HC Deb 14 February 1994 vol 237 cc665-700 3.31 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tim Smith)

I beg to move, That the draft Airports (Northern Ireland) Order 1993, which was laid before this House on 9th December, be approved. The principal purpose of the order is to enable the Government to privatise Belfast international airport. It also takes the opportunity to introduce certain amendments to current Northern Ireland airport legislation to bring it broadly into line with that which already applies in Great Britain. I shall deal with the two elements in that order.

The privatisation provisions are contained in part V, which, when enacted, will enable Belfast international airport to be sold into the private sector. The Government believe that the airport company, as a public body trading on a consistently successful basis over a number of years, should now be allowed to develop further, free of public-sector financial constraints and with the ability to grasp the opportunity offered by private-sector markets for capital and other resources.

Over the past 18 months—since the Government announced their intention to privatize—we have been working to ensure that, in legal and commercial terms, the airport is sold in a manner that will bring the maximum benefits to both the taxpayer and the travelling public. In that respect, Belfast international airport will follow in the footsteps of the former Government-controlled Great Britain airports which were sold in 1987 as part of the successful British Airports Authority privatisation.

Part V provides for the creation of a wholly owned Government company—a successor to Northern Ireland Airports Ltd., the public body which operates Belfast international airports—clears the way for the trasferred assets and liabilities to be sold on the private sector. Those powers are contained in articles 51, 54 and 58. The Government intend to privatise by means of a trade sale.

Before the sale takes place, however to ensure that there are no contingent tax liabilities as a consequence of privatisation, the property rights of the airport will be restructured in such a fashion as to avoid any adverse tax consequences. I draw the House's attention to articles 52 and 53, which deal with this necessary and important reorganisation scheme.

The remaining provisions of the order update current Northern Ireland airport law, largely to match the position in Great Britain. The new provisions also reflect developments that have taken place in the Northern Ireland airport industry over the past 20 years. The existing statutory responsibility of the Department of the Environment to promote the provision of airports in Northern Ireland is to be repealed.

That duty was considered necessary when the Aerodromes Act (Northern Ireland) 1971 was introduced, but, with the privatisation of the main regional airport and the emerging growth of other airport facilities in Northern Ireland, it is no longer considered necessary. The full list of repeals is contained in schedule 10 to the order.

There are a number of provisions in part II of the order dealing with land, which afford certain rights to airport operators, for example, in relation to compulsory purchase and the protection of property. Part II also updates the present law in relation to certain aspects of airport safety.

Part III has a number of important features in relation to the management of airports, including improved arrangements for the making and enforcing of airport byelaws. I draw attention specifically to article 20, a new provision whereby certain designated airports will be required to provide facilities for consultation with airport users, the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, district councils and other interested parties. The system of airport consultative committees at mainland airports has evolved from similar legislative provisions introduced earlier in Great Britain and the committees have proved a successful forum for interested groups to discuss airport issues and problems with the operators.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

There is, unfortunately, rarely agreement about Northern Ireland issues among the political parties. Is it not odd, therefore, that when there is unity the Government seek to undermine it by pressing ahead with a privatisation measure which is greeted with little enthusiasm by the parties representing the Northern Ireland electorate?

Mr. Smith

We shall have to wait and see, but, even if the hon. Gentleman is right, I believe that the arguments for privatisation in Northern Ireland are as strong as those in the rest of the United Kingdom. In this particular case, privatisation will bring two particular advantages. The first is that management will have much greater freedom to manage and will be free from the interference that automatically comes with Government control. The second is that airport management will have access to private capital markets to gain further investment, a facility not at present available to them.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The Minister is a Minister with a difference because he has—if I might put it this way—matured politically on the Public Accounts Committee where he has spent much of his time criticising the Government for the failures of privatisation and the way in which it has been handled. Will he assure us that he will apply all the lessons that he learned in the many hundreds of hours of deliberations and that this project will not come before the PAC in the future with a critical report?

Mr. Smith

I hope that the PAC will continue to examine all privatisations with not only a critical eye but a constructive approach to suggest ways in which we might do better in future. All the lessons learned by the PAC have been fully taken into account in this privatisation. Hon. Members and others have queried whether we should tackle the issue by way of a flotation or a trade sale. I have examined the circumstances extremely carefully and concluded that, in this case, the taxpayer will get the best value for money if we proceed by way of a trade sale.

Part III of the order contains a number of important features in relation to the management of airports, including improved arrangements for the making and enforcement of airport byelaws. I draw specific attention to article 20, a new provision whereby certain designated airports will be required to provide facilities for consultation with airport users.

Article 19 enables the new owner of the airport to obtain authority from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to appoint constables. The Secretary of State may grant this authorisation subject to such conditions as he may think fit. In effect, the existing Northern Ireland airport police will transfer en bloc to the employment of the new owner. Under current arrangements, the airport constabulary is under the direction of the commercial management of the airport. That will continue to be the case post-privatisation.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)


Mr. Smith

I should like to develop the arguments before giving way. I am about to explain why we think that these are the appropriate arrangements.

There are precedents for those arrangements. When, for example, the Port of London Authority and Tilbury docks were privatised their respective police functions were retained without any loss of effectiveness. The key point is that the present arrangements work well in practice. For 23 years, the airport constabulary has operated successfully as a discrete organisation under the exclusive control of a commercially driven management, and the Government see no reason why privatisation should be a catalyst for change.

Finally, and very importantly, I have taken into account the views of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and of other Government security advisers, who are satisfied with the proposed arrangements for airport policing after privatisation. Hon. Members should note particularly that members of the airport constabulary are already trained by the RUC and will be continuously monitored for performance by the RUC as part of its regular review of security arrangements at the airport. Should policing standards not be maintained to a satisfactory level, powers are available, under aviation security legislation, to allow the policing role at the airport to be taken over quickly by the RUC.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

Is not the Minister a little confused about how the force is currently looked after? As the airport holding company is a public company, is not the police force under the control of the Secretary of State? We cannot compare the present position with what will happen in the future. Is the Minister saying that the present position will continue? Will the Secretary of State still have a responsibility for the airport police?

Mr. Smith

I am saying that privatisation will not have any practical consequences for the policing of the airport. The key argument is that the constables will be employed, as they are at present, by the airport and will continue to be trained and supervised by the RUC. They will be closely monitored, as they are at present. Furthermore, if the Secretary of State, on advice, is dissatisfied with the arrangements, he will be able to step in and deal with the matter promptly.

Mr. Mackinlay

Will constables have to be resworn on the vesting day of the private company, when they will become its employees? What is the Northern Ireland Airport Police Association's view on the privatisation proposals?

Mr. Smith

The police will not have to be resworn, because there will, I believe, be continuity of all employment arrangements, but I will look into the matter. I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's other question when I reply to the debate.

Airport constables who are already authorised to be armed will continue to carry sidearms when the airport is privatised. The Government are satisfied that continuation of that arrangement raises no significant or insurmountable difficulties. The important point is that the RUC is content with the proposals.

The history and reputation of the airport constabulary are satisfactory and, for all practical purposes, its responsibilities and capabilities will remain unchanged by privatisation.

Part IV of the order deals with the economic regulation of airports. It includes new provisions that mirror the system that has operated in Great Britain since its introduction under the Airports Act 1986. The relevant articles are drafted with the twin purpose of ensuring fair competition between airports and fair trading within them. Airports, unlike most service providers, are recognised as having certain monopolistic characteristics in the provision of air transport services in their region. For obvious reasons, those services are not likely to be duplicated on the site next door.

The Government are concerned to ensure that such monopolies should not be exercised to the disadvantage of airport customers. Airports trading above a certain threshold—in this case, a turnover of £1 million—will have certain requirements on the levying of charges placed upon them. That new system will be handled by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, as it is in Britain. It will effectively be identical to the regulatory model that applies to all other United Kingdom airports.

Let me touch on the responses received by the Government during the draft order consultation period. The process prompted 32 formal responses. As a result, a number of minor changes have been made. They include the additional requirement now contained in article 20 that designated airport operators consult the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland. Following representations by the Belfast harbour commissioners, it was also decided to tighten up certain provisions relating to compulsory purchase of land by airport operators.

The consultation period promoted lively debate about the method by which Belfast international airport should be privatised, with some support for the flotation option. The Government reconsidered that matter most carefully and concluded that the arguments in favour of privatisation by trade sale remained more compelling and offered the most cost-effective method of disposal.

Curent forecasts suggest that there will be significant growth in air traffic over the next decade and beyond. I believe that a privatised Belfast international airport, freed from the constraints of Government, with greater freedom to manage itself, will be in a position to grasp more effectively the exciting opportunities thus offered. I commend the order to the House.

3.45 pm
Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)

It is ironic that, if the proposed legislation applied to anywhere else in the United Kingdom, we should be having a Second Reading of a privatisation Bill, followed by a Committee and Report stage, Third Reading and consideration in the Lords. I make no apologies for saying yet again that this is the most undemocratic way of dealing with a major piece of Northern Ireland legislation.

The Order in Council procedure is the most unsatisfactory way imaginable of dealing with important issues in Northern Ireland. However, as Ministers have pointed out over the years, the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland will not be restored until the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland can agree on some form of devolved power; I hope that that will happen sooner rather than later.

I note that the Finance Bill, currently being debated in Committee, contains clauses relating to the privatisation of Belfast international airport. The Minister will no doubt be aware that that Bill has been guillotined, which means that, if the debate on stamp duty, which precedes the debate on the privatisation of Northern Ireland's airport, is protracted, the guillotine will fall before that debate is reached, again depriving hon. Members of a chance to debate and interrogate the Government about the reasons for privatising the airport. In short, we have before us a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs.

The order provides for the privatisation of Belfast international airport and gives rise to a series of important questions to which I hope the Minister will reply. The hon. Gentleman will know that the explanatory note issued by the Northern Ireland Office says: The Aerodromes Act imposed a duty on the Department to promote airport development and extended the powers of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company enabling it to establish a subsidiary company. The order represents a total abrogation of that responsibility. The very fact that Northern Ireland sits on the periphery of the European Community should lead the Government to play a full and active role in promoting airport development and developing transport links with the rest of the United Kingdom, the island of Ireland, the European Community and the north Atlantic routes.

