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Lord Carr of Hadley: Perhaps I may ask my noble and learned friend one final point before he sits down. In the statement that he has just made, he seems to see the procedure moving from the statement, which may be a unilateral one, straight into mediation. I should have thought that there was need for a period of conciliation. I realise that that is provided for, but in the statement that my noble and learned friend has just made I do not see how that fits in.

The Lord Chancellor: One of the problems of divorce is that people reach that stage usually before seeking help of any kind. It is often late for any kind of conciliation, but mediation is required if a divorce is contemplated and if the future after divorce is to be studied. That is a most important aspect of the proposals.

I have provided that in relation to mediation, if there is apparently any prospect whatever that the parties will get together again the mediator will refer them to conciliation and, it is to be hoped, to reconciliation. The noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, made a point about my clauses. My intention in the clauses relating to conciliation is that, if there is any prospect of that, it will not affect the running of the time because if people believe that the year should run while there is still time to be reconciled that might damage the prospect of reconciliation. That is my intention but there may be some misunderstanding about it.

I believe that as a practical matter the most likely source of conciliation and, it is to be hoped, reconciliation is when the parties get together to look at the various problems that they face. I believe, too, that mediation in its very nature brings them to address what has separated them and what are the

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problems between them that must be addressed. Therefore, this is intended as a practical method of addressing these matters.

There is a great variety of circumstances and it is difficult to legislate for them all. This is intended as a framework to encourage and, it is hoped, to bring about reconciliation where that is possible.

Lord Coleraine: I understood my noble and learned friend to say that there is no difference between the financial provision arrangements under the 1973 Act and those in the Bill. However, there is one very important difference which will have a profound effect on these matters. It is that under the 1973 Act financial provision arrangements can be made at the time of the decree nisi but cannot be brought into effect until the decree absolute. Under my noble and learned friend's proposals all these matters can be taken up and brought to finality at an early stage within the year of reflection and consideration.

The effect of that could be that a wife and child are taken away from the husband immediately the wife applies for financial provision. Within a few months the husband might find himself paying for the support of the wife and the child but without his home and even having to transfer the home to his wife. Under present practice that could not have happened until a much later stage of the proceedings . It throws a bad light on the effect of the Bill in promoting reconciliation.

The Lord Chancellor: We are moving away from the amendment but this is a matter for considerable consideration. In answer to my noble friend Lady Elles, I was referring to the basis on which property arrangements should take place. The Bill makes no change whatever to that. It makes different arrangements as to when exactly the various provisions can come into effect, but I believe that one of the important issues is realistically to face what the future will bring. If the parties are in a position completely to know what that is, so much the better for realising exactly what the future is after divorce. I believe that at least in some cases a look at the future as well as facing up to the responsibilities of marriage are extremely important features of the proposals.

The Earl of Onslow: Perhaps I may make only one point about the one-person application in respect of the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. If one partner in a marriage is totally and utterly determined that the marriage has broken down it is extremely unfortunate but there is nothing that the other partner can do about it. It is nasty and unpleasant but all divorce is nasty and unpleasant. I do not know one of my friends whose divorce has not been at least 70 per cent. on one side and 30 per cent. on the other. Normally it is 50:50, and that point needs making. That is why I support my noble and learned friend so strongly.

Baroness Young: We have strayed very far from the original amendment, which I said was a paving amendment. A number of points have been made and

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I shall read most carefully what my noble and learned friend said. I do not intend to respond to all of them but it appears that he attaches immense importance to mediation. Where all those remarkable people will come from I do not know. At any rate, we are banking on all kinds of people managing to undertake the task. I had understood that mediation was about splitting the assets of the marriage and not about reconciliation and so forth. That is another debate which we shall come to later in the Committee stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Trumpington: I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Committee stage begins again at 8.15 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Transport Research Laboratory

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made in negotiations for the sale of the Transport Research Laboratory.

The noble Baroness said: I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. Earlier today I overheard two noble Lords from the other side of the House discussing this Question. One asked the other, "What's it all about?". The reply was, "It's about privatising the Transport Research Laboratory to make it more efficient". When I heard that Pavlovian reaction I despaired of our ever getting a quality of society or economy in this country which will enable us to compete in the modern world.

There was no recognition of the importance of the Question and of the fact that we were to discuss the future of a great national asset. As regards transport, for more than 60 years it has kept the 55 million people in this country among the safest in Europe. That does not happen by saying as a piece of ideology, "Oh, privatise everything". It does not happen by saying, "Never mind. Break it up and sell a bit here and another bit there and give it to the highest bidder. Never mind about the national interest".

It used to be a Conservative doctrine, "If it isn't broken don't fix it". Now it appears to be a doctrine, "Even if it's functioning very well, privatise it". I must not spend too much time on my passionate feeling about the emptiness and lack of intellectual argument in this new Conservative ideology because, surprising as it may seem to the House, I wish to be helpful tonight. I wish to help the Government to reach the right decision in the national interest. They have a very, very grave responsibility.

