HL Deb 25 November 1971 vol 325 cc1202-33

5.57 p.m.

BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: Whether they are aware of increasing consumer discontent at the lack of progress made on the problem of cheaper air fares and the legitimate availability of these direct to the public; whether they are prepared to grant further dispensation to State airlines making such facilities available through arrangements with the countries concerned thereby minimising work for airline officials and confusion to the travelling public; and whether they will now state, or publish, the principle behind the policy which they would like to see adopted. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the last time I spoke in this House I took only 12 minutes. but I am afraid that to-night that I shall not be quite so brief. I did inform Lord Drumalbyn's office this morning that practically all the points I should be dealing with would be points that I have covered in Questions over the past year, so that I hoped he would be able to answer them. There is one exception—and I shall come to that later—of which I did give him specific notice. I should like to say now that have considerable (if I may dare say it), affection and esteem for the noble Lord. hut I think that he has been guilty of stonewalling over these past 11 months, and to-night I am hoping to send him down some fast halls that will get past his guard. and perhaps we shall get some sort of an answer.

My Lords, on February 18, about nine months ago, I raised this problem by means of an Unstarred Question, and I have had to return to it again. I have had to return to it for the very simple reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, on November 9, at column 233 of the OFFICIAL REPORT: the situation remains obscure. This, I should have thought, was the understatement of the year. My first complaint against this Government is that they have done little or nothing to dispel this obscurity. My Questions, troublesome though they may have been, have been put down with two purposes: one, to elicit information; two, to stress that people should he treated fairly.

My second complaint is that the Government—and I think it must be done deliberately—refuse to acknowledge why I am pursuing this matter, and continue to state the obvious. Perhaps we might look at this point. This Unstarred Question to-day ends with the request that the Government … will now state, or publish, the principle behind the policy which they would like to see adopted. This was a supplementary question asked by my noble friend Lord Beswick during my oral questions on November 9 last. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, replied to my noble friend Lord Beswick (and sent me a copy) with his usual courtesy and detail. It got us exactly nowhere. I quote: The United Kingdom airlines have the Government's full support in seeking lower fares. Perhaps I was unfair in saying that we had got exactly nowhere. This fact has at last been dragged out; it took a very long time. The letter went on: However there is no point in reducing a fare or introducing new types of low fares for a particular category of passenger if the loss of revenue is not more than offset by an increase in traffic. That, I should have thought, was stating the obvious. I should not really have thought it was worth the space that it took up. The letter went on to state: The aim must be to achieve the lowest possible levels of fares commensurate with viable operations and, as you know, airlines generally are going through a difficult time. That, I would suggest, is equally obvious.

I do not know about your Lordships, but this type of letter reduces me almost to despair. For some 12 months now, I have been trying to explain to the Government that air revenue on scheduled airlines has fallen because of overcapacity, high fares and charter competition. Every Member of your Lordships' House must have wearied of this constant repetition. Equally, for the same 12 months, I have been trying to suggest to the Government ways in which this financial position might be improved. They might have been good suggestions; they might have been poor ones. But I was at least trying to suggest a remedy. In fact, someone on the Government Benches once said to me afterwards, "I don't think they've got a clue. Don't they realise you are trying to fill their empty seats?" Of course it is no use having lower fares if there is no increase in traffic. That is obvious to everyone. I thought this was the main reason for the success of charter flights. But the Government merely say that there will be no increase. How do they know without its being tried? The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, shakes his head. He does not know what is coming.

That brings roe to my third complaint: of statements being made without corroboration. Indeed, on February 18 last, at column 803 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, told US: The demand for scheduled services is relatively inelastic. It is growing, although obviously more slowly than for non-scheduled. There is little indication that it is being eroded by charter services and inclusive tours on most routes, or that a reduction in fares on scheduled services would result in a commensurate increase in their use. My noble friend Lord Beswick replied that … the noble Lord has just touched on the core of the matter. What it boils down to is this: should not we create extra traffic OT promote extra traffic if we experimented with the idea of reducing a little for all rather than a lot for the few? Can the noble Lord say oil what he bases his last statement that there is no indication that a reduction in fares would help scheduled services? The reply from the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn (col.803), was: I am afraid I cannot give the noble Lord the basis for it. May I write to him about that? I am not in favour of government by correspondence, and it was clear from the embarrassment of the noble Lord that he had no basis, either in his head or in his papers. I think he should not have allowed the argument to be used without checking the basic facts. On this side of the House we have not been able to check whether an actual reply was sent to my noble friend Lord Beswick; we cannot find one. I think that is a small point, because the noble Lord is always most courteous. But my real complaint is that a statement was used by a Minis ter without facts to support it, and that I think—


My Lords, is not the noble Baroness going a little far about that? She has said that a statement was made without facts. But these were entirely matters of judgment. They were not matters of fact; they were matters of judgment, and not only the judgment of this country, but the judgment of other countries as well.


My Lords, the noble Lord will not get away with that. I am glad that this is not Question Time and that we have a little more time to deal with these matters. The noble Lord stated as a definite fact (I have the copy of Hansard here, and I am sure he can get hold of one before he comes to reply) that a reduction in fares on scheduled services would not result in a commensurate increase in their use. My noble friend Lord Beswick asked him for the basis for that statement and, having said that he does not have a basis, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, is not going to get away with saying that it is a general fact. It just will not do. It is woolly and it is not factual.

My fourth complaint about this Government is that they are always quibbling; and we have just had an example of it. I should much prefer the noble Lord to say, "I am sorry, but I have not got the facts and I should have had them". The Government eternally quibble. They have quibbled for twelve months with me over this matter, and I have become tired of it. On the eliciting of information, which the Leader of the House rightly reminded us recently (I think it was only last week) was the real purpose of Question Time, progress is minimal. This goes on week after week, month after month. The direct answer is always evaded until we come to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, earlier this week and I shall come back to that.

