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Mr. Dalyell: Can the Minister confirm--I hope that he can--that IPMS lawyers have agreed to that?

Mr. Raynsford: If my hon. Friend bears with me, I shall come to the fairly detailed discussions that my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have had with Members of the other place who were instrumental in moving the amendments that we are debating and who have close associations with the IPMS.

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I hope that I have given sufficient assurance to the House that a comprehensive package of safeguards is in place to protect NATS staff pensions without the need for statutory provision. However, if some hon. Members still feel that there is a case for agreeing to the amendment, I would add that it contains a number of unhelpful provisions that may not be of benefit either to the scheme members or to the scheme trustees. Let me give a few examples that illustrate the difficulties in amending this complex area.

Subsection (3) of the amendment deals with the split of the fund to take account of the establishment of NATS as a non-associated employer. There is a real concern about a provision that provides for the share of the fund being a simple proportion of protected beneficiary liabilities to all the scheme liabilities. The protected beneficiaries may well receive an unintentionally and inappropriately large share of the assets, to the possible detriment of current pensioners. The arrangement would be so rigid that the trustees would have no flexibility to consider the apportionment in relation to actual needs and circumstances.

Subsection (6) of the amendment rather ignores the principle that, as part of the basic regulation of occupational pension schemes, the pension schemes office is required to give its consent to bulk transfers between schemes.

A problem with subsection (7) of the amendment is that it is possible for an entity wholly unrelated to NATS to become a participating employer in the Civil Aviation Authority pension scheme, once it has non-associated status. It is not clear why protection should continue to be conferred in that circumstance.

There may also be real difficulties in squaring the provisions of subsection (8) of the amendment with existing primary legislation under the Pensions Act 1995, as it relates to member-nominated trustees. In particular, there could presumably be more than one NATS employer, which would lead to a disproportionate number of NATS trustees, even assuming that the basic principle of reserved trusteeships by primary legislation is acceptable.

I have tried to demonstrate that we have delivered strong protections for NATS members of the CAAPS, and that the position of pensioners and deferred pensioners in that scheme is not affected by the PPP.

We continue to be of the view that statutory protection is not needed for NATS members of the CAAPS, and I have to say that we have not been able to see what further benefit the statutory protection sought in another place would bring to those members. None the less, this is an important matter and of key interest to staff. Accordingly, while I must ask the House to disagree with the technically flawed amendment that was made in another place, I can inform it that discussions have been continuing with those people who are most interested in the matter, including representatives of the trade union mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

Mr. Dalyell: One problem is that people cannot fully understand the objection to statutory protection. The Government may be right in saying that it is not entirely necessary, but why do they not give the protection the benefit of the doubt and agree to the amendment?

Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend will immediately recognise that the form of statutory protection proposed

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in the amendment could result in entirely inappropriate provisions because it is of a generality that does not necessarily take account of the particular circumstances of the CAAPS and the other factors that I mentioned. I have made it clear that if we had any evidence that members of the pension scheme--existing or deferred pensioners--would be prejudiced in any way by the transfer to the PPP, we would be extremely concerned and keen to act to remedy that. So far, we have no evidence that that is likely to be the case.

In a meeting only yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister again appealed to those in the other place who are concerned about this matter to come forward with evidence if they really believed that there was a problem. My right hon. Friend assures me that no evidence was made available, but as a key member of the group that was responsible for initiating the amendments was not able to be present, he issued an invitation for further evidence to be submitted subsequently if it was available.

Mr. Don Foster: I am grateful for the information that the Minister is giving to the House, but will he say whether representatives of the IPMS were present at the meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, or was it merely a meeting of Members of another place?

Mr. Raynsford: It was merely a meeting of Members of another place, but it included individuals who have a close association with the IPMS. I have no doubt that they were well briefed by that union.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I do not doubt for one moment the sincerity of what the hon. Gentleman is saying about this complex subject. The problem is that he has not convinced air traffic controllers of the virtues of his scheme. A constituent who is an air traffic controller telephoned me this morning to say that he did not think that the Government realised the strength of feeling among air traffic controllers. He said, "I am not a union man, but I know they have been talking and talking and they are going to find out soon that there is a threat of industrial action, not on the general issue of privatisation, but on the pensions issue. Please tell the Minister." Well, I have done that. Will the negotiations continue right up to the wire and, indeed, beyond?

Mr. Raynsford: I am happy to say that the Deputy Prime Minister made it clear during the discussion yesterday that he is still open to propositions if it can be demonstrated that there is a genuine risk that the benefits that are afforded to current pensioners, deferred pensioners or current NATS employees might be prejudiced in any way. We have made that offer clear. We remain open to representations, right up to the wire, so that when the matter is reconsidered in another place, we will be more than happy--assuming that the House agrees with our motion to disagree--to contemplate alternative amendments if there is real evidence that they are necessary.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would be odd to seek to put statutory provision in the Bill if there is no evidence of any adverse effect on employees, existing pensioners or deferred pensioners. That would simply be otiose. However, we hear the message that there are concerns. We want to overcome them and I assure the

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hon. Gentleman that, if evidence is submitted to show that there is a problem, the Government stand ready to address the issue seriously and with resolve.

Mr. Jenkin: I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is vital to maintain staff confidence, but I am entirely unconvinced by what I have heard and by what I read about the debate in another place. I think that that is why the Government--perhaps unexpectedly--lost the vote. They convinced less than half of their peers to support them. Will the Minister confirm that there is full agreement among pension fund trustees, including representatives of the employees, on how the pensions issue should be resolved? No amendment should be required to resolve differences that should properly be resolved by agreement. Will the hon. Gentleman also confirm that the Minister for Transport received a letter from the chairman of the trustees of the Civil Aviation Authority pension scheme about these matters, dated 31 August? I shall read him some extracts from that letter.

8 pm

The letter warns:

a risk they consider to be high. The letter continues:

to take pre-emptive action. The letter goes on:

That appears to be very serious.

The letter concludes:

Thus the desire to have something in the Bill to avoid future conflict is not just that of a few disgruntled employees and union representatives. The letter is from the chairman of trustees of the scheme. The Minister has not dealt in any shape or form with the trustees' complaint, and nor did the Minister for Transport in the other place.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey merely said of the impending court action:

He sounds happy that there should be a round of pensions litigation leading up to the PPP. Have the Government learned nothing from the experience of previous pensions rights transfers in both the public and private sectors?

Many hon. Members will recall how often the Labour party has called for statutory protection of public enterprise staff pension rights in transfers to the private sector. In this case, the pension fund trustees themselves are calling for clarification in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) and I raised the issue of pensions both on Second Reading and in Committee--now 10 months ago. The issue has also been raised by the

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staff union, and there is every reason to believe that National Air Traffic Services management and the CAA have made representations to Ministers on the question.

It does not feel as though the issue has been properly resolved. This House might not be the place in which to resolve it; the issue has the feel of one that is more likely to be resolved in the other place. Faced with all the evidence, is it not massively complacent of the Government to use their majority to plough on regardless? The Lords amendment was tabled in good faith as a solution to the problems. If it is not the right amendment, let the Minister say that he will table the right one. We shall support the Lords amendment because, so far, we are completely unconvinced by the Government's arguments.

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