HL Deb 29 November 2000 vol 619 cc1322-42

3.1 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments in lieu of Lords amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments in lieu of Lords amendments be considered forthwith.—(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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

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

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

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

Let me make it clear that I welcome the Government's willingness, demonstrated last night, to begin to move. But the size of the majority in another place last night—just 88—was the smallest majority in this whole process. What a tribute to the first appearance at the Dispatch Box on this issue of the Deputy Prime Minister. It is clear from that small majority that many of the government supporters in another place do not think that the Government have moved enough. But they have begun to move. They have begun to recognise the legitimacy of this House in saying that this policy has not been properly explained or accepted by the British people. They have begun to negotiate. Even the Deputy Prime Minister, blustering on as he was a week ago about constitutional outrage, has now woken up to the fact that the public and much of his party have no confidence in this policy. He offered some movement to meet the concerns of this House. Perhaps he is not quite so macho a negotiator as our French friends have claimed; or perhaps he has begun to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, a little more and to his circle of special advisers a little less. I hope so, for this House still expects something more from the Government.

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

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

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

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

There is so much that is still in the dark about this policy: the choice of the strategic partner; whether there is a conflict of interest among the bidders; whether a cost cutting regime is planned after privatisation; the failure to expand safety resources in the CAA for monitoring the performance of NATS after privatisation; the nature of the final agreement; the outcome of consultations with staff; the nature of the staff shareholding; the nature of the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS new, separated roles; and the position with regard to the golden share, national security and our national control over the management of air traffic control.

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

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

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

3.15 p.m.

Lord Richard

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

What is the issue here? The issue is no longer NATS. It is the relationship of this House with another place. Perhaps I may say one thing on NATS. I have said nothing on the merits or otherwise of what the Government propose. I merely make this observation. It is very difficult indeed to find anyone on these Benches who is enthusiastic about the proposal, but that is not the issue. The most enthusiastic person who has spoken in your Lordships' House was the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, from the Opposition Benches. There is a certain amount of cross-dressing on this issue which to a simple soul like myself—

Baroness Hogg

My Lords, I merely wish to say that if I have to cross-dress with the noble Lord I shall leave this House.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I can promise the noble Baroness that the skirt will be big enough for her.

The issue has been batted backwards and forwards between the two sides of the House with the Liberals panting behind the Conservatives, for some reason that I fail totally to appreciate. But that is not the issue. The issue now is the relationship of this House with the House of Commons.

We had a partial reform of this House last year. It was very partial and in the view of some of us who participated in those debates it did not go as far as we wished. It is no secret that I want a House which is predominantly, but not exclusively, elected. But that is not the issue. We have what we now have. I cannot forbear from observing, in view of what was said by the noble Lord who made the previous speech, that we still have 100 hereditary Peers. I do not suggest that they are any less legitimate than life Peers or that I am more credible than the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. But we now have a strange House; it is neither fish nor fowl. It is not democratic; it is not wholly appointed; it is certainly no longer wholly hereditary. It is a good old-fashioned British mish-mash. As part of that good old-fashioned British mish-mash I am concerned as to how this House now behaves.

Perhaps I may put some propositions to the House. First, it is right for this House to suggest but it is not right for this House to insist. The danger now is that we are insisting. We are not suggesting. We are saying to another place—the noble Lord said it today—"We will not give you this legislation unless you do certain things which we the Opposition say the Government should do". If that is not insisting, I do not know what is.

The relationship between this House and the other place depends on a series of understandings, some of which are choate, some of which are written down and some of which are almost miasmic understandings that nobody analyses but everybody knows how they work. One important understanding is that at the end of the day, the Government are entitled to get their business through. In these new circumstances after the reform of the House, we are in great danger of ignoring the previous set of understandings under which we all operated without thinking more clearly about what understandings we want in their place.

The fundamental point is that the Government are entitled to get their legislation if the House of Commons has been asked to look at something twice, as has happened in this case. In those circumstances, it would be frivolous of this House to insist that the issue be sent back down the corridor for a third time.

That might be justified, but only if a major constitutional issue were at stake. Whatever else NATS is, it is not a major constitutional issue. I have nearly finished. I am about to subside, having erupted in my modest and moderate way. NATS may be quite an important issue, but it does not justify a major constitutional clash between the two Houses of Parliament. That is what we are in danger of getting into.

