HC Deb 15 November 2000 vol 356 cc1004-20

Lords amendment: No. 31, to insert the following new clause—Pension entitlement of present and former employees of NATS—

".—(1) In this section— NATS employer" includes NATS, any designated company which succeeds to the business of NATS and any employer other than a designated company which succeeds to or acquires any part of the business of NATS; NATS" is National Air Traffic Services Ltd whose air traffic services are to be transferred under the provisions of this Act; protected beneficiary" includes—

  1. (a) any person who, on the transfer date, is employed by NATS and is an active member of the Scheme;
  2. (b) any person who is employed by NATS on the transfer date, but is then too young to join the Scheme, and who subsequently joins;
  3. (c) any person who is not an active member of the Scheme on the transfer date but who is subsequently entitled to rejoin as a NATS employee without a break in their continuity of employment;
  4. (d) any person who is not an active member of the Scheme on the transfer date, but who is entitled to accrued pension rights under the Scheme at that date; and
  5. (e) any person who is prospectively or contingently entitled to benefit under the Scheme on the death of a person covered under (a) to (d) above;

"relevant scheme" means the Scheme or any other scheme of a NATS employer that covers protected beneficiaries, and that provides benefits in respect of the protected beneficiaries which are at least equivalent in value to those applicable to the protected beneficiaries as at the transfer date;

"Scheme" means the Civil Aviation Authority Pension Scheme;

"transfer date" means the date of the transfer of NATS to the public-private partnership.

(2) NATS (or, if appropriate, the designated company) shall, subject to the consent of the Pension Schemes Office of the Inland Revenue, participate in the Scheme as a non-associated employer.

(3) If NATS (or the designated company) does participate in the Scheme as a non-associated employer, a proportion of the total assets of the Scheme shall be segregated for the benefit of the protected beneficiaries and the share of assets so segregated shall be equal in proportion to the proportion that the Scheme's liabilities in respect of the protected beneficiaries bears to the Scheme's liabilities as a whole.

(4) If NATS (or the designated company) is unable to participate in the Scheme, that NATS employer shall instead make available a relevant scheme for the benefit of the protected beneficiaries.

(5) If the shares or business of NATS (or the designated company), or any part of that business, is transferred to a NATS employer other than NATS or a designated company, that NATS employer shall become a non-associated employer in the Scheme and if that is not possible that NATS employer shall instead make available a relevant scheme for the benefit of the protected beneficiaries.

(6) For the purposes of subsections (4) and (5), if a NATS employer is to make available a relevant scheme other than the Scheme, a share of the assets of the Scheme (or of the previous relevant scheme if not the Scheme) shall be transferred to the receiving relevant scheme, calculated on the basis described in subsection (3).

(7) If a protected beneficiary transfers to the employment of another employer that also participates in the Scheme but which is not a NATS employer, that beneficiary shall remain a protected beneficiary for the purposes of the benefits to be provided to and in respect of him under the relevant scheme and if that beneficiary subsequently transfers back to the employment of a NATS employer he shall still remain a protected beneficiary.

(8) For so long as a NATS employer remains as a participating employer of the Scheme in respect of protected beneficiaries, one trustee of the Scheme shall be a member representative selected from amongst the protected beneficiaries, and one trustee of the Scheme shall be an employer representative of the NATS employer.

(9) The NATS employer shall contribute to the relevant scheme at no less than the rate recommended by that scheme's actuary as being sufficient to secure the accrued rights from time to time of the protected beneficiaries in full by the purchase of annuities and the NATS employer shall not be entitled unilaterally to suspend or terminate its contributions to the relevant scheme except upon its insolvency.

(10) On the full winding-up of a relevant scheme, or on a partial winding-up which involves protected beneficiaries, any shortfall in the assets required to buy out the accrued rights at that time of the protected beneficiaries shall be met in full by the relevant NATS employer and shall be treated as a debt on the employer.

(11) If, on the full or partial winding-up of a relevant scheme, as described in subsection (10), the trustees wish, rather than securing benefits by the purchase of annuities, to pay a bulk transfer to another scheme, that other scheme shall be a relevant scheme and the transfer value payable in respect of the protected beneficiaries shall be sufficient to secure a buy out of their accrued rights if the receiving scheme were to be wound up immediately following the transfer.

(12) The NATS employer shall provide future benefits in the relevant scheme which, in respect of the protected beneficiaries, are at least equivalent in value to those available under the Scheme at the transfer date.

(13) No amendment may be made to a relevant scheme which would result in a reduction of the accrued or future rights of protected beneficiaries, nor in an increase in the contributions payable by protected beneficiaries who are active members."

