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Column 1083not forget that that cancer causes 17,500 deaths a year. The stakes are high. He could at least send a letter to GPs about the matter. Tests and procedural advice would help greatly in ensuring that GPs did not misread the symptoms of colorectal cancer as haemorrhoids. A constituent of mine is now terminally ill because such advice was not given to his general practitioner, who misread his symptoms. My constituent's symptoms went unchecked for more than 12 months. When that gentleman was admitted in an emergency to a local district hospital, sadly, he had a tumour in his colon bigger than the palm of the surgeon's hand. That is no exaggeration--it is in the discharge notes written by the surgeon, who said that on carrying out surgery to save my constituent's life he was appalled to find an inoperable tumour that was larger than the palm of his hand.
My constituent had consistently been to his general practitioner with symptoms which could have shown that he was suffering from cancer of the colon. If the Secretary of State had given that general practitioner the advice sought in the question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South, the general practitioner and his colleagues in the medical profession would have been more aware that symptoms suggesting haemorrhoids could also be symptoms of cancer of the colon and rectum.
Primary liver cancer is the most common in the world. Its main cause is the hepatitis B virus. Thankfully, a large proportion of this country's population are not infected by that virus and deaths from that common cancer so far are relatively low compared with other forms of cancer that have been outlined. However, this debate is about early detection and prevention. The World Health Organisation wrote to the Government, along with other Governments, advising them that, for a variety of reasons, the spread of hepatitis B in the developed world poses a potential threat to future and current young generations. The World Health Organisation could not have given a clearer message that there has been and will continue to be a spread of hepatitis B in communities such as the developed industrial society in which we live.
Until now, it has been a disease of the third world and the developed world has ignored it, as we have ignored the spread of tuberculosis, which is the world's largest killer. We have turned a blind eye to it because deaths from it have been mainly in the third world. We have therefore failed to recognise the growth of tuberculosis in the United Kingdom and have at the same time allowed health authorities to ignore screening and vaccination programmes for the first time since the introduction of such programmes in our society. That short-termism will undermine the community's long-term health and well-being.
Despite the increase in tuberculosis, the Government have so far ignored the World Health Organisation's warnings about the spread of hepatitis B in our society. The World Health Organisation has come back to the Government and recommended that we should put into place by 1997 a hepatitis B preventive vaccination programme which should target not only children in socially deprived communities but all children in the UK. Why do the Government refuse to comply ? I am talking about a vaccination to prevent cancer. The hepatitis B virus is the most common factor in the development of primary cancer of the liver ; yet the western world faces now the possibility of our young people being
Column 1084put at risk because the hepatitis B virus is becoming more widespread. In later years, therefore, there is likely to be a significant increase in primary liver cancer. Medical science has given us a vaccination which can prevent the onset of this cancer, but the Government refuse to take the advice offered by the World Health Organisation.
The Government are penny wise and pound foolish. They allow health authorities to spend millions on BMWs, Jaguars and Range Rovers for executives while denying our children access to preventive strategies against hepatitis B. In some areas our children are not being vaccinated against the onset of tuberculosis either. That shows that the Government are not interested in preventive strategies or in a co-ordinated approach to the prevention and treatment of disease. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich I shall end by reading out a letter. It is typical of the letters that I receive in my role as shadow spokesperson on health. I could have brought a hundred similar letters sent to the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Secretary of State for Health or the shadow Minister for Health. All those hundreds of letters offer poignant proof of the Government's failure to introduce the right surveillance programmes to deal with many of the cancers that threaten our society. The Government's failure has led and will continue to lead to thousands of needless deaths.
Not only will middle-aged men die needlessly : they are being discriminated against in terms of access to the health care that they need. What is the Government's position ? When are they likely to make an announcement about the right of men to screening for prostate cancer ? Do they intend to continue to discriminate against men ? With detection, there is an excellent chance of successful treatment and longevity.
The following letter was sent to me by a lady about her husband : "For a period of time my husband complained of backache. There was early diagnosis by his GP of rheumatism. At his most recent check in February 1992 he was informed that things would be okay. To the horror of his family when he could not stand the pain any longer in June 1992 he was diagnosed as having cancer of the prostate. No screening in the intervening period was ever provided, yet I understand that this disease, if screened, can be successfully treated.
I believe this is one of the major causes of death among men, yet there is a simple blood test that can detect whether the prostate gland is working correctly. All the time we are hearing of the need for better preventive medicine.
