HL Deb 09 May 1994 vol 554 cc1337-8

2.43 p.m.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made towards the sale of the Transport Research Laboratory.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish)

My Lords, work towards the sale of the Transport Research Laboratory is at an early stage. Arrangements are under way to appoint financial advisers to assist the Government with the sale of TRL. Those advisers will be appointed by means of a competitive tendering process.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

Will the Minister accept that the delay is a little surprising in view of the speed with which the Government rushed to announce that it would privatise when the executive agency was barely a year old? Will the Minister give us an assurance that he will keep the House informed of the progress of negotiations and the terms that the Government are considering granting to potential purchasers? Will he give a guarantee that the Government will not allow the vested interests of potential purchasers to damage what the Peat Marwick report calls the "perceived impartiality" of TRL under public ownership?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness a guarantee that we will not allow the privatisation process to damage TRL. I have made that clear on a number of occasions. As for keeping the House informed of progress, I suspect that the noble Baroness will ensure that I do so by tabling a Question almost fortnightly.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the Minister accept that the Government have shown about the same sense of historical perspective over this whole issue as was displayed earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde? In the light of what he said, does he agree that it is essential for the Government to be open with the House about the terms and conditions which will be impressed in the contracts in relation to the privatisation exercise? What particular provisions are likely to be introduced in order to ensure the integrity, impartiality and objectivity of the new enterprise that will take over its activities?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, as the process proceeds, the financial advisers begin to put together the package and we go out looking for the competitive sale, one of the principal elements that we shall look for is an assurance from any potential buyer that the integrity of TRL will remain and that it will continue to offer to the Department of Transport and other organisations the kind of skills that it has offered in the past.