HC Deb 16 March 1987 vol 112 cc674-5
2. Mr. Dicks

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what information he has as to the number of airlines currently based in the United Kingdom.

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

There are about 50 United Kingdom airlines holding air transport licences.

Mr. Dicks

What are the major benefits of competition in the airline industry, and what are the major obstacles to that greater competition?

Mr. Spicer

Our policy towards encouraging competition in the airline industry is one of the reasons why our industry is now the largest and most efficient in the Western world outside the United States.

In answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, we would like to extend competition in Europe and to see British airlines able to compete more fairly for business in the United States.

Mr. Sheerman

When scrutinising some of the deals that smaller airlines are tying up with large American airlines will the Minister ensure that those deals do not give a foothold to major American airlines which can damage the national interest and the British airline business?

Mr. Spicer

I agree with the hon. Gentleman if he is implying that any such tie-ups should be on a reciprocal basis, but we would like our airlines to be able to invest in commuter travel in the United States. It would only be on such a reciprocal basis that we would conceive of the reverse being the case.

Mr. Soames

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his robust championing of the aviation industry. Will he give a fair wind to the applications by British Caledonian for a number of new European routes being heard today? Does he agree that, through no fault of its own, British Caledonian has had a difficult year and needs every assistance that we can give it?

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend is far too well versed in the affairs of the airline industry to expect me to make any comment about the hearing currently before the Civil Aviation Authority. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a quasi-judicial role in relation to appeals, so he will have a role if an appeal is made. The Government's avowed policy is to encourage all sorts of competition between British airlines wishing to fly into Europe.

Mr. Wallace

Will the Minister take this opportunity of congratulating Loganair, one of our domestic airlines, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary? Will he pay tribute to the valuable service that it provides to and within the islands communities in Scotland? Does he accept that British Airways complements that service to an important extent? May we have an assurance that following privatisation the Government will not agree to any diminution in the vital lifeline services which British Airways provides for the islands communities?

Mr. Spicer

I associate the Government with the first part of what the hon. Gentleman said about British Airways and Loganair.

The second part of the hon. Gentleman's question might come up in detail later in connection with lifeline services. The British Government are committed to lifeline services and to the appropriate licensing procedures associated with them.

Mr. McCrindle

How many of the 50 airlines fly scheduled services through Stansted, or how many have indicated a desire to do so? Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Government's policy is still the expansion of Stansted to a maximum of 7 million to 8 million passengers a year, looking to the time when there will be complementary services to the main European destinations?

Mr. Spicer

Air UK is the major supplier of scheduled services through Stansted. My information is that airlines are increasingly finding it difficult to get into Gatwick and Heathrow and are looking at Stansted as an alternative. That is one reason why we took the decision last year to expand Stansted.

Mr. Carter-Jones

As American airlines have change of gauge facilities in this country, will the Minister arrange for British airlines to have similar change of gauge arrangements in the United States?

Mr. Spicer

One of the matters being discussed in Washington by our officials this afternoon is the question of reciprocal arrangements and fair trade between the United States and the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the American airlines, which often are the first to complain about charges, at Heathrow airport for instance, can use their rights at Heathrow—change of gauge is one of them, and to pick people up at Heathrow, is another—which our airlines cannot do in the United States. One day that will have to be redressed.

Mr. Roger King

Will my hon. Friend accept the grateful thanks of the people of the west midlands in particular for the fact that, because of his policy on competition and deregulation within the internal airline industry, shortly we are to have an international transatlantic service in the shape of Highland Express, which I am sure will go a long way towards re-establishing Birmingham as the country's industrial capital?

Mr. Spicer

Highland Express is applying to the Civil Aviation Authority for the appropriate permission, so I cannot comment about any particular airline which is currently applying for licences. My right hon. Friend has a quasi-judicial role. We want to encourage the maximum number of viable airlines to fly to the United States, or anywhere else.