HL Deb 21 May 1981 vol 420 cc1007-8
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 have received evidence concerning the discounting of air tickets and, if so, what action they propose to take.

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

Yes, my Lords. I have received evidence, but none of it, so far as I can see, is evidence that would stand up in the courts.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I wonder whether I might ask the Minister two questions arising out of his Answer. Knowing of some of the evidence which has been submitted to him and how anxious to help are the people who submitted it, could he tell the House whether he has informed those people (a) that the information is not adequate, and (b) what information would be of assistance to him in taking action? Secondly, as the Minister told the House this week that he had seen many people and organisations on this matter, could he say in general whether those organisations were all wishing to make these discounted tickets available to everybody but that they were not sure how to do it?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the views which have been expressed to me have been very wide-ranging. It would not be possible for me to identify a single thread running through the representations which I have received. As for the nature of the evidence that would be required, very briefly we should need proof that the purchaser of the ticket actually travelled on it; that he or she actually paid less than the approved fare, or that the ticket was purchased without compliance with the advance purchase or other special purchase conditions; and that the airlines concerned had connived at the discounted sale.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, since KLM, Air France and Swissair are selling tickets below the IATA price level and are allowed to break the rules, may I ask the Minister why British Airways and any other British airline should suffer and lose business because they are sticking to the IATA rules when nobody else is? Surely that is a fact which ought to help the noble Lord in his efforts to get this problem straightened out.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the assertion which lies at the heart of my noble friend's question is not, I think, borne out by the facts.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that so far as Europe is concerned the great problem is the excessively high rate of air fares? May I ask him whether or not the Government during the period of their presidency of the Council of Ministers could use that special position to see to it that freedom is given to more competition, which would bring down air fares in that area, as it has done in others? During that period of six months we are in a special position to support the transport committee which runs the European Parliament. Would my noble friend be prepared to recommend to the Government that they do just that?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend has eloquently enunciated the heart of my policy on this matter. I can assure my noble friend that I shall be doing precisely as he suggests. Your Lordships may know that a first document on this matter will be coming from the Commission to the Council of Transport Ministers very shortly after we assume the presidency.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, in his answers to my supplementary questions, did I understand the noble Lord to say that there was no discernable thread running through the representations of all those who have been to see him—in other words, that they are not anxious for these discounted tickets to be extended to everybody? With regard to the first point which the noble Lord made, may we take it that if information such as he has described is given to him he will take action?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, on the first part of the supplementary question asked by the noble Baroness, the answer is as she put it: that not everybody who came to see me was anxious that these tickets should become as widely available as the noble Baroness is seeking. Some people had alternative proposals to make. As to whether action will be taken in the event of a suitable case coming before me, if there is a case where the evidence is likely, in our view, to stand up in court, we shall wish to take action. It is my duty to ensure that the law is properly upheld. On the other hand, I am not going to authorise the waste of public money on a prosecution which is bound to fail.

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