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Ms Sandra Osborne (Ayr): If the amendments were agreed to, would my hon. Friend see any prospect of the Government changing their mind and considering, for example, a trust? Would he expect Labour policy on NATS to change at the general election?

Mr. Raynsford: We have considered a range of options and models proposed by various parties. We have also considered options proposed in other countries, notably the NAVCAN system in Canada. We fully understand that there are advocates of those systems, but we have concluded that the public-private partnership set out in the Bill is the right way forward. We believe it essential to proceed with it. My hon. Friend has been a forceful advocate of the new provision and investment in her own constituency which will guarantee the two-centre strategy. We wholly endorse that, and the PPP will make possible the investment necessary to ensure that we take forward that commitment and have effective operations at Swanwick and Prestwick. That is our commitment, and I am sure that the House will, on reflection, recognise that it is the right way forward. I urge the House to reject the amendments.

Mr. Jenkin: Now that I have seen the difficulty with which the Minister defended this proposal. I understand why the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions did not want to be here. The House is entitled to express concern at the fact that we do not have at the Dispatch Box a Minister who has ever visited the London air traffic control centre or Swanwick or met air traffic controllers. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Minister, is playing the role of paid counsel rather than that of a policy-making Minister. That is unsatisfactory.

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I speak with absolute authority over Conservative transport policy. [Interruption.] That may invite a wry smile from the Minister, but there is a clear contrast between his position and mine. I am a member of the shadow Cabinet, and the Secretary of State is the only Minister in his Department who is a fully fledged Cabinet Minister. He should have been here to discuss this matter.

I should pick up one minor point. I do not accept that the split will be unable to go ahead if the amendment is accepted. The operational split could certainly go ahead, although the split of ownership admittedly would not.

There is no need to rehearse in detail all the arguments against the proposed botched privatisation. Although Ministers pretend that it is something other than privatisation, it compels businesses to seek strategic partnerships that might result in a conflict of interest. Having heard a debate for the past month or so on the unnecessary complexity of a previous privatisation, I find it strange that the Government should inflict on us a privatisation with a structure that is so complex. That structure leaves open the question of who is responsible, as the management have a shareholding of only 5 per cent., the strategic partner has a shareholding of 46 per cent. and the Government hold the biggest shareholding of all. When push comes to shove and there is a fundamental disagreement between the Government and the strategic partner, how will that break down? It is not obvious, as there is no clear chain of command.

This privatisation is being delivered with assurances that cannot be kept. The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) pointed out that the assurance that the Government will constantly retain 46 per cent. of the shares is not in the Bill. Clause 48 offers the possibility of a reduction in the Government's shareholding to 25 per cent. and includes a Henry VIII clause, as that 25 per cent. can be altered by a simple order laid before the House, which can now be voted through by a paper ballot in the No Lobby on a Wednesday afternoon, separately from a proper debate on the issue. The Bill puts absolute power in the hands of the Government, subject to only one tiny parliamentary check, so that they can sell 100 per pent. of the business if they wish. As a result of that Henry VIII clause, nothing in the Bill is immutable.

There is also the question of the golden share, which is supposed to be of great comfort. When the Bill was in Committee, the Minister for Housing and Planning scoffed when I pointed out that BAA's golden share was subject to infraction proceedings. On 11 October, the European Commission issued a notice that stated:

The Commission is taking a stage further infraction proceedings against the UK concerning the golden share held in BAA. I do not want to rehearse all the arguments again, but it is clear from legal advice to the Commission that is freely available to Ministers that the golden share will not stand the test of a judgment by the European Court of Justice, so that is another assurance that cannot be delivered.

We have heard a lot about investment, but the preparation for privatisation has been heralded by a move to impose on the business an RPI minus formula that requires cuts in prospective capital investment. The NATS

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management response to the economic regulation group's second consultation paper points out that the Civil Aviation Authority's proposal in that paper requires

The privatisation will be very strange, as it will be the first privatisation to have required cuts in capital expenditure to get going. Every other privatisation has been premised on the prospect of substantially increased capital expenditure. However, we have seen the matter in black and white, as set out by the hand of NATS management.

Finally, there has been discussion of the continued assurances that the Government are giving about the two-centre strategy for the United Kingdom. There must be uncertainty about that, as we have heard in the background that NATS management have a vision of a four or five centre strategy for the whole of Europe. One wonders why the Prestwick investment has been constantly delayed and never put on the table. The Government will not be in a position to deliver their current assurance, even though they are saying that it is in the plans. However, once the business is in the private sector, we must ask whether they will be able to deliver their assurance, even if they continue to hold 46 per cent. of the shares.

Ms Osborne: That is exactly why I asked the Government to amend the Bill to ensure that the new Scottish centre would go ahead, but I cannot cast any light on previous delays, which were caused by the Conservative Government calling into question the two-centre strategy and introducing a vastly expensive and unworkable private finance initiative.

5 pm

Mr. Jenkin: Well, at least we had a PFI. The Government scrapped the PFI and now we are on a wing and a prayer. The hon. Lady will have to believe the promise of an industry in the private sector. She must explain that to her electors.

Safety is a constant refrain in this debate. I wish to place it on record that I have 100 per cent. faith in the safety regime of NATS and the way in which it is supervised by the Civil Aviation Authority. I do not believe that we will face the difficulties caused by the change in working practices and relationships as occurred on the railways because the safety culture in aviation is much stronger than it ever was on the railways.

Concerns about safety bring up questions of public and staff confidence. Whatever the merits of privatisation, this privatisation is certainly the wrong scheme. I do not know whether we will include privatisation of air traffic services in our next manifesto. I say that genuinely and openly. The promotion of solutions that do not command public confidence is a serious matter, and one that should affect the Government at this stage. I give the Government an absolute assurance. Whatever our policy is for air traffic control, it will be in our manifesto. We will be explicit.

Mr. Raynsford: It was not in 1992.

Mr. Jenkin: Well, it was in 1997, when we planned to carry out the privatisation. To accuse us of not including in our manifesto something that we subsequently did not

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do is not a strong point, if I may say so. The fact is that we included privatisation of air traffic services in our 1997 manifesto, and it is necessary to include a policy of such importance in one's manifesto.

We may well include the trust proposal in our manifesto. It seems to be an option that will provide the disciplines of private sector management without the alarm that would be caused by creating a profit-making company.

Mr. Raynsford rose--

Mr. Jenkin: If the Minister wants to make fun of me for an apparent U-turn, let him go ahead, but I believe that the issues are much too serious to make fun of.

Mr. Raynsford: I have no intention of making fun of the hon. Gentleman or of indulging in the cheap and personal jibes that he has made such a hallmark of his speeches this evening. The point that I was making was that the criticism from the Conservatives that our 1997 manifesto did not contain an explicit policy commitment in relation to NATS comes a bit rich from a party that proposed the privatisation of NATS during the 1992-97 Parliament without having made any commitment in its 1992 manifesto. What it put in its 1997 manifesto is a different matter. The electorate certainly took a pretty dim view of the Conservative party's 1997 election manifesto.

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