On November 9 last I asked the Government (col.234): whether, in view of the dispensation to run charter flights at low prices and both advertise and sell tickets direct to the public granted by them on an experimental basis to B. O. A. C. and British Caledonian for flights to Malaya and Singapore, they will consider granting a similar dispensation to B. E. A. for an experimental flight in Europe. For the moment, my Lords, let us leave the request concerning B. E. A. and deal with the facts stated. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, replied that: … the exemptions granted to the charter subsidiaries of B. O. A. C. and British Caledonian relate to charter services where it is the charterer rather than the airline which advertises and sells the tickets. Will the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, when he comes to reply this evening, say specifically, without qualifications, whether I am right in saying that B. O. A. C. and British Caledonian have been given exemption to normal licensing rules for flights to Malaya and Singapore; that this means they can run flights on a charter basis at a low price and both advertise and sell tickets direct to the public? Normally charter flights cannot be advertised, and no tickets are officially available to non-group members. I wish that Hansard could print that last sentence-and-a-half in red type to bring it home to the Minister; and I should be glad to know, when he comes to reply whether what I have said is correct.

When, on the same day, November 9 (col.235), we moved on to hoped-for new charter rules, I asked the noble Lord whether he meant, that these tickets would be available to the public direct, and that it would not be necessary to be a member of some affinity group or to be on an actual … flight. The answer I received, I am sorry to say, was what one would expect: that … it is precisely because of the difficulty arising from the affinity groups that we are seeking some other method of dealing with this matter. So far as affinity groups are concerned, it is Her Majesty's Government's intention … to apply the rules strictly". My Lords, there was not one word on what I had asked: Would the tickets be available to the public direct? And so we go on: we get nowhere. A Minister is able to do this at Question Time, but it does not enhance reputations.

My Lords, let us look briefly at the manner in which the Government, to quote Lord Drumalbyn, are applying the rules strictly. An incident happened at Gatwick Airport on October 22 when an affinity group flight by Donaldson International was waiting to take off to New York. Department of Trade and Industry officers made a spot check of passengers to see whether they were eligible. Some were not, and were not carried on the flight. But the full check had not been completed when the aircraft took off. The managing director of Donaldson International said that five interviewing officers arrived an hour before take-off time. Departure was delayed for one hour 56 minutes. The managing director then authorised takeoff because, he said, the officers had interviewed only 45 of the 189 passengers, and on that basis the take-off would have been delayed for eight or nine hours. There were also 189 passengers in New York who would similarly have been delayed. I have taken that account from The Times. There is an even better written one in the Guardian of yesterday; perhaps the noble Lord's Department would care to read it. It is called, "Anarchy in the sky", and it contains a lot of information.

My Lords, as to affinity groups or charter flights—call them what you will —again I would say what everybody realises, that the evasions here are bringing the law into contempt. We know of course, that inspectors from the Department of Trade and Industry descend on some would-be travellers, find they are not members of the affinity group concerned and the flight is called off. That was so on the night of the 22nd. Have the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and his Department any realisation that this is the tip of the iceberg? Do they read the papers to find out what is going on, if they do not know from other sources? I have a particular reason for asking that question. Only last Tuesday I asked the Government: … whether they are aware of an undesirable feature of the concealed group air fares now developing by which touts buy the cheap tickets and resell these within the time limit; and what figures have been obtained from sources other than the airlines, of the percentage of the I. A. T. A. affinity group tickets that are being sold or resold to non-members of the nominal groups, with similar figures for B. O. A. C. Earlybird tickets."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT,23/11/71, col. S99.] If I may paraphrase columns 899 and 900, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, told us that the Government were aware that there had been some abuse of the existing arrangements for affinity group charter flights, and that the Minister for Trade and Industry would be making a Statement in another place on the subject in the near future. We then learned that the Statement was not likely to be repeated in this House. Seeing that most of the work on this matter over the past 12 months had been done in this House, this seemed unfair— and I think that is a very calm remark. That opinion was shared by many noble Lords. As a matter of fact, I thought it both mean and a breach of Parliamentary etiquette. Thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and obviously in conjunction with the Government Chief Whip, the matter was dealt with. A Question for Written Answer was placed on our Order Paper in my name on Tuesday night, and a similar one in another place. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and I think that the other one got lost, but I am not bothered about that. If they have been fortunate enough to get a copy noble Lords will see the suggested Statement in the form of a Written Answer at column 1140 in our Hansard to-day. I should like to express my appreciation to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers.

The Question was: To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking in view of the increasing abuse of the regulations governing affinity group charter flights". The reply is long, and needs studying. Perhaps I may quote just part of two paragraphs concerning the abuse: … provision has been made in Section 26 of the Civil Aviation Act 1971 for the licensing of air travel organisers, and arrangements for this will be introduced as soon as possible after the Civil Aviation Authority comes into operation next spring. … the Air Transport Licensing Board have now decided to add a condition to these licences to be issued for 1972 under which the airlines will be required to submit,3 months in advance, particulars of all the groups they propose to carry between points more than 2,250 miles apart. The Air Transport Licensing Board will then ask the airlines to apply for specific licences in respect of any groups about whose qualifications the Board are in doubt so that any such case may be fully examined. The carriage of such a group under an E licence would be regarded by the Board grounds for considering revocation of that licence".


My Lords, would the noble Baroness forgive me?


Yes, of course.


There is just a possibility that the House may have misunderstood what the noble Baroness said. She missed out a sentence there which makes it clear that there is a transition between what happens after the Civil Aviation Act comes into force and the intervening period with which the second part of what she read out deals. It is the intervening period to which the second part relates.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord would explain that later. It was not left out with any evil intent, and I should be very interested to hear what he has to say about it at the end of the debate. Presumably none of this can operate until next spring. Could the Minister be a little more precise? From which month in the spring do we hope that this will operate? Originally I wrote "spring is elastic", but I thought that might be a joke which was not intended. So I would ask the Minister if he could possibly say which month in the spring he thinks it might come into effect. But the reply, of course, does not cover the Question I asked on Tuesday. Presumably that sort of thing will still go on. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, told me at column 900 that the Government had no figures to illustrate the extent of the abuse about which I was asking. My Lords, I think the Government should have such figures. No wonder the racket flourishes! I am quite serious about this, and perhaps the noble Lord would look at the Question. I thought it was disgraceful that the Government had no figures. If we look on the back page of The Times on most days—I have here to-day's edition, and it is not selected; your Lordships can look any day and see this; I have done, and doubtless other noble Lords have, too, as well as in other papers— we see offers or blatant advertisements of cheap jet flights to practically anywhere. Perhaps the Department of Trade and Industry would have a look at them, and then they will get some figures. May I make it clear that I am not criticising the papers for carrying these offers: it is the system which is at fault, and I blame the Government for permitting it to be brought into disrepute.

