutional matter, to accept the report unless there are weighty and compelling reasons which lead him to contrary conclusions.
I am not prepared to accept for a moment the view—I have never heard the proposition put forward by a lawyer before, if I may say so with respect, and on reflection I do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman will accept it—that the Minister can only dissent from a finding in the case of a tribunal of this kind if there is no evidence at all. That was not the view of the noble and learned Lords who addressed their minds to this question in another place. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am not allowed to quote from their speeches——
§ The Attorney-General
—but I would call the attention of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby to column 1156 of the Lords HANSARD where Lord Simon's view is recorded, about 20 lines after the commencement of the speech; and to Lord Reading's view, in column 1144. I do not think that the right hon. and learned Member, who is 2124 very busy and preoccupied with other (matters, has had time to read those speeches. I cannot say that he has missed very much, but he has not had the opportunity of reading them. I shall come back to that matter. I have no doubt at all—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I can offer the right hon. and learned Gentleman a counter-reading. If he cannot read it here, I hope that he will read it in the night watches. It is column 1164.
§ Mr. Hogg
On a point of Order. I am loath to interrupt this legislation by reference between two learned lawyers on the Front Bench, but surely the correct rule and practice of this House is not merely that we may not quote but that we may not refer to or comment upon what is said in the same Session of Parliament in another place. I suggest that these obscure, mandarin-like references are just as much out of Order as quotation.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
An hon. Member is allowed to make references without quoting the actual words, and he is allowed to quote from any Ministerial statement of policy made in the same Session. It might be convenient if hon. Members went out and got a copy of the HANSARD of the Lords.
§ Lord John Hope (Midlothian and Peebles, Northern)
Further to that point of Order. Surely reference oratio obliqua, such as has been made, is in Order?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Yes, I think it is. If I am entitled to express my personal opinion, it is that this Rule is almost out-of-date.
§ The Attorney-General
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for protecting my interests in this matter, but I shall not pursue it. It would be an interesting thing to do. I shall point out some of the other inconsistencies of the right hon. and learned Gentleman when I come to them presently. I think it should be said that a Minister who appoints a court ought to abide, and in the ordinary case would abide, by the recommendations it makes. I shall state in a moment the principles upon which he ought to act, and did act in this case, but I want to make a point which is of great constitutional importance.
2125 It is manifest, I would suggest, that the public could have no kind of confidence at all in a system of inquiry in which the report of an ad hoc court was absolutely binding even thought it was clear that it was mistaken. Just think of the manifest absurdity of it. Suppose the court had said in this case that the accident was due to the existence of some particular kind of approach lighting. I have no technical knowledge, but I am taking that as an example. Suppose they had said that the lighting ought to be abolished. The Minister, on the contrary, thinks that the lighting is a vital aid to safety. Is not he to be entitled to say: "I do not think the court were right in finding that this was the cause of the accident. I remain responsible for safety at aerodromes and I must make up my own mind about it, so long as I am left as the competent Minister to discharge these responsibilities to Parliament."
Suppose, and this is the present case, that the court said that the accident was due to some negligence on the part of officials. Is the Minister to dismiss those officials even though he thinks that the evidence leads irresistibly to a contrary conclusion? If an action for wrongful dismissal could be brought against the Minister, what possible defence would he have in those circumstances? That is this case. Mr. McDonald has said that in his opinion one of the contributory causes of the accident was the negligence of officials in the meteorological department at Prestwick. If that is true, those officials ought to be sacked and they ought to go for the rest of their lives with the knowledge hanging over them that they have contributed to the death of those 40 or so passengers in the aircraft.
How can it be right for a Minister responsible to Parliament, and responsible for the employment of those officials, to dismiss them unless he is satisfied that the finding of the tribunal is just? The proposition has only to be stated, I would have thought, for its manifest absurdity to be apparent, even to hon. Members opposite. Blind acceptance of a report of one of these administrative tribunals, or acceptance of the report not blindly but in spite of a realisation that it was mistaken, would not only not make for public confidence or common justice but it would be wholly inimical to the object 2126 which the right hon. and learned Gentleman said so eloquently that he had in mind, the maintenance of safety in the air. The truth is that under these regulations, these courts are set up to investigate the facts and to express an opinion on them, and an opinion as to the cause of the accident.
In some respects, these courts are like a coroner's court, although I do not suggest too close an analogy, and although the legal effects of the decisions of these tribunals are far less than those of the finding of a corner's court. If the Minister comes to the conclusion that the findings are completely against the weight of the evidence he is entitled to publish a dissenting opinion. In the last resort, the public must judge. Obviously therefore the Minister will dissent from the opinion of a court only if the reasons are compelling and likely to satisfy the tribunal of public opinion.
There is nothing unusual in the criticism of a court or the expression of a difference of opinion as to its conclusions. I have any number of quotations here. I will mention only one of them which comes from one whom I suppose the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I regard as the greatest judge of this century, Lord Atkin. He said:Justice is not a cloistered virtue: she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men.I believe that Jeremy Bentham says somewhere that when the trial is over the judge is himself on trial. If that is the case under the ordinary law, how much more must it be so in the case of the administrative tribunals.
In the Command Paper which the Minister issued at the time of the Newton Report, and which the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield did not challenge in this House, 'he explained and expressly stated that his ultimate responsibility to Parliament for these matters would remain unimpaired. He cannot with propriety—I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman on reflection will concede that this must be so—abdicate that responsibility to a court established under these regulations. While, of course, he must retain his complete freedom in regard to any recommendations, as distinct from findings, which the court may make and while, if there is a disagreement between the assessors and the 2127 president of the court, as there may well be, he has to make up his mind completely freely. Even a unanimous report as to facts and causes cannot be morally and absolutely binding upon him. I should have thought, where the court presents a unanimous report the Minister will only dissent from a finding of fact if there are compelling reasons either in the evidence before the court or any further material which has been brought to his notice since for thinking that the court was wrong. He will not lightly reject the opinion of the court unless he is convinced that it is manifestly wrong.
Moreover, the Minister has authorised me to say this—and this, I think, is new and important in this procedure—that he will not reject the finding of a court under these regulations without first taking the advice not only of his own experts but of the Law Officers in regard to the matter; but if after doing that there are weighty and compelling reasons for dissenting from the opinions of the court, then a Minister responsible to this House must have the courage to say so and must have the courage to place his opinion, with the reasons for it—I agree, with the reasons for it; I have made that point very clear—alongside the opinion of the court, with the reasons for that, and accept full responsibility to Parliament and to the public, who must judge between the two of them.
I am permitted to say that that is the view of the Lord Chancellor and my right hon. Friends here as to the proper constitutional position of Ministers of the Crown in connection with tribunals of that kind. There really is no possible doubt about it, and only a strange confusion of thought, or something perhaps even less worthy, can have led some people to take a different view. The proposition was stated in "The Times" the other day. There is nothing new in it. It was stated—and I concede that this was the view of "The Times"—as if Lord Pakenham had broken it, and I shall proceed to show, beyond any possibility of doubt I think, that he did not. This was the proposition:Lord Pakenham"—"The Times" said. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said exactly the opposite, but what "The Times" said is, 2128 of course, no more and no less conclusive, than what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. "The Times" said:Lord Pakenham, like every other subject, is undoubtedly entitled to point out fallacies in the reasoning of even the highest courts of law and a fortiori in those of a Tribunal of Inquiry, which is only quasi-judicial. But if he seeks to go further and declare as if by authority that a particular finding is wrong, then … he must either show that the finding he wishes to annul is unsupported by evidence or that it is plainly against the weight of the evidence.That is where the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that "The Times" is quite wrong. I agree with "The Times" sometimes, and I certainly agree with "The Times" on this occasion. The Minister of Civil Aviation has always taken that view of his position in this matter and it was on that view that he acted in this case.
The question, therefore—not one which the House can re-try, of course, but one which has already been canvassed before it—is: Was the court's decision in this case against the weight of the evidence? There are those who have read some of the evidence and* none of the report and some who have read some of the report and none of the evidence, but I have had to make it my business to read every line of the 1,540 pages of shorthand notes, all the documents and papers in the case and the report as well; and while it is quite impossible to ask the House to go into all that and to re-try the matter, I think it is right that I should just call attention to the oustanding facts because they have not perhaps been presented in the issues which they raise very clearly to the House by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. First, as to the court's findings—
§ Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)
I understood the Attorney-General to refer to consultations between the Minister and the Law Officers. Can he tell the House whether, before he delivered what has been described as dissenting opinion, the Minister in this case consulted with the Law Officers?
§ The Attorney-General
I said that the arrangement that, as a matter of course, these matters would be submitted to the Law Officers for their formal opinion before any dissenting opinion was expressed by the Minister, was a new provision and a new stipulation in the accident 2129 investigation procedure. I said that it was an important stipulation. I think it is. I shall come presently to the other interests which the Law Officers have in the conduct of these inquiries.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)
The Attorney-General said that this is an important and new point. I want to be quite clear about what he is now saying. He has just said that the Minister is completely free—in fact, he cannot divest himself of the responsibility—to decide the matter for himself. In that case, what is it about which he contemplates that he should consult the Law Officers?
§ The Attorney-General
In the end the Minister has still to discharge his own constitutional responsibility—that is quite clear—and he is not delegating it or transferring it to the Law Officers. What he will do is to submit to the Law Officers—I hope this is not a task which will occur very often—the whole of the evidence, the whole of the documents and the finding, and he will ask the Law Officers, if he is in doubt about the matter himself and thinks that perhaps he should dissent, to give their advice as to whether the findings of the court are against the weight of the evidence, and on that advice he will make up his mind. He is entitled, constitutionally to disregard the advice. I do not know quite what would happen if he did, but we need not pursue that. His constitutional responsibility is to decide the matter himself after he has received advice about it.
I will now remind the House of the findings of the court, from part of which the Minister dissented. In paragraph 173 the court said:The accident was caused by the coincidence of a number of adverse circumstances.I shall only mention two:The absence of a uniform system regulating the conditions in which intermediate (deterioration) weather reports should be sent out prevented the aircraft from receiving intimation that the amount of cloud increased from 4/10th to 6/10th between 22.50 hours and 23.20 hours. The failure of the meteorological staff at Prestwick to enforce obedience of the order that reports of weather deterioration should be given in plain language to the Air Traffic Control Officer, and the latter's failure to pass on the information which he had received in code resulted in the omission of the words 'deterioration' and 'deteriorating' from verbal radio messages to the aircraft.2130 So far as the first part of the criticism is concerned, the Minister has not stated any dissent. I am bound to say—I think I am entitled to say it—that, having reviewed the evidence, I can see no ground at all for the criticism. The system being followed was a uniform system. It was recommended by I.C.A.O., the International Civil Aviation Organisation—P.I.C.A.O., as it then was—and it was followed by all international aerodromes in this country, and, I hope, in all foreign countries as well. The report expressly refers to it in paragraphs 85, 86 and 87, and in paragraph 108 it says that it was being complied with. How Mr. McDonald came to a totally different conclusion when he got to the end of his report I am afraid I am unable to explain to the House.
