HC Deb 14 November 1983 vol 48 cc599-600
10. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the progress being made towards privatising British Airways.

Mr. Ridley

The Government intend British Airways to become a private sector company as soon as possible. I am now considering how best to achieve this.

Mr. McCrindle

What is the Government's reaction to recent suggestions that there might be some slimming-down of the British Airways route structure to create more fairness and competition between a privatised British Airways and the other independent British airlines? Can my right hon. Friend confirm that before there is any move to write off or write down the accumulated debts of British Airways, a Bill will have to be presented to the House?

Mr. Ridley

I have discussed the first issue with Sir Adam Thomson. I have had to point out to him that the powers under which some routes were transferred from British Airways to British Caledonian in 1971 and 1976 have been repealed and that I now have no powers to effect a transfer of routes. As to my hon. Friend's other point, I hope that he will allow me to unfold plans for the privatisation of British Airways before I comment on what he said about a Bill to improve the capital balance.

Mr. Stephen Ross

The Secretary of State, who has Treasury experience, may not be prepared to present a Bill to the House to privatise British Airways if that company does not do something about its £1 billion debt to the country but is not the strength of the British Caledonian scheme the fact that it suggests a way in which that debt might be met without the Government incurring a loss?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman has advanced a solution to those twin problems. It will be for the two airlines concerned to think along the same lines before anything of that sort could happen. I have no intention of presenting a Bill for any such purpose in the immediate future.

Mr. Wilkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way out of the problem is for British Airways to trade its way out of its accumulated debt? Is he aware that, in the past six months, it made a profit of £162 million after paying debt interest and all other charges and that that is twice the amount of profit that it made during the equivalent six-month period the previous year? Is that not the best way in which to safeguard the interests of the independent sector and the taxpayer?

Mr. Ridley

I confirm what my hon. Friend says and pay tribute to Lord King and his work force in British Airways for the remarkable recovery that they have made and for the excellent profits that they are now earning. I confirm that that greatly helps the airline on its way to the private sector, where nearly all of its personnel would like it to be.

Mr. Haselhurst

Will progress be slower or faster if, against the wishes of British Airways, a major airport is developed at Stansted?

Mr. Ridley

I do not see how that matter arises on this question or in the context of the privatisation of British Airways.