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"Air Transport And The Consumer"

Volume 474: debated on Thursday 1 May 1986

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3.14 p.m.

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take following receipt of the report from the National Consumer Council entitled Air Transport and the Consumer.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport
(The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, we have strongly welcomed this report and its support for our campaign to liberalise air services in Europe. We hope that it will be read widely by consumer groups and governments throughout Europe. For our part, we are continuing to press for further liberalisation in Europe, both bilaterally and multilaterally.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I was not sure who would be answering the Question today? It was the Department of Trade and Industry which requested the report, whereas the responsibility for civil aviation rests with the Department of Transport. Is he further aware that I say that knowing that the request was made in October 1984; and that may have been the reason?

While we all hope that the report will be widely read, we should like the Government to do something about it. May I ask the Minister whether he agrees that, while the decision reached by the European Court is of great interest, and we shall come back to it later, it has a special significance in that it arose out of a refusal by the court to allow an appeal by the French Government against M. Jacques Maillot, who is the head of Nouvelles Frontieres, which is the second largest chain in France, for the issuing of cheap fares?

Finally, is he aware that the first page of the National Consumer Council Report deals with the Treaty of Rome? Can he comment further on any action that the Government might take?

My Lords, the noble Baroness asked her Question of Her Majesty's Government and it was indeed Her Majesty's Government who replied. With regard to the judgment of the European Court yesterday, it is very wide of the Question on the Order Paper. But in view of its importance I think that it would be helpful to the House if I made this comment. The judgment was long and complicated. Therefore I can give only preliminary reactions on behalf of the Government. However, the ruling generally is helpful to our efforts to secure liberalisation of air transport in Europe and it is therefore welcome. We particularly welcome the fact that the court has now made clear beyond doubt what we have said all along, that EC competition rules apply to aviation.

My Lords, will the noble Earl convey to his noble friend Lord Bethell the Government's appreciation of his efforts in this matter?

My Lords, I shall indeed pass on the compliments of the noble Lord to my noble friend. But we hope that we shall be able to succeed where my noble friend has not by negotiation.

My Lords, is it sufficient for the Minister merely to say that the Government welcome the report? The report covers 104 pages and has 29 recommendations, and there are six working papers covering another 134 pages. Would it not be advisable for them perhaps to issue a green paper giving full details?

My Lords, the Government asked for the report. The comments and recommendations to a large extent support the Government's policy. We have therefore not considered it necessary to issue a further green paper.

May I ask the Minister, without being referred to the usual channels, and as the Leader of the House is here, whether it would be courteous to the National Consumer Council, which has produced this enormous report after great research, if we had time for a debate, not necessarily on what the Government will do but on what the National Consumer Council has reported to the Government? Does the Minister think that he could recommend to his noble friend the Leader of the House that we might have government time to debate the report?

My Lords, with my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip beside me I can do no more than remind them of the request of the noble Baroness.