HC Deb 24 April 1968 vol 763 cc225-7
16. Mr. Fortescue

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the nationalised Air Corporations, or any other British airlines, were consulted before the landing fees at Heathrow were raised with his consent.

Mr. Crosland

All airlines were given notice in January that the proposed increases would take effect on 1st April. I received representations from the Chairmen of both B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., and, as I told the House on 29th March, I replied explaining why, in my view, the increases were justified.—[Vol. 761, c. 346–7.]

Mr. Fortesare

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House details of the present position regarding the payment or non-payment of the increase in fees by foreign airlines?

Mr. Crosland

As far as I know—I speak subject to correction—there has not been a non-payment, although there has been a good deal of talk about possible non-payments.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that what he has done is a very bad example to the rest of industry in Britain, taking into account the fact that, apart from the air control, which is excellent, London Airport has some of the worst conditions of any international airport in the world?

Mr. Crosland

No. What we have done is in no way inconsistent with the advice which we have consistently given to industry, which is that when a firm is already selling all that it can sell abroad at its existing price in foreign currency it should not reduce that price because if it does so it merely loses foreign currency for the country. We have taken exactly that attitude with the British Airports Authority.

Mr. Robert Howarth

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Heathrow is probably the premier international airport and that the charges at London Airport are lower than at a number of the important European airports?

Mr. Crosland

The matter of charges is very complicated. It depends whether one considers Heathrow in isolation or all British airports. But the charges at British airports are mainly dictated by the obligation which Parliament has laid on the British Airports Authority and some other airports that they must operate economically and are not to be subsidised.

Mr. Lubbock

Would the Minister confirm that there has been no sign whatsoever of foreign airlines moving away from London Airport as a result of the increased charges, contrary to the prediction made by the Tory Opposition in the recent debate?

Mr. Crosland

It would be highly unlikely that foreign airlines would divert their traffic from Heathrow to airports outside this country because of the increase in charges.

Mr. Onslow

The fact that this was done without consultation is scarcely likely to attract increased traffic to this country; but, on the right hon. Gentleman's own argument, would he support the raising of harbour dues at British ports?

Mr. Crosland

It sounds as though the hon. Gentleman has foreign airlines in mind when he talks about traffic being diverted from British airports to other countries. But there is no reason why foreign airline operators should lose anything, because they will continue to pay exactly the same in foreign currency as they pay today. They have no cause for legitimate complaint at all. The only ones with a legitimate cause for complaint are British airline operators who will be paying more; but the extra amount which they will be paying at Heathrow will be infinitely less than the revenue which they will receive as a result of, quite rightly, increasing fares after devaluation.