HC Deb 24 October 1988 vol 139 cc7-8
7. Sir Peter Emery

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent action he has taken to bring about a further reduction of air fares between London and other European centres.

Mr. Channon

We are using the provisions of the European Community fares directive to support United Kingdom airlines in their efforts to introduce lower fares. We have already achieved significant reductions in fares to a number of European destinations, the latest of which is Paris.

Sir Peter Emery

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his success, but does he realise that even the reduced fares are some of the most expensive per passenger mile in the world? One can fly across America for the same price as a ticket to Brussels. That must be nonsense. Is there any support that the House, Committees of the House, the public or institutions can give to my right hon. Friend in asking the Commission to consider the restrictive practices in the pricing policy of European airlines, which it has put off doing for some time?

Mr. Channon

The more pressure there is from passengers throughout the Community, the better. With the help of several other Governments, the United Kingdom Government have been doing their best to persuade European Governments of the advantages of liberalisation. We shall continue to press them, although we have not succeeded in all cases in convincing them. But there have been some encouraging signs, especially in fares to Ireland, Holland and France. We have a long way to go, and we are determined to make progress in this area.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Will the Secretary of State remember that not all European centres lie on the other side of the English Channel, and that there are some north of London? In that context, will he examine the fares policy operating within the United Kingdom? Is he aware that landing charges at Scottish airports are so high that one could have a cheap package holiday for a fortnight in Majorca for the price of the air fare between London and some airports in Scotland? Will he use his powers under the Airports Act 1986 to remedy that?

Mr. Channon

On domestic fares, as opposed to fares to other parts of the Community, of course I cannot force airlines to use their existing rights, but there is competition and there is the prospect of lower fares. I welcome the initiative of the airlines which propose to reduce fares, and I hope that people will press for that to continue. I shall consider the hon. Lady's point about landing charges.

Mr. Colvin

My right hon. Friend mentioned liberalisation. The package introduced in 1983 for the liberalisation of inter-regional air services was welcome, but will he see what can be done to remove the 70-seat, 30-tonne limit on aircraft for those inter-regional services? Encouraging more services must be one way of reducing prices.

Mr. Channon

My hon. Friend has put his finger on an extremely important point, which is under discussion at the moment. Talks are going on about liberalising the regional air services agreement and the question of the weight limit is one of the most important matters being considered. I shall bear in mind what he has said. I hope that we shall be able to persuade our European partners to agree with us on that matter.