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Commercial Aircraft Companies (Pilots)

Volume 649: debated on Monday 20 November 1961

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asked the Minister of Aviation how many pilots, formerly employed by British Overseas Airways Corporation and British European Airways, are now employed as pilots by commercial aircraft companies; if, with a view to ensuring maximum safety in civil aviation, he will ascertain and state how many of these were dismissed by the public corporations, or required to resign; and for what reasons they were so treated.

I would refer the hon. Member to the answer to the second part of his Question on 23rd October, 1961.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that answer was merely that the information was not available, so that it is not very helpful to refer me to it? While I entirely accept that pilots move from one job to another for all sorts of reasons, and that most of them are doing a first-rate job, whether for the Corporations or the companies, is it not rather disquieting if a pilot is sacked by a Corporation for sheer incompetence and then turns up a few weeks later in charge of a charter aircraft, as has happened in at least three cases? Is not that directly relevant to the general question of air safety?

If the hon. Member would like to send me particulars of individual cases, I will look at them. But I think that the House might take the view that we do not want to start a witch hunt, so that every time a pilot changes his employment he has a black mark against him.

A man may reasonably wish to change his employment. He may wish to get promotion to captain. It is not right in those circumstances to say that he should carry some blot upon his character.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to find out the information? Will he also find out how many independent charter airlines are running charter services and inclusive tours and bringing in part-time pilots and crews in the summer period, often from other jobs, to operate aircraft and equipment with which they are not conversant?

It would not serve a useful purpose to criticise British aviation in quite such sweeping terms. In point of fact, with the full approval of the House, we lay down the most stringent rules about the testing of every pilot, whether he flies for the Corporations or the independent airlines, and the tests are precisely the same for both.

Is it not a fact that every pilot is licensed by the Ministry of Aviation to fly particular types of aircraft and is not allowed to fly other aircraft unless he undertakes proper conversion which is properly checked, and that every pilot is medically tested twice a year by medical officers qualified to carry out these tests?

I think that our British pilots are the equal of any pilots in the world today.

Order. There are a number of Questions still to be answered. We really must get on.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to delay you further, but may I seek your guidance on a matter arising out of the Minister's answer to me? He used a customary formula in asking me to send him particulars of individual cases. Am I right in believing—and I think I am, because I have taken the advice of the authorities of the House in respect of another case—that I am not protected against a possible action for defamation in a case like, this, since the decision of the House on the case of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss)?

I will look at that. I would rather not say anything about it straight off. I do not at present think that there is an exact parallel, but I would rather like to see how right the hon. Member is.

Mr. Speaker, this is a question to which you ought to direct yourself. Due to the case to which my hon. Friend referred, Ministers have many times stated that they wish particulars to be sent to them, being fully conversant with the rule that Members cannot do that because of qualified privilege. It is therefore very hard on these occasions to have the inquiries which we many times request.