HC Deb 02 July 1986 vol 100 cc1107-9

Lords amendment: No. 9, after clause 23 insert the following new clause — .—(1) Any provision to which this section applies shall be void in so far as it operates—

  1. (a) to preclude the holder of any securities of a public airport company from disposing of those securities, or
  2. (b) to require the holder of any such securities to dispose, or offer to dispose, of those securities to particular persons or to particular classes of persons, or
  3. (c) to preclude the holder of any such securities from disposing of those securities except—
    1. (i) at a particular time or at particular times, or
    2. (ii) on the fulfilment of particular conditions or in other particular circumstances.
(2) This section applies to any provision relating to any securities of a public airport company and contained in—
  1. (a) the memorandum or articles of association of the company or any other instrument purporting to regulate to any extent the respective rights and liabilities of the members of the company,
  2. (b) any resolution of the company, or
  3. (c) any instrument issued by the company and embodying terms and conditions on which any such securities are to be held by persons for the time being holding them."

10.15 pm
Mr. Michael Spicer

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendment No. 10.

Mr. Spicer

The Bill provides that any restriction on the disposal of securities in a public airport company, however or wherever that restriction is expressed, should be void. That is how the Bill now stands. This provision is to ensure that the Government's policy of encouraging the sale of airport company shares to the private sector is not in any way frustrated by the imposition by councils of conditions making the disposal of shares difficult or impossible.

However, some restrictions or conditions on sales of shares might, we recognise, be necessary. In particular—this point was raised by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) — we have agreed that there will be a restriction on the maximum holding of British Airports Authority shares by any one person or body. We believe that it would be wrong to deny local authorities the chance of incorporating a corresponding restriction in the articles of association of the new public airport companies.

It is also important not to invalidate restrictions or conditions arising in a normal contract for the sale of securities. I think, for example, of an agreement binding the seller to transfer securities to the buyer at a certain date in return for a consideration. The amendment has, therefore, been designed specifically to define the restrictions that are to be prohibited, and the instruments or circumstances in which restrictions are to be invalid.

Clause 24, which the new clause replaces, will be withdrawn. However the Opposition may feel about the general thrust of this part of the Bill, I think that the amendment, which gives greater precision and which allows the flexibility that I have outlined, will commend itself to them.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The Minister has been very reasonable, just as he always has been in our debates on this part of the policy which deals with local authority airports. But, as I understand clause 23, it is trying to stop what has happened in Manchester dead in its tracks. I am sorry that the Minister did not understand from the Committee and Report stages, just how strongly people feel about this issue. Manchester has met all the conditions that the Government sought to impose about the running of local authority airports.

The Minister says that he has never hidden his enthusiasm for introducing private capital into local authority airports. However, it goes slightly further than that. He has never hidden his enthusiasm for selling off the airports so that they are no longer in local authority hands. He has also found it necessary to dress that up slightly, so that it is not presented as sheer naked political dogma. He said that it was necessary to introduce the disciplines of a plc into the running of local authority airports. During our discussions, he did not give us any examples of local authorities being profligate with the public purse when it comes to running airports. But that is neither here nor there.

The fact remains that the sole purpose of clause 23 would appear to be to bring Manchester back into line. Manchester produced a private company that would have done everything that the Minister wanted, yet he still would not permit it. Also that strikes clearly at the freedom of local authorities to decide how they shall run their airport business. I am sorry that the Minister has not found it possible to meet our wishes that Manchester in particular, having gone so far, should be left alone. However, we must accept that the Minister has the majority and that he will drive the measure through, whatever anyone thinks.

Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)

I support the amendment because it introduces an equality of treatment with the British Airports Authority. I take this opportunity to echo the words of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) in thanking my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for accepting the spirit behind new clause 11. Back on 9 April, at Report stage, some hon. Members introduced protections for the British Airports Authority. Obviously, they sought to protect it through a golden share to ensure that it is not taken over by a series of foreign airlines. I should like my appreciation recorded in that respect. I believe it is only right that local authorities running airports should be placed on an equal basis. Hopefully, they will go down that route in the fullness of time.

Mr. Michael Spicer

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) for his remarks. The advice and encouragement that he and others have given have been well heeded. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) is absolutely right; there has never been any intention to disguise the fact that we should like either an element of private capital or the sale of the companies to the private sector. If that occurred, they would cease to be within the public sector borrowing requirement. There is nothing between the hon. Gentleman and myself on that issue. I feel strongly that there are enormous benefits for companies. I also believe, having got to know some airports quite well, that a number will eventually decide to go that way for various reasons.

Manchester has not met the condition that allows local authorities to sell shares freely. That matter will cause some concern. We shall consider the Manchester scheme with as little dogma as the hon. Gentleman has encouraged us to do. Our objective, as always, is to ensure that Manchester airport has every kind of assistance placed before it so it can quickly become a great international airport. I am quite certain that, as a result of the encouragement of the Government and the traffic rights which the Government have earned for it, that will be the case.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendment agreed to.

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