Earl Russell

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he agree that we are attempting to exercise the powers that another place gave us in the two Parliament Acts? If another place got it wrong, that is not our fault.

Lord Richard

My Lords, the noble Earl does not do himself justice. Of course we are entitled to do what we are doing. I am questioning the judgment, not the entitlement. The relationship between the two Houses cannot be viewed or made to work solely on the basis of the legal entitlement to do one thing in one House and something else in another House. Some flexibility and understanding between the two Houses is needed. We are in grave danger of tearing that up.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, now that I have been reassured about our entitlement to continue in the course that we have set ourselves, I shall do just that. I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. I welcome his clear expose of some of the constitutional issues.

We clearly explained our position on Monday. We want the Government either to reconsider their commitment to the part-privatisation of NATS or to put the issue to the electorate at the next general election, since they certainly did not do so at the last one. I do not take very seriously the arguments suggesting that they did. I am willing to bet that the number of voters, or even Labour Party candidates, who thought that the party's references to improving public transport infrastructure via PPP deals should be interpreted as a determination to semi-privatise NATS was as near to zero as makes little difference. Dr Gavin Strang was certainly not among that number.

Given those clearly expressed views, it is not enough for the Government to offer to delay implementation of the NATS PPP for three months so that they can explain it more fully and even conduct the process properly. I share the astonishment of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, that they have not conducted the process properly before. The offer is a mere time delay, not a policy compromise.

We have explained often our support for a not-for-profit trust in place of a PPP. Until hearing the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I had thought it no longer necessary to explain our arguments further. However, as the noble Lord seems unaware—perhaps because he has not been in the Chamber during our discussions—that we have been leading a serious policy opposition to the Government's position, I shall briefly run through those policy points again.

The option of a not-for-profit trust would relieve the burden otherwise accruing to the PSBR from the heavy investment required to keep NATS technology up to date. The option would involve a partnership between the Government, stakeholders and customers to ensure a safe, efficient operation. The airlines would be part of the directorship of the trust. The trust would be able to raise the required investment, but not subject to the demands of shareholders. Finally, it would be constructed in such a way as to exclude suppliers or foreign providers of air traffic control services from ownership, which seems at least doubtful in the case of a PPP. A trust might even be the most effective body to take part in a joint European air traffic control system.

Interestingly, I found that argument almost word for word in the top leader in today's Financial Times. It is not just we in our madness who are putting forward these arguments. They are shared by serious people across the press from the Financial Times to the Evening Standard—there could not be a much wider range than that—who are genuinely worried by or opposed to the Government's policy.

Last night, the Deputy Prime Minister claimed that on this issue the House of Commons was speaking for the people. Understandably, he refused the suggestion of a free vote. I would have done the same in his position. A majority of 87 in the main vote last night was hardly a ringing endorsement of his policy. I hope that that may encourage Labour Members in this House to join us in the Lobby once more today.

We are not convinced by the Government's argument, nor are we cowed by their threats. Our defiance may be what sometimes used to be called a forlorn hope, but defiance it remains.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, before any other noble Lord speaks, I remind the House that rehearsing arguments about options that are not included in the amendment before the House is not appropriate.

Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge

My Lords, it will come as no surprise that I have an interest to declare, as the chairman of British Airways. Further, despite the protocols of the process, it is no secret that British Airways is one of the eight United Kingdom airlines that make up the consortium bidding to become the private sector partner in NATS by operating the service on a not-for-commercial-return basis. Noble Lords will therefore understand my close interest in the issue. I have some salient points to make.

The debate on the future of NATS has been going on for more than five years. During that time, much-needed new capacity has failed to come on line as planned. The existing air traffic control systems are close to breaking point. The events of June this year served as a warning. The consequences of further, maybe more serious, collapses in the system may be too horrific to contemplate.

My first point is simply that enough is enough. The time has come to get firmly to grips with the situation before disruptive delays turn into disasters. The debate on NATS prompted by the Government's policy proposals has, for the most part, been reasoned, informed and constructive. Clearly, any fundamental change to a vital, safety-critical element in the national transport infrastructure warrants such consideration. There are obviously lessons to be learned from previous experience.

Important as the arguments are, your Lordships attention should not be diverted by arcane debate over corporate governance or financial structures. The main issue on today's agenda is whether we begin the process of repair and regeneration, or whether we allow the system to crack and crumble. Therefore, the second point that I want to make is: do not lose sight of the objective.

