HC Deb 22 July 1985 vol 83 cc708-9
4. Mr. Pike

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met the chairman of the National Bus Company; and what subjects were discussed.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

My right hon. Friend and I frequently meet the chairman of the NBC, when we discuss a number of subjects of mutual interest.

Mr. Pike

When Ministers met the chairman, did they consider the NBC's withdrawal from the National Council for the Omnibus Industry, which has stood the test of time since 1947? Does he recognise that that withdrawal has caused considerable industrial unrest in the industry and tends to prove what many Opposition Members have been saying: that, to make the Transport Bill work, the Government will deregulate the working conditions of employees in that industry?

Mr. Mitchell

That is entirely a matter for the management of the industry. It is not for the Government to interfere, and we were not responsible for asking the NBC to take this step.

Mr. Rathbone

In his discussions with the chairman, has my hon. Friend mentioned the future of British Transport Advertising? He will be aware that many people in the poster industry are keen that that organisation should be run more competitively, and would be only too willing to assist in so doing?

Mr. Mitchell

I have discussed this matter with the chairman of the NBC and with representatives of British Rail. Discussions are continuing on the possibility of a management buy-out, and I do not wish to say anything further now.

Mr. Stott

The Minister will be aware of the great anxiety felt by NBC employees about their pension rights. He will also be aware that his long and detailed answers to amendments which were tabled by me and by my hon. Friends in Committee have in no way assuaged their anxiety. It is time that the Minister reconsidered the matter. Does he accept that there is still time to recognise the genuine concerns of those employees, whose pension rights are being put at risk by his Bill? As a consequence of that, is he now prepared to amend the Bill in the other place to meet their legitimate demands?

Mr. Mitchell

The National Bus Company asked for a Government guarantee in respect of the pension funds, but the company does not provide such a guarantee, only a renounceable covenant. A renounceable covenant cannot be equated with a Government guarantee, or even an NBC guarantee. However, with the chairman of the NBC, we have been considering ways of ensuring the continuation of those pension rights even more than we do now. One option is for an insurance company to take over the fund. Those discussions are continuing, and I do not wish to prejudice them by going further.

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