The result of all that was that my daughter had to leave her home and her work and for six months help me to nurse the unfortunate victim, my husband, who died in agony on 14 July 1993.
It seems unbelievable that much of the expenditure which ensued as a result of his illness could have been prevented had this type of cancer been detected early enough."
The lady is saying, poignantly, that her husband was treated to die, not to live. If only a small proportion of the NHS resources that are used to prolong life after diagnosis had been used to screen this man, he would have been saved. Screening is therefore cost-effective, not just for the Exchequer but for that priceless thing, family life. I am talking about love, togetherness, and the ability of families to live together for life, all of which can be torn to shreds in a matter of months because of the failure of the system to intervene early enough to treat positively gentlemen such as the one mentioned in the letter.
The lady continued :
"As there was no alternative offered in relation to nursing my husband at home we had no option but to sacrifice everything to nurse him through his final months. As a result we, his carers, are
Column 1085still suffering the effects of the trauma we had to go through. For many months we were on duty 24 hours a day nursing, with little or no room for improvement. We were supplied with seven extra hours help per week, and it needs to be remembered that patients are ill 24 hours a day, seven days a week--including weekends and bank holidays. Vast amounts of NHS money have been used to supply drugs, sometimes up to 10 different types, visits to specialists and regular hospital check-ups. Some of the most distressing experiences we had were too extensive to write to you in this letter, but we feel it will draw your attention to some of the matters which have caused great concern to us."
The irony is that when the NHS was asked to intervene with all the resources at its command--primary and secondary care, consultants, drugs-- one vital ingredient was missing, and the treatment came too late.
I urge the Under-Secretary of State to respond tonight to the issues that I and my hon. Friend have raised, and to respond positively. For every positive action that the Minister takes, some family in Britain in the weeks, months and years ahead will be spared the trauma undergone by the woman who wrote to me and by the woman who wrote to my hon. Friend. Every week, thousands of families in this country lose a loved one prematurely because of treatable, curable cancers.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Tom Sackville) : There is no disagreement between us about the fact thatcancer is a terrible scourge which kills many people prematurely in a most distressing way, or about the fact that we must make every effort to deal with it.
Controlling cancer forms an enormous part of the NHS's work. It consumes nearly one tenth of the total NHS budget. Probably one in three people will be treated by the NHS for cancer at some time in their lifetime. Some 200,000 cases are diagnosed in England and Wales each year. There is no disagreement on the seriousness of the issue, although we could argue about the technicalities and the efficacy of certain screening programmes. However, I shall return to that later. First, in response to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), obviously we have been at pains over the past few years, and particularly over the past two years, to bring down waiting times. Although more people are waiting for treatment on the NHS, the average time they wait has fallen considerably in recent months and years. That is good, although we must make further progress. It is particularly important, however, that urgent cases--which must include cancer cases--for whom delay in investigation or treatment would pose an unacceptable risk, are treated promptly. That is why we wrote last month to remind all those involved in the NHS of the need to ensure proper clinical priorities--that is, giving priority to those patients who have an urgent need to be seen or treated and ensuring that GPs and everyone else concerned makes that distinction.
Column 1086Whatever happens, I can assure her that there will be a proper network of cancer centres in London, as elsewhere. I have no knowledge of what she says about closing the Royal Marsden. If she has some information that I do not, perhaps she would let me know.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : The Secretary of State told the Select Committee that funding would be guaranteed only for 12 months. Of course, purchasers could withdraw contracts and put them somewhere cheaper, so the market could close the Royal Marsden very quickly.
Mr. Sackville : Any unit within the NHS has to have the appropriate demand for its services. Health authorities have to make decisions about how they use their funds. If we did not adhere to that principle, we would be running an extraordinarily inefficient health service and we would be spending money on buildings instead of patients.
We cannot guarantee funding any particular unit. The health authorities have to make decisions to spend the resources available to them with particular units.
Mrs. Dunwoody : The Minister could save us all a lot of time and he could certainly save me a lot of blood pressure. Does he not understand that if no long-term support is promised to a very specialised unit such as the Royal Marsden, he will be negating everything he has said about the necessity of setting up specialist units elsewhere or making information available to people throughout the United Kingdom ? The existing market will destroy those specialised units, because the money will not be there to maintain them for a long time. Why does he not admit that that is one of his objectives ? Why does he not stop treating Members of the House of Commons as if we were incapable of understanding that reading out long lists does not constitute a health policy ?