The Minister pointed out that, to date, the record of Northern Ireland Airports Ltd. has been a good one. Operating profits at Belfast international airport soared to almost £4.5 million in 1992–93—an increase of 71 per cent. on the previous year's profits. Given such a glowing testimony, it seems crazy that the Government should be seeking to jettison one of the few economic success stories of their 15 years in office.

In the Government's desperate attempt to claw back some of the deficit that they have accumulated, they appear to be flogging off the last bit of family silver. The hon. Gentleman, in his consultation paper, believes: It is no longer considered necessary for the Department to have a statutory duty to promote and provide airports. I invite the House to consider one point. It might not be considered necessary now for the Government to have those powers, but that was not their view when they were accepting taxpayers' money from the European Community for investment in the infrastructure of Northern Ireland international airport. From 1990 to 1993, a total of £7.5 million of grant aid was received from the European regional development fund transportation programme, all of which will now benefit the private company that takes over the airport.

During the debate in another place, the Minister, Lady Denton, stated: There will be no clawback of the grant on ERDF. That has been confirmed by Brussels."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 31 January 1994; Vol. 551, c. 1166.] I wrote to EC Commissioner Bruce Millan last year, when it was clear that the Government would go ahead with the privatisation of the airport, suggesting that, on privatisation, there may well be a clawback of the grants that the Government received. For greater accuracy, I have photocopied the Commissioner's letter for the Minister. It says: The question of clawback could arise in the event of privatisation. It has been reported recently that the government intends to dispose of the airport by a trade sale. If the purchaser paid the full market value of the business, the proceeds accruing to government would represent the full grant-aided assets, including ERDF aid, and in those circumstances the Commission might seek to clawback a proportion of the aid from the Government. That is a different story from what was said in the other place. The letter emphasises that the purchaser would have to pay the full market value of the airport. Although the Labour party does not like what the Government are proposing, I hope that that is the case.

We know from recent experiences, however, that to get their hands on fast cash, the Government are perfectly happy to sell Britain's public assets at bargain basement prices. Will the Minister therefore outline any assessment that his Department has undertaken to ascertain the market value of the airport? Will he further assure hon. Members this evening that his Department will only sell Belfast international airport at its full market value?

The Minister has a problem. If the airport is sold at its full market value, the European Commission may want some of its money back. If the Government sell it at less than its market value, the Minister may well be accused of doing that in order to avoid paying the Commission its money back. He has a problem on both those counts. Whatever price the airport eventually fetches, it is clear that the people of Northern Ireland will not benefit from the sale.

We oppose the privatisation of Aldergrove airport. If the Government truly believe that the offer is attractive and that the sale will benefit the people of Northern Ireland, why is the Minister not letting them share such a golden opportunity? Selling the airport by means of a trade sale will do nothing to extend the share-owning democracy that the Conservatives have so often hailed in the past. Yet again, we witness the Government favouring big business above the individual, and private profits above public interest.

The Minister may be aware that I, along with the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) and representatives of the airport police, met his predecessor to raise a number of important issues relating to the future of police operations at the airport. I regret to say that the outcome of that meeting did not allay our concerns or those of the airport constabulary.

I understand what the Minister has said about the police at the airport, but I believe that most members of the public in Northern Ireland and elsewhere will be asonished to learn that the Government plan to vest police powers in a private operation at Belfast international airport. We support the request from the airport police that they should retain their operational independence. Especially in the Northern Ireland context, it would be highly dangerous for security and policing levels to be decided by managers who were motivated by profit.

Mr. Winnick

What my hon. Friend has said is much appreciated by Opposition Members. Does he know of any Northern Irish political party represented in the House of Commons that favours the order?

Mr. Stott

My information is that there is none. I have no doubt that we shall be able to reinforce that point later when we divide the House on this important matter.

I was talking about the problems faced by the police and about their operational independence. Can the Minister explain what specific policing requirements a successor company to Northern Ireland Airports Ltd. will be asked to meet? Section 2.6(e) of the explanatory document states that the authorisation to appoint airport constabularies may be granted subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State sees fit. I should be obliged if the Minister would enlarge on that matter.

Will the Minister tell us whether the requirements include minimum police levels? If so, what are those levels to be? Will they be regularly monitored and reviewed by the Secretary of State or, once the airport has been privatised, will policing become a matter for the successor company, although that company's raison d'etre is maximising profits? Despite the independence of the police at Aldergrove airport, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, as the Minister has pointed out, plays an important role in training the officers at the airport. How will the sale affect the present working relations between the two groups? Who, if anyone, will be responsible for assessing training and safety standards, especially with regard to firearms?

The police, who have done a marvellous job at Aldergrove airport for the past 23 years, have asked their elected representatives to pursue the matter. We have given them our support in their wish to maintain their operational independence and their integrity. They are very concerned about the transfer of the airport to a private company whose motivation will be rather different from that of the current holding company.

What about the other workers at the airport? Will their current terms and conditions be honoured by the new company? Will the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 still apply? Will their pension provisions remain the same? Will their trade union recognition and negotiating rights be acceptable? Those issues are important to everyone who works at Belfast international airport.

Last week in another place, my hon. Friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, together with many of their Lordships, questioned Lady Denton about the implications of the privatisation of Northern Ireland international airport and how it would affect the current defence and security systems. Security at airports on this island is provided by county forces or regional police forces. At Aldergrove international airport, the position is more complicated, because the security facilities are shared with the airport authority and the Ministry of Defence. Regrettably, there still remains a continuing need for that sort of high-level security to be provided. Therefore, one needs to be satisfied that that level of security will continue.

One is bound to ask two simple questions. First, who will be responsible for security at the airport once it is sold? Will it be the new company, the Ministry of Defence, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, or a combination of all three? Secondly, who will be responsible for paying for that security once the transfer has taken place? Clearly, security is an expensive operation. Will the cost be borne by the new owners, or will taxpayers be asked to pay, as they do already because of the problems that we have in Northern Ireland? There are two questions that the Minister must address: who will pay, and who will have the overall responsibility for security at Belfast international airport once the sale has been effected? I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that those extremely important questions deserve an answer today.

Earlier, I said that the Labour party is opposed to the order and will oppose it in the Lobby tonight. I could not put a better case for our opposition to the order than was put by Lord Cooke, a native of Northern Ireland, speaking in another place last week at column 1161. He said: We have in place at Belfast International Airport a management"—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must paraphrase. If he is quoting the Minister, it is perfectly in order, but if he is quoting a Back Bencher, he must paraphrase.

Mr. Stott

The noble Lord was saying that we have a good international airport in Belfast. It is well managed, and makes a good profit. If the Treasury is concerned about the public sector borrowing requirement, Lord Cooke felt that methods could be arranged whereby the airport, under its current ownership, could have the right to borrow money on the commercial market. I agree with him. All those things could be put in place—all those things could happen at Northern Ireland international airport.

The only reason why this matter has been brought to the House today, and the only reason why the Government ate privatising Northern Ireland international airport, is the incompetent way in which they have managed the affairs of this country over the past 15 years. They must flog off every bit of public assets. They are putting up taxes to reduce the deficit that they created. That is why they have come to the House and asked for parliamentary permission to sell this valuable asset. It is not for any operational reason, or any other reason; they want the money to get themselves out of the mess that they created. That is why I ask my hon. Friends to join me in opposing this appalling measure.

4.3 pm

Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

It is the policy of our party to consider each privatisation proposal on its merits. If we find that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, we will generally support the proposal. Of course, if we find that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, we will oppose the proposal.

From a personal point of view, the order has certain advantages. If it is passed, at least we will have one fewer quango in Northern Ireland. However, we are totally opposed to the way in which this vital legislation is going through the House—by order. That alone would perhaps. push us into opposing the order. I agree with the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Scott) that the matter is not getting a fair crack of the whip in the House, and it is also not getting a fair crack of the whip in Committee on the Finance Bill. That surely cannot be good for democracy.

Before considering the contents of the order and the principle behind it, I wish to thank publicly the officials in the Department of the Environment who are looking after the privatisation for their co-operation and their consideration of my views during the consultative period. I also thank the former Ministers who saw myself and the hon. Member for Wigan earlier. I should like that to be put on the record because hon. Members certainly criticise departmental officials and, out of courtesy, we should thank them when that can be done.

Belfast international airport is of great importance to Northern Ireland. Lord Cooke—one of the original board of directors, if I can put it in those terms—certainly made that clear in another place. He also stated that the airport was to be run for the benefit of business and ordinary passengers, but in a commercial manner. The view of the former Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner, has been justified over the years.

The airport is the main gateway into Northern Ireland, even taking into account the ports and so forth. The number of people who travel through the international airport suggest that it is the main gateway. The people of Northern Ireland believe that it should be left in their hands.

It would be possible to change the control of the airport from the present quango situation to a different system, which would put it under the democratic control of elected representatives. Those representatives would be responsible to the voters each time they went forward to be elected. Such legislation would be acceptable, even if it did go through by Order in Council of the House, because it would provide a little more democracy.

As has been said, millions of pounds of European and Treasury money have gone into the airport. That has been matched by the high standards of service and the hard work of the staff in the airport, which reflects great credit upon them. I refer to the workers at all levels, and the citizens of Northern Ireland are proud of the valuable asset which we have in that airport. That asset should be left in the hands of the people of Northern Ireland. It certainly should not be sold to what we suspect will be the highest bidder, particularly when the economic situation is at such a low level. We may not get the exact figure that we would be looking for in the best circumstances.

The airport has been run efficiently and economically, and the security service has been given high importance. Sadly, profit will be the paramount motive under privatisation. While I agree that investors should expect a return on their investment, I must condemn the undue haste in auctioning off Northern Ireland's resources.

The privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity is a sorry example. It was presented by the former Minister, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), as essential to lower electricity prices in Northern Ireland. Now even large users of electricity—the only ones who supported the Minister in privatising Northern Ireland Electricity—all Opposition parties and all Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland totally oppose the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity. We now know the truth about whether we will have lower prices.

