§ 24. Mr. Jim Marshall
asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects British Arways to be in profit after interest payments.
§ 30. Mr. Heddle
asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the financial position of British Airways.
§ 38. Mr. Snape
asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he has changed his assessment of the losses likely to be sustained by British Airways in the current financial year since the Committee stage of the Civil Aviation (Amendment) Bill.
§ Mr. Sproat
I cannot give a precise figure, but I understand that British Airways, in the financial year that is just ending, will show a loss a good deal larger than the £141 million pre-tax loss last year. This is quite unsatisfactory, and I expect the board to take whatever measures are necessary to restore profitability in the shortest possible time. I am confident that it is making every effort to do so.
§ Mr. Marshall
In view of the uncertainty in the Minister's mind, does he not agree that it would be economic madness to attempt to keep to the Government's timetable to privatise British Airways by 1984? Does he agree that if that policy is pursued, British Airways will inevitably be sold at a price well below its long-term value, which will mean further substantial losses to the British taxpayer?
§ Mr. Sproat
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I can tell him and the House that Her Majesty's Government are determined to stick to their timetable to privatise British Airways as fast as is practicable.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Does my hon. Friend agree that the management of British Airways is with the Government on privatisation and that its efforts to make the company profitable should be encouraged and not discouraged?
§ Mr. Sproat
I certainly agree and I strongly commend the work that Sir John King, Mr. Dibbs and Mr. Roy Watts are doing about that. I gladly pay tribute to the tough but necessary decisions that they have made.
§ Mr. John Smith
Can the Minister give any justification, from the point of view of the public interest, for the Government wiping out or acquiring the loan debts of British Airways before selling their shares to the private sector? What will be gained by such a manoeuvre?
§ Mr. Colvin
Notwithstanding the fact that the Government intend to privatise British Airways as soon as possible, will my hon. Friend acknowledge that at the end of the previous financial year British Airways had outstanding debts of about £633 million and that before a prospectus can be written for the sale of those shares the Government may have to do something about writing off their debts? British Airways do not receive money from the Government, but guarantees to borrow money abroad. Did my hon. Friend bear that in mind before making his statement about privatisation?
§ Mr. Freud
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Question Time, when the Under-Secretary of State for Trade answered question 24, he announced that he was linking it with questions 21, 30 and 38. Is it procedurally correct retrospectively to link questions with those that have gone? If it is, can one demand one's right if one comes into the Chamber having missed one's question?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is an act of kindness on the part of the Minister. The hon. Member concerned may have come into the Chamber since his question was called. That is exactly the kindness that both sides of the House show to each other.