Mr. Raynsford

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

First, let me reassure the House that the Government regard the matter of pensions protection for air traffic control staff as one of great importance. Pensions affect us all, and I can well understand why it is a matter of such importance to NATS employees. I must therefore make it clear that we would not act in any way that would put them under threat, and we are not doing so. We have considered in some detail the adequacy of protections for NATS employees. We believe that the necessary protections are in place without the need for this amendment. I shall attempt to explain, as briefly as possible, what the protections are.

7.45 pm

First, the Civil Aviation Authority pension scheme, to which NATS staff currently belong, is to be amended to make it possible for staff employed by the public-private partnership to remain members of that scheme. That will involve NATS becoming a non-associated employer within the scheme. This arrangement will prevent cross-subsidy between the new NATS section of the scheme, which will relate to a company classified to the private sector, and the CAA section of the scheme, which will remain in the public sector. It will enable NATS staff to continue to enjoy the benefits that they currently enjoy.

Perhaps I can digress briefly to explain the position of current pensioners and deferred pensioners within the scheme. I assure the House that the position of these two groups will remain unaffected by the PPP. They will remain in the Civil Aviation Authority pension scheme, and they will be in the CAA section of that scheme, which will also include current CAA staff. This section will, as I have just mentioned, remain in the public sector. Both groups of pensioners will continue to receive benefits in exactly the same way as they do now.

Returning to the position of existing NATS staff, we have made it very clear to all those bidding to be our strategic partner in the PPP that securing the continued participation of current staff in the scheme is a fundamental condition of being considered for that role. In addition, we will put into the strategic partnership agreement a binding commitment—enforceable by law—that guarantees the continuation of that right on terms at least as favourable as those that exist now.

Mr. Don Foster

Will the strategic partnership agreement be made public?

Mr. Raynsford

As the hon. Gentleman will recall, a draft of the strategic partnership agreement was made available to all members of the Committee considering the Bill. The matter was discussed in detail in Committee, and that is a sign of our absolute commitment to open government in this respect.

Mr. Foster

I asked the Minister that question because the issue was raised in the other place when Lord Brabazon asked Lord Whitty whether the strategic partnership agreement would be published. Lord Whitty replied: A straight "yes" or "no" answer is not appropriate.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 November 2000; Vol. 618, c. 1708.] Why did Lord Whitty say that?

Mr. Raynsford

Lord Whitty said that for the obvious reason there will inevitably be some confidential elements in the document. The key point is that we have made a commitment on the provisions relating to the guarantees for pensions, and we made available the draft document to the Committee, so that there could be a thorough consideration of all the basic principles behind the strategic partnership agreement.

The commitment that I outlined is a very significant safeguard, underpinned by the Government's continued participation in the PPP. NATS staff will also enjoy the protections on pensions that exist under the law of the land, including the provisions in the Pension Schemes Act 1993 and in the Pensions Act 1995. They provide, among other things, protections for accrued benefits and funding levels. Yet another level of protection exists in the scheme's trust deed and rules. These are unusually restrictive and highly protective of members' interests. It is not uncommon for the sponsoring employer of a pension scheme to have the ability to reduce the level of benefits for future service, which are known as "prospective" benefits. However, no employer who participates in the Civil Aviation Authority pension scheme has that particular power, because the restrictive power of amendment in the trust deed provides that amendments cannot be made to reduce prospective benefits. That is another very valuable and important protection.

I am sure that some hon. Members will draw attention to the precedents for statutory protection in past privatisations. I shall focus on the most recent case where a comparison is made—that of the underground railway staff in London. The London Underground case is much more complex than that of NATS. In the case of NATS, we are arranging a once-and-for-all transfer of the company to the private sector. There is no subdivision of the company and there is no reorganisation of the industry into a number of parts, so there is no need for provision to deal with the subcontracting that occurs in the railway industry. There is no provision for the return of some parts to the public sector, nor are the trust deeds of the two schemes or the arrangements for changes to those deeds comparable—prospective benefits could be changed under the London Underground deed. The two cases cannot, therefore, be regarded as comparable.

Before 1997, the range of outcomes of transfers to the private sector, in terms of pension protection, was highly variable. In 1997, this Government set out to reform the protection of pensions. In 1998, interim new guidance was issued by the Cabinet Office under the title "Better Quality Services". It emphasised the importance of protecting staff pensions in any restructuring that involved private sector partners, and required the quality of that protection to be a factor in assessing bids for partnership. Then, in June 1999, the Treasury issued definitive guidance under the title "A Fair Deal for Staff Pensions", which was incorporated into broader guidance on treatment of staff issued by the Cabinet Office at the beginning of the year.

The objectives of those reforms were simple: to take the fear out of public sector reform and sales as far as pensions were concerned, and to set a common standard of protection that all projects should pass. We now have a comprehensive framework of protections in the standard of treatment of staff. It is a fair deal not only for the staff but for private sector businesses that bid to enter into partnership to deliver public services.

