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Civil Aviation Authority

Volume 978: debated on Monday 4 February 1980

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13.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects next to meet the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority.

My right hon. Friend and I expect to meet the chairman of the authority on 25 February.

When my hon. Friend next meets the chairman will he suggest to him that he should end the nonsense of duty-free shops at international airports? Is my hon. Friend aware that in the cabin of a wide-bodied aircraft today on an international flight, literally hundreds of bottles of liquor and scent are being carted from country to country, creating an additional hazard to passengers in the event of an accident, and an unknown amount of weight in the aircraft? May I suggest that the time has come for vouchers to be issued at the airport of embarkation which could be cashed at a duty-free shop at the home base of the passenger?

I have often thought it slightly bizarre that we freight millions of bottles of Scotch across the Atlantic so that they can come back again to Scotland carried by passengers as duty-free liquor. However, that is part of the tradition and the way in which these things are now conducted. Hon. Members may find that rather amusing, but I suggest they ask their constituents whether they want to give up the privilege of buying duty-free or cheap liquor on the flight from one place to another. I note what my hon. Friend said about the safety hazard, but I do not believe that there is an unacceptable safety hazard if the liquor is properly stowed. However, I shall draw his remarks to the attention of the Civil Aviation Authority.

Would not the problem of duty-free goods and the absence of real turnover be overcome if those purveying so-called duty-free goods offered a genuine price to the travelling public? Is it not a fact that the words "duty-free" are merely a cloak for privileged traders to make excessive profits? Is it not a rip-off?

It is, in fact, a cloak for the way in which airport charges are held down to acceptable levels. The major profit goes to the airport authorities and thereby holds down the other service and landing charges. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) can smile—he obviously does not know that about 30 per cent. of the British Airports Authority's revenue comes from concessionary sales.

Will my hon. Friend get the chairman to obtain an explanation, for the information of this House, why British Airways staff refuse to stay over in Belfast, thus adding to the costs of their airline and sometimes leaving passengers stranded? Does this not contrast with the more courageous behaviour of the staff of other airlines?

My hon. Friend has a fair point, but he is addressing it to the wrong chairman. I have already addressed this question to the chairman of British Airways.

Will the Minister discuss with the chairman of the CAA the impending fantastic increase in landing and passenger dues—400 per cent. in my constituency, and even higher elsewhere? Since not even this Government's increases have come anywhere near that figure, will he advise the chairman that they are totally unacceptable and should be reversed?

The Civil Aviation Authority has a statutory obligation to balance its books and not be a charge on the taxpayer. It is clear that the operating deficit and the accrued interest of the Scottish Highlands and Islands airports will be higher this year, even after increases in the charges. Therefore, the right hon. Member is really asking me to ask the taxpayer to underwrite larger losses. It would have been helpful had their rates not gone up so much as they did this year.