On October 27 last two examples came my way. Obviously, I shall keep them completely anonymous. The first of these two examples related to someone currently unemployed who wanted to send his 15-year-old daughter cheaply to a Swiss friend for a holiday. The B. E. A. f'are was ELIO. He was offered an Air-India P. I. A., IATA ticket for £ 18 (via The Times back page). The second example that I would give the noble Lord is that someone working in Rome tells me that Air-India, P. I. A. and El Al are selling IATA Rome-London tickets at a 30 per cent. discount although they are marked with the proper fare of £ 41. I have here a Natal newspaper article, and I will give it to the Minister afterwards. To say the least it is disturbing. I hope that the details will be looked into. The opening paragraph says: Cut-price jet-setters are flying between Europe and South Africa on scheduled IATA flights in high season for less than the lowest off-season excursion rates—through highly organised ticket pirates ' in London who are thought to be running a racket in cut-rate air tickets. I am stressing this to the noble Lord. I know that he does not have the answer-to this, but I hope that he will look at it. In the paper are examples and details of tickets such as the following. I emphasise the figures, for I should not like the noble Lord to miss them. In the paper are examples and details of tickets as the following: a B. O. A. C. ticket from Nairobi to Johannesburg for £ 35 although the fare quoted on the ticket was £ 67.45. This is the usual in-season rate. The ticket was transferable to any IATA airline and any country in Africa within a certain distance and valid for one year.

When the Minister is studying these details after this debate, I wonder whether he will look at the following point. I believe I am correct in saying that the TATA clearing house makes inter-airline monthly settlements using clearing values considerably below the face values and based on a periodical statistical calculation of the average ticket value. This avoids the often complex work of calculating the individual ticket values to which each airline is entitled—though it all arises from the nonsensical comlexity and high proportion of discounted tickets to which I have already referred to-night and on many other occasions. I should like to ask the Minister this question. Could it be that some of the IATA airlines have started to sell tickets at the clearing house values? Perhaps these clearing house values should become the simplified lower standard fare. Perhaps IATA could investigate. Perhaps the Government, through our own State airlines could demand that they do so. Surely we need not wait until next spring for this aspect of the matter to be cleared up!

I come now to my fifth complaint—and noble Lords will be glad to hear that it is the last complaint and will be followed by my conclusion. My fifth complaint is of the inability of the Government to see when something is complete nonsense. On October 12 last (at column 307 of the OFFICIAL REPORT) the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, confirmed to me that the total number of derivative fares on trans-Atlantic scheduled services exceeded 50. How stupid can we get? I do not think that there is a single Member of your Lordships' House who would not say that this is a complete nonsense. Never mind the poor consumer and his confusion, just think of the work involved and the numbers of staff required by each airline! Is it really any wonder that they are in the red?

Last week, on November 16, I asked what progress had been made with my suggestion of a month previously that consideration should be given to the possibility of having an experimental period during which a simple cut-price ticket would replace all other special holiday tickets, thereby minimising confusion to the public and work for the staff concerned. The Minister did say that this radical suggestion had been drawn to the attention of the three United Kingdom members of IATA. I hope that they, and the Government, can stand the fresh air. We are all glad that the IATA Conference has at last got somewhere on cheap fares across the Atlantic.

Then in The Times of November 20 —and this is the specific point on which I gave the Minister notice this morning —there was a column article by Arthur Reed, the air correspondent, under the heading: Big fares cuts agreed by airlines. I was very happy about that. I hope that I am not unduly suspicious; but paragraphs are not usually in newspapers for no reason. That is why I rang the noble Lord's office this morning. We go on reading happily through this article and discover that people who are going to get cheap bookings to America will not have to book in advance. Then we come to something to which I want to draw the noble Lord's attention. We come to a paragraph which says: Under the agreement passengers will be able to take up the cheap fares by paying for tickets on the day of travel. I thought that this was most extraordinary. It may be that it is not extraordinary, but it started a train of thought in my mind. I hope that it is wrong; and I am sure that the noble Lord hopes that I am wrong; but I do want to know more about it. We read on, and towards the end of the column find that it has been decided to: reduce normal economy fares in the winter from £ 180 to about £ 165. My Lords, if you get a fare to New York in the winter for £ 83 there is one condition: that you must stay at the destination for between 22 and 45 days. What interests me is this. What does a passenger who pays £ 165 get for precisely double the fare? From the headline to this article the traveller assumes that he will be able to purchase a return ticket to New York for £ 83. I want to ask the noble Lord this question: can he do so? I know the answer, but I repeat: can he do so? And will the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, tell us this? Is it intended that the traveller can choose his date within the winter period, book his flight, get his ticket and pay then and there? Or can he pay only on the day of travel? And if so, why?

My Lords, this Government have been prepared to condone the breaking of the law so far as charter and affinity group flights are concerned: after pressure for 12 months they are now going to deal with part of the problem next spring. They still seem prepared to condone a system which permits touts to buy cheap group tickets and to sell them within the time limit—and the Government even have no figures indicating the extent of this abuse—and they are prepared to allow the allocation of substantial seating accommodation on scheduled flights to charter or other groups. The one thing that they are not prepared to do is to ensure that the ordinary travelling public gets a fair deal. Apparently they see no reason why any financial concessions should be made to them. But then, of course—and I say this with regret to the noble Lord—this Government have never understood the essential consumer problem. I am asked time and again by the ordinary traveller, in your Lordships' House, outside and at work, who wish to go by air, "Why cannot I get one of these cheaper tickets? Why are they not available to me direct?"

