HC Deb 01 April 1957 vol 568 cc172-94

9.58 p.m.

Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Air Navigation (Fifth Amendment) Order, 1957 (S.I., 1957, No. 278), dated 22nd February, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th February, be annulled. This Order lays down certain limitations on the permissible flying time and duty hours of aircrew. As I intend to criticise the Order, I should like to say at once that I recognise that. apart from certain monthly and annual limitations set previously, there has been no attempt hitherto to prescribe the limits within which aircrew shall remain on duty. To that extent, therefore, I appreciate that the Order is an advance on the past position.

I shall criticise the Minister, but I recognise that when he tries to tackle the problem of crew fatigue he is dealing with a most difficult and complex matter. One would have thought that it was not necessary to emphasise the' importance of controlling the hours of duty of aircrew. If, however, there is any disposition on the part of any hon. Member to doubt the necessity for an order regulating these hours, I can do no better than refer to some of the schedules of operation hitherto followed that have been given to me.

I take as an example a scheduled operation which provided for an aircraft with a two-pilot crew taking off at 21.00 hours with three stops and continuous duty until 12.10 hours next day, altogether over fifteen hours duty. There is another schedule starting at the same time of 21.00 hours with three stops and continuous duty, finally arriving at the destination at 14.50 hours next day, a total of 17 hours 50 minutes of continuous duty, apart from the time spent by the crew preparing for the flight and on reaching the airport. That kind of duty is. Surely. far too long for the type of strenuous mental concentration and effort that is called for in the operation of a modern aircraft.

The sort of position in which it can land us is probably illustrated by the report of the accident to the Hermes aircraft at Blackbushe. The report, which probably most hon. Members have read, says that the investigator was unable to reach a positive conclusion as to the cause of the accident, but it goes on to point out that it was certain, "at least in part," that the accident was due to the fatigue of the aircrew.

The crew had been on duty for nearly 30 hours, with one ten-hour rest period in poor conditions. The extract from the voyage report, written by the captain, who was killed, was as follows: We have spent 6½ hours at Malta with this blasted magneto and we now face a duty day of 21½ hours, which includes a complete night. In fact, the actual duty hours were somewhat less and were 19½ hours. It is, however, perfectly obvious that that kind of duty period is inconsistent with a standard of safety on which we must insist in the operation of our aircraft.

It is possible that had there not been the delay in the presentation of the Order, that accident would not have occurred. I want to say, first, one or two things about this delay. It was on 2nd November, 1955, that the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor said that he had reached agreement with the interested associations as far as the Order was concerned, except, he said, on matters of detail. When one is dealing with the hours of duty—that is the gist of this business—I would have described them as something rather more than details, but that was how the previous Minister described them. He said that he had reached agreement except on matters of detail.

The present Minister then undertook, in March last year, to have a look at this matter again because there was a good deal of disagreement between him and the British Air Line Pilots' Association and the Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators. On 21st March, 1956, he said he intended to try to consult all expert advice in order to get this difficult matter right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1956; Vol. 550. c. 1225.] I thought myself it was very good of the Minister to undertake to have a look at this business again, but that was a year ago, and the first thing I ask him now is, what has been done in the meantime, in the ensuing twelve months? He said he was going to consult expert advice. What expert advice has he con- sulted? For example, has he been to the medical officers of the two Corporations? I have myself made inquiries, because it seemed to me that people who are professionally engaged in the study of fatigue would be the experts to whom he would turn for guidance and advice. So far as I can make out, in the past 12 months since the right hon. Gentleman took back the draft order, no inquiries have been made at all of those people engaged in the day to day study of crew fatigue.

I have made inquiries of the British Air Line Pilots' Association, and I am told that there has been no further consultation with it at all. It is true that the chairman and the secretary were invited to see the Minister, but I am given to understand that they were simply told what the Minister intended to do, and that there was in no sense consultation. The Guild of Air Pilots has made it quite clear that it disagreed emphatically with the draft order, that it has not been consulted, and does not agree with the Order now before us.

Although the draft was taken back, the only amendment made to it, as far as I can see, is one which gives the captain of an aircraft discretion to exceed the maxima laid down. Let us look for a moment at the limitations which are laid down in this Order. It is stated that the maximum hours of duty in a one-pilot operated aircraft shall not exceed 12 hours' continuous duty; in a two-pilot operated aircraft they shall not exceed 16 hours' continuous duty; and if there are three pilots in the crew they shall not exceed 24 hours' continous duty. Members of Parliament have some experience of long hours of work, but even they must say that in no circumstances can these hours of duty be described as light. They allow no margin at all.

