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Argentine Air Line (Mail Rate)

Volume 485: debated on Wednesday 14 March 1951

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asked the Postmaster-General why he pays the Argentine Air Line nearly twice as much for carrying mail from Great Britain to South America as he pays to British Overseas Airways Corporation.

The rates of payment where the use of foreign air services is concerned are prescribed in the Convention of the Universal Postal Union. The Argentine Air Line is used in order to facilitate reciprocity in the interests of the British Overseas Airways Corporation and to accelerate the mail.

While the Postmaster-General is bound to pay not less than the full rate to a foreign airline, that is no reason why he should pay cut prices to a British airline. If the Argentine price is a fair price, why does the Post Office not pay a fair price to our own people?

Because the price paid by the Post Office to B.O.A.C. in this case is negotiated on a purely commercial basis, which, I think, would recommend itself to all sides of the House.

How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile the statement that the prices are negotiated on a commercial basis with the fact that the two negotiants are both monopolists?

I said that they are negotiated on a purely commercial basis because that happens to be the fact of the case.

Would the hon. Gentleman study the evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee of the House last year and familiarise himself with the views there expressed?

I am only too familiar with the views expressed. The answer to that is that the Post Office is paying two and a quarter times for mail what the B.O.A.C. receives for passenger traffic and four times the amount it receives for ordinary freight.

Are not airmail rates very much higher than ordinary freight rates because airmail is very much more difficult to handle? How does the Minister justify squeezing a publicly-owned corporation in this way?

I resent that; there is no squeezing. We have been perfectly fair in this matter.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter on the Motion for the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.