|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
For every million passengers who pass through the airport, 1,000 extra jobs are created in my constituency. That is good news in terms of investment and new infrastructure, and it is excellent news for the travelling public, my constituents' employment and the local economy. The evidence clearly shows that PPPs work. The airport is retained under local authority control, but with a PPP that enabled the investment to occur. The effort will continue during the next few years.
Those are just two examples of the benefits that PPP can bring to our transport system and to our local economies. I wish that Liberal Democrat Members were a little more clear-headed as to the difference between privatisation and PPPs. The way in which they intend to end PPPs does them no service whatever.
No one has yet mentioned the health service. In my constituency, it is of considerable concern because our lovely, new cottage hospital, which is just about to be built, will be of the type that deals only with minor operations and day surgery. We have heard from several Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen that, in future, such procedures will be carried out only in the private sector. That means that the privatisation of the new hospital in Newbury would be almost inevitable, were the Conservatives ever to come to power again.
That is a considerable worry to my constituents. I hope that Ministers agree that if that were to happen, it would be simply awful and that, if the Conservatives continue with that policy, they deserve to lose every vote in west Berkshire.
Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): The debate has been interesting--except for those of us who served on the Transport Bill Standing Committee, for whom it has merely been a repetition of many, old arguments. Although Liberal Democrats might have been accused of opportunism on a few occasions, such accusations come ill from members of two parties that have shifted position so quickly--albeit in a heavy-footed way--during the past few years and especially during the past few months.
I shall focus on the privatisation of NATS. There is mounting public concern about privatisation in the transport sector. As there is raging uncertainty across the sector, the ill-conceived plans to privatise air traffic control should be scrapped. There is no public support for the proposal and little need for the Government to sell any NATS shares.
Frequently, the Government advance their case for privatisation by highlighting investment requirements and the need both to involve private sector expertise and to separate safety regulation from practitioners. As we have often pointed out, we do not dispute those objectives but the route proposed to achieve them.
Our proposal for an independent, publicly owned corporation or trust satisfies each of those requirements, but--crucially--retains public sector control. That means that it will retain public confidence.
Since our previous debate on NATS privatisation, two significant developments have occurred. First, the Civil Aviation Authority produced proposals for the regulatory regime after privatisation. Secondly, the shortlist for the strategic partner has been published and has already been whittled down.
Our central concern about the privatisation of air traffic control is the nature of the market in which NATS operates. Competition--rightly--does not exist and revenue is heavily regulated; thus profit-driven corporations will be forced to cut costs to deliver their objectives. Cutting costs sits uneasily beside the paramount importance of safety. That is at the heart of public concern about the privatisation of NATS.
It is especially alarming that the first attempt by the CAA to set out a post-privatisation regime for economic regulation of air traffic control has been condemned by NATS itself. NATS described the proposals as "totally inappropriate", not least because
We now know the final three bidders in the beauty contest to become NATS' strategic partner. The list of bidders exposes the serious problems at the heart of the NATS privatisation proposal. I shall briefly highlight the conflicts of interest that each bidder involves.
Novares is a partnership principally between Lockheed Martin and the Airways Corporation of New Zealand. Lockheed Martin is a huge multinational corporation with many different interests but, as we know, it is the prime supplier at Swanwick and it is believed to have lost between £150 million and £300 million through the delay and ineffective control of that project. It has more recently won the contract for the new Scottish centre, and the blunt truth is that it has a great interest in controlling the paymasters of that project. The Airways Corporation of New Zealand is an overseas air traffic control outfit which has also run into controversy recently, because it has changed its two-centre strategy--which has been the core of many concerns, not least in Scotland--to a one-centre strategy with very little public support.
The final consortium is the Airline Group. It is interesting that it specifies that it is a not-for-profit organisation. Perhaps that reveals what it thinks of bringing the profit motive into this sector. However, it cannot escape from the basic reality that eight airlines--including British Airways, Virgin and British Midland--are in the consortium and that they generate the vast proportion of NATS' revenue. It is no wonder that they want to get their hands on it if it is to be privatised. Sitting beside the airlines as advisers are three air traffic operators from overseas. They are all on board, but it is not clear what relationship they would have with NATS after privatisation. In particular, we do not know the implications that there might be for national security. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us what the Ministry of Defence says about that.
In the privatisation of air traffic control, the bidders are riddled with conflicts of interest. NATS does not believe that the Civil Aviation Authority's proposals will work and the public have no confidence in the plans. They should be scrapped.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin): This has been an interesting debate. I am not sure that those of us who are veterans of proceedings on the Transport Bill have heard many new arguments, but we have heard one or two old arguments presented in a slightly different way.
As I listened to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) huffing and puffing about the wickedness of privatisation, the thought idly passed through my mind that there might have been no privatisation at all if the Liberals had not voted with the Tories to bring down the Callaghan Government in 1979. I hope that the House will forgive a little trip down memory lane, but the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) took us back as far as Beatrice and Sidney Webb, so I thought that I would chance an outing back to 1979. We all change but, at that time, the Liberals preferred a Government led by Mrs. Thatcher to a Government led by Mr. Callaghan. That had consequences that we can all vividly recall.
I am opposed--and so are the Government--to the dogmatic pursuit of privatisation in the public services. Such a pursuit of privatisation was a characteristic of the previous Government. I exempt the hon. Member for Poole since, as he explained, he is pragmatic. Most members of the previous Government believed as a matter of principle that the public sector was bad and the private sector was good--and some of them said so in such stark terms. Tory Ministers believed at the time that privatisation was a panacea, and that has led us to all sorts of problems--not least the mess following privatisation of the railways that they have left us to clear up.
The Government's approach has been entirely different--[Interruption.] Stay with me. We are seeking to combine the strongest features of both the public and private sectors. We want to work together for the public good.