It is of vital importance—and I want to emphasise this to the House—that international procedures should be followed. That is of the highest importance. If some aerodromes give more information and send more messages, and in regard to different matters and other aerodromes send less, no pilot will know where he is. That is the whole purpose of these I.C.A.O. recommendations, that there should be standard messages and standard regulations. If one did not pursue that, complete chaos would result. There was no disobedience to any instruction which was relevant to this case.
That brings me to the second part of the criticism. It is true that on one of the weather report forms certain particulars stating that the weather had deteriorated during the period since the last report—that is, stated not as a forecast, that is quite clear, but as a comparison of the position at the time of that report with the position as it existed at the time of the previous report—that that information was not given in plain language on the form although it was given in code. The form, which was an old one, required that it should also be given in plain language. That was because the form was originally used for radio telephone messages in clear. That form had long been disused for that particular purpose, and it was now used only for wireless messages which are conducted in code. That is why the information was given in code.
In the case of radio telephone messages the information to be given was laid down under the I.C.A.O. recommendations, 2131 which I have here, and did not include a statement that the weather had deteriorated. It contained particulars as to the actual weather conditions at the time of the signal and the pilot would know, of course, by reference to his previous report, that there had been deterioration if, in fact, that was the case. If he wanted a forecast of the weather conditions, either he—and he is in constant touch with the aerodrome—or the representative of his company, who was standing in the control tower beside the control officer, and at any moment was entitled to say, "Send this chap a forecast, send him further information, tell him the weather has deteriorated"—if the pilot wants further information of that kind, he asks for it and it will be given immediately. There is no doubt that he should have asked for that information in this case, but he did not. So the position in regard to the breach of orders is that at most there was a technical breach of orders in not providing in clear information which was not needed in clear and which would not have been used in clear. The criticism of the court that the supervision in the meteorological office at Prestwick was bad. seems, I am bound to say, entirely unjustified.
However, the real substance of the criticism that the court made was the suggestion that if, in a radio telephone message which was sent to him at eight, minutes past eleven, the pilot had been told that the weather had deteriorated, the accident would not have happened. That is the real complaint made by the court in this case, and just see what the position is. The truth is that the pilot knew at that time perfectly well that the weather had deteriorated. Only two minutes before eight minutes past 11 he had been told so in express terms in a wireless telegraph message which was sent to him and which the court concludes there is no doubt he received.
Moreover, the conditions of which he was informed at eight minutes past 11 really speak for themselves. Conditions had deteriorated. At 10.36 he was told that the lower layer of cloud was at 500 feet and only one-tenth in amount. At six minutes past 11 he was told that the lower cloud base had dropped to 300 feet, and had increased in amount to four-tenths, and that the visibility and ceiling were deteriorating. Does the House really 2132 think that the omission of similar words in a message two minutes later, which again gave the low ceiling of cloud at 300, and the amount at four-tenths, would have made the slightest difference to this pilot? How could it possibly have done so? Manifestly it could not.
Twenty minutes later this pilot was below all that cloud, having been brought safely down to the aerodrome by the ground control approach arrangements, circling in full view of the lighted aerodrome with its approach lights and its runway lit up, less than 200 feet from the runway, and expected, as everybody thought, to land upon that runway. Why he did not, what was the cause of what he subsequently did—and I shall say something more about it in a minute—nobody will ever know. But that it was not due to the failure to use the word "deterioration" in a message at eight minutes past 11 when that word had been used at six minutes past 11 would, I should have thought, been perfectly obvious to everybody.
Certainly it was obvious to the only expert witness who was called in this case to give a general opinion on the whole matter. And who was that? That was Captain Malouin, who is the General Flying Superintendent of K.L.M., the chief of their North Atlantic Division. He was the expert selected for this purpose by K.L.M. as the man above all others who could give the court a useful opinion on what might be the causes of this accident. As an indication of the fairness of the Crown in this matter, that witness was called by Mr. Leslie, who appeared to represent the public interest, in order that K.L.M.'s counsel might have the advantage—and it is sometimes a great advantage—of cross-examining him. This is what Captain Malouin said on oath at different points in his evidence:And at 2308 the figures were 4/10ths at 300 and 10/10ths at 700?—Yes.So that that was some indication that the amount was deteriorating?—That the amount of low cloud cover was increasing, yes.
Wouldn't that be a factor in the captain of the aircraft's mind?—Oh, definitely, definitely.
And irrespective of the information passed to him, would he not have in mind the possibility that the 4/10ths at 300 might become 5/10ths or 6/10ths at any moment?—I am the first to admit that he would be on his guard, yes.
The deterioration that is reported is a deterioration which has taken place, presumably, up to the time of observation; is that correct?—That is correct.
2133 Isn't the position this, that when Captain Parmentier received the weather report at 2308 he knew the ceiling or the cloud base amount was deteriorating?—We agree.
Are you suggesting that at that stage (i.e. 20 minutes later) a special deterioration message should have gone out to the aircraft informing the pilot that the ceiling amount at 300 was 6/10ths?—I would certainly welcome such information any time.
But the pilot knows that it might become that at any moment, doesn't he?—He does. I freely admit he knows that possibility exists; there is no argument on that score.
And that that is a factor which he must take into account throughout his approach to the aerodrome?—It is one of the many factors, yes.
May we not take it that if a pilot gets a message that there is 4/10ths cloud at 300 he will realise that at any minute that 4/10ths cloud may increase to 5/10ths?—Yes.
Is information that there is a level of 4/10ths of cloud not a threat of a ceiling?—A 4/10th cloud cover does constitute a threat to a ceiling."
and then he ended—and this is what we think summarises the position—this great expert of international repute, who was called because K.L.M. thought he was the best man available—I am not in a position to state, and I am not leaving here under any impression, that this acccident was meteorological. Neither was it pilot error. I don't even say that the truth lies somewhere between.Now Lord Simon in another place—as the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I am sure, has appreciated—realised that very well. The tribunal found expressly—and here the right hon. and learned Gentleman was going into something which was quite irrelevant to our discussion here—that after eight minutes past 11 there was no significant change in the weather and no dereliction in duty. That is what they found.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfeindicated dissent.
§ The Attorney-General
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should read paragraph 108 if he does not agree. Their criticism related to the failure to state that there was a deterioration at eight minutes past 11. If that finding that there was a failure at eight minutes past 11 was wrong—I hope I have shown it was wrong—then the case against the Minister completely goes.
Lord Simon, in order to establish that the Minister ought to have accepted Mr. McDonald's opinion, proceeded to attempt to demonstrate that Mr. McDonald was obviously wrong. I am 2134 sure that Lord Simon greatly regrets now lending his great authority to so unfortunate an attack. I cannot quote Lord Simon on the Minister, but I am obliged to Mr. Deputy-Speaker for saying that I might at least paraphrase him. Hon. Members can see the passages in columns 1162 and 1163 of the Lords HANSARD.
Lord Simon said, not once, but three times, in effect this: that the material time was 11.30, not eight minutes past 11 or six minutes past 11; that time, he said, had nothing to do with the matter at all. It was 11.30 that was important, when this experienced pilot was circling the aerodrome. That, he said, was the issue, and what happened at 11.6 or 11.8 had nothing to do with it. That is Lord Simon's opinion and with great respect I agree that Lord Simon was right. [Laughter.]
§ The Attorney-General
The real question in this disaster was, of course, as to what happened after that, after the pilot got below the cloud base at 11.30. The position was that at 11.32 the pilot, in spite of K.L.M. instructions to fly at 700 feet, in spite of a K.L.M. warning that he was not to circle to the east of the aerodrome because of high land there, flew at a dangerously low level and collided with the electric pylons, which were only 400 feet high, when he should have been at least 700 feet high—300 feet above them; and he flew at that low height in the forbidden area in respect of which he had been warned that the ground was high.
It may be that the reason for that—I do not attempt to explain what was the reason—was that he had been provided, as the report says, with false and misleading charts on which there was a spot reference to the height of that land as being 45 feet and not 450 feet, as, in fact, it was. But the question was, why did he do it? The tribunal decided that whatever the cause was so far as Prestwick was concerned, there was no blame after eight minutes past 11. Lord Simon was perfectly right in saying that what happened at eight minutes past 11 had nothing to do with it. That is precisely what the Minister of Civil Aviation said, 2135 and all that he said; and that is what this storm is about. The Minister is very glad to have his conclusion confirmed by so high an authority as Lord Simon.
I would be content to leave the matter there but for the fact that Lord Simon—and now, apparently, the right hon. and learned Gentleman—seemed to lay great stress upon what happened between eight minutes past 11 and the accident at 11.32. I have explained part of what happened. The pilot was brought down to the areodrome under the ground approach system and was within a distance which is estimated at between 50 and 200 feet of the lighted runway on which it would have been possible to land, but then he went up again. There was nothing to have prevented him following his instructions unless there was some defect in the aircraft; nothing at all to have prevented him soaring up and within a minute reaching a height of 600 or 900 feet. But he did not do that, and I want to call attention to the evidence in regard to that mysterious period although, as I have shown, it is irrelevant to the real question in issue, which is, were the Prestwick aerodrome staff to blame at eight minutes past 11?
Lord Simon seems to think that an intermediate weather report ought to. have been sent out to the aircraft by the Air Traffic Control during that period, but, as is stated—I draw these paragraphs to the attention of the hon. Gentleman who is to reply—in paragraph 85 of the report, the meteorological office order, under which the meteorological office at Prestwick was acting at the time and which complied with the international regulations of I.C.A.O., of which the hon. Gentleman is no doubt fairly familiar—and I am familiar with the particular regulation applicable to this case; the Report states that the Meteorological Office was complying with the general orders in regard to the matter, which themselves complied with I.C.A.O. procedure.
Those arrangements laid it down that an intermediate report had to be supplied in conditions which were specified—not otherwise, but in conditions which were specified—one of which included a change of ceiling from three-quarters or less to three-quarters or more of cloud coverage. The weather prevailing at the time did not 2136 satisfy those conditions. There had been no significant change, Mr. McDonald says, and there was therefore no duty on the meteorological officer to send out an intermediate report. Paragraph 108 of Mr. McDonald's report expressly says that there was no failure of duty on the part of the observer in this respect.
The accepted practice—the House will wonder why it was not followed in this case; it is so important in this matter to adhere to international practice and regulations—is that the pilot asks for an intermediate report or for a forecast or for any other information if he wants it, or the company's officer, standing by the control officer in the control tower, says, "Something is happening to this chap. Why has he not landed? He looked as if he was going to. He was down to within a very short distance of the runway. Let us speak to him and find out what is up." Then there is a radio conversation. They are in constant radio-telephone communication, but unless the pilot asks for information or there is some reason to think—which there was not—that there has been a breakdown, it is contrary to the accepted practice for intermediate messages to be sent out when there has been no significant change in the weather conditions.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Has the Attorney-General asked his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary how often in the years since the end of the war have the companies' representatives in the control tower actually given advice to flying controllers? Is it done in fact, or are they there merely to answer questions if they should be asked?
