HL Deb 20 December 1973 vol 348 cc465-521

11.19 a.m.

BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY rose to move to resolve, That this House deplores the declared intention of the British Airways Board to withdraw the check-in facilities at the West London Air Terminal on January 1 next; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government in the national interest to direct, if it is in their power to do so, or otherwise to request the Board to defer the proposed withdrawal until such time as—

  1. (a) the effects of the present fuel crisis on the drastically revised flight schedules and the future pattern of access to Heathrow can be fully assessed; and
  2. 466
  3. (b) a Select Committee of this House has inquired into and reported on the merits of the proposal, the Government have commented thereon, and Parliament has been given the opportunity of expressing an opinion on both.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper to-day, I think it might be helpful to explain briefly the background. First, I should like to apologise to the Government for the somewhat frequent changes in the Motion which have appeared from day to day, but one has to keep up with day-to-day happenings—and I thought I had better say that before the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, says it for me. Everyone who uses the West London Air Terminal is familiar with the check-in procedure. You take a bus, taxi or train to Gloucester Road. Your ticket is checked, your luggage is weighed, removed and subsequently taken to the aircraft. You do not see it again until arrival at your destination. A bus destined for your particular flight takes you out to Heathrow where you join your plane. This is a service of great benefit to passengers, particularly to mothers with families, and those without private cars or money to pay for private transport to Heathrow. Any anxiety about catching a particular flight is removed.

B.E.A. propose to remove this check-in facility as from January 1. Travellers will take a bus from the terminal, as at present, but they will not be able to check in; nor will they be able to do anything about their luggage. This will go on the bus with them. They and their luggage will be deposited at Heathrow. Thence, in the words of officialdom, they will be responsible for taking their luggage to the check-in point. Even more serious than the resultant chaos and lengthy queues is the problem of elderly and infirm travellers, of mothers and families, all on outward journeys with their 44 lb. of luggage.

That is the background. I asked the first Question on this affair in this House 19 months ago on June 15, 1972. The last one was asked by Lord Balfour of Inchrye on December 5 last, an occasion on which all quarters of this House made their position quite clear. Lord Balfour has written to me expressing his regret at not being able to be present to-day, and has asked me to let the House know that he supports this Motion. I propose to mention two further letters written to me by Members of this House, and I should like to thank all those who have sent good wishes for the Motion and their regrets at inability to be present.

Any such changes as envisaged by B.E.A. have to be carried out by the British Airports Authority. As I told the House in the debate on April 2 last, at column 98, the Chairman of the British Airports Authority wrote to me in July, 1972, referring: … to a situation which we had not expected and about which we were not consulted. The unions were not consulted; they were told, as were the British Airports Authority. The public were neither consulted nor considered. Apart from any merits or demerits of the matter, the major part of my battle has been that B.E.A. (if I may continue to call them that for the moment for the purposes of clarification) acted as judge, as jury and as complete bureaucrat on their proposed withdrawal of this most valued and useful consumer facility. I voiced, and Lord Balfour of Inchrye raised more than once, the question of the public interest. We both felt that if such an interest was affected then Her Majesty's Government might well consider giving a directive, as Lord Balfour felt they had power to do under the Act. We got nowhere on that one. Evidently more than 1 million people were not of sufficient public interest to merit such intervention. It was ruled always by B.E.A., and accepted implicitly by Her Majesty's Government, that this was a commercial decision and no consumer interest entered into it at all.

As the House knows, on July 25 last, 14 months after we started, it was at last accepted that air travellers were one large group of consumers with no consultative body or users' council to speak for them or to listen to them. Contested all the way by B.E.A. and by Government spokesmen in this House over many weary months, as most noble Lords will recall, we got our Airline Users' Committee. Their terms of reference will be important in my later remarks, so it might be as well to state them here: To assist the Civil Aviation Authority in its duties in safeguarding the interests of airline users and to investigate individual complaints against airlines where the person or body aggrieved has not been able to obtain satisfaction from the airline concerned. That this Committee was established at all was due to the efforts of your Lordships' House, from all sides. If it had not taken so long as 14 months, much time and trouble would have been saved.

The House will be familiar with the way that B.E.A. went about this business. What Parliament said counted for nothing. Indeed, on October 18 and 19, 1972, the Government had to make a retraction on behalf of B.E.A., who had flatly contradicted what had been said officially in this House. My Lords, I may say that "retraction" is a generous interpretation. What has disturbed me as much as anything has been the method of dishonest implication and untrue statement used by B.E.A. The fact, my Lords, is that a hasty and ill-judged decision was made. This was challenged in this House some 19 months ago, and ever since then B.E.A. has been trying to find reasons to substantiate its action. I used the phrase "dishonest implication and untrue statement", and I propose to illustrate these methods.

Hence we now move to the reasons given by B.E.A. for the withdrawal of this consumer service affecting more than 1 million people. These were:

  1. "1. Delayed departures of planes due to late running of buses from the West London Air Terminal.
  2. 2. The declining number of people using these facilities at the West London Air Terminal.
  3. 3. The fact that no other city offers such facilities.
  4. 4. Expense."
Taking first the delayed departures of planes due to the late running of buses from the West London Air Terminal, when the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and I visited B.E.A. in February last, as I told the House in the debate on April 2, we asked for figures concerning this delay of plane departures. None were available. The House may recall that in that same debate the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, found some figures—no fewer than 435 flights out of Heathrow in October, November and December, 1972. He omitted to mention that one of the two tunnels into Heathrow was closed for this period. This I think he should have checked, although I appreciate that an honest person would not have thought it necessary. I was explaining that the noble Earl was an honest person and therefore would not have felt it necessary.

I shall be returning to this point later, but I think it is of interest that on April 10, following this debate, the representative of the B.E.A. bus drivers unit at the West London Air Terminal wrote to say: The suggestion that failure of coaches to arrive on time at the airport prompted the decision by B.E.A. to close check-in facilities is a complete misunderstanding of the position, as we know that a very small number of coaches indeed are so delayed as to cause inconvenience to passengers or hindrance to aircraft. May I leave proof until the last section of my remarks? At this stage, I had only my own strong doubts, plus the written statement from the men who drive the B.E.A. buses.

Taking, secondly, the statement about the declining numbers of people using the check-in facilities at the West London Terminal, this is untrue. In spite of a deliberate lack of publicity by B.E.A., the number of travellers actually using the facilities has remained a constant 1⅓ million. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, will find these figures confirmed by B.E.A. This October the numbers fell, not because travellers did not wish to use the facilities but because B.E.A., on October 1, closed them down for foreign airlines at the West London Air Terminal. We have much too strong a case to get bogged down in undue detail, but all these illustrations show a trend. B.E.A. say that 20 per cent. of passengers use the terminal facilities. According to the Sunday Times, Alitalia estimate their figure as 30 per cent.; Air France as 35 per cent., and none of the other airlines asked gave a figure of less than 25 per cent.

As for the third reason, that no other city offers such facilities, I think that this is incredible. Presumably, if your competitors offer less than you, you join them. That seems to me a strange concept of good marketing. Surely B.E.A. exists to provide the best possible service, and not one of a lower level because that is what is offered elsewhere.

My Lords, I come now to the fourth reason—expense. Figures given to me personally by B.E.A. mentioned a saving of between £500,000 and £400,000 per annum by the withdrawal of these facilities. I am going to trouble the House with a few figures, but this is the only time in my remarks that I shall do so. In 1971, the number of passengers using the terminal was 3,507,368, and of these 1,389,943 used the check-in facilities. In other words, 3½ million used the terminal, and 1⅓ million of those used the check-in facilities.

If we take a very low average fare of £50, the passengers actually using the check-in facilities brought in revenue of some £70 million. At the discussions with B.E.A. in February of this year I was told that 781,000 B.E.A. passengers were currently using these facilities. In addition, 582,000 foreign airline passengers were using them. That is a total of 1,363,000 passengers, and that is the continuation of my 1⅓ million. The foreign airlines paid B.E.A. for that privilege. Could the noble Lore, Lord Drumalbyn, when he comes to speak, either now or later in the debate, tell us what fee the foreign airlines paid B.E.A. for the privilege of using the facilities, and whether or not it was in the neighbourhood of £400,000 per annum? If we take the B.E.A. passengers alone at the same low average fare of £50, the revenue would amount to some £40 million. It has always seemed to me extraordinary that a consumer service involving so many passengers who produce a revenue in excess of £40 million should be removed to save, according to B.E.A., half a million pounds—£500,000 The revenue brought in by passengers was not even considered. In the commercial decision taken by B.E.A., which it was assumed it was in order for them to take, £40 million was not worth mentioning.

This brings me, my Lords, to the Airline Users' Committee, of which I am a member. I need not tell the House that I have no intention of disclosing private discussions within that Committee. What I do propose to talk about is what is public knowledge, and that is the report or Press release of the Committee dated November 21 last. If I may go back to the first reason for the withdrawal of the facilities—the delayed departure of planes due to the late running of buses from the West London Air Terminal to Heathrow—it will be remembered that B.E.A. had no figures of such late departures available for me. They then provided the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, with some 435 flights, giving, intentionally, a misleading impression; and that the representative of the B.E.A. bus drivers' unit said that this impression was not true. Upon request, B.E.A. provided papers for the Airline Users' Committee, including details of delayed departures. Quoting from the Press release of the Committee dated November 21, we have the following: British Airways have tried to justify the withdrawal of the West London Air Terminal check-in facilities on the grounds that they led to delays in flights and were also uneconomic. The Committee has examined British Airways evidence, but this shows that aircraft departures delays last year of more than 15 minutes and directly attributable to late coach arrivals were only 0.4 per cent. of total departures (i.e. less than one flight every two days). The Committee considers this figure is far too small to justify the drastic reduction in public facilities which is proposed.

My Lords, I have dealt with the declining numbers that did not decline, and the lowering of our standards to match those of our competitors. That leaves expense and loss to B.E.A. I gave my layman's estimate a few moments ago. Being a member of the Airline Users' Committee I cannot go into detail, but I can quote the first paragraph of their Press release. It said: The Airline Users' Committee deplores British Airways intention to close down the West London Air Terminal check-in facilities. The Committee has discussed the subject with British Airways and is not satisfied that an adequate case for abandonment of check-in facilities has been established. Later in this statement is the sentence: In order to meet British Airways financial problem the Committee has suggested that the cost could be covered by imposing a surcharge for the use of these facilities. On this question of expense, a British Airways Press release dealing with the check-in facilities and dated December 4 says: The fact that their withdrawal saves £½ million a year is an important, but incidental, factor. If the foreign airlines paid B.E.A. a substantial sum each year for using these facilities, then even this "incidental" factor could be non-existent should the facilities be continued. As I have said before, I hope that the Minister will be able to help us on this question at the end of the debate. Apart from this "incidental" factor, the preceding sentence in the British Airways Press release states once more—and I stress "once more"—that continuation cannot be justified because of the resultant frequency of delayed flights. I would ask the House to note the frequency, on figures provided by B.E.A., of 0.4 per cent.—a delay to less than one plane every two days.

