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Civil Aviation (Bermuda Agreement)

Volume 931: debated on Monday 9 May 1977

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15.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what progress he has made towards the renegotiation of the Bermuda Agreement.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will report on the progress being made by his officials in the renegotiation of the Bermuda Agreement.

The fifth round of negotiations for a new Air Services Agreement was held in Washington from 28th March to 22nd April. During my visit there on 26th and 27th April I reviewed the position reached with the United States Ministers concerned. Although some progress has been made, there are important issues still to be resolved. Negotiations resume in London on 16th May and I hope that we can reach agreement before the old agreement terminates on 22nd June.

Does the Secretary of State expect—as opposed to hope—to get a new agreement before the old one expires on 26th June? Does he still think that it was a very clever idea to start the renegotiations six months before the change of Administration in the United States? Will he say whether he thinks that the matter of New York landing rights for Concorde being negotiated at the same time has made it more difficult or less difficult to arrive at an advantageous Bermuda Agreement for the British carriers?

I hope that there will be an agreement by 22nd June. I think there are grounds in the negotiations to make that hope justifiable—that there will be an agreement by 22nd June. But, of course, I cannot give any guarantee. There are still some substantial matters outstanding between the two Governments.

The hon. Member asked whether it was sensible to start renegotiations six months before the change of Administration. It seems to me to have been right to do it then. I know of nothing that persuades me that it was not right to do it then. It has proved possible in the last few months—notably in the round of negotions just ended—to discuss the matter substantially and, as I said in my original answer, to make some progress. I do not think the fact that we had a six months' ground-clearing period before that has hindered the situation. It has obviously helped.

With regard to whether the negotiations concerning landing rights for Concorde in New York have harmed or hindered the situation, we now await the decision of the judge in the New York court on that question, and I have no comment to make. I have certainly indicated to the United States authorities that the subject of Concorde was a serious element in the negotiations at Washington. It will now unfortunately be the courts—I should have preferred it to be the Port of New York Authority—that will resolve this matter.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether the prospects of getting the Skytrain service accepted in America have been improved by the present difficulties in renegotiating the Bermuda Agreement?

I do not think that the renegotiations have affected the prospects for Skytrain one way or another. The hon. Gentleman will know that, as I announced in the House, we are trying to get Skytrain into the United States by means of a separate memorandum of understanding. I discussed this matter with United States Ministers when I was in Washington. The hon. Gentleman may know that the Department of Transportation has announced that it is in favour of Skytrain being allowed into the United States. That is a most helpful decision by that Department. We now await the recommendation of the CAB and eventually the decision of the President. As I have made perfectly clear, the willinginess of the British Government to support Skytrain is an indication that we, too, believe in competition.

Will the Secretary of State oppose attempts by American airlines to abolish their favourable rate for air freight under an agreement made with the shipping agents of British airlines in view of the great assistance that it has been to the textile and other industries?

I should prefer to look into that question and then to write to the right hon. Gentleman.