Beckett warns Lords over Nats rebellion

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The Independent Online

The government took a tough stance on the prospect of a lengthy clash with the House of Lords over plans to partially privatise National Air Traffic Services (Nats) yesterday, condemning it as a "constitutional outrage".

The government took a tough stance on the prospect of a lengthy clash with the House of Lords over plans to partially privatise National Air Traffic Services (Nats) yesterday, condemning it as a "constitutional outrage".

Margaret Beckett, the Commons leader, delivered a firm warning after 37 Labour backbenchers rebelled against the proposals on Wednesday night, fuelling peers' willingness to defeat the Government

"Some Lords are claiming a right to determine what will be carried into law before the next general election. That really is a constitutional outrage which no one, whatever their views on Nats, can defend." The Government saw "no reason" why the measure, part of the Transport Bill, would not become law before the Queen's Speech, due on 6 December.

Peers are expected to vote on the issue in 10 days and a second defeat would delay the Government's already overcrowded timetable. The Bill would then have to go back to the Commons, forcing a so-called constitutional "ping-pong".

Martin Salter, a rebel leader and MP for Reading West, urged the Government to think again in light of the revoltand abandon the unpopular plan. "This could otherwise end up as a 75p rise with wings," he warned.

But Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader in the Lords, has indicated he would not stop the Government from getting its legislative programme through. Ministers will also argue that Wednesday night's rebellion was on a smaller scale than previous revolts and peers therefore had no mandate to overrule the Commons again.

Meanwhile, Mrs Beckett also renewed the Government's commitment that plans to lower the homosexual age of consent to 16 could be law within weeks.

Asked during question time whether the Government was prepared to use the Parliament Act to force the measure on the statute books, she told MPs: "It is not at all clear how things generally in the other place will be settled. It is a matter entirely for them, the Government has no control over the agenda and indeed no majority to press their will. The Government does indeed intend, one way or another, to make progress."

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