My Lords, I come now to the Questions asked on December 5 [OFFICIAL REPORT, cols. 593–603.] when this House so strongly showed its disapproval of what was being done. Nobody could be in any doubt about that. Personally I was more disappointed and more despairing than I have been for a long time, and I have protested to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn. Why? First of all, my Lords, we had this Press release from British Airways (as I will now call them) concerning the West London Air Terminal. I thought this statement was an insult. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, was more polite. He found it "peculiarly unconvincing". I might add that this statement concerning the Airline Users' Committee was sent neither to them nor to the Civil Aviation Authority. But the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, found it a good statement; and this, from a Minister whom we all respect and one with a long interest in consumer affairs, I found unbelievable. It was this that made me so despairing.

The Question from the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye concerned the findings of the Airline Users' Committee, and the House will recall that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, who answered that day could not remember whether or not he had read the findings of the Airline Useres' Committee before replying; or, indeed, if he had ever read them.


My Lords, may I deal with that point right away, because it was a difficult point? The noble Baroness will remember that she referred to the Press release and the report, and I naturally wondered at that time whether there was a report on which that Press release was based. I am sorry if there was confusion, but had she said "Press release" I would of course have been able to say at once, "Yes, I have read it".


My Lords, I am sorry, but there was no confusion at all in my mind. I was referring, of course, to the exchanges in this House on Thursday last, December 13, at column 1274 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. I have a lot to say and I do not wish to prolong it, but the noble Lord has still not got the point. I am still horrified that he had answered a Question—not my question but that of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye—without, obviously, having read the statement on which the Question was based. If he had read the statement, he gave an Answer that was totally at variance with it. I can only imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn—and I am sorry to say this—does not realise that statements like this bring into disrepute any expressed concern for consumer bodies. Many of us give much time and thought to serving on such committees. If Government Ministers answer Questions on them without even reading what has been said, it really does not seem worth while devoting one's time to them. If the Minister will look at column 1274 he will see what I mean.

Here I wish to mention my second letter from the first Chairman of the Consumer Council. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, has written to say that she cannot get down from Scotland to-day. She sends her regrets because, she says: I would have supported you in every way". So this protest to-day really does come from both sides of the House.

My Lords, the Minister told us on December 5 that the British Airways Board was doing its best to make better use of the buses, to see that these were more full; and he went on to tell us about the installation of an extra lift. As long ago as April 2 I told the House about a lift and an escalator. Now we are to have two lifts. Each measures 2 metres by 1.7 metres, and converting this to feet we have an area of 6 feet 6 inches by 5 feet 6 inches. I imagine that each would hold two passengers, plus trolleys, plus baggage. As buses will be running full—and I beg the House to think of the holiday months—and every 10 minutes, many passengers will be deposited at the same time with their luggage. Does the Minister suggest that those who cannot get into the lift push their trolleys, or carry their baggage, up the escalator?

I am sorry to say that we then moved on to the Minister conveying once more the dishonest and misleading impression put out by British Airways that 80 per cent. of passengers are held up for a long time because their planes are waiting for buses running late from the West London Air Terminal. My Lords, how long can one go on repeating what is untrue? I feel very strongly about this and it may be that had the Minister read the report from the Airline Users' Committee before answering, he would have answered differently. After all it was the noble Lord himself who on July 25, when we were informed of the setting up of this very Committee, and West London Air Terminal was mentioned, who said—and I quote from col. 1822 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for the day: If one is setting up a body of this sort it is natural that that body should be given the opportunity to discuss this issue". I want to ask the House: is it any less natural that the results of that discussion should be noted and taken into account? Does the noble Lord not care what the Committee says? May I repeat once more that, based on figures submitted to the Committee by British Airways: aircraft departure delays last year of more than 15 minutes and directly attributable to late coach arrivals were only 0.4 per cent. of total departures (i.e. less than one flight every two days). My Lords, 0.4 per cent.! I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, regrets what he said.

My Lords, my attention has been drawn to the exchanges in another place on Monday, December 10. I think the most polite comment on the answers provided is that they added nothing to the problem we are discussing. But what I protest about, and what I think the House would wish me to protest about, is that the Minister of Aerospace and Shipping, Mr. Heseltine, again repeated the untrue statement about passengers being held up because—and I quote from col. 24 of the Official Report of another place: a particular bus is held up for a long time. The House will remember this figure: the percentage of delays due to this in 1972, on British Airways' own figures, was 0.4 per cent. My Lords, should not the Minister of Aerospace and Shipping turn his attention to the 99.6 per cent. delays due to other reasons?

I hope that all in this House to-day, and all in another place, when they have read this debate, and the public who I trust will be informed by the Press and the other media, will condemn this blatant dishonesty. I want to ask the House: can nothing be done to stop this misrepresentation which is put about by British Airways to support a wrong decision, and, I am sorry to say, repeated again and again by Government spokesmen?

One could go on giving similar examples. Each has the same trend and I believe it is one that all fair-minded people will resent. However, I propose to mention only one more. I think this misrepresentation, too, must be laid to rest At column 598 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for December 5 of the debate in your Lordships' House, and at column 23 of the Report of another place for December 10, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and Mr. Heseltine respectively repeated that no complaints had arisen as a result of the facilities being withdrawn from foreign airlines on October 1. Concerning the Minister of Aerospace and Shipping and his Department, of course they do not wish to know; they make no inquiries on points like these. The result might be too inconvenient. Then the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, gets landed with their prejudice in this House. It is not his fault.

The third letter I wish to mention comes from the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch—and I have his permission to use it. On this matter of the withdrawal of facilities from foreign airlines from October 1 last he says: It may be true that no complaints were received by B.E.A. The public generally considers that it is useless to make complaints to these big corporations. But that there was no dissatisfaction is not true. My wife went to Cook's office in Army and Navy Stores today (December 12) to collect a ticket. The man who dealt with this informed her that there had been bitter complaints about the withdrawal of the check-in facilities for foreign airlines. My Lords, I come now to my conclusion and to the reason for this Motion. Nobody could deny that I have done all in my power to have this matter inquired into. Equally—and I think this is more important still—nobody could deny that this House, from all sides, has given me full support. And I think nobody could deny that, in spite of whatever proof we put before the House, this bureaucracy of B.E.A. has been allowed, even encouraged, to ride roughshod over the needs of 1⅓ million paying passengers. Much as the dishonesty and misrepresentation have concerned me, the lack of consideration for human problems has concerned me even more—and I think this is true of the House. This bureaucracy seems to have no understanding of the worries, even of the pleasurable anticipation, of people going on holiday, particularly in the summer peak period. Now, under the suggested proposals, they are going to have that pleasurable anticipation spoiled. Will they catch their plane? How long will they find the queue at Heathrow waiting to check in for that plane? The arrangements they have made at the other end—what will happen to these?

British Airways say—and I quote: British Airways will take good care to see that they are properly looked after at Heathrow until they can be put on an alternative service". My Lords, this is quite wicked—and "wicked" is not too strong a word. These are not monied people who can make alternative arrangements at the other end. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, must know that planes to the European holiday resorts do not run every few minutes and that these are fully booked in the peak periods. And there are the elderly, and the less elderly travellers with their 44 lb. of luggage, struggling to get into the lifts or up the escalator. It is all so unkind, so thoughtless, so obviously devised by people sitting at a desk who do not have these problems.

Last week I had a letter from the wife of a much-respected Conservative Member of Parliament. I shall be very glad to show this letter to the noble Lord after the debate. She says: As a 'London Grannie' who is constantly being asked to ferry children backwards and forwards, and help young mothers with small children, may I make a special point to do with young mothers? It is already difficult enough to cope with a baby and perhaps two toddlers with their necessary hand-baggage. There are never enough porters luggage trolleys to help this kind of traveller, and it will virtually be impossible for these young women, often travelling alone, if they have to cope with the extra burden of having to check in at Heathrow—where chaos often reigns as it is". My Lords, what nonsense it all is, and what heartless, unkind nonsense! I do not know whether noble Lords or the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, can see the headline of the paper that I have here. This is the issue of B.E.A. News for June 21, and it has a large headline. The large headline is: "Putting people first". There are few travellers who believe that nowadays; and perhaps British Airways (B.E.A. Division) will take that from the public, if not from me.

The Annual Report of the British Airports Authority for 1972–73, speaking of "The Airport Scene", says: When weather, mechanical failure or air traffic congestion disrupt airline schedules at peak times the conditions in terminals can reach depths of discomfort and frustration which no passenger should be expected to endure". The British Airports Authority is still of this opinion. The Authority believes that traffic growth at Heathrow over the next few years, prior to additional airport capacity, will add to this discomfort and frustration. To avoid this, my Lords, I have asked frequently that the decision to withdraw these check-in facilities at the West London Air Terminal should not even be cancelled but should be deferred until the rail link with Heathrow is established in 1976, when we can see what the position then is. As the House knows, I have got nowhere. Therefore, my Lords, in order that this matter may at last be inquired into, and while thanking the House for its patience to-day and all quarters of the House for their support over 19 months, I beg to move.

11.56 a.m.


My Lords, everyone will agree with the noble Baroness when she claims, and rightly claims, that she has done all in her power to secure the postponement or cancellation of the withdrawal of the check-in facilities at West London Air Terminal. Everyone has admired the way in which she has done this, and I make absolutely no complaint about the way in which she has pursued her objective. I also recognise the strong support that she has achieved in this House. I do not think I can take exception to anything that she has said, although I think one can put different constructions on the facts that she has enumerated to the House—and I think it is my duty to do that. I regret her charge of blatant dishonesty against B.E.A. They have presented the facts as they see them, although she may not appreciate the way in which they have presented the facts. The only other slight criticism I would make is that she slightly impugned my homework. I would deny that, and I would say to her—and I am sure she will agree with this—that I have throughout taken tier campaign (if I may put it that way) very seriously indeed. In fact, I do not think that, over the last year, there is any single subject which has taken up more of my time. I have read the papers that were available, including of course the Press release, which I read before my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye asked his Question. But as I was asked about a report I naturally had to search my mind, and subsequently my files, to see whether there had been a report. It was in fact, as the noble Baroness says, a Press release.

My Lords, may I address myself to the points that the noble Baroness has made, and go over them in my way? First of all, who uses the West London Air Terminal? I agree with the figures which the noble Baroness quoted: that there were 781,000 passengers at B.E.A. and their subsidiary and allied companies, and some 582 travellers of other lines, who used the check-in facilities at West London Air Terminal. The figures have in fact fallen, so far as B.E.A. passengers are concerned, by nearly 100,000 since 1969; and, of course, the proportion of travellers using the facilities has dropped, as has frequently been said, from one-half in 1953 to between 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. at the present time. As the noble Baroness said, in general there was a separate bus for each flight, though in a few cases passengers for two or more flights scheduled to depart at about the same time were conveyed on one bus. As she said, the buses took B.E.A. passengers to Terminal 1, whether for international or internal flights, and passengers for foreign airlines to Terminal 2.