My Lords, to sum up. One: I believe that revenues on scheduled airlines have been falling because of over-capacity, high fares and charter competition. Two: I believe that these airlines have been short-sighted and unfair to their ordinary travellers. Three: I believe that a reduction in fares on scheduled flights would bring in more customers and increase revenue. Four: I believe it to be grossly unfair that up to 50 per cent. —it may be more in some cases—of capacity on some scheduled flights should be reserved for charter passengers with others paying full fare. I ask the Minister to recommend that anyone should be able to buy cheap fares direct, with no strings attached, instead of doing so through advertisements in the papers; and I ask for this to be given a trial before being condemned. We, the air-travelling public, want action, and we want it now. Many of us plan our next year's holiday during the coming four or six weeks, and we see no reason why cheap individual tickets for holidays in Europe should not be available to us through B. E. A. without advance bookings of some 90 days or three months.

Is the Minister—are the Government —going to help the ordinary traveller now; or are they going to shelter behind the announcement of action in the spring which will clean up some of the charter flight abuses but do nothing at all for the rest of us? My Lords, even this Government, even considering the way in which they have procrastinated on this issue, cannot believe that making things better on charter flights will increase the revenue of the scheduled airlines.

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, on her persistence and, if I may say so, her courage in pursuing this vexed problem. In her Question the words "increasing consumer discontent" and" legitimate availability" I think want a little more looking into. I imagine that "consumer" in this context means the general public and not that section of the public that wants to travel by air. I also wonder how she determines this "increasing discontent". Is it by Gallup Poll; talking to the airlines and their agents; talking to individual people; by letters to the editor or what? I should think that if "consumer" refers to the general public, perhaps "discontent" is not quite the right word.

Of course, my Lords, there can be no question that all of us would like cheaper and cheaper air fares. I think it would not be too much to say that if we could, we should like to get to the position where ultimately we should all travel free by air, boat, train, bus and even by taxi; but that Utopian situation is for the moment not even remotely on the horizon of practicability. I think it is a question of degree and general development. We may note with considerable satisfaction the efforts made recently, and which are continuing to be made, by the airline business itself to promote cheaper fares, with B. O. A. C. and B. E. A. well in the lead. This is encouraging and it has already resulted, as the noble Baroness has said, in agreements for cheaper fares on the regular services across the Atlantic. Of course, these are freely and readily available to all members of the general public. Discussions are to take place in Geneva next month to seek to extend the move for cheaper fares on the scheduled services in other parts of the world.

Recently there has been a rapid growth of a very large market, often holiday makers and their families; people who are prepared to forgo the many facilities offered by the regular scheduled services operating to a timetable published twice a year, in favour of going by charter flights, as affinity groups, special clubs inclusive tours and so on, and these flights are operated by the sponsor when he has a full load or a near full load. The reason for this is that it is much cheaper. The demand has resulted in the emergence of quite a few air operating companies who do not fly to a timetable, and this involves a wide range of tickets and of validities which, as the noble Baroness has rightly said, means complex booking arrangements, a lot of staff and a great deal of work.

It may be useful to make a short comparison between the regular time-tabled service operator and the charter operator. The scheduled service operator is obligated to provide an immense array of services to many destinations, and often he stops off at places on the way. These services are operated to a timetable for, in many cases,365 days in the year. They are flown irrespective of whether the planes are full or empty. There are special fare concessions, such as for travel at off-peak periods, weekends, et cetera. These are on continuous offer to the whole gamut of the travelling public. The cost is enormous, both in its equipment and also in its performance. All the international fares and rates are subject to agreement between the operator and his reciprocal competitor, and they are also subject to the agreement of the Governments involved. Hence IATA and its invaluable clearing house. There are stalwarts who would like to do away with IATA to-morrow and, presumably, they would be happy to live with the ensuing chaos. It is useful to note that in the charter business, should an aeroplane become unserviceable, or if a flight is delayed for any reason at all, there is no ready alternative for the passenger. Whereas with the scheduled operator, if that happens, the passenger is put on the next flight to his destination and there are generally very many flights.

Charter operators are not subject to a timetable or to giving reciprocal agreements with their opposite numbers —if they have any— and they fly only when the aircraft is full or reasonably full. They do not stop off at intervening places with the ensuing expenses of landing and handling fees, and consequently their expenses and costs are lower and they are able to offer lower fares. But, of course, they are subject, or should be, to very strict regulations. Here I think we can note that last night an Answer was given to a Written Question that these regulations are to be stepped up very considerably. It is well known in your Lordships' House that in this business of special fares, especially the group fares across the Atlantic, there has been a considerable amount of "fiddling", if your Lordships will excuse the phrase.

Why is it that these charter operators are saddled with these restrictions? Because if they were not, they could then move in to operate alongside the scheduled operators: not necessarily operating to a timetable, but going to the same destinations and charging very low fares and flying only when they had a rood load. That must lead to the eroding of the traffic of the regular scheduled operators, and surely the result would be that these operators would have to cut their fares to compete with the charier man, who would then cut his fares again. So it could go on until, in the long run, both parties would go bankrupt, unless the Government were prepared to step in with higher subsidies. Translated that would mean that the Government would be subsidising cheap fares for the few, to be paid for by the general taxpayer. I hardly think that the noble Baroness would like to see that situation come about—or would she? Of course we should all like to enjoy cheap travel. I think that there is room for both scheduled and charter companies, and I suggest that the pursuit of lower fares should be left to the industry itself to sort out, given Exchequer help and encouragement and even pressure to do so. Possibly this problem will loom large on the agenda of the new Civil Aviation Authority, probably seeking Government approval at a later date. However, I strongly deplore any move to encourage the Government to seek to put their finger in the management of the civil air business. Finally, may I remind your Lordships of a saying current some time ago in the industry, which might have a certain validity to-day: the cheapest is not necessarily the most reliable.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, in the traditional phrase, I would apologise for detaining your Lordships at this late hour, but I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, on her persistence. I could not help thinking that in some respects she was a little unfair to my noble friend. Many of her strictures against what in fact is the outcome of the structure of IATA could have been addressed to almost any Administration for the last 22 years and no doubt in future she will pursue this question, if ever there is another change in the Administration. The noble Baroness has shown a remarkable knowledge of the intricacies of the fare structure, which I cannot pretend to have. It is such a desperately complicated matter nowadays that it is difficult for the ordinary layman who is a traveller to rely even on the advice he gets from an airline about which is the right and cheapest way to travel. I have had some experience of this, having recently returned from America and received contradictory information from two officials of B. O. A. C.

