Our policy is to promote competition throughout civil aviation, with, of course, proper safeguards against anti-competitive behaviour. We have played a leading role in the European Community's progress towards a freer market in aviation.
I thank the Minister for the robust way in which he personally is pursuing the Government's important competition policy. Is he aware, however, that unfortunately Italy, Spain and Germany are not prepared to recognise the EC directive on competition? As a result British Airways, with its block, and Air France, with its anti-competitive arrangements with Lufthansa, are freezing out the smaller, independent airlines and preventing them from competing with the big boys. If we are not to see a repeat of the Laker episode—and we have already seen signs at Gatwick that that may be happening—what policy have the Government to help the smaller airlines to compete in Europe, especially with countries that will not support the EC directive?
Many of the points that my hon. Friend has brought up are very important; his remarks about competition policy must be addressed by the European Commissioner who has responsibility for competition. It is important that we put the user first. We must allow competition so that the passenger obtains the full benefit of what we hope will be a freer aviation market, which we hope will lead to cheaper fares in the long term.
I welcome the package of liberalisation measures agreed in Brussels on 1 December, but what arrangements are being made for the introduction of transitional arrangements between now and 1993—arrangements on which much of the growth in competition will depend?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point, relating to the whole question of progress towards a freer aviation market. As I said, such matters as takeovers and mergers must be dealt with by competition policy, and primarily involve my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. A number of cases are under consideration at present. However, there is nothing to stop the industry preparing for 1992 and its consequences.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently met the Secretary of Transportation in the United States and another meeting is planned in the near future. We are very hopeful and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are exceptionally keen to see links from Manchester to the United States. We have done a lot of work to that end and we shall continue to work vigorously on that policy. I hope that we shall see a successful conclusion, as the hon. Gentleman was right to say that this has been continuing for some time.