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Transport Minister Lord Macdonald
"I am taking more responsibility because John Prescott asked me to"
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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 15:16 GMT
Labour safety fears over air traffic sell-off

Planned sell-off has raised safety concerns

Labour rebels have tabled a motion opposing the part privatisation of air traffic control on safety grounds.

The move came ahead of the first debate in Parliament on the Transport Bill, which includes plans to sell off 51% of shares in National Air Traffic Services.

Former transport minister Gavin Strang is leading opposition to the government's plans.

A total of 50 Labour MPs have signed the rebel motion. It says public ownership of air traffic control is "necessary for national security".

Hostility to the move is rooted in fears it will affect the operating safety of the system.

Congestion charges are included in Bill
Mr Strang said recently: "It is no accident that no Tory transport minister got round to privatising Nats.

"No country in the world has privatised its air traffic control."

These worries are shared by the pilots' union Balpa, as well as by unions representing the controllers.

"The proposed sale is the first step in an inevitable process of splitting up the organisation," said Paul Noon, general secretary of the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists.

"Air traffic control is far more efficient and effective when it is integrated.

"Competing economic interests would have to coexist with interdependence at working level - a strain at the best of times and dangerous at the worst."

Mr Noon said Nats was a successful, profitable, public service which required no subsidy and had a world-class safety record.

"But the government is apparently willing to put all that at risk for the sake of raising 350m."

The government, Nats itself and the Civil Aviation Authority - of which Nats is a wholly-owned subsidiary - all argue that the sell-off plans are essential so Nats can invest more than 1bn in facilities and equipment over the next 10 years.

Motoring U-turn denied

Radical measures: John Prescott
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has described the Transport Bill as "radical measures designed to deliver the safe, modern and high quality transport this country needs and deserves".

But following the handing of day-to-day responsibility for transport to the junior minister Lord Macdonald, the government has faced accusations of a U-turn on measures to reduce car use.

Mr Prescott had provoked anger for appearing to target motorists as part of his integrated transport strategy. Lord Macdonald's increased prominence was viewed as an attempt to peddle back.

Speaking on Monday morning, the transport minister denied any chance in policy had occurred.

"We can't stop the growth of traffic," Lord Macdonald said. "What we can do is try to ensure there is decent public transport in place so people can choose not to use their cars."

Other measures in the transport bill include a Strategic Rail Authority and a requirement that all local authorities draw up a five-year transport plan.

Plans to introduce congestion charges on motorists have also attracted controversy.

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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Transport Bill gets moving
01 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Labour MPs promise air traffic opposition
18 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Prescott defends transport plans
17 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Selling-off the skies

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