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Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is not my noble friend concerned at the fact that the British merchant navy has shrunk so much in recent years? What are the Government doing about that?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we are concerned about that but it has been a worldwide problem among all developed countries that shipowners have tended to flag out to other foreign registers. We are doing something about that on a wide range of fronts. We are attacking substandard shipping through port state

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controls. We are preventing substandard ships from operating to our ports. We are supporting training through direct assistance, the Government Assistance for Training scheme and the docks scheme. We have put forward a number of other measures to enhance the competitiveness of the British Red Ensign.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest: My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that my noble friend is a little optimistic as regards the present government cadet recruitment figure? It is 360, not 420. Is he further aware that there is a strong but unsatisfied demand from well qualified men and women for cadetships? One agency has received 1,000 applications for only 30 cadetships. Is he aware, on the other hand, that employers are not recruiting cadets because, although GAFT is in operation, the individual values of the grants are too low? Will the noble Viscount therefore consider making a substantial increase in the level of individual grants available under GAFT in the course of reviewing the future operation of this desirable innovation?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, of course we will look carefully at the level of the grant. However, I think that the industry itself accepts that the scheme has been a considerable success in helping those who seek to enter the industry. The wider problem of employment within seafaring of UK officers is a much broader issue. As I have said, we are addressing that on a number of different fronts.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, can my noble friend tell us how many ships there are now in the British merchant navy and how many there were 50 years ago?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I do not believe that I can give the figure for 50 years ago. My figure for the number of UK-registered vessels over 500 gross tonnes which trade is 271.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, will the noble Viscount consider making representations on our behalf to those who are responsible for this matter to express our apprehension that not enough is being done to resolve the problem?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the problem can only be resolved as a result of co-operation and partnership between the industry itself and the Department of Transport. That partnership exists, and we are working very closely with the industry to address the problem through the schemes that I have mentioned.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, did the intake of cadets increase after the government assistance with training was introduced? Should this not be continued, with more publicity, at a time when international regulations are fortunately becoming stricter and therefore creating a demand for British maritime skills?

Viscount Goschen: Yes, my Lords. I agree that there is already substantial demand for qualified British officers. One of the main problems arises in the recruitment and training phase. My noble friend is quite correct that, as we have heard, since the introduction of

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the scheme there has been a substantial increase in the numbers coming into the industry. The training scheme has helped. I agree that we still face a difficult problem.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, while the Government have taken some measures to alleviate the situation, does the noble Viscount not agree that, in the light of a forecast increase in world trade, as the result of which more ships will be needed, we shall need not only to train more seafarers but also to ensure that our shipping companies have the right ships for them to serve in? On the subject of manning, should we not also be looking very carefully at the future quality of life of seafarers, as reduced manning and long working hours have created a situation in which safety could well be compromised?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that the international community has acted strictly to address the problems of hours of work. I agree that historically that has been a problem. I hope that British companies and British ships have been better than most. I agree with the noble Lord that there are substantial opportunities for merchant shipping. We have already heard what those are. I believe that the British fleet will be able to play its full part in that industry.

Transport Research Laboratory Sale: Bids

3.2 p.m.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which of the bids they have received for the Transport Research Laboratory they have shortlisted; which of those shortlisted are non-profit distributing concerns and what is the amount of the bid in each case.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, two bidders have been shortlisted in the sale of the Transport Research Laboratory. They are a consortium comprising Pell Frischmann Consulting Engineers Limited, Mouchel Associates Limited, the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club; and the Transport Research Foundation, which includes members of TRL's existing management. The foundation is bidding to acquire TRL as a non-profit distributing company. The AA and RAC are non-profit distributing concerns. The amount of each bid is confidential.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: Is the Minister really telling us that we are not to be allowed to know what has influenced the Government financially in the size of the different bids, in view of their overwhelming anxiety to get money at any cost or quality in order to prop up their tottering finances? When will we know what the Government's motives have been? Is it not a fact that the alternative bidder--the Pell Frischmann, Mouchel, AA, RAC consortium--consists of concerns that have vested interests in one side of transport--namely, road construction and car owners--and therefore is incapable of taking an overall view of what is required for research in the transport industry as a whole?

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Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I certainly do not agree with the noble Baroness that because those concerns have interests in certain areas they are not capable of owning and running a company that produces independent research. One only has to look at all kinds of companies in the private sector which produce independent research, for which the Government are often a customer.

I have forgotten the first part of the question. Will the noble Baroness please repeat it?

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: Is the Minister serious? I thought that it was one of his evasions. I am glad to have the opportunity to repeat the question.

Is the Minister really telling us that this House is not entitled to know the price which has been offered by each of the concerns and therefore what has been the nature of the financial inducement to the Government to sacrifice quality to their desperate need to prop up their tottering finances?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I remember it now. As the noble Baroness will be very well aware, our finances are not tottering. They are in extremely good health. She should have listened to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday when he detailed exactly how they stand. We are in the middle of a competitive bidding process. It would not be in the interests of fair competition, which I am sure the noble Baroness wants, to disclose the amounts at this stage.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, in view of the fact that the National Engineering Laboratory was sold for minus £1.95 million, will the Minister tell us whether the Road Research Laboratory will be sold for a plus or minus amount?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, where there have been instances of businesses being sold for a net minus sum, there have been considerable liabilities which have been taken over. I should not like to comment at this stage on the amount we expect to receive for the laboratory. The noble Lord will have to wait and see. I am sure that he will be very pleased when he finds out.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the Minister aware that we do not worry about his forgetting the questions; it is his answers that cause great anxiety? Will the Minister give the House some indication as to when this absurd process is likely to end? Can he also indicate to the House why it is that the Government are continuing with this illogical attempt to decimate an institution which has organised itself in such a way that the country can be wholly proud of its activities?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the country can be proud of the good quality research that has been produced by the laboratory. We believe that the country will continue to be proud of it in the future when the laboratory is fully in the private sector. To answer the noble Lord's question about the timetable, the shortlisted bidders have

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been asked to submit their final bids by 21st December. We expect an announcement of the selected purchaser to follow early in the new year.

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