Some of the debate on the future of NATS has sought to illustrate the issue in the simplest of terms: profit versus safety. Those of us who have spent time running private sector airlines, for whom safety is unquestionably the paramount consideration, find these arguments difficult to understand, if not downright distasteful. I take issue particularly with the ill-judged comments made in your Lordships' House the other evening. It should be obvious that the airlines want more investment in more safety, not more profit from lack of it. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous and regrettable.

Nevertheless, we must recognise that where concerns exist, they have a right to be aired. This debate has provided that opportunity. The future of NATS does not have to be measured at a zero-sum calculation where profit is always the enemy of safety. Other models are available, and the Government's process, if allowed to proceed, will enable them to be explored.

In an attempt to place matters in perspective, I ask noble Lords to cast their minds back to the early 1980s when the privatisation of British Airways was proposed. The state-owned corporation of that day had become moribund and near bankrupt. Public-sector borrowing requirements constrained its ability to invest in sorely needed new equipment. A move to the private sector was the only sensible way forward; yet the policy faced opposition, some of it extremely fierce, from many groups in this House and in another place, from unions and from employees.

Objective argument and practical example overcame the aversion to change and fear of the unknown. By the time that British Airways was floated in February 1987, the airline's privatisation was universally judged to be a thoroughly good thing, especially for its customers, for its employees and for United Kingdom taxpayers. I venture to suggest that we have continued to fulfil our responsibilities in the airline to the highest possible standards, most notably in the area of safety and operational integrity.

When it comes to NATS, let us not forget that the force which drives the urgent need for substantial investment in the expansion of capacity is not only the airline industry; it is also the legitimate, increasing demand for airline service from the general public and from business and industry. Consumer demand is projected to grow at a rate of 4 per cent per annum compounded. That means that by the year 2015, which is not that far away in planning terms, the number of passengers who travel through United Kingdom airports will reach some 310 million per annum, if we have the professional wherewithal to serve them.

Finally, perhaps I may say that I have the highest regard for the outstanding performance of air traffic controllers, for pilots and for those who represent them, not all of whom oppose this piece of legislation because they want to see industry improvement based on world-class systems for this country. Therefore, I ask noble Lords to consider my points very carefully before condemning the United Kingdom to an increasingly obsolescent, unreliable air traffic control system for any longer than is absolutely necessary.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, given his vast experience in this area, will he tell the House whether he sees a serious flaw or drawback in the Canadian model?

Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge

My Lords, I believe that the Canadian trust system is obviously one alternative which could be available. However, I believe that we have advanced so far under the present proposals that it would be foolish to lose more time by going back to start all over again.

Lord Brett

My Lords, I am surprised to say that I agree with much of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge. I did not speak in the debate on Monday because I had made your Lordships well aware of my belief in the defects of Part I of the Bill and to have bored your Lordships again would not have been helpful. Also, my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, in setting out his reasons for voting with the Government, had encapsulated the views of myself and several other colleagues.

I do not want to become involved in the argument about the constitution because that has been more than adequately acknowledged from these Benches. However, I want to explore precisely what the Government have said is to happen during the next three months. I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, that the proposal for a three-month delay provides the opportunity to explore other alternatives. It is well known that I have much sympathy with the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, in relation to the not-for-profit trust.

I was captured by the Minister's phrase "willingness to listen". However, it begs the question, "Listen to whom and about what?". I hope that it is a willingness to listen not only to the interests of the staff, who have an important point to make, but also to the airline group.

In Monday's debate, assertions were made—a letter to The Times was referred to—that the airlines had a vested interest. That was not the important point that could have been made on that occasion. The important point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Marshall. A not-for-profit company is being proposed; that is, one which is not for commercial return. Therefore, a way exists to separate the emotive, although perhaps in some people's minds not necessarily accurate, collision course (pardon the pun!) between profit and safety.

Many Members on the Benches opposite have said that a not-for-profit trust would be a better way forward. The air traffic controllers and pilots have said that they would have greater faith in an airline group consortium because that would not put profit into the equation. We have the ingredients of staff willingness to talk about a new organisation which can incorporate the type of principles and practices suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, and their desire not to face a financial regime of RPI-minus five. I hope that when the Minister comes to make a decision, he will not go down that route. It is a recommendation of the CAA board which should be examined carefully before it is discarded because inevitably that regime would exacerbate the problem of a collision course in the long-term between investment in safety and in other areas.