That is the first criticism I make. There is another which, I think, is a very serious one, although I recognise the difficulty which confronts the Minister. The difficulty is one of regulating these matters by hours of duty alone. I have questioned the Minister about this, but he has still made no effort to differentiate between a flight taking place in good weather and one in bad weather, or between a flight in daylight or at night, or in a pressurised aircraft or in a non-pressurised aircraft, or in a tropical climate or in a temperate climate. Fatigue, of course, affects a person differently in different conditions, even though the hours of duty are the same.

Although the maximum in a two-pilot operated aircraft of 16 hours' continuous duty is the same maximum as laid down for larger aircraft in which there are two pilots, in the latter there are probably two or three other members of the crew, a radio operator, a flight engineer and a navigator, who could share the duties of the two pilots. Can the Minister really claim that a 16-hour duty period for two pilots in fine weather in daylight in a large, pressurised aircraft, when they are not doing their own navigating or operating their own radio, has the same effect as on two pilots of a twin-engined aircraft, probably not pressurised, and operating in bad weather at night, when those pilots have no navigator and no radio operator? Does he really not think that some effort should have been made to break down this limitation as between the different types of operation?

As far as I can make out, no maximum duty has been laid down for the radio operator or navigator. How does the Minister justify this? Are they not expected to get tired? Why are there no maximum hours in the case of these two important members of the crew? There is provision in the Order for the operation flight manuals to be open for inspection. Could the Minister say how realistic this inspection will be? Does he not think that there is a case for requiring flight manuals to be filed with his Department?

A good deal will depend upon how these flight schedules are drawn up. If they are all drawn right up to the maximum, there can never be any question of the captain having any real discretion. Every time there is a headwind above the average, whether he likes it or not, he will be compelled to exceed the maximum laid down by the Minister as being safe. Much will depend upon the attitude of the operator in these matters, and much can be done by the Minister in giving guidance and insisting upon a proper approach to these problems. Although I am quite certain that the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would like to take a very keen interest in these matters, I doubt very much whether they have the time to devote to them, and I wonder whether they have the staff available to carry out the necessary inspection.

I am trying to say here that it will be the responsibility of the Department to see to it that within each of the operating companies no pressure is put upon the pilot to press on regardless. There must be an attitude and a general approach to the problem, within all the operating companies, both independent and the Corporations, which will enable the pilot to take a decision not to continue the flight without incurring in any way any displeasure of his employers. I am quite certain that that kind of atmosphere can be developed if there is, in the first place, a proper system of inspection on the part of the Department.

Will there be any inspection or any regulation governing the condition of the rest houses down the route? After all, we have factory inspectors and we require that the conditions of workshops shall be up to a certain standard in other industries. When we talk in regulations about suitable rest periods for pilots in these cases, it is important that where they have to take their rest down the route there shall be reasonably decent conditions in which they can take the maximum amount of rest in a given time.

What is the Minister doing to ensure that there are decent conditions, both on the ground in the rest houses, and most importantly, in the aircraft, where it is required in the case of three-pilot crews that there shall be rest accommodation for the third pilot who is not, for the time being, on duty? What outside advice is the Minister seeking? What machinery is he building for consultation with the professional organisations such as B.A.L.P.A. or the Guild? Is he proposing to accept the offer of the Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators to cooperate with him in building up a body of knowledge about the problem of fatigue? There is a great deal to be learned about it, and we must be ready to approach the problem from that angle.

In connection with the future operation of this Order, I believe the Minister is aware that there has been a certain amount of criticism of some of his officials who have had responsibility for its drafting from the representative associations. I take no delight in saying that, but it is my duty to do so. Before the Minister sits down tonight, I hope he will be able to assure us that not only he but also his officials will regard the problem as one which will not be solved by the Order but which will require hard and detailed continuous study.

It will be a question of getting the spirit right as well as the actual figures, and I want the Minister to be able to assure us that he and his officials will enter into this matter with the intention of getting a great deal more information about it, and, if necessary, applying that information in a revised Order in the future.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I beg to second the Motion.

I am pleased to second this Motion, because it is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) when he speaks on matters related to civil aviation, since he is recognised as an expert on this subject.

There are two or three points I want to put to the Minister. I will not detain the House long, but flying regulations and flying fatigue are important matters for the operating crews. Last week I addressed a Question to the Minister asking him whether he had considered the request of the Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators to set up a board to consider flying fatigue. This is a complex problem, and I understand that there is no recognised authority on it. The Guild have asked for a board to be set up on which there would be representatives of the medical profession, the experts who are constantly in touch with this question, and also active members of the crews, so that the crew operators could have direct representation on the board as well.

