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Civil Aviation Policy

Volume 21: debated on Monday 29 March 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will set out the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards civil aviation in the form of a White Paper.

Will the Minister reconsider that brief and unsatisfactory reply? Is he aware that if he proceeds to privatise British Airways, despite some substantial losses, surely before that crucial decision—which involves legislation—is taken, he should at least have before him the reports on the future of the airways authorities in Britain and the distribution of airports, which crucially affect British Airways' policies and operation?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the facts that he has mentioned, but I do not agree that it is necessary to publish a further White Paper on those matters before moving ahead to privatise British Airways.

Is my hon. Friend aware that on many flights it is easy to get a smoker's seat but quite difficult to get a non-smoker's seat, which suggests that some airlines, in deciding the proportions of each, have fallen behind the shift in public taste on such matters? Will he ask the Civil Aviation Authority, which grants licences, to consult the airlines to see what can be done about the matter?

The simple reason is that that question is best directed to Sir John King, Mr. Adam Thomson and Mr. Newman of Dan-Air.

Can the Minister confirm that the Government have no plans to privatise the British Airports Authority, either as a whole or by selling off individual airports?

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) is putting ideas into my head. I shall wish to consider what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) said.

In the light of the figures for British Airways that the Minister gave in answer to earlier questions, and bearing in mind the question of equality for civil aviation, would it not be better to consider the sale of British Airways' assets, licences and routes so that we diminish the number of airlines operating out of Britain in a market that is clearly over-saturated?

I am glad, as I said in answer to the previous question, to take almost any idea into account. However, an idea that diminishes competition in the airline industry would not be a good idea.

Earlier the Minister expressed a dislike of answering a hypothetical question. In the light of his previous answer, will he give an undertaking to the House that the Government will not consider writing off the capital debt of British Airways at the taxpayer's expense before offering shares to the public?

The right hon. Gentleman is simply trying to wrap up his previous question—which was obviously hypothetical—in language that is less hypothetical. I have no intention of answering either his previous question or this one.