What, then, are the services that the Motion asks should not be withdrawn? They are the checking-in of passengers and their luggage at West London Air Terminal; buses related to particular flights; and the practice of keeping flights from taxi-ing out for take-off until the passengers from the West London Air Terminal bus have boarded their plane.

What is not being withdrawn? It is important that I should tell your Lordships, because in conversation with many of you I feel there has been a good deal of misunderstanding about this matter. The bus services to Terminals 1 and 2 are not being withdrawn. That service is continuing. The only difference is that instead of a bus being assigned to each separate flight, by and large a service of buses at intervals of 10 minutes at ordinary times and 4 minutes at peak periods will be maintained. That is in the B.A.B. timetable. Considering that the average number of passengers for each 56-seater bus is at present only 14—and yesterday I saw one arriving at Heathrow with only 7 passengers on it—the new service will obviously be a much more economic, a much more flexible and a much more efficient service than the old one. Passengers will be able to leave sooner than under the present system in order to make sure of catching the plane. The proposals are that the buses should leave 10 minutes sooner, but individual passengers will be able to take any bus they like. At present they might have to wait half an hour at West London Air Terminal, if they got there soon enough, for the appropriate bus, and even then the bus might be subject to delays. To obviate that risk, passengers will be able to take any bus; they can go to the Terminal at any time they like and go straight on to the bus.

The new service has advantages. First of all, reception and departure at West London Air Terminal will be on the street floor. Passengers will be, as the noble Baroness says, deposited—that was the word she used—with their baggage at street level. There will be porters there if they want them to take their luggage across to the bus. I have seen this happening because I have visited the terminal myself and seen it in operation. The passenger will see his luggage taken to the bus he is catching at the other side, will be able to watch his luggage being loaded into the bus and will then get his bus ticket in the hall. Incidentally, there are great advantages for old people in not having to struggle down the two flights of stairs from the upper floor to the ground level, no doubt carrying their hand luggage, as they have to do at present.

At the airport terminal they will see their luggage unloaded, identify it, and, if passengers wish, it will be taken by porters to the check-in point. A supervisor will be available all the time to help passengers and to see that if a bus has been delayed check-in is expedited. The noble Baroness referred to an escalator and a lift. A new escalator is being installed; there is one there already. A second lift is also being installed at the present time. In the very rare case that the bus arrives too late for passengers to catch the plane—and I agree with the noble Baroness that they are very rare cases; there has never been any doubt about this.


My Lords, I did not wish to interrupt the noble Lord, but is he seriously telling us that he knows there are very rare cases when the bus arrives late? That is something completely new, after 19 months spent on this matter.


I will come to this point in just a moment, but may I just say to the noble Baroness that when one talks about 80 per cent. of passengers one translates that to 80 per cent. of passengers in any particular plane. There is no deception about this at all. It simply means that where a plane is kept waiting, on average there will be three to four passengers who went direct to the Airport waiting for every one passenger who has come from the West London Terminal. That is a mathematical fact. There has never been the slightest deception or dishonesty about that.

As I was saying, in those very cases the British Airports Board have said that they will accept the responsibility for getting passengers on the next flight on which there is spare capacity, no matter whether it is a British Airways Board plane or one operated by another airline. They will see that in the meantime passengers get meals at B.A.B.'s expense, and if there is no available flight that day B.A.B. will pay for a night in a hotel at Heathrow for them. The only condition attached is that passengers must have taken a bus leaving not later than the time recommended by B.A.B. for his flight, and that seems a very reasonable condition.

My Lords, as I said, buses are seldom late. In the period March to October this year, 85 flights were delayed for more than 15 minutes for that reason. That is less than one flight in two days; it is scarcely one flight in three days. To reduce this hazard still further, British Airways are recommending passengers to take buses leaving 15 minutes earlier than at present. As check-in at present has to be completed five minutes before the bus is due to leave, that means that passengers will need to be at the terminal only 10 minutes earlier than at present if they are to comply with the recommended condition. Is it reasonable to expect those passengers who check in at Heathrow to be kept waiting by those who come from West London Air Terminal, if it can be avoided? Those who go direct to the Airport outnumber those who go to West London Air Terminal by between three and four to one. B.A.B. have never sought to justify the withdrawal on these grounds alone, which form by no means the only, or even the most important reason, for changing to the new system.

However, I think its importance is often underestimated. One has to remember that although B.E.A. might like to do so, they do not at the present time run shuttle services. They use a plane on several routes in the same day. A plane may start by doing a trip to Paris, come back and then do a trip to Scotland. If, say, on the first journey that plane is held up, it can disrupt the whole flight plan for the whole day. This could be cumulative. Those who have used services running to Scotland and connecting services within Scotland are very well aware of this kind of thing. That is a fact which has been given insufficient weight in considering the consequences of the plane being held up avoidably.

My Lords, the nationalised airlines are expected to use their resources as efficiently and economically as possible. Their resources include their manpower, their buses and their accommodation. It may be very convenient for passengers never to have to wait at a check-in desk, but if that means under-use of check-in facilities, plainly the system has to be looked at again. It would be unsatisfactory if there were constant queues at one place and practically no waiting at all at another. It is really quite unacceptable that the buses should be used as uneconomically as they are being used under the present system, as I have said, with an average of less than 14 passengers for each 56-seater bus. The new system is intended to improve on this. It has already been doing so in the case of the foreign airlines.

Lastly, these new arrangements will enable much better use to be made of the premises at West London Air Terminal. The check-in floor will be used for offices. If the check-in facilities were maintained, the British Airways Board say that it would be necessary to acquire, or build, additional office accommodation, which would mean considerable extra expenditure. But the fact is that the proportion of passengers using West London Air Terminal is not sufficient nowadays to justify the retention of check-in facilities with all the administrative complications that they involve. My Lords, half of the passengers of British European Airways—it is still British European Airways—used the facilities in 1953 and now only between one quarter and one-fifth of the passengers use them. The noble Baroness drew attention to the difficulties confronting old persons. When I visited Terminal 1 yesterday, I paid particular attention to this point. I found that there is a service devoted entirely to the direction of porters and to seeing that the appropriate facilities are provided for old persons. In a little box in the terminal centre there is an indicator to indicate the "state of play", and it is possible to switch porters to points where they are required to deal with any rush of passengers. In addition, B.A.B. have said that there will be eight additional porters available all the time, to deal with passengers arriving? at Terminal 1. This means of course considerably more porters to work on rota.

My Lords, I turn to the question of consultation. I agree that it was unfortunate that the appropriate consultative arrangements did not exist over a year ago when B.E.A. first decided to discontinue the check-in facilities at West London Air Terminal. I give the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, full credit for the part she played in having the Airline Users' Committee set up. But even had the Committee existed at that time, and even if it had not liked the new system, it would have been very difficult for B.E.A. not to proceed. It is quite untrue to say that B.E.A. did not consider the public. There was no means of consulting the public at that time, but to say that they did not consider public requirements is quite untrue. It obviously must be, in a competitive situation such as exists there, that they are bound to consider the interests of their users.


My Lords, what does the noble Lord mean by saying that there were no means of consulting the public? There are unlimited ways of doing so, many of which are practised at Heathrow and could have been practised at the Air Terminal. There are methods of establishing what people think and want.


My Lords, what I meant to say was that there was no Users' Committee set up at that time.


My Lords, that is a different thing.


My Lords, that is the proper way of doing so. I have pointed out on previous occasions that consultative committees of a kind do exist. B.E.A. have subsequently set up one of their own. I think it also important to bear in mind that users' consultative bodies are not tribunals to which nationalised industries submit applications for permission to carry out their plans. Such bodies are consulted in order that the plans may be modified to meet the needs and the convenience of consumers so far as is practicable, and this is what happened. When the Airline Users' Committee was set up by the Civil Aviation Authority I told the noble Baroness and the House that B.E.A. would pay attention to its views. This is exactly what has been done. As I have indicated, steps have been taken to meet the views of the Airline Users' Committee. Furthermore, the British Airways Board have offered to co-operate with the Committee in monitoring the new system. I understand that the Committee has accepted the offer. I am not saying that the Committee is satisfied that it is right to make the change, but it has accepted the offer. If the Committee finds that the kind of hardship it fears is occurring, I am sure that the British Airways Board will be glad to take all practicable steps to put matters right.

The noble Baroness's Motion implies that a Select Committee should be set up. That is a matter for the House, my Lords, but the House may think that a Select Committee is not really necessary now that the Airline Users' Committee has the issue before it. The House may feel that this would be a duplication; and, of course, a Select Committee might reach a different conclusion from that which the Airline Users' Committee has reached. It is by no means certain that they would take the same view. What I cannot advise your Lordships to do is to accept the Motion itself. It calls on Her Majesty's Government to do something that no Government have been prepared to do ever since the nationalised industries were first set up; namely, to interfere with the day-to-day working. There can be no doubt at all that passenger handling is essentially a matter of day-to-day management, and a matter for commercial judgment in a competitive situation. My Lords, apart from—


My Lords, surely the Railways Board was asked to continue rail services in the last three or four years when they wished to close them.


My Lords, there is a statutory procedure in that case. Parliament has imposed strict limitations on the powers of the Government to interfere with nationalised industries. Broadly speaking, the limitations are similar for all the nationalised industries. So far as the British Airways Board are concerned, the limitations are laid down in Section 40 of the Civil Aviation Act 1971. Any direction issued must be of a general character and must affect the national interest. The power to issue directions includes the power to secure that …any relevant body specified in the directions— (i) discontinues, or restricts to an extent specified in the directions, any of the activities of the body which are so specified…". There is no similar power to prevent the discontinuance or restriction of the activity. I am advised that there is no power to give a direction under Section 40 not to close the check-in facilities at West London Air Terminal after December 31. Even if there were, would it be sensible or even practicable for the Government to bully or cajole the British Airways Board into maintaining the facilities at West London?

The Motion delicately uses the word "requests", but I doubt whether the noble Baroness intends that the Government should take, "No" for an answer to that request. The check-in facilities have already been discontinued, as the noble Baroness said, for 40 per cent. of those who were using them. No complaints have come to the British Airways Board by any of the various methods by which one would expect them to come, through agents and the like. That I can merely report.

The noble Baroness says that there have been complaints made to agencies, but all I can say is that the British Airways Board have not heard of them. I have been to the West London Air Terminal and to Terminals 1 and 2 during the past week and I believe that the arrangements there are in many respects better for foreign airlines than they are for B.E.A. users, now that the change-over has been made. After January 1, it is intended that the arrangements shall be the same for foreign airlines and for B.E.A. users, and it is certainly desirable that they should be the same; it is simply not practicable to change the arrangements for foreign airlines back to what they were before October 1. It is, of course, true that a fee was paid by the foreign airlines for the check-in facilities. But a new agreement has been negotiated. I do not know whether they are available now, but if they are not I will try later to give the noble Baroness the figures that she asked for. The plain fact is that to continue the check-in facilities after January 1 while a Select Committee considered the whole matter would disrupt the plans of the British Airways Board and cause dislocation at West London Air Terminal. The British Airways Board have taken advantage of a slack winter season to redeploy their staff and to make structural alterations. Neither the staff nor the facilities now exist to provide check-in facilities for the spring and the summer. It is not now a question of continuance, but of reinstatement should those facilities be required for the spring and the summer, and it is necessary to go on with the changes which are being made just now if those facilities are to be available.

