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Mr. Winnick: Does my hon. Friend accept that, even if my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) was in favour of what is being proposed, it would not make the slightest difference to my views and the way in which I will deal with the matter when it comes to voting? Although I can understand my hon. Friend quoting my right hon. Friend, the fact remains that what matters is the substance of the matter, as I said when the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) was talking about the absence of the Deputy Prime Minister, not who said what or when. What matters is whether the proposal is right or wrong, and I happen to believe that it is wrong.

Mr. Raynsford: The substance of the matter is clearly whether we believe that the PPP delivers the highest possible safety standards. We happen to believe that it does. We have strong evidence to support that case, which I shall outline in my speech. Those who do not believe it have to provide evidence. My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh was clearly confident enough to say on the record in the House in June 1998 that safety would be guaranteed fully under the PPP. I support that point. When a statement of that nature is given to the House, the Member who makes it usually thinks carefully and seriously before giving it. I hope that my right hon. Friend reached a fully informed view which led to that statement. I have certainly looked into the matter carefully before coming to the House to give the statements that I have given tonight on behalf of the Government. I do not make those comments loosely or casually.

7.15 pm

Mr. McDonnell: It is demeaning to have tittle-tattle between members of our party, not least because the Minister came to the House to tell us that the Mayor would be selected on the basis of one member one vote, and then supported the alternative system. Let us get on with the debate.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Mayor is nothing to do with the matter before us.

Mr. Raynsford: I will come back to my hon. Friend later.

Dr. Godman: I have said on numerous occasions that I have every trust in my right hon. Friend the Deputy

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Prime Minister's commitment to maritime, rail, road and air safety, but I share many of my constituents deep mistrust of privatisation, and the PPP in this case. It is a question not of safety but of ideology and mistrust of privatisation, whether part or whole.

Mr. Raynsford: I hear the point that my hon. Friend makes. He made it in an earlier intervention, and I intended to respond to it later. I do not believe that safety is a matter of ideology. Safety is a matter of safety, and we should consider it on that basis. I shall explain why in a moment. My hon. Friend is right to emphasise that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is absolutely committed to the maintenance of the safest possible regime in respect not only of air traffic control but other transport modes.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh referred to issues of national security. It is important to put on record the fact that the proposal for the PPP has been discussed in detail with the Ministry of Defence. There has been a great deal of discussion about how the arrangements will work in practice, and the MOD is satisfied that the arrangements will provide an utterly satisfactory guarantee of national security. We should expect nothing less.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh also raised the question of foreign ownership. We do not rule out the possibility. It would be odd and slightly illogical to do so, given that we believe that air traffic services throughout the world will change in the years ahead, and there may well be a consolidation crossing national boundaries, in which case there is bound to be some element of foreign ownership. However, there must be absolutely satisfactory frameworks in place to secure the national interest in the event of a national emergency--clauses 87 and 88 provide that--and proper safeguards to ensure that whoever is selected as a strategic partner is an appropriate and safe person to entrust with this important service.

In Committee, we went at length through the detailed safeguards that are in place. I will not detain the House by going through them again because time is short; we have only 10 minutes left for this debate. However, I assure hon. Members on both sides of the House that a series of interlocking safeguards will ensure that only an appropriate and safe person can be appointed to the important role of the strategic partner.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest. The Government have given that matter considerable and careful attention. We have made the necessary arrangements to ensure that any perceived or actual conflict of interest will be addressed and will be resolved during the bidding process. We have built a two-stage check--each bidding group has been required to identify and suggest remedies that will resolve to our complete satisfaction any conflicts of interest that may have existed as the groups submitted their initial, indicative bid--[Hon. Members: "How?"] Only bidders who gave us that satisfaction have been allowed to participate in the next stage.

The second check comes into play in the final stage. It will require an exhaustive and detailed account of how each proposed strategic partner would demonstrate to us that any remaining conflict issues could be handled. No group would be appointed as the strategic partner if there was any doubt as to how conflicts would be neutralised.