Mr. Dalyell

Can the Minister confirm—I hope that he can—that IPMS lawyers have agreed to that?

Mr. Raynsford

If my hon. Friend bears with me, I shall come to the fairly detailed discussions that my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have had with Members of the other place who were instrumental in moving the amendments that we are debating and who have close associations with the IPMS.

I hope that I have given sufficient assurance to the House that a comprehensive package of safeguards is in place to protect NATS staff pensions without the need for statutory provision. However, if some hon. Members still feel that there is a case for agreeing to the amendment, I would add that it contains a number of unhelpful provisions that may not be of benefit either to the scheme members or to the scheme trustees. Let me give a few examples that illustrate the difficulties in amending this complex area.

Subsection (3) of the amendment deals with the split of the fund to take account of the establishment of NATS as a non-associated employer. There is a real concern about a provision that provides for the share of the fund being a simple proportion of protected beneficiary liabilities to all the scheme liabilities. The protected beneficiaries may well receive an unintentionally and inappropriately large share of the assets, to the possible detriment of current pensioners. The arrangement would be so rigid that the trustees would have no flexibility to consider the apportionment in relation to actual needs and circumstances.

Subsection (6) of the amendment rather ignores the principle that, as part of the basic regulation of occupational pension schemes, the pension schemes office is required to give its consent to bulk transfers between schemes.

A problem with subsection (7) of the amendment is that it is possible for an entity wholly unrelated to NATS to become a participating employer in the Civil Aviation Authority pension scheme, once it has non-associated status. It is not clear why protection should continue to be conferred in that circumstance.

There may also be real difficulties in squaring the provisions of subsection (8) of the amendment with existing primary legislation under the Pensions Act 1995, as it relates to member-nominated trustees. In particular, there could presumably be more than one NATS employer, which would lead to a disproportionate number of NATS trustees, even assuming that the basic principle of reserved trusteeships by primary legislation is acceptable.

I have tried to demonstrate that we have delivered strong protections for NATS members of the CAAPS, and that the position of pensioners and deferred pensioners in that scheme is not affected by the PPP.

We continue to be of the view that statutory protection is not needed for NATS members of the CAAPS, and I have to say that we have not been able to see what further benefit the statutory protection sought in another place would bring to those members. None the less, this is an important matter and of key interest to staff. Accordingly, while I must ask the House to disagree with the technically flawed amendment that was made in another place, I can inform it that discussions have been continuing with those people who are most interested in the matter, including representatives of the trade union mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

Mr. Dalyell

One problem is that people cannot fully understand the objection to statutory protection. The Government may be right in saying that it is not entirely necessary, but why do they not give the protection the benefit of the doubt and agree to the amendment?

Mr. Raynsford

My hon. Friend will immediately recognise that the form of statutory protection proposed in the amendment could result in entirely inappropriate provisions because it is of a generality that does not necessarily take account of the particular circumstances of the CAAPS and the other factors that I mentioned. I have made it clear that if we had any evidence that members of the pension scheme—existing or deferred pensioners—would be prejudiced in any way by the transfer to the PPP, we would be extremely concerned and keen to act to remedy that. So far, we have no evidence that that is likely to be the case.

In a meeting only yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister again appealed to those in the other place who are concerned about this matter to come forward with evidence if they really believed that there was a problem. My right hon. Friend assures me that no evidence was made available, but as a key member of the group that was responsible for initiating the amendments was not able to be present, he issued an invitation for further evidence to be submitted subsequently if it was available.

Mr. Don Foster

I am grateful for the information that the Minister is giving to the House, but will he say whether representatives of the IPMS were present at the meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, or was it merely a meeting of Members of another place?

Mr. Raynsford

It was merely a meeting of Members of another place, but it included individuals who have a close association with the IPMS. I have no doubt that they were well briefed by that union.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

I do not doubt for one moment the sincerity of what the hon. Gentleman is saying about this complex subject. The problem is that he has not convinced air traffic controllers of the virtues of his scheme. A constituent who is an air traffic controller telephoned me this morning to say that he did not think that the Government realised the strength of feeling among air traffic controllers. He said, "I am not a union man, but I know they have been talking and talking and they are going to find out soon that there is a threat of industrial action, not on the general issue of privatisation, but on the pensions issue. Please tell the Minister." Well, I have done that. Will the negotiations continue right up to the wire and, indeed, beyond?