My Lords, I ask the House to recognise that the decision to discontinue the check-in facilities in two stages was one that was entirely within the powers of the British Airways Board, and it is not a power that they exercised without consideration of the public or the consumer interest. Their reason for making the change was to provide more economical service for users of the West London Air Terminal and more efficient for their air passengers taken as a whole. To halt the process now in mid-stream would involve retaining a service which was costing over £500,000 last year, and would cost more next year. It would mean running two systems at West London Air Terminal. It would mean acquiring more buses; it would involve additional expenditure for reinstating the service; and would mean forgoing economies at a time when it is in the national interest that everyone should make economies.

My Lords, I must ask: is it sensible, just 12 days before the changes are to be completed, to ask the Government to intervene and call a halt, even if the Government had power to do so? It would certainly be at variance with the practice of successive Governments vis-a-vis nationalised industries in this matter of day-to-day management. I really cannot believe that the Party opposite would wish to urge the Government to do something which they certainly would not have done themselves if they had been in power, because it is completely out of line with the whole concept of nationalised industries, of which they were the architects. They may lie sorry to see the services go. They may think that the minority of air passengers who use them may be worse off in consequence. But it is simply not on to intervene at this very late stage. I suggest very strongly to your Lordships that the sensible thing now is to let the B.A.B. proceed with their plans, and to watch very carefully the outcome, an outcome which will be monitored by the Airline Users' Committee, in co-operation with the British Airways Board.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I ask him this question? At an earlier stage he said that a Select Committee might come to a different point of view from that of the Users' Council. Would he object to that? Would it not strengthen the case that he has been trying to put?


My Lords, I would not object to that at all; but I think it might tend to confuse counsels.

12.23 p.m.


My Lords, I am certain that everyone in the House was deeply impressed by the powerful and able case presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, works hard for his Government as Minister without Portfolio, and we all admire the diligent way in which he handles portfolio after portfolio. But of all the burdens that he has had to carry, the load he carries on behalf of British Airways this morning is the least justifiable of all. He has made the best of a bad job; but it still remains a bad job. I am sorry that in his last remarks he referred to "the Party opposite", because throughout the history of this campaign it has been entirely a non-Party affair, with Members on all sides and from the Cross Benches intervening. I thought his rosy picture of what happens at West London and at Heathrow, and what is going to happen under the new reforms, did not conform with reality. I have been for over twenty years a customer of B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. I believe them to be the finest in the world, not only in efficiency but in courtesy, in care and in human relations with the passengers. So it is disappointing for me to have to say that in this matter which we are now discussing, the merger of B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. has been followed by their riding roughshod over one of the splendid services they have provided—that of checking-in at West London Air Terminal.

Since I came to your Lordships' House I have watched with admiration the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, on behalf of consumers in general, and of air passengers in particular. It is now just over a year and a half since the noble Baroness, having heard of the proposal to take away the check-in facilities at West London, asked her first Question on the matter on June 15 1972. On that occasion the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, had to reply, and he stonewalled, as the Government have done ever since and as the Minister has done this morning. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that it was a matter for British Airways; that the facilities were originally provided for 100 per cent. of the passengers; that the percentage of users had dropped to about 25 per cent., and that for the rest of the people going to Heathrow it was uneconomic: and he said that the check-in facilities would end in the summer of 1973. If your Lordships turn up that Question, you will find that in the cross-questioning that took place on that occasion the noble Baroness was supported from all sides of the House. There were the noble Lords, Lord Inglewood, Lord Shepherd, Lord Harvey of Prestbury, Lord Strabolgi, Lord Thurso, Lady Wootton and Lady Llewelyn-Davies, all on this first encounter.

Finally, my Lords, the Government undertook to have a word with the B.A.B. and B.E.A. Since that day, every time this matter has been raised in the House, either by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, or by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, they have beeen supported by many more noble Lords, some of them here to join in the debate to-day. It is rare indeed that in your Lordships' House there has been such near unanimity on any issue, with only the Government Front Bench aloof, cold and immovable. I believe that as this debate proceeds to-day we shall find the same unanimity among your Lordships.

I should like briefly to repeat the issue which has been so clearly put by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton. Many people—over one million—use the check-in facilities at West London Air Terminal. There they book in and hand in their luggage, and from that moment they have no more worry about their luggage. It is a wonderful feeling, as all those who have experienced the use of that terminal will know. They then go by guaranteed bus to Heathrow. They have no worry; the bus will take them; they will get their flight, and they can forget their luggage until they get to the other end of their journey. This may not mean much to richer people, who can take a taxi to Heathrow, or take their car and park it in the long-term parking places at Heathrow, where an attendant will take them from their parked car to the Heathrow Airport and their luggage will be manhandled by a porter: they have very little trouble. It is the poorer people, who cannot afford that way of getting to Heathrow, and especially the elderly people and those with families, who are going to find it very difficult to cope with their baggage under the new system. They will still have to go to West London Air Terminal. There they will take a bus, as the Minister has said, with their luggage. They will have to make their own certain arrangements to be sure that they catch their plane. The bus will not be for their flight, but for any flight. At the other end they will have to get their luggage from the bus to the check-in point.

A few weeks ago I flew from Heathrow, having been taken by friends direct to Heathrow. The check-in-points were crowded and there were long queues. We waited for a long time. This new system will add a million more passengers to the long queues that one already finds at Heathrow. For this proposed change, we are offered really just two basic excuses. The first is the saving of half a million pounds. This sum could easily be met in other ways. I believe that customers would be willing to pay a small surcharge for the convenience of check-in facilities at West London Air Terminal. In any case, if British Airways are going to cope adequately with the increased numbers of passengers at Heathrow they will have to provide more staff and more facilities there, which will cut away some of the money it is suggested will be saved.


My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me? I omitted to say that at the present time there are 32 check-in points at Terminal 1, and the British Airways Board are providing check-in points at each of the passenger loading bays: that is at each of the 17 flight gates. That adds practically 50 per cent. to the check-in facilities.


My Lords, I am glad to know that the check-in facilities will increase, but the cost of providing them will have to be offset against the half million which the noble Lord said was being saved by this arrangement. The second excuse is that by the use of the check-in facilities and the guaranteed flight bus services from the West London Air Terminal, aeroplanes are delayed because they have to wait for passengers. I consider this to be a most flimsy excuse. If the facts are as stated, even the 0.4 per cent. of cases to which the noble Baroness referred could be obviated by making the checking-in and bus-leaving times earlier. We now have an excellent motorway from West London to Heathrow. It is far easier, swifter and more regular than it was in earlier days when we had to stop at every traffic crossroads. I do not think anyone would object to being asked to check in a little earlier at the West London Air Terminal if he was going to retain the comfort and the certainty he has had up to this moment.

An article in the Sunday Telegraph earlier this month suggested that this withdrawal of check-in facilities is only one symptom of a malaise which has affected B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. since the merger. It suggests that there is among the staff—and I quote— … genuine embarrassement over the downgrading of B.A. passenger services, citing as well as the check-in, ever-reducing sect pitch, deleted or reduced meals and badly stocked bars. It is because the reputation of the two airlines has been so high that this apparent flouting of the customers is most regret-table and hard to explain. The Airline Users' Committee set out in November what it felt. The noble Baroness has quoted their deploring of the proposed closing down of the check-in facilities. The statement continued: The Committee is convinced that the withdrawal of the W.L.A.T. check-in facilities and of guaranteed flight connections will cause considerable hardship to the travelling public, of whom over a million (including many elderly people) have been regularly using these facilities each year. They have said that if the check-in facilities are to be withdrawn the withdrawal should at least have been postponed until the Underground railway was ready to serve Heathrow. I am glad to see that the Minister, judging from his intervention just now, accepts that additional facilities must be generously provided at Heathrow to cope with the million extra passengers who will check in here. I support the Motion moved by the noble Baroness, and I hope she will have the support of the House.

12.35 p.m.


My Lords, I rise very briefly to support this Motion because I feel that the case has been put so very well by the noble Baroness. I find this an extraordinary and unparalleled situation. We have been given a series of reasons for abolishing these check-in facilities. The statements have been incorrect. The importance attached to the various reasons has altered almost from day to day; and, finally, we have just been told that they want to put offices in the present terminal building. Is this a new idea? One can only presume that it was known earlier and, if that was so, I consider it a slight on the dignity of this House that we were not told the facts. For that reason, if for no other. I consider that we should all vote for this Motion. It is intolerable that an Authority should not take the trouble to prepare a proper brief and give the facts. I personally would have had a great deal more sympathy with the closure had I known about these offices. It is not a conclusive argument, but at least it is one that is quite solid.

The point has already been made that consumers are almost certainly prepared to pay half a million pounds—if that is really a fact—to have these facilities. Those of your Lordships who have been to Heathrow will know what the check-in facilities are like. If you are going to increase the number of passengers checking in there and provide reasonable services, there is only one answer—that is, to pull down the building completely and start again. It is far too crowded. There is no room anywhere; and to get people rushing about between perhaps 20 check-in points would be intolerable.

I feel that this is just another example of the sort of thing which efficiency experts provide to-day. It is so often done, with no thought of the consumer in mind. I think it might be worth quoting a parallel instance. An institution of which I am a member wrote to me not long ago and said that they had put their subscriptions on a computer and they asked whether I would for the future cancel my banker's order and pay on demand, because their computer programme could not cope with a banker's order. That has happened again recently in connection with another institution of which I am also a member. I wrote in and said: "This is all very well. You may be saving money, but you are merely putting the work back on me and you are no longer providing a service." In the present case there is not even the justification of money, because it is so easy to put on a small extra charge to cover the half a million pounds which it is said this building costs.

There are many other speakers to follow, my Lords, and so I shall not keep your Lordships any longer. I have made the points I wish to make.

12.40 p.m.


My Lords, I should also like to support this Motion, along with other speakers. I have followed the crusade of the noble Baroness with wonderment and awe. Her tenacity and stamina on this issue must surely warm the cockles of the hearts of all Back-Benchers, however docile (as I am) they may be. I support the Motion for two clear reasons: the first is because, as other noble Lords have said, one is disturbed by the very forceful tones that the Airline Users' Committee reported on this matter. One has to remember that this Committee is a perfectly responsible Committee chaired by the Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Their report was quite adamant. It was, having taken the most detailed evidence from B.E.A. and having examined all aspects, that they had come firmly to the conclusion that the basic argument put up by B.E.A. in favour of their decision to close the check-in facilities simply did not stand up. A number of Members of this House, when the Civil Aviation Bill was going through in 1971—notably the noble Lords, Lord Kings Norton, Lord Beswick, and of course, the noble Baroness, fought for the principle that the Civil Aviation Authority should be and should have the responsibility for consumers' interests. That responsibility to-day stands in that Act under Section 3(1)(d). The Civil Aviation Authority have fulfilled their duty by this report. It should not be lightly put aside, either by the Government or by this House. That is why I support the noble Baroness on the second part of her Motion for setting up a Select Committee.

