HL Deb 26 October 1960 vol 225 cc1109-11

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, earlier this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Rea, asked a Question about the incident during the flight of Her Majesty from Denmark yesterday. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Air has just made the following announcement in another place:

"Her Majesty The Queen was returning yesterday from Copenhagen in a Comet of Royal Air Force Transport Command. At about 11 o'clock, when the aircraft was flying at a height of 35,000 feet near the Ems estuary, the co-pilot saw two fighters which approached the Comet head-on and passed very close to it. These fighters appeared to bear the markings of the Federal German Air Force. My right honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Air has set up a Board of inquiry with which officers of the Federal German Air Force will be associated and the incident will be fully investigated."


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that answer, giving us such a full explanation. In view of the fact that a Board of Inquiry is to be set up, it would not be suitable to pursue this matter now. I feel sure that I am voicing the feelings of all your Lordships when I say how deeply grateful we are that the threatened accident did not come about.


My Lords, I am sure we all share the feeling of relief in the country that what might have been a shocking incident was, in fact, only an alarming one. While I appreciate that it is impossible to give more information at this stage, I would ask that in this inquiry certain things should be borne in mind. I think the public will be expecting a full explanation of what has happened. Some of the statements that are alleged to have been made before the security ban was put on certain people rather suggest that certain things are seriously awry, and it will do no good if these are not dealt with in any report that may be published.

Secondly, I should like to ask whether the Government will consider as the Inquiry proceeds, the possibility of extending it into a rather wider field. There has been a good deal of alarm about these incidents. I think there are probably noble Lords like myself who have had an uncomfortable feeling approaching Rome airport, and only the other day I saw an aircraft flying exceedingly close as we were coming in to land. This threat which has now created such a stir is, of course, one that threatens, in the minds of air passengers, everybody who goes in an air liner. It is almost impossible for an air liner which is under control all the time it is in the air—it is passed from control point to control point—to be seriously off course, but the dangers of fighters losing their way is a very real one, as noble Lords will be aware, and I think quite clearly some fairly drastic international action must be taken. I hope that these matters will be borne in mind in the course of the Inquiry.


My Lords, to take the noble Lord's second question first, he will be aware that Eurocontrol has been set up, precisely for the purpose which he has stated. But, of course, at the present time the organisation is not yet in being, so it may be some little time before recommendations are made.

With regard to his other points, I will make sure that they are brought to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Air.


My Lords, in view of the answer to the second supplementary question put by my noble friend, does the Minister realise that this is a matter of very great urgency? The new organisation has not been set up. Months and months go by, and we still have these reports of very serious near-misses.