Mr. Raynsford

I am happy to say that the Deputy Prime Minister made it clear during the discussion yesterday that he is still open to propositions if it can be demonstrated that there is a genuine risk that the benefits that are afforded to current pensioners, deferred pensioners or current NATS employees might be prejudiced in any way. We have made that offer clear. We remain open to representations, right up to the wire, so that when the matter is reconsidered in another place, we will be more than happy—assuming that the House agrees with our motion to disagree—to contemplate alternative amendments if there is real evidence that they are necessary.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would be odd to seek to put statutory provision in the Bill if there is no evidence of any adverse effect on employees, existing pensioners or deferred pensioners. That would simply be otiose. However, we hear the message that there are concerns. We want to overcome them and I assure the hon. Gentleman that, if evidence is submitted to show that there is a problem, the Government stand ready to address the issue seriously and with resolve.

Mr. Jenkin

I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is vital to maintain staff confidence, but I am entirely unconvinced by what I have heard and by what I read about the debate in another place. I think that that is why the Government—perhaps unexpectedly—lost the vote. They convinced less than half of their peers to support them. Will the Minister confirm that there is full agreement among pension fund trustees, including representatives of the employees, on how the pensions issue should be resolved? No amendment should be required to resolve differences that should properly be resolved by agreement. Will the hon. Gentleman also confirm that the Minister for Transport received a letter from the chairman of the trustees of the Civil Aviation Authority pension scheme about these matters, dated 31 August? I shall read him some extracts from that letter.

8 pm

The letter warns: the Trustees are concerned about the risk of challenge by disaffected members— a risk they consider to be high. The letter continues: the Trustees are reluctantly making preparations to take the matter to court— to take pre-emptive action. The letter goes on: proceedings might cost one million pounds, such costs (which you have confirmed the government will not contribute towards) being paid out of the Scheme assets. The Trustees regret that any court action is likely to considerably delay the timetable for PPP. That appears to be very serious.

The letter concludes: Whilst we continue to prepare for a possible court application, we urge the government to reconsider its position on legislation even at this late stage. We are advised that if legislation were introduced in a form satisfactory to the Trustees, there would be no need to take pre-emptive court action. Thus the desire to have something in the Bill to avoid future conflict is not just that of a few disgruntled employees and union representatives. The letter is from the chairman of trustees of the scheme. The Minister has not dealt in any shape or form with the trustees' complaint, and nor did the Minister for Transport in the other place.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey merely said of the impending court action: they are entitled to do it.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 October 2000; Vol. 618, c. 554.] He sounds happy that there should be a round of pensions litigation leading up to the PPP. Have the Government learned nothing from the experience of previous pensions rights transfers in both the public and private sectors?

Many hon. Members will recall how often the Labour party has called for statutory protection of public enterprise staff pension rights in transfers to the private sector. In this case, the pension fund trustees themselves are calling for clarification in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) and I raised the issue of pensions both on Second Reading and in Committee—now 10 months ago. The issue has also been raised by the staff union, and there is every reason to believe that National Air Traffic Services management and the CAA have made representations to Ministers on the question.

It does not feel as though the issue has been properly resolved. This House might not be the place in which to resolve it; the issue has the feel of one that is more likely to be resolved in the other place. Faced with all the evidence, is it not massively complacent of the Government to use their majority to plough on regardless? The Lords amendment was tabled in good faith as a solution to the problems. If it is not the right amendment, let the Minister say that he will table the right one. We shall support the Lords amendment because, so far, we are completely unconvinced by the Government's arguments.

Dr. Strang

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that, if privatisation goes ahead, it will not have an adverse effect on the pension entitlement of past or present employees. It is intended to provide helpful assurances to National Air Traffic Services employees and to put into law the assurances that Ministers have given in Committee and in both Houses. I recall the debates in Committee to which the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) has referred.

The Government say that the amendment is not necessary, and give assurances that staff pensions will be protected. In Committee, I tabled an amendment with that objective, and I was pleased that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), was able to give me verbal assurances that pensions would be protected. Of course we welcome Ministers' assurances, but, however well meant, they do not have the same strength as protection in a Bill. There is a clear difference between an obligation in law and a statement made by a Minister. We know that Ministers and, indeed, Governments come and go.

I remind the House that there is a schedule to the Greater London Authority Act 1999 dedicated to protecting the pension rights of tube workers who are transferred to private infrastructure companies under the Government's plans for the underground. The Government saw the merit of including pensions protection in that Act. It is clearly right that NATS staff should have similar protection.

My hon. Friend the Minister has suggested that the amendment might be flawed and might not achieve all its objectives. We debated the matter in Committee way back in February and the Government have had a lot of time since then to work on their own amendment. If the Lords amendment is flawed, the onus is surely on the Government to table an alternative to achieve the objectives. The way forward should be to retain the Lords amendment. That would give the Government the option to amend it with a better amendment in the other place.

Mr. Don Foster

Time is relatively short, so I shall be fairly brief.

I begin by paying tribute to the Government for introducing one set of measures that has done great service to many people. The whole House will recall that, in the early days of privatisation, employees often suddenly found themselves doing exactly the same job but for lower wages, under worse conditions of service and with worse pension arrangements. Although we had the benefit of the introduction of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, which ensured that at least employees' pay or salary and conditions of employment were protected, they still did not have protection in respect of pensions.

