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House of Lords

Tuesday, 6th February 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell

Patrick Burnet, Lord Bishop of Southwell--Was (in the usual manner) introduced between the Lord Bishop of Southwark and the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

The Earl of Iveagh--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

Aircrew: Duty Hours

2.44 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are aware of the anxiety on grounds of safety caused by the proposed extension of airline pilots' flying hours, and what action they are proposing to take.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the Government are aware of some concerns that have been expressed about the Joint Aviation Authorities' proposals for aircrew flight and duty time limits. The Civil Aviation Authority believes that these proposals would provide an equivalent level of protection to the present UK rules, and that the high safety standards in the UK would not be compromised by their adoption.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, which I find very encouraging. Can he confirm what I think he said, that the Civil Aviation Authority in this country has approved of this extension of flying hours?

Viscount Goschen: Yes, my Lords, I can give that assurance. The Civil Aviation Authority has been deeply involved in working out these proposals throughout the whole course of their consideration and is content for them to be adopted.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, the former trade union leader for the airline pilots, I should like to ask this question. Is the noble Viscount aware that the British Air Line Pilots' Association is concerned about these new proposed limits, not so much as regards the limits imposed in a year or a month, but rather the amount of flying that is to be permitted in a single day? Has no consideration been given to the danger of fatigue from excessive flying within a single day?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, in the absence also of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, who I

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understand is the president of the association under consideration, we recognise the anxieties of BALPA. It is a responsible body and it is of course quite right for it to express its concerns. However, one has to view these proposals as a package. It is the firm view of the Civil Aviation Authority that while the proposals are more restrictive in some areas, they are perhaps less restrictive in others and they provide a comparable level of protection. There are different levels, for instance, of rest periods, not just duty times. As the noble Lord has said, there are indeed more restrictive limits as regards annual duty hours. Taken together, it is the firm view of the expert authority that has been involved in this matter, the Civil Aviation Authority, that safety standards will not be compromised by the adoption of these proposals.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if the House will allow me to return to this matter, my anxiety was specific and concerned the amount of flying time within a single day. That is what I think the flying public, rather than the airline pilots, will be concerned about. There will be concern about the issue of fatigue and the problem of pilots having to fly for too many hours in a day. Has medical opinion been sought as regards the risks involved in such a change?

Viscount Goschen: Yes, my Lords. A considerable amount of medical opinion has been sought in producing these proposals. The daily limits are not the be-all and end-all of the story. One must also consider rest periods, and rest periods when pilots have crossed time zones. It is the case that operators can schedule slightly longer duties under the JAA proposals, although when the discretion currently available to aircraft commanders is taken into account, the absolute daily limits are broadly similar. I believe that addresses the specific and detailed question of the noble Lord. One should also take into account the fact that the CAA--as it does now--will monitor extremely carefully the implementation of these proposals which depend on proper, responsible rostering by responsible operators. That is the key to ensuring that fatigue is not a problem.

Mr. Humphrey Errington

2.49 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, following the judgment in the sheriff court on 5th December 1995, they will take steps to reimburse Mr. Humphrey Errington for the costs which he incurred in defending himself and his product against the proceedings brought against him by Clydesdale District Council.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Drumadoon): My Lords, the question of Mr. Errington's expenses in the proceedings is a matter which is currently before the sheriff at Lanark for decision. Until the sheriff has announced his decision, it would be inappropriate for me to comment other than to remind the House that

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Her Majesty's Government are not a party to the proceedings, which involve Mr. Errington on the one hand and Clydesdale District Council on the other.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for giving me prior warning that in the present circumstances he would not be able to answer the Question as I would have liked. However, will he have in mind that the unrelenting pursuit of Mr. Errington by the Clydesdale District Council was seriously flawed because of a failure either to look carefully at his production methods or to consider who, if anybody, had suffered as a result of eating his product? Will my noble and learned friend consider circulating the admirable judgment of Sheriff Allan to be read with care by all those who are tempted to use their office as an opportunity to bully?

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, I am aware that the anxieties raised by my noble friend have attracted a measure of publicity. In view of the fact that the case is currently still before the court there is a limit to what it is appropriate to say. It is my understanding that the sheriff hopes to deliver his decision by the end of this month. However, I can assure my noble friend that in the meantime the judgment is being studied carefully. I have little doubt that it will be studied carefully by the officials of the district council. Certainly the relevant government departments have in mind to review all the relevant guidance to make sure that when such issues are addressed in future they will not take as long to decide as in this case.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I hope that it is in order to ask my noble friend whether he is aware of the appalling comments about the witnesses for the Clydesdale District Council, to the effect that Dr. Ahmed did not appreciate serious matters, Dr. McLaughlin was not reliable as an expert witness and the Scottish Agricultural College was not reliable in all the tests that it undertook. They have all been torn to pieces in the judgment. Does he agree that such comments should not be allowed in public affairs?

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, again, I must remind the House that there is a limit to what I can say. As my noble friend correctly observed, certain criticisms are made of individual witnesses. I am sure that the witnesses concerned will read the judgment and reflect carefully on the criticisms that are made of them.

Lord Richard: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Macaulay, who is recuperating from a recent fall, perhaps I may say to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate that we on this side of the House are

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delighted that Lanark Blue has been preserved. After all, it is one of the very few places north of the Border which can still be called blue.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, I understand that it is not only blue but it is thriving, like other areas in Scotland.

Lord Mottistone: My Lords, can my noble and learned friend tell us what is the product which is the subject of this great discussion?

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: Cheese, my Lords.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that the Clydesdale District Council spent £250,000 in pursuing this case, very badly, against Mr. Errington? Can he say whether in the light of that large figure the matter will be considered by the district auditor?

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, I am uncertain as to precisely what sum has been incurred by the district council, but it is a very large sum indeed. In addition to proceedings before a sheriff, at an earlier stage in proceedings there was an appeal for judicial review in the Court of Session in which the district council was unsuccessful and in which it had to meet not only its own expenses but also those of Mr. Errington. If any expenditure has been incurred which ought not to have been incurred that is a matter which can properly be investigated by the usual procedures. Again, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further.

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