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Commonwealth Relations

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 16 November 1961

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Mr Hammarskjöld (Death)


asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what reports he has received regarding the inquiry and official examination of the aircraft in which the late Mr. Dag Hammarskjöld was flying.

We have received a number of reports on the progress of the Investigation Board set up by the Government of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The latest and most comprehensive report was published on the 18th October; and I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

As this matter has received world-wide publicity, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend will undertake now to deny the criminal and wicked allegations made in some parts of the Commonwealth and elsewhere that this aircraft was shot down? The sooner this is made public and the good name of our citizens in Rhodesia cleared, the better. What has been said against them is absolutely criminal.

Unfortunately, a number of very wild and extremely irresponsible statements and allegations have been made about this very unfortunate accident, which we all mourn. All I can say, and I cannot go beyond the reports that have been published, is that as far as I know not one single scrap of evidence has been produced to suggest that there was foul play of any kind, or improper action, or anything other than a normal accident.

Following is the Report:

Investigation Into Hammarskjoeld Aircrash

1. The Federal Government of Rhodesia and Nyasaland appointed an Investigation Board, under the chairmanship of Lieut.-Colonel M. C. H. Barber, D.F.C., the Director of Civil Aviation, to investigate the cause and circumstances of the accident. Representatives from Sweden, the state of registry, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (I.C.A.O.) on behalf of the United Nations (U.N.), the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations (I.L.A.L.P.A.) and Transair, the operators of the aircraft, were invited to participate in the investigation.

2. The Investigation Board has been in continuous session since 18th September and is still in the process of collecting all the available evidence. Investigation up to the present date has established that the aircraft left Leopoldville with Mr. Hammarskjoeld's party at 1551 G.M.T. on Sunday, 17th September, 1961. A flight plan indicating the destination airfield as Luluaborg, with Leopoldville as alternate, was filed by the crew before departure. The true destination of Ndola and the route to be flown were kept secret from the aeronautical authorities for security reasons.

3. After clearing the Leopoldville tower frequency radio silence was maintained until the aircraft called Salisbury Flight Information Centre at 2002 G.M.T. and stated the place of departure was Leopoldville and the destination Ndola, with an estimated time of arrival of 2235 G.M.T. At 2035 G.M.T. the aircraft reported over Lake Tanganyika, indicating that it was not flying on the direct route from Leopoldville to Ndola.

4. Radio contact was made with Ndola Tower at 2135 G.M.T. During subsequent conversations weather and landing information, and descent clearance from 16,000 to 6,000 feet were given. The aircraft reported when it was overhead Ndola descending, with airport lights in sight. The altimeter setting was confirmed by the aircraft and at 2210 G.M.T. (0010 hours September 18, local time) the aircraft was requested to report reaching 6,000 feet. No such report and no further radio communication was received from the aircraft.

5. Eye witnesses saw the lights of the aircraft pass over Ndola airport on a westerly heading and disappear from view. The aircraft failed to land as expected. Overdue action was initiated but no general alarm was felt for the safety of the aircraft until the following morning, when it was established that the aircraft had not landed elsewhere.

6. The wreckage of the aircraft was located approximately nine miles from Ndola Airport on a bearing of 278 degrees true. Police arrived on the scene of the accident at 1545 hours local time. Only one of the occupants was found to be alive and he subsequently died.

7. Up to 14th October, 1961, the Investigation Board has established the following:

  • (a) The flight crew consisted of three qualified pilots with captain's rating on D.C.6 aircraft and a flight engineer.
  • (b) The pilot-in-command had not flown, prior to the departure from Leopoldville, for a period of at least 24 hours.
  • (c) Minor damage caused by one small-arms bullet during a previous flight was repaired before departure from Leopoldville.
  • (d) The aircraft took off with sufficient fuel for at least 13 hours' flying.
  • (e) The weather, as reported by Ndola Tower at 2137 G.M.T., was: surface wind of 7 knots from 120 degrees magnetic, visibility 5 to 10 miles with slight haze. There was no cloud and a quarter moon which set at 0017 hours local time.
  • (f) Damage to trees at the accident site indicated that the aircraft crashed on a heading of 120 degress magnetic at a shallow angle. The position of the wreckage was at a point where an aircraft making an instrument approach to runway 10 would be completing a procedure turn.
  • (g) The undercarriage was down and locked and the flaps were partially extended.
  • (h) Examination of the propellers and engines indicated that all engines were operating under some power at the time of impact.
  • (i) The aircraft was destroyed by impact and subsequently the wreckage was largely consumed by fire.
  • 8. In their preliminary report the medical team of pathologists stated:

    "All casualties, with the exception of the temporary survivor, were completely X-rayed with a view to determining the presence of any metallic fragments. Two bodies (No. 1 and 2) were thus found to have bullets, fragments of exploded cartridge cases and percussion caps in the skin, the subcutaneous tissues or the muscles. Two or three of the severely burnt bodies were found to have pieces of partially melted aircraft metal superficially sited on the charred remains. Bodies 1 and 2 were those of guards, with ammunition in their vicinity in the wreckage. In view of the relative lack of penetration and the presence of fragmented cartridge cases from which the percussion caps had exploded, we consider that these injuries have resulted from explosion of ammunition in the fire. With regard to the portions of fused alloy in superficial positions on the charred bodies, we are of the opinion that this has resulted from the incineration of bodies in the presence of aircraft wreckage, and in no way suggests an explosion." The final medical report is not yet available.

    9. Extensive investigation has so far failed to determine any positive cause of the accident.

    10. The Federal Government has announced that as soon as possible it will invite nominations to a public Commission of Enquiry, consisting of five members, set up in terms of Federal legislation, to enquire into the cause and circumstances of the crash. Nominations will be invited from the Swedish Government, the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the Government of the United Kingdom. The General Assembly of the United Nations will also be invited to nominate a member of the Commission, which will be under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice of the Federation.



    asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations how many former members of the Colonial Overseas Service are at present on the staff of the Commonwealth Relations Office; what posts they hold; and where they are serving.

    While thanking my right hon. Friend for that illuminating reply, and while being convinced that when I read it I shall find it no less illuminating, may I ask whether he concedes that there is a very real need in our diplomatic missions of men experienced in African affairs? Is he not aware that I have recently received a letter from a distinguished former Colonial Governor, who retired last year, in which he said that it is as difficult to transfer from the Colonial Service to the Commonwealth Relations Office as it was for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle? Will my right hon. Friend not consider arranging with his noble Friend the Foreign Secretary and his right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary for a joint committee to be set up to conserve what is an irreplaceable asset, namely, men of experience in African affairs who are at present serving overseas?

    I said that I have circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT a lot of figures for which my hon. Friend asked. In the administrative class, 34 officials out of about 160, that is, about one-fifth, were drawn from the Colonial, India or Burma Services. But if you would allow me, Mr. Speaker, I should like to take this opportunity to reply—because it is closely connected with this series of questions—to the remarks made by my hon. Friend in a speech the other day in the House which cast the gravest aspersions on the experience and quality of the staff of the Commonwealth Relations Office. I should like to take this opportunity to inform him that his remarks have been deeply resented by the Service, and to tell him that I have the highest confidence in the capabilities of those serving at home and overseas in the service of my Department.

    Following is the detailed statement:

    Excluding clerical and subordinate staff, there are 33 former members of the Colonial Overseas Service at present on the staff of the Commonwealth Relations Office.

    Details are as follows:

    • High Commissioner in Cyprus.
    • 6 First Secretaries (Principals) in Calcutta, Dacca, Karachi, the Maldives, Nicosia and Ottawa.
    • 14 First Secretaries (Principals) in the Commonwealth Relations Office.
    • 11 First Secretaries (Information) in Accra, Calcutta (2), Canberra, Chittagong, Delhi, Johannesburg, Madras, Nicosia, Penang and Salisbury.
    • 1 Second Secretary (Information) in Bombay.


    asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations why it is necessary for senior members of the Colonial Overseas Service to sit for a written examination in order to transfer to the staff of the Commonwealth Relations Office.