Mr. Sackville : I was not aware that I had read out any lists. There is no hidden agenda against specialist centres. There is a place in treating cancer for specialist centres, district general hospitals and the community ; it is diverse and will remain so. Obviously, cancer must be treated promptly and sympathetically. Delays must be reduced to an absolute minimum. We all know that to wait, whether for the result of tests, for diagnosis or for treatment, is agony for anyone. People are understandably scared of cancer ; they are terrified and we have to recognise that fact in anything we do. Clearly, long waits, such as those the hon. Lady mentioned, for radiotherapy or chemotherapy are unacceptable, and we have to make sure that they do not happen.
Mr. Sackville : The hon. Lady must let me get on to the questions that she asked. She wanted to know how many hospitals met the standards set by the report of the Joint Council for Clinical Oncology. I said that we did not collect that information. That was a factual statement.
The NHS does not exist to collect information, but primarily but to treat people. We have to take decisions on how many civil servants, officials and administrators to employ--the people that the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) talks about ; the men in grey suits who simply collect numbers from units. We have to accept that
Column 1087every extra employee in the NHS who carries out that task is consuming NHS resources which should be used for treating patients.
Mr. McCartney : The hon. Gentleman is being disingenuous when he links the so-called men in grey suits with the use of information as a diagnostic tool to identify what is going on in our health care system. My hon. Friend is trying to find out from Minister why, when cancer levels continue to be high--both the incidence of cancer and the deaths from cancer--the system fails to take account of the issues raised because the Government will not examine the available information.
Why can the Minister not keep the information for which my hon. Friend asks, when he can tell me how many cars executives have ? It is matter of priorities. If he can tell me how many cars national health service executives have, he can provide the information we require.
Mr. Sackville : We have to consider carefully how many resources we spend on administrators and people who process returns from hospitals. It is true that we have an overall figure for the leasing expenses of cars used in the NHS. We certainly do not have a figure for how many are driven by managers or anyone else, but we know that in most trusts three quarters of cars are driven by community midwives, nurses, doctors and people visiting patients. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should admit that.
We are all aware that bodies such as the Standing Medical Advisory Committee, which represents the medical royal colleges, has issued guidance on the clinical management of cancer on lung cancer and ovarian cancer in recent years. I must make it plain that we are also conscious that there is carefully considered clinical advice prepared by the experts in the professions which is not always put into practice. The treatment of cancer is probably a good example in many cases.
For that reason, the Department launched last year a major new initiative to see better use made of research-based evidence of clinical effectiveness. Good practice guidance has been issued to all health authorities, last year and this year, about the management of cancer in detection and treatment.
We have helped to make a growing body of information available to the NHS. For example, last year we issued as part of the "Health of the Nation" programme a handbook to help health authorities draw up plans precisely for reducing mortality and morbidity from cancers. We commissioned work, which will be published shortly, on the needs of populations for the management and care of patients with cancer of the lung and lower bowel. A series of effective health care bulletins have been issued ; we are currently considering a further one on breast cancer. That, principally, is what we are doing on treatment. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich referred to the Joint Council for Clinical Oncology, which set targets for reducing delays in cancer treatment. That is just one of the pieces of data that we are using.
Early detection is enormously important and was covered at some length by the hon. Member for Makerfield. We must ensure that patients receive early treatment for cancer. To do that, we must detect it at the earliest possible stage. That is why we have established
Column 1088national screening programmes for breast and cervical cancer. We lead Europe in having established national screening programmes for those cancers.
Between 1987 and 1990, some £70 million was allocated to set up and run the breast screening programme, which is extremely successful, because we know that some 70 per cent. of women invited for screening are accepting the invitations. We are also the first country in the EC to have a comprehensive cervical screening service based on computerised call and recall. We did not hear much about that from the hon. Gentleman.
GPs' contracts have been designed to encourage all GPs to improve the take- up of cervical screening among eligible women. Nearly 97 per cent. of GPs achieved one of the targets. The screening programme will undoubtedly save lives and make a major contribution to the health of women in this country.
Before one embarks on a national screening programme, one must be absolutely sure that there is unequivocal evidence of the efficacy, that one will not have a system that will unnecessarily spread alarm, which would lead to a great many false diagnoses and to a great many operations and not achieve an overall improvement in health and longer life. It is too simple for the hon. Gentleman to say "Let us have a letter to GPs about faecal blood, and a screening system." It is more complicated than that.
It is not necessarily feasible to say that we can have a screening system for colorectal cancer based merely on occult faecal blood. That might mean that, to be effective, we would have to invite all men of a certain age for a fairly unpleasant investigation such as flexible colonoscopy. We might find fairly great resistance to such a screening programme among people who are healthy and who feel healthy. We must think carefully before we commit ourselves to any new screening programmes, although several are definitely currently under review.
