HL Deb 29 June 1972 vol 332 cc981-5

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a Statement on the further talks held with British European Airways and with the British Airports Authority concerning the proposed withdrawal of check-in facilities at the British Airways West London Terminal by the summer of 1973.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are not holding talks with either British European Airways or the British Airports Authority on this subject.


My Lords, I hope the noble Earl is ashamed to give us that reply. It is quite disgraceful. May I ask him, first, if customers are to be put upon in this disgraceful manner and if the Government are not prepared to discuss the matter either with the British Airports Authority or with British European Airways, what redress the customer has?


My Lords, as I am sure the noble Baroness will appreciate, Parliament set up the British Airports Authority and British European Airways to undertake certain functions, and the subject of her Question comes within the ambit of their functions. The noble Baroness asked a Question on this matter last week, when a number of noble Lords took part by asking supplementary ques- tions, and I undertook on that occasion to see that those comments were relayed to the British Airports Authority and British European Airways. That has been done. The redress which a customer or a traveller has is, of course, to communicate either with British European Airways or with the British Airports Authority.


My Lords, that obviously would be quite useless. I wonder whether the Minister could answer one question. Would he tell me what elderly people and the infirm are to do with 40 lb. of luggage when it is deposited off the bus at Heathrow Terminal? Secondly, may I ask the noble Earl whether he will ask his noble friend sitting on his left (the Secretary of State for Defence) what comment he would make, because he may remember that he was kind enough to tell the House, during the passage of the Civil Aviation Bill, when I raised the question of consumers, that while there would not be anybody on the Board of the Civil Aviation Authority to deal specifically with consumers, their complaints would be looked at? May I ask the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, whether he would ask the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to look at this matter if I send him all the details?


My Lords, I am quite sure that we shall look at whatever details the noble Baroness sends us. It may be of interest to her to know that the British Airports Authority and British European Airways are of course concerned that proper arrangements should be made for the handling of passengers' baggage, and they are consulting with each other to ensure that this comes about.


My Lords, does not the noble Earl realise how very unsatisfactory was his first reply to my noble friend? Is it not a well-established fact that while the Government have power to give directives to public undertakings they can also, without giving directives, have discussions and make suggestions to them on what might be classed as day-to-day management matters? In view of the hardship indicated by my noble friend, will not the appropriate Department have some discussions with a view to alleviating the hardship for the elderly people who will be affected when this facility is withdrawn?


My Lords, I would not for one moment decry the sympathy which is felt both by the noble Lord and by the noble Baroness for elderly passengers going to and from airports. All I am saying is that, while this is a very real problem, it is not the problem of Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend to bear in mind that sympathy for the point put by the noble Baroness opposite and supported by the noble Lord is also shared to a large extent in other parts of your Lordships' House? Furthermore, may I ask my noble friend to bear in mind that that sympathy extends over wide sections of the public, and it is most distasteful to hear repeated confessions of incompetence on behalf of Her Majesty's Government when in fact we know perfectly well that if they will take a line what they say will be listened to by the public bodies concerned?


My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend should say that this was incompetence on the part of Her Majesty's Government. I can only tell my noble friend that the British Airports Authority was set up to do a specific job which, among other things, was to look after the porterage arrangements at London Airport. When noble Lords voiced their opinions as strongly as they did last week, and indeed as they have done to-day, all I can do—and I certainly will do this—is to draw the attention of the authorities concerned to the problem; and I have no doubt whatsoever that they will take account of it.


My Lords, is the noble Earl advising us that in the event of representations being made on behalf of Members of this House to some of the public corporations they do not bother to reply to the Government on those representations?


My Lords, they certainly do reply to the Government, and indeed they have done so.


My Lords, can the noble Earl define at what point public interest is so great that the Government should take action, and when a matter is entirely for day-to-day administration? Is it not a fact that if 7 or 8 million people are affected by a decision—and I am not saying whether the decision is right or wrong—it is something beyond day-to-day administration and something on which Her Majesty's Government might well consider giving a directive, as they have power to do under the Act?


My Lords, I certainly undertake to bring the comments which noble Lords have made this afternoon to the attention of the Secretary of State and ensure that he is fully seized of your Lordships' views.


My Lords, as the Minister has been good enough to say that he has already been communicated with on this subject, may we have the tone of the reply which he received?


My Lords, the reply which I received I gave in paraphrase. It is that I was told by the Chairman of the British Airports Authority that they were most concerned that proper arrangements should be made for the handling of passenger baggage and that they are going to have consultations with B.E.A. to ensure that this comes about.


My Lords, what is the comparable practice at air terminals and airports at Tokyo, New York and Paris? Is the practice the same as that at this terminal?


My Lords, I am afraid that I could not answer that question without notice.


My Lords, may I ask when this problem first emerged—


My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships for intervening, but it is 3.15. Strong views on this matter have been expressed this afternoon from all quarters of your Lordships' House. My noble friend (I am not intervening, as it were, on his behalf but in the interests of the House) has said that he will bring the strong representations that have been made to the attention of the authorities concerned—B.E.A. in this instance—and also of his right honourable friend. I hope that it is the general view of your Lordships that we should leave the matter there for the time being, everybody reserving the right to return to it if need be.


My Lords, the Leader of the House was kind enough to suggest that we should leave the matter there for the time being. With regard to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, may I ask the Leader of the House, in view of the special circumstances, whether a reply will be given to a further Question, if one is put down, to see what is determined by the further consultations?


My Lords, I should have thought that that was an eminently reasonable request.

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