HC Deb 25 April 1983 vol 41 cc586-7
5. Mr. Maxton

asked the Minister for Trade when he expects to receive the accounts of British Airways for the financial year 1982–83.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Ian Sproat)

I expect to receive British Airways' audited accounts for 1982–83 in the second half of June.

Mr. Maxton

Does the Minister accept that a capital reconstruction, or the writing-off, of British Airways' debts is an essential prerequisite to fulfilling his personal ambition of selling off British Airways to the private sector?

Mr. Sproat

Selling off British Airways is a personal ambition of mine that is shared by the entire Government. It is our wish to sell off British Airways as soon as possible. The Government have not made up their mind about a capital reconstruction.

Mr. Warren

I welcome the substantial progress that has been made by British Airways towards financial success. However, will my hon. Friend ensure the maximum effort by his Department to stop the stupid actions that are now being pursued by lawyers in the United States to put the blame for the unfortunate demise of Laker Airways on British Airways and British Caledonian?

Mr. Sproat

I am glad to hear my hon. Friend praise the splendid performance of British Airways in the past year. That is something that I look forward to hearing from Opposition Members. I hope that they will pay tribute to the amazing turnround from loss into profit. I am glad to be able to tell my hon. Friend that a high-powered delegation from the Department of Trade will start negotiating in Washington tomorrow on the very matter to which he referred.

Mr. Woolmer

Is the Minister aware that the Opposition need no lessons in supporting nationalised industries? Indeed, we are pleased to see nationalised industries prosper. It is a pity that the Government seem determined to sell off nationalised industries once they appear to be making a profit for the taxpayer. Is it not the case that the consultants—Price Waterhouse—told the Government that if British Airways were sold off, 75 per cent. of its debts would have to be written off—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Question 14 asks exactly what the hon. Gentleman is asking and he cannot anticipate the answer to that question.

Mr. Woolmer

Will the Minister come clean and tell the public that it is his and the Government's intention to use up to £800 million of taxpayers' money to write off British Airways' debts and to sell off the airline after an election—and not before—to the private sector? Why does he not have the courage to tell the electorate that that is his intention?

Mr. Sproat

I have already made clear the Government's attitude to a reconstruction in answering my hon. Friend the Member of Hastings (Mr. Warren). However, I am delighted, and surprised, to hear, at last, the Opposition congratulating British Airways on its splendid turnround from loss into profit.

Mr. Robert Atkins

I do not ask my hon. Friend to prevail upon British Airways to buy certain aeroplanes, but will he draw its attention to the fact that the Government may or may not be involved in the partial funding of the A320 Airbus, and that for British Airways to purchase other aeroplanes from America without considering the A320, when it comes to fruition, would not go down terribly well among many of my right hon. and hon. Friends who care about other involvements of the industry?

Mr. Sproat

I am sure that the chairman of British Airways will take note of what my hon. Friend has said. However, it is not the Government's policy to force British Airways into making purchases into which it does not wish to enter. I remind the House that the Boeing 757 with Rolls-Royce engines has a higher British content than the current Airbuses.