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Flights (Scotland)

Volume 540: debated on Thursday 23 February 2012

6. What assessment she has made of the effect on services to Scotland of the bid by International Airlines Group to acquire BMI. (95953)

The Department has made no such assessment. The proposed sale is a commercial matter between BMI’s owner and the prospective purchaser. Any competition issues arising from the proposed sale will be subject to the appropriate EU and UK competition authorities.

BMI’s withdrawal of its flights from Heathrow to Glasgow last year left British Airways as the sole operator. Since then, average fares have increased by 34% and the number of flights on the route has decreased by 50%, affecting 1.8 million passengers and more than 300,000 small and medium-sized enterprises. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that Scottish businesses and the wider public are given access to a much more open, fair and competitive market?

It is difficult for me, as a Minister, to comment on the specific deal, as that is a matter for the competition authorities. It is worth bearing in mind that Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow have 60,000 such flights a year, so there is excellent connectivity as things stand. It is important that in our discussions with the European Commission on its airports package we ensure that it is aware of the importance of regional connectivity. We will look into that in our aviation framework document. Our plans for High Speed 2 will deliver a three and a half hour journey time between Scottish destinations and London, which will provide an attractive alternative to aviation.

BMI’s headquarters is at Castle Donington in my constituency. Many of my constituents are very concerned about their employment prospects at the company. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress of the proposed takeover by International Airlines Group?

My understanding is that the directorate-general for competition at the European Commission has been informed, and that the Office of Fair Trading is in contact with the parties and the Commission on the proposed sale.

That was a very feeble answer from the Minister of State. Does she realise what British Airways is doing at the moment? To give an example, a 9.15 pm flight that I was supposed to take left at 10.36, after two other flights to City airport had been cancelled. It arrived after the Heathrow Express had left and I got home at 1.15 in the morning. That is what BA is doing now. This is not a question of competition. I want the Minister to tell the EU that it is not acceptable to the people of Scotland for BA to take over the BMI franchise. It will do what it is doing now and destroy the service from Edinburgh to this city.

It is not the role of Ministers to make decisions on these deals. There are legal rules that put in place the role of independent competition authorities in deciding these questions. Of course the Government take seriously the importance of regional connectivity. That is one reason for our pressing ahead with HS2 and our Y-shaped network to Leeds and Manchester, which will deliver a three and a half hour journey time to Scotland, providing an excellent addition to current connectivity.