The Port of New York Authority decided to postpone its decision so that it could consider any new proposals on how the noise impact of Concorde on local communities could be reduced. Its next meeting is on 14th April. The court hearing has been postponed, but a new date will be set this week.
We shall sign a new agreement on 22nd June, or before, if we negotiate a new agreement that is satisfactory to us. Among the problems with the existing agreement, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, is that we have not been able to obtain our true rights in respect of landing Concorde in New York. There are many problems about the current agreement and many improvements that we could make. If we can get a satisfactory agreement, we shall sign it.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm today's report in an American newspaper that, whereas the French Government have spent more than $2½ billion on the promotion of Concorde in the United States, our contribution has been only $100,000? As we each have a stake in the commercial success of Concorde, is there not a danger of our spoiling this aircraft for a penn'orth of tar?
I do not think there is any doubt about the commercial success of Concorde at Washington. There is no doubt that it would be a commercial success if it was allowed to fly into New York. That is not the issue. The issue is obtaining our rights to secure admission for this aircraft to New York.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in a Written Answer to me last Thursday the Foreign Office said that
a party to a treaty may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty."—[Official Report, 17th March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 305.]
Is not that precisely what President Carter is doing? In that case will the right hon. Gentleman consider, as part of his renegotiation of the Bermuda Agreement, taking action specifically against New York, not against other United States cities, and withdrawing traffic rights between New York and Britain, and New York and France, until this aeroplane is accorded the rights to which it is entitled under the treaty?
I do not think it would be right at this time to talk about the steps we might take in certain circumstances if we do not secure admission to New York. As the hon. Gentleman knows, and as I said in my answer, there is a further meeting on 14th April. We have a court case outstanding under which we can proceed. It is entirely premature to make the sort of threats that the hon. Gentleman invites me to make.
Has my right hon. Friend had any chance to speak to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment about the report in yesterday's newspapers concerning the Noise Advisory Council's report on Concorde being made available to the New York Port Authority? Would he care to comment on that?
I have had an opportunity of talking to my right hon. Friend about this. The question which is the basis of this matter in New York is whether Concorde can meet the noise requirements of Kennedy Airport. We believe that it can. We believe that that has been demonstrated to the New York Port Authority. We see no justification for its keeping Concorde out of New York.
Is the Secretary of State able to tell the House whether the load factor on the Concorde route between London and Washington has been above or below expectations and, at the same time, whether the level of complaints from those living around Dallas Airport has likewise been above or below expectations?
We have been favourably surprised by the low level of complaints from people living around Dallas Airport. The hon. Gentleman knows that Concorde has been operating to Washington at a satisfactory level of capacity. Whether that is below or above the expectations of British Airways I would not like to say.
Is not my right hon Friend aware that what angers the British people about this situation is that if the Americans had been first in the field with supersonic aircraft we would have been expected to receive this aircraft with open arms? Is this not a case of sour grapes on the part of the Americans?
I certainly think that my hon. Friend is right in suggesting that if the aircraft was American we would have been expected to receive it in London. I welcome the statements which have been made by various aircraft manufacturers in the United States recently and by others saying that Concorde should be allowed into New York.
We have had a favourable response from the Australian Government. Negotiations are still continuing with the Indonesians about supersonic overflying rights. The Indian Government have objected in the past, and we shall have to await developments with interest as and when the new Indian Government are formed.
Is it not true that, whether or not the Indian Government continue to object, there is now no problem over a Far Eastern route? We could start it. Is not such a route vital for the future of Concorde, irrespective of whether we get permission to go to New York? Does not the Minister agree that it is extremely disappointing to see how slowly British Airways seem to be getting this route going? Air France has trained sufficient crews. Why is there a delay here? Will the Minister put pressure on British Airways?
I do not accept that British Airways have been slow in dealing with this matter. There has been an industrial dispute which has slowed up the opportunity to train crews. Matters are not as simple as the hon. Gentleman suggests, because far more crews are needed to deal with the London-Melbourne route than any other route. Nevertheless, I can assure the House that British Airways are proceeding with this issue as rapidly as possible. We must, of course, see what happens with regard to New York, because that situation impinges upon the operation of the London-Melbourne route.
Since the Minister has demonstrated that he is powerless to stop Air France flying up the English Channel supersonically and in so doing causing great disturbance, through sonic boom, over South-West England, will he ensure that he does not apply for routes which involve supersonic flying up the English Channel?
I have done my best to keep the hon. Gentleman informed of the progress which is being made over a specific complaint which has affected a substantial number of people. The hon. Member knows, as do other hon. Members, that this matter is being carefully investigated. The flights and the noise are being monitored. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, instead of making constituency points, will recognise that it is not a demonstration of powerlessness on the part of the Government but rather a recognition of the need to investigate this matter in depth before coming up with the sort of simplistic solutions which he has put to me.