Like everybody else in the House, the hon. Gentleman knows that the Prime Minister is a man of his word. That promise would have been kept by the PM; I am sorry that I have not spoken to him
directly about it. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister was no less disappointed than he or I at what unfolded at Heathrow last week and was no less embarrassed than those who were working at and operating Heathrow.
The matter is of national significance and importance; as many right hon. and hon. Members have said, Heathrow is absolutely pivotal to the UKs economy. It is our major international hub and the gateway through which many of our business partners travel. If Heathrow is not functioning, the UK suffers. That is why we are committed to expanding at Heathrow; operating at 98.5 to 99 per cent. capacity is just untenable. I fully accept the hon. Gentlemans criticism. The Prime Minister is personally involved, to make sure that the matters are addressed as quickly as possible. Furthermore, as I outlined previously, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has also been involved.
On the question of the Heathrow consultation, I should like to clarify that although, as I have said, we are confident of the analysis in the consultation document, no decisions have been made. The responses are being analysed and will inform final policy decisions. That is exactly what we have been saying since the consultation process started. The analysis is ongoing. We will report back to the House in due course, once the analysis has taken place. We hope to report by the summer, because Heathrow is far too important to Britain.
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): I have listened to my hon. Friends responses to the points raised by Members from Scottish constituencies, but there is a more serious issue in relation to some of the northern English airports. There is no competition between Newcastle and Heathrow. Air travel is vital for the economy nationally and even more vital for our regional economy. Can we have some competition, or better regulation, to ensure that flights between Heathrow and Newcastle are not disproportionately affected? At the moment, any time there is a problem, as with Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and, sometimes, Manchester, Newcastle flights are cancelled or badly delayed.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I can only sympathise with the points raised by my hon. Friend. I do not think that I can add to what I said to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie). I understand and I am sensitive to the position, and I fully empathise, but these are operational matters, and airlines and airport operators obviously need to take account of customers feelings when problems arise.
Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): I wonder whether the Minister recognises that the shambolic opening of T5 is just the latest in a series of operational mismanagement experiences from BAA and BA and other members of the aviation industry. In the past, they have used the excuse that lack of runway capacity has caused trouble at Heathrow. Does he recognise that it is time to be less gullible and not to take those statements, or the information that has been provided to him by the industry, at face value, and to understand that that is not the cause of the problem and that the whole expansion project needs to be thought through again?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I thought that Her Majesty performed a magnificent opening of T5 on 14 March. The terminals going live last week was obviously a completely different occasion. I have tried to answer the points raised by the hon. Lady in respect of the information, data, evidence and science that we have published in the consultation documents. It is our information, and we stand by those publications. This is a matter not of being gullible but of trying to protect UK plc.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The Minister will be aware that for transit passengers from the north of England and Scotland this whole scenario is an unmitigated disaster. I think that he said that 26,000 bags were still to be reconnected to their passengers. International legislation does not permit those bags to travel by passenger plane unless they are accompanied on the same flight by the passenger. How does he propose to get round the problem of reuniting the bags with the passengers?
The Minister did not respond to the question about rolling out the next set of improvements with the closure of terminal 2. Passengers using terminal 2 will be filled with horror by the prospect of having to go through terminal 5 when that happens.
The hon. Lady raises an appropriate point. There is an additional security complication by virtue of passengers having been separated from their bags. As I said in my opening remarks, arrangements are in place to ensure that those bags can be reunited with their owners at the location to which they have
flown. I am afraid that I cannot go into further security detail as to how that is being accomplished, but I can assure her that it is being done.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Since BAA is in a financially precarious position following the acquisition by Ferrovial, what are the Governments responsibilities at Heathrow in the event that the situation should deteriorate further, leading to possible insolvency?
Jim Fitzpatrick: We are confident that Ferrovial and the investment in Heathrow is secure. We do not believe that it will go into insolvency or that there will be difficulty in its fulfilling the investment plans and the improvements to Heathrow to which it is committed.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Is not what we have here, as with Network Rail and the disastrous overrunning of the new year engineering works, the inability of managers at middle and senior management levels to manage projects effectively? Given that the Government will not have a second chance with the Olympics, may we have a major Government inquiry into why project management skills for some of our flagship projects have proved so woefully inadequate?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman raises the obvious point that we need to identify why these situations happen, what went wrong, and how we can prevent such situations from happening in future. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), we will be asking for those lessons to be communicated to us, and we will discuss the matter with BA and BAA in due course. I am sure that, as always, the hon. Gentleman will take a keen interest in these matters.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am conscious, as is the whole House, that you are extremely vigilant in seeking to protect the interests of the House to ensure that important announcements made by Ministers are made first to the House rather than to the media. This morning, the Ministry of Defence announced by way of a written ministerial statement that it has signed a contract with a consortium called AirTanker for the future strategic tanker aircraft. That contract was foreshadowed in 1997 as the largest private finance initiative the Ministry of Defence has produced, worth about £13,000 million.