May I say, with respect, to the noble Earl that it is not easy for the layman to follow the intricacies of IATA. So far as I am concerned (if I may put it with slight exaggeration) I have always looked on IATA as being a conspiracy against the consumer—and an international conspiracy at that! My heart bleeds for the scheduled airlines. I always travel by them myself, but I can not help feeling that the pace of change in IATA has been forced by these wicked charter companies. Every single argument that the noble Earl adduced, I have heard myself in another place. Perhaps my noble friend will remember that these arguments were used when it was mooted that we must build the third Queen" because we had to have a scheduled service across the Atlantic to match the scheduled services of other nations. The "Queens" have all gone from that service now. No doubt there were similar arguments about scheduled services on mail coaches; these have gone, too. Again we heard this argument a few years ago on retail price maintenance, and that has gone. I cannot help feeling that this is always the argument in defending an entrenched, privileged monopoly or cartel. The fact that it is international, that it is run by and for the benefit of international airlines, makes it none the less a good old-fashioned restrictive cartel. The sooner this is realised the better.

I accept that we must have a clearing house. We had to have this for the railways and it has always been necessary. But when we come to the present size and intricacies of the regulations the airlines have to pursue, I think that but for the piracy of the charter companies we should not have made anything like the progress we have made in the matter of cheaper fares. More power to the pirates' arms! They have been allowed to get away with their nefarious cheaper prices for too long. The independent traveller is always being heavily penalised compared with what I may call the herd traveller. I myself returned only this Tuesday morning from the United States of America. The plane was less than half full. There was one club of bird-watchers from Boston; I know they were paying less than I. What I felt about it is this. If we all had to pay a little less, there would have been more people in the plane—and possibly I would have been deprived of the advantage of having three seats to stretch myself over during the course of the night.

Some of the improvements that are advertised are totally illusive. The much publicized "Early Bird" service of B. O. A. C. is really a snare and delusion. One has to book four months in advance and to pay four months in advance. B. O. A. C. have the use of your money for four months, and if you wish a single variation, even of a day, in your travelling, you are not allowed to do this without forfeiting the advantage. I wanted to change the day of my trip in January on an "Early Bird" flight but I was not allowed to do so. Judging from my experience, the result of the continued restrictions is that at certain seasons of the year the scheduled planes are empty, or at best half full. I realise that there must be variations in fares, on a seasonal basis, on a class basis and on a peak-time basis, but they should not be nearly so complex as they are to-day. I never can follow why airlines must have this complex structure, and why they need to have 56—or is it 62?— different fares for crossing the Atlantic.

The different airlines always shelter behind their Governments and their policies. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend on behalf of Her Majesty's Government will accede to the request to publish for the benefit of the public a White Paper giving their views on the need for cheaper fares and on the complexity of the existing structure. I urge Her Majesty's Government to go behind the backs of the airlines (if I may put it in that way) and to convene a conference of the major nations interested in the coordination of fare policies. I end as I began, by saying that I still think IATA is an international restrictive cartel, and that I cannot believe that its policies can really meet with the approval of a Government whose Prime Minister was instrumental in abolishing retail price maintenance.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, has saved us a lot of time, because he said very much what I wanted to say and said it very well, so I need not repeat it. It is always a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry when she is in full battle array. It is quite an exciting experience. I congratulate her on having put her case, not perhaps with extreme moderation, but with extreme clarity. I am particularly happy to support her in this campaign, because in the old days, when I had the support of the resources of the Consumer

Council behind me, we felt strongly that this was a matter which affected consumers, and we did a good deal of work on the subject. Not having those resources, I have to rely now on my common sense, not unlaced with indignation. The truth is, as the noble Lord who has just spoken has hinted, that capitalist and liberal theories of trade do not really mix. It has long been accepted as a defence against the worst abuses of monopoly capitalism that fixing prices in order to make more money is not acceptable and amounts to an agreement in restraint of trade. Proper competition clearly demands control, and however much monopoly or near-monopoly capitalism may defend cartels and price rings, we had thought, as the noble Lord has just said, that on this question at least the Government would be tied to their commitments to the virtues of competition.

What I want to see and what I demand as a consumer is that the seller of goods or the provider of services should not be forcibly prevented from lowering his price to me if he wants to do so. One of the objects of competition, to which noble Lords opposite pay such obsequious lip service but which they seldom lift a finger to enforce, is exactly this: to persuade sellers to reduce their prices. Yet the whole system which IATA has set up is designed to do the exact opposite. It is designed to preserve the scheduled service, used chiefly by people on business, at the expense of the charter flight used chiefly by people on holiday. Well, I suppose it is arguable that work is more important than play, though many psychiatrists would not agree. Possibly some kind of a case could be made out for keeping skeleton scheduled services running; but none at all can be made out for keeping them running half empty.

The notorious Provision 1, of which there has been some modification, the idiotic affinity rules, of which there has been virtually no modification—how much longer must we put up with such absurd and offensive rules? Only this week, as the noble Baroness was telling us, we read that an airline which bears my name—but alas! it is no relation, so I must disclaim any interest—was extremely badly treated by inspectors, and the next day we read from the Minister that he is going to tighten up and make it more difficult for enterprising consumers to get low prices. He said: Bogus charter groups breed like rabbits. That is very offensive to people like me, who are prepared to join any charter group under any terms to get a cheap fare. He went on: We are going to try to limit the more flagrant among them. This is really emotional language, not at all applicable to enterprising people trying to stand on their own feet and look after themselves in the difficulties of life by helping the airlines to fill their seats. There are of course some technical and international difficulties in getting rid of this set of idiotic restrictions right away: I do not pretend that you can just contract out. But the fact is, as the noble Lord, Lord Reigate, has said, the Government are saddled with this through their vicarious membership of IATA and they cannot just laugh it off.