I feel that such a board would be of great value to the Minister, since it could advise him on flying fatigue. Air transport is more or less in its early stages, but it is growing in this country. From London Airport alone each year 3 million passengers fly to different parts of the world. Therefore flying fatigue is important not only to the air travelling public, but also to the operating crews. In view of this request from the professional people engaged in flying giant airliners all over the world to set up a board to which the question could be referred, I ask the Minister to give serious reconsideration to the matter, for the aim of those interested in the industry is to make flying safe and therefore these regulations are important to all.

10.20 p.m.

Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) made many practical suggestions in his speech. I agreed with most of them. The hon. Member has long experience in these matters.

I do not altogether blame my right hon. Friend for the delay that has taken place in producing the Order. It is very complex, and to have rushed into print might have done more harm than good. I am prepared to think that in two or three years' time it may well have to be revised. With the era of pure jets coming in, the whole profession will change. In future, it will be a different type of fatigue from that of pilots doing long hours. More encouragement should be given to the medical profession to interest itself in this vast subject. I know that the Corporation and some of the independent companies already take a great interest in it, and some good books have been written by their medical officers, but we need to go into this subject in much more detail. The United States airlines pay far more attention to the medical side than we do.

The hon. Member suggested that my right hon. Friend should inspect, or have inspected, the rest houses on the routes. It would be difficult for the Minister to visit all the landing places between here and Australia. However, those of us who have travelled a good deal since the war have seen how rest houses and conditions have improved, not only for passengers but for aircrew. Many rest houses are now air-conditioned. All operators today take considerable interest in all grades of aircrew and ensure that they get proper accommodation and reasonably good food. Aircrew to whom I have spoken have very little to complain about these days. There are, of course, emergency occasions, such as air lifts following crises, when congestion occurs in sleeping quarters, and so on, but, generally speaking, conditions are good.

It is not unusual for captains or navigating officers of merchant vessels to have to spend 24 or 36 hours at a stretch on the bridge in winter. No one welcomes that, but sometimes it is a necessity. In the great profession of airline pilots, we cannot define in too great detail what men must do. They are men of very wide training, and they have to be allowed considerable discretion. In 'he event of adverse weather conditions, is it to be laid down that the captain of an aircraft who may run into a 120-knot wind must not fly over his time by two or three hours? We should get into a ludicrous situation if we followed the letter of the law.

Mr. Beswick

I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not want to give a false impression. He has compared the pilot with the mariner. I am sure he will agree that the same consequences do not follow at sea if there is a split second delay as may well happen with a pilot coming in to land.

Air Commodore Harvey

I agree that the two are not really comparable. I was referring to an individual with immense responsibility, being in charge of a large ship in thick fog when there may be other traffic about. I know there is radar and so on, but in spite of modern aids there was an accident involving a Scandinavian ship and an Italian ship in the Atlantic last year. Thus, we can see what might happen and what loss of life there might be.

I should like to see some form of international agreement among the leading powers. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell us how much information we get from the United States and what information we give them. I should also like to know what information we receive from Western European countries. Much can be learnt from countries operating in different climates.

Aircrews operating on very short flights work under conditions not comparable to those of aircrew in modern aircraft flying in pressurised cabins 24,000 feet above bad weather. It is very much harder for a man to fly short trips making constant landings in a less comfortable aeroplane. Not sufficient attention is paid to providing comfortable quarters for aircrew on modern aircraft. All over the world, when the specifications are made, the one thing the operator tries to do is to get as many people and as much freight and baggage into the aeroplane as he can.

A few weeks ago I travelled back from New York in a D.C.7C. It was a most pleasant flight. The aircraft was not much better than anything we have, and in some ways not as good. It had a rather noisy engine, and there was a certain amount of vibration. Had the aeroplane been full, the aircrew, on a 9 or 10 hour trip, would have been working in appalling conditions.

Had the aeroplane been two-thirds full, the front compartment would have been used for passengers' coats and hats, because there was not enough wardrobe space to hang up all the coats for an all-night trip. Crews should be given more consideration in the original design of an aeroplane to see that they get proper quarters to rest, if only for half an hour. Even in the House, those of us who relax during a dull or long debate know how much we benefit from it. The same is much more true for an airline pilot.

