HC Deb 18 April 1967 vol 745 cc304-5
Mr. Pym

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the crash of a Canberra bomber at Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire, yesterday.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

Shortly after four o'clock yesterday afternoon after a Canberra from the Operational Conversion Unit at the R.A.F. Station, Bassingbourn, crashed at Steeple Morden, near Royston, about three miles from the airfield. It fell on a private home which, I regret, received extensive damage.

The aircraft was on a training flight and had just completed a normal practice instrument approach in good weather and, in accordance with briefed instructions, had immediately taken off again. It climbed ahead normally to a height of about 300 feet and from this point the accident occurred. No distress signals were received from the aircraft.

A Board of Inquiry assembled last night.

All three R.A.F. members of the crew lost their lives. There were no civilian casualties.

I know that the House will join with me in expressing our deep sympathy with the bereaved.

Mr. Pym

The whole House will associate itself with the Minister's expressions of sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives and for the Royal Air Force.

Will the Minister ask the members of the inquiry to consider to what extent flying training stations involve extra risks, because that is a factor which should be taken into account in the siting of such stations, of which there are two in Cambridgeshire? I also ask him for an assurance that, while no compensation can be truly adequate, his Department will be generous in its endeavours to make good, so far as it can, the loss and damage both to the families and to property.

Mr. Rees

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his first remarks about sympathy. I know of his great interest in the R.A.F. stations in Cambridgeshire, which he often demonstrates to me.

Extra precautions concerning our training stations will be examined, but to allay any anxiety about this I should say that the accident rate in the Royal Air Force Training Command is very good, because of the great care that is taken in training.

The Ministry of Defence, of course, accepts full responsibility for the damage and consequential losses and will deal with all claims as sympathetically and speedily as possible. The local defence land agent was at the scene of the crash this morning.

Sir A. V. Harvey

In view of the wide concern about this tragic accident, which everybody regrets, and the concern of local residents in the training areas, will the Minister seriously consider publishing the inquiry's findings to ensure that the public know what happened, provided that there is nothing secret attached to it?

Mr. Rees

As the hon. Member knows better than most, the findings of a board of inquiry are confidential to the service, for reasons that everybody accepts, but I promise, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that we shall make a full statement as soon as possible.

Mr. Peter Mills

Will the Minister ask the Board of Inquiry to look very carefully into the question of metal fatigue, as these are old planes? In some quarters the view has been expressed that there is a danger of metal fatigue in them.

Mr. Rees

It would not be for me to prejudge the issue. I assure the hon. Member that in the case of this Canberra this accident occurred long before any fatigue problem could arise, and that the general fatigue level laid down is extremely generous in the first instance.