My noble friend has asked the Government to state the principle behind the policy that they would like to see adopted. May I tell them what their principle should be? It should be free competition between all operators and the right to quote different rates for different services, different machines, different destinations, different dinners, even different air hostesses; the right of the air service to fill a plane by lowering the price; the right for the public to form a group to charter a plane without having to tell a lot of lies; and meanwhile the whole industry to be, as the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, told us it is and as I believe it to be, subject to the most rigid safety precautions. If my noble friend can extract from the Minister who is to reply something along these lines she will not have wasted our time.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I have stood at this Box many times and batted to the bowling of the noble Baroness. She has on this occasion decided that it is not enough to have an over at a time and has launched towards me a continuous stream of balls of all kinds—wides, no-balls, and all the rest; some of them rather outside the Question that she has put down on the Order Paper to-day. I do not complain about this; and I do not complain about the fact that the noble Baroness does not really fully understand the circumstances in which the airlines operate. I only wish that, if she will not listen to me, she would listen to the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, who has considerable experience in this matter. What I shall try to do to-night, so far as possible, is to answer her questions (one or two of them, as the noble Baroness recognised, I cannot answer; but on those I can say straight away that everything she has said will be fully considered), and either we can have a talk about it, or I can write to her. She may think that this is not a very appropriate way of dealing with this subject, but I have begun to despair of being able to persuade her across the Floor of the House what it is all about. It really is extremely difficult.

The noble Baroness summed up what she had to say in a few sentences. She said that the airline revenues are falling. So far as B. E. A. and B. O. A. C. are concerned, that is not so. True, their profitability is falling. She said that the airlines are short-sighted. The airlines, as the noble Baroness very well knows, have been trying for a long time to do exactly what she wants them to do; namely, to get cheaper fares. She complains that the last time I said that the situation was obscure. Now that the situation is revealed, the noble Baroness still seems to think that the situation is obscure, although she herself quoted from the article in The Times, which revealed it it with fair clarity—and I shall come later in my speech to the point that she made.

As to the question of the use of capacity, here again I think I ought to try to give the noble Baroness a reasoned statement of the Government's point of view, in the hope that she may come to understand what it is all about. The Government are well aware of the growing demand in this country and elsewhere for cheap air travel to be made available on the widest possible basis, and we are doing what we can to see that this demand is catered for. But as the noble Baroness knows well, this is a most complex question. There are many aspects to the problem. So far as international flights are concerned, Governments have little scope for acting unilaterally. I feel that the noble Baroness merited the very gentle reproach that my noble friend Lord Reigate gave her, because she tried to treat this to-day as if it were a political matter, suggesting that this was something particularly that the Government have been doing. She knows perfectly well that in the world as a whole the airlines either are or represent Governments, with the exception of the United States of America; and she knows that Governments generally, whether representing large countries or small countries, demand reciprocity.

The noble Baroness knows that some countries may have great difficulty in making their airlines pay. She knows that if everything were freed completely, then all these nationalised bodies, in competition with each other, would lose money, and it would be the taxpayer who would pay. Some would lose more than others. But unlike what happens in competition as a whole, those countries who were losing money heavily would he less able to get out of their commitments. They would continue to fulfil their commitments for national and prestige reasons and their losses might well be very heavy indeed. By continuing the competition if everything were left free, then in the circumstances of this trade being carried on by nationalised industries I would suggest to my noble friend Lord Reigate that there would be a very big difference and that the losses could be very severe indeed. The competition would still continue. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, in his place because I have heard him make exactly this point.

I think perhaps the nub of the complaint of the noble Baroness is not so much that the low fares are not available—because they are—but that they are very often only available on a basis which she would regard as discriminatory. She quoted the example of up to 50 per cent. of capacity being reserved for charter passengers on a scheduled service. I am not aware that any fixed capacity is available. There may be times of the year in which 50 per cent. is available, but this is a commercial matter for the airlines to fix for themselves. To obtain a low-priced ticket one has to travel at certain times, on certain days, or one has to stay not more or not less than a certain period, or one has to be a student or to join a club. As we are only too well aware, another way of getting cheap air travel is to break the rules. The noble Baroness asks what statistics we have about the breaking of the rules. Well, if we were in a position to detect each instance of a rule being broken we could provide the statistics—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but I have been sitting under a complete travesty of a reply, which bears no relation at all to what I said. I have never suggested that things should be free and neither have I asked for instances when rules were broken. I will try not to interrupt again, but the noble Lord really must stop putting up his own Aunt Sallies and knocking them down.


My Lords, I am not knocking down my own Aunt Sallies. I am at the moment gently cutting her long hops to the boundary.


You cannot cut long hops.


My Lords, the noble Baroness—I made a note of what she said—pressed me very hard and criticised me very hard for not being able to tell her exactly the extent of the abuses. All I am pointing out is that in the Written Answer which she was given yesterday, my noble friend Lord Ferrers said: This country has not been alone in finding it difficult to police these rules by traditional methods. None the less, the widespread abuse that has taken place this year cannot be allowed to continue and the Government are determined to bring the situation under control."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,24/11/71; col.1140.] That was the start of the Answer given to the noble Baroness. This is an important issue and one which is central to the whole question of air fares and the rules governing eligibility for those air fares.

I think it may be helpful if I make the Government's position clear from the start; that is, that we should not regard discrimination in all cases as being a bad thing. Some forms of discrimination are objectionable, but others are not; and I am sure that in practice the noble Baroness accepts this. So far as I am aware, she has not complained of the fact that children generally travel at half fare, which is the most obvious example of discrimination. Price discrimination is in fact a valuable tool which may be used to keep average prices to a level lower than they would otherwise be. Whether one thinks of cheap tickets for off-peak flights or cheap prices for off-peak electricity, the principle is the same —by spreading the traffic or by spreading consumption the peaks of demand can be evened out and the costs of providing for the peaks are diminished.

There is another aspect in which a difference in air fares seems to be fully justified: that is where the costs of producing a product—in this case a flight —are different. In this case a charter flight with a 90 per cent. load factor and high-density seating is cheaper to produce, as the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, said, than a scheduled flight with a low load factor and more generous density. It is also cheaper to provide for passengers who are prepared to book well in advance and to be flexible about their flight than for those who want to be able to book at shorter notice and be sure of their flight. This is the principle of the "Early Bird" or "Apex" fares which are already applied on services to the Caribbean, where we have not the same handicaps about having to negotiate with other countries; and quite a lot has been heard about those in recent weeks. I think most people would accept that this is entirely—


My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt for a moment? I quite accept that there should be arrangements for booking well in advance. I cannot accept that there should not necessarily be some reduction if you book in advance, and for a family; but he talked about flexibility. There is no flexibility. You fix the date and you have to stick to it.