The chief medical officer, who is a cancer specialist, has established an expert advisory group that will look carefully at the whole question of cancer services in this country. Its first task will be to advise health authorities on how to improve their services, from primary care right the way through to palliative care.
I am certain that, within the system that we have, there are problems and instances of lack of co-ordination. There are gaps. I think that the hon. Lady talked about people having a series of appointments. That is precisely the sort of problem that we need to address. We need a better co-ordinated approach to cancer services in this country. People can get lost between the primary care system and the hospital system, or lost or delayed between different parts of the hospital system--for example, between radiography and different consultants. That is precisely the sort of advice that we need and which the chief medical officer's advisory group seeks to introduce. The chief medical officer must also decide with his colleagues the general shape of cancer treatment in this
Column 1089country. It is divided between specialist cancer centres, district hospitals and the community. Perhaps we shall see more instances of cancer treatment being delivered at the primary care level. But the claim that patients do better in specialist cancer centres is unproven except, perhaps, in very rare conditions such as eye cancers, bone tumours and particularly in children's cancers.
We cannot just say that it is all about specialist cancer centres or that everyone should be treated in cancer departments in district general hospitals. The evidence on the more common cancers is currently being reviewed by the chief medical officer's expert advisory group and will need to be updated regularly.
We are also concerned that patient services may suffer because of outdated radiotherapy and other specialist equipment. That is why we have made £15 million available centrally over the three years as part of a rolling programme to help replace equipment. That includes linear accelerators, scanners and mammography equipment. Some equipment is old and is being replaced. We must have the highest standards of quality of treatment and we intend soon to issue, for example, model guidance on quality assurance in radiotherapy. Cancer is a common disease and is a large part of the whole NHS effort, which is measured by what is done or by total spending. There are no easy answers that suggest to us that we should immediately move to a whole series of further screening programmes, although, as I have said, several are potential. If we have absolute evidence of the efficacy of calling for a national screening programme a particular group, whether it be of men or women of a particular age group, we will do that.
Cancer is a disease of the elderly. Clearly, with a larger aged population we will see more cancers. We must work harder to ensure that we have better detection and treatment to prevent the alarming figures to which the hon. Gentleman referred from going further. We take seriously cancer and the need to improve its detection and treatment. I take it seriously. I lost a close relative in the past few weeks from a long undiagnosed cancer and know well precisely what it can do to individuals and families. I assure the House that we intend to ensure that we have the best services possible in this country for the detection and treatment and cancer.
In accordance with Mr. Speaker's Ruling--[Official Report , 31 January 1983 ; Vol. 36, c. 19]-- the debate was concluded .
Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South) : For several reasons, I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue. It is probably eight or nine years ago that my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and I debated these matters in Committee ; we are doing so again now, and--as I shall try to demonstrate--events have not moved on much in the intervening time.
Let me explain my reasons for raising this issue. First, civil aviation is an industry in which Britain excels : in Europe, it is without peer. Britain has 13 scheduled airlines--excluding three Hong Kong-based airlines, one of which is extremely important--and 19 charter airlines, many operating from the world's busiest and fifth busiest international airports. Each year, 47.6 million people travel through Heathrow, and 20 million travel through Gatwick, bringing those airports revenues of £527 million and £200 million respectively.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : First, let me apologise for having to dash upstairs at 9 pm. I am not being rude to my hon. Friend ; I am on a Standing Committee, so I shall have to leave. May I draw attention to one of the tragedies of Europe ? When my hon. Friend was a Minister, I badgered him about this ; and if I had the opportunity, I would badger the present Minister tonight. The United Kingdom excels in aviation, but we are told that we are not good Europeans because we complain about the fact that Europe will not deregulate in the way we want. Surely that is what the Common Market was meant to be about.
Mr. Spicer : My hon. Friend has made the speech that I wanted to make. Perhaps I should sit down, and save the House a lot of time. I could not agree more--and the same is true of other areas in which we excel.
Not only have we successful national airports in areas such as London ; we also have successful international airports in cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Bristol. As my hon. Friend has implied, Britain has enormous scope in the success of European air travel.
My second reason for raising the issue is that it provides a perfect example of rhetoric and aspiration for free trade in Europe that is unmatched in practice. For that purpose,I could just as easily have chosen the energy or financial sectors : Britain excels in those respects as well, and is still frustrated by restrictive European practices.
