My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the urgency for holiday travellers at this time, they are in a position to make a statement on the discussions between the Civil Aviation Authority and British airlines concerning the application of the overbooking compensation scheme to return flights resulting from an original booking made in the United Kingdom on British airlines; and whether they will ensure maximum publicity for any such decision.]
My Lords, the Civil Aviation Authority advise me that the possibility of any extension of the voluntary scheme was not raised with them by the Airline Users' Committee until 14th July. There has therefore been insufficient time for the discussions to reach any conclusion. The question of any publicity is thus premature but would in any case be primarily for the airlines concerned.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is unfortunate that any publicity resulting from this Answer indicates that the Civil Aviation Authority does not regard three weeks as being sufficient time to reach any decision on a matter like this? Might I ask my noble friend whether he would not agree that something which affects travellers as much as this does at this present holiday time is worthy of a little more urgency?
My Lords, I would not agree with my noble friend that this matter has not been dealt with as one of urgency. It is a matter which is rather more complex than she appears to imply. There are, after all, ten British airlines involved, and two and a half weeks is not, I think, an undue amount of time for such discussions to take.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister whether he would not agree that, although two and a half weeks may not be enough for the Civil Aviation Authority, the people who are going on holiday have to make their decision at once and that to keep them waiting for two and a half or three weeks before receiving any reply as to when their future return is likely to be is really not serving the public?
My Lords, I really do not think any holidaymaker is waiting for this decision in order to know whether or not to book a holiday. In any case, the vast bulk of holidaymakers book not on scheduled flights but on package holidays, and over-booking is most unlikely to arise in that connection.
My Lords, does my noble friend not think that this delay may possibly be due to the fact that many of our Government Departments have not enough civil servants to carry out this work properly?
My Lords, could an agreement not have been reached with the nationalised airline in two and a half weeks so that the others would probably have had to follow?
No, my Lords. The nationalised airline is the principal one concerned, and it very often acts and speaks in the name of the others. It is, however, appropriate that it should consult with the other airlines concerned.
My Lords, if I may raise a small point, is my noble friend aware that the time concerned is three and a half weeks? The matter was referred on the 14th July, a Wednesday. Might I ask the Minister whether he will request the Civil Aviation Authority and the airlines to reach a decision as soon as possible, and also to give maximum publicity to that decision?
My Lords, I will not go into the actual arithmetic of the number of days that have elapsed since 14th July; but I am sure, as a result of the Question my noble friend asked on the previous day, 13th July, and the notice of this matter that will have been taken as a result of this Question and Answer, that any additional urgency which may be necessary will be given to its consideration.