HC Deb 29 June 1981 vol 7 cc567-8
21. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he plans any ministerial initative on European air fares while the United Kingdom has the Presidency of the Commission from 1 July.

Mr. Eyre

In June 1980, at our initiative, the Council invited the Commission to examine scheduled air fares in the Community. The Commission expects to present its report to the Council at around the end of this month, and we have also encouraged the Commission to put forward a draft directive to liberalise the regulation of air fares. We are determined to make as much progress as possible in this important area during our Presidency.

Mr. McCrindle

Will the Minister not be backward in leaning on other EEC Governments, not least Germany, to liberalise their approach to European air fares, which many of us feel has been in contravention of the Treaty of Rome? However, with rising fuel and other charges, does my hon. Friend agree that the public should not be led to expect great fare reductions, the most likely event being a substantial reduction for flying at off-peak periods?

Mr. Eyre

I note my hon. Friend's points carefully. As he knows, we have to proceed through agreement, which is not a quick or easy process, but I hope that during our Presidency we shall establish a consensus on sensible measures.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Is the Minister aware that the Select Committee on Industry and Trade has just published a definitive study on European air fares, which is possibly history-making? Before launching himself on troubled waters, will he consult that document?

Mr. Eyre

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. My noble Friend, who is responsible for such matters, will no doubt study the document carefully.

Mr. Jessel

Are not European air fares so high partly because, in effect, they are used to subsidise transatlantic fares, which are now very cheap relative to the distance involved and on which the airlines are making enormous losses? Is that practice not a gross injustice to air travellers within Europe? Will the Government initiate action to deal with the matter, and, furthermore, resist the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) that there should be cheaper off-peak flights if that means more night flights?

Mr. Eyre

I note the points my hon. Friend makes, although, frankly, I understand that the structure of air fares in Europe resulted in their being excessively high. However, I shall pay attention to the point: about transatlantic fares.

Mr. Carter-Jones

If the Minister fails to get a consensus, will he consider an independent declaration of freedom to charge low fares for daytime flights from the United Kingdom to Europe?

Mr. Eyre

Progress has been made on reduced fares with the Euro-budget scheme and the British Caledonian mini-prix agreement. However, I emphasise that every international route has two ends, which is why agreement between the Governments concerned is necessary.

Mr. Anthony Grant

I welcome any reduction in European air fares, but will my hon. Friend bear in mind that it is no help, particularly to the business traveller, if it means a reduction in scheduled services, or airlines going broke or having to he subsidised by the taxpayer? Will he also bear in mind the all-important question of safety?

Mr. Eyre

Where economic circumstances justify, we believe that passengers are entitled to lower fares, although I appreciate the importance of the practical points that my hon. Friend emphasises.