In aviation, the formal position is now relatively satisfactory. It has taken a long time ; indeed, we must go back to the days--now deeply shrouded in the mists of time--when I was Minister for Aviation. The process began seriously in 1984, with the European Commission's rather weak second memorandum. In 1985, I had the honour of signing the first really liberal air service agreements with the Benelux countries, which began to bring down fares and introduce a modicum of competition. At least there was a model--a model that was formalised in 1986, with the first package of liberalisation, introduced by the British presidency.
It was not until June 1992, however, that the third package came into limited effect, a process that was completed on 1 January 1993. It will be fully effective on 1 April 1997, four years after the single market was meant
Column 1091to be in existence. By that time, airlines will be able to fly freely between and within European Union countries, charging whatever fares they wish--as long as they are economic, and subject to safety and noise restrictions and ground and air space availability. That is the theory. What about the practice ? As is so often the case in the European Union, when it comes to trade matters, as opposed to restrictive regulations--many of which are concerned with standardisation, and therefore actually antithetical to free trade-- practice does not match up to the law. Furthermore, in the case of trade liberalisation--certainly with respect to civil aviation--the Commission is consistently slow to enforce the law.
Two matters are currently of particular interest, and especially at stake. The first concerns state aid. Perhaps I may quote from a definitive work on the matter, my own book "A Treaty Too Far". On page 69, I say :
"Almost on the same day that the third package Air Services Regulation was signed by the governments of the EEC"
as it was then called
"the state-owned Banque de Paris injected £128 million of cash into Air France in what it said was a normal' financial transaction. Normality in this context is open to several different
interpretations. It may be standard practice in France for one state enterprise to give to another large sums of money when one of them is in financial trouble ; but it is doubtful whether private undertakings would have considered this particular transaction as normal'.
It took place immediately after Air France had turned in a loss of 685 million francs. From the airline's point of view, the gift (disguised as an 8.8 per cent. investment stake by BNP) could therefore not have been more conveniently timed. Not only did it meet the airline's losses without the latter suffering any real penalty, but it enabled it to pursue its plans to take a 6 billion franc . . . shareholding in . . . Sabena, which was in an equally parlous . . . state."
Since I wrote that, some months ago, the full picture has begun to emerge. Let me give the House some figures. In the case of Air France, since 1991 the EC has approved state aids to the tune of £800 million. There is some doubt and controversy--to which I shall return--about whether such aid, given through the Banque de Paris, or in the form of so-called investment or soft loans, constitutes state aid ; but, in any event, £800 million of French taxpayers' money has, in effect, gone into Air France.
In the case of Iberia, the figure is £667 million ; as it happens, it is the same for Sabena. For Aer Lingus, it is £167 million--that was subject to a great court case ; for TAP Air Portugal, it is £133 million. Those are large sums going into state airlines.
Far from being coy about all this, Air France--perhaps sensing the Commission's basic good will--is, in a literal sense, going for broke. Rather than backing off or being shy, it has now put in for the astronomical figure of £2.47 billion in subsidy--a staggering sum in the circumstances.
Mr. Bill Walker : The sheer volume of those figures is very disturbing. Moreover, British Midland, British Airways and all the other British airlines are having to compete--in a so-called open market--with airlines that are being heavily subsidised. Our airlines are making profits. Does that not tell us something ?
I want to give the House two other figures. Having had £133 million over the past few years, TAP has now upped the ante to £607 million of subsidy. Olympic, which is a
Column 1092tiny airline in comparison with ours, is putting in for £1.5 billion of subsidy. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North is on to a strong point when he compares that with what is happening in the United Kingdom.
Part of the problem is that the institutions of the European Union, notably the Commission, wrongly tend to treat support for state industries in a different light from support for private industries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North has implied, all United Kingdom airlines are private and all the major continental European airlines are, to varying degrees, state-owned. Again, the analogy could be applied to many other industries. For example, there would be the same phenomenon in the energy industry.
The airlines on the continent are state-owned and, particularly in France, they are greatly supported and highly restrictive. That means that the major continental airlines have, in large measure, been supported by being able to attract to themselves new capital on terms and conditions that would simply not have been available to them had they been in the private sector. If they had been in the private sector, four of the seven major national carriers would have had to go into liquidation. There is not much doubt about that. By common consent, Air France would have gone into liquidation some time ago, as would Iberia, Aer Lingus and Sabena.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North) : I do not fully understand the position that my hon. Friend is describing. If the funds were given to private companies that were competing in the market to enable them to survive, surely they would be regarded as subsidies. Therefore, should not the public funds that have been paid to those public companies be regarded as illegal subsidies, and should not the businesses involved be fined by the Commission ? Why does not the Commission impose fines ?
