HL Deb 01 June 1911 vol 8 cc1020-3


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the measure which I have to introduce to your Lordships this afternoon is one which will, I feel sure, commend itself to the House in general; but before stating what are the provisions of the Bill I should like very briefly to outline the steps that have led up to its introduction. Attention was first called to the danger which might be caused to crowds by aeroplanes on the occasion of the. University Boat Race this year, when several aeroplanes manoeuvred over the heads of the crowd in such a way that the spectators could see that dangerous results would follow should an accident occur. Further attention was called to the matter by the flying at Hendon Aerodrome on May 12, when one or two aeronauts performed flights over the heads of the spectators, with great skill, it is true, but at the same time in a way which was rather suggestive of danger.

Not unnaturally the question then arose as to what would happen if similar flights were performed on the occasion of the Coronation, and probably in consequence of this on May 18 the Royal Aero Club issued a notice warning aviators against performing flights during the Coronation over the route of the Procession, and also stating that any aviator who did so would have his certificate suspended. But, as a matter of fact, previous to this the Chief Commissioner of Police had already represented to the Home Secretary that in his opinion serious danger might arise if such flights were permitted, and he had even suggested that legislation might be introduced with a view to preventing them. The matter was therefore already fully under consideration when on May 21 there occurred that terrible disaster which I am sure must have filled the minds of all the members of your Lordships' House with horror and with feelings of the deepest sympathy for the French people in the loss which they sustained. I allude to the deplorable accident at Issy-les-Moulineaux. The Secretary of State then, though he recognised that the action which had been taken by the Royal Aero Club would in all probability prove effective in so far as the Coronation is concerned, came to the conclusion that in view of the serious danger it was incumbent upon him to apply to Parliament for powers which he could use effectively, not only on the occasion of the Coronation but also on other similar occasions. He therefore gave instructions for the drafting of this Bill, which has already passed the House of Commons.

In the original Bill as it was introduced in the House of Commons there was a clause proposing penalties upon any one who navigates an air craft recklessly or negligently or to the danger of the public, this, of course, being based upon Section 1 of the Motor Car Act of 1903. However, very strong representations were made, on behalf of the Royal Aero Club and of the Aerial Defence Committee, to the effect that the clause was very vague and that in their opinion it would tend seriously to impede the progress of the study of aerial navigation. Consequently the Home Secretary decided to omit the clause and to rely wholly upon the powers which now appear in Clause 1 of the Bill as amended. This clause gives the Secretary of State power from time to time to forbid the navigation of air craft over particular areas where special danger would be deemed to be caused. The penalties, which were originally two years imprisonment and a fine of £500, have been reduced, but they are still severe—namely, a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months and a fine of £200. The procedure under the Bill may be summary or on indictment, but it is in either case in the option of the persons prosecuted to claim trial by jury should they so desire, and, further, all convictions, whether the punishment is by fine or by imprisonment, are subject to appeal. These, my Lords, are the provisions of the Bill, and in this form it passed the House of Commons with the assent of the representatives of the Royal Aero Club and the Aerial Defence Committee.

At the same time I am authorised to give the strongest possible assurances that His Majesty's Government have not the slightest desire to impede the study and progress of aerial navigation. On the contrary, they are anxious to promote it; but it is really in the interests no less of the aviators themselves than of the general public that some efficient means should be found of preventing the possibility of the occurrence of some grave disaster, which might, and probably would, turn public opinion entirely against aviation and aviators. The suggestion was made that the Bill should be limited in time, but this the Home Secretary felt bound to refuse, and the representatives of aviation whom I have mentioned acquiesced in his decision. At the same time he gave a definite assurance that a fuller and more complete measure dealing with the whole subject of aerial navigation would be introduced and passed as soon as possible. A Bill on the subject is, indeed, actually in draft, and will be brought in as soon as the state of public business permits.

The present measure, therefore, is only an interim one, though it is not possible to state now when the more complete Bill can be produced. I hope that the few remarks I have made have been sufficient to show, in the first place, the necessity for the introduction of some measure of this sort, and, secondly, that, the Government are in no way actuated by any hostile feelings towards aviation and aviators. I therefore trust your Lordships will see your way to allow the Bill to be passed through all its stages this afternoon, with a view to its being placed on the Statute Book with the least possible delay. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Herschell.)


My Lords, I only wish to say that this seems to me a very proper measure of precaution.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived: Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended), Bill read 3a and passed.