Given that we have three months, even at this late stage we do not have to go back to square one. We do not have to consider a trust because we are told that that is not on the agenda. However, because the strategic partner agreement is not part of the act, we could consider the views of the airline group, the staff interests—which could include the pilots, who are not directly involved in any way—and the consumer interests. We could consider whether it is possible to put together a PPP which would encapsulate many of the proposals put forward in other fora and regain the confidence not only of the public, which is singularly lacking, but also of the staff.

I remind the House that a month ago my noble friend Lord Whitty made the point that the confidence of the staff and pilots is essential to the success of a PPP. I urge the Minister not to waste the opportunity of the next few months, but to listen to and talk to all those who have an interest in the matter. He should not be afraid to consider changes that perhaps a few months ago would have been viewed as driving us away from the model. I believe that the ingredients are there. It is for the Minister to cook up something which is acceptable to everyone.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I want to follow on from what my noble friend Lord Brett said but I want to be more specific about what will happen over the next three months.

It is most important that the people who work in NATS should have confidence in what the Government do. So far, the noble Lord who opened the debate has not spoken about what he and his colleagues intend to do with regard to those people.

It is extremely important that he should pay a visit as soon as possible to the people who work in air traffic control. He should explain that the Government are going to listen very carefully to what they have to say.

The Minister should not discard easily what has happened in Canada. Personally, I do not believe that the Canadian experience is necessarily right for us. I may be wrong about that, but it seems to me very important that we should put aside what has been said in this House once and for all. I am so sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, has chosen different words to say what he has already said. There is an onus on the Opposition which he has failed to discharge, to say something new. He has refused to do that. He has refused to say whether the air traffic control service needs, as the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, said, to be revamped. How should that be done? I am not sure that that has been spelt out. The people most fitted to say what is required are the air traffic controllers.

A long time ago, I was a Minister for Aviation. It seems to me extremely important that the paramountcy of safety, which was underlined, should be repeated over and over again. When my noble friend approaches the air traffic control people, he will say that very clearly and he will hear what they have to say about it.

It seems to me that the Liberal Democrats are in great difficulty about this matter. They should not be. I have changed my vote. I have supported the Government. But, above all, I welcome the opportunity which the three months will give; and the Liberal Democrats should welcome that too. In those three months, my right honourable friend and his colleagues will visit the air traffic controllers and explain to them why this House has reservations, and, above all, why this House changed its mind, as I hope it will.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, who has the interests of aviation at heart will change his mind too. I do not altogether believe that the issues are such that they should divide the two sides of the House. The Conservative Party must make up its mind as to whether it feels ideologically that it is obliged to wait until the general election and beyond. But it is very important that this issue does not become the plaything of politics. It should not become an issue to be put before the people in the next election because it is not sufficiently important overall. It is important for the air traffic controllers, for members of the union of which I happen to be the president—BALPA—and for members of the IPMS and so on. But it is not vital for the people of this country.

I go along with my noble friend Lord Richard. I plead with the House to put aside on this issue petty party points which are of no use at all.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, I must declare my position as a member of the Strategic Rail Authority and the Commission for Integrated Transport. In doing so, I make it clear that I have received no briefing from either organisation.

However, I have spent the whole of my career in transport—as director of operations for British Rail and as chairman of a bus company in Northern Ireland. I am very well acquainted with safety, which has always been at the forefront of my concern.

Many of the arguments used by the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, were heard at the time of railway privatisation when many confident assessments were given of the state of the railways once private capital was brought in.

I want to speak about the inevitable conflicts between safety and profit now being displayed in Railtrack and the impotence of government once an activity has been fully privatised. In my opinion, we see in Railtrack a company which has failed to deliver a safe, efficient railway.

Perhaps I may divert to the accident which occurred in Scotland two nights ago. That was due to track spread. The track fell outwards and allowed the train to be derailed. In my days on British Rail, it would have led to a divisional engineer losing his job that night.

Lord Shepherd

My Lords, we are considering the message from the House of Commons. This is not a Second Reading. We have been over all these issues. I think it would be very much in the interests of the House and the decision which we must reach this afternoon that our debate should focus on the issues before us; that is, the message from the House of Commons and how we should react to it.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, if the House will permit me, I shall return quickly to the issue and speak very briefly.

