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'(1) The Secretary of State or the Treasury may guarantee the discharge of any financial obligation of a not for profit company to which any property rights or liabilities are transferred under a transfer scheme.'.
'(1) The Secretary of State, with the approval of the Treasury, may make grants towards the expenditure of a company which is wholly owned by the Crown and to which any property rights or liabilities are transferred under a transfer scheme.'.
'(1) The Secretary of State, with the approval of the Treasury, may make grants towards the expenditure of a not for profit company to which any property rights or liabilities are transferred under a transfer scheme.'.
'(1) For the purposes of the provisions of the Companies Act 1985 listed in subsection (2) none of the persons listed in subsection (5) is to be regarded as a shadow director of a company which is wholly owned by the Crown and to which any property, rights or liabilities are transferred under a transfer scheme.'.
'(1) For the purposes of the provisions of the Companies (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 listed in subsection (4) none of the persons listed in subsection (5) is to be regarded as a shadow direction of a company which is wholly owned by the Crown and to which any property, rights or liabilities are transferred under a transfer scheme.'.
'[Transfer to be to company owned by Crown]'.
'(dd) not for profit company'.
'(2A) "Not for profit company" has the meaning given in section [Transfer to be to not for profit company].'.
Mrs. Dunwoody: It is important to say at the outset that I have put my name to nearly all the new clauses and amendments, and I hope that the House will be able to decide on the implications of the various suggestions that have been made. I have made it clear that, personally, I do not approve of timetables. The decision about the management of National Air Traffic Services is so important and fundamental that I hope that we will have time to put all the vital points.
The new clause suggests one way in which the electorate as a whole can be absolutely certain that the most fundamental of our rights--the right to know that air safety is in the hands of those who understand and control it--is fully taken account of in legislation.
The Transport Sub-Committee appears to have become the villain of many of our debates. When it discussed this subject, which it did not once but on three separate occasions, it took account of the fact that there were several factors that made it clear that we could not continue with National Air Traffic Services in its current form. There was a need to change, but we thought that the suggestion that NATS should go out to the public market and find money should be examined in the context of its reorganisation.
After all, what does NATS do? It is a fully integrated service, not only providing flight information and weather services but fundamentally controlling the movement of aircraft in the airspace over the United Kingdom, in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence. Given that aircraft use is increasing at a rate of between 5 and 6 per cent. a year and a growing number of people are using increasingly congested air space, if we allow any slippage in the high standard of safety that we enjoy, we shall contribute to a potentially difficult situation.
The Select Committee felt that NATS should have the right to raise the money that was essential for its development and that it could best do that either as a publicly owned corporation or in the other ways that we suggested in our report. We did not feel that there was any suggestion that NATS was not capable of providing high-quality services. Not only are air traffic controllers highly trained and working under enormous pressure, but they are men and women of great expertise and they do not provide a service based on the interests of the shareholders of a particular company; their job is performed wholly on the basis of safety and they are responsible to the entire United Kingdom for the maintenance of high standards.
It is not true that NATS is not able to act as an adviser or take consultancy work from other air traffic services elsewhere in the world. I received a written answer today which makes it clear that it is already doing precisely that. It is not true that, under the new system, NATS would be able to continue operating as it does now because of something called the golden share. I am afraid that the history of Government privatisations that relied on golden shares is not that Governments maliciously set out to change the conditions under which sales take place, but that, once a strategic partner is in control of the company, it can change the terms and conditions and the way in which the company works. Safety should not depend on a fiduciary duty not to the general public but to shareholders of a particular private company.
I recently attended a lecture where the representative of an airline made it clear what that airline's interests were in pursuing the sale of NATS, by saying to the air traffic controllers who were present, "You must remember that many of the decisions that we take have a direct impact on our commercial affairs and it is therefore essential to us that you are much more understanding of, and responsive to, the needs of individual airline companies." That was not said out of any malice aforethought, but it was a clear indication of the problem that a national air traffic services company would face.
It is important for us to understand that, unlike airports, which can open more shops or expand the services that they offer customers, or airlines which can change the way in which they operate or offer cheaper fares, NATS has one basic and vital function--to ensure safety. It exists to maintain the safety of aircraft in the skies and as they enter and leave our airports and to control air traffic from the continent and across the Atlantic. It exists to ensure that, when we get on any aircraft, we are certain that the men and women operating the movement of those aircraft are answerable only to those who maintain high safety standards and not to anyone seeking to make a profit out of their organisation.
I can give many instances of how the Committee looked at the details. I can answer many of the points that have been made. It is vital that the House asks itself why, before the previous election, the Labour party opposed the sale of NATS. Why did we say that our air was not for sale? It was not because it was an easy, cheap, propaganda point to attract voters but because we understood that, unlike almost any other service, this service is vital to the maintenance of safety and control in the skies over the United Kingdom.
I beg right hon. and hon. Members not to make the mistake of thinking that a simple company reorganisation will maintain the same standards in the future that we have had in the past. Whichever of the three new clauses--35, 36 or 37--right hon. and hon. Members vote on tonight, I ask them to remember that they do so on behalf of every person in the country and, above all, that they do so for the right of the citizens of the United Kingdom to be safe for every moment that they are in the sky.
The hon. Lady makes it clear that the matter must be decided by the House as a whole. She will recall that, on Second Reading, a number of Labour Members brought forward a reasoned amendment in opposition to the Government's proposals. Unfortunately, at that time, they did not believe it appropriate to move the amendment. It was in fact moved by Conservative Members, and was voted upon--[Interruption.]