As the Minister rightly said, the Labour party addressed the matter when it came into government, introducing a number of proposals, particularly through the Cabinet Office, that go a long way to improving the situation. However, I remind the Minister that, on the whole, the documents make recommendations and do not in all cases have statutory effect. Nevertheless, I pay tribute to the Government for the improvements that have been made.

Whatever our views on the nature of the new National Air Traffic Services, we are all agreed that there should be separation of NATS from the Civil Aviation Authority. Whatever form NATS was to take, significant implications for pension arrangements were inevitable—changes would have had to be made. I suspect that many hon. Members who have studied the issue in some detail will be aware of the complexity of the new arrangements, and, indeed, the significant cost that will be incurred as a result of them.

The Minister has described in some detail his view of the necessity or otherwise of the amendment, which was moved by Lord Brett and supported by a majority of peers. He has argued in some detail that some aspects of the amendment may be technically flawed. It is interesting that, for each of the five clauses to which he referred, he indicated that there may be technical difficulties. At no point did he say that categorically; he merely implied that there may be difficulties, so there is clearly some doubt.

Much more important, it was revealing that the Minister kept saying that, following the meeting to which he referred, the Government would be prepared to consider tabling their own amendment to address the concerns that have been expressed. He chose many different words to say that. On one occasion, he said that he would be convinced if there was real evidence; on another occasion, he required real evidence of the adverse circumstances that may apply; and on yet another occasion, he said that real risk must be demonstrated.

I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that the definition of "if necessary" is significant. Regardless of whether in his view it is necessary to include such a provision in the Bill, the vast majority of those who will be affected certainly think that such a provision is necessary.

In view of the Minister's comments, I hope that he will be prepared to continue those discussions to which he referred and that, in conjunction with Ministers in another place and representatives of those who are affected by the measure, it will be possible to devise an amendment that will enable the issue to be included in the Bill. There is no genuine argument against that. The Minister argues that it is not necessary and the protection already exists; no harm will therefore be done by putting it on the face of the Bill.

The Minister and I spent many hours in Committee. On many occasions he said that it was not necessary to include safety in the Bill, yet he now accepts that it would be a good idea. As soon as we have divided, if necessary, we shall consider a series of amendments that will enable us to ascertain whether we accept amendment No. 1 and the others in that group. All are about putting safety on the face of the Bill. The Minister has been prepared to listen on one occasion—I hope that he is prepared to do so again.

Ms Osborne

I am somewhat comforted by the Minister's comments. However, he knows that the public-private partnership has not found favour with the NATS work force, who are worried about various aspects of the proposal and would have preferred a trust model.

Terms and conditions, especially pensions, under a strategic partner are by no means the least of employees' concerns. I understand from the Minister that discussions are continuing in order to reach a conclusion that can fully satisfy them. That is the crux of the matter: will the result deal fully with their concerns?

Given the controversial nature of the change to NATS' structure, as well as the years of constant speculation to which the work force have been subjected, does my hon. Friend agree that everything possible should be done to give them the reassurance that they seek on pensions? If including such a provision in the Bill makes no difference, why not do it, if only to provide that much needed reassurance? If there are problems with this amendment, why do the Government not table another, which would provide that reassurance to the NATS work force?

What is good enough for the workers on the tube is good enough for my constituents. Will my hon. Friend guarantee on the record that no member of NATS staff will be worse off in terms of accrued benefits than at present, and that employees' prospects will be roughly comparable? If I do not support the amendment on the basis that further progress can be made, will my hon. Friend assure me that there will be a further opportunity to assess the position on the Floor of the House, if agreement cannot be reached when the matter is reconsidered in another place?

Mr. Dalyell

I do not believe that there is an opportunity for the Government to table an amendment. In those circumstances, would it not be better to accept this amendment? There is genuine anxiety about the matter.

Our deliberations on the amendment end at 8.29 pm, and it is important that the Minister answers the points that have been made. I shall therefore simply ask a factual question: have the CAA and NATS made representations?

Mr. Raynsford

The debate has been short but useful. It has focused on one key issue: whether there is merit in placing on the face on the Bill some reassurance to cover the anxieties that have been voiced. Let me put the matter simply, in the manner that I used in Committee. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) will recall that we did not believe it would be helpful to incorporate an otiose provision in the Bill. If there is no need to do something, including detailed provisions in a Bill appears unnecessary. However, having said that, genuine anxieties have been expressed.

I have referred to meetings of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor with the representatives from another place who were instrumental in tabling the amendments that we are considering tonight. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made it clear to them and to me—I did not take part in the discussions—that he was perfectly willing to respond positively and constructively if clear evidence of a problem could be produced. [Interruption.] I shall deal with the anxieties of the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) shortly because they are slightly different, although he may not realise it.