§ The Attorney-General
I made that inquiry not of my hon. Friend, but of the experts whom I have consulted in this matter, before addressing the House. I am told—and the hon. and gallant Member probably knows more about the practice than I do—that it is quite a common practice for the representative of the company, who goes right up to the control tower, particularly in bad weather, to ask for information, and for this reason. Different operating lines have different regulations. K.L.M. had a particular regulation about not going below the ceiling in certain circumstances. That was a regulation not known, and not one that could have been known, to the control 2137 officer at the aerodrome. For that purpose, the representatives of the operating lines are present in the control room in order to be able to see that whatever information they think is relevant is sent to the pilot if they think he needs it. But in this case the operators' representative, who was standing beside the control officer, hearing every word that the man spoke into the telephone in communication with the pilot, said in his evidence that in his view the whole procedure in the talk-down was quite normal.
What those who seek to sustain criticism of the Minister have to do is to show that Lord Simon is right in thinking that the tribunal were wrong in holding that what happened at eight minutes past 11 contributed to the accident and that the tribunal were also wrong, but that Lord Simon was right, in holding that what happened at 11.30 contributed to the accident. Well, that is the whole matter and I would certainly say, and I really feel no doubt about it, that the Minister did what it was his duty to do; he expressed dissent from an opinion, which I do not say there was no evidence to support, but which was clearly erroneous and against the whole weight of the evidence which was canvassed before the tribunal.
Now I pass to the other part of the Motion and say a word about that. The Motion proposes new procedure, but in so far as it seeks to make the findings of the new court which it is suggested should be set up final and binding findings, the Government cannot accept it for the reason I have already stated, that the findings of such a court cannot be binding on a Minister if he is to discharge his constitional and statutory duties to Parliament and to the Crown, When I was considering the matter with the Minister some time ago—this whole question of accident investigation machinery—I thought it right, having regard to the importance of open and impartial investigation, to stipulate that the Attorney-General should be given particulars of all accidents involving investigation by an inspector so that he should have full access to all the evidence and, if he desired to intervene in any inquiry—not to defend a Department, or represent it, but, if need be, to attack it and to represent the public interest should be able to do so.
2138 In fact I did appear under a different procedure, not this, before the Newton, Report was published, and I did attack and cross-examine officials and others in a way which I dare say was not wholly congenial to them. Almost week by week I receive reports of accidents in an initial stage so that I can form a view whether the public should be separately represented in the inquiries.
I feel myself that that provision, coupled with the new provision that the Law Officers' opinion shall be taken before there is any dissent, does constitute reasonably satisfactory machinery at the moment, but I certainly do not say that nothing better could be evolved. The truth is that the Minister, both before and, more particularly since, the Newton Report has been actively reviewing these existing rules, which were made a very long time ago, in rather different circumstances, and I myself, as well as the Treasury Solicitor, have been in frequent consultation in the course of this last year on the procedure to be adopted.
Furthermore, just recently, since the Prestwick Report—I think in fairness I ought to say that—there has been a meeting between the Lord Chancellor, the Minister and myself at which a discussion about alternative proposals which the Minister had put forward, took place. I hope I am not disclosing improperly any secret in regard to that; I do not think so. The point I want to make is that, so far from adopting an attitude of obstinate opposition to a revision of the existing arrangements, the Minister has the matter very much in mind and the review he had already commenced before this matter arose will be pursued.
But we must discuss this matter on its merits and not as a peg on which to hang criticism of the Minister in regard to the Prestwick case. As the House knows, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, there is procedure for accident investigation under various statutes. I do not think any of them is applicable or appropriate to air accident investigation. In this case there are questions of Ministerial responsibility which did not arise in those cases and also, which is most important, large questions of international obligation and responsibility on the part of the Government, and to some extent it is a case of solvitur ambulando.
2139 But there ought to be no political difference between us on the case once everyone is satisfied that the criticism of the Prestwick case is based on a complete misconception. Once that is out of the way, there should be no political difference of opinion between us and all of us, to whatever party we belong, ought to assist in constructing the best procedure possible. The Minister of Civil Aviation, the Lord Chancellor and I are very ready to discuss with the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby, or anyone on the opposite side of the House, in an informal way what better arrangements could be established—better than those that exist—and I have no doubt that they could be established. I would be only too glad to have the advantage of the assistance of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in discussing this matter, because it is very difficult, in the absence of any existing pattern, to know what it would be best to do.
Subject to that point, that these administrative tribunals cannot give a final and binding decision which fetters a Minister in his constitutional responsibility to Parliament, I at once concur that the present system is by no means perfect. We have got to find a better system, but we ought to do it in a non-political way and, to show that hon. Members opposite are approaching this problem, this important problem of accident investigation procedure, in a non-political way and that no attempt is being made to perpetuate for political purposes the unhappy misconceptions which exist about the Prestwick case, I hope that they will not press this Motion to a Division.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has a great advantage in so far as he has been able to examine all the evidence in considerable detail. We on this side of the House and hon. Members opposite have only been able to read the report and various documents and letters to the Press—
§ Mr. Beswick
Has not the hon. and gallant Member seen the report available in the Library of this House since last Friday?
§ The Attorney-General
A request was made that the shorthand note should be made available in the Library. I understood that the request had been made and that it was complied with. If it is said that it has not been complied with, I should deplore the fact. I thought it had been done.
§ The Attorney-General
Perhaps the explanation is that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has read it and is sitting on it.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
There is nothing to withdraw. The Attorney-General said earlier that he hoped we would approach this question of aircraft accidents in a non-party spirit. I think that if he examines the Debates on this subject, he will find that in the whole lifetime of this Parliament it is the one subject which has been discussed in a non-party spirit. Time and again hon. Members on both sides of the House have tried to give information which would enlighten the previous and the present Minister. The Attorney-General complains that I did not challenge the Newton Report. The fact is that on 17th March, 1948, at Question Time I put a Question to the Parliamentary Secretary—
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
—the Attorney-General will allow me—because he thought he scored some points—the fact is that the Newton Report was sent to the Minister in February of that year and a description appeared in "The Times" about March last year. It may be asked where they got the information. I do not know, but events proved that their report was accurate in almost every detail. We then put Questions to the Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) followed up with a supplementary question in which he asked:Would it not be much more satisfactory to publish this report in proper form than to leave it to a report in ' The Times' newspaper? 2141 Now that that report has been published in that paper, is he going to implement at least one or two proposals?0 The Parliamentary Secretary replied:No, Sir, I cannot agree that the report has been published. An intelligent anticipation of a section or one part of it may have been published. This is a report of a sub-committee to a consultative council. The decision in regard to these matters is taken by the Minister and he must take full responsibility."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 2092.]We were led to believe that the report as such was not being accepted by the Minister of Civil Aviation. The result was that on the occasion of that Question to the Parliamentary Secretary I gave notice that I would raise the matter on the Adjournment. I did so on 14th April—I gave the wrong date during the Attorney-General's speech—because I was under the impression that the Newton Report was not in the main being accepted by the Minister of Civil Aviation. I do not intend to quote from that Debate at length, but I will quote a few lines of what I said on that occasion.I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary why his noble Friend has refused to accept the findings of the Newton Committee.That was common knowledge in aeronautical circles.
§ The Attorney-General
I think that I can save time. I quite realise that prior to the publication of the Newton Report the hon. and gallant Member had taken an active interest in this matter in the House. I realise that he has subsequently written letters to the newspapers about it. The point I made—I was making it of hon. Members opposite generally, and not with special reference to the hon. and gallant Member, although he is particularly interested in the problem—was that after the Minister had, in November, published a reasoned statement of his reasons for not accepting certain of the Newton Report proposals, that position was acquiesced in by this House to the extent that it was not made, as it could have been made, the subject of any challenge.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
That is all very well, but we have been debating and discussing this matter off and on for something like three and a half years. The Minister took 10 months to consider the Newton Report. We were given the impression, and more or less told, that 2142 the findings were not to be accepted. When that came out in the memorandum to which the Attorney-General has referred, we knew only too well that it was no use battling against the impossible where the Government were concerned. We had already made our challenge and said that we did not agree. If I may continue with my quotation of what I said after having read the article in "The Times," I added:He may have had very good reasons for not accepting them. It is entirely a matter for his Minister. But is he afraid of losing some authority if he accepts these recommendations? If so, will he say so frankly to the House? Will he publish the recommendations so that those in civil aviation and hon. Members of this House may know what they were? That Committee worked extremely hard to get all the facts available and make their recommendations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1948; Vol. 449, c. 1127.]That was a challenge after the report was in the Minister's hands but not after publication. I will not pursue the point any further, because the Attorney-General is obviously splitting hairs on the matter.
I do not intend to go into great detail as to how this accident took place. I should like to be able to do so and give some views but any of us who tried to put ourselves in the position of Captain Parmentier on that occasion, when he was 200 ft. up on his dummy approach, would find it difficult to visualise what may have been going on, what was happening when he made the decision to go round again and land on another runway. One can only suppose that he did so because of a cross-wind. There may have been at the back of his mind the thought of some small defect of engine or oil temperature which was just enough to make him feel "I must get the machine down at all costs." One does not know.
Having got below cloud, he had to proceed with what he had already started. I do not think that the aeroplane should ever have been below cloud. I do not want to be critical but I do not think the aeroplane should have ever been put in that position. The captain of the aircraft must, although the poor fellow has gone, bear some responsibility, but I would say only "some." Whatever the facts are about the giving of weather reports, etc., all I can say is that in the Royal Air Force, which have considerable experience of this subject, we know that on that part of the coast near Prestwick 2143 or on any part of our coast the weather can change in three or four minutes. One can find low cloud coming down while a pilot is on his way down,
§ Mr. Beswick
In fairness to the people who have been criticised, would not the hon. and gallant Member say that that possibility is covered in the regulations, which provide that additional weather reports should be given if the cloud passes from under three-quarters to over three-quarters coverage?
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
With all experts it is difficult at night to say how many tenths of cloud there are. I should like to err on the side of safety in taking any opinion, however good the official might be.
For the last three or four years the British Air Line Pilots' Association and the Guild of Air Pilots of the British Empire have continually put forward their views on this subject. They felt that the system which provided that the Minister should be shouldered with this responsibility was completely wrong, and that is what we have tried from time to time to tell the Parliamentary Secretary. On 3rd July, 1947, during another of these Debates very late at night—I think the Parliamentary Secretary held office at that time—I said:As I see it, the Inspector-General's inquiries are really fact-finding inquiries and the President has not the power to subpoena witnesses or take evidence on oath. That is the real weakness of the whole thing. In fact, I think the Inspector-General is in a very embarrassed position. He is employed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and he has to investigate accidents where the Ministry themselves might be involved and might well be to blame. He is really, in fact, acting as both doctor and coroner, which is not a situation which should be allowed to continue.Later on, I said:Many of these accidents are near misses. … I would like to put before the Parliamentary Secretary a few suggestions for consideration by himself and his right hon. Friends. The first is that inquiries should be held in public. The second is that they should be presided over by a president with legal qualifications.That has been done.The inquiry should have power to subpoena witnesses and to take evidence on oath. The body holding such an inquiry should be entirely dissociated from the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Air Ministry. It could perhaps, if necessary, come under a Law Officer 2144 of the Crown who might well run a small office with a team of workers to work independently of the Ministries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd July, 1947; Vol. 439. c. 1664–6.]
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. and gallant Member will agree that, apart from the suggestion that the body to hold inquiries should come under a Law Officer, which I am bound to say I should not welcome, everything that he has suggested there—I previously read what he suggested—has been done?
