§ 5. Mr. Matthew Banks
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received concerning the United States/United Kingdom bilateral air agreements relating to the separation of negotiations for routes into London Heathrow and regional gateways.
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John MacGregor)
I have received representations on a number of issues relating to the bilateral negotiations and continue to try to get the talks restarted.
§ Mr. Banks
While congratulating my right hon. Friend on his patience—never mind his tenacity—in the difficult negotiations between the two countries, may I ask him to assure the House that, given the environmental and other reasons why it will be difficult to find many extra take-off and landing slots at London's Heathrow airport, he will set about trying to agree an open skies policy with the United States Government to allow more flights across the Atlantic to regional airports in the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I agree with my hon. Friend. I am keen to get the talks restarted—it was not us who broke them off. I agree that there are real constraints at Heathrow. We are trying to persuade the United States Government—with increasing success, because the arguments are being recognised—that there is not unlimited access to Heathrow. I am also keen to encourage the expansion of regional airports and that is why last December we proposed to the United States Government opening all our regional airports at the first stage.
§ Mr. Olner
The Secretary of State's record seems to have stuck. I remember that question being asked time and again at Question Time. It is of vital importance to the regional airports, such as Birmingham, that more transatlantic routes to America are provided. Will he please take action quickly and stop stalling on Heathrow and Gatwick, because they are the main reason why the talks, which are very important for regional airports, are being blocked?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not stuck and I am not just repeating the arguments. I am trying to get the talks restarted and have been seeking a number of ways to do so. I made further proposals to the United States Government in relation to the recent Delta-Virgin code-sharing arrangement, suggesting that we should take advantage of that deal to have some interim agreements to get the talks going again and I included proposals for the regional airports.
§ Mr. Haselhurst
Even if my right hon. Friend made his offer of unrestricted access to the regional airports and Stansted unconditional, has he any cause for believing that the United States Administration would accept that offer?
The problem is the United States Government have not accepted our offers in relation to Stansted and the regional airports, as my hon. Friend knows. It is important that all interests—the airlines and the airports—are involved in the negotiations. We would not fulfil our liberal objectives if we agreed to a deal that would allow United States airlines to exploit their unfair competitive advantage, while giving United Kingdom airlines nothing in return and driving them out of the market. That is the problem and that is why I wanted a balanced deal. I assure my hon. Friend that that deal very much includes giving open access to the regional airports and Stansted as quickly as we can get a positive and constructive response from the other side.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I welcome the Minister's commitment to diversification through regional airports and the fact that Belfast international airport was one of those that recently got an add-on licence from America, through to Riga. May we urge the right hon. Gentleman to continue his efforts—we will back him—to ensure that British companies have the same rights as American companies?