HC Deb 06 February 1984 vol 53 cc585-6
1. Mr. Colvin

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if the current consultation on airline competition policy will also include an investigation of competition between airports as well.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

In its consultation letter the Civil Aviation Authority indicated that it will be considering the competitive imbalance between airports as well as between British Airways and other British airlines.

Mr. Colvin

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is no competition between airports at present? The Civil Aviation Authority designates the airport and the air service licence, and the operator has no choice. Is there any reason why, following the denationalisation of the British Airports Authority, which I trust is still high on my right hon. Friend's agenda, the rules should not be changed so that licences specify, for example, just London without specifying which airport, thus leaving the three London airports to compete for the airline's business?

Mr. Mitchell

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are reviewing the options on how to introduce private capital into the British Airports Authority. Most air service agreements that are negotiated internationally merely designate London. In view of the pressure on Heathrow, the licence specifies the airport in order to steer operators away from Heathrow.

Mr. Maxton

Will the Minister take the opportunity of telling the House and British Midland Airways that he will not allow it to land transatlantic flights at Glasgow airport and thus kill off, by unfair competition, Prestwick airport and ensure its closure?

Mr. Mitchell

That is a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority, but appeals can be taken to Ministers. It would be improper for me to make any comment at this stage.

Sir Anthony Grant

Will the consultations include a discussion on the absurd situation whereby the British Airports Authority is sustained almost entirely by duty-free shops? Will there be consideration of the sensible proposal, which I have made a number of times already, that duty-free shops should be at the point of arrival rather than the point of departure?

Mr. Mitchell

I take note of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, but it does not arise at this stage.

Mr. McCrindle

If, as my hon. Friend suggested, it remains the Government's policy and preferred approach to attract airline traffic away from the congested Heathrow, presumably towards the underutilised Gatwick, will he explain why the British Airports Authority is proposing to increase landing charges at Gatwick by 10 per cent. from April, while leaving landing charges at Heathrow unchanged?

Mr. Mitchell

I would think that the landing charges at Heathrow are high enough as they are. It is for the British Airports Authority to choose how it gains its net income. It has a target which it is expected to achieve.

Mr. Prescott

Did the Minister read this weekend the British Airways evidence to the CAA? It makes it clear that privatisation is irrelevant to competition or the sound development of the aviation industry in the United Kingdom. If the CAA comes to the same conclusion, will the Minister reconsider his obsession with privatisation, which does little for competition and robs the taxpayer of his investment?

Mr. Mitchell

We are considering all the options at present for introducing private capital into the BAA.