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
It is not entirely dissociated from the Ministry of Civil Aviation because the Minister of Civil Aviation still carries the responsibility. Otherwise he would not be the court of appeal to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred in his opening speech.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member suggested at that time, and I do not know whether he is doing so now, that the Minister should, in his executive action and responsibility to Parliament, be finally bound by the findings of that tribunal however it was constituted.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Had it been under a Law Officer of the Crown, I should have been satisfied to leave the matter in his hands once the inquiry had been started. I should have thought that that would have been fairer to the Minister, bearing in mind that there might be litigation and insurance claims in which it might be an embarrassment for him to be involved if such litigation or claims were pursued by a certain operating company. I think it would have been better to have put the matter under another Government Department, preferably that of the Attorney-General.
There have been certain criticisms about Prestwick. Although the Attorney-General gave the impression that no one was wrong, I should say, after reading the evidence, that the situation was not right by a long way. I do not want to bring into the discussion a boy of 18 who is a meteorological observer and who was quite rightly exonerated at the inquiry. He had only six weeks' training. He may be a brilliant lad and may do this work very well. He was the official observer at Prestwick. I suggest that the Government look into the question of the employment of meteorological officials. Many of us 2145 have been far from satisfied with that service for a long time, partly because those in it are underpaid. We shall not get the best men in the jobs by paying them miserable salaries. I should like to see better remuneration and more stringent training given to these officials.
Fortunately, flying is becoming safer. In the last two years statistics have shown that. After that spate of accidents at the end of the war, they have become less and less, but accidents will take place from time to time; that is inevitable. But as my hon. and learned Friend has said, we have to instil confidence at home and in other countries. Once that confidence is lost, it will take a tremendous amount to recover it. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Government to consider this whole matter. He has said that he is prepared to go into discussions, but there should be a commission or something similar set up to report again and even, if necessary, to go over the work done by the Newton Committee, whose report I consider was excellent. They took endless trouble and a lot of evidence, and made one recommendation which I think has a bearing on what has happened recently. On page 30. at paragraph 89, they stated:Under our proposals, at a Commissioner's Inquiry, the Minister will be in the same position as any other interested party, save that we think it should be specifically laid down that he shall be deemed to be a directly interested party and entitled to appear as such at every Commissioner's Inquiry.I would couple that with what was said a few minutes ago.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, referring to the length of time taken by Mr. McDonald, said that he did not know what was happening in those months.
§ The Attorney-General
Not as any criticism. I only mentioned it because the Minister was criticised for having taken rather a long time to make up his mind. I am not criticising.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Reading one of the reports, I did see that Mr. McDonald and the assessor asked to see certain equipment—I think there were two engines in particular—and I should like to ask why those engines were removed. I think they were sold for scrap. I think it is vital in these accidents, after the official investigation has taken place, that all the equipment should be retained 2146 until the whole matter is finally cleared, up.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Mr. Lindgren)
Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate that the operators have some responsibility. They might be very much concerned about finding the cause of the accident. If, in fact, the engines had been examined by the Inspector of Accidents, who did examine them and was satisfied from his point of view, surely it is only fair and reasonable to let the operators have what is, after all, their own property to examine it from their own point of view.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
I quite agree, but the fact was that Mr. McDonald and the assessor asked to see the engines, and they were not available. Two of them went to Holland and I understand that two were sold for scrap. Quite rightly, the K.L.M. operating company should have every facility to examine their own equipment, but that examination could have taken place on the spot. The equipment ought not to have been taken out of the country until the inquiry was completed.
I hope that the Government will lose no time in proceeding with this matter of setting up an inquiry to overhaul the whole system of investigating these air accidents, because we cannot afford to lose ground again. If it should happen again, we want such inquiries to give the impression abroad that the British system is second to none. I shall refrain from criticising the Minister of Civil Aviation. It is not what I should have done if I had been in his position and I should not have done it in the way he did it, but I think it has taught him a very sharp lesson, if I may say so most humbly, and I hope we shall have a better system in the future.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)
I have been drawn to my feet by a remark made by the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite), who is not in the Chamber at the moment. During the latter part of his speech the Attorney-General was pointing out that, by a rare coincidence, he and Lord Simon were in complete agreement on one aspect of this case. There was some applause 2147 from hon. Members at the rarity of this occurrence, when the hon. and gallant Gentleman, in a loud voice, said, "That does not help the dead."
I consider that to be an attitude of mind to bring to this Debate which is wholly improper in the circumstances of the tragic matter we are discussing. It is a reflection however of an attitude of mind which is not confined solely to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. It is an attitude of mind which seeks to get a party political advantage out of an incident of this character to the detriment of that very confidence in British civil aviation which the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) says we must seek to establish in the world.
It is true that we must start our deliberations thinking first of the victims of this accident and taking as the first duty of Parliament the consideration of how best we can learn from its lesson to prevent such an accident ever happening again. It is of course the first duty of the Minister himself to think, when he receives the report of the tribunal which he set up, "What are the facts, and what conclusions can we draw from these facts which will help us to prevent such an accident happening again?"
I ask those who are seeking to press this Motion to a Division, which implies censure of the Minister of Civil Aviation, whether they think from their examination of the evidence and from the Debate we are hearing in the House this afternoon, that there was anything in the action of any employee of the Ministry of Civil Aviation which contributed to this dreadful accident; and whether there is anything in the subsequent behaviour of the Minister himself which implies that he has not taken full advantage of the evidence which was given before that inquiry or that he has not made such an adjustment to procedure as to prevent such an accident happening again.
I believe that whilst it is true, as the Attorney-General has said, that there is room for subsequent discussions about a new procedure for accident investigation, as the constitution exists at the moment it is comparable with the procedure which operates not only in the Royal Air Force, but in all other cases 2148 where a responsible officer or Minister initiates an investigation into transport accidents that involve loss of life. So in this case the constitutional procedure has properly been carried out and the Minister has an absolute right to disagree with any or all of the findings.
What would have happened if this accident had taken place in a machine owned and operated by the Royal Air Force? It would not have been a Minister, it would have been the Air-Officer-Commanding the Group operating that machine who would have established a court and ordered an inquiry. The court would have taken the evidence, and it would have summarised its conclusions and remitted them to the officer ordering the investigation. That officer would have an inalienable right to reject any of the conclusions at which the court may have arrived if, in his wisdom and on his assessment of the evidence, he failed to accept those conclusions. So in this case has the Minister of Civil Aviation.
There is one other aspect of this case which must also be considered. The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby said that this sort of thing tends to lessen the confidence of the world in British aviation. If that were true, if in fact the findings of Mr. McDonald were accepted by the people in Holland who are so grievously and intimately concerned with this fatality, I would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman how he accounts for the fact that no civil action for damages has so far been initiated by the next of kin or the representatives of those who were lost in the accident. In fact, if such an action were initiated and if a writ were issued against the Minister of Civil Aviation, then it would clear aside this suspicion of lack of confidence which is so often being created, disseminated and fostered by Members of the Opposition because they see in all these incidents the foreshadowing of the General Election campaign. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite dissent. They dissent and wave their wise-looking heads as though I had said something outrageous.
If a comparison were made between the comment upon this accident in the newspapers of Great Britain—many of Which have a vested interest in a public scandal just before the Election, which 2149 might involve the resignation of a member of the present Administration—and the newspaper comment in Holland, where they have not such an interest in a scandal in British Governmental circles, it would be found that the attitude of the Dutch Press was far more charitable to the Minister of Civil Aviation than the attitude of large sections of the Conservative Press in this country.
There is nothing in this incident which can properly shake the confidence of those who travel in aircraft in the British Isles and, in particular, those who go to the aerodrome at Prestwick. There is nothing in this matter which can shake the confidence of those who operate or travel in aircraft which use the facilities provided by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. If in the course of the Debates in this House and in another place it has been revealed, particularly by those who have given learned legal advice upon this subject, that some revision and some discussions are necessary on the procedure for taking evidence and inquiring into accidents of this character, then let that be done after the Debates and discussions of this accident are cleared out of the way. Let it be done dispassionately and impartially without involving the credit and the reputation of a Minister of the Crown, for only in that way can any lost confidence be restored.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I hope that the Attorney-General will forgive me if I begin by trying to help him on a point of almost infinitesimal importance. He may have been corrected by the Official Reporter, but I think he will find if he reads HANSARD carefully that on at least one occasion he said—and it is a thing awfully easy to do—"eleven minutes past eight" when he meant eight minutes past eleven. I think he will find that at least once he got it the wrong way round, and it might be rather baffling in the report.
I would not for a moment address the House as an expert upon aviation although in that matter I have some expertness. I dare say I am the only Member of the House who has survived three total crashes. I may say that I was not driving the machine myself on any one of the three occasions. I have also another slight expertness. 1 2150 was born, almost, and brought up for the early years of my life on board a tramp ship of which my father was master. Therefore, I am more deeply penetrated than perhaps almost anybody who has not lived in those circumstances can be, with the immense significance, more almost than that of human life, of repute to ship's masters and persons in similar situations.
I do not wish to attempt what I respectfully venture to think perhaps the House has rather excessively done this afternoon. I do not wish to attempt to re-try the case. That does not seem to me, with respect, the most useful way in which we can approach the matter. I dare say that I shall be a little disjointed, and I hope that the Attorney-General will forgive me if I am. I propose to begin by going through shortly some things he said and then coming to some other things which I think important, and that may lead to some logical discontinuity.
First of all, about the Dutch newspapers. I am very sorry that that matter has been introduced. I think it would have been better not to introduce it but, since it has been, I think it necessary to say that Dutch is not one of the languages I read. Perhaps there are hon. Gentlemen here who do. My information is that there have been expressions of surprise in important Dutch papers that a Minister as responsible as this Minister appeared from that distance to be for a matter of this importance should have continued in office.
§ The Attorney-General
Can I help the hon. Member? We have had a full report of this from our Ambassador. There has been criticism, it is true. There has been severe criticism in a Communist newspaper.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
That is a very old trick of advocacy and not really in these circumstances quite fair. I was trying to be fair. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has opportunities of getting advice about the foreign Press which I and others have not. I made the assertion that according to my advice—and I make bold to say that there is nobody here 2151 who has read all or even most of the Dutch Press—there have been questions of this sort in serious papers since the matter was raised. As the contrary was asserted, I thought it right to say that. In connection with that I may say also that I think it is regrettable that so much impression should have been given that all that mattered was the support of the Minister. I should have thought that even on what the Attorney-General himself said, the Minister was not defensible.
I have no particular reason to attack this Minister. I think he is a great deal better than most of the existing Ministers and I clearly see that a Government that has to carry most of the existing Ministers would rather regret having to get rid of a Minister who had, perhaps, better qualifications than some of them. I quite see all that, but I should not have thought that it was really fair to give the impression that what mattered most was first to get it clear that there was no responsibility, and then perhaps we might do what is admitted on this argument to be the right thing next.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
This is the last time I give way. I have sat here for three and a half hours, quietly.