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We are at a crucial moment in the history of this great laboratory, which is internationally renowned and used. The Government, having asked for bids for the TLR, have short-listed two and are on the point of deciding--indeed, they may already have decided--which of the two to choose. I venture to hope that if a decision has been made we shall be told tonight and that this House will be given a little political priority.

I wish to stress the points on which we are agreed and on which there is written evidence that we are agreed. The first is that this laboratory is widely acclaimed as a centre of excellence. Conservative Minister after Conservative Minister has affirmed that fact.

Secondly, it is agreed that when the Government-- I believe that it was in 1993--decided to turn the laboratory into an executive agency, the staff and management responded with all the flexibility anyone could have asked. Again, there is written evidence in the form of statements from Conservative Ministers to that effect. Moreover, the laboratory has met every one of the efficiency targets that the Government set for it when it became an agency.

The third thing which is irrefutable is that when the Government decided to privatise they asked a prominent firm of consultants, Peat Marwick, to tell them the best way to do it. Peat Marwick was not allowed to say, "We'd better leave well alone". Therefore, it said that the only way to preserve the international influence, trade and work of the laboratory would be to retain its independence of commercial pressures and its impartiality. That is what you need in research; it is not pressure for profits but the facts upon which policies should be based. It was said that the best way to do that was to hand the laboratory over to a non-profit distributing company. Without that, it will lose its international status and it will be said that it is just a side-kick of some big, commercial firm.

Finally, there is a report of the Select Committee on Transport of another place of March 1994 which examined the proposed privatisation. I know that the Minister the other day dismissed that suggestion airily and said, "Oh, well Peat Marwick are only a bunch of consultants. Are you saying that we should abdicate our responsibility to choose just because of a body of experts?", but what the Government face is the fact that an all-party Select Committee said in its recommendations that it could not advise the House of Commons to endorse that privatisation until it was satisfied that the independence and impartiality would be maintained. If privatisation were to go ahead, it recommended that the TRL should be turned into a non-profit distributing company.

It is interesting to note that one of the members of that committee who voted for all its recommendations was none other than Mr. Peter Bottomley, a former junior Minister of Transport during 1986 to 1989 in this Conservative Government. He, as a former Minister of Transport, warned in an interview reported in the New Scientist on 6th January of this year that we are in danger of losing this great national interest to a

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commercial concern. It would mean that we would be throwing away the confidence and expertise that this body can offer.

Those are the facts. We have now reached a crucial stage because the Government have received the final bids and have selected two of them. One is from that very commercial consortium which so alarmed the former Conservative junior Minister of Transport, Mr. Peter Bottomley. The consortium consists of four main interests. The first is Pell Frischmann, which is a firm involved in road construction. Then there is Mouchel Associates, which has civil engineering interests, together with the AA and the RAC.

I am sure--and I want to give the Government the advantage of every doubt--that the Government know how successive Ministers of Transport on both sides of the House suffered at the hands of the AA and the RAC whenever they attempted to restrain the mad, breakaway expansion of motoring or to insist on safety provisions, a reduction in pollution or to say that road building must take its share of public expenditure cuts. I give the Chancellor of the Exchequer credit--and, indeed, the Government--for having said in his last Budget that road construction must stand back a bit. But have the Government read the howls of rage from the AA and the RAC stating, for example, that the motorist has been made a victim of the Budget and that the Government are leading the roads to ruin by failing to build more? I suffered from that too when I introduced seat belts; indeed, the AA and the RAC were hardly my friends. They are not the friends of this Government either when they try to introduce a wider and more sensible policy.

That is one side of the story. I ask the Government to take the House into their confidence. If they are by any mischance considering giving the bid to that consortium, could they place in the Library a copy of the business plan that that bidder submitted in order to get its bid accepted? What commitment does that consortium make to the future of transport research development in this country? If it is not under some kind of legal obligation, we could have a repetition of what happened when AMEC Frischmann, another consortium, acquired parts of the Property Services Agency (formerly in the public sector) when it was recently privatised. I now understand--and perhaps the Minister can deal with the point in his response--that that consortium is planning to sell off the parts that it bought, perhaps too cheaply, to make a profit. Will that happen to our research laboratory?

On the other hand, we have the Transport Research Laboratory insider bid from staff and management in the name of the Transport Research Foundation. It would be a non-profit making distributing company. It would plough back into research any profits that it made, just as it made a recent surplus of £2.5 million which, if it were the foundation in power in the field, it would plough back into research for road safety, road improvement, car improvement, pedestrian safety improvement; indeed, into everything. I cannot believe that the Government can close their mind to the power

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of the arguments on behalf of the bid recommended by the Select Committee of another place with a Tory majority and by their consultants.

In conclusion, I should like to express a word of hope. I am sure that the new Secretary of State for Transport will not sell out to a narrow road construction, motorist dominated consortium. I say that because he has made a name for himself. He wants a new era for the cyclist and the roads and facilities made safer. The TRL is already engaged in the necessary research to back up the policy of Sir George Young. Therefore, can the Minister tell us tonight that he accepts the power of argument and that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport will decide in favour of the Transport Research Foundation?

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