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Airlines: Overbooking Compensation Scheme

Volume 375: debated on Monday 11 October 1976

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2.44 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what was the result of 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 make a statement.

My Lords, I understand that the Airline Users' Committee, of which my noble friend is a member, is to consider a report of these discussions from the Authority at the Committee's next meeting, on Wednesday of this week. It will then be for the Authority, on the advice of the Committee, to form a view on the matter.

My Lords, I do not think that is really good enough. Is my noble friend aware that I tabled this Question some two months ago? Is he now saying that I have to wait for an answer until the Committee, of which I happen to he a member and which is also interested in this matter, gets a reply? What is the reasoning behind that?

My Lords, the reasoning is that the Consultative Committee is an important link in the chain for reaching a decision and no conclusion has yet been reached by the Authority because it is awaiting the views of the Committee. I think that is perfectly reasonable. I regret, as my noble friend obviously does, that the timing in relation to her Question and the meeting of the Committee is an unhappy one, but first we must await the views of the Committee and then the conclusions of the Authority.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware—and I think the whole House agrees with me on this—that the difficulty in getting a straight answer to a straight question seems to be insuperable? Is he aware that I was not asking for conclusions but merely for some information? Proceeding from that, is my noble friend aware that British Airways would welcome some progress on this matter and equally would welcome some help from the Government? May I ask the Minister whether he will take this action before Wednesday and the meeting of the Airline Users' Committee? Is he aware that the European Civil Aviation Conference is to take place in Paris this week and that presumably representatives of the Board of Trade and the Civil Aviation Authority will be there? Will he ask his right honourable friends if they will give backing to this suggestion that compensation should apply to the whole of a ticket and not just half of it?

My Lords, I take a little umbrage at the opening remarks of my noble friend; I always endeavour to give straight answers to straight questions and I shall always hope to do so. I indicated that the timetable in relation to the Question was particularly difficult and I was hoping that my noble friend would accept that. She raised a variety of points of which I have taken note and I will certainly convey them to the people concerned before the meeting on Wednesday. I have no doubt that my noble friend will have a thorough innings on that occasion on Wednesday.

My Lords, I apologise if it was my fault and I was not clear in asking my last supplementary question. Does my noble friend realise that, apart from the Airline Users' Committee, which perhaps I should not have reintroduced, there is a meeting in Paris of the European Civil Aviation Conference this week? I was asking if the Secretary of State for Trade would ask his representative to support British Airways in its plea that this compensation scheme should be extended to the whole of a passenger's ticket.

My Lords, I will certainly convey that matter to my right honourable friend but I doubt whether he would wish to give such categorical advice before we all receive the advice of the Committee to which I referred.

My Lords, would the Minister accept that this is an extremely delicate, sensitive and complicated matter and, as one who first approved a system of overbooking on airlines about 23 years ago, I have full knowledge of how delicate and complicated it is? Would he agree that we must all observe a degree of patience and not try to railroad—if that is not a bad metaphor to use—the airlines into rushed decisions which may have a very bad effect on their economics?

I fully accept that, my Lords. It is a complex and often delicate matter and indeed when one takes one step one opens up all sorts of other complications and therefore patience is a very good watchword.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that this matter has been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, time and again in this House and it seems that one gets only "flannel" as an answer? Nothing seems to happen; it is overbooking and it seems to be a matter of simple justice.

My Lords, since I have been in this House progress has been made, though I do not say that one follows from the other. However, there has been progress on this matter of a compensation scheme, perhaps not as fast as some noble Lords want but it is important to ensure that progress is sound progress.

My Lords, some of us have heard my noble friend ask different forms of this Question on several occasions and believe that she has exercised tremendous patience. May I ask my noble friend how long it will take before she must put this Question down again?

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will have a talk with me as to what would be the most appropriate time for such a Question to appear.