I had a letter from the Guild of Air Pilots. I agree that the Guild is critical, but the tone of its letter is very friendly. The Guild wants to co-operate with my right hon. Friend in every possible way. It is the aim of everybody interested in the industry to try to improve the conditions of aircrew, but not to get too much involved in detail. Flying in Europe over the Alps in midwinter, in fog and ice, in an aeroplane eight or ten years old, even a wartime aeroplane, is ten times more difficult than flying across the Pacific in a Super-Constellation.

That is the sort of problem with which we are faced. A man who flies in mid-Europe, or even up to Scotland or the North of England, in mid-winter has a much more arduous task than a man in a bigger aeroplane, sitting behind an automatic pilot, with all the aids and with a large crew to assist him in the work.

I shall say no more about this, because I leave it to my right hon. Friend to keep an open mind for the future. We could look upon this Order as a cockshy to be revised in two or three years as science progresses. It will help to give the protection required, but it must be kept sufficiently flexible not to hamper a man in carrying out his duties.

10.28 p.m.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

We all know that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) takes a great interest in these debates, and, of course, is deeply concerned with civil aviation. We also realise that, in introducing a note from the sea, he did not mean to make a comparison between the conditions under which a ship sails and those under which an aircraft flies. The media are entirely different.

Very often, as we see from time to time, the fate of 50 or 60 passengers depends upon a split-second decision by the captain of an aircraft. It is difficult to imagine a comparable situation arising in surface transport. That is why it is absolutely imperative that aircrew should be completely fit for duty and that there should be some limitation on the hours during which they fly.

I agree with the hon. and gallant Member about the conditions under which crews operate. I am glad that he raised that point, because I have been on long-distance flights, and it has appeared to me that during the period when the crew had time to relax there was insufficient accommodation to enable them to enjoy their leisure period with any possibility of sufficient recruitment of strength for their further spell of duty.

I agree that conditions in our own country can be as bad as those in other parts of Europe. I have frequently flown in those conditions. There was one occasion when we took off from Renfrew Airport for London at 9 o'clock in the morning and were due to make a call at Manchester. When we reached Manchester, however, it was fogbound, and we were diverted to Blackpool. We arrived there about 12 o'clock midday, were grounded until 3 o'clock in the afternoon and finally touched down at London Airport at 5 o'clock at night, after circling that airport for 45 minutes. The state of the passengers was quite nervous and one can imagine the strain placed on the captain of that machine from the time he left Renfrew Airport at 9 o'clock in the morning until he touched down at London Airport at 5 o'clock at night.

What happens under this Order in the case of a pilot who has been flying a machine like that on a short-haul route? Is there a pool of pilots from which he can be relieved of any further duty that day, even although he has not finished his duty spell? In my submission any officer who has come through such an experience ought not to be called upon for further duty during the rest of that day.

These conditions do not always occur, I agree. I have given an extreme instance. But the number of times during which pilots have to fly in cloud is quite remarkable and even although there are controls and aids, flying in cloudy weather must nevertheless induce a strain which results in the fatigue about which we are concerned. I support the idea that has been put forward by both my hon. Friends, that there should be a board of representative persons, chosen from the medical profession and the industry, to deal with matters of this kind. I hope that the Minister will have a helpful word to say on that point.

I have one or two questions to ask about the maximum flight times for operating crews. I am specially concerned with the short-haul routes. Article 34E lays down the duty period to which my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) referred. Paragraph (3, a) would mean that a pilot who starts at 8 o'clock in the morning would be on duty until 8 o'clock that night. That is a fairly long day— 12 hours— but, if he is finishing say at London Airport from where he started, he has to get home. Because of the number of people I see waiting for buses, I think it very unlikely that he would get home in less than half an hour, and it may be an hour or even an hour and a half. So we have to add two or three hours to the 12, which stretches his day to one of 14 to 15 hours.

Obviously his time for sleep will be limited. I should imagine that that is not helpful in view of the responsibility of his job. There is a provision in the Order whereby if he has a period of rest, say 7 hours, in his duty period the 12 hours may be increased to 14 hours, so it is possible for that captain to start at 8 o'clock in the morning, be on duty until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, have his 7 hours rest period and resume at 10 o'clock at night, continuing until 5 o'clock the next morning. That does not seem a good provision because, while young people may stand up to that strain, even with them the stomach begins to resent hours like those. I do not think it helps to solve the problem of the need for greater safety in the flying of aircraft.

I ask the Minister to keep before him the suggestions which have been made by B.A.L.P.A. and the Guild of Air Pilots. They suggest that there should be limitations for flights which start, say, around 8 o'clock in the morning, not of 12 hours, but of 10 or 11 hours and, if the flight starts about 6 o'clock at night, there should be a still shorter duty period for the pilot, not exceeding 8 hours or at most 9 hours. I think the Minister will agree that night flying induces much greater strain than flying by day.