§ Wing-Commander Millington
Would not the hon. Gentleman accept that the gravamen of the Opposition's case—the case as deployed by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe)—has been that the Minister should resign or that his resignation should be called for? We are merely posing the same question in the opposite sense, as it were. Let us clear the question of whether the Minister should or should not resign, let us take that out of court, and then proceed to an examination of the inquiry procedure.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I am not for the moment, in a sense, interested in the inquiry procedure. I am interested in the constitutional relationship between this House, the Minister and the public in this matter. I began by indicating as shortly as I could that that was my approach to it. I think that is a perfectly fair approach to it. I quite see that it is not possible to express severe criticism of the Minister responsible without either 2152 explicitly or implicitly thereby calling for his resignation. I quite see that whether you do it explicitly or implicitly it does not seem to me to matter. I think it regrettable that, all that being so, so much should have been made about this being a hunt and all that, and about it being so important to get the Minister safe before one goes on to the rest of the work.
It does not really seem to me that that is a fair argument and for this reason. One of the main charges here is the charge of bureaucracy, of a Ministerial tendency, which is admitted I think in the Newton Report and certainly in the Donoughmore Report, and there in a sense the better the Minister is, the keener on his work and the more devoted to his functions, the greater is the tendency of that Minister to protect his own officials. Everybody knows it, and I think that, whether Lord Pakenham gave way to that temptation or not, that temptation is known by everybody. It may be that it is the main, or almost the main factor, and it seems to me to be a pity that hon. Gentlemen opposite should try to increase the suspicion that Ministers may be exceptionally inclined to stand by their own subordinates by their excessive enthusiasm to stand by their own colleagues. It is necessarily a party political matter in some sense, and it must be the Opposition's duty to criticise what seems to tend to be government by or for officials, and if that endangers ministerial careers why. human life is more important.
I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman who is to reply if he will explain a little more clearly what I did not wholly understand from the learned Attorney-General's explanation, and that was the reference in the bottom left-hand corner of page 2, where it says:Mr. H. R. Leslie, M.B.E., Advocate, instructed by the Crown Agent for Scotland in the public interest, took the leading part "—A list of the parties who appeared is also given, and I would like to draw attention to the apparent contrast between that extract and the reference on page 33, where we are told that Mr. H. R. Leslie appeared on behalf of the Minister of Civil Aviation. In exactly what sense does the Treasury Bench intend to found an argument upon drawing a distinction between appearing for the public interest and appearing for the Minister of Civil 2153 Aviation? I am not seeking to score a debating point, but it is a matter that should be made plain.
§ The Attorney-General
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to deal with that point, because it is most important? I am surprised that he has raised it. There is a very vital distinction, which I am sure his right hon. and learned Friend would recognise. Counsel may be a representative on behalf of a Ministry to defend the interests of that Ministry, and counsel may appear on behalf of the Attorney-General or the Lord Advocate to represent the public interest, which may necessitate attacking that Ministry, criticising its officials and certainly cross-examining them severely in order to elicit the truth. That procedure has been well known in our constitutional arrangements, although the hon. Member may be ignorant of it, for some time.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman should give up this "prep school" stuff about ignorance. I have all sorts of ignorances, and there are very few hon. Members who have not. In this matter I am not so ignorant as some, and what makes it interesting is that in this matter it appears that the words printed over Mr. McDonald's name gave the correct impression and the words printed in Appendix II seem to give a slightly incorrect impression, and that seems to be a point which it was worth making clear. I thought it was quite reasonable that I should do so.
One of the major points in this matter seems to me to be this business of whether the Minister has what the learned Attorney called a legal right to dissent from the findings of fact. I assume that the House is unanimous that he has a legal and constitutional right to dissent from their recommendations. On the findings of facts the learned Attorney may very well be right about that, and I would not pretend that I am more likely to be right at all. But he gave us very little argument, and there is a great weight of authority on the other side. All other distinguished authorities in another place or in this place who have mentioned the matter, and many distinguished authorities outside, have more than tended to take the other line. I follow the distinction drawn by my hon. and learned Friend in front of me. I do not mean 2154 that I could get an injunction against the Minister if he dissented on facts, but that it is not legal and practicable for the findings of fact to be reversed and ignored. Surely, if the difficulty had arisen, there should have been provision for a re-hearing or an appeal by a similar or different court of inquiry, if necessary. I have heard it said that it was not possible under the regulations, but that is no excuse, because it was possible under the statute, and there was no reason in the world why the Minister should not have altered the regulations. If that really is the difficulty, I think that it should have been met in that way.
May I now ask a question about the K.L.M. man inside the control tower? Can we get this exactly right? It has always been an immense difficulty for a shipmaster in charge of a ship, with the whole responsibility for what happens to it, yet, when the pilot is on board, the pilot has his authority, too. It has alway5 been a great difficulty; my own father twice got into trouble and out of it again for bringing his ship in with the pilot locked in a cabin. It required immense courage for shipmasters to do that. I am a little surprised at these regulations as explained. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right, I am surprised that the K.L.M. man has the legal authority to say "I am sure the pilot wants to know what time it is, or whether it is Tuesday, or what the clouds are doing, and you must tell him." I understand that he is there, that he is a sensible man on good terms with the control tower man, and that that is what happens nine times out of 10. The question I want to raise is this: Was the impression, which was certainly given to the House, a correct one that the operators man in the control tower has the legal right to say, "Here is a piece of information that must be given." If that is right, I think we ought to be told so quite plainly.
Is it conceivable—and I am afraid that this is repetition, but I will be quick as I can—that the Minister would have done what he did on this occasion for the pilot if the thing had been vice versa instead of for the ground staff? Is that conceivable? Could it possibly have happened the other way round? It is important that we should know. That really busts the analogy of the hon. Gentleman from one of the Essex divisions concerning the 2155 Royal Air Force. It is quite true that the Royal Air Force does appoint their own inquiry, but they do not appoint with a temptation, what he called a vested interest, but the answer should be if possible, on one side rather than on the other. I say that the Royal Air Force employ ground staff and air staff—
§ Mr. Lindgren
Is the hon. Gentleman asserting now that the Ministry of Civil Aviation have, in fact, appointed an inquiry with a view to receiving a biased report?
§ Mr. Pickthorn
No, no; nothing of the sort. I beg the hon. Gentleman to listen more carefully to what I say. It is all over all the reports and the documents that the Minister is, in a sense, bound to be—and the better the Minister, the more he is bound to be—strongly tempted to think and to hope that the blame is not upon the meteorological officers and persons in that sort of position. That is the difficulty of that sort of inquiry, and it is admitted all over the face of both documents, and I could give half a dozen quotations.
I want to know whether it is really believed that this would have been likely to happen if the thing had been the other way round. Did not the civil servants, of whom it is said that they ought to be protected, did they not, in fact, have at least as much chance of appearance and of giving evidence and having their case put as anybody else, and a great deal more chance than the unfortunate pilot, who was dead. Can there be any responsibility without the submission of reasons? This is really the main point of the Debate, and it is the note on which I will finish. The learned Attorney-General now says that his noble Friend the Minister has now said that in future he will give reasons that does seem to justify the whole of the campaign for criticising and questioning about this incident.
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Gentleman said that in his original statement. The Minister apologised to the House for not having dealt with the matter here, and I conceded that at the beginning of my remarks; I think that it was a very serious error.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I am sorry; I may be remembering wrong. It is not germane to 2156 my argument really, but I did not think it had been admitted at the first apology. What had been admitted then was that it would have been better to have declared the disagreement in Parliament. The point I want to be quite clear about is that it is now plainly admitted by the Treasury Bench that not only should the dissent be declared in Parliament, but that it should be justified here because, otherwise, it seems to me that all the talk of responsibility and all the laying of hands on hearts and saying, "I take responsibility," is really quite meaningless. That responsibility merely means, "I shall do as I like," and "We have a majority of two to one," unless the responsibility involves a duty to lay the reasons before Debate and to accept judgment. I thought it important that we should get it quite clear that that is what is intended and admitted now, and I am bound to say that I should have thought, without any personal or political ill-will towards the Minister involved, that the fact that he did not know that from the first is quite as much as has usually in the past involved censure.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Crawley (Buckingham)
The senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) began by saying that he was the only man to survive three total crashes. Unfortunately, he is not; I have survived four.
§ Mr. Crawley
I cannot boast that I was not driving in any one of them. The hon. Member went on to say that he thought that a re-trial in this case was not a useful method of approach. That, of course, depends entirely on what view one takes of the Report itself and of the whole method of this tribunal. As far as I can understand it, except for the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey), who made a most fair speech, to which I shall refer later, all the hon. Members opposite seemed to think that the method of this inquiry was suitable, and that, on the whole, its findings were sound. I take the view that the form of this inquiry is the most unsuitable that can be devised for a fact-finding investigation and that, in fact, the Report itself is grossly misleading. I wish to adduce evidence to prove that.
2157 Leaving aside the constitutional issue which has already been fully dealt with, we are, in fact, dealing with three things. There are the facts which this report elicits, the conclusions drawn, and the method by which those facts were elicited and by which those conclusions were come to. I submit that certain vital facts were never elicited at all. I further submit that the significance of other facts in the evidence was entirely missed and were never commented on in the report. Due to those two things, I say that the conclusions arrived at are, in fact, grossly misleading, so misleading indeed that I think the Minister's intervention was absolutely essential. I shall suggest how I think it was that a court presided over by a K.C. of distinction and which had as an assessor a pilot of considerable experience could have been so misled.
I believe it is entirely due to the form which this inquiry took, a form quite unsuitable to the circumstances of the case. The relevant facts are divided into three sets. The first and most important of all have to do with the weather and the way in which the weather was reported; the second have to do with the procedure adopted for this weather reporting, and the third with the charts. Every report on the weather has one object only. It is to inform the pilot. Every weather report is conducted to that end. The pilot has the sole responsibility for bringing his aircraft down and taking the decision relevant to that fact. The first question to ask here is, What did the pilot know according to the evidence we have? He knew at least 40 minutes before he was preparing to make his approach that the weather was not only bad but deteriorating. At 10.36 he knew that the ceiling was completely overclouded—ten-tenths cloud at 700 feet—and that there was a little cloud below that at 500 feet, and that visibility was deteriorating. That is in the Report.
What did that mean? It meant that 40 minutes before he reached the aerodrome he knew that the ceiling was already at the limit below which he was not allowed to circle the airport. He must immediately have known that the weather was very bad and adopted an exceedingly cautious attitude because of the special instructions given to him. That was his state of mind 40 minutes before he got to the airport. Then at six minutes 2158 past 11 a further report is broadcast—and I am going to say something about this particular report in a minute—which showed a very marked deterioration in the weather, by much the greatest deterioration that occurred during that whole night. We see that there was still complete overclouding at 700 feet, and, instead of only a little cloud at 500 feet, there was four-tenths as low as 300 feet. That was a really marked deterioration of the weather. The statement that the weather and visibility were deteriorating was made on that broadcast, and, of course, if the pilot received that report one would have thought that his attitude of caution would not only have been redoubled but that he would have decided to go back.
It is possible that he did not receive that broadcast. The Attorney-General suggested that no such possibility is raised in the Report. If he will look at paragraph 101, I think he will find, in brackets, that it is said:assuming this report was intercepted.It is just possible that it was not intercepted. What happens when an aircraft is approaching an aerodrome at night in bad weather is that all the five members of the crew who have earphones put them on and tune in to the frequency which is in contact with the control tower. This broadcast went out over another frequency, and if, in fact, it was not received—and this was not brought out in the Report—whose responsibility was it? There is a vital broadcast, part of an internationally agreed system, with which are synchronised all the telephoned communications about weather. If that broadcast was not received by the pilot, who was responsible? Only the drill of that airline can be responsible for the failure to receive the half-hour broadcasts on this internationally agreed system.
