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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, all those companies have an interest in purchasing their share of NATS, so they would say that, wouldn't they?

The main exemplar of the not-for-profit trust option, NavCanada, has proved capable of stretching its wings to co-operate with Russia in research which it is hoped will lead to non-stop polar routes between North America and South-East Asia. Thus a not-for-profit trust is capable of being entrepreneurial and of expanding its business--a major government ambition for NATS. Moreover, while we understand that the failure of NATS to control the project at Swanwick and to bring it in on time and at budget is a matter of concern to the Government, as it is to all other Members of this House, it is no argument that the private sector is always better at such management to show that the public sector is sometimes deficient. There have been many prominent scandals when introducing new technology in the private sector as well.

The fact that we are tonight again supporting the Conservative amendment to delay the implementation of a NATS/PPP proposal does not mean that we have abandoned our hope that the Government will change their mind. On the contrary, we hope that the Government will use the opportunity provided by the six-month delay to rethink their project. At present, rumours are rife all over the place that they may try to do just that. Our belief is that the not-for-profits trust was never considered by the Government because they had already committed themselves to the PPP option, perhaps at the behest of the Chancellor. The option deserves serious consideration.

Secondly, we reject suggestions, as did the noble Lord in introducing his amendment, that defeating the Government tonight would be in some sense outrageous or disgraceful. This matter is no game but a matter of great significance where the Government have apparently pitted themselves against their own spokespeople before taking office, against the professionals--pilots and controllers--against the transport Select Committee in the House of Commons, which also endorsed the option for a not-for-profits trust, against large numbers of Labour MPs who are still trying to convince their own Government to change their mind, and against the

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public who in various polls have shown their opposition to a PPP by majorities ranging from more than 60 per cent to nearly 80 per cent. That level of opposition to the Government's plans is in itself a justification of continued pressure from this House on the Government to change their mind.

Thirdly, I wish to state quite clearly that comments from Ministers suggesting that the Bill might be lost are absurd. The fate of the Bill is in the hands of the Government, not of the Opposition. The Government could accept tonight's amendment. That would secure the passage of the Bill with a delay of about six months in the implementation of Part I. Perhaps, since they claim to be so supportive of the PPP for NATS, Ministers should recommend going to the country at the next election with a PPP for NATS in the manifesto. That would leave the remainder of the Bill unimpaired.

We hope that the Government will concede. Politically speaking, there could hardly be a worse time to be gung-ho for the privatisation of an essential transport aid. We have Railtrack in chaos, and increasing dispute about the PPP for the London Underground. What a time to launch yet another extremely controversial and potentially dangerous scheme upon the public. We hope that even at this late stage the Government will have the courage to change their mind and to get off the hook of dogged devotion to an inappropriate solution for NATS on which they have impaled themselves for too long.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Jeger: My Lords, as probably the oldest old lady who has ever been chairman of the Labour Party, perhaps I may say that we always believed that we had to put what we had in mind in the manifesto. One of the most unacceptable factors is that this proposal was not in the manifesto. Moreover, we had balloons stating, "Our air is not for sale". Members of trade unions have said that we do not want a Railtrack in the sky. In view of the recent happenings on the railways we should take that on board.

It is necessary to gain acceptance for the policy from the people who work in this area. One of my noble friends referred to a letter in The Times. Anyone can get a letter in The Times; even I have had a letter in The Times. However, another letter suggested that the workers' views were not being taken into consideration. However, I am taking them into consideration in my humble way. I have received many letters, as I am sure others have, which do not come from those fat chaps writing letters to The Times but from members of the trade unions and the pilots and those who support the chaps doing the work. I am so old: I love to remember all that the Battle of Britain meant to us. One of my friends said to me, "You're just still keen on pilots"!

I do not often speak against my own party. But I honestly think that we are wrong. We are being inconsiderate to the pilots and others who undertake

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this work, and their trade unions. I am disgusted that my party seems to be taking no notice of their opinions because private money is more important.

Baroness Hogg: My Lords, I am very honoured to follow the noble Baroness. This seems to be an evening for friendly fire. I most reluctantly oppose the amendment put forward by my noble friend. My reluctance should be evidenced by the fact that in five years' membership of this House I have never been moved to vote against my friends; and at earlier stages of the Bill I supported these Benches on the issue. But we are up against the buffers now on the Bill and have to consider what is on offer. I believe that with this amendment we are in danger of losing sight of the wood for the trees.

My opposition to the amendment has nothing to do with what seemed to me the utter nonsense uttered this morning by the Minister on constitutional outrage. It is not a constitutioal outrage to be considering voting on the amendment. Frankly, in view of a number of things that the Government have done, I do not think that the Minister would know a constitutional outrage if it bit him on the nose.

I am also getting sick and tired of hearing government Ministers bellyache about the remaining hereditary element in this House. If the Government do not believe that the elected hereditaries who remain in the House have the right to speak and vote on their considered views, they should have had the guts to vote them out of this Chamber. As they have not done so, they should respect the constitutional position. It is an outrage to say that they are not entitled to vote. However, I do not think that we on this side have a constitutional duty to stop the Labour Party changing its mind, particularly if I approve of the direction in which it is going. It is those considered views on which I should like to reflect briefly.

There are elements on both sides of the Chamber who try to pretend that what is being discussed is not privatisation. The opposition to this part of the Bill seems to be coming from two directions. On the one hand, there are those who want less privatisation than is being proposed; and they are trotting out some of the arguments we heard at the very beginning about safety, as though private companies such as chemical plants and airlines throughout the economy were not dealing with safety issues day in and day out. We have also heard about national security, as if we did not have emergency powers to deal with those issues across a wide range of essential services and utilities.

On the other side we hear that this privatisation does not go far enough. That is the point at which the contradictions in the opposition to the Bill begin to lose me. Privatising a natural monopoly in the form of a network, which NATS is, raises all kinds of difficult issues. I have worked on a number of different models in the UK and other countries, although I hasten to assure the House that I have not worked on this model. The issue can be approached in a variety of ways and I do not argue for a moment that the Government have chosen the single, ideal model. I think that the

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partnership model has some advantages in this situation, but there are other ways to bring in private involvement.

However, what is sticking in my gut--this is my fundamental point--is that the involvement of the private sector has been fought for by the Conservatives for 20 years. We have fought to spread the understanding that the involvement of private enterprise in state activities is a plus. Privatisation, contracting out and public/private partnerships are different manifestations of an idea, put forward by the Conservatives, that has truly changed the world. It is changing economies from south-east Asia to eastern Europe.

Most remarkably, those ideas have even penetrated the understanding of the Labour Party. The Bill is the clearest evidence that, albeit imperfectly, the Labour Party has been converted to the idea. I find the Liberals' continued opposition the clearest possible evidence of their unreconstructed corporatism. I cannot bring myself to support that attitude against the Government. I am not keen to ride on Liberal prejudices just to cause the Government short-term embarrassment. That would not redound to the Conservatives' credit in the long term.

What will happen? We can see that some parts of the Labour Party will be only too glad to be shot of the issue. The Government will tell NATS that they are unable to go forward with their brave and difficult plan because the Tories have turned tail on privatisation. Because it is important to show that some of us have not done so and to avoid NATS being left in limbo with its future uncertain, I find myself, very reluctantly, obliged to oppose my party.

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