I also ask the Minister if he gave any consideration to the overall limitations which the Guild suggested that during the week hours of duty should not exceed a maximum of 50 and during a month flying hours should not exceed a maximum of 100. The Order suggests 125, but the Guild asks for 100 and that over the year flying hours should not exceed 1,000. I am sure the Minister agrees that we want in every way to make the margin of safety in flying as great as can be humanly devised.

More and more people are travelling by air, and we want more and still more to fly. On the route over which I fly every week to and from Renfrew, there will soon be six Viscounts up and six down on the London service. That is tremendous progress since the days when, only ten years ago, we had a little DH Rapide doing the job. It shows how flying has caught the imagination and that people want to fly. It is our duty to see that they fly in safety.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Reading)

The Minister has no cause to complain, and I think he will not complain, of the tone and matter of the debate so far. I shall certainly do nothing to detract from the amiability and helpfulness which have been the feature of the discussion from both sides of the House, for though some of us have some reservations about the content of the Order before us, I am sure we all appreciate the Minister's motive in seeking to amend the Order of 1954. It is the motive of trying to make flying safer than it has been in the past, as far as he can.

There have not been many accidents of recent years, but some of the few which have taken place and, unhappily, some of those which have had the most serious consequences, have come about from causes which no one has managed satisfactorily to explain, notwithstanding the most careful inquiry. There is room at least for the fear—I put it no higher —that in the case of one or two of these unfortunate accidents, especially those which have taken place at the end of a particularly long hop or a particularly long spell of duty, it may have been that fatigue on the part of the pilot or other members of the aircrew was a contributory cause. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) referred to the Hermes accident at Blackbushe, and I call to mind an accident some time ago at Singapore which seemed very hard to explain except on the basis of an error of judgment which might well have arisen as a result of fatigue. Everything that can possibly be done to lessen the possibilities of this is, of course, to be welcomed very much indeed.

I regret, as other hon. Members have regretted, that the Minister and his advisers seem to have been just a little "know-all" in the framing of this Order and do not seem to have paid as much attention as they might reasonably have been expected to pay, especially bearing in mind the quite long time they took over its framing, to the views of those who fly and to the views of those who have some expert knowledge in aviation technique.

I believe that we have in this country, and particularly in the service of our Corporations, some of the most eminent people in the world in this field. It is true that it is a field in which the science is still a little inexact and untried, but that is a reason for making as much use as we can of all the knowledge that there is, and I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has seized all the opportunities which have been open to him of making all the use that he possibly could have done of what knowledge there is.

I was very glad to see that he appeared to indicate his agreement when his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) suggested that he should look upon this Order as a cock-shy to be reviewed from time to time, but I must say that I should feel more encouraged that he was taking that rather experimental and open-minded view of the matter had it been the case that he had sought to take as great advantage as possible of the opinions of other people as well as the opinions of his own advisers.

I want to refer to three paragraphs in the Order which seem to me to be open to some question. The first is paragraph (7) of Article 34B, in page 4, which gives the commander of the aircraft or somebody deputed by him some discretionary powers. I see at once what is the object of that paragraph it is to cover cases where some contingency crops up which could not reasonably have been foreseen and in which a man might find, for example, that he was faced with the alternative of making an overnight stop or of exceeding his limit by 20 minutes. It is thought that it would be only common sense to let him exceed his limit by 30 minutes rather than delay the aircraft for perhaps 8 or 10 hours.

I see the motive, of course, but the trouble is that regulations, like laws, are interpreted, and in some circumstances can only be interpreted in the light of what they say and not in the light of what they intend. This escape clause, which is what it is, gives the power of discretion to a commander which he may exercise in circumstances quite different from those which represent the real basic intention of the paragraph.

We had better face the fact squarely, that airline operation is a commercial and in some spheres a highly-competitive business. It is not in any sense of criticism that I say that the servants of those who operate aircraft are under some commercial pressures and of course have to take cognisance of the fact that unless the airlines which they operate—be they publicly-owned or privately-owned—are a commercial success they will not continue to operate, and the chap's job may be in some jeopardy. One is always holding the balance between the technical and commercial factors.

I want to put it to the right hon. Gentleman that this escape clause does give a good deal of leeway to people to over-emphasise the commercial as against the technical factors. It is true, of course, that the commander is required under sub-paragraph (b) to be satisfied that the safety of the aircraft will not be endangered if he or that other person deputed by him makes that flight, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider what that means.

