HC Deb 28 January 1974 vol 868 cc3-5
2. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what he now estimates to be the likely level of shortfall of supply of aviation fuel; and what effect he estimates this will have upon the finances of British Airways and other United Kingdom carriers.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Energy is examining the prospects for all fuels. While he cannot at present predict what the level of availability of aviation fuel might be in the coming months, he has no reason to believe that the incoming supply will deteriorate in the near future. In the present period of adjustment to the new régime of fuel scarcity and in the absence of firm information on future supplies, the extent of any financial damage to the airlines cannot yet be estimated.

Mr. Tebbit

Can my hon. Friend say, however, whether there is any risk, at least at present, of cut-backs in services to the level at which people will be unable to find seats? Can he confirm that so far there have been no such cuts and that all the passengers who wanted to be carried have been carried?

Mr. Heseltine

As far as I am aware, there has been little hardship to the travelling public through lack of availability of seats. There has had to be a certain amount of diversion from one flight to another, but I believe that the airlines have been agreeably surprised at the way in which they have been able to handle the traffic on offer, although there has been some dislocation.

Mr. Mason

I can understand the uncertainty about seats on the Government side of the House. Does the Minister remember announcing that he was cutting back supplies of fuel oil to the British airline industry by 55,000 tons from 20th November to 31st December? What effect has that cut-back had on the industry? Secondly, how was it monitored? Thirdly, what has been the reduction in supplies since 1st January?

Mr. Heseltine

The cut-back which I announced for the period mid-November to the end of December was, if I remember correctly, of the order of magnitude that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. The cut-back was monitored by broadly allocating to airlines 90 per cent. of the 1973 uptake which applied to industry at large, but there was a certain amount of adjustment to take account of the special factors which I mentioned in the announcement. The overall position has been that British and foreign airlines have managed to exist within the reduced levels which we announced, but there is an appeal system whereby airlines which feel that they have particular problems have come back to my Department.

Mr. Mason

What has been the reduction in supplies since 1st January? The Minister announced a reduction only up to 31st December. What guidance has he given to the charter operators about holiday flights in the summer?

Mr. Heseltine

I think the right hon. Gentleman will remember that I announced a subsequent fuel allocation for the period of January. I do not have the figure of the tonnage of fuel allocated, but I can easily let the right hon. Gentleman have it. I believe that the charter side, as with the scheduled side, has managed to live within the system that we have instigated.

Mr. Jessel

Has it occurred to my hon. Friend that the shortage of aviation fuel and the cut-back in flights have produced an unforeseen advantage in that they have reduced the aircraft noise nuisance suffered by people living around airports? If flights are cut back now for reasons of fuel shortage, can they not be cut back in normal times to reduce suffering from aircraft noise?

Mr. Heseltine

I think my hon. Friend will accept that the degree of hardship and difficulty which has been imposed at short notice as a result of the fuel shortage is a more Draconian measure than we would have accepted in normal circumstances. But I accept that there has been an opportunity for the airlines to examine again their patterns of operation in the light of changed circumstances, and I would think that there would be a noise benefit flowing from that.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Will the Minister go further and suggest to the airlines that they should consider their pattern of operations in the light of what they have been able to do in the present emergency?

Mr. Heseltine

I believe that the airlines have found it necessary to look at their pattern of operations as a result of the fuel restrictions and that they will learn whatever lessons are appropriate as a consequence.