It is suggested in the Report that the broadcast might not have been received, but there is no suggestion that if it was not the fault lay with the airline, where, of course, it must lie. Even if that report was not received, what was the next report on the weather? Two minutes later this pilot received all the relevant facts given two minutes before on the radio telephone. He was told that clouds were at ten-tenths at 700 feet; he was told in the last half hour that the lower clouds were not now at 500 feet, but at 2159 300 feet, and that the density had gone from one-tenth to four-tenths. Here to my mind, is where the gravest omission in this Report occurs.
It is suggested that although the pilot was given these facts, just because the purely confirmatory word "deteriorating" was not transmitted to him, he might conceivably not have understood their relevance, and might have taken some decision which he would not have taken had that word been uttered over the telephone. What has apparently entirely escaped the notice of those who read this Report is that the pilot has shown that he did understand that the weather had deteriorated and that he took action on that information. What in fact happened was that at three minutes past 11 he announced his decision to land visually on runway 26. He could only have done that knowing that there was very little low cloud below 700 feet which at that time was true. Then at eight minutes past 11 he is told that the cloud has gone down to 300 feet and is now four-tenths.
I have asked pilots of great experience what they would do if they got information that clouds at 300 feet were four-tenths—would they under any circumstances contemplate a visual landing? They have unanimously said, "Not under any circumstances, unless I had two engines out of order." Obviously Captain Parmentier took exactly the same view because, after receiving that report, he changed his mind and at 16 minutes past 11 he said, "I will not land on runway 26 visually"—obviously because he realised that he could not do a visual circuit with clouds at four-tenths—"I will land on runway 32."
Nowhere in this Report is it mentioned that he changed his mind, not once in the air on his downward approach, but twice, and that he changed his mind after this information had been given to him over the radio telephone. It is therefore perfectly obvious that the omission of the word "deteriorating" from that report made not the smallest difference to Captain Parmentier's reactions, because he took the action which an experienced pilot would have to take on receiving that information. He thereby showed that the information he received over the telephone was absolutely adequate, that he understood that the weather had 2160 deteriorated and that it was not safe for him to do a visual circuit with clouds at four-tenths at 300 feet.
§ Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)
This is a most interesting argument but is not the evidence of the radio-telephone conversations, as shown on page 21, that the pilot changed his mind because he received the following message from the G.C.A. director at Prestwick:I would advise you the wind is S.W. 12 to 15 m.p.h. You may land on runway 32 and if you find wind too strong you may land on runway 26.In response, at that point the pilot said:Roger; we will attempt to land on 32.
§ Mr. Crawley
He, in fact, changed his mind but it was not the direction of the wind which made him change his mind. What else could have made him change his mind? He had announced his intention of landing visually on runway 26. The information which the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) has just quoted could have had no effect on that. Why should it have had an effect? Certainly the G.C.A. director said to him, "You may land on runway 32," but he had known right from the beginning that he could have landed there, for the director told him that his apparatus was set up on runway 32 which, of course, meant that he could land there. Yet, even with that knowledge, he said, "I will land on runway 26." Then, for some reason which is certainly not apparent from the information which the hon. Member for Keighley quoted, because the wind had no effect on the position whatever, he changed his mind; and it is obvious that the only reason such a pilot would change his mind was that he knew there were four-tenths cloud. Every other pilot would agree that at night that is a condition in which nobody would do a visual circuit unless he was forced to do so by some engine failure or something of that kind.
This therefore, is the first point I want to drive home. This contention in the Report, which also ran through the whole of the Opposition's case, that the non-transmission of this word, "deteriorating" could have had a decisive effect upon Captain Parmentier's action, is wholly ruled out by the evidence which is in the Report, but to which the chairman of this tribunal never saw fit to call attention. Either he did not understand its significance or he ignored it. I consider that 2161 omission alone so gravely prejudices this Report, since it completely invalidates one of the main suggested causes of the accident, that the Minister's action in intervening was not merely essential but was a public service.
There are, in fact, other matters which I think are equally grave. The second set of circumstances has to do with the way in which these weather reports were reported. I want to refer hon. Members to paragraph 102 of the Report. I maintain that in paragraph 102 of this Report, as it stands, and in paragraph 105 in the next column, there are at least two complete misstatement of fact. If hon. Members look half-way down paragraph 102 they will see that it reads:He suggested that there must have been some arrangement made between Approach Control and the Meteorological Officer (Prestwick) before he went to Prestwick whereby such information was not given in plain language. There was no evidence of any such arrangement ever having been made.But the fact is that we now discover that there is such evidence, that there are at least three documents which show that there has been such an arrangement. The question which I want to ask of the House, and indeed of the man who conducted the inquiry, is: why did he, whose responsibility it was to probe to the bottom of these affairs, whose duty it was to elicit the facts, not elicit the fact that there were at least three documents which establish that such an arrangement had been made, even before 26th October, and had been in operation for several years?
And why did not he probe to the bottom of the whole international agreement which is laid down in a document the number of which I have forgotten for the moment—it is a K.L. document which hon. Members can get; number 2106 issued in 1946—which confirmed the arrangement which had been reached? Yet the Report says there was no evidence of it at this aerodrome. Why did he not, further, get hold of the papers of the regional officer, who endorsed the P.I.C.A.O., the international agreement for the air, and, further, a letter from the divisional controller to the officers, which I obtained simply by making inquiries and which, in fact, showed that these arrangements had been put into force?
All this evidence is now available; all this evidence was available at the time of 2162 the inquiry. Hon. Members may say: why did not the Government representatives produce it? I think some criticism may lie there. But it is not the people who are giving evidence for one party or another who have the whole view of any inquiry. It is not those people who are always certain to put the same emphasis on any one set of facts or another, or who know at any particular time the relevance of the documents which they have behind them. There may be criticism lying on some of the people who represented the Minister in this case in that all these facts were not produced, but surely, if that is so, far greater criticism lies at the door of the man who was conducting the factfinding inquiry—an inquiry the whole object of which was to probe to the bottom of these things.
What did he do? He took the word, that there was no evidence, of two men—yet under no circumstances could it have been their business to find out the origin of all these instructions; two men who were following a normal procedure laid down, as they knew, by higher authority but on whose part it would have been impertinence to inquire what was the origin of that authority. He heard this evidence that there had been such an arrangement and that they were following such procedure, but because they themselves, men operational on the ground, could not tell him of the authority for that procedure, he assumed that no such authority existed. He said there was no evidence that such an arrangement had been made.
Never in my life have I read such a fantastic assertion from a qualified lawyer carrying out a fact-finding inquiry. Surely elementary inquisitiveness would have suggested to him that he should probe a little further behind the arrangement followed at international aerodromes for three years, which arrangement was being followed at every other airport at that time. In my view it amounts to a dereliction of duty in this case.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
The hon. Member has quoted documents which he says on the face of them tend to show that the Report was wrong, but he will recollect, if he was in the House at the time, that in answer to one of my right hon. Friends and in answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. 2163 Davies) the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation said that the Minister did not rely on anything that was not set out in the Report and in the evidence. Does not the hon. Member think it a little unfair to quote these outside documents when that statement has been made by the Parliamentary Secretary?
§ Mr. Crawley
I am quoting from no document which was not publicly known at the time of this inquiry, and the Minister was relying on no document which was not public property at the time of the inquiry, and the question of who should bring the relevance of these documents to the notice of the man who was chairman of the court is not a point I intend to make. What I am saying is that, in fact, this man's duty was to elicit these facts, and as these facts were known to every aerodrome in this country and known internationally to every airline, it is a public scandal that this man did not probe this inquiry to a sufficient depth to find them out. I think that that is absolutely incontrovertible.
There is a third set of facts about which I think there were equally grave omissions and equally grave misrepresentations, and those facts have to do with the charts. I shall make only one point about the charts and then I shall sit down. There are some very grave omissions in relation to the charts. An argument has been adduced from those charts to show that there might have been, by some means, responsibility lying at the door of those who produced them, for the accident, in that they might have misled the pilot. What was not brought out at the trial—but was contained in page 139 of the evidence—was that even though on the chart this false spot height was printed, two neighbouring heights only a few yards away, of 585 feet in the one case and the other a slightly less height, were both printed. It is, therefore, quite incontestable that no pilot in any circumstances, even on that false spot height, would have gone anywhere near that piece of ground at all. That fact was elucidated in evidence from two very prominent members of K.L.M., and in spite of that, it was adduced as a possible cause of the accident. It seems to me a very strange process of reasoning.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)
I am sure that all Members of this House are very sorry that so few Members from the back benches on either side have been able to take part in this Debate. However, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) certainly crowded a number of wild accusations into a short space of time. I shall not deal with them all now [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—because even more serious charges were made earlier in the Debate to which I should like to give some considered answer. However, in reference to the three documents which the hon. Gentleman spoke of and which he said the president of the court should have had brought to his attention, we understood that there was an advocate representing—as we thought—the Minister of Civil Aviation and, as we were told today, appearing in the public interest. If, in fact, Mr. Leslie was briefed to look after the public interest this then, surely, is exactly the field in which his advocacy might have been employed.
§ Mr. Crawley
Does the hon. Gentleman then suggest that that absolves the chairman of the court for not probing the facts further?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Yes, I would go so far as to say it does. I would go even further. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) reminds me, one would always assume that the Crown would produce its own evidence, and certainly if the report was published without that information which is now available, that is a matter which is the fault of those who should have produced it. This only shows the danger of re-trying the case across the Floor of the House of Commons. There was the tribunal. Its findings have been overruled. That is the gravamen of our charge. [Interruption] If hon. Gentlemen will interrupt me the only effect will be that there will be less time left for the Parliamentary Secretary to answer, because agreements have been arrived at in the usual way between the two parties.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Like the statements in the Report of the court of inquiry, it 2165 is a statement of fact and it should not be arguable.
The Attorney-General told us that it might be right to alter the procedure at future investigations, but he made this extraordinary subsequent statement, that he was not prepared to do that while there was still this agitation about the Prestwick disaster. He told us it may be necessary to alter the procedure. He also said that in his considered view—and he was representing the public interest—he is not prepared apparently at this moment to advocate those changes in procedure, which the vast majority of informed people believe to be desirable.
§ The Attorney-General
I am sorry, but I said almost the opposite. I said that we had been considering alterations in the procedure, that we have had a discussion quite recently, and since the matter had arisen, with the Lord Chancellor, to discuss concrete proposals, but that I thought that we had got to get the Prestwick case out of the way so as to make it quite clear that those alterations in procedure were not discussed by us as a peg on which to hang criticism of the Minister of Civil Aviation.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Except that that is put in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's own particular brand of language, the point is precisely the same. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also introduced a very subtle new phrase into his speech. Hitherto we have talked about tribunals of this kind as being "judicial inquiries." He referred more than once to an "administrative inquiry," and everything he said throughout his speech was calculated to reduce the value of inquiries of this kind and to denigrate such inquiries.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman jeered also at the Opposition for not having had a Debate earlier on the Newton Report. If it had not been for the Opposition the Newton Report would never have been published. We did, in fact, have two Adjournment Debates, one before the Newton Committee was set up, and one after it had reported, but before, in fact, its report had been published. But if the right hon. and learned Gentleman will cast his mind back to the actual weeks in which Mr. Newton's Committee's Report was published, he will realise that it was 2166 within a few days of the Prestwick disaster. The accident happened in October, 1948, and Mr. McDonald's inquiry was instituted in November, 1948: and in the same month the Newton Committee reported. It would have been a singularly inappropriate thing, while that inquiry was taking place, to have had a full dress Debate on our accidents procedure.