It means that we are putting on the commander the job of making one more decision precisely at the time when, by definition and by hypothesis, he is tired and therefore not in the best position to make that decision. That, I think, is the danger here that it may well be that the commander has to make this decision about whether to go on or to night stop just at the end of a long duty period, when his judgment is not at its best, when we know that it is not at its best, and when we are legislating about the fact that, at that moment, his judgment is not at its best.

If I may draw a homely, not very precise but, I think, a reasonably indicative parallel, it lies in the fact that we do not allow a boxer to decide, when having a walloping, whether he shall go on or not. It is either the referee who decides or the man's second who throws in the towel, because we know that a punch-drunk boxer is not in a position to judge accurately by his own powers to continue.

People who are very tired are in the same position as people who are very drunk—they tend to overestimate their powers. A commander called upon to make that decision at such a time may well be in danger of making an incorrect decision in that regard. I would invite the Minister to look at paragraph (7) against the criterion of whether it is not possible to fulfil the sensible intention which the paragraph has, whilst at the same time narrowing the discretion for other purposes.

Next, I should like to refer to paragraph (2) of Article 34E—at the bottom of page 5 of the Order—which has already been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin). That, I think, is really a bit steep. It says that the pilot of an aircraft which has only one pilot can go on for 12 hours at a stretch—on a solo flight —or, in some circumstances, under the proviso into the details of which I shall not go, it can be 14 hours.

Let us consider 12, and not 14 hours—in all conscience, that is bad enough. I have never piloted an aircraft as have some hon. Members who have spoken. I do not know whether the Minister has done so, but I expect we have all driven a motor car. I should not like to drive a motor car for 12 hours at a stretch. I should not reckon that my spacial judgment—my judgment of time and distance—was very accurate at the end of 12 hours of the much lighter and less responsible task of driving a motor car. I should not reckon that my accident proneness was as low in the twelfth hour of a 12-hour stretch as it was in the first hour.

The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield made comparisons with ships, as I am doing with motor cars, but we must bear in mind, as has already been said, that the penalty for the tiniest error of spacial judgment is much greater, or can be much greater, in an aeroplane than anywhere else. After all, when an aircraft has a collision with terra firma, it is always a head-on collision and always a collision at a speed of more than 100 miles an hour. That is what makes it so much worse than accidents with regard to motor cars and almost always, although there are occasions of exception, with regard to ships. I should hate to be a passenger in an aircraft in the eleventh and twelfth hours of a solo pilot's 12-hour spell of duty. If I knew it was the eleventh and twelfth hours of his 12-hour spell, I should not be at all happy about it.

The third and last article to which I want to refer is 34G, which lays down maximum flight times for the operating crew of aircraft other than public transport aircraft. To put the point simply, the right hon. Gentleman has made the same monthly limitation as applies to the crews of public transport aircraft but has not made, so to speak, a shift limitation. It may be that that is because he does not conceive a non-public transport aircraft—for example, aerial photography or crop-spraying aircraft—ever being required to do long stretches. If that be the case, however, if the reason for not including the shift limitation is that it is unlikely that a long stretch on this type of aircraft would ever be required, I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that no harm could have been caused by putting in a shift limitation as well as a monthly limitation for those cases. I do not suppose that anybody will often want to work long shifts, but it is possible and the danger is there. Although by definition it involves no danger to passengers but only to crew, sometimes, as we know all too well, people have to be protected against themselves, if only sometimes against their over-enthusiasm in doing a good job.

I join with other hon. Members who have spoken in asking the Minister—I think he will agree to this request—to look upon this as a first shot at the problem in order that the operation of this amended Order can be watched and in order that, if need be a review can he made and further amendments can be introduced.

In that connection, I make two serious requests to the Minister. The first is that he starts the processes of review on the very day that the Order conies into force and does not have any undue delay and, above all, does not wait, as I am sure he would not, for some awful accident to happen to precipitate his Department in discharging the processes of review.

The second thing I would ask the Minister is that he gives serious consideration now—I do not know the details of the request which has been made to him about the joint board I do not know how good it is—to what should be the method of review that is used in order to ensure that everybody who has anything to contribute to the best solution of this problem has a chance to have his say and that the matter is not determined Olympus-like within his own Ministry. I feel sure that these requests will not fall on deaf ears, and I shall be glad to hear from the Minister that they have not done so.

