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27BLord Brabazon of Tara rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 27 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 27A, leave out "not".

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 28B and 29B. The gist of all of these amendments is to say that the House should insist on its amendments that were passed on Report. The Minister made a great deal of the constitutional point. In fact, I heard him say on a radio programme this morning that it was a "constitutional outrage" that we should even consider asking the Commons to take another look at the matter.

As we all know, since the House of Lords Act the relationship between this House and the other place has inevitably been destabilised. The relationship has changed, as composition of the House changed. This was recognised by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in her now famous doctrine. The noble Baroness declared that this new House would be more legitimate and that it would speak with more authority. She also promised that your Lordships' decision, if taken--as the decision on this issue so far has been--by Peers of, as she put it,

    "a range of political and independent opinions",

would carry more weight with the Government. Should the voice of this House not be afforded some weight on this subject, as the noble Baroness promised?

I do not argue, nor do my noble friends, that the Salisbury doctrine has wholly passed its time. The unelected House should not try to block a manifesto item on which the elected majority in another House has insisted. But this is not such an item. We are not seeking to block the implementation of this proposal, but merely to defer it for a few months.

There is nothing in the amendment to prevent the Government going ahead with all the preparation necessary to implement their proposals. All we suggest with these amendments is that the actual transfer schemes be delayed until after the next election so that the proposal can be put into the manifesto and put before the public. As I said on Report, this is exactly what we did with the BT privatisation proposals in 1982. The Minister says that this is not a privatisation but a public/private partnership. But the Bill allows under Clause 48 for the Crown shareholding to drop to 25 per cent. Furthermore, subsection (10) of that clause provides that,

    "The Secretary of State may by order amend or repeal this section".

In other words, the whole business could be sold. That sounds to me very similar to the British Telecom privatisation back in the 80s.

We are not taking that action in the teeth of a manifesto commitment widely proclaimed and deeply held. We are taking it in the face of a proposal that was explicitly condemned by the Labour Party before the

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previous general election, and on the opposition to which many Members of another place were elected. The Government in another place may be entitled to insist on our respecting their manifesto commitments. But are not we in this new and, we are told, more legitimate House, entitled equally to tell the Government that they should wait for a mandate before enacting something completely the reverse of a public promise they have given to the electorate? That is all we are asking tonight: that they should wait a little and ask the public for endorsement of this policy.

I am reminded forcefully of the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, on a recent analogous occasion. He was speaking on the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill in your Lordships' House on 28th September. Your Lordships will recall that in that Bill the Government sought to restrict the right to jury trial--something the Government had flatly opposed before the election. The noble and learned Lord said at col. 987 of Hansard:

    "There is no reason at all, no constitutional convention which bars a vote against this Bill with approval of the amendment tonight".

This is not a manifesto commitment; on the contrary, on 27th February 1997 less than two months before the election, the Home Secretary made absolutely plain his opposition to this proposal. It was with his words ringing in its ears that the Labour Party went into the general election.

Equally were not the famous words of Mr Andrew Smith, now Chief Secretary but then Labour's transport spokesman, at the 1996 Labour Party conference,

    "Our air is not for sale",

equally ringing in the ears of the electorate in 1997, or the words of Mr Keith Bradley, another shadow transport spokesman, in a letter of 5th February 1997, when he stated,

    "I would like to confirm that the Labour Party are completely opposed to the privatisation of NATS and under a Labour Government they will remain in the public sector"?

One cannot get much clearer than that. But was not this proposal also absent from the manifesto and has not this been a reversal of policy on a well publicised issue equally as striking as that on jury trial?

The Minister quotes accurately from what the Leader of his party said in the foreword to the manifesto. So what does one do? One then turns to the relevant pages in the manifesto which deal with transport. And what does one find? Lo and behold it states clearly with regard to London Underground:

    "Labour plans a new public/private partnership to improve the Underground".

The manifesto further advocates with regard to buses,

    "partnerships between local councils and bus operators".

With regard to roads, the manifesto refers to,

    "using public/private partnerships to improve road maintenance"

and so on. That is all clear, until one gets to the aviation section of the manifesto which states:

    "The guiding objectives of our aviation strategy will be fair competition, safety and environmental standards".

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There is not a word in the manifesto about a public/private partnership for National Air Traffic Services. Therefore, I am led to believe that the general public, or at least that part of it that reads manifestos, would be entitled to assume that the famous words,

    "Our air is not for sale",

still hold good.

The noble Lord referred to investment and to the letter from the British Air Transport Association which I have seen today. Of course we understand the need of the industry for new investment, but after three and a half years in office why is this suddenly so urgent? Swanwick progresses, whether or not the PPP goes through, and so can the new Scottish centre. Is it not better to have a delay of only a few months to get this PPP the endorsement from the electorate that it needs? Would it be outrageous to suggest that after last week's public finance figures, which showed the public sector net borrowings standing at a surplus of £11 billion, the Treasury might allow NATS the limited freedom to borrow, if only temporarily--the same freedom as the Post Office now has permanently? So, too, do regional airports. Immediate and urgent privatisation is not the policy of these businesses, why should it be necessarily so for NATS?

There is not a shred of justification for the other place bulldozing the voice of this House on this matter. Far from there being a mandate or even there being absence of a mandate, there is the absolute opposite of a mandate. In such a case as this I argue that what I might call the "Simon of Glaisdale doctrine" should apply, just as it did on the proposed restriction of jury trial. Your Lordships not only have the right to ask the Government to seek an honest mandate from the electorate for a policy they previously promised to oppose; some might consider that this House would be in dereliction of its constitutional duty if it did not do so. For all those reasons I believe that another place should have the opportunity to re-examine these amendments. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 27 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 27A, leave out "not".--(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. First, I want to set out our position as it now stands. During earlier stages of the Bill we on these Benches did our best to persuade the Government to substitute a not-for-profit trust for the PPP option for NATS.

The advantages of going for the option of a not-for-profit trust are clear. The public interest in NATS will be preserved, and a true partnership with stakeholder and employee interests would be assured. The Government would avoid the burden of the required investment falling on the public sector borrowing requirement. The not-for-profit trust would nevertheless be able to borrow at near government

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rates, thus contributing to a reduction of NATS' costs. The temptation to skimp on safety to satisfy shareholders, to which Gerald Corbett has referred in respect of Railtrack, would be avoided. This would protect the "safety ethos" element identified by many Labour Members in discussions in this House as a major worry with the PPP option.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am sure that, like almost everyone else, the noble Baroness will have seen the letter in today's Times from the chairmen of British Airways, British Midland and Virgin in which they stated,

    "If safety was at risk, we would be leading the criticism of the PPP proposal; but it is not"?

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