HL Deb 18 January 1996 vol 568 cc702-4

3.25 p.m.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are now in a position to announce the successful bidder for the Transport Research Laboratory.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, the Government announced yesterday that the Transport Research Foundation had been selected as the preferred purchaser for the final negotiations on the sale of the Transport Research Laboratory. I regret that the announcement was made in advance of the Question on the Order Paper, particularly in view of the noble Baroness's long-standing commitment to this issue.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

I was going to thank the Government spokesman for a generous apology. However, it strikes me as being slightly lame in view of the fact that his argument was that he could not give an answer to my Question today because the Government were giving an answer to the Commons yesterday. It turns out that no such Question was tabled in the Commons yesterday—at least there is nothing on the Order Paper. But I accept that that is another example of the cock-up history of this Government rather than deliberate discourtesy.

I want to go on to congratulate the Government on having at last seen what has been obvious for a long time to everyone else; namely, that the only way to preserve this centre of excellence, the TRL, from the worst effects of privatisation was to allow its staff and management to form a non-profit-distributing company. It was thus able to give the Government, among others, impartial and independent advice. May I express the hope—

Noble Lords

No. Question!

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

May I express the hope? That is a question. I really think some honourable Lords—or whatever they are called—on the Benches opposite should take grammar lessons. That certainly was not a statement, though I am by no means over-confident. May I express the hope—

Noble Lords


Baroness Castle of Blackburn

—that that highly welcome and enlightened decision of the Government means that they will now give wholehearted support to the research work of that splendid institution and devote more resources in future to research in general?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, we have always supported the Transport Research Laboratory. We feel that the right decision was made and that the laboratory has a strong future in the private sector. It will be able to compete on its own terms. We believe that that is the right decision for the laboratory and look forward to a strong future for that institution.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the Minister join me in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Castle for the relentless campaign she has waged in this matter to see that justice was done? Will he also agree that a lesson to he learnt by the Government from this is, "Don't mess with Barbara"?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I have no hesitation whatever in commending the noble Baroness for her long-standing campaign on this issue. She brought the issue to the attention of your Lordships' House on a number of occasions, not least recently in an Unstarred Question. I believe that the lesson to be learnt from all this is that the competitive sale process is the right way to take an institution such as this laboratory into the private sector in order to guarantee it the best possible future.

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