10.55 p.m.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

I am really grateful to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and his colleagues for putting this Prayer on the Order Paper. I think it fair to say that they did so primarily in order that we should discuss this important matter. I am very grateful for the opportunity to discuss it myself and to listen to what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, which I shall take most carefully into account.

This is a very difficult problem which has been under consideration by successive Ministers of Civil Aviation for a long time. This question of fatigue is undoubtedly of vital importance. It is one in which, since I have been Minister, I have tried to take a personal interest. I remember that when I was in the Ministry of Labour I had a good deal to do with the administration of the Factories Acts and to some extent these problems are analogous.

The question has been raised whether there was undue delay in making this Order. Any delay so far as I was concerned was the result of my feeling that we ought to discuss this matter again with the interested parties, such as B.A.L.P.A. I finally came to the conclusion that we could go on discussing it for ever and everybody would come back with further amendments and problems, quite fairly, and we should never have a settlement. Indeed, B.A.L.P.A. in particular was fair enough to say in November or December, 1956, that no further useful purpose would be served by its repeating its criticism and going over the ground again. That was one reason why I did not see that body again.

I and my advisers concluded that it was right, therefore, to lay the Order, after knocking it into the best shape that we could. The hon. Member for Uxbridge thought that perhaps we had not had enough advice from the medical profession. The Institute of Aviation Medicine, at our request, conducted a good deal of research into fatigue. It started to do so in the late months of 1955 and continued until April, 1956, when it expressed the general view that the limits proposed were probably about right.

I do not think that that means for a moment that we have learned all we can about the medical aspects of fatigue. I quite agree with hon. Members who have said that we ought to try to do more. There may be something in the proposal of G.A.P.A.N. for a board to study these matters. I will undertake to look at that proposal and consider whether we can do something to harness the interest and skill of the medical profession, both inside and outside the Corporations.

No doubt the main reason for the Prayer is that neither G.A.P.A.N. nor B.A.L.P.A. thinks that the Order goes far enough, and they say that they do not agree with it, I should be very surprised if they did. We are only at the beginning. It has taken decades, for example, to build the Factories Acts and, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) rightly says, these regulations will have to be changed to tit changes in the aviation world as time goes on.

I agree that I did not discuss the Order further when I saw all the bodies concerned, but I said that I was perfectly prepared to amend it in the light of experience and that I thought the right and best thing to do in the interests of all concerned was to lay the Order so that it could come into force. My Department and all concerned could then see how it worked. I said then, and I say again now, that we shall be only too willing to amend it in the light of practical experience. Indeed, we shall welcome help from B.A.L.P.A. and G.A.P.A.N. and other interests in arriving at the right solutions to these problems.

I think it would be unwise—although, as the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) rightly said, we must start to study them—not to let about twelve months go by before we consider bringing forward a new set of regulations, which is really what we should have to do. I certainly undertake to do that as soon as it seems necessary after that period, and I will study most carefully the criticisms and comments which people bring forward and which my officials will also try to apply.

Mr. Beswick

The right hon. Gentleman talks of criticisms which may be put forward. Does he conceive of any sort of machinery—a board or other independent body—through which such criticisms would come?

Mr. Watkinson

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. It is a matter which I will consider. I have told G.A.P.A.N., for example, that I will study its suggestion of a board That might be a possible body—I do not know, but I will certainly look into the matter. As a result of the points raised in the debate, I had already made a mental note to ascertain whether we could find some perhaps more regularised method of consultation on the working of the regulations. The unions and the Guild and so on know that they have access to my Department at any time, but perhaps there is some more formal way, and I will certainly look into that.

That is why not propose tonight to take the time of the House by going into any great detail about the Order. I want to make just one or two general points, and I think the details can best be covered by my assurance that I think it is right now to get this Order working so that we may build up a fund of practical experience and modify the provisions in the light of that practical experience rather than continue arguing now on the basis of no practical experience as to what modifications might or might not be made.

It is natural, of course, that the unions think that the provisions of the Order are too broadly and loosely drawn. Equally, the operators think that in some cases they are already too tightly drawn. I think that the point made during the debate as to whether one can measure fatigue is a fair one. That is something about which we should perhaps try to get more medical evidence. I will certainly have the points about the rest houses and the other detailed points most carefully examined.

There was also the question whether the Department is a little too inclined to do these things within itself and does not take enough outside advice. All I would say is that both my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and I take a very personal interest in the matter, and we will certainly try to ensure that anybody's advice which is helpful is taken and considered. I most sincerely want to get these provisions right. After all, people's lives depend upon them. It is my duty, and I know it is the wish of the House, to try to make them as helpful and yet as binding as possible. Equally, I do not want to make them an irksome, unnecessary burden on pilots and aircrew or on operators. We have to try to steer a middle course between those two extremes.