I do not accuse the present Minister. He has only just been appointed to his position, but, unfortunately, he has the job of steering the measure through the House.

At least there was a share flotation in respect of Northern Ireland Electricity and shares were bought by Northern Ireland citizens. Unfortunately, although share owners have profited because the share price is quite high, those who were too poor to buy shares still face very high electricity prices. Belfast international airport is now in line for privatisation, and next in the wings is Belfast harbour. They are some of our assets in Northern Ireland.

We disagree with the decision to refuse to issue shares, but, as a Member for the area, I see a ray of sunshine showing through the Tory ideological mist—that is, the management-worker buy-out offer. I hope that it proceeds. Each of us should wish the application well. If it is successful, people who have worked for years to make the airport such a successful operation might reap some reward for their hard work. Of course, it will also retain Belfast international airport in local hands.

Why was it necessary to include an airport official in article 18(3)(i)? Such matters should have been left in the hands of a constable of police. Article 20, which refers to the consultation of which the Minister made such a point, states that there will be adequate facilities for consultation with respect to any matter concerning the management or administration of the airport which affects their interests. Why are the four words "which affects their interests" needed? I should have thought that they would not be required. Does that mean that internal airport matters cannot be discussed, even when they indirectly affect the interests of people using the airport?

A consultative committee is only a consultative committee; what sanctions does such a committee have in respect of getting things done and resolving problems at the airport?

Can the Minister tell us whether a new pension scheme will be introduced? If so, will sufficient funds be transferred to ensure that members enjoy a full pension when the correct number of service years have been achieved? Is there a surplus in the pension fund? If there is, how will it be handled? Will it be used to give a pension holiday to the new company, as happened in the case of Harland and Wolff? Have the present pension fund members been consulted about the proposals to set up a new pension scheme? Have the present fund pensioners and deferred pensioners been kept informed? What arrangements have been made to give pensioners and deferred pensioners a say in the present or future schemes?

As a member of the Social Security Select Committee, I assure the Minister, the scheme members and the Department that the Committee views such matters very seriously indeed.

I shall now discuss airport policing—not security, but airport policing, because there is a distinct difference between security at the airport and policing at the airport. As the hon. Member for Wigan said, we met the Minister. We were accompanied by members of the Belfast Airport Police Association, and we discussed the worries of the association. As the constituency Member of Parliament, I look after the interests of all airport workers, but, having been specifically asked by BAPA to look after its members' interests, I wish to make several arguments to the Minister.

First, the BAPA should remain under Northern Ireland Office control. The Minister almost convinced me that that would be the case, because he said that the Secretary of State would be ultimately responsible in certain circumstances. I also explained that the association was at present under the Secretary of State's control.

For about 22 or 23 years, BAPA members have successfully policed the airport and defended it from terrorist attack. Several members have received honours for gallantry; others have received honours for dedication to duty. As the Minister said, they are trained to Home Office standards by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and the association is rightly regarded as a responsible, professional organisation.

However, under the proposals, in spite of all of those facts and all the nice things that have been said about the police and about the association, federated status and rights of representation are still refused to the association.

It does not follow that 22 or 23 years of co-operation between the present public company—for that is what it is—and BAPA will necessarily continue under any new company. If a private company is in control, conflicts may arise between policing and profit.

For instance, I ask the Minister whether, in a scenario that I shall suggest, the company could force a policeman to admit a key worker if that worker has no identification. There could be an immediate conflict of interest between policing and the ownership of the airport. Because of his instructions, a policeman may say that no one can gain admission without a pass. If the policeman receives a phone call from management saying,"That is a key worker and he must get in to do his business or we will lose money and our profit, so you will admit that man," there will be a conflict of interest. Under such a conflict of interest, will the company be able to discipline the constable?

Will policing and security under a private company be maintained at the very highest level? I am sure that the Minister will say, "Of course it will", but I ask that anyway. Specifically, will the Secretary of State retain the power to make a direction requiring owners to meet security standards? More important, will that be incorporated into the conditions of the sale?

Will the proposed security committee, which has not been discussed yet, so I suppose that we should not really debate it at great length, have its recommendations enforced by the Secretary of State or with the support of the Secretary of State? Will those recommendations continue to update and improve the present security standards at the airport and on the approach roads? Will the Minister assure me that, as the constituency Member, I will have a right of access to that committee? Will he take this opportunity to announce the name of the chairman of the security committee?

If the order is approved, will the Minister tell us what title he has selected for the present force when it is taken over by the new owners? Will he confirm the undertaking given to me by his predecessor in a letter 20 October 1993, in which he said: I will ensure that the airport company, at the appropriate time prior to privatisation, enters into a formal agreement with the Association"— that is, BAPA— recognising its rights to represent the employment interests of its members"? I await the Minister's reply on that issue.

As the order replaces the Aerodromes Act (Northern Ireland) 1971, I want to draw the attention of the House to the lack of an airports policy in Northern Ireland. The Minister and his predecessors have made no effort to ensure that Northern Ireland airports are complementary and not confrontational to each other. For example, I am very concerned about the position of Belfast city airport. Over a short period, there has been a tremendous growth of 40 per cent. in passenger traffic at that airport. In 1993, passenge traffic rose from 600,000 to 840,000. The company confidently predicts that it will increase to 1.2 million in 1994.

In view of those figures, will pressure be exerted on the airport authority to relax the current self-imposed flying curfew which prevents aircraft from landing or taking off between 9.30 pm and 6.30 am? It is almost certain that noise levels will rise, so the whole situation will have to be examined. I hope that any examination will be undertaken in the context of the recommendations made by the inspector who conducted the inquiry arising from the local plan for Belfast harbour for the period 1990–2005. Those recommendations were aimed at containing airport growth on the basis of noise parameters.

Inevitably, every increase in the number of flights over that densely populated area raises questions of civil aviation safety. It must be remembered that the houses around the Belfast city airport were there before the airport. I am quite sure that the quantity of aeroplane fuel being dispersed over the area will give rise to concern about the health and other effects of such emissions.

It is hardly necessary to draw anyone's atteiton to the difficulties with regard to road access to the city airport. Perhaps some hon. Members do not know about them, but everyone in Northern Ireland certainly does. The situation can only get worse. If the problem is not addressed we shall have a major road hazard on our hands. It would prejudice the safety and convenience of traffic on the Sydenham bypass. Indeed, press reports are already calling attention to the danger.

I have here two cuttings from the Belfast Telegraph. One of them is headed Lights plea as bypass crash fears grow". Jim Rodgers and Ian Adamson, who are Ulster Unionist councillors for the area, have written to the Department of the Environment, and Mr. Rodgers is reported to have said: Drivers simply can't cross this road during the rush hour to get in and out of the airport. People are taking terrible risks, and someone will be killed if something isn't done immediately. Hon. Members hearing those words may conclude that roadworks are necessary. The point is that if the airport has to cope with more flights, passengers and road traffic than were envisaged at the time of the inquiry the problem lies in the lack of an airports policy in Northern Ireland.

Another edition of the Belfast Telegraph carried the headline: Concern grows over traffic tailbacks at City Airport entrance: hazard fears on bypass". A person who drove to the airport to drop off a passenger is quoted as having said: People were having difficulty getting into the airport, and the traffic was tailing back out on to the Bangor-bound side of the bypass. Another man, who regularly travels on the Sydenham bypass on his way to work, is reported to have said that he often saw cars tailing back from the airport out on to the road. One of the newspaper articles says that there have been several car pile-ups outside the airport; that passengers, having waited up to half an hour to cross the bypass, have missed their flights; and that taxi drivers are reluctant to go to the airport because they cannot get in or out.

These reports, as well as rumours about airlines setting one airport against another with regard to costs and discussions with airlines, highlight the confrontation that is caused by the lack of an airports policy. What we need is a policy through which the airports would complement each other. We have an international airport right out in the country, away from built-up areas. It has magnificent facilities, provided by public money. Why should not we have a policy to ensure that the airports complement each other and that each concentrates on what it is best equipped to do? Only in that way will Northern Ireland be best served by its airports—and the taxpayer will get a proper return on the grants provided for a co-ordinated, complementary system.

I object to the way in which this order to privatise Belfast international airport is being considered by the House. The Minister is new to the job, but I travel more in hope than in certainty that, one day, the House will treat Northern Ireland like the rest of the United Kingdom in respect of legislation.

The proposed privatisation has more disadvantages than advantages for the citizens of Northern Ireland. Accordingly, I shall recommend to my parliamentary colleagues that they vote against it.

4.20 pm
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

I apologise to the Minister for missing the first few minutes of his speech. If I ask a question on a point with which he has already dealt, I hope that he will forgive me. The reason for my lateness is germane to the debate, in that aeroplanes waiting to land at Heathrow were considerably delayed by two or three centimetres of snow on the runway. Snow ploughs were clearing those few centimetres of snow all morning. We had no such problems in Northern Ireland—everything was in order at Belfast international airport when we left there.

In common with most Northern Ireland Members, I wonder whether it is worth while participating in a debate such as this. It is like sending for the doctor to attend the wake. Nothing that we say today will influence the decision that the Government have already reached, which is being made law by the infamous Order in Council procedure. From time to time, the Government give reasons why that mechanism must be used—such as trying to bring together the political parties of Northern Ireland to debate their legislative future, but that is not a valid reason. Bills on other matters affecting Northern Ireland are properly presented to the House, and are subject to a Committee stage so that they may be open to detailed debate and amendment. Often, sensible proposals are taken on board and incorporated before a Bill is passed.

However, we are unable to change by one iota the content of this measure. None of the good advice that the Minister will be given this afternoon—mainly from this side of the House—will impinge on the order. Debate is ended, the door is closed and nothing can be changed. Anything that we say today will be retrospective to the consultation that ended some time ago. None the less, one must put down a marker of one's objections.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

I support the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He and others who participated in the group talks and in the major consultation that ranged over three years became familiar with the phrase, "Nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed." Apparently, now that we have all agreed, it is not to be done. In other words, the phrase is meaningless.