The second reason why I support the Motion is the clear relation that this issue now has on the fuel crisis. I was very surprised that my noble friend did not mention this once, despite the fact that it is in the first part of the Motion. Two years ago, when B.E.A. took the decision on the closure, there was no cloud in the sky of fuel shortages and the issue was never considered. Their argument then, as we have heard was that the service in the West London Air Termnial was really an expensive luxury of diminishing usefulness, and was no longer required because 80 per cent. of the passengers went by car. That was based on conditions that simply do not apply to-day. It was recently reported, as the noble Baroness said, in a report in the proceeding in another place that my noble friend's right honourable friend, when asked what difference the check-in withdrawal at the West London Air Terminal would make to fuel saving, replied—and I paraphrase—"negligible". I find that answer very difficult to follow. At this crisis time when the Government are exorting us all, I am sure rightly, to save all possible fuel and even to live in one heated room in one's home, it seems that every policy they can devise to encourage people to save fuel should be enthusiastically endorsed. If 80 per cent. of the passengers go to Heathrow by car it represents, by my calculations, over 15 million people a year, over 5 million car journeys a year, and over 5 million gallons of petrol a year. It is a very significant figure and perhaps my noble friend could put the matter straight when he comes to reply. By closing down the check-in facilities and stopping the guaranteed buses, it is hardly an inducement to the travelling public to use the West London Terminal bus service. That is my reason for supporting the first part of the Motion of the noble Baroness when she refers to the fuel crisis and the national interest.

The question to which one should address oneself—and indeed my noble friend did—is this: can the British Airways Board practically withdraw at this late stage? Before coming to the House to-day I checked with the British Airports Authority, and I understand that the additional basic equipment at Terminal 1 which they put in—not British Airways, but the British Airports Authority—will cost approximately £90,000, which B.E.A. will have to find. I understand that if a change in the decision takes place, this equipment would not be wasted and could be utilised. I understand, further, that if the decision is not altered and a closure takes place on January 1, during the height of the Christmas rush—to which the noble Baroness referred—the extra equipment will not all be fully operational. In fact at the moment the lifts are not working, and have not even been completed.


One lift.


One lift. My Lords, this seems to conflict with an undertaking that B.E.A. gave two years ago that no closure would take place until adequate alternative arrangements had been installed at Terminal 1. Where do the Government stand on this issue, and where do the Civil Aviation Authority stand? One recalls that my noble Leader reminded us the other day that this is a delicate issue, an issue of the relationship between Government and a nationalised industry. My noble friend referred to this. The noble Lord confirmed that the Government would not normally interfere with a nationalised industry's operations. They would interfere—and I submit this is a case—if it is in the national interest.

Where does the Civil Aviation Authority come in? In the Preamble to their Act, it states clearly that they have a duty to establish a corporation with functions which include the function of controlling the activities of the British Overseas Airways Corporation, and the British European Airways Corporation ". I will repeat that: controlling the activities of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. Under Section 3(1)(d) they have the duty to further the reasonable interest of users of the Air Transport Services. I submit that the Civil Aviation Authority have fulfilled their obligation under Section 3(1)(d), but have as yet not acted within their powers under the Preamble. Why not? The reason, I believe, is that they feel the ball is firmly in the Government's court.

I have listened most carefully to my noble friend's arguments today. His argument in essence seemed to be: What is all the fuss about?—the bus services remain. In my view the fuss is a fuss that should fuss the Government; it is really a hotch-potch, and at a time when travellers should be encouraged to use these bus services to save fuel this service is reduced in attractiveness and quality. My Lords, that is why I support the noble Baroness.

12.48 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like briefly to give some support to the noble and battling Baroness, if I may so describe her. I thought that she made an absolutely devastating case in detail and, frankly, I was not entirely happy about my noble friend's reply, although I recognise the difficult position in which he finds himself. I also find myself in a rather difficult position because the last time I looked at the Order Paper there were two Motions in the name of the noble Baroness. One asked for the postponement of the closure of the facilities, and the other for the appointment of a Select Committee. Today, there is only one.

I understand some of the arguments why it is not possible at this very late hour to change this decision. It is not the fault of the noble Baroness if it is so late, if it is the eleventh hour. But I recognised that it might be, and I had intended coming to the House to argue strongly in favour of the appointment of a Select Committee to look into this matter. I now find, however, that the Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee, which I feel would have been acceptable to Her Majesty's Government, has been withdrawn. I think this is the most crucial part of it, and therefore if the Motion we are discussing goes to a Division I shall have no hesitation in supporting the noble Baroness, for one reason and one reason only: that I feel there is a strong case for appointing a Select Committee to deal with this matter. The noble Baroness said that British European Airways (as I think one may still be allowed to call them, for the purposes of this exercise) were guilty of blatant dishonesty, and my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn disagreed. Surely that conflict of opinion is itself a very very strong case for having a Select Committee to gather the facts quite independently; and let it consist of those who have not taken part in this particular dispute.

My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn made one remark which I found very odd. He said that it would be very awkward if the Select Committee took a different view from that of the Airline Users' Committee. If the Select Committee took a different view, I should have thought my noble friend would be rather pleased; it would be some justification for his action and that of B.E.A. It seems to me that from his point it would be a very strong argument for a Select Committee. It is mainly on those points that I feel very strongly that this is one of the cases where a Select Committee should be appointed. In another place there is the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, and this is the kind of matter which they might raise. There is the Public Accounts Committee, which might perhaps question some of the economies which have been made in a Government Department. However, your Lordships do not have either of those two machines at your disposal. Since this is a matter in which the running has been made almost entirely in this House it seems to me that it is this House which could take over this task and appoint a Select Committee.

I have two other points which I should like to make. My noble friend said, quite rightly—and I have a great deal of sympathy with his point of view—that it is not for the Government to interfere in the day-to-day activities of nationalised industries. My Lords, considering the battle that has gone on for 18 months, it can hardly be called a day-to-day matter. None the less, I accept his point that it is thoroughly undesirable that the Government should interfere in day-to-day activities. I think one can make one firm statement here that the Government have one other power, and that is the appointment of the members of nationalised boards. Even if they do not on this occasion make any representations on a day-to-day matter, it is their duty, in considering reappointment to those boards, apart from the executive officers, to be satisfied that there are on the board sufficient people who are sensitive to public opinion and sensitive, in this case, to the needs of the travellers.

One other point I would make. Here we have the British Airways Board holding one view and the Airline Users' Committee holding another. This is something on which the Government have to make up their mind. They cannot just sit back and be indifferent. They must come down firmly on one side or the other, on the side of the Users' Council or on the side of the British Airways Board. To-day my noble friend seemed, on balance, to come down on the side of the British Airways Board, finally and irrevocably. I regret that. Therefore I think it is necessary to have a Select Committee.

12.53 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say just a very few words from these Cross-Benches in support of the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry. For some time now this matter of the closedown of the West London Air Terminal check-in desks has been a real source of worry to the travelling public—and I refer to the ordinary passengers who rely on public transport, not those who can afford taxis or have private cars. They amount to a considerable number of people. I recognise that there is need to streamline procedures, and that the picture changes from time to time; but this is a valuable service to the passengers, and surely their comfort is of paramount importance. Of course, when the Underground rail link is completed, this need may well disappear. Now added to this, there is considerable anxiety among British Airways employees that since the merger of B.E.A. and B.O.A.C., the actual running of the service is growing increasingly fragmented, thus reducing the standard of service considerably, whereas, in principle, the merger should make for a more co-ordinated, comprehensive service.

It is not only the West London Terminal that is involved. Ten provincial booking centres have been closed in recent months, which has led to an even greater burden being placed on the staff in London. As a result, as many as 70 per cent. of new recruits were being defeated by the pressure and were leaving within six months. Surely the time has now come to put an end to all the anxieties, the rumours and counter-rumours, by the appointment of a Select Committee to examine all the many aspects of this whole problem. I very much hope your Lordships will give this Motion your support.

12.56 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, rise to declare that I consider that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, has put forward an extremely strong case; and I declare my support for it, because, in spite of all the arguments put forward by my noble friend, the Minister, I feel strongly that it is wrong to alter the existing arrangements at the West London Air Terminal. The noble Baroness has asked a number of Questions on the subject from time to time. I have been able to be in your Lordships' House to hear a good many of them, and have always been hoping for favourable results to come from them. Now, in theory, these alterations seem good, but I have grave doubts at present, based on my own experiences, about how trey will turn out in practice. I know it is the custom in your Lordships' House to declare an interest. Well, mine is that I shall be one of those who are going to be hit hard by this alteration. I live and work in London. I have no need of a car. My home is not far from Cromwell Road. When I take a journey by air, it involves using the Cromwell Road Terminal. I enjoy being able to go there, check-in, get rid of my suitcase and know that I do not have to worry about it until I get to my destination. I have been privileged to travel a good deal; in fact, I have travelled to and through 25 countries outside the United Kingdom, and most of them have been included in my air travels. In recent years I have come to regard air travel with certain apprehension—no matter how much I enjoy flying, how convenient it is and how much time it saves—because almost every air journey I take nowadays has some snag arising, and most of them are connected with luggage.

The theory is now that we go to Cromwell Road and take a bus to London Airport. We can take any bus and they will leave at regular intervals, but we have still got to keep an eye on our luggage. Then we arrive at London Airport, we leave the bus collect our luggage—and goodness knows how much elbow room we are going to have to get through the crowds that will gather round the luggage compartment! Then we have to find where the check-in point is and we have to take the luggage there. I heard it declared most specifically when the noble Baroness was asking her earlier Questions that the distance from the bus to the check-in point was going to be a short one. I cannot remember what was said about lifts or elevators. But when you do finally find your check-in point, how big are those crowds going to be? How easy will it be to get the luggage from the bus to the check-in point? We have heard the guarantees about porters and trolleys being there, but I have "heard that one before", and I have known porters and trolleys to be very much noticeable by their absence.

I say it is all right for me, because, praise the Lord! I am strong and healthy. I can carry my own baggage, and, though it is inconvenient, personally I never travel light. But other people are not so fortunate. It is that short distance between the bus and the check-in point that is going to be an anxious one for a number of travellers, and it will be the thing that is going to make or break an air journey. Suppose you have taken the guaranteed bus and you have not been held up on the road anywhere, you may nevertheless find a long queue there, because sometimes I find that these check-in points deal with more than one flight at a time. You might be still in grave danger of missing your flight because of that long queue. We have been assured that various consolations will be available if one misses a flight, but how much is consolation going to be worth to a holidaymaker on a looked-forward-to tour, or, more important, to a business person who has an important contract to fulfil? I hope I am not being too repetitious. I am not trying to think up theoretical snags; I have experienced them myself. I must therefore ask, and join those other noble Lords who have also asked, for reconsideration about the closing of the facilities at Cromwell Road.

