HL Deb 14 December 1994 vol 559 cc1284-5

2.46 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are aware of concerns about safety being expressed by airline pilots' organisations relating to recommendations made in the draft report of the Joint Aviation Authorities on pilots' flight and duty time limitation; and whether they will oppose any reduction in safety standards.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, the concerns expressed by the British Air Line Pilots Association were passed on to the Civil Aviation Authority who is responsible for aviation safety in the UK. The Joint Aviation Authorities and the UK CAA consulted widely on the draft proposal and the views of pilots and operators have been taken into account. There will be no reduction in safety standards.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the last part of his Answer. Notwithstanding the expression of concern about safety expressed in the JAA draft report, is the Minister aware that the view of the pilots' organisations—and I am president of the British Air Line Pilots Association—is that the draft proposals represent a substantial reduction in safety as a result of the increasing flight time proposals which are being made? When this matter comes to be dealt with at the Council of Ministers in due course, will the Minister appreciate that the Government have a responsibility and that it is not solely that of the CAA? Will he ensure, in line with what he has said about safety, that those expressions of concern which come not simply from BALPA but from many pilots' associations are recognised and that the draft proposals as they stand will certainly not be implemented?

Viscount Goschen

No, my Lords. I recognise the views put forward by the noble Lord, but they are certainly not those of the expert body which advises the Government on these matters; namely, the Civil Aviation Authority. Its view is that these proposals will bring substantial benefits in raising the general standard of safety around Europe while maintaining the very high standard of safety that we have in the United Kingdom.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, if we increase the number of flying hours and reduce the number of duty hours per airline pilot between Britain and the rest of Europe, how can the Minister possibly give a guarantee that that will not lead to fatigue and therefore increase the risk that is always present in any case? As regards the directive, does not the noble Viscount agree that if ever there was an example of a matter which is suitable for subsidiarity, surely this is it? Why on earth do flying hours have to be the same in the United Kingdom as they are in Spain and in other European countries? Why cannot we decide these things for ourselves?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord. There will be substantial benefits from harmonisation in the safety field. The noble Lord is also not right to take one particular aspect of these proposals. One cannot just take one aspect when there is a whole package. In the view of the Civil Aviation Authority this package represents equivalent safety standards to those which we already operate; namely, the CAP 371. For instance, in comparing the annual duty hours permitted for flight crew, the maximum permitted under the UK's present regulations is 2,470 hours, but under the new proposal the figure is 1,800 hours. That example shows that one cannot take any one specific figure and say that one package is higher or lower than another.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is it not a fact that that overall package represents an increase in flying hours? Is it not also a fact that the medical centre at Farnborough has expressed deep concern about the health of air crews and has raised questions about the safety of both air crews and passengers? Is not that a factor that should be weighed very heavily in the balance when considering this matter?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I quite agree with the noble Lord about the importance of taking the best possible medical advice. That has been done. However, the noble Lord is not correct to say that the proposals represent an overall increase in the number of flying hours. On an annual basis, they will be the same at 900 flying hours per annum.