Mr. McGrady

I shall not be trapped into making a political statement on an order relating to Belfast international airport. The Government have simply decided that they do not require the agreement of the parties in Northern Ireland. Procedures of the House are necessary to deal with matters of grave importance, such as the privatisation of the public assets of Northern Ireland and it should have been done in a Bill. There was a Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill, a Northern Ireland Employment Bill and others. It is not the fault, as is sometimes alleged, of the Northern Ireland parties that such methods are used.

As the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said, the political talks were about institution and arrangements and were not about the subject matter of the various orders. We are all doctors prognosticating the life span of a dead body.

On behalf of my colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour party, let me say that I am totally opposed to the privatisation. Therefore, I welcome the conversion of at least one wing of the Conservative and Unionist party to the anti-privatisation lobby today. Perhaps the conversion will gain momentum in that party in the foreseeable future. It was unfortunate, however, that it supported many of the previous privatisations.

We are opposed to the privatisation of the airport and of other assets of Northern Ireland because it is putting into private ownership that which we believe is essential to provide good service to the people of Northern Ireland. Such assets should be retained in the public sector, to be fully accountable to the public and to avoid the excesses which profit making is inclined to drive the sector towards—cost cutting, safety cutting, security cutting and many other aspects which have been mentioned.

A second reason for opposing privatisation, which has been touched on, is the question of real competition. It has been said that Belfast international airport is the gateway to Northern Ireland. That is true, without in any way looking down on the other points of access, be they airports or harbours. Belfast airport is the main thoroughfare through which most of the economic relationships with the rest of the world are conducted. It is the vehicle through which most of the Northern Ireland tourist business is conducted and it is important that it should remain in public hands so that the best possible facility, our window to the world, can be sustained in a fashion that makes it attractive and not the subject of unnecessary cost cutting from a profit motive point of view.

The third reason why I am concerned about privatisation of the airport, as with the other assets, is the question of lack of competitiveness. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) referred to the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity. It has been a scandalous failure from beginning to end. The Committee which dealt with the Bill was told time and again that competitiveness and alternative supplies would increase and that prices would be cut, not only for the industrial consumer, but for the private consumer as well. That has not happened. It was pointed out at that time that competition was not possible and would not occur. The fact that it was admitted that there would be no other distribution agency made competition impossible.

No matter where one looks, it is the same. For example, in Northern Ireland, we have no alternative but to buy our telephone services from BT. We must buy our electricity from the privatised Northern Ireland Electricity company. Again, we have no alternative—apart, perhaps, from chopping wood. We were promised the safeguard of a regulator, but I do not think that regulators have been very effective in other fields; certainly they are no substitute for the ability to shop elsewhere.

Over the past few years, Belfast international airport has received substantial capital investment and has been much improved: that has made it one of the most attractive airports that I, at least, have visited in many years. As the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) pointed out, its friendly atmosphere would be difficult to replicate. I, as a constant user of the airport, have noticed that atmosphere; but first-time users have also remarked on it.

The value of its ethos to Northern Ireland cannot be measured in purely monetary terms. The first impression gained by visitors to Northern Ireland—industrialists, investors, tourists and ordinary travellers—is that of an important "window", and the way in which that window is dressed is also important. I do not believe that a private company will be able to sustain the airport's ethos, or will even care about it, given that it will not put coins into the till at the end of the day.

There was mention of the possibility of a clawback of the public funds used for the redevelopment and refurbishment. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply; it is evident that substantial amounts were invested well after the decision to privatise was made public.

Mr. Stott

The hon. Gentleman shares my view that the Government seem to see a conflict between the public accountability of an airport and its economic success. Belfast international airport is publicly accountable; it is also very well managed, and is proving very profitable. The same applies to Manchester international airport: it, too, is very well managed, hugely profitable and publicly accountable—because it is owned by the city of Manchester and the 12 district councils, one of which is mine. I see no conflict between public accountability and profitability in an effectively managed airport.

Mr. McGrady

The hon. Gentleman has emphasised my point, perhaps more eloquently than I could have done. Belfast international is a first-class airport whose profits have risen over the past three or four years as a result of its refurbishment at the taxpayer's expense. Now the fatted calf is ready for slaughter at the altar of privatisation. We shall await the outcome with interest: if it follows the lines of the "parallel 2" privatisations that have taken place in Northern Ireland so far, customers and cargo traders can anticipate a much less satisfactory service.

I should like to know more about the method of privatisation. The Department set its face against flotation or management buy-out at an early stage, without giving any good reasons. Some of the reasons advanced in favour of flotation seemed reasonable to me—for instance, the improvement in the company's profitability since the original decision to privatise. It was suggested that that would encourage wider share ownership in Northern Ireland, or encourage local involvement in a management buy-out. The prospect of improved trading and sales was well established.

The Department—including the Minister's predecessor—fell back on the argument that the company was too small to be floated. Can the present Minister—who is also a chartered accountant—explain how Belfast international airport can be too small to be floated as a public company? I see no bar to such action. It must have been decided at some stage that there was a line above which a company could be floated, and below which it could not, on economic grounds. Where was the line in this case?

In a press release issued on 12 August 1993, the Minister's predecessor stated: Whilst it is hard to define precisely the floor below which a flotation becomes inadvisable, I am satisfied that this company is too small to float satisfactorily. Note the wealth of argument and debate in that sentence; note the step-by-step logical process that brought that Minister to his conclusion! In fact, he did not give a single reason for his decision.

I know that the Minister perceived certain inconveniences in flotation, which turned him away from that course. I should be interested to know what value he places on the company; it appears from what was said to justify the decision against flotation that the Government will sell at bargain-basement prices. The Minister continued: there are two complications; first, the number of shares to be issued would mean either that many applicants received none, or that each allotment was very small…Secondly, because the company is relatively small"— this is like hiding behind a bush and shaking it at the same time— the aftermarket in its shares would be low in volume and hence difficult to manage; selling shares in the company would not be an easy or straightforward process. Again this would disenchant shareholders. Overall, whilst I totally support the general policy of broadening share ownership, I believe in this specific case that the flotation of the company would not serve that policy well. I am sure that the Minister took good advice on that. I note from the same handout that several consultants were appointed to give that advice, and wonder whether they are putting their names to the statement. I refer to Touche Ross, Alan Burnside Communications and Citigate Communications. It would be interesting to know, incidentally, whether competitive tendering was involved, or the old boys' network. Competitive tendering has been forced on everyone else; why not force it on the Government?

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

In the event of a management-worker buy-out, would shares be offered to management and workers? Would there be no share issue even in those circumstances?

Mr. McGrady

In any flotation, trade sale or management buy-out involving a shareholding company, shares will be involved. They will be passed to the new owner—whether that owner is a corporate body, an individual or a group of individuals, as would obtain in a management buy-out. I see nothing in the Minister's statement rejecting flotation that justifies his decision.

I do not pretend to have a detailed knowledge of this particular case and there may be genuine reasons which can be qualified and quantified. It would be interesting if the Minister gave us the figure above and below which it was decided that a flotation would or would not have succeeded. Will he tell us that, because of X, Y and Z, there should be a trade sale rather than a sale to, as it were, the people of Northern Ireland—either directly to shareholders or through a management-employee buy-out? A sale to the people of Northern Ireland would at least mean that the airport would continue to be operated by the people in the interests of the people. I read again from the Minister's predecessor's press release and frame a question from the quotation. In relation to encouraging local interests, the press release states: whilst I will not in any way rule out bids from outside Northern Ireland, I am announcing today"— 13 August 1993— that I will be asking all bidders to include in their proposal what plans they have for local management and control, were they to acquire the airport. What has been done by way of asking possible bidders about their proposals for local management control were they successful in buying the airport?

Another issue that has taxed and will continue to tax many hon. Members is the problem of policing and security. Those more experienced than I in this respect have already articulated their grave concerns. I have no detailed knowledge, but I know that changes have already taken place. At one time, all airport security was carried out by the airport police. As recently as last summer, the airport police controlled the periphery and the building itself was controlled by a security firm. I do not know whether the security firm has the same rights as the police to stop or hinder me in my progress without my claiming diplomatic or parliamentary immunity, or whatever it is that one does. It is sometimes perplexing to know who is in control of what.

The airport police rightly have responsibility for the security of access to the airport, but, as one trundles through the access gateway, one finds that a security firm takes over responsibility. At the end of the day, however, someone controls those patrolling the area, which was one of the most interesting questions asked by the hon. Member for Antrim, South. He wondered whether there would be a private company police force in addition to the security firms which have sprung up all over the place. Will there be a private company police force that is not accountable to anyone? This is the crunch question that must be answered, but the Minister dealt with it only in passing.

The Minister has made much play of the good relations and efficient service at Belfast airport, and I can certainly vouch for the courtesy of the airport police. The Minister appeared to say that the transition would not cause any problems vis-a-vis the police. Last summer I spoke to a couple of policemen; I did not do so in an official capacity as I was merely passing through. One of them told me that 23 of his colleagues had applied for early redundancy because of the changes, because of their total dissatisfaction with their lot and with the security companies being brought in and because their future was a wholly unknown quantity. It is important that this aspect of the order is explained before we are asked to pass judgment.

Belfast international airport has a good reputation. It is an attractive, easy and open place and has all the things which an airport should have but which many of them do not have. If the order is passed, I fear that all that is good about the airport will be lost to the people of Northern Ireland for the sake of a balance sheet exercise by a company that is interested only in making a profit.

The airport is a public utility. No matter what legislation is passed, it can never be a private concern. If privatised, it would be a public utility run by a private company, and a public utility must always take account of the needs of the people. The privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity was a mistake because it failed the people, as did privatisation of British Telecom and other privatisations.

I fear that that will happen in this case, and for that reason, I and my colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour party will oppose the order.

4.55 pm
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I, too, hope that the House will reject the order. In the coming minutes, I hope to explain the objectionable nature of the order, which has serious implications not only for the people of Northern Ireland but for everyone in the United Kingdom in relation to employment rights and policing.

