HC Deb 03 August 1971 vol 822 cc1334-6

Mr. Mason (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement about the inquiry that he has ordered into illegal charter flight operations and the reported compliance with such operations by his officials.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Michael Noble)

I have been informed that a general allegation has been made against an officer of the Department. It is now being investigated by one of our senior inspectors. Naturally, I take any such allegation—from whatever source it may come—seriously, but the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is very easy to make mischief by allegation of this kind. The allegation is of a general character and I have not the slightest reason to believe that there is any truth in it.

Mr. Mason

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I sincerely hope that the allegation is without foundation? However, if, as he says, there is no truth in it, why did not he take steps immediately to squash the leading Press story which has placed so many of his officials under a cloud of suspicion? Why has it taken nearly four days before he has made any statement?

Secondly, when this inquiry is concluded, will the right hon. Gentleman be making a public report or a public statement?

Finally, has the right hon. Gentleman instituted any inquiry at all into these illegal charter flight operations and the possible collusion between ticket shops and operators?

Mr. Noble

The answer to the first of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary questions is that it is impossible to deal immediately with any allegation that may appear in the Press or elsewhere, especially when it is of a very general nature, as the right hon. Gentleman now knows this was.

On his second question, if the inquiry produces evidence on which action should be taken, the appropriate action will immediately be taken. If there is no such evidence, quite clearly no report should be made in this House or elsewhere.

On the third question, our enforcement officers continue to check charter flights. Recently we have had some successful prosecutions, and we shall continue our checks so long as these undesirable features of charter operations continue.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

In view of a report that appeared at the weekend, it is clear that these allegations were quite disgraceful and should never have been made in the first place. However, in order to ease the public's mind on the obvious chaotic situation that exists at the moment with these clubs and charter flights, will my right hon. Friend seek an early opportunity to indicate what his Ministry's policy will be on this matter? Does he agree that it is better to keep on prosecuting the maximum number of these clubs—in order to make it clear to them that they cannot continue this kind of operation—than to allow the matter to drift?

Mr. Noble

That is a rather wider question, but I can tell my hon. Friend that we are certainly continuing both with the checks and with discussions with our international colleagues in the aviation business. It is clearly essential that approximately the same rules should apply at both ends of a flight.

As for prosecutions, we shall bring forward as many as we can, consistent with obtaining proper evidence. That is as far as I can go at the moment.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the noise and pandemonium which these regulations are causing is reducing our airports to secondhand knackers' yards? Will he not now agree that these sets of rules and regulations cannot be continually enforced? Will he therefore set about negotiating a decent bilateral charter agreement with the United States which will give the ordinary man in the street his chance to fly to some far-away places?

Mr. Noble

Questions on this subject are already on the Order Paper, and I shall be answering them in due course. Certainly we shall continue to discuss vigorously with other countries—as we are at the moment—ways of stopping the trouble that is arising.

Mr. Adley

I do not wish to be associated with any of the wild charges that have been made, but does not my right hon. Friend agree that the problem arises from the domination of I.A.T.A. by American carriers? That is the source of the problem. In view of the possible enlargement of the European Community, will he give serious consideration to the creation of a European Air Transportation Association?

Mr. Noble

In this matter I am prepared to consider anything. My hon. Friend is quite right in saying that agreement in I.A.T.A. is an essential first step in getting this situation put right.