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27DLord Brabazon of Tara rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that this House do not insist on their Amendment No. 27 to which the Commons have disagreed and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 27C in lieu thereof, leave out the words after "House" and insert "do insist on their Amendment No. 27".

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 28D and 29D. Once again we return to the matter of the part privatisation of NATS--a policy that was not only not included in the Labour Party manifesto but which it very publicly pledged it would not implement.

I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston. I acknowledge that not everything can be in a manifesto. God forbid that manifestos should be like the prospectuses for the sale of shares that are no doubt being worked on for NATS at this moment. However, the public are entitled to expect that when a party pledges in such clear and stark terms as Labour did in 1997 that, "our air is not for sale", it will not totally reverse policy without far better cause and far clearer explanation than we have heard so far from the Government.

The Government promised one thing but then did precisely the opposite, just as they have tried to do on restricting jury trial. In those cases this House is quite within its rights in asking the Government to get explicit public backing for their policy. That is something, incidentally, which the press in the past few days has overwhelmingly supported. That is the constitutional point. It is not a question of foolish threats to use the Parliament Act, something for which this Government are beginning to show an unwelcome and authoritarian attraction. I am glad that that nonsense has been dropped from the rhetoric. I welcome the fact that the Minister avoided such threats today.

Nor is it a question of the legitimacy of any Members of this House, whether hereditary Peers such as myself, or the many long-serving life Peers on all Benches who have grave doubts about this policy, or even, dare I say it, of the close friends of the Prime Minister? That is not the question at issue and the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, who is much respected in this House, did himself no service in trying that one on at an earlier stage of these disagreements. The issue is not the legitimacy of the House of Lords but the legitimacy and wisdom of the Government's policy. This House was created by overwhelming majorities in both Houses only last year. It is the Government's creation. It is a House that our leader herself has told us is more legitimate, a House with a duty to revise and also sometimes to advise. It is a House with a right and authority on occasions, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has said, to force the Government to negotiate. This is such an occasion.

Let me make it clear that I welcome the Government's willingness, demonstrated last night, to begin to move. But the size of the majority in another place last night--just 88--was the smallest majority in this whole process. What a tribute to the first appearance at the Dispatch Box on this issue of the Deputy Prime Minister. It is clear from that small majority that many of the government supporters in another place do not think that the Government have moved enough. But they have begun to move. They have begun to recognise the legitimacy of this House in saying that this policy has not been properly explained

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or accepted by the British people. They have begun to negotiate. Even the Deputy Prime Minister, blustering on as he was a week ago about constitutional outrage, has now woken up to the fact that the public and much of his party have no confidence in this policy. He offered some movement to meet the concerns of this House. Perhaps he is not quite so macho a negotiator as our French friends have claimed; or perhaps he has begun to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, a little more and to his circle of special advisers a little less. I hope so, for this House still expects something more from the Government.

Last night the Government at last began to address the legitimate constitutional and policy issues which have been raised by your Lordships. Given what we know of their intentions for the date of the next general election, to all intents and purposes by delaying action until March they have accepted the case that they have had no mandate to implement this policy in this Parliament. That is considerable vindication of the stand noble Lords have taken.

However, this is not only a question of delay; there is the need to explain the policy to the public and to NATS staff--they thought that they were voting for the opposite--and to reassure those who, rightly or wrongly, have worries about safety. It is not enough, although it is something, to say, "All right, we'll wait until next spring if we have to".

There is the separate issue of how Ministers will use that time. I have read carefully the words of the Deputy Prime Minister in another place last night. He was asked this point specifically and repeatedly. His answers were deeply unconvincing. He spoke of using the time to conduct the process properly and to work on the detail. The public will be astounded to think that insufficient thought has yet been given to conducting the process and ironing out the details. On the other hand, given the involvement of the Deputy Prime Minister, they might not be surprised after all.

One would like to have thought that all those things had been done already before plunging ahead with the policy. But if, as it now seems, they have not, the public will say, "Thank goodness for the intervention of your Lordships". Asked to spell out issues, Mr Prescott said in effect that perhaps we could look at the employee share ownership scheme. The concerns of the public, the pilots, air traffic controllers and the press are not about the employee share ownership scheme, although that may be a small part of it. They are about the rationale of the whole policy: what exactly the Government are doing; what it will mean for airline passengers; and whether it has implications for safety. If a delay were to be used to explain and clarify these points along with an active campaign to the public, then that might be a different matter.

There is so much that is still in the dark about this policy: the choice of the strategic partner; whether there is a conflict of interest among the bidders; whether a cost cutting regime is planned after privatisation; the failure to expand safety resources in the CAA for monitoring the performance of NATS after privatisation; the nature of the final agreement;

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the outcome of consultations with staff; the nature of the staff shareholding; the nature of the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS new, separated roles; and the position with regard to the golden share, national security and our national control over the management of air traffic control.

Above all, the Government need to reassure the public, pilots and passengers on issues of safety. The Deputy Prime Minister's response last night on these matters was hopelessly lacking. This House needs to be assured that the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, will use this delay to deal with the details and to conduct a further review of these questions including the vitally important issue of safety. He must then come back to Parliament at the end of that time with a report and statement on the matters I have set out in a way which enables both Houses to discuss the issues again. If he can do that, then that may be a different matter. We all know that in life half a loaf is better than none. But it is bread we want from the Government not a fig leaf. The use proposed by the Deputy Prime Minister of the next three months did not begin to meet the concerns of this House or of many Members in another place or in the country.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, can again give us much better and concrete assurances on these matters; otherwise I may have to invite noble Lords to insist on delay until after the election when the next government, whoever they are, will have a new mandate and will have given a full explanation of their policy to the public. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that this House do not insist on their Amendment No. 27 to which the Commons have disagreed and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 27C in lieu thereof, leave out the words after "House" and insert "do insist on their Amendment No. 27".--(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

3.15 p.m.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I have said nothing on this issue in any of the debates that have taken place in this House. I would have said nothing today, too, and would have relaxed again into the comfortable stupor which one occasionally experiences when listening to the Opposition. However, I feel somewhat provoked. Noble Lords will know that I do not provoke easily; or I conceal the effect of the provocation. Only occasionally have I been known to erupt. But I found the speech to which we have just listened provoking and quite extraordinary in the circumstances. If I may say so to the noble Lord who made it, I found the speech well below what this occasion appears to demand.

What is the issue here? The issue is no longer NATS. It is the relationship of this House with another place. Perhaps I may say one thing on NATS. I have said nothing on the merits or otherwise of what the Government propose. I merely make this observation. It is very difficult indeed to find anyone on these Benches who is enthusiastic about the proposal, but

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that is not the issue. The most enthusiastic person who has spoken in your Lordships' House was the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, from the Opposition Benches. There is a certain amount of cross-dressing on this issue which to a simple soul like myself--

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