Railtrack has for years been completely focused on its shareholders in negotiations with the regulator over the price review, over the exploitation of its property assets, in negotiations with contractors—

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the words in the Companion which say that debate must be relevant to the Question before the House? At the moment, that is the Commons amendment in relation to a three-month deferment. It is certainly not about Railtrack.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, we should be straightforward about this. The noble Lord, Lord Marshall, made a substantial and extremely interesting speech, as he was entitled to do. But it was no more directed against the amendment in a precise way than other speeches made in the House. I suggest to the Government Chief Whip that these are important issues about which the House feels deeply. We should have one rule for all Members and there should be a degree of latitude. Let common sense prevail and let us hear what others have to say.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, the Government showed, in answers given by the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday in another place, that they cannot intervene in railway matters. I want to make very clear that we are presenting the Government with an opportunity to ensure that any new arrangements embracing NATS will not be structured so that service is in any way subordinated to profit.

Finally, it is essential that other parts of the Bill are enacted because we need an effective and powerful Strategic Rail Authority and the many other matters of which the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, spoke in his introduction.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I have listened with great care to what has been said, as I have as regards all previous debates on this Bill. Most contributions were constructive and I listened with particular respect to the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, given his unrivalled experience of aviation and business generally through his work with the CBI.

We accept that there is concern about the timing of the PPP. The amendments introduced in another place last night provide an undertaking that we shall not rush that process. I am grateful for the practical approach taken by noble Lords opposite, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara.

Let me expand some of the issues about which I spoke earlier. We shall put in place new air aviation directions and ensure that the CAA is empowered to control airspace policy. That is a subject which should be discussed further. In response to my noble friends Lord Brett and Lord Clinton-Davis, yes, we shall continue to talk to staff representatives and to address their concerns. We shall facilitate meetings between the trade unions and the bidders so that they can talk about plans for the future organisation of NATS and the implications for staff. We shall talk further to the unions about the 5 per cent employee share scheme in order to inform our final decision on how tens of millions of pounds will in fact be dispersed to staff. We shall also discuss further with pension trustees any additional clarification that they may seek.

My noble friend Lord Brett asked about the scope that there may be for discussions around regulation or operational parameters in the next three-month period. As I have said, we remain open to constructive discussions about the operation of the PPP. The legislation lays down specific processes and the main criteria under which the PPP will be created and maintained. Since the beginning of this process we have made clear much of our thinking on the non-legislative framework for the PPP, both as part of the consultation process and during the passage of the Bill. That said, we are always willing to listen to constructive suggestions on the working of the PPP.

As to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Brett, about further reconsideration of the trust option, there have been lengthy debates here and in another place about the merits and otherwise of trust models. Consistently the Government have made it clear that we believe that the PPP offers a number of advantages over a trust model and for that reason remains our preferred option. However, we have made it clear all along that the PPP model in no way precludes it being run as a not-for-profit company, provided all the Government's criteria are met.

We shall ensure that both the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS are well organised for their new roles and that those roles are fully understood before they are separated. We shall take steps to ensure that the protections in relation to safety, which your Lordships have introduced, are understood. We shall also hold further discussions on any aspects of concern with users, including the general aviation community and other stakeholders, and on matters of airspace policy. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, touched on the dimensions of national security and the golden share, which will be brought within the process over the next three months.

I have listened carefully to the debate this afternoon. Therefore, to show how seriously we propose to make use of the three-month deferment, I am happy to undertake, as was requested, to come to your Lordships' House at the end of that period—around the end of February or the beginning of March—and to make a further Statement to the House. That will give an opportunity for noble Lords to hear about those further discussions and to hear our response to any concerns that may have been expressed.

I take to heart the injunction made by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, to ensure that the issues are better understood by the public. In the best interests of all involved, particularly the public interest, we shall work to build a well-informed consensus across air traffic services, across the aviation industry, and we shall do that over the next three months. That is our promise to the House. I believe that it is a reasonable way to move forward and that it reflects the spirit of this and recent debates here and in another place. Therefore, I commend the Commons amendments to the House.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, this afternoon we have had a good debate on this subject. We have had the benefit of two new speakers on the Transport Bill in the form of the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge. I do not intend to comment on the constitutional arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I felt that I had addressed those fairly well today and at previous stages of the Bill. We welcome to the debate the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, with his great hands-on experience in relation to this issue.

