I cannot say precisely without notice how much taxpayers' money has gone into British Airways over the past two years. However, as the House well knows, the point is not the precise injection of taxpayers' money, but the Government's underwriting in the past of British Airways' lunatic bills, which currently have put British Airways' debt at over £1 billion, to the detriment of the private sector.
Is it not becoming increasingly clear that, by any standard, the position of British Airways has immeasurably improved over that of a year ago, and that whether one looks at it from the point of view of reduced staff, increased productivity or the greater preparedness of British people to patronise British Airways, we are well on the way to changing a massive deficit of £500 million into a substantial profit in the financial year just ended?
Yes, Sir. That deserves the applause of hon. Members on both sides of the House. Having turned in a loss last year of £544 million, British Airways is about to turn in a happy profit this year. It reflects the greatest credit on the chairman of British Airways, Sir John King, and all the staff at all levels that they have managed to put the airline right. I should be a little more pleased if I thought that Opposition Members were a wee bit cheerier about that almost miraculous turnround.
In an uncharacteristic attempt to lower the temperature, may I ask the Minister to assure the chairman, when he discusses with him the future of British Airways, that there is all-party support in the House for the proposition that the United States' claim to impose its anti-trust legislation on an extra-territorial basis is an indefensible usurpation, contrary to international law, and will be resisted whichever Government are in power in the United Kingdom?
I shall respond in a low-key way. I am deeply grateful for the support of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in what he has just said. I remind the House that my officials begin in Washington tomorrow to point out to the United States that we already have an agreement, Bermuda 2, under which these matters should be settled.