    The Commonwealth Relations Office is part of the Home Civil Service, and recruitment to its permanent and established staff, from whatever source, is therefore conducted through the Civil Service Commission who carry out such tests for this purpose as they consider necessary to maintain the accepted standards for the grades concerned. For posts which involve an appreciable amount of written work, the Commission normally include written tests of a general, non-academic character.

    Would my right hon. Friend not agree that there must be records and confidential reports available about members of the Overseas Service which should be at least an adequate substitute for written examination? Is he aware of the case of the Director of Information Services in a territory, which is at present a dependent territory, who has served with great distinction, who has applied to join the Commonwealth Relations Office Information Service and has been told that if he wants to do this he must return home at his own expense and take a written examination?

    All I would say is that the qualifications for the Colonial Service and the qualifications for possible work in the Commonwealth Relations Office in London are not entirely the same. As I have explained, the Commonwealth Relations Office is part of the Home Civil Service, and anybody who gets into the Service may go to the Treasury or the Inland Revenue, or wherever it may be. I think that it would be quite unreasonable not to ask for some assurance that these men, however good their service in Africa may have been, have qualifications for the Home Civil Service as a whole.



    asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what consultations he has had with Commonwealth Governments in order to promote a full understanding by them of the problems facing Her Majesty's Government with regard to the provision of adequate accommodation for immigrants.

    The housing problem created by uncontrolled immigration has been explained to Common wealth Governments, and is, I am sure, well understood.

    May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the term "Commonwealth Governments" includes also those other territories which are not as yet completely independent? In any case, has he taken steps towards securing a reconsideration of this matter and consultation not only at high level but at assistant level as well?

    If the hon. Member is referring to the general problem of providing houses in this country, he will have to refer that to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. If he is referring to special accommodation provided mainly for students, we are, as he knows, making a considerable effort. I announced the other day that large sums of money were being set aside to provide additional hostel accommodation for overseas students.

    Are we to understand from that reply that it is housing shortage that is the limiting factor in the Government's policy on how many immigrants will be allowed into this country?

    I apologise if I have not made myself clear. I asked whether the Minister had had persistent consultation at high level with all Governments in the Commonwealth, whether independent or otherwise, on the precise question of housing as affecting immigrants.

    What I was saying to the hon. Member was that we have made it clear to Commonwealth Governments that uncontrolled immigration has serious repercussions on our housing problem here at home, and I think that they understand that quite well.

    European Common Market


    asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what requests he has refused from Commonwealth countries to see documents or reports of negotiations concerning Britain's application to join the Common Market.

    We are keeping Commonwealth Governments very closely informed of the progress of the negotiations. It would be contrary to our well-established practice for me to refer to confidential communications between Commonwealth Governments. However, I can assure the House that close contact is being maintained. Meetings were held with officials from most Commonwealth Governments in London in September. In the case of Governments which did not send representatives, consultations took place through our High Commissioners in the capitals concerned.

    Since the negotiations have started my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has, after each of the first two meetings with the Six, given a detailed account of the proceedings to Commonwealth High Commissioners in London. In addition, I have sent messages to Commonwealth Ministers telling them of our views about the progress of negotiations.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that that answer has put me in some confusion? I was expecting to be able to congratulate him on giving a very short and straight answer, which would have been "None", but in his long answer, which was satisfactory as far as it went, he has not said that no request by any Commonwealth Government for information has been refused. Has it?

    I think that I answered my hon. Friend to this extent, that we try to keep the Commonwealth Governments in the closest possible consultation on these matters. I think that what my hon. Friend is referring to is a point which has already been dealt with in the House by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. Perhaps my hon. Friend will look up what he said. That is the question of circulating a verbatim report of my right hon. Friend's speech at the opening meeting. These delicate negotiations could be very easily prejudiced if there were a leakage of documents from the conference. For that reason we have agreed that none of the six Governments nor ourselves will circulate the official documents of the conference outside the Governments concerned. I am sure that that will be of advantage to all. On the other hand, we give the Commonwealth Governments summaries of all matters which are of concern to them. In addition, we have had confidential talks, and confidential messages are passing between us all the time. I think that the Commonwealth Governments are very well informed about what is going on.