The Government intend to privatise British Airways as soon as practicable. I have already discussed the future of British Airways with the airlines chairman and chief executive and I look forward to meeting other members of the board and staff of British Airways, as well as representatives of British independent airlines.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of the leaders of private airlines in this country—British Caledonian and Dan Air to name but two — would warmly welcome the denationalisation of British Airways, but would take it gravely amiss if it were to happen too soon? Is he further aware that they believe that at least two years are required for British Airways to return to profit and for a proper company to be put on the market, bearing in mind that they have had no subsidy during recent difficult years?
I look forward to meeting representatives of British independent airlines. I recognise fully, as my hon. Friend fairly says, that they have views on the matter, and I shall listen to them carefully. While we are committed to the move, we must consider its impact on the independent airlines.
I am glad to say that we have just had the largest possible ballot — a national ballot — on this matter. I have in hand our manifesto, in which privatisation was carefully spelt out, and it received warm endorsement, as the hon. Gentleman will know.
May I congratulate the Secretary of State on at least one point—on adopting that part of Labour party transport policy that includes the transfer of shipping and aviation to the Ministry of Transport? May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that if he follows the Labour party's integrated transport policy he will have every support from the Opposition?
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance, first, that British Airways will be kept intact as an airline and, secondly, that in the following two years he will not pour Government money into the airline to make it profitable in order to hand it over at cheap rates to his friends in the City?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. I did not organise the arrangements myself. That was done by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, so I shall pass his congratulations on to her.
I note the hon. Gentleman's comments on the arrangements for privatisation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble, South (Mr. Atkins) pointed out, further stages are necessary. There has only recently been a return to profitability. We shall have to consider these matters, including some of the hon. Gentleman's points.