Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Jamieson: Perhaps the hon. Lady was preparing for the next clause and missed my point. I referred to a person being on stand-by along the terms of his employment, but I said that there could be other categories of people, such as those in recreational jobs, who had given an undertaking to take part in a flight. The two matters would be different. I hope that I have clarified the matter.

Miss McIntosh: I am not sure that the Minister has clarified the matter. It is probably better that we withdraw the amendment now, but we shall return to it. If we are confused about the meaning of an undertaking, the industry is confused. Such a problem will lead to curious decisions being made.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Miss McIntosh: My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge has already made certain points about the clause. As for clause 90, I wish to place on record our reluctance to allow the Secretary of State to have more discretionary powers than he may be entitled to have. If he is to be granted special powers under the Bill, can we receive confirmation that they, too, will be arranged by an affirmative resolution of the House? That would be welcome.

We shall seek further guidance about what constitutes being on duty and what constitutes being on stand-by. There seems to be agreement between ourselves and the industry, if not with the Government, that that is not immediately clear from the Bill. I refer to the listing of functions. Given my knowledge of the industry, one or two functions are not listed that could be deemed to be safety critical. Are the Government minded to add to the list or is it to be inconclusive as set out in the Bill?

It is interesting to note that a rugby team that came over recently was deemed to be unfit to play because more than half of the team had gone down with flu. That is a little like the Committee—more than half of this team seems to have gone down with the lurgy during our proceedings. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge suggested that if a member of flight personnel—a navigator or a flight deck attendant—had the misfortune to take some rather strong cough mixture for such a lurgy or flu, that could tip them over the prescribed limit for the purposes of clause 90.

3.45 pm

Clearly, given which people are deemed to satisfy the criteria of aviation functions, it is important that different possibilities are allowed for, rather than one course being enshrined in the legislation. Some scope could be left to the managers, employee representatives and others who administer internal organisations. Each airline and each airport wants to run a safe operation. I cannot believe that they would wish to employ anybody who might be in breach of the Bill.

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I was slightly surprised at the Minister of State's response to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge on fatigue. I do not know whether the Minister is aware that a European flight time proposal is causing great concern in the industry, especially to pilots. The industry believes that that could lead to a regulation that is even more stringent than that which is before us here and perhaps even more stringent than the drink-driving provisions. We shall, no doubt, return to that.

We seek guidance on whether there are omissions here and whether the Government have considered including them. Do they intend to include them now in the aviation functions in subsection (1), or will they allow each airline and airport operating company some leeway to ensure that all those deemed to have a relevant aviation function will be included in the Bill's provisions?

Mr. Randall: I shall try not to repeat my earlier point. I am grateful for your help on that, Mr. Hood. Very briefly, if someone reports themselves as unfit, will they still be committing an offence? That was the gist of my remark.

I should like clarification on what constitutes ''during flight''. Presumably that does not mean only when an aircraft is up in the air? From what point does it apply? I know that the pilot is not actually given a set of keys to the aeroplane, but from what point is he, or any person under subsection (1), deemed to be actually in flight? I imagine that that is at some point in the airport or the terminal. I was going to mention that if someone happens to be asleep in their car, with the keys in their pocket, they could be deemed to be in control of the vehicle. I think that that is probably not applicable, but it might apply in the case of small light aircraft.

I have another concern, although perhaps the Minister will tell me that it does not need to be included. There are increasing calls to have on board security personnel—I think that they are being called sky marshals, in the dramatic terms that the papers like to use. That is happening on quite a lot of airlines. The idea that an armed person who has just overdosed on Benylin or worse still just found the miniatures cabinet is unnerving. I wonder whether such people are encompassed by the provisions or whether they would be covered by the Secretary of State's powers.

Mr. Jamieson: The clause defines those safety-critical aviation activities that will become subject to the offences under this part of the Bill. The defined functions mirror those set out in the Air Navigation Order 2000 as being carried out by the flight deck crew, air traffic controllers or licensed aircraft maintenance engineers.

Those personnel, together with the cabin crew, are already prohibited from carrying out their aviation functions while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The carrying out of those functions while impaired by intoxicants endangers both the individual and others, including passengers. It is entirely right that such personnel should be subject to a maximum alcohol limit, not only while carrying out those functions but while preparing to carry them out.

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It is equally important that personnel on stand-by duty holding themselves ready to perform an aviation function at short notice should be included in the legislation. It should be no excuse for a person endangering the public to argue that they were uncertain whether they would be flying that day. Stand-by duty is usually associated with an individual's contracted conditions of employment, but that is not necessarily always the case. The clause is not therefore restricted solely to arrangements made under an employment contract, but includes any person who is available to perform an aviation function.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge asked about people who report that they are unfit for duty. If a person reported that they were unfit for duty, they would absolve themselves from their contractual arrangement, which they must have made. That is like phoning in to say that one is unfit and cannot undertake one's work because, like most members of the Committee, one has a cold. The circumstances of each case would have to be looked at. The hon. Gentleman alluded to a group of people in a hotel on stand-by in a foreign place. They might well commit an offence if they were contracted and had not absolved themselves of the contract.

Mr. Randall: Let me set out the sort of example that I had in mind. The stand-by crew have seen a crew going off in a bus. Something happens on the bus, but in the meantime the crew have had a glass of Scotch. When the phone call comes saying that the stand-by crew have to go the airport, they state that they cannot do it. The airline, which could take disciplinary action against which none of us would argue, would be rightly annoyed that the stand-by crew had broken its contract. I am interested to know whether a crew that said that it did not consider itself fit for duty would be deemed to have committed an offence.

Mr. Jamieson: That would depend on what was in the contract. If the contract said, ''When you see the bus moving off and the crew going along the road, you can consider yourself no longer on stand-by'' an offence would not be committed. However, the contract of employment would not say that. I should have thought that if someone were on stand-by for a four-hour period, they could not absolve themselves of their responsibilities on the basis of having seen the crew move off. When a person is not on stand-by would depend on their contract.

The hon. Gentleman asked about when an aircraft is in flight. I refer him to the Air Navigation Order 2000, a document with which I am sure that he is familiar. It states that

    ''An aircraft shall be deemed to be in flight in the case of a piloted flying machine, from the moment when, after the embarkation of its crew for the purpose of taking off, it first moves under its own power until the moment when it next comes to rest after landing.''

I hope that that is clear enough for him.

Mr. Randall: The Under-Secretary is very patient with me; I am but a simple man from Uxbridge. The definition that he gave implies that the clause applies only when the aircraft starts moving. People might be

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at the airport about to go through with all their gear on when someone notices that one of them is suffering. Under clause 91, would that count as ''during flight''?

Mr. Jamieson: I have given the hon. Gentleman the definition of clause 91(1)(a). I hope that it is helpful to him.

The hon. Member for Vale of York asked about affirmative revolutions.

Miss McIntosh: Revolutions?

Mr. Jamieson: Indeed, we have had enough of those. If she reads on a little in the Bill, she will see that clause 96 sets out that any regulations under part 5 will be subject to affirmative resolution, which will give the hon. Lady and the rest of the Opposition opportunity to discuss them.

In his second point, the hon. Member for Uxbridge asked about the meaning of ''during flight''. The crew would be covered under clause 91(6) if the aircraft were not in flight. I hope that that answers his point.

 
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