The Minister told the House something different from what was said in another place by the Deputy Prime Minister. Last night the Deputy Prime Minister added to my worries by saying that we needed to work on the detail. No wonder, therefore, that rebellion in another place rose to new levels. The public know all too well what it means when the Deputy Prime Minister has to work out the detail.

The Minister today has met this House in a different way. Where the Deputy Prime Minister revealed the holes in the policy, the Minister promised to fill in some of the gaps. As I understand it—and he will correct me if I am wrong—he promised that during the three-month period the Government will decide on the strategic partner and the nature of the final agreement. The Minister talked about the outcome of consultation with staff, with the unions, with the controllers and with the airline pilots. He talked about the nature of the employee shareholding; the nature of the new relationship between the Civil Aviation Authority and National Air Traffic Services; the way in which national control over air traffic control can be maintained, as I asked him to do; and the situation of the golden share, especially bearing in mind their position with regard to the BAA judgment. He has undertaken to return to Parliament in three months' time and to report on those matters in a Statement on which I hope that there can be a proper and full debate.

I also raised the issue of safety—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the noble Lord has obviously had quite extensive discussions with the Minister about this matter. Did he also have a discussion with the Minister as to how the matter will return to this House? Will it be by means of a Motion, will the House simply take note, or will there be a debate?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I hope that we shall have a report and a Statement to the House on which we can have a full debate. I hope I am right in saying that that is what the Minister said we shall have. The Minister indicates that that is right. We will need a full report and a Statement covering those particular issues, which we have been promised in three months' time.

I turn to the matter of safety. Never during debates on this issue have I questioned the matter of safety. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge. I hope that what I said about safety and what the Minister has undertaken to do will satisfy the general public, the press, the media, the pilots and the controllers that safety is not an issue. Even if we may not regard it as an issue, certainly there are those outside, in the big wide world, who do. It is essential that those fears are allayed.

If I am right in what I have said and in what the Minister has undertaken to do, I believe that there has been a considerable shift in the position that was taken last night in another place. That will ensure full public and parliamentary debate to a greater extent than we have secured so far. In effect, the position is still maintained that nothing will be implemented much before the expected date of an election in the spring.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

My Lords, whether anything is implemented much before the election is not the point. It is a matter of whether it is implemented before or after the election. If the noble Lord is proposing not to press the amendment, can he make it clear whether the House will have an opportunity to vote on whatever is said in three months' time? Surely we need to know that key point before we vote tonight.

4 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I was about to deal with the first point made by the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. The amendment that we are considering today defers this for three months, which takes it to March. My original amendment deferred it until after the election. I can see some advantages to the Government's amendment, which means that this will be a live, hot issue until the time of the general election. Whether or not they want to, the Government will have to make decisions about it at the time of the general election.

As regards a debate, the House can vote on any kind of debate that we have. If the Minister tables a Motion for debate, any noble Lord can propose an amendment to that debate and a vote can take place at the end. That is the procedure of the House.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the amendment tabled today by the Government is a total vindication of the stand that this House has so far made on the issue. The Liberal Party may criticise this, but I believe that we have heard some very useful and wise concessions from the Government, to the extent that they will offer hope of reassuring the public and the staff about this policy. I am quite happy to give way as often as I am asked.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I am most obliged to the noble Lord. I should like to seek some clarification. We have talked about a Statement. The noble Lord then said that we could debate a Motion. As I understand it, if the Minister returns to this House with a Statement, we cannot table a Motion to amend that Statement. The object of my original question is to find out whether we should have a Statement, a Motion, a "take-note" Motion or whatever, so that the House may have another bite at this particularly bitter cherry.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it would perhaps be preferable for the Government to answer this question. However, my understanding is that if a Motion for debate is tabled in this House, as we have been promised, any noble Lord may table an amendment to the Motion, whatever it happens to be. I do not know whether anybody from the Government Front Bench wishes to intervene at this stage. I shall certainly allow him the opportunity.

Lord Carter

My Lords, everything that has been said is entirely procedurally correct. There can be a Government Statement and there can be a debate. The Liberal Democrats are very impatient today but perhaps they will allow me to finish. There are opportunities for Wednesday debates and other debates. It is procedurally correct to table a "take-note" Motion, to which an amendment may be tabled. Nothing that has so far been said is procedurally incorrect.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I hope that the Government have agreed—I am convinced that they have—that there will be such a formal debate, to which any amendment can be tabled and voted on. We can therefore inform the Government at that time whether or not we approve of their policies.

