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Lord Brett: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. My question relates to the PPP a year or two down the track. A policy of the strategic partner of the PPP might be to shed responsibility for some of the airports on the ground that they are the less profitable parts of the NATS empire. If that related, for example, to Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Glasgow, the staff therein are likely to find themselves required to become employees of the new employer. Where would they fit? That is exactly the shedding the Minister described in respect of London Transport.
Because CAAPS is a centralised scheme for non-associated employers it is perfectly possible--it would be our intention--that any disposal of the kind to which my noble friend Lord Brett refers would be on the basis of the new organisation being a non-associated employer on the same basis, and with the same terms and conditions, as exist at present. I hope that that is a full reassurance.
I turn now to what my noble friend Lord Brett said at the conclusion of his speech. I am sorry to take so long but it is clearly important and everyone is rightly concerned about this. He divided his arguments into the political and the substantive. He said that even if everything I said was right, it would not convince the staff. Everything that I have said is right and it is, of course, our responsibility and everyone's responsibility to seek to convince the staff.
He went on to say that even if everything I said was right, there are substantive issues. He talked about the fund of £1 million which the trustees have to challenge the issue in the courts. I understand that. It is a highly unusual procedure but they are entitled to do it. I do not for a moment say that they should not. I am not claiming that that would delay or hinder the delivery of the PPP. That is not my argument. My argument is that on each of the four points which the trustees challenge--my noble friend Lord Brett set them out rather quickly and I am relying on my notes--I can give an assurance that the existing Bill without amendment meets those points: first, that the employer contributions are sufficient to provide the protection which is required; secondly, that the benefits are protected--I have made that clear on existing and prospective service; thirdly, that the funds are available to meet the liabilities--I made that clear when I talked about minimum funding requirement--and, finally, that the rights would remain on transfer of ownership. I have made that commitment as well in what I have said.
So on what my noble friend Lord Brett calls the substantive points, as well as the political points, the Government believe that the employees of the National Air Traffic Service are fully protected. I have tried hard today to explain the Government's position. There is nothing between us on the aims of our policy. We all want to safeguard the pension entitlements. We have looked in detail at the statutory route as we promised the House we would do. We do not think that it is necessary to have an additional statutory protection on the face of the Bill because there are safeguards in existing legislation. Our commitment stands to the policy in the Fair Deal document, in the CAAPS trust deed and in the strategic partnership
Lord Brett: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed explanation. I am grateful for his attempts to reassure the staff of NATS. As we speak there are probably some 300 NATS staff on duty at the West Drayton centre and Heathrow. As I listened to the Minister's explanation I tried to think how they would react. As the noble Lord rightly says, we have a responsibility to convince them, whatever the substantive arguments might be.
The Minister began by going through the litany of previous pension issues which had created this fear--and the fear is real. I apologise for having broken the flow of his contribution by asking what happens with sell-ons. It seems to me that that puts staff in a similar position to London Transport staff, who are being given on the face of the Bill protection not available to NATS staff. I heard the reassurances. It will clearly not cost the Government anything to put this provision on the face of the Bill given the strength of the assurances.
Air traffic controllers speak even more quickly than I do but with rather less volume; they talk to pilots in clipped sentences. The phrase "He protesteth too much" comes to mind. I am sure that my noble friend will say that this is a piece of legislation of no cost to the Government and of reassurance to the staff. The only element of cost arises from the £1 million set aside for a legal challenge, the response to which is bound to cost the taxpayer several million pounds. Air traffic controllers are very logical individuals. I am not convinced that they would not say in sum total that there is no problem in putting such a provision on the face of the Bill. I heard no reason why it should not be on the face of the Bill. I feel, therefore, that I should be doing a disservice--
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, before my noble friend finally makes a decision, I hope that he will do so on the content of the argument rather than on the issue of confidence. He will recall--I spared the House this today--that his amendment contains a series of conditions included in subsections (1) to (13), previously annotated (a) to (m). I went through those in Committee and demonstrated one after the other why each was unnecessary. Does my noble friend want me to repeat that as an intervention in his speech? Let me assure my noble friend that that argument is as true now as it was then.
Lord Brett: My Lords, if the Minister were to do so, my colleagues on these Benches, or noble Lords from the Opposition Benches, might wish to quote extensively from a document in rebuttal which has been circulated. That would simply extend the debate considerably.
[*The Tellers for the Contents reported 78 votes; the Clerks recorded only 77 names.] Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.