HC Deb 23 February 1987 vol 111 cc1-2
1. Mr. Sayeed

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made, following discussions with his French counterpart, to encourage the further liberalisation of European air services.

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

I met M. Douffiagues on 4 February and exchanged ideas for significantly more liberal bilateral air service arrangements. At last week's informal Council of Ministers further progress was made. We made it clear again that we would only be party to an agreement which provided for proper competition between airlines.

Mr. Sayeed

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the robust action that he is taking, particularly in view of the substantial vested interest. Has progress been made on the introduction of cheaper off-peak fares?

Mr. Spicer

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Yes, most of our European partners now seem to accept the principle that airlines should be able to introduce low off-peak fares. The British Government are determined that such fares should not be strangled by absurdly restrictive restraints such as the Saturday night or six-day concession.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Will the Minister take it from me that we wish him well in his endeavours, but that he needs an awful lot of luck to be successful?

Mr. Spicer

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words of encouragement.

Mr. Ward

Is my hon. Friend aware of the difficulties concerning the city of Strasbourg, which is the centre for the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, and, in particular, the apparent attempt by the French to maintain a near monopoly there? Will he press for an improvement in communications with Strasbourg and more allowance for genuine competition?

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in stressing the role of competition in providing better services to Strasbourg, and indeed, elsewhere in Europe. In view of what my hon. Friend said, my right hon Friend will certainly press even stronger for more competition in air services with France and, indeed, with other European countries.

Mr. Snape

What has the Minister actually done, which was the point of the question? Whatever he has done, why were we deprived of knowing about it? He failed to hold a press conference at the end of his six-month presidency, which is surely unprecedented with Aviation Ministers.

Mr. Spicer

The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong again. Of course we held a press conference. The reason was to stress that we have almost total unanimity on access and capacity. The only matter on which we shall have further discussions is fares, and we are getting somewhere on that as well.