HL Deb 30 June 1975 vol 362 cc3-6

2.43 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will give an assurance that no irrevocable steps will be taken which will affect the status or the operation of independent airlines in general and British Caledonian Airways in particular without prior reference to Parliament.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade is currently studying a Report from his officials on the Civil Aviation Policy Review initiated last year. It is his intention to make a statement to Parliament as soon as possible setting out his conclusions. Any changes in policy which my right honourable friend may decide to make will need to be reflected in new policy guidance for the Civil Aviation Authority and in accordance with Section 3(3) of the Civil Aviation Act 1971. Any such guidance would require approval by each House of Parliament before it became effective.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. May I press the point that I hope Her Majesty's Government appreciate that British Caledonian Airlines came into being as a result of the Edwards Committee Report and that it was supported by all shades of opinion in all political Parties?


My Lords it is undoubtedly the case that this airline has stamped its own personality on its operations and that personality is found by many people to be agreeable. There was, of course, one aspect of its coming to life which was disagreeable and my noble friend will no doubt have that in mind.


My Lords, will the noble Lord, who knows a great deal about these matters, bear in mind that many people who have had experience of travelling both on British Caledonian and British Airways find that the service given by British Caledonian is the better of the two?


My Lords, I was prepared to give a pleasing answer to the noble Lord until he came to the last part of that supplementary question. The fact of the matter is that both airlines provide good service and no doubt each helps the other to maintain high standards.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that should he travel incognito—and I stress incognito—by British Airways he will find that the service may be good but the manners very much to be deplored, while if he travels incognito on British Caledonian he will meet with the utmost co-operation and good manners?


My Lords, I think I have done as much travelling as most noble Lords and I would say that the standard of both companies is very high.

The Earl of PERTH

My Lords, will the noble Lord take into account in this review that at the present time all airlines throughout the world are going through great difficulties and that if, for example, British Caledonian is in need of help, this is not unusual and should not be held against the company? May I further ask him to reiterate to the Government the wish of all travellers to Scotland that there should be competition?


My Lords, I do not think it is a question of needing help. That was not the reason why this review was held. There were certain circumstances attaching to the formulation of the route pattern which aroused criticism at the time, and I have no doubt that that was one of the reasons why the review was put in train.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us who travel on British Airways, because it is a national service, greatly appreciate the service which is given by that airline?


My Lords, I am happy to think that it is from my side of the House that praise is being given to a publicly owned air service in this country.


My Lords, besides the good work done by British Airways, as British Caledonian has made a notable contribution to air services, may I ask the noble Lord to give an absolute assurance that the Government will not take precipitate action without Parliament being consulted?


My Lords, I think I said earlier that the review was initiated last year. I scarcely think that is precipitate action.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, regarding this issue, to many of us it seems that we are being taken back to a previous occasion in another place when everything was pointed directly towards the efficiency of the independent airlines compared with nationalised airlines? I agree with my noble friend that, so far as British Airways is concerned, compared with the independent airlines, we ought to look at them in unison and take them as one in view of the service they are endeavouring to give.


My Lords, the fact is that the service offered by British Airways compares favourably with any other company in this country, and any other company operating in any other part of the world. It is also true that British Caledonian have made, in the words of the noble Lord opposite, a notable contribution. All these factors have been taken into account.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, among those who run independent airlines, there is what, to my mind, seems a justifiable fear, that in view of the massive over-equipment of British Airways there is a danger of the Government showing more favouritism to the nationalised airline than they show to the independent airlines?


My Lords, I would direct the noble Lord's attention to Section 3(1) of the 1971 Act. If he will cast his mind back as to the circumstances in which that subsection was framed, he probably would not emphasise the point that he has just made