My Lords, I am not quite certain what point my noble friend is making. If you book far in advance then you have to stick to the date, and that is the quid pro quo for the lower price. If you want to have full flexibility then you pay the full scheduled fare. On the other hand, I accept that some forms of discrimination are open to objection. That is where the discrimination is arbitrary in character and distinguishes between one section of the population and another in such a way as to deny some people reasonable access to opportunities for cheap travel that are open to others. I think that some of the youth fares are open to this objection, and so are the affinity group rules. It is open to anybody to hook three months in advance or to travel by night if they consider it worth their while, but it is another matter to say that if you want cheap travel you must join a club whose purpose is something other than travel. I do not know what the noble Baroness thought about the Written Answer which she was given yesterday. She said it did not answer her Question, but at any rate it gave a clear indication of the thinking of my right honourable friend, because the Answer said this: In parallel with these measures the Department have been reviewing the regulations to see whether a new type of charter travel might be introduced that could be made available to the public at large without those features of the affinity group rules which arc objectionable in themselves or have been difficult to enforce. One possibility might he to adopt for charter flights the advance hooking concept which has already been made familiar by B. O. A. C. 's 'Early Bird' fares. On this basis, anybody would he able to obtain low-cost flights who booked a certain period in advance, without needing to join a group of any kind."— [Col.1141.] This is what B. O. A. C. have been pressing for, and unfortunately this is not something which has come out of the negotiations.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord why he says "unfortunately"? I understood that what had come out of negotiations was a cheap flight without having to book three months or 90 days in advance. I should have thought that was a gain.


My Lords, we think that in order to get greater flexibility it is a good thing for the airlines to know where they stand. They can know better where they stand if they have bookings. This is also of benefit to the customer, who is then able to get a flight at a much cheaper rate. The noble Baroness asked me specifically to comment on what Mr. Keith Granville is reported in The Times of November 20 to have said about obtaining cheap fares by paying for tickets on the day of travel. If I interpret his remarks correctly, he was saying that neither booking nor payment would be necessary until the day of travel. Most people like to make sure of their travel arrangements by booking ahead, and they generally like to make sure of their seats by paying in advance, whether direct to the airline or through agents. There are advantages in paying in advance, because I imagine that if two people present themselves for the last seat on an aeroplane the airline tends to give preference to the person who has paid in advance for his seat. Mr. Keith Granville went on to explain that in order to be entitled to the cheapest fare, passengers would have to return not earlier than 22 days and not later than 45 days after the outward flight. If they wanted to return earlier then they would have to pay a supplement which would vary with the length of their stay. I do not know whether the noble Baroness has had an opportunity to study the tariff. She will see there that there are terms, for example, for a 12 to 21 day excursion, as well as for a 22 to 45 day excursion.


My Lords, may I interrupt? I am not being tiresome, but I am not at all clear about this matter, I did not know that it was Mr. Keith Granville—I quoted Mr. Arthur Reid, the Air Correspondent of The Times. Do I understand that the noble Lord told the House that if this suggestion is adopted at the next meeting to be held at Geneva I could ask for a fare of £ 83 return to New York so long as I stayed for 23 or 45 days, or whatever it is? If I wanted to go two months hence, still in the winter period, I could book my ticket then and I should know that I would go then. The result would he that probably the aeroplane would be full of people with the cheap tickets, and those who wanted to pay twice as much, £ 165, would not get in. Is there no advantage in paying £ 165, except that you need not stay for 22 to 45 days?


My Lords, the whole point of scheduled services is that you —


Will the Minister answer "Yes" or "No"?


My Lords, no, I will not answer "Yes" or "No" because I am trying to explain the matter to the noble Baroness. I hope she will treat me with the same courtesy of listening. The whole point of the scheduled services is to have regular services, and this will involve, quite obviously, a greater number of empty seats during the off-peak periods than during the peak periods. One of the off-peak periods is obviously the winter months. During these months these special terms are offered in order to help to fill up the seats. It may well be that there is a rush of people who want to avail themselves of these cheap fares, and it may be that 100 per cent. of them on a particular flight are all cheap fares. If so there are other flights available, possibly at practically the same time. This is the way that the services from different countries working together operate. I cannot see any objection to this. The real trouble is that the noble Baroness cannot get it out of her head that we in this country should operate a service completely at our own discretion, and that that service should be entirely self-contained. That is not realistic. If the noble Baroness could only adjust her thinking to the realities of the situation, we should be more likely to talk the same language and understand each other.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? Would he also try to understand that it is just conceivable that there would be fewer empty seats to be filled up by these various gimmicks if the ordinary fare were a little cheaper?


My Lords, the noble Lord will understand very well that at a time when costs are rising very quickly it is not easy to reduce the price of the ordinary fares. The ordinary fares in these negotiations have not been increased. I am informed that in constant money terms the airlines' average yield per passenger kilometre increased by a little under 10 per cent. during the period 1961 to 1969. The cost of living index for Europe for the period from 1960 to 1967 showed a 34 per cent. increase. Taking these together it shows that in real terms the cost of air services has come down.

I was going to say that it is very much with these thoughts in mind that my right honourable friend the Minister for Trade has been pursuing the possibility of introducing a new type of charter facility, such as was referred to in the Answer my noble friend gave to the noble Baroness yesterday. As was then indicated, it is too soon to go into the details about this; we must await the progress of further international discussions. But in broad terms the concept is clear enough; what is in mind is to apply the "Early Bird" concept to charter flights, so that anybody who is prepared to make a firm booking and pay a deposit long enough in advance will have the same opportunity to fly as cheaply as the club member now has.

I can tell the noble Baroness that this is not our thinking alone; the thinking in North America is running along much the same lines, although not exactly the same lines. The European countries are prepared to consider both sets of proposals, and consultations are taking place on this and other ideas.


My Lords, this is the last time that I will interrupt, but I am in a state of complete obscurity. Can the noble Lord explain why, with the cheap fares across the Atlantic which it is hoped will be agreed, there is no booking such as there is on "Early Bird" fares, three months in advance? Why should there be a booking three months in advance on the system that the noble Lord is hoping will come about when there is not one across the Atlantic? He has just said that you can book a ticket. Why not do it on the others?


