HC Deb 02 July 2002 vol 388 cc80-1
9. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

What recent representations he has received with regard to safety issues relating to NATS; and if he will make a statement. [63719]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)

I have not received any direct representations. Aviation safety is critical and is the direct responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, it might be appropriate for the House to send its condolences to the families of all those who died in the air crash over Germany last night.

Mr. Randall

I am sure that all Members agree with the Secretary of State's sentiment.

Can the Secretary of State tell the House how many systems failures there have been at Swanwick since it went live?

Mr. Darling

The hon. Gentleman is no doubt referring to the three failures this year. Two of them were in the old computer system at West Drayton, and one was at Swanwick. I visited Swanwick last week, as I know that hon. Members have expressed concern about it. It is striking that the two biggest problems occurred in the old computer system, and there are plans to upgrade and replace it. There was one problem only with the new computer system, and that fault was rectified. On 17 May, at the time of the fault at Swanwick, the situation was compounded by another failure at the control centre in Brussels, which controls slots right across Europe. When one considers the overall picture, one sees that some of the criticism directed against Swanwick is entirely misplaced. A great deal of investment has been put into it, and it is a very good air traffic control centre that will serve this country well in years to come.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr)

Will my right hon. Friend report on progress on the new Scottish centre at Prestwick and, in his new role, visit Atlantic house in my constituency to address the work force on the future of NATS?

Mr. Darling

I am very happy to visit my hon. Friend's constituency and hope that something can be arranged over the coming months. The air traffic control system in this country, including the two centres at Swanwick and Prestwick, has received a great deal of investment. As I said to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), that is absolutely essential, if not very long overdue. I will be happy to visit the centre at Prestwick as I have already visited the one at Swanwick.