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Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge: My Lords, I believe that the Canadian trust system is obviously one alternative which could be available. However, I believe that we have advanced so far under the present proposals that it would be foolish to lose more time by going back to start all over again.
Lord Brett: My Lords, I am surprised to say that I agree with much of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge. I did not speak in the debate on Monday because I had made your Lordships well aware of my belief in the defects of Part I of the Bill and to have bored your Lordships again would not have been helpful. Also, my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, in setting out his reasons for voting with the Government, had encapsulated the views of myself and several other colleagues.
I do not want to become involved in the argument about the constitution because that has been more than adequately acknowledged from these Benches. However, I want to explore precisely what the Government have said is to happen during the next three months. I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, that the proposal for a three-month delay provides the opportunity to explore other alternatives. It is well known that I have much sympathy with the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, in relation to the not-for-profit trust.
I was captured by the Minister's phrase "willingness to listen". However, it begs the question, "Listen to whom and about what?". I hope that it is a willingness to listen not only to the interests of the staff, who have an important point to make, but also to the airline group.
Many Members on the Benches opposite have said that a not-for-profit trust would be a better way forward. The air traffic controllers and pilots have said that they would have greater faith in an airline group consortium because that would not put profit into the equation. We have the ingredients of staff willingness to talk about a new organisation which can incorporate the type of principles and practices suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, and their desire not to face a financial regime of RPI-minus five. I hope that when the Minister comes to make a decision, he will not go down that route. It is a recommendation of the CAA board which should be examined carefully before it is discarded because inevitably that regime would exacerbate the problem of a collision course in the long-term between investment in safety and in other areas.
Given that we have three months, even at this late stage we do not have to go back to square one. We do not have to consider a trust because we are told that that is not on the agenda. However, because the strategic partner agreement is not part of the act, we could consider the views of the airline group, the staff interests--which could include the pilots, who are not directly involved in any way--and the consumer interests. We could consider whether it is possible to put together a PPP which would encapsulate many of the proposals put forward in other fora and regain the confidence not only of the public, which is singularly lacking, but also of the staff.
I remind the House that a month ago my noble friend Lord Whitty made the point that the confidence of the staff and pilots is essential to the success of a PPP. I urge the Minister not to waste the opportunity of the next few months, but to listen to and talk to all those who have an interest in the matter. He should not be afraid to consider changes that perhaps a few months ago would have been viewed as driving us away from the model. I believe that the ingredients are there. It is for the Minister to cook up something which is acceptable to everyone.
It is most important that the people who work in NATS should have confidence in what the Government do. So far, the noble Lord who opened the debate has not spoken about what he and his colleagues intend to do with regard to those people.
It is extremely important that he should pay a visit as soon as possible to the people who work in air traffic control. He should explain that the Government are going to listen very carefully to what they have to say.
A long time ago, I was a Minister for Aviation. It seems to me extremely important that the paramountcy of safety, which was underlined, should be repeated over and over again. When my noble friend approaches the air traffic control people, he will say that very clearly and he will hear what they have to say about it.
It seems to me that the Liberal Democrats are in great difficulty about this matter. They should not be. I have changed my vote. I have supported the Government. But, above all, I welcome the opportunity which the three months will give; and the Liberal Democrats should welcome that too. In those three months, my right honourable friend and his colleagues will visit the air traffic controllers and explain to them why this House has reservations, and, above all, why this House changed its mind, as I hope it will.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, who has the interests of aviation at heart will change his mind too. I do not altogether believe that the issues are such that they should divide the two sides of the House. The Conservative Party must make up its mind as to whether it feels ideologically that it is obliged to wait until the general election and beyond. But it is very important that this issue does not become the plaything of politics. It should not become an issue to be put before the people in the next election because it is not sufficiently important overall. It is important for the air traffic controllers, for members of the union of which I happen to be the president--BALPA--and for members of the IPMS and so on. But it is not vital for the people of this country.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I must declare my position as a member of the Strategic Rail Authority and the Commission for Integrated Transport. In doing so, I make it clear that I have received no briefing from either organisation.
However, I have spent the whole of my career in transport--as director of operations for British Rail and as chairman of a bus company in Northern Ireland. I am very well acquainted with safety, which has always been at the forefront of my concern.
Many of the arguments used by the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, were heard at the time of railway privatisation when many confident assessments were given of the state of the railways once private capital was brought in.
I want to speak about the inevitable conflicts between safety and profit now being displayed in Railtrack and the impotence of government once an activity has been fully privatised. In my opinion, we see in Railtrack a company which has failed to deliver a safe, efficient railway.
Perhaps I may divert to the accident which occurred in Scotland two nights ago. That was due to track spread. The track fell outwards and allowed the train to be derailed. In my days on British Rail, it would have led to a divisional engineer losing his job that night.
Lord Shepherd: My Lords, we are considering the message from the House of Commons. This is not a Second Reading. We have been over all these issues. I think it would be very much in the interests of the House and the decision which we must reach this afternoon that our debate should focus on the issues before us; that is, the message from the House of Commons and how we should react to it.
Railtrack has for years been completely focused on its shareholders in negotiations with the regulator over the price review, over the exploitation of its property assets, in negotiations with contractors--
Lord Carter: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the words in the Companion which say that debate must be relevant to the Question before the House? At the moment, that is the Commons amendment in relation to a three-month deferment. It is certainly not about Railtrack.
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