Prescott braced for air traffic rebellion

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The Independent Online

John Prescott is bracing himself for a substantial backbench rebellion over plans to part-privatise the National Air Traffic Services (Nats) today despite a last-minute campaign to win over MPs' support.

As part of Government efforts to head off the revolt, ministers and whips stepped up their pressure on backbenchers to support the proposals, saying there was no possibility that the controversial sell-off would lead to a lapse in air safety.

But Martin Salter, one of the leading opponents of the policy, said the dispute was a matter of principle. The MP for Reading West said: "Many MPs feel resentful that they could be forced to vote against the Government when all they are doing is sticking to our preelection promise."

Mr Salter expected 40 to 50 backbenchers to rebel in the crucial vote during the report stage of the Transport Bill, which is not likely until the early hours. "The whips have been working overtime in trying to convince backbenchers to be loyal," he added. "We have to wait and see."

The Government is likely to win the vote comfortably, but a substantial rebellion of more than 40 MPs will fuel peers' opposition once the measure is debated in the House of Lords.

Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader, has already warned that the legislation will become a battleground with the Government. But the Deputy Prime Minister has refused to offer concessions and has ruled out an 11th-hour compromise.

In an attempt to avert a potentially damaging rebellion so soon after Labour's poor performance in local elections, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, a Transport minister, met unions last week to outline his eight-point plan for air safety.