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Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In your judgment, if we are to have three votes on this group, will we not need to conclude the debate by about 7 o'clock?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is an observation that may be widely agreed with in the House. We shall observe what we shall observe in due course.

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Mrs. Fyfe: I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne) on her campaign over the years to secure hundreds of jobs in her part of the world. If she has succeeded in that endeavour, that is no mean achievement.

I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) was still in the Chamber. He accused those who disagree with him of being illogical. When I see him, I will have to ask him what adjective he would apply to someone who has considered an issue for considerably less time than those who work in the industry and provide the service, yet thinks that he knows better than they do what is good for the service.

This is not a partnership, as others have said. It is a privatisation. The Government's holding can be reduced to 25 per cent. without the House being consulted again. Some day we will not even have that 25 per cent. The then Government will say, "What are you complaining about? You went three quarters of the way down this road." Joseph Chamberlain said 100 years ago that he did not want water to be held in the private sector because

I would not disagree with him.

I am not saying, "All private bad, all public good," but there is a difference, and one day it could be a crucial one. I sought some figures from the Library to compare the safety records of the public and private sectors. I was told that 85 per cent. of private sector employees were employed in establishments with occupational health measures, compared with 100 per cent. of public sector employees. The proportion of employees covered directly by such measures were 66 per cent. and 99 per cent. respectively. That is a useful measure of how the private sector can often be good on safety but can also fall down on it. The public sector is certainly under more pressure to deliver totally on safety.

If the pilots are not convinced, I am not convinced. I do not believe that the two alternative proposals can be brushed off with a one-line statement that neither fits the needs of the service. I would hope to hear more from the Government.

Before the 1997 general election, our party said:

I featured that in my election campaign, and I will not go back on my word to those who voted for me unless I see good reason for doing so--and I do not see sufficient reason here.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the hon. Lady agree that glider pilots, the British Gliding Association and the General Aviation Manufacturers and Traders Association are concerned that if the airways are sold off, they will be sold out, and probably pushed out of the sky?

Mrs. Fyfe: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point.

No other country in the world has privatised its air traffic control. Are other countries not faced with hard choices, too? We keep on hearing from the Government, when they want to do something that is unpopular and unwanted by their own supporters, that we are making a

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hard choice. On some things, we should make a choice that people like, then fewer people might stay at home at elections.

Why are the Government flying in the face of public unhappiness at this step? Why are we ignoring those who work at NATS and those who fly the planes? They have not merely gone through the motions of opposing the Bill: they have campaigned ceaselessly. They are serious about this. There was a time when a Labour Government would have listened more carefully to those who actually do the work.

I have been reading the Government's briefings and I gather that a not-for-profit trust would be allowed to compete for the contract. If such a trust would be acceptable, why cannot the Government accept a new clause that allows us to go straight for that option and keep the private motive out?

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I support my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), who has done a superb job in piloting the Opposition case, and I look forward to what he has to say later. I support new clause 26, to which he may speak if he catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In past debates on these matters, I have always declared the fact that my wife works for British Airways, but I can assure the House that she no longer does so. She has resigned from British Airways, so she is no longer privy to the ways of the board or beholden to the company.

One of the big issues that has come out in this fascinating parliamentary debate is what the Government are trying to achieve. Is it a privatisation or is it not? As I urged several privatisations for love on previous Conservative Administrations, and for profit on Governments elsewhere in the world, when I was in business, perhaps my remarks may have some interest and merit.

It is clear to me that privatisation occurs if control passes from the Government to a private sector interest. By that test, this is self-evidently a privatisation. The Government may try to dress it up in the new language of public-private partnership, but on this occasion that is either misleading or a load of ideological claptrap. This is a privatisation and it must be judged as such. We must apply the normal tests: whether it will be sold to the right people or group of interests; whether it will be sold at the right price; whether it will be run better than if it had remained in the public sector; and whether there might be a better way of serving the public interest and securing gain for the public purse.

In all my experience of privatisations around the world, this is by far and away the worst model that I have ever seen. It manages to combine all the worst features of privatisation and avoid practically all the good ones. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex is right to say that the official Opposition cannot support this version of privatisation and was right, in his ever-helpful spirit, to suggest a better alternative.

The models on offer from Opposition Members--the independent trust and the public corporation--which we have heard debated at some length, represent a much better interim position, at least, than the Government's version of privatisation. It would be far better to leave it alone or to keep it under the new control and ownership

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that has been suggested by Labour Members until it could be privatised properly than to do what the Government propose.

6.30 pm

The proposals are a kind of punk Thatcherism. The Government have a strange love-hate relationship with the Thatcherite message. As one who was proud to be involved during the 1980s and thought that a lot of good things happened then, I now recognise that it was a long time ago. The Government should recognise that the problems and solutions of this century are rather different. If they wish to be Thatcherite, however, they should try to understand the essence of the Thatcherite experience instead of producing a punk version that true Thatcherites cannot possibly support.

A proper privatisation would surely seek to maximise wider share ownership, make sure that the British national interest was secure and protect the organisation from the possibility of being sold on the cheap to a single foreign interest. I have never come across a Government who wished to sell control for only 46 per cent. of the shares. One would at the very least expect them to sell 51 per cent. of the shares to the controlling interest.

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott): The Conservatives gave it away.

Mr. Redwood: The Secretary of State dares to say that, but the Conservative Administration gave away shares to company employees, which was a good thing to do. They did not give them away to people from outside who had the money to buy. They were careful to protect important public interests from foreign acquisition by using golden shares that worked.

I am concerned that the present Government are inventing a golden share that may well not work and may not protect the national interest. There is a strong possibility that the Government will end up selling 46 per cent. and a controlling interest for less than 46 per cent. of the true value. The numbers that they have trotted out so far and have got into a tangle over show that they envisage a sale at fire sale prices when there is absolutely no reason to sell an important national asset at a knock-down price.

I do not wish to intrude on the debate about how Labour Members feel about supporting or not supporting the Government who stated clearly before the election that the air was not for sale. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I made no such statement, so we do not have that problem when deciding how to vote tonight. It is an important issue. I can speak from experience of supporting a Government who occasionally broke their word. I know how difficult it was and what an uncomfortable feeling it was. I always felt better when I stuck to what the Government had originally said and did not let down my voters by going along with the change of tack or script.

I hope that the Government are aware that there is unity across the Floor of the House tonight on whether or not this botched and muddled privatisation should go ahead. The House should categorically say no; it is the wrong

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privatisation at the wrong time. It is stripping a national asset on the cheap. It is punk Thatcherism of the worst and that is why there will be surprising unity in the Lobbies tonight on this issue.

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