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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he was good enough to saybut I should be glad if he would confirmthat he would write to us about some of the questions that he has not been able to answer this evening. He made a remarkable stab at doing so.
But the question remains as to whether there has been any progress on abandoning the system of trying to practise conservation by the amount of fish that are brought up on deck, most of which are dead. In other words, has there been any progress towards abandoning the wickedly destructive environmental policy of discards? Can the Minister give any figures relating to what Spain, the Netherlands and Ireland are up to? What is the amount of compensation that Spain is receiving for being graciously pleased no longer to take the fish from Morocco in the way it has taken so many of ours?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am not sure whether the figure matches precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is asking. It is not that I doubt the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, but I shall check the relativities compared with the total expenditure on Spain and on the United Kingdom.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, my main reason for moving this Motion stems from the questions asked in the recent debate on Railtrack by my noble friend Lord Hunt about a grey market in shares. Since then, I have had an opportunity to see the effect. It is extraordinary that the average turnover of shares in Railtrack was under half a million prior to the events, but on the Thursday and Friday when the Secretary of State acted the turnover was 3 million and 1 million. So it seems to me that there is certainly a case to be answered about a grey market and who did or did not benefit.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the Secretary of State made no Statement on 25th July. Will the noble Viscount indicate which Statement he is referring to?
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I may have got the date wrong, but he certainly made a Statement. I have given the noble and learned Lord advance notice of my remarks, so I hope that he will not use it against me all the time because I am trying to be helpful to allow him to answer a question.
He said that the chairman of Railtrack had said that the position was far worse than had been previously thought, and that it was clear that unless extra financial assistance was provided by the Government on 8th November, when Railtrack was due to announce its interim results, it would be unable to make the critical statement that it was a going concern. I may have got the date wrong as to when he actually said it, but that is what the Secretary of State said. In other words, he said that Mr Robinson had come to him and asked for more money.
We know from yesterday's Select Committee meeting during which the Secretary of State gave evidence that Mr Robinson did not at any point ask for any more money. The Secretary of State said in his evidence that he merely asked for a "soft letter of comfort". I understand that such a letter was to reassure the markets following a number of derogatory comments made by the regulator. Indeed, with a soft letter of comfort, Railtrack would have been able to continue with its planned bond issue in
The Secretary of State was very helpful to the Select Committee, making his notes from the meeting with Mr Robinson available. I believe that it was the meeting that took place on 25th July rather than a statement. I see the noble and learned Lord nodding. I wonder whether those notes can be made available to this House.
We also have conflicting accounts with regard to the regulator. First, the regulator indicated to the House of Commons Select Committee last Wednesday that he was to all intents and purposes threatened by the Secretary of State with emergency laws to strip him of his powers if he intervened to stop Railtrack going into administration. In another place on 5th November, and again in his evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee, the Secretary of State said that there was no threat. In the Select Committee, he suggested that there was clearly no threat because the regulator did then make an offer to Railtrack to consider an interim review, but that it was Railtrack that did not want one.
I wonder whether these are the full facts. We know from the evidence given to the Select Committee by both the chief executive of Railtrack, Mr Marshall, and the regulator, Mr Winsor, that on Saturday 6th October Railtrack asked the regulator about the possibility of a review. It seems clear that within that discussion Railtrack chose not formally to ask for a review because it knew that the regulator had effectively been told that a review was not possible and that therefore the Secretary of State would introduce legislation.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for giving way. In the interests of the full facts, as he calls them, would it not be more sensible to continue with some of the other comments of Mr Winsor to the Select Committee last week, such as,
Viscount Astor: My Lords, we can all quote for ever the proceedings of the Select Committee. However, I made a separate point from that. Mr Winsor made many remarks about Railtrack. I am talking about the Secretary of State and regulation. The point the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, made is not relevant to that.
Finally, there are two issues relating to administration which I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify. First, the Secretary of State noted to the Select Committee yesterday that he wants the period of administration to last no longer than a few months, not six or nine months. Yet we know from the administrator's own evidence that he felt that six months,
Secondly, will the noble and learned Lord explain how the Secretary of State will be able to make a neutral decision on the replacement of Railtrackas he said in yesterday's evidence to the Select Committeewhen at the same time he will be the architect of one of its proposed new models? How can we be assured that other companies, which I understand are considering making offers, will be given a fair hearing for their proposals? Will the noble and learned Lord confirm that Railtrack was put into administration for purely financial reasons and therefore the Secretary of State will consider proposals from the private sector should they come forward? Is it not the responsibility of the administrator to procure the best offer? I hope that the noble and learned Lord can respond to those points and clear up much misunderstanding that has surrounded this issue. That would certainly help all of us who have an interest in it. I beg to move.
Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the rules, laid before the House on 8th October, be annulled (S.I. 2001/3352)(Viscount Astor.)
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