HL Deb 04 March 1981 vol 417 cc1379-80
Baroness Burton of Coventry

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 are now in a position to state their policy on the availability and sale of discounted air tickets and, if not, when they expect to make an announcement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, as I have said on many occasions, we believe that the problem would largely disappear if legitimate low fares were accepted by our international partners. We have been making some progress and will continue to take all reasonable steps to that end.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, as the Minister last week told a conference in London that the civil aviation industry was one of the last bulwarks of protectionism, may I ask why the Government—in spite of the Minister's reply—are still sitting on the sidelines, knowing full well that last year five million tickets were sold through the bucket shops in this country at discounts of up to 60 per cent?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the bulwarks of protectionism, to which I referred, have been erected by the international community, not by me. It is therefore for the international community to pull them down. I hope that it will soon do so.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, that is wonderful, because we can deal with that tomorrow. May I ask the Minister—pending tomorrow—whether he would not feel able to help the legitimate agencies? As this protectionism exists—the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, himself has said so—does he not feel that the Government should do something to help the legitimate agents to sell these tickets which mean the loss of so much money for them?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if the noble Baroness means that I should authorise the sale of tickets at fares other than those found in the international agreements and agreed with our international partners—in other words, in clear breach of the international agreements into which we have entered—then I must disagree with her.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

At what point, my Lords, does an international agreement which is breaking all the laws receive the consent or the approval of the member Governments? Surely when the law is being broken the international agreement can no longer stand.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, an international agreement is the law, as I understand it; and, therefore, tickets which are sold at other than the fares agreed with our international partners, or without the conditions that we have authorised, are themselves sold in breach of the law. As I have told my noble friend—and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Burton—several times, although there is clearly a breach of the law on these occasions, it is a very complex and technical matter and it is not one that would be easy to persuade a court on.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, does this mean that the Conservative Party no longer believes in free competition?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am mystified as to how the noble Lord arrives at that conclusion.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, should we not express a little gratitude to those who are successful in cheating our international obligations when those obligations are obviously misguided?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure who the noble Lord thinks is misguided in this matter. When these international agreements were arrived at—in some cases very many years ago—they were considered right and proper at that time and we of course agreed to them. The situation has changed radically in the past 10 or 15 years—particularly more recently—and that is why we now seek to change these agreements.

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