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The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale mentioned the attitude of the safety regulatory group. I assure the House that the Civil Aviation Authority--including the SRG--firmly supports the PPP. The SRG has assured the Government that it is wholly confident of maintaining safety under the PPP. I repeat that the amendments that we shall discuss later make safety the No. 1 priority; they will require the maintenance of the highest safety standards, whether or not they are above the statutory minimum.

Mr. Dalyell: Will the SRG have the resources to undertake that work with the few inspectors it currently has at its disposal?

Mr. Raynsford: I assure my hon. Friend that if the SRG believes that it needs more resources, it will put that to the Government; we shall consider such a request very sympathetically indeed. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that there is a safety regime that ensures that safety is the No. 1 priority. We will not deny the SRG the resources to deliver that regime. I give that assurance clearly.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale also suggested that there might be a problem with the charge cap in relation to the PPP company. Ministers will set the cap and will take account of CAA advice in doing so, but we shall also take other factors into account--including the comments of NATS. On no account--again, I can give the House an assurance--will we set the cap at a level that will create operational difficulty for NATS, or that will raise the slightest question of a risk to safety.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) made a thoughtful speech in which he rightly highlighted the complex issues. He also stressed the importance of avoiding the stereotyping of the public and private sectors. I very much agreed with his views, which were based on detailed experience--not least of his local East Midlands airport.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) misinterpreted my comments about the possibility that recruitment to air traffic control was being adversely affected. To make the matter absolutely clear, I said that, if there was a further period of delay and uncertainty, it would be likely to have an adverse effect on the ability of NATS to recruit the necessary staff. Uncertainty is wholly undermining to services such as those provided by NATS.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether we needed the proposed solution of the PPP. Surprisingly, he made that point after noting in his opening remarks the regrettable delays and the cost overruns that have occurred at Swanwick near his constituency. As I shall emphasise at the end of my comments, it is precisely such problems as delays and overruns that make it essential that we establish a structure that will ensure efficient and effective operation of the service, including the procurement of the new technology that is vital to its future success.

I was a little surprised by the claim of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) at the beginning of his speech that he had spoken regularly to Ministers; neither the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), nor I have held any detailed discussion with him on this issue.

Mr. Salter: Does the Minister agree that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Deputy Prime Minister and

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other Members who are high up the ministerial ladder do count as Ministers? Many of us have engaged in intensive discussions on this matter for a long time.

Mr. Raynsford: I am delighted to know that my hon. Friend moves in such illustrious company.

My hon. Friend referred to the NAVCAN model. The Government have set out the view that the future of NATS is best assured through the creation of a PPP; that remains our view. The NAVCAN experience may well suit Canadian circumstances, but we do not believe that it is necessarily the best solution in this country. However, a number of frameworks similar to those in the NAVCAN model will apply in the PPP; there will be Government- appointed directors; there will be consultation on any charging regime; safety regulation will be carried out by a public sector authority; and there will be Government emergency powers of regulation and direction. Those aspects are shared with the NAVCAN model.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne) rightly highlighted worry about the 700 jobs in her constituency that could be put in jeopardy by any delay. She dealt most effectively with an intervention from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) when she clearly made the point that safety is not part of this amendment. The amendment is about delay, and my hon. Friend has every reason to feel worried about the risk to the jobs of her constituents and to the two-centre strategy if the whole venture were to be delayed for no good reason--which would be the effect of the amendments we are discussing.

My hon. Friend also referred to the views of the economic regulatory group on capital expenditure. I make it clear that the advice from the ERG did not propose cuts in NATS capital spending. The group questioned NATS' track record in achieving its capital expenditure targets--as well it might. The real question is about what the strategic partner can achieve with effective project management experience. We shall address that question in taking decisions on charge control. Whatever decisions we take will facilitate the investment that is so desperately needed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) described the proposal as potentially dangerous, but he offered no evidence whatever for that allegation. Without objective evidence that there is a threat to the safety of air passengers, I regard such comments as unhelpful; they inflame fears without sound grounding. My hon. Friend gave a rather fanciful interpretation of the way in which the Government have approached the project and took--if I may so--an uncomradely view of Ministers' handling of it. He, too, spoke about NAVCAN, and I have already responded on that matter.

My hon. Friend expressed the view that private company interests inherently threaten safety. He said that when profit goes in, safety goes out.

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