We charge, too, against the Government that they tried not to publish the Report, and that now that it has been published they are refusing to carry out its recommendations.
Reports may contain facts or recommendations for the Minister to carry out. The Attorney-General asked, for example, if the Report said that the lighting at Prestwick was very faulty, and yet the Minister thought that certain lighting might be absolutely essential.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
This would be the hypothetical recommendation. Certainly, of course. I was speaking in the memory of hon. Members of the House, and I thought it was clearly understood that, if the lighting had been the main cause, or a contributory cause, of the disaster, the question was. if the Minister did not think this was so, would he have an obligation to alter the whole lighting system? Of course not. That would have been a recommendation for Ministerial action, and in that field the Minister, of course, must be free to do what he thinks is desirable. But what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is now saying is that, when there has been an impartial inquiry into the facts, the Minister, who has had his chance to put his views before the inquiry, shall be allowed to say that the interpretation of fact is wrong.
Now the right hon. and learned Gentleman also told us—I am sorry to be so quick in my speech, but I am trying to give a chance to the Parliamentary Secretary—that there should be the same system of messages, whether WT or Rt. throughout the whole civilised world. Now, of course, we agree on certain essential signals with all other countries and that they must in every case be observed. But we do not agree that in a sudden emergency, because of that inter- 2167 national agreement, at any British or any other airport they are precluded from giving further information if the weather suddenly deteriorates.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I cannot give way any more. This would make us slaves to routine to an extent that would be perfectly ridiculous. I shall come a little later to a further argument in that field, but I shall try to deal in a few words with an argument used by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The Attorney-General also dealt with the apology made by the Minister of Civil Aviation in another place. Indeed, had the Minister made his statement in another place for the first time and on the first occasion, it is quite true that some—but by no means all—of our main criticisms would not have arisen.
I am glad that only one or two hon. Members—particularly the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington) tried to paint this Debate as a heresy hunt. The Minister of Civil Aviation has many friends on both sides of this House and in another place, and no personal venom against him can possibly be suggested. It is not likely, I think, that we would attempt to carry out a campaign for his removal from the Government for trifling or personal reasons while so many less respectable colleagues are allowed to stay in the Government undisturbed. The only reason for suggesting any such thing would be in the interests of the Minister himself. But this suggestion for our action has not, I think, been made. Nor—and I hope I need hardly add this—as the interests of a foreign Power are involved and 40 important lives have been lost, are we likely to initiate discussions for frivolous reasons.
This is to many of us a matter of immense constitutional importance, and it cannot be disposed of by the Minister recognising that he made an error in procedure. The Minister has chosen, without any further evidence whatever, to upset the findings of the tribunal. It has never been more necessary than it is today that the judiciary, and the quasi-judiciary, should be protected against the encroachments of the Executive. I must say, I 2168 have been very disturbed by the arguments that have been used in both Houses to support the Minister's action, and in particular by those people in and out of Parliament who have tried to paint this argument as if it were a case of Lord Pakenham against Mr. McDonald. The Minister himself in another place was not guiltless of that charge, in using such phrases as "Mr. McDonald's case," "The case pleaded by Mr. McDonald," and "Why should Mr. McDonald not have the services of a great advocate?"
All these attempts to turn the issue as if it were a personal one between two important people are wholly undesirable, and the suggestion that the battle is between a Minister, whose generosity of spirit we all understand and appreciate, who is trying to protect his subordinates, and the president of a court who is prepared to allow people to have "a shadow-over them for the rest of their lives" is grossly unfair, particularly when the president of the court only arrives, no doubt, with the greatest reluctance at his findings, moved solely by his own sense of duty. Mr. McDonald, I imagine, did no more than follow the advice given him by counsel—the counsel that we have been talking about today, Mr. Leslie—to follow wheresoever the arguments may lead. That is what he did, and if fresh arguments or a new appreciation of old arguments are brought up in this House, they should have been brought up at that tribunal.
Now it was said freely in another place that under our generally accepted views of Ministerial responsibility the Minister should vacate his office, and I must say, on a reading of British history, that there is a great deal of sense in that argument. He is interpreting his conception of Ministerial responsibility as the obligation to protect, on every occasion, his own servants. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] What Ministerial responsibility means is that if one's own servants are censured, then the Minister is responsible. Sir Austen Chamberlain said in 1917:My responsibility is sole and undivided in some matters where the commission have administered rebukes,on his Department. Because of that the right hon. Gentleman left.
The second charge that we should make in that field is that, once having 2169 made the original error, the Minister's handling of this case has not been very felicitous. Now of those peers who came to his aid in another place there is only one to whose speech I should like to make brief reference, and that is the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crook. I am sure that he and everyone else would be glad to have his most misleading statement put right. This inquiry deals with the lamentable loss of a K.L.M. airliner. Lord Crook, in dealing with navigational aids—actually maps—said in another place that K.L.M. also owned the airliner that crashed at Oslo with a large party of Jewish children on board. In fact that airliner did not belong to K.L.M., and I very much hope the noble Lord will find it possible to correct that impression at an early date, in regard to the Dutch Government, the Dutch people and this most distinguished Dutch airline.
Various arguments of all kinds have been advanced as to the reaction of the people of Holland. I have taken a good deal of trouble to find out what their reactions have been, and my impression is that, after their first surprise that a Minister could over-rule a quasi-judicial inquiry, they came to the view that this was a matter for Great Britain to settle, and the comment in the Dutch Press has, with trifling exceptions, been generous and understanding to a country in difficulty. This is what we would expect from the Dutch people. But that does not exonerate us from our obligation to see that charges hinted at, but never proved in the tribunal, must not be made against distinguished citizens of that country.
Now, I will not go into great detail about the actual cause of this disaster. I have already said that I think it lamentable that this should be discussed—
§ The Attorney-General
Would the hon. Gentleman say what he means by that last statement? As far as I know—and I hope he will correct me if I am wrong—no kind of charge has been made against distinguished citizens of that country. The tribunal had to investigate what was the cause of this accident, and it may have been thought by some that possibly the pilot was negligent. That cannot be excluded. But I take this opportunity of paying the highest tribute to that most distinguished public citizen, 2170 Dr. Plesman, who is the head of K.L.M. I know from many contacts with him what a great public figure he is, and I absolutely repudiate the suggestion that either indirectly or directly any charges had been made against anybody.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The learned Attorney-General must have been so busy talking with his right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that he did not hear his hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr." Crawley) suggest as one possible reason a failure of the drill among the five Dutch members of the crew who should have picked up, or could have picked up, a particular message.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I think it desirable to remind the Attorney-General, and then I will certainly give way, that the gentleman whom the Minister appointed to be the president of the court of inquiry himself said that the effect of the Minister's statement issued simultaneously with the report of the inquiry, was to put the blame upon the dead Dutch pilot.
§ The Attorney-General
I thought the hon. Gentleman said that charges had been made indirectly at the tribunal against distinguished Dutch citizens. I could not understand what he was referring to. Surely he is not suggesting that at a public inquiry of this kind one is precluded from suggesting that there may have been fault on the part of the pilot, or possibly fault in the drill on the part of the crew, because they happened to be citizens of a foreign country? If so, these inquiries would become a complete farce. I am bound to say that that is not the view that Dr. Plesman has taken in his public statement, when he held a Press conference about this inquiry. No kind of charges were made, but there was a duty to investigate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give way, and I wanted to repudiate the suggestion that charges were made. There was a duty to investigate the cause. That may have resulted in it being thought possible that somebody made a mistake, but that does not involve a charge against a distinguished citizen of a foreign country.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Although I mentioned the name of the hon. Member for Buckingham, the Attorney-General is 2171 entitled to answer. Before he quite finishes with that point, I would say that, of course the most brutal truths must be told at inquiries, however much they may wound foreign or British citizens. Our charge is that once the tribunal had reported on a question of fact the Government's mouth should have been closed. That is the whole issue which we feel is in dispute. I only quoted in aid the very significant remark made by the hon. Gentleman that it may have been failure of drill on the part of the crew. That shows the undesirability away from a court of law or without the right to cross-examine witness or to have all the relevant witnesses, of retrying again this most unhappy issue.
§ Mr. Crawley
I did not say that it was a failure on the part of the crew. I said that it might have been faulty drill, and, therefore, a responsibility of the air line. That is a very different thing.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I will leave the House to judge on that particular issue. I said that I did not think it profitable to retry this case. There was an obvious obligation on another place to see whether the Minister had any possible justification for the line that he took. Had there been no evidence at all or so little evidence in the report as to justify the findings against it, it was essential to illicit that fact in another place. The Debate that took place on the first occasion with the Minister present on the actual incidents up to the time of the disaster was an entirely proper one. I do not think that anybody reading that Debate or still less those who heard it would deny that one result in most of our minds was that there was certainly a volume of evidence on which the President was entitled to make up his mind in the way that he did. He chose to make it up in that way, and we think that he was right. Having made up his mind in that way, we do not think the Government should have challenged him.
I am reluctant to be drawn into details, but there is one most important fact which must, I think, be considered. The Attorney-General has relied on the same arguments that were used in another place by his noble Friend, suggesting in fact—I do not want to be interrupted because I think the general impression is 2172 true—that the President of the Court did not suggest that he was attributing any individual failure to anyone after 11.8. A careful reading of the report and the evidence—and the hon. Gentleman is not the only one to do both—shows that the omission of the words "deteriorating" and "deterioration" referred to in paragraph 173 of the report relates to all verbal radio messages sent to the aircraft from 10.36 until the time of the collision at 11.32. There are many paragraphs that would justify this view. On another occasion, if chance allows, I will quote them.
There is the reference in the noble Lord's speech to "at or just after 2300 hours" in paragraph 102, and the noble Lord left out the first part of the sentence. This reference applies not to the time when the A.T.C.O. failed to inform the aircraft, but to the time when form 2309 reached A.T.C.O. from the meteorological office. It is our view that from that time up to the time of the disaster there was a continuing obligation on ground staff to keep the pilot fully informed en clair of changes in the weather. That was the view to which Mr. McDonald came, and he did so after being in a position to cross-examine in detail and hear the cross-examination by advocates of the ground staff at Prestwick.
It is with the future that we are concerned. We are concerned about what lessons we are to learn from the handling of this inquiry. We have had very little information as to what the Government are going to do. We know that the Newton Report criticises the Minister being the judge in his own case. We know that the Minister is bound to be more and more involved as long as nationalisation goes on as an interested party in accidents to aircraft in the United Kingdom. He also issues the regulations in regard to air safety, and he has the individual obligation of the provision of aerodromes and ground organisations. We agree with the Newton Report that it is wholly undesirable that a Minister so involved as he is bound to be should be entitled to sit in judgment on himself, and we broadly support the general approach of the Newton inquiry.