It is nonsense that we should examine extensive and detailed legislation in this way. This must be the only country in western Europe in which major legislation can be passed after only a brief debate in the legislature without hon. Members having the opportunity to amend or scrutinise it. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) who drew attention to article 18 which has serious implications for civil liberties and also empowers an airport official—not a policeman—to act in such a way as to put him in danger.

In addition, it is simply bad policy. If the legislation were to receive a proper Second Reading or Committee stage, either here or in some devolved Assembly, we could not only probe the Minister's thinking but perhaps persuade him to accept amendments. However, that is not possible because of the crackpot way in which we deal with Northern Ireland legislation. If the order is passed, we shall be making bad law and we shall not be serving the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

The order will permit or trigger the sale of Belfast international airport. I oppose the sale in principle because the airport is the gateway to the Province. It is a public utility and should be legitimately exploited on behalf of the economy and the people of Northern Ireland and retained in public ownership. I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of pride felt in Northern Ireland for the airport, which is a prestigious enterprise.

Other hon. Members have referred to the lack of an airport policy for Northern Ireland. I can only say, "Hear, hear," but it fits in with the absence of a coherent airport policy for the rest of the United Kingdom. It is crazy that there are no plans for the growth of airports in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. That absence reflects the Government's general lack of interest and will create problems not only in my part of the country—the south-east of England—but in Northern Ireland.

Belfast city airport is a growing enterprise and there will soon be a prestigious and worthwhile development at Derry. I wish both projects well. The growth in airport provision, however, must be planned if it is not to cause problems for users and workers. To let airports grow willy-nilly is profoundly foolish. The absence of a coherent strategy will cause difficulties.

Madam Speaker, the order is a precursor to the sale of Belfast harbour seaport, which is provided for under the Ports Act 1991. I fear that, relatively soon, we shall have a similar debate in which we shall protest about the arbitrary way in which the Government will trigger the sale of the seaport without any examination by Parliament of the ramifications for workers and the community of Northern Ireland and its effect on the economy of the United Kingdom and of Ireland. I regret that. Even at this stage, the Government should consider introducing a substantive Bill that includes their proposals for the sale of the airport and the disposal of the seaport.

Madam Speaker, the Minister—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he has referred to me as Madam Speaker rather a lot. It is gracious of him, but I am a Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Mackinlay

I apologise. Such was my anger and passion that I had failed to notice that you had occupied the Chair, Madam Speaker—[Interruption.] I mean Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Minister prayed in aid the sale of the port of Tilbury, which is in my constituency. It will not surprise hon. Members to hear that I know something about the history of the legislation that led to that sale and its consequences for the port's work force and police officers. The Government preferred and encouraged a so-called management-employee buy-out. They said that, even if they received a bid that was superior to that of the management and employees, they would, within certain limitations, discriminate in favour of the management-employee bid.

Subsequently, there was a management-employee buy-out at the port of Tilbury and, under the same legislation, a similar sale occurred across the river at Medway. The work forces of those ports were given shares, as part of the supposed "democratic process" of encouraging people to have an interest in the enterprise of their company. They were also encouraged to purchase further shares. I see that the Minister is acknowledging that that is probably what the Government also have in mind for the sale of the Northern Ireland international airport.

Many of the workers who purchased shares have since been made redundant. They feel deceived because, under the provisions of the sale and the ground rules on the purchase of shares, they had to sell them back immediately on redundancy, despite the fact that some had borrowed and others had invested their savings to acquire the shares. If the Minister believes that I am wrong to suggest that that strategy may be followed for the sale of the airport, he should give an assurance that if employees buy shares in Belfast international airport, and leave its employment or are made redundant, they will continue to hold the shares under a scheme created by the order.

The Minister said that the order would bring practices at the Northern Ireland international airport in line with those at airports in the rest of the United Kingdom, which had been disposed of some years previously. That assurance does not extend to policing. Policing at airports under the private ownership of BAA is still provided by public agencies. BAA is required to purchase the service of the police. At Heathrow airport, the service is provided by the Metropolitan police, at Gatwick by the Sussex constabulary, at Stansted by the Essex constabulary and at Glasgow by, I understand, Strathclyde police.

Mr. Stott

What about Greater Manchester?

Mr. Mackinlay

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who reminds me that Greater Manchester police provide policing at Manchester airport, which used to have a separate constabulary. It was deemed proper—I agree with this as a matter of public policy—that it should be merged into the Greater Manchester police because, for security reasons and to maintain the operational independence of the police, it should not be controlled by people who had a commercial interest in promoting airport enterprise.

The Minister is not bringing policing of the international airport into line with that at other airports but, unfortunately, he will bring it into line with the position at the port of Tilbury. The Port of London Authority police, a proud force and the second oldest police force in this country, which used to police the port of Tilbury, was privatised and is now under the ownership and control of the Port of Tilbury company. That was most distressing to police officers. I know from conversations with officers at the Northern Ireland airport that the suggestion that they should be sold like chattels and a piece of airport equipment is repugnant to them. They are proud of their public office of constable. It is barmy and wrong as a matter of principle that they should be controlled by a private company.

Officers at Northern Ireland airports have seen what has happened at the port of Tilbury and realise that they will lose out in terms of pay and conditions. After a year or two, the Port of London Authority police lost their linkage with the pay and conditions of service of the county constabulary. The pay and conditions of service of the Northern Ireland airport police are linked to those of the RUC. As night turns into day, I am sure that that link will be lost. I hope that the Minister will reassure the police in Northern Ireland that I am wrong and that pay and conditions of service will continue to be linked to those of the RUC.

The Government have totally disregarded the work force of Belfast international airport and its police officers. There has not been any meaningful consultation. Discussions have been prompted by and held under the auspices of the hon. Member for Antrim, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), who took the initiative of taking police officers to see the Minister to discuss the matter. So far as I am aware, however, there was no direct consultation of representatives of the police apart from that discussion. Moreover, from what I can ascertain, there has been a total absence of consultation with the trade unions representing the work force at the airport.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is no plan to include on the new security committee any representative from the police association at the airport?

Mr. Mackinlay

I am, indeed, aware of that. Even if the Government are determined to privatise the police force at the airport, I find it amazing that they do not propose to allow police association representation on the security committee. Moreover, so far as I am aware, the chief officer of police will not be an ex officio member of that committee. I find that both breathtaking and profoundly foolish.

There is one other matter that I believe would have been examined in greater detail had the contents of the order been taken as a Bill; indeed, I suspect that the Government might have reflected on it and amended the legislation. I refer to the position of the representative body of police officers. At present, the Northern Ireland airport police officers have an association. They have sought the status of federation but, for reasons which I do not understand, the Government have declined to grant it in statute. That is bad enough.

By the same token, however, the Northern Ireland Airport Police Association does not have the status of a trade union. There is, therefore, a massive void in respect of not only the status of the police officers' representative body but its legal position and capacity to protect and promote the interests of its members collectively and individually. I suspect that the Government are not being malevolent in this; they are simply incompetent. The parliamentary draftspersons and Ministers have not examined the issue sufficiently. I fear that a degree of arrogance may be involved as well. It is wrong that these police officers should have the protection neither of a federation nor of a trade union. I suspect that that situation is unique not just in the United Kingdom but among advanced western democracies.

It is within the Government's capacity to give the airport police proper status, preferably as a federation.

The Minister implied that the Royal Ulster Constabulary was happy with the policing arrangements. I venture to suggest that that is not so. I think that the RUC was asked, "If the police force at Northern Ireland airport is privatised, will you help to monitor police standards to ensure that they are adequate?" One would expect the Chief Constable to say, "Yes, I will do my best." But there is no evidence to suggest that the RUC considers the privatisation of a police force to be a good thing. It is a breathtaking suggestion.

Every police officer in the land—from constable to chief officer—is appalled at the suggestion that any police force should be privatised. It is bad in principle; it is bad as a matter of public policy; and it misleads the public who, not unreasonably, assume that someone in a police uniform is a public servant and independent. Any police officer in the United Kingdom would regard privatisation as a regrettable departure from the traditions of British policing, which have endured for 170 years. The police will fear that the privatisation of the police at the port of London in Tilbury and at Northern Ireland's international airport constitutes a dummy run for the privatisation of other police functions elsewhere in the United Kingdom. That is a real danger, and I believe that that will be the view of police officers everywhere.

The Minister has not told the House—but I will—that the chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents the RUC, wrote to the Minister's predecessor in June 1993: My Central Committee have voiced concern about the future of the Belfast Airport Police with the prospect of an armed and trained Police service coming under the control of a civilian Board of Directors … Once privatised, the Airport will be completely commercially driven in its priorities and, not unnaturally, we cannot help but be anxious about the maintenance of the quality and scope of the Police service at the airport. That sums up the legitimate fears not just of police officers in Northern Ireland but of any sensible member of the public, who would be horrified to know that a privatised police service was armed. We are being run by a barmy army, which proposes to privatise an armed police force in an area that is critical in security terms. Will the Minister even now pause to reflect on whether the order should be withdrawn so that the issue of policing can be the subject of further consultation and consideration?

Who will decide what is the correct operational strength and rank structure for the force at the airport after privatisation? Will it be the company or the RUC? How will that structure be enforced? I understand that, at present, the Northern Ireland airport police can check out vehicles via the police computer. They do not have direct access but can go through the proper channels at the RUC. Will the airport police still have comparable access to the police computer after privatisation? If so, I am not sure that it is good public policy. If not, how can they police properly? Either situation is undesirable and reinforces my argument that we should not privatise the police and that they should remain independent of the airport operators.

I have already referred to the police officers' pay and conditions of service. Unfortunately, there is evidence to show that there will not be protection. Will the pay and conditions of police officers employed in the force continue to be linked to those of the RUC?

I asked in an intervention whether the constables would have to be resworn. That is not an insignificant point. Article 19 of the order states: An airport operator authorised in that behalf by the Secretary of State may appoint any person employed by the operator to be a constable on the airport managed by that operator. That seems to suggest that existing police officers, who are proud of their office of constable and many of whom have given lengthy service to the police force at the airport and to the RUC before, will suffer the indignity of having to swear again when the privatised company takes them over as part of the airport furniture and fittings.