I think that the Bowhill Committee did a very good job in trying to draw up the Order. It was not an easy task. The Committee was bound to be criticised for going too far or not going far enough. On the whole, the Committee has given us a good start.

It was suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield that we might look into the international aspects of this matter. Except for America, most other countries either have no regulations or somewhat sketchy ones. I will, however, certainly ascertain whether in meetings of international bodies we can move towards some kind of international agreement, which would certainly be helpful.

The point made about crew accommodation is a good one. Whenever I go into the sharp end of the aircraft occupied by pilots I am impressed by the fact that they appear to me to be less well catered for, on the whole, than others—passengers or anybody else. It is a very practical point. I think that the hon. Member for Reading, with his knowledge of productivity and so on, would agree that pilots might suffer less fatigue if they could work in slightly more comfortable conditions. I will certainly undertake to look into the matter.

I want to make a point about the "escape clause" to which hon. Members have referred. That, again, was very difficult to draw. It is absolutely right that the captain of an aircraft, who has the ultimate responsibility—on the spot anyway—for both the safety of the aircraft and the passengers, should have freedom to decide on the spot how he finally works within the provisions of the Order.

Again, if in the light of practical experience that can be further limited, I will examine it, but I want to make it plain to the House that I would not do anything which would limit the captain's ultimate responsibility for the safety of the passengers and crew. We must help him rather than hinder him. I do not think that we shall be able to do it without an escape clause. It has been redrafted once or twice, including once by myself, so that at least it has received a good deal of study. We must see whether we can improve it as it goes on.

The attitude of my Department generally will not be to "know it all", but, as the hon. Member for Reading said, to try to make these provisions work in the light of practical experience.

Mr. Beswick

Will the Minister touch on the topic of flying operating schedules, on which I put a question to him? The manuals, or flight schedules, drawn up by the operator must be open to inspection. How will the Minister enforce that? Will he inspect them, or wait until there has been an accident?

Mr. Watkinson

That is covered by Article 34 c, in paragraph (iii), which says: …furnish to any person so authorised…and produce for his inspection all log books. certificates, papers and other documents whatsoever which he may reasonably require to see for the purposes of determining whether they are complete or of verifying the accuracy of their contents. I intend to see that that is implemented. There is otherwise no point in writing it into the Order. However, I am not prepared at this moment to say exactly how far we shall feel we Should implement it. Again, that is something on which we must obtain practical experience.

In the last four years I have had much experience of the Factory Inspectorate, which was particularly my responsibility at the Ministry of Labour. That experience left me with a firm view—I do not think that it is wrong—that one wants to base this sort of inspection on working practical experience. Otherwise, one sometimes tends to establish a standard which is either "over-policing" a regulation or "under-policing" a regulation. Neither is the right answer. Frankly, I am not sure how we shall base this, but I can tell the hon. Member for Uxbridge that I intend to see that this information is obtained to the extent that it gives a check on the accuracy of the records and indeed on the safe flying of the aircraft.

I think that operators understand—if they do not, they will always be reminded of it—that nothing in the Order removes from them the responsibility to see that within its provisions their aircrew and their pilots are subjected only to such hours of duty as preserve them from undue fatigue and do not hazard the safety of the aircraft. The issuing of the Order is not an invitation to operators to regard them as maxima to which they can go. They are the maxima, but operators must conduct themselves within the Order in such a way that their pilots do not work excessive hours.

That is one of the reasons why the 12-hour limit may seem unduly long, but it does not remove from an operator the responsibility for seeing that a pilot does not fly 12 hours, if such 12 hours' flying exposes him to undue fatigue, thus hazarding the safety of the aircraft. At the moment, the provisions in the Order contain statutory maxima within which we now want to see whether we can accumulate some experience. When we have that—and we shall welcome any help we can get in the process and we shall seek it—I shall be perfectly willing, with my advisers, to have another look at the Order to see whether it can be improved in the light of practical experience. As has been said, it will in any case have to be altered as time goes on, because of the new types of aircraft and new flying conditions that will come, and it is in that spirit that I would commend the Order to the House.

I am grateful for the helpful way in which hon. Members have spoken in this debate. We will take careful note of what they have said and we will also hope to retain their continuing support for trying to make the Order a contribution to air safety and thus a contribution to the success and the continued expansion of this very great profession and industry.

Mr. Beswick

In view of the assurances given us by the Minister, and accepting his invitation to continue our interest in these matters, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.