HC Deb 13 January 1997 vol 288 cc7-8
6. Mr. Michael Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make it his policy to require the privatisation of Humberside international airport. [8780]

Sir George Young

It is our policy to encourage privatisation of local authority-owned airports, as we believe that the commercial approach of the private sector benefits their operation and efficiency. The policy is working, and I hope that the owners of Humberside airport will consider the benefits of private ownership.

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his reply, but he and his predecessors have been encouraging Humberside airport to go private for many years, and no notice has been taken. Is it not time that the Government introduced legislation to require Humberside airport to be put into private hands? Even East Midlands airport, which used to have Labour-controlled Derbyshire county council among its shareholders, has been put in private hands.

Humberside no longer exists; the term is not understood by anyone. Why is the name not changed and why do the Government not introduce legislation? I cannot fly from my Humberside constituency to London because the airport is still run by a Labour-controlled group of local authorities. The only way in which those authorities will respond to my right hon. Friend's encouragement is if he introduces legislation. The time for encouragement is over; the time for legislation is before us.

Sir George Young

Exciting ideas for the Conservative manifesto are always welcome, but, as my hon. Friend implied, the existing policy has been successful in persuading a number of local authorities, many of them Labour controlled, to dispose of their interests in local airports such as Liverpool, East Midlands and Cardiff. I shall reflect on my hon. Friend's proposition on compulsion.

Mr. Gunnell

I hope that the Secretary of State recognises that there would be no Humberside airport but for the strategic authority, which represented Humberside as a whole, that developed it. Will he ensure that that strategic approach is continued by the successor authorities and that no local authority-owned airport is privatised against the will of its owners?

Sir George Young

The position, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) made clear, is that the Government are making good progress by persuasion. Many local authorities understand the advantage of privatising their airports to allow them access to capital that would not have been available to them had they remained in the public sector. We can debate on another occasion whether Humberside airport would have come about without the existence of a strategic authority. I hope that the new authorities responsible for Humberside will see the good progress made by local authority airports that have been privatised, which, in conjunction with private sector capital, have expanded in a way that would not otherwise have been possible.

Forward to