8.15 pm

So far, no evidence has been presented to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister to suggest that existing pensioners, deferred pensioners or existing NATS employees would be adversely affected by the new arrangements after the establishment of the PPP. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne). I reiterate that there is no evidence that any existing pensioner, deferred pensioner or existing NATS employee will suffer any financial disadvantage through the proposals. If there is clear evidence that individuals might be adversely affected, we have emphasised that we shall be happy to respond positively to deal with the problem. So far, no such evidence has been produced.

Mr. Dalyell

The Minister says that he has not taken part in the discussions. May I say, in an old-fashioned way, that on such an important matter, the House of Commons is entitled to hear from a Minister who has taken part in the discussions, and not to get second-hand information?

Mr. Raynsford

As my hon. Friend knows only too well, individual Ministers who answer to the House are often not party to all discussions that lead to a conclusion. There is a clear understanding that Ministers act collectively, share information about relevant meetings and report to the House in the full knowledge of relevant information from meetings that they did not attend. That is normal procedure in government, and I am sure that my hon. Friend acknowledges that. It is simply not possible for us to be present in all discussions and negotiations.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Will my hon. Friend explain what he has just said?

Mr. Raynsford

I was explaining to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that, although I was not present at the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister held with Members of another place who were instrumental in tabling the amendments, he gave me a full report so that I was in a position to inform the House this evening. I hope that that is clearer.

Let us consider the issue that the hon. Member for North Essex raised. I can confirm that a letter has been received from the trustees and that, of course, we are considering it. However, the trustees are seeking protection not for staff, but for their decisions about splitting the assets. Such splits are common in the conduct of pension trusts, and seeking court action in such cases is unusual. There is no question of such court action delaying the PPP because steps could be taken in the sale documentation to allow for any outcome. However, I am sure that the trustees' view of the right allocation of assets is based on logic and reason. If they acted logically and reasonably, they would almost certainly receive the support of the court in the case of an action.

As I said earlier, a potential difficulty arises if a formula—as specified in the amendments that we are considering—for splitting the assets is applied. That could result in one group being disadvantaged. That is one of the reasons for our reluctance to accept the amendments.

Mr. Jenkin

I am genuinely mystified. If, based on the agreement trustees believe that they have struck with employees' representatives, they fear potential litigation, which will cost money and, they say, delay the PPP, surely that is the sort of evidence to which the Minister referred. I shall quote the trustees' letter again: We are advised that if legislation were introduced in a form satisfactory to the Trustees, there will be no need to take pre-emptive court action. Perhaps the Minister will answer the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who asked about the views of NATS management and the CAA. They are represented on the trustees. Do they disagree with the trustees?

Mr. Raynsford

That is essentially a matter for the trustees, who, of course, have a special role in relation to the pension fund. Clearly, other representations will be received, and we shall consider them. We will carefully consider responses and representations from the trustees and we shall do so, as I said previously, in relation to our response to the Lords amendments.

Mr. Jenkin

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. The letter was written on 31 August. It is a sorry state of affairs if the Government have still not decided how to respond to the representations. It is staggering that, in the death throes of our consideration of the Bill, the matter remains unresolved. I am afraid that I agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow—these proceedings are farcical. We have had to debate the Bill with the Minister for Housing and Planning who has had absolutely nothing to do with the development of the policy or with aviation.

Mr. Raynsford

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has once again reverted to the rather curmudgeonly approach that he adopted earlier, when he criticised me because I happen not to have been the Minister responsible for particular negotiations. He knows only too well from his experience that we accept the principle of collective responsibility and that we act with fellow Ministers in that spirit. As I said earlier, I am more than happy to respond in the House on the basis of the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister had with Members of another place.

The key point, which we have already clarified, is that if evidence is forthcoming that shows that existing pensioners, deferred pensioners or existing employees face a serious problem that could have an adverse effect on their financial prospects under a pension, we are ready to respond quickly and positively.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow raised the question of timing. If the House decides tonight that the amendments should be removed from the Bill—I hope that it will—it will still be open to Members of another place, when the Bill returns to them, to consider whether alternative amendments might be appropriate. In that context, we would sympathetically consider proposals that gave effect to measures that were designed to cope with any such deficiencies that might be identified. However, to date, we have not seen evidence implying that there are weaknesses in or problems with the existing arrangements.

I conclude by confirming that the Government remain prepared, even at this late hour—

Mr. Dalyell

My hon. Friend said something that we may interpret as very important. He said he would consider proposals, which would save a great deal of difficulty, if they arose in the other place. Are those Government proposals, or would they come from another source?