It is of interest to realise that in Holland they have very similar machinery. There they have a Tribunal, the officers 2173 of which are appointed by the Crown, and which acts wholly independently of the Government of the day. The Minister, the Attorney-General told us, quoted from the noble Lord's own words in the preface to the Newton Report that he could not accept the report because the Minister here has a statutory and international responsibility for air safety in general, of which the proper investigations of air accidents is an important part, and he cannot divest himself of this responsibility.
The same is precisely true in Holland. There the Air Ministry has a proper international and statutory responsibility for air safety. All that we are asking the Minister to do is not to divest himself of his proper responsibility but of his improper responsibility of being the judge in his own case. It has always been objectionable. Since nationalisation and since the Donoughmore report it is far more objectionable, and, indeed, from the international point of view, very embarrassing.
We have an opportunity to reform our whole procedure. We can take inspiration from the way it is done in Holland. Our own air pilots are nearly unanimous on the need for revision of procedure. It may be that from this tragic disaster will come some lessons which will in the future help civil aviation and the honour of Britain.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Mr. Lindgren)
I suppose that as the last speaker in this Debate I am in the worst position of all, because I have so much to say and so little time in which to say it. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)—if I may deal with his point first—has completely destroyed the case which he tried to establish. He suggested that what happened at 11.8 was a vital matter. Lord Simon suggested that 11.30 was the vital time.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I said that the important time was 10.36 when the last verbal messages recording "deterioration" were received R.T. From that moment, it was the obligation of the ground staff, right up to the time of the disaster, to give R.T. variations in the weather. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman and the Minister in another place tried to pretend 2174 that 11.8 was the important moment, but our view was that for an hour before the disaster there was a continuing obligation to keep the pilot informed of deterioration in the weather.
§ Mr. Lindgren
That shows the absolutely farcical manner in which this matter is being discussed. It would seem that the hon. Gentleman has not read a single word of the report or a single word of the evidence, because for a large portion of the time he is talking about, the aircraft was in fact in contact with the ground and with G.C.A. It is not a question of the word "deteriorating." So far as the aircraft was concerned, at 11.6 it had the word "deteriorating." At 11.8 it had what the pilot of the aircraft asked for himself—a weather report given in the form used at every aerodrome throughout this and other countries which recognise international standards and recommendations.,
It is the recognised procedure, if a pilot requires any further information, for him to interrupt at any time and to ask for it, and it must be given. In addition, there was a representative of K.L.M. in the control tower, a person who, according to the procedure, has a right to intervene at any time and ask that any special information should be passed to the pilot. He was there to see that the procedure was carried out in accordance with the requirements.
I hardly know where to start in replying to the Debate, but I should like to express my appreciation of its general tone and terms, particularly in regard to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey). If only all the speeches could have been of that type, a great deal more could be said for the Debate. I do not want to inflame any feelings. I pay my tribute to Members opposite who are interested in civil aviation. They have done everything possible during my period at the Ministry, and also, I think, during my predecessor's period of office, to bring our air safety to a position that is generally accepted as the best in the world. This has been done on a nonparty basis, and I now ask the Opposition whether they cannot withdraw the Motion so that we can carry on what we have been doing ever since the findings of the Newton Committee, whose find- 2175 ings we accepted in part and rejected in part. Discussions have been going on between the Treasury Solicitor, my noble Friend and all those concerned to see how we can improve this machinery. The machinery is not perfect. It is obvious it cannot be perfect, as this is a new industry. We are not dealing with the machinery on the basis of railway and marine inquiries. I ask, therefore, that we should deal with the position in another way.
Reference was made by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), who made a crack at the Government, to the fact that he had been in three smashes. I do not know whether he expects us to express our regret or pleasure. I am not sure whether he was present when the position of the Crown Agent was discussed.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Then the hon. Member knows the position in regard to that. The counsel himself said; it is perhaps as well to have it on record:As you have read, the purpose of the inquiry is to ascertain the cause and circumstances of the accident. My duty, as I conceive it, is not concerned whatever with questions in law of civil or other liability, but simply to endeavour to adduce before you fully, by oral evidence and by documents, the whole of the facts so that you may be in a position to follow wheresoever the arguments lead.That is an entirely different situation from that alleged, that the Crown Agent was there purely in defence of members of the staff of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. It was Mr. H. S. Wilson, who, according to page 33 of the Report, was the advocate on behalf of the members of the staff of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley), in a thoughtful speech, showed one of the difficulties in this matter.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
Since the Parliamentary Secretary has referred to me on this question of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Leslie, is he suggesting that Mr. Wilson could not have adopted the same words as Mr. Leslie?
§ Mr. Lindgren
Mr. Leslie, instructed by the Crown Agent, was there to represent the public interest, and Mr. Wilson was there to represent the interests of certain members of the staff who felt they might come under criticism.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I do not know. 1 am not a lawyer, and after hearing the way some of them talk, I am glad I am not. The tragic thing is that after the pilot made his decision at 11.16 to go on to runway 32, no one really knows exactly what happened.
What we need is a machinery for these accident inquiries in which everyone has confidence, pilots, the travelling public and all those associated with civil air-line operations. We need a machinery that will be accepted by every one of those interests. I ask the House to accept it from me, on behalf of my noble Friend and on behalf of the Government, that we are as urgently concerned as any one with the type of machinery established. We have had long discussions on the matter, and we have not moved quicker because we have had to consider the effect of the machinery once it has been established. I would urge acceptance of the proposition made earlier, that this Motion should not be pressed.
Before I conclude, I must make one reference to Mr. McDonald. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) asked me a supplementary question yesterday, in reply to which I said that the president of the court had received 20 guineas per day while the court was sitting and 20 guineas for his report. Mr. McDonald, through the usual channels, has called my attention to the fact that he has not received the fee. That was the agreed fee, but it has not been paid, and if I have caused Mr. McDonald any inconvenience by saying that he has received it, I apologise.
There are many other points with which I should like to deal, but time is short. I ask Members not to press this Motion to a Division, to show that, for everyone associated with civil aviation, there is no question of party in regard to safety, and to join with us to see that 2177 we establish the machinery we deserve. I affirm again that we will accept any suggestions and work in co-operation With any interested parties to establish that.
§ "That, in view of the treatment of the Report made by the independent tribunal appointed to investigate the accident at Prestwick Airport on 20th October, 1948, this House2178
§ considers that provision should be made for a Report on the facts and causes of such accidents to be made by a statutory court, whose conclusions should be accepted as final save so far as provision is made for appeal or rehearing, in order that confidence here and abroad in the conclusions arrived at after hearing evidence may be more firmly established."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 111; Noes, 246.2179
|Division No. 300.]||AYES||[7.50 pan.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Pickthorn, K.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Poole, O. B. S (Oswestry)|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Head, Brig. A. H.||Price-White, D.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Birch, Nigel||Hollis, M. C.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Hope, Lord J.||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Boothby, R.||Howard, Hon. A.||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Bower, N.||Hurd, A.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Jennings, R.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G T.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Legga-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Carson, E.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Linstead, H. N.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Crosthwarte-Eyre, Col. O. E.||MacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|De la Bé re, R.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Donner, P. W.||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Drewe, C.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Touche, G. C.|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Maude, J. C.||Turton, R. H.|
|Eccles, D. M.||Medlicott, Brigadier F.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||Mellor, Sir J.||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Molson, A. H. E.||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Morris-Jones, Sir H.||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Gage, C.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||York, C.|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||Nicholson, G.||Young, Sir A. S. L (Partick)|
|Glyn, Sir R.||Nield, B. (Chester)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Gridley, Sir A.||Nutting, Anthony||Major Conant and|
|Grimston, R. V.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Colonel Wheatley.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Brown, George (Belper)||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Deer, G.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Burden, T. W.||de Freitas, Geoffrey|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Delargy, H. J.|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Callaghan, James||Diamond, J.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Chafer, D.||Dobbie, W.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Dodds, N. N.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Cluse, W. S.||Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Bartlett, V.||Cobb, F. A.||Dumpleton, C. W.|
|Barton, C.||Collins, V. J.||Dye, S.|
|Battley, J. R.||Colman, Miss G. M.||Edwards, John (Blackburn)|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Cooper, G.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)|
|Berry, H.||Corlett, Dr. J.||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)|
|Beswick, F||Cove, W G.||Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A (Ebbw Vale)||Crawley, A.||Ewart, R.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Farthing, W. J.|
|Binns, J.||Cullen, Mrs.||Fernyhough, E.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Daggar, G.||Field, Capt. W. J.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Daines, P.||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Follick, M.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Forman, J. C.|
|Bramall, E. A.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Freeman, J. (Watford)|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Ganley, Mrs C. S.|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mann, Mrs. J.||Sargood, R,|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Manning, C (Camberwell, N.)||Scott-Elliot, W.|
|Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Segal, Dr. S.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Greenwood, A W. J. (Heywood)||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Sharp, Granville|
|Grey, C. F.||Mellish, R. J.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Lianelly)||Messer, F.||Shurmer, P.|
|Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Millington, Wing-Comdr E. R.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Gunter, R J.||Mitchison, G. R.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Guy, W. H.||Monslow, W.||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.|
|Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Hale, Leslie||Morley, R.||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Hardman, D. R.||Moyle, A.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Hardy, E. A.||Murray, J. D.||Snow, J. W.|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Nally, W.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Haworth, J.||Naylor, T. E.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Hobson, C. R.||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Strauss, Rt. Hon. G R (Lambeth)|
|Holman, P.||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Stubbs, A. E.|
|Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Noel-Buxton, Lady||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Houghton, Douglas||O'Brien, T.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Hoy, J.||Oldfield, W. H.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Oliver, G. H.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Orbach, M.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Paget, R. T.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Paling, 'Will T. (Dewsbury)||Tiffany, S.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Palmer, A. M. F.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Irving, W. J (Tottenham, N.)||Pannell, T. C.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Pargiter, G A||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Janner, B.||Parkin, B. T.||Viant, S. P.|
|day, D. P. T.||Paton, J. (Norwich)||Walker, G. H.|
|Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Pearson, A.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Jones, J. H. (Bolton)||Peart, T. F.||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Jones, P. Aslerley (Hitchin)||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Kenyon, C.||Popplewell, E.||West, D. G.|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|King, E. M.||Porter, G. (Leeds)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Kinley, J.||Proctor, W. T.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Kirby, B. V.||Pryde, D. J.||Wigg, George|
|Leonard, W.||Pursey, Comdr H.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Randall, H. E.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Lewis, J. (Bolton)||Ranger, J.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Rankin, J.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Rees-Williams, D. R.||Wills, Mrs E. A.|
|Longden, F.||Reeves, J.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H.|
|McAdam, W.||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Richards, R.||Woods, G. S.|
|McGhee, H. G.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.||Wyatt, W.|
|McGovern, J.||Robens, A.||Yates, V. F.|
|McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|McKinlay, A. S.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Rogers, G. H. R.|
|Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Royle, C.||Mr. Collindridge and Mr. Hannan.|
Question put, and agreed to.