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Ms Sandra Osborne (Ayr): I support amendment No. 454, which stands in my name. It would have the effect of ensuring that major planned development by National Air Traffic Services must be completed. I have a specific interest because, as most Members are aware, the new Scottish centre, which will secure 700 jobs, is in my constituency. As the issue is of such importance to my constituency, I am prepared to prioritise it over other issues. I have to insist that the Government support my amendment, otherwise I shall be unable to support the Government.
I have spoken about NATS on numerous occasions. I have raised many of the issues of concern that have been brought to me by constituents and by representatives of trade unions and the work force at Atlantic house. Ministers are well aware that the proposed public-private partnership does not meet with the approval of the work force for many of the reasons that I stated on Second Reading, which have been repeated this afternoon.
I shall concentrate my comments on the repeated suggestions, especially over recent weeks, that the new Scottish centre will not come about if the public-private partnership goes ahead. I have questioned Ministers on numerous occasions. My right hon. Friend the
As I stated on Second Reading, the work force at Prestwick does not believe that the centre will go ahead. That is hardly surprising because there has been a chronic lack of investment in NATS for many years. That was underpinned by the failed attempts at full-scale privatisation that were made by the Conservatives. I do not believe that the new Scottish centre would go ahead with full privatisation, and neither does anyone else. The period during which no progress has been made in building the centre has resulted in cynicism among the Prestwick work force.
It was announced in 1993 by the Conservative Government that the project would go ahead on the basis of a private finance initiative, but there is still nothing on the ground. The PFI turned out to be unworkable. It would have cost at least twice the original budget of £200 million. It has had to be abandoned in spite of the best efforts of the Government to make it work, along with NATS officials. As hon. Members have said, since then, various Select Committee reports have been published, and the Government have conducted a consultation on the future structure of NATS. The initial contract was signed during that period and £60 million of public money has been released to fund the first phase of the contract. However, there is still nothing on the ground.
The first phase will consist of building a software system, some design work and eventually, a little initial building work. It is well known that a strong body of opinion in NATS itself feels that there is not any special need for the Prestwick centre. That, too, stems from the previous Government, who called into question the two-centre strategy and asked for a review, which concluded that the two centres were needed. The Labour Government accepted that when they came into power and have made a strong political commitment to providing the centre in Scotland as a replacement for the present facility at Prestwick.
I repeat this evening what I have already told my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State: that is exactly what the people of Scotland expect from a Labour Government. However, it is also feared that a strategic partner will, at some point in the future, renege on the commitment to the two-centre strategy because of the cost and need for profit. There is also anxiety about future contraction of the number of air traffic control centres in Europe. From the outset, I have said that my priority as a local Member of Parliament is securing the 700 jobs in my constituency. For three years, I have made a robust case for considering the options that are proposed in the new clauses.
However, it is clear that the Government intend to proceed with the public-private partnership for National Air Traffic Services. In the circumstances, I am sure that colleagues will seek further assurances on various aspects of the proposals. Indeed, I know that there have been discussions, especially on safety. When the partnership was first proposed, I made an undertaking to ensure that the views of the work force were heard in government.
At this stage, I wish to ensure that the new Scottish centre is secure now and in future by asking the Government to go a stage beyond guaranteeing the two-centre strategy in the strategic agreement. I hope that Ministers are minded to accept my amendment, which would entrench the new Scottish centre in primary legislation and enable me to do what my predecessor, Phil Gallie, totally failed to do: secure 700 highly skilled jobs at Prestwick and £25 million for the Ayrshire economy.
Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown): First, I want to reinforce what several hon. Members have said to the Secretary of State: no one questions the need to move NATS forward. The Government's agenda on creating investment, levering in private finance and updating the system is accepted without question. It is simply a matter of how we set about doing that.
In opposition, Labour Members rightly poured scorn on framework legislation introduced by Tory Governments that did not say what it would really do. Similarly, it is a source of regret that the Bill does not say what it will do, although we all know. Hence new clause 37, which would have the virtue of requiring proposals for NATS to be brought to Parliament for a vote by both Houses before any transfer could take place. That practice is the backbone of democracy.
Basically, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said, the objections boil down to safety, safety and safety again. NATS's whole reason for existence is to promote safety, and so far, nothing has been allowed to stand in the way of that, the result of which has been the development of a safety culture in NATS of which we can all be proud. It is the fact that the men and women working in NATS want it to be safe that makes it safe.
The Government have said that safety will be kept in public hands through the separation of regulation, but I have to tell the Secretary of State that that does not mean much--first, because regulation has effectively been made separate already, and taking NATS out of the CAA merely formalises that arrangement; and, secondly, because, as we all know from recent rail tragedies, the fact that safety regulation exists does not guarantee safety. Nothing can truly guarantee safety, but we can try to get as close as possible to guaranteed safety; whether it is achieved depends on whether the overriding culture of the organisation is the promotion of safety.
Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): My constituency borders East Midlands airport; indeed, my home lies under the flight path. At that airport, air traffic control is handled entirely by the private sector--by the owners of the airport, which is a large and growing international airport. Should I be concerned?
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): Has my hon. Friend seen a letter in The Guardian from Paul Noon, the general secretary of the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, in which he points out that 87 per cent. of passengers at all UK airports are handled by NATS?
At issue is not whether NATS should be moved forward, but the means by which we finance its development and the mode of governance we establish. We are all happy to lever in private finance and get NATS out of the public sector borrowing requirement, so that public funds can be used for other priorities. That is fine; no one in the House cavils at that for one moment. However, there are plenty of alternative ways of skinning this cat, and two of them are before the House in the form of new clauses 35 and 36.
Either of those proposals will suit the situation. They have their different merits; we know, for a start, that the trust model, as exemplified by NAV Canada, works. It has been in operation for several years, it has been highly successful, it has raised safety standards, and the costs of air traffic control in Canada are falling. As far as anyone can tell, it is totally successful. Such a model would achieve all the things that the Secretary of State wants, and would not bring the profit motive into conflict with safety.
It has been said in this argument that people who are unhappy with the public-private partnership are unhappy for ideological reasons. I assure the Secretary of State that that is not so. I am perfectly happy with PPPs. One does not hear a great deal of complaint about such partnerships for hospitals, because people want their hospitals. However, we do not ask the PPP building consortium for hospitals to supply specialist medical services--do we?--because that is obviously not appropriate.
Happily, my constituency is benefiting from PPPs for schools. That is great; I am very glad--it is the only way to get those schools that quickly. However, nobody is asking the building consortium to do the teaching--are they? A PPP is proposed for the tube, but operation of the tube, as the Secretary of State clearly said, is to remain in public hands. The Secretary of State was most emphatic about that, and safety was one of the considerations. If that argument is good enough for the tube, if safety is critical to the tube, it is doubly critical for the much more complex matter of air traffic control.
I end by making a plea to the Secretary of State. The conflict between the profit motive and the safety culture, which is inevitable in the structure that he is proposing, need not arise. Does he understand that, although many Labour Members will support the amendments and new clauses--effectively voting against the Government--most of us are extremely loyal Government Back Benchers, and it is a matter of great pain to us to find ourselves forced into so doing? Personally, I am satisfied that the PPP, as set forth, involves a very serious possibility of endangering lives in future. My conscience will not permit me to ignore that. I fancy that the same is true of many hon. Members.