asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether problems faced by the travelling public following the collapse of Laker Airways have yet been resolved; and if he will make a statement.
Laker Airways scheduled passengers overseas were all brought home successfully, thanks to the generous efforts of other carriers. The bonding arrangements, provided by Laker's tour operating companies as a condition of their holding air travel organisers' licences, made available funds to bring home inclusive package tour customers from this country who were already abroad, and I understand that all these people have been repatriated. Together with the air travel reserve fund, the bonds should ensure that no one who has booked an inclusive air package holiday or advanced booking charter with one of the Laker tour operating subsidiaries loses financially. Unfortunately, scheduled ticket holders who had not yet made their journey with Laker Airways are unsecured creditors of the company and as such should contact the receiver if they have not already done so.
The hon. Gentleman said "should". Is he aware that many Spanish hoteliers have said that they intend to sell their Laker bed contracts, despite the fact that Laker Tours and Arrowsmith have been purchased by Saga and Greenall Whitley? Will the hon. Gentleman seek assurance from the two companies that every person travelling this year through them, particularly to Spain, has guaranteed accommodation, despite the threats of Spanish hoteliers?
I am sure that the two companies will need no urging from me to do their best for all who booked through Laker subsidiaries. It is entirely a commercial matter.
When my hon. Friend is considering whether protection should be afforded to scheduled airline passengers, will he bear in mind that the air travel reserve fund was set up by the Labour Government by inposing a levy on package holiday passengers to bail out other package holiday passengers and that it would be airway robbery if, many years later, the money were to be used to refund to people the cost of booking on a schedule airline?
My hon. Friend has put the matter fairly. We have the air travel reserve fund because of the extremely—I must watch my adjectives—ill-judged action by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), who set the whole thing in motion to begin with.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some of the problems for passengers and other creditors arose because Sir Freddie Laker made misleading statements about the viability of his enterprise three days before the collapse? He said that £60 million had been secured to rescue the company and that his confidence was rising ever higher. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that those statements were justified?
I have no doubt that when Sir Frederick made those statements he was under the impression that they were correct. What is more, when this matter was reported in The Guardian and the Daily Mail the following day, the reports were put side by side with statements from bankers saying that Sir Frederick had probably jumped the gun.