HC Deb 10 June 1985 vol 80 cc621-3
1. Mr. Coombs

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what are the average fares per mile on scheduled air services between the United Kingdom and (a) Amsterdam and (b) Paris.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Michael Spicer)

Since our agreement last year with the Dutch, lowest fares between London and Amsterdam have fallen by as much as 44 per cent. The lowest fare to Paris has risen by 4 per cent. I have placed details of the fares in the Library.

Mr. Coombs

Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures are remarkable and demonstrate the importance of opening up European air routes to maximum competition? Does he recognise the need for continuing negotiations with the French about the London-Paris route, which has shown not a remarkable improvement but a deterioration? Will my hon. Friend tell the House how the negotiations are proceeding?

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend is right to say that the new liberal regime with the Dutch has had a dramatic effect on travel between London and Amsterdam, which in the last year has risen by almost 17 per cent., against the European average of 10 per cent. I am hoping to see in the next few weeks the French Minister responsible for aviation to discuss how to improve fare structures between Britain and France.

Mr. Skinner

Instead of spending so much time with his continental counterparts, will the Minister do something constructive for Swindon and stop rail closures which will result in mass unemployment?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question is about Amsterdam.

Mr. Spicer

In the first part of his question the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) implied that he did not agree with what we are doing to achieve lower fares for our country men who want to travel to Europe, but we shall press on.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my hon. Friend approach these important negotiations with the treaty of Rome and its important free competition provisions in mind? Is it not prima facie the case that a number of countries, including France, are not acting according to the spirit of those provisions?

Mr. Spicer

Yes. The Government are becoming increasingly impatient over the fact that the provisions of the treaty of Rome, which apply to manufacturing, do not seem to apply to services —especially not to aviation.

2. Mr. Robert B. Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to persuade other European countries to agree to more liberal air service arrangements with the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

We have negotiated liberal air services arrangements with the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg. We are in the course of discussions with France, Italy, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries, and are maintaining pressure for the establishment of a liberal air transport policy by the European Community.

Mr. Jones

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for, and congratulate him on, the progress that he has made. Which countries are dragging their feet? Would it not be a good idea to open negotiations with countries outside the EEC, such as those in Scandanavia, to bring home to them the benefits to their tourist trade of lower fares, and so hit in the pocket those countries which are being obstructive?

Mr. Ridley

We are approaching non-EEC countries, such as Norway, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland, to try to negotiate liberal arrangements with them. My hon. Friend will be reassured and pleased to hear that of the 10 new services to the Netherlands six serve regional airports in Britain, and that two out of six new services to Germany also serve regional airports.

Mr. Stephen Ross

May I encourage the Secretary of State to extend his negotiations to east European countries, such as East Germany? It seems ridiculous that we should not be able to fly direct to Berlin without having to go to Amsterdam or Brussels and then half way round the Baltic. Is there any chance of making progress with those countries?

Mr. Ridley

That is a rather different proposition. They are not used to liberal private enterprise competitive arrangements in those parts of Europe. I shall bear in mind, however, the hon. Gentleman's exhortation that I should persuade them to be so.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

When my right hon. Friend has his negotiations with the French Government on this issue, will he try to persuade them that it is crazy for them to keep a closed shop both on fares and services to Strasbourg, which is, after all, meant to be the headquarters not only of the European Assembly but of the Council of Europe? They are unduly restrictive in terms of fares and planes flying to Strasbourg.

Mr. Ridley

I agree with my hon. Friend. On the route to Paris and to other airports in France, including Strasbourg, there seems no reason why we should not have a completely liberal arrangement. We are continuing to urge that view on our French friends, and we can only hope that my hon. Friend's supplementary question will have contributed to that end.

Mr. Steen

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the major problem is the pooling arrangements which the state airlines enter into with each other? Will his measures and sensible White Paper help to liberalise the arrangements, provide more competition and help to break the cartel?

Mr. Ridley

I only wish that I could bring the pooling arrangements to an end. We have made that view clear in the Council of Transport Ministers and shall continue to do so. I am afraid, however, that I must tell my hon. Friend that it takes two to reach an agreement—it takes two to tango in these matters—and that until we can persuade the other European states to accept a more open transport regime we shall not succeed.

Sir Peter Emery

Will my right hon. Friend, when considering the whole matter of liberalisation, try to persuade his Department and foreign Governments to give greater encouragement to small independent airlines, BCal and others, to come forward and take up opportunities? Will he, at the same time, discourage British Airways from trying to hog the whole lot?

Mr. Ridley

I assure my hon. Friend that my Department needs no encouraging in that direction. Nor do I. He will agree that my record, both in connection with the civil aviation review and the airports White Paper, has been to try to find ways to encourage the smaller independent airlines to have more opportunities and more room for growth.