The draftsmen have not taken account of that point. I suspect that, unless the provisions are clarified, embarrassment may arise and the powers of police officers who act as constables after privatisation may be challenged if they have not resworn. That illustrates the clumsy and sloppy way in which the order is presented to the House. There is certainly no clarity on that point. I am told that, as part of the exercise leading up to the order, there was a so-called "keypoint" survey to examine what should be the policing needs in terms of location, numbers and costs at the airport after privatisation.

I realise that, by definition, such a document must be kept confidential, but I had hoped that the Minister would make that document available to the Northern Ireland Airport Police Association, because its officers and members will have to fulfil the policing functions. That is a further area where a moral obligation is not being fulfilled by the Government—to consult the people who will have to carry out the policing functions at the airport. It is wrong that there has been no disclosure at least of some of the main points in that survey to the police officers' representative body.

There is a danger with the method of sale that the Minister prefers. Although I am opposed to privatisation, I believe that a floatation would have been more appropriate, because at least the people of Northern Ireland would have had a slice of the action. One could argue that, after a flotation, the airport would still be partly within the ownership of the people of Northern Ireland. Under a sale, which I think the Minister proposes, there is no guarantee that there will be a maintenance of any Northern Ireland interests in the ownership and control of that airport. What is more worrying is that we have no idea who will purchase the airport.

I have expressed some concern and scepticism about so-called management-employee buy-outs, because my experience at Tilbury is that the employee part of the buy-out is really a sham or a cosmetic exercise and not worth a bag of beans. Many people painfully found that they lost their jobs as well as their shares after a while. Nevertheless, such a buy-out has some continuity and identity with existing arrangements. At Belfast, things might not work out as the Minister intends. Some other enterprise or entrepreneur without loyalty to Northern Ireland, this country or western Europe might purchase the airport. What guarantee is there about the people who might purchase or own and control the airport? if it is purchased initially under the auspices of a management-employee buy-out, it could be sold again in the not-too-distant furture to another party.

The recurring theme of the debate this afternoon is about what will happen to the police. Heaven forbid, a Robert Maxwell type could purchase the airport. I would not want him to have ownership and control of a police force. One can think of other people. The mind boggles at the idea that they should be able to control and maintain a police force. Quite apart from the dangers of impropriety and undue pressure put on police wishing to maintain their independence, there is also a danger that they will be demeaned and abused, for instance as little more than commissionaires, as a front to the enterprise rather than as professional police officers.

What the Minister has so far rejected—I think that he should reflect on this—is that there are alternatives to the sale of the police force. The alternatives are to maintain the force within the ownership and control of the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment and for the officers to be leased out, as happens at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow and Manchester. They should stay under public control—Government control—and the costs should be charged to the new airport operators, thus maintaining their independence.

The airport police could have been absorbed into the RUC. Parallels occurred some years ago at Heathrow when the British Airports Authority police merged with the Metropolitan police and at Manchester when the airport police merged with the Greater Manchester police. The Government have spurned those alternatives. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister will reconsider and see that that is in the interests of the Government, the people of Northern Ireland and the proud police officers who feel insulted about the way in which they will be treated should privatisation go through.

I return to a point which concerns me and other hon. Members. If the Government glibly sell off the professional police officers at Tilbury in Essex and in Northern Ireland, who are proud of their office, are those not dummy runs for the sale of police officers' functions elsewhere in the United Kingdom, such as the motorway police? Would not there be a replacement of police officers in public control by static security guards elsewhere? The Minister cannot pretend that that fear is not being uttered by police officers throughout Britain. There is a profound fear that that will happen unless the Government are prevented from going ahead with privatisation of the police force under the order. For those reasons, I hope that either the Minister will take the order back or that the House of Commons will throw it out.

5.25 pm
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

But for world war two, the part of the airfield that was vested from my grandfather would have eventually passed to me. That might, in certain circumstances, have meant that I would have had to declare an interest. Now my hands are clean. I am not the landlord of the airfield. I hope that that does something to relieve the anxieties of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe).

I derive some satisfaction from article 17 of the order, which no doubt echoes the Aerodromes Act (Northern Ireland) 1971. The article confers on district councils various powers, such as the acquisition of land, planning restrictions on structures in line with flight paths and—this is important—providing or improving road links.

I know that the present Minister, whom we are delighted to welcome to the Northern Ireland debate, even if it is only on an Order in Council, will not mind my mentioning that a predecessor of his in 1977 gave a solemn undertaking on behalf of the then Government that the missing link to the present airport would be completed within some six months. That was when the original road was closed for security reasons. It was not until my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South took over that area from me—and, therefore, represented it far more effectively—that the Department of the Environment got round to constructing the link after all those years.

I do not know whether the Minister has been there ceremonially to open it, but he would have been able to drive along it on the way to the airport. It is commonly known as the Killeen bypass. It is a great consolation to know that the district councils will have an important role, if not all the say, in providing and improving the road links.

Article 20 brings district councils into the picture, because it specifies and interprets the meaning of a district council in terms of the order. Article 20(2)(c) says: the district council in whose district the airport or any part thereof is situated or whose district is in the locality of the airport will have certain roles to play in the consultation at least. If consultation is to be effective, that means that adjacent district councils will have some input into the working of the airport under the new management. I freely concede that that will mainly mean Antrim borough council. However, may I put in a commercial for my Lisburn borough council which, like Newtownabbey borough council, is covered by the phrase or whose district is in the locality of the airport". I suppose that Lisburn and Newtownabbey could claim that they are under the flight path. Aircraft taking off from either set of runways pass over those two districts in a short time, even before they retract the undercarriage. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South does not have a monopoly on consultation here.

Article 20 deals with consultation. I have mentioned the district councils and the Minister mentioned the provision for consultation with the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland. I am especially interested in article 20(2)(a), which refers to consultation with "users of the airport". That might seem to be a very natural concession because without users, it would be difficult to justify the existence, never mind the policing, of an airport. However, we are setting up a body that in some ways resembles the controlling authority at Heathrow; it is not an exact replica, but it is near enough for the purpose. My next point has a direct bearing on the effectiveness or otherwise of consultation with users.

I sought to engage in consultation when the Belfast lounge was moved from gate 49 to gates 8 to 10, which is a much more remote location in the Heathrow complex. At the time, only one little insignificant sign was provided to indicate where the new Belfast lounges and gates were. Such was the volume of complaints from constituents—my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South and others had a similar volume of complaints—that I wrote to the authority pleading that signs be provided similar to those indicating Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester, which was not an unreasonable request.

I received a rather high-handed reply which stated that it was considered that the signposting was adequate, but that, in the light of my representations, it would be reviewed. It was reviewed and the result was that the one remaining sign was removed entirely, leaving no signs—a situation which still exists. In the spirit of Christmas, I volunteered to purchase 20 posters if the airport authorities would put them up. They declined that offer and we still have no indication for first-time travellers of where they can find the aircraft heading for the airport that we are now discussing.

The British Airports Authority, as a result of other representations made by the Aldergrove airport authorities, various institutions and trade organisations in Northern Ireland, retaliated by making the situation worse. I do not imagine that the British Airports Authority will bother to read Hansard. If it does, it will take a delight in ignoring the wishes of the majority of users. However, I hope that the consultation process provided for Aldergrove airport will be much more effective. I hope that the Minister and his Department will ensure that the users' wishes and views are not ignored as they are currently being ignored at Heathrow.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) apologised for his late arrival. I had the problem of being delayed for a few hours this morning. Others of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues may be late and some of my colleagues will be late. A telephone message from my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) was passed to me a few minutes ago. He was engaged this morning in consultations about the draft Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1993 and left shortly after lunch to get here.

All those hon. Members have been delayed because of what I can only describe as imaginary snow at Heathrow. My flight was delayed for nearly two hours and we were told that the delay would last until the Heathrow runways were cleared of heavy snow. Hon. Members can imagine our surprise as we descended from west of the airfield and we saw that all the roads, even little country roads, were absolutely clear, as was the M25.

What sector of that cumbersome, incompetent authority decided, with no justification, to cancel flights, to divert flights and to delay flights, thus throwing the whole pattern of the day into utter confusion? I imagine from the signals being transmitted in various parts of the Chamber that a little confusion has also affected various Whips Offices.

We can only hope that the equivalent authority created by the order will be more realistic, more competent and more considerate of users than is the present Heathrow body. We can hope—I hope not in vain—that Aldergrove's reputation for efficiency and user friendliness will not be damaged by the legislation which we are being asked to endorse, but which we shall not willingly endorse.

5.35 pm
Mr. Tim Smith

We have had a useful and constructive debate—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he needs the leave of the House to speak again.

Mr. Smith

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. With the leave of the House, I wish to respond to the debate.

We have had a constructive and useful debate. I have listened with great care to all the contributions. I understand that some hon. Members oppose privatisation in principle. There have also been a large number of detailed questions which I shall do my best to address. If, when I examine the Hansardreport in more detail, I find that I have not addressed any specific questions, I shall write to the hon. Member concerned.

I share the reservations that have been expressed about this procedure. I share the reservations about the fact that we have to consider a privatisation measure by means of the Order in Council procedure. I share the concerns about the consequences that flow from that and about the fact that it is not possible for hon. Members to table amendments, which makes it difficult for us to discuss matters of detail. However, I am afraid that it is not practical in every case for the Government to introduce Bills to cover such provisions. I am sorry about the fact that it is just not a practical proposition.

The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) talked about airport development in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland, with its population of 1.5 million, is remarkably well served. We could have a rather interesting debate about whether Belfast city airport and Belfast international airport are complementary or in competition. I suspect that there is an element of each in the service they afford to customers. The provision for a population of 1.5 million is rather satisfactory and offers customers considerable choice.

