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Mr. Mullin: I am not alleging that safety is anything less than 100 per cent. at present. I am simply saying that

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we are in the market for any suggestions to enhance safety. A number of constructive suggestions have already come from interested parties. I mentioned one, which the hon. Gentleman may have missed--to have a director on the board of the new company with specific responsibility for safety. We will consider any other suggestions seriously.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked me about integration with military flights. Our proposals for air traffic control have been discussed with the Ministry of Defence, which is satisfied with the arrangements. We intend to ensure that the present excellent arrangements for co-operation between the military and civil air traffic control will be maintained. We shall lay an obligation on the National Air Traffic Services through its licence. NATS is negotiating a detailed contract for the delivery of joint and integrated services. I can give an assurance that the public-private partnership will have no adverse effect on the arrangements.

Miss McIntosh: The Minister answered the question by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Could he also put my mind at rest that the Eurofighter will be fitted with the collision warning system that the Tornado has when it comes on stream in 2002?

Mr. Mullin: I am afraid that I cannot comment on that. If a note about that reaches me during the course of the debate, I shall certainly convey its contents. If not, I shall write to the hon. Lady. I assume that she would not want me to reply off the top off my head.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) made a number of sensible points. He referred to the huge pressure that will undoubtedly continue to be placed on those who work in the aviation industry by the exponential growth of the demand for air travel. There has been a 7 per cent. increase in recent years. He was right to say that it will put a great strain on the technology and on the personnel responsible for operating the technology. That is why we have to invest in new technology worth £1 billion. That is one reason--only one--why we are setting up a public-private partnership. It will require a radically new system. Incidentally, the technology is destined to go on changing--even when we have achieved the changes that will be made at Swanwick and Prestwick, that will not be the end of the matter. There are other, much larger, changes in the pipeline, and we have to be ready to meet them. That is another reason why we need to bring in the private sector.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) said that there was some confusion about the amount of money that we hoped to raise from the sale. He had, as he said, a cast-iron alibi for his non-attendance at the Select Committee the other day. The same alibi does not apply to the other two Conservative Members who were absent.

Miss McIntosh: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the Chairman of the Select Committee knows only too well, I was seconded to serve by special request on the special procedures committee considering the Tunstall northern bypass Stoke-on-Trent compulsory

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purchase order, and I have been doing that for six hours a day, four days a week, for the past three weeks. I was relieved from that duty only--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. That is a very interesting explanation for the hon. Lady's absence from the Committee, but it is hardly a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Mullin: The hon. Lady has my deepest sympathies. I do not seek to make too much of this point, except to say that I was, in my previous incarnation, a Chairman of a Select Committee, and one or two Conservative Members, such as the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) take them very seriously. But some do not, and I was disappointed when I appeared before the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee the other day that not a single Conservative Member was present. It goes beyond disappointment and becomes galling when the very same Conservative Members crop up in the Chamber a few days later and demand the answers to questions that have been given elsewhere.

Mrs. Dunwoody: I am happy to support the normal exchange of insults. However, all the Conservative members of the Select Committee had legitimate reasons not to attend. I hope that the Minister will not use my Committee as an excuse for this kind of exchange.

Mr. Mullin: I am grateful for that information. I think that we should now move on and keep within the spirit of the debate.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mullin: No, I must move on, because I have only 10 minutes or so left, and hon. Members want replies to their questions.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire said that there was some confusion about how much money will be raised. No one can predict with certainty how much money will be raised from any sale of public assets. However, the £350 million estimated as the possible income from the sale of the 46 per cent. stake is exclusive of the debt. I hope that that is helpful.

The hon. Members for Poole, for Aldershot and for North Wiltshire referred to problems with the European Union. We all know the difficulties that some Conservative Members have with foreigners in general and the EU in particular. I have no intention of intruding on private grief, but a serious point was made, which was repeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke- on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson). Signing up to any future arrangements with Europe must not become an opportunity to dilute this country's very high standards. I entirely accept that. We will not agree to anything that undermines rather than raises standards.

Directives from Europe sometimes raise rather than lower standards. For example, environmental standards in this country used often to be lamentable, and we must be grateful to the EU for some of the measures that it forced the previous Government to adopt--albeit with some reluctance--and that we have adopted with rather more enthusiasm.

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A point was made about the inspection of foreign aircraft, which was addressed to some extent in the Government's response to the report. We have doubled the budget for foreign aircraft inspections. We take the matter seriously, and hon. Members were right to raise it. We have agreed to an intensive programme of checks with the CAA. In the six months from 1 April, 56 checks were completed, which compares with 63 in the previous 12 months. The number of inspections is expected to accelerate over the winter months.

The safety regulation group works on the basis that hired foreign aircraft are expected to have safety levels equivalent to those in the United Kingdom. Rather than make general, untargeted checks, the group tends to concentrate on areas in which there is cause for concern.

Mr. Howarth: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mullin: The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not, as I have only five minutes left and have been generous in giving way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich was among hon. Members who referred to the allegation that a plane attempted to land at Heathrow with very little fuel in its tanks. It has not been possible to verify the allegations. The airline mentioned was Malaysia Airlines. Departmental officials met representatives of the airline to review its fuel policy, which the CAA judged to be in line with international requirements. In May, it was agreed that the airline should provide my Department with weekly fuel reports for all its aircraft, and it has done so.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) referred to the millennium.

Dr. Tonge indicated dissent.

Mr. Mullin: The hon. Lady shakes her head at me. Someone asked me to refer to it.

Mr. Brake indicated assent.

Mr. Mullin: I apologise to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake), who asked me to confirm that we are millennium compliant. The UK industry is compliant. As regards foreign airlines, two--Gulf Air and Southern Aviation of Zambia--have yet to supply appropriate information. Those airlines have been advised that their permits will be suspended over the millennium if satisfactory information is not forthcoming.

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South, referred to concerns about the shortage of staff in the industry and training. Following publication of the Select Committee's report, an interdepartmental working group was established to consider what role the Government might play in supporting efforts to tackle the shortage of aircraft maintenance engineers, which we all agree is serious. The group has met three times--most recently on13 December.

The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) asked about air rage incidents. The Government have set up a working group on disruptive passengers. Our consciousness of this problem is relatively new, and we need to collect information on the scale of the problem so that we may analyse it. The CAA has been collecting data for six months, and I expect to receive an analysis of the figures early next year. I do not want to jump the gun until the information is before me.

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The hon. Member for Richmond Park referred to two extremely disturbing incidents that occurred over her constituency. I recall reading about those incidents in the newspapers at the time. Given what happened, I entirely understand the terms in which she expressed her concern on her constituents' behalf. Thankfully such incidents are extremely rare, although I appreciate that that is no consolation to anyone who happened to be involved. It is not always possible to identify the aircraft concerned, although it was possible in one of the two cases mentioned by the hon. Lady. The CAA works with all UK airlines to make sure that their aircraft are properly maintained and to enforce mandatory modifications to waste systems where necessary.

Terminal 5 was raised by the hon. Member for Richmond Park and several other hon. Members. The inspector completed his inquiries in March. He estimates that it will take him two years to write the report. It will arrive at my Department, therefore, in 2001. The hon. Lady asked whether the Government would accept its recommendations. It is normal practice to wait for a report before deciding whether to accept it. The most important thing is to get it right.

I repeat that I am conscious that I have not managed to address all the points raised in the debate, although I hope the House will concede that I have dealt with several. I refute the suggestion--

Question deferred, pursuant to paragraphs (4) and (5) of Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates) and Sessional Order of 25 October 1999 and resolution [29 November].

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