We have asked the Government to think again about this matter and ensure that the details of the legislation are properly considered. I believe that that is the role of this House. When last night I read the words of the Deputy Prime Minister, I was not remotely satisfied on that point. Having listened to the Minister today, I am much more reassured. The Minister has again stepped in to save the Deputy Prime Minister's bacon and clear up at least some of the mess that he has left behind.

In the circumstances, I believe that we should give the noble Lord the opportunity to do that job, and not pursue something which, if we rejected these offers, might prove, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, would say, to be a sterile confrontation between these two Houses. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Noble Lords


The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the Question was that this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 27 to which the Commons have disagreed and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 27C, since when an amendment has been moved to leave out the words after "House" and insert "do insist on its Amendment No. 27". The Question is that this amendment be agreed to?

On Question, whether the said amendment (No. 27D) shall be agreed to?

4.7 p.m.

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 57; Not-Contents, 157.

Division No. 1
Addington, L. Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.
Avebury, L. Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Barker, B. Razzall, L.
Bradshaw, L. Redesdale, L.
Clement-Jones, L. Rennard, L.
Dholakia, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Ezra, L. Roper, L.
Falkland, V. Russell, E.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L. St John of Fawsley, L.
Goodhart, L. Sandberg, L.
Greaves, L. Scott of Needham Market, B.
Hamwee, B. [Teller] Sharman, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Harris of Richmond, B. Shore of Stepney, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Shutt of Greetland, L.
Hooson, L. Smith of Clifton, L.
Jacobs, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Taverne, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B. Thomas of Walliswood, B. [Teller]
Ludford, B.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
McNally, L. Tope, L.
Maddock, B. Tordoff, L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B. Walmsley, B.
Newby, L. Watson of Richmond, L.
Nicholson of Winterbourne, B. Wigoder, L.
Northover, B. Williams of Crosby, B.
Acton, L. Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor)
Ahmed, L.
Alli, L. Janner of Braunstone, L.
Amos, B. Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Privy Seal)
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Ashlev of Stoke, L. King of West Bromwich, L.
Bitch, L. Kirkhill, L.
Barnett, L. Laird, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Laming, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L. Layard, L.
Birt, L. Lea of Crondall, L.
Blackstone, B. Lichfield, Bp.
Blease, L. Lipsey, L.
Bledisloe, V. Lockwood, B.
Borrie, L. Longford, E.
Bragg, L. Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
Brett, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
Brightman, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Brookman, L. MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Burlison, L. Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Burns, L. Mallalieu, B.
Carter, L. [Teller] Marsh, L.
Chandos, V. Marshall of Knightsbridge, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Massey of Darwen, B.
Clinton-Davis, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Mishcon, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B. Mitchell, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Monson, L.
Crawley, B. Morgan, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
David, B. Morris of Manchester, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Nicol, B.
Davies of Oldham, L. O'Neill of Bengarve, B.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Parekh, L.
Dearing, L Patel, L.
Desai, L. Peston, L.
Donoughue, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Dubs, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Elder, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L. Puttnam, L.
Evans of Watford, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. Renwick of Clifton, L.
Ferrers, E. Richard, L.
Filkin, L. Rogan, L
Fyfe of Fairfield, L. Roll of Ipsden, L.
Gale, B. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B. Sandwich, E.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Sawyer, L.
Goldsmith, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Serota, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Shepherd, L.
Grabiner, L. Simon, V.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Slim, V.
Greengross, B. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Gregson, L. Stallard, L.
Grenfell, L. Stone of Blackheath, L.
Hardy of Wath, L. Strabolgi, L.
Harris of Haringey, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Harris of High Cross, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Harrison, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Haskel, L. Tenby, V.
Hayman, B. Thornton, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Tomlinson, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B. Uddin, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Varley, L.
Hoyle, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Walpole, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Warner, L.
Hylton, L. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Weatherill, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Whitaker, B. Williamson of Horton, L.
Whitty, L. Winston, L.
Wilkins, B. Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment No. 27D disagreed to accordingly.

4.16 p.m.

On Question, Amendment No. 27C agreed to.

  2. cc1323-4
  3. LORDS AMENDMENT 928 words
  4. c1324
  6. c1342
  7. LORDS AMENDMENT 175 words
  8. c1342
  9. LORDS AMENDMENT 172 words
Back to