HC Deb 14 February 1977 vol 926 cc14-6
8. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the progress he has made in renegotiating the Bermuda Agreement.

12. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what further progress has been made in the Bermuda Agreement negotiations; and if he will make a statement.

27. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the present position of Bermuda Agreement negotiations with the United States of America.

Mr. Dell

An economic assessment bas been made by both sides, which makes it clear that our proposals will benefit both the airlines and the travelling public. During the recent visit of the United States Vice-President, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I made it clear that we hope the Americans will be prepared to negotiate meaningfully at the next round of talks on 28th February in London.

Mr. Tebbit

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we all wish him well in his efforts to secure a better share of the air transport traffic for British airlines, particularly on the North Atlantic? Has he yet discovered, however, that the United States authorities have no intention of restricting their airlines by a policy of single designation on the North Atlantic? Does he agree that his policy is therefore becoming impractical in that direction, as well as unlawful, in trying to force single designation in this country?

Mr. Dell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his initial remarks. I note what he says about the impracticality of my proposals. I hope that he will not take on the responsibility of negotiating on behalf of the United States Government. They are perfectly capable of making that point themselves if they wish. I assure the hon. Gentleman that nothing that I am doing in this field is unlawful. I have the right under the law to negotiate on this basis, and that is what I propose to do. Of course, it is open to the House, if hon. Members do not like the agreement when it is made, to express that view, but there is nothing unlawful in what I am doing.

Mr. Arnold

Since the Sherman Anti-Trust Act expressly forbids United States carriers from entering into discussions with other airlines without the consent of the Federal Government, would it not be helpful for the British Government to allow British Airways to enter into such discussions, since that might persuade the Americans to be more flexible?

Mr. Dell

Airlines are, of course, represented in the discussions that take place in the course of this renegotiation. But if the United States Government have proposals to make—I hope that on 28th February they will have—they will be carefully considered.

Mr. McCrindle

In retrospect, does not the Secretary of State feel that these negotiations have succeeded only in souring our relations on civil aviation matters with the United States, particularly at a time when crucial decisions on Concorde are being approached? Does he not feel that the best line he can take is to suspend the discussions on the Bermuda Agreement and broaden our discussions with the United States to take on board such matters as Skytrain?

Mr. Dell

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken in his remarks. Under the existing Bermuda Agreement we are entitled to fly Concorde into New York. Evidently one of the characteristics of the agreement is that it does not yet enable us to enforce that right. That is an inadequacy in the Bermuda Agreement. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support me in trying to get a better agreement in that respect as well as in others.

I do not think there is any need for these negotiations to sour relations with the United States. Our proposals undoubtedly cause difficulties for the United States, because we wish for a better share of the revenue that arises in air transport involving our two countries. That is inevitable. If, however, one takes that as the objective, one has to decide whether it is the right objective. I think that it is. I hope that I take the Opposition with me in that view.