Mr. Raynsford

We would be perfectly happy to consider proposals from any source, including the group of Members from another place that has been particularly concerned with the amendments. If we believed that such proposals were necessary to deal with a genuine problem, and if evidence were produced to show that there was a problem, we should be happy to entertain proposals that might remedy it, even though, as I said earlier, we are not convinced that such a problem exists. At the same time, we could continue to discuss the issue relating to the position of trustees, which was raised earlier. As I said, those concerns are slightly different. However, we are currently not convinced that there is such a need, and we therefore do not believe that it would be right to agree to the Lords amendments, which are in several respects defective and which could have adverse consequences on the position of some categories of pensioner.

Mr. Jenkin

Despite my being curmudgeonly, the Minister is being generous in giving way, and I am grateful. Was he aware of the letter before I raised it with him this evening?

Mr. Raynsford

I was well aware of the fact that there had been communication from the trustees, and that the issue was under continuing discussion. That is clearly on the record.

On the basis that the Government remain open to further representations and have not closed their mind on the issue, the House should disagree with the Lords amendments. If real evidence can be produced to suggest that there is an unresolved problem, an opportunity should be found for further discussion in another place.

Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 337, Noes 203.

Division No. 336] [8.25 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Banks, Tony
Ainger, Nick Barron, Kevin
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Battle, John
Alexander, Douglas Bayley, Hugh
Allen, Graham Beard, Nigel
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Begg, Miss Anne
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Ashton, Joe Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Atherton, Ms Candy Bennett, Andrew F
Atkins, Charlotte Benton, Joe
Bermingham, Gerald Flynn, Paul
Berry, Roger Follett, Barbara
Betts, Clive Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Blackman, Liz Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Blears, Ms Hazel Foulkes, George
Blizzard, Bob Galbraith, Sam
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Gapes, Mike
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Gardiner, Barry
Borrow, David George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Gibson, Dr Ian
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Bradshaw, Ben Godsiff, Roger
Brinton, Mrs Helen Goggins, Paul
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Golding, Mrs Llin
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Browne, Desmond Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Burden, Richard Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Burgon, Colin Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Butler, Mrs Christine Grocott, Bruce
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Hain, Peter
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hanson, David
Campbell-Savours, Dale Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Cann, Jamie Healey, John
Caplin, Ivor Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Casale, Roger Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Caton, Martin Hepburn, Stephen
Cawsey, Ian Heppell, John
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Hesford, Stephen
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hill, Keith
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hodge, Ms Margaret
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hoey, Kate
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hood, Jimmy
Clelland, David Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Clwyd, Ann Hope, Phil
Coaker, Vernon Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Coleman, Iain Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Colman, Tony Howells, Dr Kim
Connarty, Michael Hoyle, Lindsay
Cooper, Yvette Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Corston, Jean Humble, Mrs Joan
Cousins, Jim Hurst, Alan
Cox, Tom Hutton, John
Cranston, Ross Iddon, Dr Brian
Crausby, David Illsley, Eric
Cummings, John Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Cunningham, Jim (CoV'try S) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Jamieson, David
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Jenkins, Brian
Darvill, Keith Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Johnson, Miss Melanie
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Denham, John Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Doran, Frank Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Drew, David Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Drown, Ms Julia Keeble, Ms Sally
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Eagle, Maria (L 'pool Garston) Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Edwards, Huw Kelly, Ms Ruth
Efford, Clive Kemp, Fraser
Ellman, Mrs Louise Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Ennis, Jeff Khabra, Piara S
Etherington, Bill Kidney, David
Fitzpatrick, Jim Kilfoyle, Peter
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Flint, Caroline King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Prescott, Rt Hon John
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Primarolo, Dawn
Lammy, David Purchase, Ken
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Laxton, Bob Quinn, Lawrie
Leslie, Christopher Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Levitt, Tom Rammell, Bill
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rapson, Syd
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Raynsford, Nick
Linton, Martin Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Lock, David Roche, Mrs Barbara
Love, Andrew Rogers, Allan
McAvoy, Thomas Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
McCabe, Steve Rooney, Terry
McDonagh, Siobhain Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Macdonald, Calum Rowlands, Ted
McFall, John Roy, Frank
McIsaac, Shona Ruane, Chris
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Ruddock, Joan
Mackinlay, Andrew Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McNulty, Tony Ryan, Ms Joan
MacShane, Denis Salter, Martin
Mactaggart, Fiona Sarwar, Mohammad
McWalter, Tony Savidge, Malcolm
McWilliam, John Sawford, Phil
Mallaber, Judy Sedgemore, Brian
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Shaw, Jonathan
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Sheerman, Barry
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Shipley, Ms Debra
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Singh, Marsha
Martlew, Eric Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Maxton, John Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Meale, Alan Smith, Miss Geraldine