Even if the new scheme proves to work better than expected—and I, for one, shall be only too pleased to find any fears to be groundless—I do not think this is the time for it, with the present crisis demanding conservation of fuel. Air travellers from London Airport must be encouraged to use Cromwell Road instead of motoring out to the Airport. On December 5, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, asked two Questions on this subject. I was not able to be in your Lordships' House because I was abroad at the time. As a result of the second Question, the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, said: My Lords, as obviously the Government's desire is to meet the wishes of the travelling public if they can, would the Government invite Members of this House to describe the sufferings that they have gone through at foreign airports, almost all of which use the system which British Airways are now about to adopt?—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5/12/73; col. 603.] I, too, have experienced a good many foreign airports. There is one I found particularly exemplary and that was Zurich. I say "was" because it was seven years ago when I last used it and I do not know what the situation there is now. The terminal was in the main railway station or in the precincts of it. You came off the train, checked your baggage in there, and were told you could take any bus you liked out to the airport. You did so when you liked, and you were given the time when the last bus to catch your particular plane would leave, Therefore, if your train arrived early you had time to go and do some sightseeing. The buses left, I think, every 10 minutes or quarter-of-an-hour regularly. Here is a system which we could use at West London, using check-in facilities and a regular bus service. That I think would be a very favourable system.

We have spoken about businessmen and holidaymakers, but how about some of our foreign visitors? We can find many things to criticise British Airways about, but I believe that millions of holidaymakers and business men and women who come to this country from abroad enjoy a large proportion of the services which British Airways have been providing up to now. We want these people to come here. We need no reminder about how important they are to our economy. One of the most sure ways of encouraging anybody from one country to revisit another country is to make him feel confident that his homeward journey is going to be an easy one. I say that the existing facilities at West London Air Terminal can help to ensure this.

In considering public opinion, I also ask whether anyone ever thought of making a trial run with the public? Was anybody asked to try out the new system? I know that I, for one, if I had heard about it, would have been delighted to offer my own services as a human guinea-pig, and if anyone still wants to have a trial run I shall be delighted to take part; my family told me that they would be delighted to take part as well. One final repetition: I still think that this is not the time to make the changes. If they must come, please let them be deferred at least until the present crisis is over.

1.4 p.m.


My Lords, it has been a great pleasure to come here, at considerable personal inconvenience, to support the noble Baroness in this matter. As I have begun in somewhat Saturday morning form, given the state of the Session, may I say also that I find it extremely grieving to listen to Ministers whom we all like and respect, who try to be helpful to us in every way, struggling with a case that is as bad as this. First, the description given of the London Airports has no relation to reality. I suspect that the Minister did not try this out at a rush hour, carrying two suitcases and a baby. I have travelled a great deal. I am perhaps semi-elderly, but from that standpoint I can assure the Minister that Heathrow now is a frightening place. When you enter there you do not know where to go; and there may be as many advisers and as many notices as one likes but you really do arrive bewildered. And if I think of people who do not travel much, or who travel with difficult companions such as children, I wonder what it can be like dealing with one's luggage as well as with one's hand luggage and dependants.

Then, I hope I can sweep off the board one argument that has been used. That is the argument: "Others don't do it, so we can now stop doing it." That is an absolutely horrifying argument. What it amounts to is: "We, here, have discovered an efficient and humane way of doing this. Other people don't do it. We are some way ahead of them. This is very wrong and we must stop it at once." That argument is absolutely untenable and I hope the Minister will not use it in his summing up.

There is then the question (and I am being almost breathlessly brief because the arguments have in the main been used already) of the Underground link, which I do not think has been fully dealt with. It is a point I have tried to press. In terms of the broader management of our affairs, of transport and of this city, there is really no sense in suspending the present facility when we have the Underground in prospect. I am aware that under the new proposals for capital expenditure it may be that the Underground extension and improvement is vulnerable. It ought not to be vulnerable because it ought to have been done ten years ago. But here again there is an inconsequence and a disregard about this decision, for good sense as well as public convenience, which I find to be completely deplorable.

There is one other point which is very important and which has been dealt with very faithfully, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King. It is that in our care about consumers we must not totally disregard commercial considerations. The point has already been made that passengers using the check-in facilities in the West London Terminal would certainly not grudge a small surcharge to meet the loss which B.E.A. protest will be made. One final point is that I really cannot leave undisputed a word that the Minister used in his speech. He said that it would not be "practicable" now to change back again. My Lords, that is an incredible word to use. If you take away machinery and alter rooms, you can put the rooms back and put the machinery back, especially as we have been told that some of it—or surplus machinery—should be available. If a public Corporation disregards the widespread opposition to a move of this kind on the part of one of the Houses of Parliament, and goes ahead and takes the risk, then, if that disapproval is maintained, it must be expected to go tack to the point it started from. It cannot say it is "impracticable". It is very inconvenient, and possibly expensive, but that is the risk the Corporation took. So for this, and many other reasons, much more adequately stated than the views I have stated. I remain strongly in support of the noble Baroness's Motion.

1.10 p.m.


My Lords, I have stood side by side with the noble Baroness since the beginning. I am glad to see that she is smiling now; she was looking sad before, although but I do not think she had any reason to look sad. When I saw my name on the list at the end of the Back Benchers, I thought I was going to be the sting in the tail, instead of which I find that I am the ninth nail in the coffin.

I really cannot understand the argument that when you have something you need, something you can boast about, something that everybody enjoys, something that is a splendid advertisement, you then throw it away. It is rather like we have done with coal; we have coal, but we have disregarded it. Now we have a first-class service and we are giving it up. Why? Nobody has given me a proper reason. It is said that it will be replaced by eight porters—I repeat, eight porters.

One other thing that bothers me a little is the question of its being a nationalised service. I have always been brought up by such friends as I have on the Opposition Benches to believe that a nationalised service is a public service—a service for the public—and yet we have the extraordinary position that when, in one of the Houses of Parliament, from all sides of the House, there is the strongest possible expression of opinion, it is disregarded. There is then a Committee set up to pay particular attention to this point and it is completely disregarded.

I am wondering where we are going to in this country. Are we going to be governed by sections of the community or by anonymous boards, and are the Houses of Parliament going to have no authority whatsoever any more? Is a Minister not going to be able to express the views of the House strongly to a nationalised body? If that is so, what is the good of a Minister? I am sorry to have to say this to my noble friend, but quite frankly this is what we have Ministers for. I feel so outraged by the whole thing—I am not going to repeat what other people have said—that I felt that I must express my opinion in the strongest possible terms.

1.12 p.m.


My Lords, I intend to speak only briefly. I am sorry that I was not in my place earlier to-day. I have risen frequently in the past to support the noble Baroness and I do so with the greatest of pleasure to-day. I made a suggestion, not in this House but privately in a letter, that if it was thought advisable for B.O.A.C. to combine Victoria Station with B.E.A.'s Cromwell Road Station, in view of the fact that B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. are now becoming one unit, this would be a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and that so far as I was concerned I should be perfectly happy to go to Victoria instead of to Cromwell Road, or, alternatively, to some new centre where B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. could operate together with joint check-in facilities, because of course it all centres round the withdrawal of those facilities.

It is very hard for people with cars; even harder for people with cars and chauffeurs—and even harder for Ministers—to understand what it means to the ordinary British citizen. Let us take the housewife going on holiday to Europe, wanting to get to Terminal 1, with three or four children. What a relief it is to be able to get rid, not only of your luggage but of yourself, in a sense, because you are checked in; you hand in your ticket and then you can relax and wait for the bus which is going specially for your 'plane. It is not a general bus. It is going, in my case, for the Belfast 'plane, or it can be for the Edinburgh 'plane or the Majorca 'plane. Instead of that, the place is now going to be turned into a bus station. I have no personal axe to grind because I have nothing except hand luggage when I travel. I am raising this point not for myself, but for the ordinary travelling public.

Finally, at the risk of repeating what everybody else has said, is it not rather incredible, when the Government are urging people to save petrol, to insist on continuing with this system whereby people will be forced to go to London Airport in their own cars if they do not want to wait for a general bus? I hope that the Government will give urgent consideration to what I understand to be the feeling of this House on this fairly important matter. As the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, has just said, one would think that the Government would be proud that we were the only capital in Europe with these facilities, rather than saying, "Because we are the only place with these facilities we must take them away". I hope the Government will give further consideration to this matter because I. for one, feel bound to support the noble Baroness in her courageous action in pursuing this matter month after month in the face of total Governmental opposition.

1.16 p.m.


My Lords, first, I should like to apologise for not having been here earlier to listen to the arguments that were put forward. I have heard the arguments before, and I agree with them. I am sure that the Government have behaved rather poorly over this matter; I am sure that the British Airways Board have behaved fairly poorly over it and I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, is completely right. However, I think I shall be the one person who will stick out like a sore thumb. If replacing check-in facilities, or preventing their removal, is going to cost extra money, however desirable, and every other single argument being on the side of the noble Baroness, I cannot really see myself voting for her Motion when we are quite justifiably cutting back on money for schools, roads, social security and things of that nature. If I can be persuaded that no extra money will be spent on desisting from moving these check-in facilities I will support the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, who has made a very courageous and totally correct stand. But in a day of financial stringency this seems to me to be an unfortunate sacrifice that we ought to make.

1.19 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to speak, if I may, between the lines, and support the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry. Twenty five years ago B.O.A.C. selected a slogan to promote business: " B.O.A.C. takes good care of you". That worked, and it helped us to get the Corporation out of the red and into the black, and I think it is some-thing that should be perpetuated. This proposal to abolish the check-in facilities at the West London Terminal is not in line with that philosophy, and I believe that to do away with those facilities is a thoroughly bad thing. I remember sitting in with the late Lord Douglas of Kirtle-side and others when we were considering the building of the Cromwell Road Terminal, and I well remember that one of the big points made in its favour was that the check-in facilities there would be a big attraction to the public and of great benefit to the finances of the Corporation. I believe it worked out that way. I think it would be wrong to do away with it and I support the Motion.

1.20 p.m.


My Lords, if the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, had been present in our discussion, he might well have come to a different conclusion from that which he expressed a few minutes ago. But I think the noble Earl should know that he is a lone voice, apart from that of the Minister. This morning we have seen the finest example of British phlegm since the wreck of the Hesperus, when the boy stood on the burning deck. Noble Lords will remember that in the vulgar parody of the "Wreck of the Hesperus", the crew were playing cricket. There stood the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, this morning, standing at the wicket, keeping a straight bat although the pitch was fathoms deep in water. It was, I think, rather a sad experience to see the noble Lord batting away there, apparently oblivious of the fact that he was putting up as good a case as is possible in defence of what really amounts to faceless bureaucracy. One of the things that I find distressing about this whole problem is that we should be accusing of faceless bureaucracy two organisations which have a magnificent record of public service. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, who has just spoken deserves a great deal of credit for the high standard set by B.O.A.C. over the years, which B.E.A. I think also equalled.