Mr. Spicer : In fairness to the Commission, it has at last, to use an expression, got off its butt and started to become interested in this matter. It is bringing Air France to court. The question is how the British Government will assist the legal process to reach the conclusion mentioned, correctly, by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), which is that we are talking about subsidies. The fact that they are given to state industries is neither here nor there. One hopes that the matter will be sorted out by the courts.
So far, when the matter has been brought before the courts, the airlines have got off lightly. Aer Lingus in particular got off very lightly. The European institutions, especially the Commission, have been slow to move and the courts have allowed the practice to continue by letting the airlines off lightly. As I have said, they are all coming back to their Governments with their snouts in the trough for more subsidies.
Even more pernicious than the straightforward handover of cash is the fact that the state-owned and protected industries are able to borrow new capital on terms and conditions that would not be available in the private sector. Also, in the past the French have tried to disguise subsidies by calling them, not even loans, but investments and getting away with it. In the case of Air France, money from the state-owned Banque Nationale de Paris was called an investment. That has occurred within the state sector.
Column 1093As my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North, said, that must be contrasted with happens in the United Kingdom. When British Airways found itself financially threatened, it had to shed 20,000 jobs and radically improve its efficiency. For the continental airlines, it was loss-making business as usual and, with support, the continental airlines were able to continue to compete in a predatory manner against companies that have made themselves efficient without any state aid.
The Commission has hardly turned a hair in recent years until--this deals with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North--Air France made its most recent outrageous cash demand of £2.4 billion. The Commission is bringing Air France to court. On the basis of precedent, the effect of that is doubtful.
It is clear that it is essential that our Government give as much encouragement and support to our airline industry in the legal battle against Air France as the French Government will, on the basis of precedent, give to their industry and as the Irish Government gave to Aer Lingus when it was battling to defend its subsidies some years ago. It is especially important that Air France should be made to comply with the disciplines of the marketplace by being made to stop subsidised predatory pricing and to close loss-making routes.
Mr. Bill Walker : I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again. The so-called British Airways dirty tricks campaign has created a lot of interest in the United Kingdom. Does my hon. Friend agree that we could have shown over many years how all those airlines have been carrying out similar passenger poaching with the pricing policies and practices and the interlining which have distorted the market tremendously ?
Mr. Spicer : Yes, without a doubt. My hon. Friend is extremely knowledgeable on these matters, and if he says that other national carriers are involved in such practices, I am sure that there is much factual evidence to support him. Because they are state-owned, they are protected by their Governments. There is one law for the state sector and another for the private sector. We saw the way in which British Steel was clobbered for what it was doing in the private sector. That contrasts with the way in which state-owned airlines are treated, particularly Air France, but I could name many others which are engaged in cross-subsidies and all sorts of doubtful practices. I hope that, in reply, my hon. Friend the Minister will address his mind to state aids.
The second distortive effect in the practice of the European aviation market, as against the concept of it, has been protectionist countries' exploitation of the conditions attached to free trade in air travel, especially conditions of air space and airport capacity. For example, the French Government have refused British Airways and the French Airline, TAT, in which British Airways has a 49 per cent. stake, certain landing rights at Orly airport.
That stake is quite significant because, although there is already meant to be free flow of investment within the European Union, I am told that British Airways has been advised that it cannot increase its stake to 51 per cent. because the French Government will not allow it to do so until 1997. British Airways sees no point in pursuing the matter in the courts, but again we are already seeing a
Column 1094practice--in this instance, the free flow of capital--being frustrated. TAT is being prohibited from having certain landing rights at Orly airport, which is clearly a restrictive practice under the conditions that are attached to the free trade market, to undermine the concept of free trade.
A similar point can be made about the Italian Government with respect to Linate airport at Milan. There are other examples where phoney air traffic and capacity restrictions are being imposed specifically to restrict free trade and the operations of what in formal terms is already meant to be a single market.
Mr. Spicer : I suspect that my hon. Friend is right about that. This all shows that much remains to be done before we shall establish a true common market in aviation. Air fares are still two or three times as high as those in the United States.
I shall not trouble the House with the further point that the establishment of a true free trade area in Europe should take precedence over extending the powers of the European Union's central institutions into other matters of policy. That point has been made before, and I am sure that it will be made again.