§ Mr. George Wigg
(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he will make a statement about the York aircraft carrying troops and their families which crashed at Stansted on Monday, 30th April, 1956.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Nigel Birch)
Yesterday morning a York aircraft, operated by Scottish Air Lines, crashed on take off from Stansted airfield. The aircraft which was on charter to the Air Ministry, was bound for Habbaniya and was due to call at Malta. In addition to the crew of five, it carried nineteen R.A.F. officers and airmen, and twenty-six civilians, all but one of whom were members of Service families. There were also four babies.
The aircraft did not catch fire and all but six of the occupants succeeded in getting clear immediately. Two airmen, two women and two children seated near the forward bulkhead were, however, trapped by the collapse of the centre section of the fuselage. When they were eventually freed one airman and one child were found to be dead. The other airman and the two women were injured and are at present in hospital.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has decided that a public inquiry shall be held to investigate the accident. I have decided that in all the circumstances the use of York aircraft for troop-carrying flights shall be suspended pending inquiries.
The House will join with me in expressing sympathy with the relatives of those who have lost their lives and with the injured.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will associate themselves with the expression of sympathy to the relatives of those who lost their lives. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his reply is satisfactory in that he has conceded a public inquiry, but does he also realise that it does not go far enough? The trouble here is that the Government—and I think the War Office in particular—are engaged in rate cutting, which forces the companies to use these obsolescent aircraft. Would he therefore consider some form of inquiry—a Select Committee perhaps—into the contract-fixing procedure and the rates which are 209 being charged for these very old aircraft? Surely the Government must realise that as they are committed to the rapid movement of troops all over the world, and as that involves carrying considerable numbers of troops and their families, it is absolutely esential, in their interests and in the national interest, that the aircraft used should be up to date and thoroughly reliable.
§ Mr. Birch
Of course, it is my Ministry and not the War Office which is responsible for letting these contracts. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the first consideration should be safety. There are two checks on that. There is the certificate of airworthiness issued by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, and a double check in that the R.A.F. Transport Command carries out in-flight inspections and, by that means, ought to be able to ensure that these aircraft are safe.
§ Mr. de Freitas
Will the Minister now tell us that the Government will reverse their policy of preventing—in fact forbidding—B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.C. tendering against these private firms, and will allow the experience and efficiency of the nationalised airlines to come forward in this important job of air trooping?
§ Mr. Lindgren
The right hon. Gentleman has made a statement which, although I know he did not mean it to be, was entirely inaccurate. B.O.A.C., when operating Yorks in 1946 and 1947, because civil airline operators thought it unsafe to use them at Luqa airport in Malta, changed over to Tripoli rather than use Luqa, yet the right hon. Gentleman said that even after the previous York disaster this aircraft was still going to its destination via Malta. Is not that most unsatisfactory?
§ Mr. Callaghan
Might I ask whether the Minister will not open his mind a little on the subject? Does he not realize 210 that there is some anxiety about the state of affairs in which certain aircraft companies are excluded from tendering for contracts, with the result that the field in which he is operating is limited, and with the possible result that he may not be getting the best aircraft at the right rates? As there is public anxiety about this—which is not confined to any particular section or ideology, or even section of the House—will he not now consider whether it might not be in his own interests, as well as in the interests of the whole country, to reconsider the question of contracts and of excluding firms from applying for contracts, ensuring that there is no rate cutting in a business in which safety is priority No. 1?
§ Mr. Birch
As I have said, safety is the first consideration. I quite recognise that there is public anxiety, and that is why I have said that, pending the results of these inquiries, trooping by Yorks will be suspended, but I think that the House will recognise that the safety record of this trooping by chartered companies over the last few years has been extremely good.
Mr. K. Morrison
Can the Minister, without committing himself as to what action will result, give an undertaking to the House that the present policy of the Government of some discrimination against the public Corporations in this class of traffic will at any rate be reexamined, and that he will make a statement to the House in due course?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. As there is to be an inquiry we had better await the result of that inquiry. If there is to be a debate, that ought to be arranged at some time other than Question Time. We should do it properly.
§ Mr. de Freitas
On that point, Mr. Speaker, may I say that on this side of the House we are most dissatisfied with the way in which the Government are handling this trooping and will seek time for a debate?