My Lords, when one comes across cases of indifference to public feeling and to public wellbeing which are apparent at the moment, one is in a difficulty to know how to react. I suppose one might really take either or both of two attitudes. First of all, one could switch to other airlines which seem to be more sensitive to the requirements of their customers. At the same time, most of us, I think, have a prejudice in favour of flying on British airlines, and some of us have a prejudice in favour of flying on State-owned air-lines, although I am bound to say I recently flew with Caledonian and I have never had better service. I think it is not without interest that Caledonian are, of course, keeping their check-in facilities at Victoria Station. I think British Airways would be well advised to follow the example of their more entrepreneurial competitor.

The second way we can react is one which I think would be a very grave step to take; that is, to adopt measures to end the immunity which nationalised industries at present have from interference in their day-to-day working. I think that would be a retrograde step to take. If nationalised industries are to justify this immunity, they must show themselves to be peculiarly sensitive to what the public they are serving require. I agree very much with the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, when he spoke about the way that B.E.A. have treated this House and the Government during the last few months. They have been guilty of indifference; they have been guilty of deviousness and of discourtesy both to this noble House and to Her Majesty's Government. I am bound to say that even if the Government do not mind being made a monkey of, I believe this noble House does. I do not want to go into the details which have been so brilliantly expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry. I do not want to emphasise the lack of solicitude for the old and the infirm, or the difficulties of mothers with children. I do not want to emphasise the rather fatuous train service arrangement which seemed to be offered as an alternative to the present practice. All those arguments have been fully rehearsed.

To-day, for the first time, I have had a letter from British Airways, a very courteous letter from Mr. Rutledge, which is an attempt to help but which, frankly, I find quite unconvincing. When the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, talks about percentages, I find them absolutely irrelevant in this matter. What is important is that one and a half million people a year want to use these services, and it is no good saying the figure has dropped from 32 per cent. to 23 per cent., or whatever it was. There are one and a half million people whose views deserve consideration both by British Airways and by Her Majesty's Government. Nor am I influenced by the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, about the lateness of buses. He says, "All right; they have made buses start 15 earlier." I should not mind making them start half an hour earlier if I were going to get the same sort of service I now get at the West London Air Terminal.

The noble Lord, the British Government and British Airways must think again about this matter.

My Lords, I have two final points that I should like to make. The first is that the attitude the Minister adopted this morning and the attitude of British Airways suggest that going by air is something which is infinitely discreditable, from which we should be saved if we are to have all the benefits we hope to have in the world to come, and something which, if we persist in our foolishness, must be made as difficult and inconvenient as possible. There can be no other explanation of this disingenuous argument of the noble Lord that no other European capital enjoys the same facilities are we do. If they do not, they ought to. If we have these facilities, we ought to be proud of them; we ought to be advertising them, we ought to be boasting about them. We ought to be showing that we in Britain, in London and in this great public Corporation set a standard of service of which we are proud and which we hope to continue indefinitely.

My Lords, my last point is that I have great sympathy with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, who has fought as bravely as the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, on this issue. We know about the road position between here and Heathrow; we know how inadequate the road communication is; we know how difficult it is at times of special pressure. We know how overloaded Heathrow can be. And if the Government and British Airways go ahead with this proposal, there may be further jams on the road. There may well be overcrowding and further inconvenience at Heathrow. Most of us know what can happen at Heathrow at times of a fuel crisis like the one we have at the moment, when the departure of planes is uncertain. We know what can happen at the height of the holiday season and when there are bad weather conditions. If we can siphon off from Heathrow to Cromwell Road Terminal or some other terminal in London some of the would-be passengers, we shall be making a great contribution to stopping the further deterioration of the services which are available. No; the Government must really look again at this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said that he could not bully or cajole British Airways. Of course he cannot. Nobody is asking him to do that. But everyone who has been a Minister knows that quite often, without any powers whatsoever, it is possible to persuade organisations, both public bodies and private organisations, to follow the course of reasonableness and to devote themselves to the service of the public. It is no good the noble Lord trying to get away from this. The Government have a responsibility. He has great powers of persuasion usually in this House, but not. I think, to-day. Perhaps those powers of persuasion can be more fruitfully exercised on British Airways. I hope the noble Lord will tell them that their attitude just will not do and that they must think again.

1.29 p.m.


My Lords, by leave of the House, may I speak again? I am flattered by the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, to my powers of persuasion. I must try again. If I did not succeeed last time, I will try again now in answering the points made. The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, asked us to follow the course of reasonableness, but may I put one or two points of reason and reasoning to him? The facts are these. In the first place, the number of people preferring to use these check-in facilities has declined over the years, both proportionately and absolutely. As I mentioned in my speech to-day, there has been a drop of nearly 100,000 B.E.A. passengers since 1969. So the talk of siphoning off traffic to the check-in facilities at Heathrow seems to be going against the tide. The second point—and I do not think this has quite got over to noble Lords, if I may say so—is that the figures for passengers at the moment using the check-in facilities are not 1½ million; they are just about half that. The noble Baroness gave the figures; I think it is 780,000 using the check-in facilities at the present time.


My Lords, I added to that, of course, the number of foreign airlines passengers, which brought my total to 1⅓ million.


My Lords, may I quote to the noble Lord, who has been kind enough to refer to me, from a document which I have received to-day from the British Airways Board? The document tells me that the actual number of passengers checking in at West London for B.E.A. flights has fallen over five years by about one-eighth, to just over three quarters of a million. The number of people checking in there for other airlines has been fairly constant at about half a million. That, I realise, adds up to about 1¼ million, not the 1½ million that I said. Nevertheless, even 1¼ million people cannot be treated with contempt.


My Lords, noble Lords, unfortunately, did not allow me to finish my sentence. The point is that the foreign airlines have now ceased to use the check-in facilities; they are not now using them. We now have experince of how this works. I went out to see how it worked, and it seemed to me to be working extremely well, even though Terminal 2 is very much more crowded than Terminal 1. What merges here is that the situation is more crowded where the services have already been changed than where it is proposed to make the change as from January 1, 1974.

I wonder whether I may put a point to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, on what he said. He said that the poorer people cannot afford other ways of getting to Heathrow. But, of course, there are other ways of getting to Heathrow at the present time for the poorer people. They can—and many do—take an Underground train to Hounslow and go by special bus from Hounslow to the airport. The same applies to the services that run from Waterloo to Feltham, and I am told that in normal times a great many people use those services Again, there is a direct bus from Feltham. So it is wrong to say that everyone who does not use the check-in facilities goes by car to Heathrow. Many other people also come by bus from other parts of the country direct to Heathrow. This means that, in a way, a special preference is being given to Londoners over those who come from other parts of the country.

The second point the noble Lord made was about the check-in facilities, and the point was also made by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, about the assurance that had been given in this respect. I should like to amplify what I said earlier about what the British Airways Board are doing at the present time. The question is: will the new arrangements cause any significant number of passengers to decide to travel to Heathrow by car or taxi rather than use the buses? We do not need only to guess about this because experience gives the answer. The new arrangements, as I have said, have already been operating for passengers on foreign airlines since the beginning of October. During the two months. October and November, the number of foreign airline passengers using the terminal increased by nearly 4 per cent., after the check-in facilities had been withdrawn, in comparison with the same months last year, whereas the use by B.E.A. passengers diminished, although the check-in facilities were being used.

I know that British Airways are anxious to simplify arrangements, so far as possible, for their short-haul services. They want to reduce formalities to a minimum, and make it virtually as easy to go along to an airport and catch a flight as it is to go along to a railway station and catch a train. This is the point of the check-in facilities now being established at the flight gates; that is, the passenger loading gates at the plane itself. They are establishing these check-in facilities, I am told, as from January 1 for their international services as well as for the internal services, where this already applies. This means that people can go direct to the flight gate with their luggage and check in there. As I have said, a very great number of people do this on the short-haul services at the present time. Furthermore, if their bus is late there is already a late check-in desk where they can check in. The services that are being established now will enable people to arrive earlier at Heathrow, and many people want to do so, because they like to go to the duty-free shop, and so on. So I really do not think, if I may say so to my noble friend Lord Gainford, that his fears that he is going to be hit hard are in any way justified. He may be right; I may be right. But we shall never know until we try.

I come now to what has been said about the appointment of a Select Committee. This was the point my noble friend Lord Reigate made particularly, and so did my noble friend Lady Loudoun. Originally, of course, there was a Motion down on the Order Paper for the appointment of a Select Committee, and if this had remained down the Government would not have opposed it. I want to say to the House that, whatever happens to this Motion, the Government would accept a proposal to set up a Select Committee, if this were the will of the House, so that the whole matter can be fully looked into, and it will be possible also to see what happens after the changeover on January 1.


My Lords, could my noble friend answer this question, in view of what he has just said? Does this mean that if this were done the check-in facilities would not be withdrawn on January 1?


No, my Lords; I specifically said that we will see what happens after January 1, after the changeover has taken place. I take note of my noble friend's point on this. I am not sure whether he was in the House when Lord Reigate made his speech, but he made the point that there was a difference of opinion as to what had happened in the past. It would be possible to vindicate or otherwise allegations of dishonesty, and all the rest, against the B.A.B. As I have said, the Government would not oppose the setting up of a Select Committee.


My Lords, this is extremely important for some of us. Am I to understand that if the Motion for a Select Committee had remained on the Order Paper the Government would have accepted it?




In that case, may I ask whether the Government have considered at any stage putting down on the Order Paper for to-day their own Motion to appoint a Select Committee? That would have pleased me, anyway.


No, my Lords, we did not consider that because there was already a Motion down on the Order Paper, along with the original Motion. I think the noble Baroness had one day's gap between the time she put down her first Motion and the second one. We did not consider that.

The noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, said that Heathrow is really a frightening place and that the passenger does not know where to go. I would suggest that this is eminently a matter for the Airline Users' Committee to take up with the British Airports Authority. If there are deficiencies, this is the sort of work they were appointed to do. He also said that he doubted very much that it was not practicable to change back. It is not just a question of putting back a few desks at the check-in point. A great many arrangements have been made; there have been negotiations for the redeployment of staff with the trade unions, and all the rest of it, and it would be very difficult at this stage to make these changes.


My Lords, I certainly had in mind that it can be done, but I also had in mind the deeper point of principle that these things should all be done, in the view of the Minister irrevocably, at a time when so much adverse opinion in one House of Parliament was known to exist.


My Lords, I appreciate that, but it is only in this House that this matter has arisen—or by far and away mainly in this House. My noble friend Lady Emmet talked about no notice being taken of the Airline Users' Committee. I must say again and again to her that this is simply not true. The British Airways Board have gone all the way to meet the Airline Users' Committee except in regard to the guaranteed bus arrival; that is, except to say that the plane will wait for passengers who check in at West London Air Terminal. This is the essential point about the checking in. In other respects they have gone a very long way.