The hon. Member for Wigan was concerned about the European regional development fund money. I had not seen the letter from Bruce Milian, although I have now read it with care. On the face of it, it appears to conflict with the advice that we have received from the Commission. I believe that the explanation is as follows. The ERDF grant was paid at the rate of 50 per cent., which is the rate that is paid to private sector operators. It will be open to the airport to claim grant at that rate when it is privatised. In practice, although there may be a potential threat, I do not believe that there is any real threat of the money being clawed back by the Commission. I hope that that explanation is helpful.

The hon. Member for Wigan talked about the market value of the airport. That value is what someone is prepared to pay for it in an open market. We have had 10 serious expressions of interest, so there is no shortage of interest. What we cannot do is to meet all the different concerns that have been expressed. Price will obviously be very important. I was pressed earlier by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who said that we should get the best value for money for the taxpayers and that, if we did not, we would be in trouble with the Public Accounts Committee.

Other hon. Members pressed me on other considerations, such as the need to ensure that there is a local interest and consideration of a management-employee buy-out. We shall have to weigh up all the different factors and make the best decision. I should like a bid to succeed which has some local interest. We have encouraged a management-employment buy-out to the extent of providing it with some help. That bidder will be considered along with all the others.

We have heard a lot in the debate about policing. At present, policing levels at the airport are determined by management. They will continue to be determined by management when it is privatised, but under the supervision of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There cannot be any question of management suddenly deciding to make a 50 per cent. cut in policing at the airport. That would not be acceptable to the RUC, which will continue to have a supervisory role.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. MacKinlay) suggested that there may be a conflict—that perhaps an instruction given to a police constable may be based not on the best policing but on the convenience of management. Frankly, if that sort of thing happened, the RUC would take a considerable interest in it. If it continued, the Secretary of State would have to step in. As I said, he has considerable powers to step in and, indeed, take over policing of the airport if necessary. The existence of that sanction, and the knowledge that it exists, will deter any private sector operator from behaving in that arbitrary way in the first place.

Mr. Mackinlay

The scenario described by the Minister does not protect the individual police officer. At the moment, if he is given an unlawful or improper instruction he is put in a most invidious position. As I said, police officers do not have protection that is comparable to that of other workers—a federation or a trade union. The Minister is not providing the capacity for an individual police officer to behave with the utmost propriety, as is his wish, if an employer wishes to give an improper instruction.

Mr. Smith

I understand that, but it is the situation which prevails at present. It would be equally possible for the present management to behave in that way, but they do not do so because they know that it is not acceptable—it would not be acceptable to the RUC. I do not believe that a policeman is likely to be put in that position, for the reasons that I have given.

The hon. Member for Wigan asked about other workers at the airport. The answer is that the TUPE provisions will apply and their pension rights will be preserved. They will be transferred when the company is privatised.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) asked about pension arrangements, so perhaps I can deal with that matter now. There is a small deficit in the pension fund at present which is being made up by increased contributions from the employer. The pension scheme will be transferred to the new company and the pension rights of existing employees will be preserved in the process.

The hon. Member for Wigan asked who has the ultimate responsibility for security at the airport. The answer is that the airport operator has responsibility at present, and will do so when the airport is privatised. The hon. Gentleman also asked who will pay for security. The answer is that the airport operator pays for security at present, and will be required to do so in the future. There cannot be any question of the airport operator cutting back on security costs simply for commercial reasons in an attempt to increase profit. That will not be acceptable. The operator will have to provide the level of security that is agreed with the RUC.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South was good enough to thank my Department's officials and, indeed, my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), for the detailed discussions that have taken place and I am grateful for what he said. He wanted to know whether we would simply sell the airport to the highest bidder. As I said, price will obviously play an important part, but there are other considerations, and one of the most important is the question of a local element. A management-employee buy-out will be considered carefully, together with all the other bids.

The hon. Gentleman referred to some specific provisions in the order, including article 18(3)(i), which refers to an airport official or a constable requiring a person to leave the airport. That is a repetition of what we already have in law both in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, so there is nothing special or peculiar about that. It applies to all airports—there is nothing special about it in this case.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to article 20(2)(c) and the words "which affects their interests". One should not read too much into that. Obviously, we want to establish good consultative arrangements with everyone who has an interest in the operation of the airport, whether it is the users or the district councils representing those who are affected by its operations. We want to find the best way forward, and it will be for the airport operator to establish satisfactory relations. Obviously, it will be in the operator's interest to have good relations with all these interests. That is not particularly limiting because, obviously, people will be put on bodies because they represent specific interests in the community.

I have dealt with the questions raised by the hon. Gentleman about the pension scheme. Perhaps I can move on to his points about policing and the control exercised by the Northern Ireland Office. He talked about a conflict. As I said, a conflict could arise at present. However, I do not believe that it will arise, for the reasons that I have given. The hon. Gentleman asked whether security will be maintained at the highest level. It will be maintained at the level necessary to ensure that the airport is properly protected, just as it is at present. In that sense, I do not believe that there will be any change in the arrangements.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Secretary of State would have power to direct the owners to meet security standards. Effectively, I believe that that will be so. Indirectly, the Secretary of State will have that power. The hon. Gentleman asked whether he might have access to the security committee. The answer is yes. I cannot give a lot of details about the security committee, but, certainly, the hon. Gentleman will have access to it. I do not know what the committee will be called. The question about the name did not apply to the committee—it applied to the name of the police force. I am not able to say whether there will be a new title for the police force; it will be a matter for the operator.

I was asked whether there will be a formal agreement with the union representing the airport police. The answer is that there will be a contractual arrangement which will be put in the prospectus, so it will be a clear condition that any bidder must accept as part of making a bid.

Mr. Mackinlay

I am sorry to labour this point, but the police officers do not have a trade union or federation. Their representative organisation is the association, but it has no statutory base. The police have asked the Government to give the association a statutory base, but they have failed to do so. It is grossly unfair, inept and dangerous to the police and, ultimately, the Government and the airport operator.

Mr. Smith

I am sorry if I called it a union—it is the association. It will be protected in the way that I have described: there will be a contractual arrangement which will be set out in the prospectus, and any prospective bidder will have to accept it. That is how members of the association and their interests will be protected.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South asked about Belfast city airport. I understand that. Although it is not what we are discussing today, it is relevant. The hon. Gentleman was right to point to the success of that airport and the fact that it has forecast 1.2 million passengers this year—a substantial rate of growth.

Obviously, that airport has produced some problems. If there are problems with noise levels, we will need to look at that issue. Certainly, there are problems with road traffic and the hon. Gentleman described some of them to the House. The problems of access to the airport and so on are already the subject of discussions at an official level. We must consider precisely what we will do about that, because there have been problems with the traffic recently. Those who are responsible for roads are examining the problem to see what we can do about it.

Mr. Stott

On the subject of Belfast city airport, I am not pressing the Minister to disclose at the Dispatch Box whether the owner of the city airport, Bombardier, could be a potential bidder for the international airport. However, will the Minister state whether the bid would be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission if that were to be the case?

Mr. Smith

I can help the hon. Gentleman on that point. At one time, Bombardier considered making a bid, but it is not doing so. I think that it understood that it would have the kind of difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

Before the Minister leaves the issue of the security committee, can he tell the House who the chairman of that committee will be?

Mr. Smith

I am unable to do so at the moment. I do not think that it would be appropriate to do so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Is he a Tory?"] One must be cautious with security issues. I will see whether I can provide more information on the matter for the hon. Gentleman later.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) was also concerned about the Order in Council procedure, which I have tried to deal with. He does not like privatisation either, and he said that Northern Ireland had not benefited from it. It is a little too early to judge the success or failure of Northern Ireland Electricity.

British Telecom was privatised in 1984 and subscribers in Northern Ireland have benefited from that privatisation, as have subscribers in the rest of the United Kingdom, even if there is no competition. Telephone bills have come down by 20 per cent. in real terms and further cuts were announced the other day. A result of those cuts is that the peak morning rate has been abolished.[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) does not like good news, but this is good news for the consumer and it has come directly as a result of the Government's privatisation policy and increased competition.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

Are the Government saying that electricity bills in Northern Ireland will go down by 20 per cent?

Mr. Smith

I am certainly not saying that—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Before we continue, I should point out that this matter is not really germane to the debate. Passing reference to the subject may be made, but it should not make up the substantial part of the debate.

Mr. Smith

I am simply saying that it is too early to judge, as far as Northern Ireland Electricity is concerned. I will leave it at that.

The hon. Member for South Down also referred to the fact that the airport is first class, and that it had had major refurbishment. I agree with that, and it will be even better when it is privatised. Those involved will be even more concerned to provide good service to the customer, without which one cannot maximise profits. The airport will have access to private capital markets to increase investment, and there will be more management freedom. As a result, everybody who uses the airport will benefit from privatisation.

The hon. Gentleman was concerned about the method of sale and I understand that he would have liked a flotation. It was a difficult judgment to make, and we were concerned with the size of the proceeds of the sale. That will be examined carefully by the Public Accounts Committee. I could point to a number of trade sales—for example, Sealink and Royal Ordnance—which have raised considerably more than the Belfast airport is likely to raise. it is impossible to say exactly what the threshold is. A different judgment has to be made in each case. This case was carefully considered, and the judgment was reached that a trade sale was the most appropriate means in the particular case.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about consultants, and I can assure him that a competitive tender was engaged in for each appointment, as is always the case in such matters.

Mr. McGrady

May I refer to a matter to which I thought the Minister would return concerning security? He is aware that the police at Belfast international airport do not now service the building area, and that that has been taken over by a security firm. What responsibilities previously exercised by the police are now exercised by the security firm? Is the level of security the same where the police are no longer involved? Are the police or the security firm responsible to the present employers in exactly the same way?

Mr. Smith

The police are responsible for the security of the entire airport; that situation has not changed. It will not change following privatisation, even if a private firm is operating in a part of the airport area. I will certainly provide the hon. Gentleman with more details on that matter if necessary.

The hon. Member for Thurrock talked a great deal about policing at airports in Great Britain, but I think that he misunderstood what I said. I did not suggest that arrangements would be the same in Belfast international airport as they are in Great Britain. I have gone to great lengths to try to explain why that is not the case. We have satisfactory arrangements, and all we are doing is transferring them during the privatisation. I am riot in favour of change for change's sake. We have good arrangements, and they will be continued.