The MOD announced in February 2005 that it had selected AirTanker as the preferred bidder, yet it was only today that it issued a written ministerial statement. In fact, there was a press conference to tell the press all about the matter at 2 oclock last Thursday. I wonder whether you could advise me on what I might do, Mr. Speaker. I learned that there was to be such a press conference at 1 oclock when I was attending a conference organised by the Society of British Aerospace Companies. I asked my office to check with the Ministry of Defence, and the noble Baroness Taylor sent me a letter, in which she said:
Due to the rapid pace of the final stages in closing this complex commercial and financial deal, it has not been possible to follow the normal parliamentary protocols in making this announcement.
However, the fact is that not only has this process been in gestation for 10 years, but the company concerned, Thales, produced a draft press release last Wednesday, in which there was a reference to the Secretary of State for Defence
Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point of order. I strongly disapprove of press conferences on matters that should come to the House first. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am going to look into the matter; I take it very seriously. I shall get back to him and, of course, the House.
Mr. Howarth: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I thank you very much for that? There will be occasions on which there are contractual difficulties, but in those circumstances Opposition spokesmen and others concerned ought to be advised by telephone
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that we are just about to move on to the housing legislation. I seek your guidance on what we might be able to do to extend the amount of time we have to debate it. Currently, given the limitations of time and the enormous number of amendments that have been submitted, we have 73 seconds per amendment. Is there anything that we can do to give the Government a kick so that we have enough time to ensure that the housing crisis is not compounded by a crisis of scrutiny of one of the most important pieces of housing legislation that we have ever discussed?
Mr. Speaker: I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, but as he might know, certain things are within my powers, and certain things are outwith them. He should take up such matters with the usual channels. Housing is very important in my constituency, and I well understand how he feels.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I heard exactly what you said, Mr. Speaker, but further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), you were in the Chair when the Leader of the House said twice that, when significant numbers of Government new clauses and amendments were put forward on Report, she would look at whether there could be injury time, as it were. She repeated that last Thursday. I think that I am right in saying that there are 18 Government new clauses and 18 Opposition new clauses, but more Government amendments than Opposition ones. Have you had any indication, Mr. Speaker, that the Leader of the House is willing to come back to the House today, and would you allow her to come back as soon as possible to make a statement about proposed changes so that we do not have such a nonsensical procedural mess again?
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentlemans complaints strengthen the case that I made. This is a matter for the House and for the Leader of the House. He should be taking it up with her. As far as statements are concerned, the Leader of the House is always welcome to come and make statements, but that is up to her.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Housing and Regeneration Bill, it is expedient to authorise
(1) provision about the fiscal consequences of transfer schemes, and
(2) consequential amendment of fiscal legislation.
The Bill abolishes three existing bodiesthe Commission for New Towns, the Urban Regeneration Agency and the Housing Corporationand transfers their responsibilities, liabilities and assets to two new bodies: the Homes and Communities Agency and the Office for Tenants and Social Landlords, or Oftenant. The two new bodies will operate only in England. Any existing functions and assets of the CNT in Wales will be transferred to Welsh Ministers.
Clauses 53 and 67 and schedule 6, which we will discuss later, provide for schemes under which properties, rights and liabilities can be transferred. In any statutory reorganisation, a tax charge might arise on the transfer of assets and liabilities between the predecessor and successor bodies unless specific provision is made to the contrary. It is general Government policy that such transfers should be tax-neutralthe transfers should not give rise to a gain or a loss. The new bodies should be entitled to any tax reliefs and allowances that applied to their predecessors immediately before the change. The Government amendments make such provisions and ensure that the reorganisation of statutory functions can take place without unwanted tax consequences.
The Government amendments also ensure continuity of trade, so that the Homes and Communities Agency and Oftenant are afforded the tax treatments that are currently provided to the Urban Regeneration Agency and the Housing Corporation. The ways and means motion authorises the relevant provision.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I do not disagree with the motion, but it is ironic that time is allocated for that one item but not so much for the rest of the Bill. How can we decide, given that we have not considered the detail of the Bill, some of which has a direct impact on what the Under-Secretary asks us to approve now? I seek reassurance from him that he is confident that we can get through all the amendments, because the Government are making massive changes to the content of the Bill and asking us to give financial approval before we have gone through it. Does he agree that approving the motion means, in a sense, putting the cart before the horse?
Mr. Wright: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but I take issue with him on several matters. First, we are not fundamentally changing the nature and scope of the Bill, which is designed to improve the supply and quality of housing, linked with regeneration and community investment in England. It is also designed to ensure improved services for tenants.
Schedule (Possession orders relating to certain tenancies) (which makes provision about possession orders and their effect on secure tenancies, assured tenancies, introductory tenancies and demoted tenancies including provision about the status of existing occupiers) has effect.. [Mr. Iain Wright.]
(a) place in the public domain all relevant information as is necessary for them to influence or control the management of their accommodation and environment including the resources available to the authority to spend on its stock, stock conditions surveys, the business plan of the proposed landlord, the transfer valuation, details of any land and property to be disposed of, and any other information on which the Offer Document and transfer proposal is based,
(d) provide the same level of resources for any tenant group who serves written notice on the authority opposing a proposal as that given to any tenant group making such a proposal so that they can put an alternative view to tenants,
(e) not deny any reasonable request from any group under paragraph (d) for lists of addresses and access to notice boards, meeting facilities and other relevant resources to enable all parties to communicate with those entitled to vote,