My Lords, the noble Baroness is well aware that there are separate sections for the negotiations on air fares. I. A. T. A. is at present having meetings about the section dealing with the North American fares. Next week it will be getting on to the consideration of the European fares. What I have been doing—because I thought it was what I was asked to do—is putting forward from our point of view the thinking of the airlines on this matter. I am saying that this is what we should like to see. We have accepted the arrangement on the Atlantic fares in order to reach agreement, but it does not follow that exactly the same will apply to every section of the world. I hope that answers the question of the noble Baroness.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the affinity group point, which I am chiefly concerned with, I am grateful to hear that there is in Government thinking support for block booking with no "tags" by individuals, except on early bookings, which seems quite reasonable. I read the Minister's remarks in my speech to your Lordships when he said that chasing the people who were breaking these foolish rules, as if they were criminals, should be eased up. If you have very bad rules it is a great mistake to persecute people who are breaking them.


My Lords, so long as we have rules I think we have to stick to them. Perhaps this brings me to the point the noble Baroness made on which she challenged me on the Far-East exemptions. As I told the noble Baroness in an Answer to her Question on November 9, exemptions granted to the subsidiaries of B. O. A. C. and B. C. A. L. relate to services where it is the charterer rather than the airline which advertises and sells the tickets."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,9/11/71; col.234.] The charter subsidiaries of those airlines which operate the exempted flights do not and may not sell tickets direct to the public.

The noble Baroness also asked what we were doing to tighten up the enforcement —the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, thinks we ought not to tighten up the enforcement—by the Air Transport Licensing Board, and the noble Baroness asked when this would come into effect. As she will probably have observed, the proposal is that three months' notice should be given—this was in the Answer she was given—of the flights that it was intended to run; and this means, obviously, that you can only start from now. As from January 1 this system of three months' notice will come into operation, which means that she is right in judging that it is only after April 1 that this system can possibly become operative. If the noble Baroness could devise a means of avoiding this in the meantime, I should be very glad to know of it.

I would also add in this connection that, by making cheap travel available to every body in this way, we hope to take some of the profit out of breaking the rules, as one of the measures my right honourable friend mentioned for dealing with the back-street operators. I hardly need to reiterate the Government's determination to deal with these abuses in every effective way that we can, in the first instance in the direction of preventing them through still stricter licensing procedures. As the noble Baroness is aware, I am sure, there are blanket licences for charter flights. Where necessary licences may be required for individual flights, and where there is not compliance with the conditions of licence then the licence can be withdrawn, and this is of course aside from any possibility of prosecution.

Reverting now more closely to the terms of the noble Baroness's Question, I think I have answered her first point, at least to some extent, by showing that we are in fact making progress towards making cheaper air travel available legitimately to the public, and this is the outcome of the transatlantic fare structure. I have also touched to some extent on the principles behind our policy. I have not dealt at all with her middle point, which concerned the possible extension to other areas of the arrangements introduced earlier this year in respect of certain services to South-East Asia. The Government's position on those services has throughout been clear. They were temporary arrangements which were introduced to meet a specific and rather unusual situation, and it was never the Government's intention to regard them either as permanent or as suitable for general application. In due course they will be superseded by other and, I hope, better arrangements which might indeed take the form of advance booking charters that we have been discussing if these were adopted elsewhere. Certainly, when it comes to the parts of the world in which the noble Baroness is mainly interested, I would regard the advance bookings scheme as being in many ways a better alternative.

My Lords, as I told the noble Baroness, they were never intended as an experiment. They were not new forms of charter travel; they were the continuation of existing British services referred to in paragraph 21 of the Air Transport Licensing Board's Eleventh Report. They have no relevance at all to intra-European services, nor transatlantic services, and I hope that I have made clear to the noble Baroness what this was all about. If I have not, perhaps she will signify.

There are other aspects to these questions on which I should also touch, if only briefly. Progress in settling the fares on international scheduled services for 1972 has been difficult and slow. The main reason for this is, quite simply, that it is very difficult at this time for any of us to foresee how matters will develop and, therefore, what the best response will be to a rapidly changing market situation, let alone to get agreement about it. As I said before, we are not here dealing with facts; we are dealing with judgments. The disagreement between Lufthansa and the other airlines concerned with the North Atlantic routes was one in which both points of view were perfectly legitimate; and I am glad to see that they seem now to have been reconciled. It is a matter for regret on our part that the agreement reached in principle in Honolulu last week does not include provision for Apex fares, and also that the resulting fare structure is not likely to be any simpler than the existing structure. But it would I think be wrong to disapprove this hard-won agreement on this account. There will be other opportunities to look at these matters again in the light of experience. Meanwhile, in concert with other Governments concerned, we must, if we do not want to face a free-for-all, do all we can to preserve some semblance of order on these very important routes. That is why we are going to do our best to enforce the rules.

Discussions in IATA about other parts of the world will be continuing, and here again I hope that sensible agreements will be reached, even if they cannot be ideal. Sometimes when the noble Baroness is addressing me I think she must suppose that I am not only omniscient but deeply omnipotent, or speaking on behalf of a Minister who is deeply omnipotent, at least in the field of civil aviation and air fares. Certainly I am neither, as the noble Baroness should be well aware. In all these matters we have to work within the realities as best we can, and these realities include a large number of airlines who do not always agree with ours, and a large number of Governments who do not always agree with us, or at least not all at once. Progress in the direction the noble Baroness would like to see must necessarily be slower than either she or I would like. I can only counsel her not to despair, for we shall keep on trying.

My Lords, may I make one final observation in reply to the last leg of the noble Baroness's question?—and here I also reply to what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, asked me before. The Government's policy on air fares will be one element on the policy guidance which they are due to give to the Civil Aviation Authority under Section 3(2) of the Civil Aviation Act 1971. This will require the affirmative vote of your Lordships' House as well as of another place. The Government will he bringing out a White Paper, setting out the guidance they propose, probably about February next year. That will give us a further opportunity for the agreeable kind of discussion that we, the noble Baroness and I, are accustomed to.