In accordance with plans announced to the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 24 July 1986, we are negotiating with four companies to sell the Government's 100 per cent. shareholding in Royal Ordnance plc. No final selection has yet been made of the company with which a sale contract will be signed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he recognise that there is considerable concern among the work force at all levels about the delays that are being caused to Royal Ordnance? Bearing in mind how successful the company has been, is, and will be, does my hon. Friend accept that there is an urgent need to resolve the matter of ownership as soon as possible?
We certainly accept that point. The bids are due in the middle of next month and we hope to be able to make a decision not too long after that.
Does the Minister not realise that there is considerable concern among the employees? One source of concern relates to conditions of service and pensions. The Minister will know that when the transfer from the Civil Service to the plc took place most of the conditions were protected under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 and other provisions. Can he give us a guarantee that those conditions will remain and will not be changed as a result of a change of share ownership?
Yes, I can give that undertaking. We are talking here about a sale of shares. The conditions of the employees and the terms under which they are employed will not change.