HC Deb 11 March 1991 vol 187 cc660-1
12. Mr. Soames

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the chairman of British Airways to discuss the future of the British aviation industry.

Mr. Rifkind

I last met the chairman of British Airways on 25 February. I meet Lord King on those occasions when there is a mutual interest in doing so and I should be happy to meet him in the near future.

Mr. Soames

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. When he next meets the chairman of British Airways will he confirm that it is the Government's intention to strengthen, not weaken, the hand of the biggest and most important carrier in the United Kingdom? Will he also explain to him why the Government have decided to substitute Virgin Atlantic on a route to Tokyo which was previously held by British Airways and which will have a materially adverse commercial effect on British Airway's prospects? Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, in all his airline policies, he seeks to bring stability to what is at the moment an extremely chaotic industry?

Mr. Rifkind

I have the greatest admiration for British Airways and the way in which Lord King, in particular, has chaired that company in the past few years.

As for our decision on flights to Japan, my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, notwithstanding the announcement, British Airways and Virgin will be able to offer improved services on that route this summer compared with last year. Both companies should be able to increase their revenues. It was a difficult decision to reach, but it was necessary. I do not believe that it in any way suggests a lack of confidence in British Airways—quite the opposite. It is a superb, strong airline and I believe that it, as well as the British public, will benefit from the competition from Virgin Atlantic.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Has the Secretary of State seen in some of today's newspapers reports that British Airways is proposing to withdraw some of its services in Scotland, some think on the highlands and islands routes? Is not that socially undesirable and will he make representations if that proves to be the case?

Mr. Rifkind

I saw the suggestion in one newspaper that British Airways was reviewing certain services, including some in Scotland. It is obviously for British Airways to judge which services it wishes to provide. If there is a demand for services that are not provided by British Airways, other airlines may wish to take them over. That is a matter for the airline companies to determine.

Mr. Dicks

Which decisions made by my right hon. and learned Friend's Department or the Civil Aviation Authority over the past year or so have had the full support of British Airways?

Mr. Rifkind

The purpose of the Department of Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority is primarily to serve the interest of the travelling public in the United Kingdom. I believe that, on the vast majority of occasions, that coincides with the interests of British airlines, but if I ever have to make a choice between the two, my primary obligation will be to the travelling public.