HC Deb 09 July 2002 vol 388 cc743-4
53. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

If he will make a statement on arrangements made between the Transport Office and the House of Commons Commission in relation to the purchase price of airline tickets. [65353]

Mr. Archy Kirkwood

(on behalf of the House of Commons Commission): The Travel Office is contractually obliged to offer its customers advice on best fare availability. To maximise value for money to the House, there is an agreement between the House and British Airways on special fares booked through the Travel Office for group travel on official business. Following the withdrawal of agency commissions by British Airways, however, a modest transaction charge has been levied on British Airways tickets purchased from the Travel Office to avoid subsidising private travel from public funds.

Mr. Steen

Is the House aware that, every time anybody buys such a ticket from the Travel Office, they pay a 5 per cent. surcharge? If a Member is travelling on official or parliamentary business, that 5 per cent. surcharge is paid for by the taxpayer. On purchases from any airline other than British Airways, the travel agent's commission is paid for out of the ticket price, but British Airways levies a surcharge.

Why should the taxpayer pay that surcharge because the House flies British Airways? I am a great supporter of British Airways, as we all are, but why should the taxpayer pay that extra 5 per cent? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, until that surcharge is lifted, we should fly with any airline other than British Airways, because it is cheaper for the taxpayer?

Mr. Kirkwood

The Travel Office is there for the convenience of the House. It is there predominantly so that Members—including members of Select Committees—and Officers of the House can travel on official visits using public funds. Because of the way the Travel Office is financed, however, if the 5 per cent. transaction charge were not levied, the taxpayer would, in effect, be providing a subsidy to private users of the office. I would say to the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), however, that these matters are always under consideration, and if other airlines can provide similar value for money and equal flexibility of service, any bid from such an airline could be considered in due course.