As to the question of services which the British Airports Authority are providing, there is already an escalator and a lift. What they are doing is providing a second escalator and a second lift. It seemed to me, when I saw it yesterday, that the second escalator was in a very advanced state of construction, but the second lift was not in such an advanced state. We all know the reasons for this kind of delay, and I need not elaborate on them.

May I say in conclusion that I venture to advise your Lordships not to put the Government in the position of having to request the Airways Board to do some-thing that the Government do not think right. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Emmet would not wish Ministers to be in this position. She said that if Ministers are not prepared to express a view, then what is the use of a Minister. Surely, the Minister must express his own view in this matter, and not the view of somebody else. I am absolutely certain that the British Airways Board will be taking a very close look at every-thing that has been said in this House to-day, and that it will certainly not go unnoticed.


My Lords, the noble Lord is getting into a very dangerous constitutional position here.


My Lords, I accept that that is so, but I am just about to deal with that very dangerous constitutional position. The Motion involves calling on the Government to do some-thing which no Government have been willing to do ever since nationalisation was established; namely, to interfere with the day-to-day management. Parliament has laid down by Statute the extent to which Ministers may intervene in the running of nationalised industries. If changes are to be made in the established practice, then it is right for both Houses of Parliament to make them. It would be quite wrong for one House to seek to require the Minister to intervene whether by way of direction or request in a particular matter.

The other point is: what does the national interest require at the present time? There has been reference to the use of fuel. Precisely one of the reasons why this change was undertaken was to economise in the use of buses, which means manpower and fuel, and this will happen. The more the buses are used the better, and goodness knows! there is enough scope for them to be used. I have shown that at present the buses are being used only to about one quarter of their capacity.


My Lords, if we are going to have a bus every 10 minutes, how is that going to economise on fuel? You can now get on any bus you like, provided you have got rid of your luggage, at West London Terminal.


My Lords, I understand that this is not encouraged. You are intended to take the bus that is assigned. Passengers are called forward at a particular time for the particular bus assigned to their flight.


My Lords, apparently the Minister does not travel by bus as much as I do.


My Lords, I used to. I do not just for the time being.


My Lords, surely the Minister will agree that since 'planes leave London Airport at extremely frequent intervals, a matter of minutes, a little ingenuity would make it possible for one bus to serve several 'planes?


My Lords, this happens up to a point, but surely it is not the general rule. The whole point of the arrangement is to have a regular flow of buses at 10-minute intervals at normal times, scaling down to 4 minutes at peak times. I am convinced that this will give a much more efficient service.

I am being distracted a little from what I was saying. I was saying that if changes are to be made in the established practice, it is for both Houses of Parliament to make them, and it would be quite wrong for one House to seek to require the Minister to intervene.


My Lords, I apologise for interrupting as I did not hear the beginning of the noble Lord's speech, but I did hear the noble Lord say something that I do not understand. He said that no Government have ever interfered with the day-to-day running. If my noble friend looks at the Motion, if the Government do not have power to interfere, it asks that they should request the Board to defer the proposed withdrawal. Surely there is nothing to stop a Government asking a Board to postpone something.


My Lords, I should have thought that this very definitely is an interference with the day-to-day management. Of course, it will involve extra expenditure.


My Lords, as an ex-chairman of a nationalised industry, may I say that your Lordships would be surprised if you knew how frequently certain pressures are generated, and, by Jove, they work, believe me.


My Lords, I am quite convinced that people as staunch as the noble Lord will be able to resist pressure when it is appropriate. The noble Lord, perhaps indirectly, is using the point of the national interest again, and we are bound to ask: what does the national interest require? Surely, it must be that we should promote in every possible way efficiency and economy—and this is the point made by my noble friend Lord Onslow. It cannot be right to require, or request, the use of 220 buses when 180 buses would do, with the extra fuel consumption and manpower that that would involve. It cannot be right to hold up the completion of a change which is designed—whether noble Lords yet appreciate it; and people very often resist a change up to the last moment and then appreciate it when it has been made—to improve the operational efficiency of the airlines in the interests both of the passengers and of the taxpayers.


My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but how much will it cost to stop this operation? As I said in my few words, I have been totally convinced that the Government are wrong, but can he tell us what the actual cost is going to be? I have to be told what it is before I can be persuaded to go into the Government Lobby in the possible event of a Division.


My Lords, if my memory serves me aright—and the noble Baroness will perhaps remember the figures as well—I think the figure given for the immediate hold up was £170,000. But added to that would be the day-to-day loss arising from the changeover, and I understand that other costs would be involved as well.


My Lords, I wanted the Minister to get to an end, not to delay him; but can he please tell me what fee has been paid by the foreign airlines. That is quite important.


No, my Lords, I am afraid that I have not yet been able to get this.


I asked the Minister at quarter past eleven, I think, for that figure.


I appreciate that, but the figure has not yet reached me and, quite honestly, I do not quite understand the importance of it. A new contract was made, and the real point that is to be made here (I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King) is that the figure that was forgone by receiving lower payments from the foreign airlines is not an offset against the extra cost of running the present system. In calculating the extra cost of running the system, this forgoing of the particular payment from the foreign airlines was taken into account.

My Lords, I do not think it can be right to burden the airlines, whatever the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, says, with a service which the Board considers to be outdated and which is not provided by or for the airlines with which it is competing, and certainly is not now provided here for the foreign airlines because they have negotiated an arrangement which excludes it. It cannot be right to require them to forgo, even for a short time, the benefits flowing from the conversion of space at West London Air Terminal to badly needed office accommodation. Lastly it cannot be right to interfere with the second stage of the change—and bear in mind, my Lords, that this is the second stage of the change—when the first stage of the service to foreign airlines, as I indicated at the start of my winding up speech, has proved itself to be an outstanding success.

My Lords, I now have the figure asked for by the noble Baroness. Half a million pounds per annum was received as revenue from foreign airlines before check-in facilities were removed, but I am not quite certain whether there will be some continuing revenue received from them for the use of West London Air Terminal. The noble Baroness has asked the question and I have merely given her the answer.

I have said that the British Airlines Board have offered to co-operate with the Airline Users' Committee in monitoring the effects of the change in the next few months, and that offer has been accepted. I believe that the Committee is still not convinced that the change will be for the better, but I say once again that in these circumstances the only thing to do is to put the matter to the proof, to let the B.A.B. proceed with the change and see how it works out in practice.

1.53 p.m.


Well, my Lords, I think the House will be glad that I am the last speaker—according to the Rules of the House I must be the last speaker. I do not think anybody has envied the Minister to-day; he has had a quite indefensible case, which I think has got worse and worse as it went on. Every speaker in this House to-day, apart from him, has spoken in favour of the Motion; only the Minister has spoken against, and I do not remember a similar case before. With reference to the noble Lord who came in later, I would only say that British Airways have thrown away money by removing the check-in facilities for foreign airlines: to wit, half a million pounds we have now been told, which is what they said they would lose by keeping them. So I think by any arithmetic, even mine, that cancels out and should be sufficient to bring him into my Lobby. They have thrown away additionally all the concessions they had for that airport—the various stationery offices and other things. That would offset any losses.

My Lords, the Airline Users' Committee does not think that the British Airways Board have gone any way to meet it. We did ask British Airways whether they would give figures for the late running of buses in 1973, as well as 1972, but they could not provide them for 1973. The noble Lord has now given them, however, and they are even better from my point of view and worse from the Board's. The figures show one plane delayed every three days, and my heart bleeds for the people waiting for the one plane every three days which is delayed by buses coming from West London. I am also rather shattered to know that one of the reasons hidden from us up to now was to put offices where the check-in facilities now are.

May I emphasise what my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale has said? I am not interested in percentages. I have the figure: it is 1,126,000. The figure which my noble friend gave showed that 1,125,000 are at present using the check-in facilities.

My Lords, I want to close by thanking everybody for coming here to-day at very great inconvenience, for this Motion, and I hope that noble Lords, who have spoken solidly for the Motion, with the exception

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.

2.4 p.m.


My Lords, before we go on to other business, may I ask the intentions of the Government? I take it that the offer that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, made, that the Government would now welcome the setting up of a Select Committee, stands; and perhaps the Government themselves might like to put down a Motion to that effect. On the whole, I personally prefer Select Committees to be set up by Government

of the poor Minister, with whom I sympathise, will now carry it to success in the Division Lobby.

1.56 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 82; Not-Contents, 28.

Airedale, L. Grenfell, L. Platt, L.
Auckland, L. Hacking, L. Porritt, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Hall, V. Raglan, L.
Birk, B. Hanworth, V. Rankeillour, L.
Boothby, L. Hayter, L. Reigate, L.
Bourne, L. Henley, L. Rhodes, L.
Brockway, L. Hill of Luton, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Buckinghamshire, E. Hoy, L. Segal, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. [Teller.] Hunt of Fawley, L. Sempill, Ly.
Caccia, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Shackleton, L.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Jacques, L. Shannon, E.
Champion, L. Janner, L. Shepherd, L.
Chorley, L. Kennet, L. Shinwell, L.
Clwyd, L. Kinnoull, E. [Teller.] Simon, V.
Crook, L. Leatherland, L. Stamp, L.
de Clifford, L. Lee of Asheridge, B. Stocks, B.
Derwent, L. Loudoun, C. Strathclyde, L.
Diamond, L. Maybray-King, L. Strathspey, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Melchett, L. Summerskill, B.
Effingham, E. Merrivale, L. Teviot, L.
Elles, B. Monson, L. Thomas, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Newall, L. Vivian, L.
Gainford, L. Noel-Buxton, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Gardiner, L. Northchurch, B. White, B.
Garnsworthy, L. O'Neill of the Maine, L. Winterbottom, L.
Gore-Booth, L. Onslow, E. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Greenway, L. Phillips, B. Wynne-Jones, L.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L.
Aberdare, L. Gowrie, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Balerno, L. Gridley, L. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]
Colville of Culross, V. Grimston of Westbury, L. St. Helens, L.
Craigavon, V. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Sandford, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Strathcona and Mount Royal L.
Drumalbyn, L. Lauderdale, E.
Ferrers, E. Limerick, E. Thorneycroft, L.
Fortescue, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, B.
Furness, V. Monck, V. Windlesham, L. (L. Privy Seal.)
Goschen, V. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Young, B.

Motion, but if not we could put a Motion down.


My Lords, I must apologise first of all for not being here during the debate. I came straight here from a Cabinet Meeting, without the intervention of lunch. The House has recorded its views on this matter in a decisive way, and I think the right thing to do now is for my noble friend and myself to consult with our colleagues on the point of a Select Committee and on other points as well.


My Lords, I take it that the noble Lord's last remark implies that the Government will now take heed of the clearly expressed opinion of the House, and will carry it through, if not by direction at least by request.


My Lords, the House will not expect me to make any comment on that at this stage. What I can do is to repeat what I said, that it would be right for my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn and myself to consult our colleagues.


My Lords, I am sorry to go on, but there is an urgency. There is only about a week, and with Christmas coming it is vital that the action should be taken now, before the facilities are withdrawn.


I quite understand the urgency, my Lords.