The hon. Gentleman was, on the whole, rather inclined to exaggerate the consequences of the matter. I understand his concern about the pay and conditions of people who work at the airport, and in particular the police. Those are presently matters for the management, as they will continue to be after privatisation.

The hon. Gentleman was also concerned that the association does not have trade union status. It does have negotiating status, and surely that is important. That negotiating status will come by virtue of a contractual arrangement, and its rights are enhanced by the order. If the hon. Gentleman looks at clause 19(5), he will see that that is the case.

The hon. Gentleman asked about future owners, and what would happen if the purchaser were to sell the airport to another owner. We have full protection. In the prospectus, we will have effectively a golden share, so we have control. It is vital for security reasons that we have that control.

The right hon.Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) referred to the "missing link". I am glad that we have, as a result of his efforts, the missing link to the airport. He also talked about the consultation process and the importance in particular of consulting the users of the airport. I agree with him, and I sympathise with his experience at Heathrow. I hope that we will be able to do better at Belfast international.

It is in the interests of any airport operator that it should properly consult the users. They are, after all, the customers of the airport. Those customers have a choice of which airport to use on some routes, and we will want to ensure that users are properly represented on any consultative committee and that their views are properly considered.

I hope that I have answered all the points raised in the debate. The Government strongly support the concept of privatisation. In this case, it will bring great benefits to the customers of the airport. The airport will have access to the private capital markets, and it will have the freedom to manage. That will be in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland, and of all those who use the airport.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 270, Noes 224.

Division No. 121] [5.57 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Ashby, David
Aitken, Jonathan Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Alexander, Richard Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Amess, David Baldry, Tony
Arbuthnot, James Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Bates, Michael Garnier, Edward
Batiste, Spencer Gill, Christopher
Bellingham, Henry Gillan, Cheryl
Bendall, Vivian Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Beresford, Sir Paul Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gorst, John
Blackburn, Dr John G. Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Booth, Hartley Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Boswell, Tim Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Hague, William
Bowden, Andrew Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bowis, John Hanley, Jeremy
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Hannam, Sir John
Brandreth, Gyles Hargreaves, Andrew
Brazier, Julian Harris, David
Bright, Graham Haselhurst, Alan
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hawkins, Nick
Browning, Mrs. Angela Hawksley, Warren
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Heald, Oliver
Burns, Simon Heathcoat-Amory, David
Burt, Alistair Hendry, Charles
Butler, Peter Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Butterfill, John Hicks, Robert
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Carttiss, Michael Horam, John
Cash, William Hordem, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Chapman, Sydney Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Clappison, James Howarth, Alan (Strafrd-on-A)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Colvin, Michael Hunt, Sir John (Ravensboume)
Congdon, David Hunter, Andrew
Conway, Derek Jack, Michael
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Jenkin, Bernard
Cormack, Patrick Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Couchman, James Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Cran, James Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Key, Robert
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) King, Rt Hon Tom
Davis, David (Boothferry) Kirkhope, Timothy
Day, Stephen Knapman, Roger
Deva, Nirj Joseph Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Dickens, Geoffrey Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Dicks, Terry Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Dorrell, Stephen Knox, Sir David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Dover, Den Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Duncan, Alan Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Duncan-Smith, Iain Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Dunn, Bob Legg, Barry
Durant, Sir Anthony Leigh, Edward
Eggar, Tim Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Elletson, Harold Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Lidington, David
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Lightbown, David
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Lord, Michael
Evennett, David Luff, Peter
Faber, David MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fabricant, Michael MacKay, Andrew
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Maclean, David
Fenner, Dame Peggy McLoughlin, Patrick
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Forman, Nigel Madel, Sir David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Maitland, Lady Olga
Forth, Eric Malone, Gerald
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Mans, Keith
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Marland, Paul
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Marlow, Tony
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Marshall, John (Hendon S)
French, Douglas Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gale, Roger Mates, Michael
Gallie, Phil Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Merchant, Piers
Mills, Iain Spring, Richard
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Sproat, Iain
Moss, Malcolm Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Needham, Richard Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Nelson, Anthony Steen, Anthony
Neubert, Sir Michael Stephen, Michael
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Stem, Michael
Nicholls, Patrick Stewart, Allan
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Streeter, Gary
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Sumberg, David
Norris, Steve Sweeney, Walter
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Sykes, John
Page, Richard Tapsell, Sir Peter
Paice, James Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Patnick, Irvine Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Pawsey, James Temple-Morris, Peter
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Thomason, Roy
Pickles, Eric Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Porter, David (Waveney) Thomton, Sir Malcolm
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Thurnham, Peter
Powell, William (Corby) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Redwood, Rt Hon John Tracey, Richard
Richards, Rod Trend, Michael
Riddick, Graham Twinn, Dr Ian
Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Robathan, Andrew Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Walden, George
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Waller, Gary
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Ward, John
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Sackville, Tom Waterson, Nigel
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Watts, John
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Whitney, Ray
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Whittingdale, John
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Widdecombe, Ann
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Wilkinson, John
Shersby, Michael Willetts, David
Sims, Roger Wilshire, David
Skeet, Sir Trevor Wolfson, Mark
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wood, Timothy
Soames, Nicholas Yeo, Tim
Speed, Sir Keith
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Tellers for the Ayes:
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Mr. Andrew Mitchell and Mr. Michael Brown.
Spink, Dr Robert
Abbott, Ms Diane Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Ainger, Nick Cann, Jamie
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Allen, Graham Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Armstrong, Hilary Clelland, David
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Barnes, Harry Coffey, Ann
Barron, Kevin Cohen, Harry
Battle, John Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Corbett, Robin
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Corston, Ms Jean
Bell, Stuart Cousins, Jim
Bennett, Andrew F. Cox, Tom
Benton, Joe Cryer, Bob
Berry, Dr. Roger Cummings, John
Betts, Clive Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Blair, Tony Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Boyes, Roland Dafis, Cynog
Bradley, Keith Dalyell, Tam
Bray, Dr Jeremy Darling, Alistair
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Davidson, Ian
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Burden, Richard Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Byers, Stephen Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Caborn, Richard Dewar, Donald
Callaghan, Jim Dobson, Frank
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Donohoe, Brian H.
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Dowd, Jim
Dunnachie, Jimmy Mackinlay, Andrew
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McLeish, Henry
Eagle, Ms Angela Maclennan, Robert
Eastham, Ken McMaster, Gordon
Enright, Derek McNamara, Kevin
Etherington, Bill McWilliam, John
Evans, John (St Helens N) Maddock, Mrs Diana
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Maginnis, Ken
Fatchett, Derek Mahon, Alice
Faulds, Andrew Mandelson, Peter
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Fisher, Mark Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Flynn, Paul Martlew, Eric
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Maxton, John
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Meacher, Michael
Foulkes, George Michael, Alun
Fraser, John Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fyfe, Maria Milburn, Alan
Galbraith, Sam Miller, Andrew
Galloway, George Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Garrett, John Moonie, Dr Lewis
George, Bruce Morgan, Rhodri
Gerrard, Neil Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Godsiff, Roger Mudie, George
Golding, Mrs Llin Mullin, Chris
Gordon, Mildred Murphy, Paul
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Grocott, Bruce O'Hara, Edward
Gunnell, John Olner, William
Hain, Peter O'Neill, Martin
Hall, Mike Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hanson, David Paisley, Rev Ian
Hardy, Peter Patchett, Terry
Harman, Ms Harriet Pickthall, Colin
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Pope, Greg
Henderson, Doug Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hendron, Dr Joe Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Heppell, John Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Prescott, John
Hinchliffe, David Primarolo, Dawn
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Purchase, Ken
Home Robertson, John Quin, Ms Joyce
Hood, Jimmy Radice, Giles
Hoon, Geoffrey Raynsford, Nick
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Redmond, Martin
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Reid, Dr John
Hoyle, Doug Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Hutton, John Rogers, Allan
Illsley, Eric Rooker, Jeff
Ingram, Adam Rooney, Terry
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Jackson, Helen (Shefld, H) Rowlands, Ted
Jamieson, David Sedgemore, Brian
Janner, Greville Shearman, Barry
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Skinner, Dennis
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C& S) Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & Fsbury)
Khabra, Piara S. Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Kilfedder, Sir James Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Snape, Peter
Leighton, Ron Spearing, Nigel
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Spellar, John
Lewis, Terry Steinberg, Gerry
Litherland, Robert Stott, Roger
Livingstone, Ken Strang, Dr. Gavin
Llwyd, Elfyn Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lynne, Ms Liz Turner, Dennis
McAvoy, Thomas Vaz, Keith
McCartney, Ian Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Macdonald, Calum Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
McFall, John Wareing, Robert N
McGrady, Eddie Watson, Mike
McKelvey, William Wicks, Malcolm
Wigley, Dafydd Wright, Dr Tony
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Winnick, David Tellers for the Noes:
Worthington, Tony Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and Mr. Don Dixon.
Wray, Jimmy

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Airports (Northern Ireland) Order 1993. which was laid before this House on 9 December, be approved.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I regret to say that I missed the last Division and the reason for that is simple. My office is on the farthest point of Millbank and, as I came straight out of my office after the Division bell went, the lifts were not working properly. I had to walk all the way down the stairs. I came straight here, to find that the doors were locked. Can I ask you to inquire into whether it is practical for Members who have to come from Millbank to do so within eight minutes?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I sympathise with the hon. Member and anyone else caught in that way. I will ensure that that point is passed on to the proper authorities.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I also noticed that tonight two Members rushed through the counted Lobby when the doors were being closed on our side. As I was the Whip responsible for the counting on the Opposition side, the doors were closed, and therefore Members on the Opposition side were denied the opportunity to vote and made no attempt to walk through the counting area. I hope that the hon. Members who had gone through the counted area in the Aye Lobby were not included in the vote, because it denied the right to Members coming in late to the Opposition Lobby.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Yes. It is obviously not in my personal knowledge because I cannot see what is happening. If, however, doors are open and people walk through them, obviously they will have been included in the vote. I cannot make further comments without greater knowledge than I now have. I thank the hon. Member for mentioning the point.