Merron, Gillian (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Miller, Andrew Snape, Peter
Moffatt, Laura Soley, Clive
Moonie, Dr Lewis Southworth, Ms Helen
Moran, Ms Margaret Spellar, John
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Squire, Ms Rachel
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Morley, Elliot Steinberg, Gerry
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle Stevenson, George
(B'ham Yardley) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Morris, Rt Hon Sir John Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
(Aberavon) Stinchcombe, Paul
Mountford, Kali Stoate, Dr Howard
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Mullin, Chris Stringer, Graham
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Naysmith, Dr Doug (Dewsbury)
Norris, Dan Taylor, Ms Dan (Stockton S)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Temple-Morris, Peter
O'Hara, Eddie Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Olner, Bill Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
O'Neill, Martin Timms, Stephen
Organ, Mrs Diana Tipping, Paddy
Palmer, Dr Nick Todd, Mark
Pearson, Ian Touhig, Don
Pendry, Tom Trickett, Jon
Perham, Ms Linda Truswell, Paul
Pickthall, Colin Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pike, Peter L Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Plaskitt, James Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Pollard, Kerry Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pond, Chris Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Pope, Greg Tynan, Bill
Pound, Stephen Walley, Ms Joan
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Ward, Ms Claire
Watts, David Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
White, Brian Woodward, Shaun
Whitehead, Dr Alan Woolas, Phil
Wicks, Malcolm Worthington, Tony
Williams, Rt Hon Alan Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
(Swansea W) Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen) Wyatt, Derek
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael Tellers for the Ayes:
Wilson, Brian Mrs. Anne McGuire and
Winnick, David Mr. Jim Dowd.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Field, Rt Hon Frank
Allan, Richard Flight, Howard
Amess, David Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Foster, Don (Bath)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Fox, Dr Liam
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Fraser, Christopher
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Garnier, Edward
Baldry, Tony George, Andrew (St Ives)
Ballard, Jackie Gibb, Nick
Barnes, Harry Gidley, Sandra
Beggs, Roy Gill, Christopher
Beith, Rt Hon A J Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Godman, Dr Norman A
Bercow, John Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Beresford, Sir Paul Gray, James
Body, Sir Richard Green, Damian
Boswell, Tim Greenway, John
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Grieve, Dominic
Brake, Tom Gummer, Rt Hon John
Brand, Dr Peter Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Brazier, Julian Hammond, Philip
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Harris, Dr Evan
Browning, Mrs Angela Harvey, Nick
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Hayes, John
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Heald, Oliver
Burnett, John Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Burns, Simon Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Burstow, Paul Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Butterfill, John Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Cable, Dr Vincent Hopkins, Kelvin
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies Horam, John
(NE Fife) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cash, William Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Chapman, Sir Sydney Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
(Chipping Barnet) Hunter, Andrew
Chaytor, David Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Chidgey, David Jenkin, Bernard
Chope, Christopher Johnson Smith,
Clappison, James Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Collins, Tim Keetch, Paul
Corbyn, Jeremy Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles
Cormack, Sir Patrick (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Cotter, Brian Key, Robert
Cran, James King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Curry, Rt Hon David Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Dalyell, Tam Kirkwood, Archy
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Davidson, Ian Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Lansley, Andrew
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Letwin, Oliver
Day, Stephen Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Donaldson, Jeffrey Lidington, David
Duncan, Alan Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Duncan Smith, Iain Livsey, Richard
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Loughton, Tim
Evans, Nigel Luff, Peter
Faber, David Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fabricant, Michael McDonnell, John
Fallon, Michael MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fearn, Ronnie McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Maclean, Rt Hon David Spicer, Sir Michael
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Spring, Richard
McLoughlin, Patrick Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Madel, Sir David Steen, Anthony
Mahon, Mrs Alice Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Malins, Humfrey Streeter, Gary
Maples, John Stunell, Andrew
Mates, Michael Swayne, Desmond
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Syms, Robert
May, Mrs Theresa Tapsell, Sir Peter
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Moore, Michael Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Moss, Malcolm Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Nicholls, Patrick Tonge, Dr Jenny
Norman, Archie Tredinnick, David
Oaten, Mark Trend, Michael
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Tyler, Paul
Öpik, Lembit Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Ottaway, Richard Wallace, James
page, Richard Walter Robert
Paice, James Wareing, Robert N
Pickles, Eric Waterson, Nigel
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Webb, Steve
Prior, David Wells, Bowen
Redwood, Rt Hon John Whitney, Sir Raymond
Rendel, David Whittingdale, John
Robathan, Andrew Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Robertson, Laurence Willetts, David
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Willis, Phil
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Wilshire, David
Ruffley, David Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
St Aubyn, Nick Wood, Mike
Sanders, Adrian Yeo, Tim
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Shepherd, Richard
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Tellers for the Noes:
Skinner, Dennis Mr. John Randall and
Smith, Liew (Blaenau Gwent) Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

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