asked the Secretary of State for Transport what progress he has made in the privatisation of the National Bus Company.
Eighteen of the National Bus Company's local operating subsidiaries have been sold to their managements. Twelve other subsidiaries have also been sold. I congratulate NBC on this excellent progress. I am particularly pleased that so many companies have been sold to their managements, and that in most of these cases employees are being given the opportunity to acquire shares in their businesses.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a bus company in my constituency, Eastern National, has been successfully sold to its management, and that following privatisation the number and standard of services provided by the company have improved dramatically, to the benefit of my constituents and consumer demand in the area?
I am delighted to hear that. It reflects well on the Government's programme, which seeks to improve benefits to the consumer.
Is the Secretary of State aware that there is continuing disquiet about the price obtained in the sale of National Bus Company subsidiaries? Is he further aware that his reticence in giving the figures is fuelling speculation that the companies are being sold off at grossly low prices and with great possible capital and investment opportunities? Will he now clear the air by telling us as soon as possible the price at which each subsidiary has been sold?
The hon. Gentleman is normally very fair, and I hope that he will recognise that such comments are not normally made in public. On 26 November, in the bus deregulation debate, I said :
I explained the problem of trying to illustrate the figures, which might reduce the possibility of the public purse receiving the proper amount of funds from further similar sales, and I said :"we need to protect confidentiality to ensure that the proper benefits go to the taxpayer".
That is a means of ensuring that the House is aware through the proper route, without the state being denied the benefits of full and proper proceeds from future sales."the information must be regularly made available to the National Audit Office, and so to the PAC, which has arrangements for conserving public confidentiality". — [Official Report, 26 November 1986; Vol. 106, c. 282.]