HC Deb 23 July 1973 vol 860 cc1318-36

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 18, leave out paragraph (c).

I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is convenient to take at the same time the following amendments:

No. 3, in page 1, line 19, leave out paragraph (d).

No. 1, in page 1, line 20, leave out paragraph (e).

Do you confirm that?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)


Mr. Sheldon

The reason for this fair number of amendments at this late stage in our discussion is that, as a consequence of industrial action taken by the printers of HANSARD, reports of the Second Reading Committee were not available. This placed the Opposition in considerable difficulty. As a result, certain matters were not known to those who were investigating the progress of the Bill. Although I accept that every assistance was given by the Government in trying to get this information across to the House, it is important that legislation should be examined with a care that is not possible when printing is disrupted.

The amendments which have been selected fall under three heads, as a consequence of the change in operation of the various Crown services detailed in Clause 1(3). In the amendments we discuss particularly the Ordnance Survey, which is dealt with in paragraph (e) of subsection (3), the Royal Mint, in paragraph (c), and Her Majesty's Stationery Office, in paragraph (d). To all of us who have knowledge of these services, the interesting feature shared by all of them is that they are fairly high in the affection of many of us. Without going into detail, I think most of us would appreciate from our casual investigation of their services that they seem to do their job with satisfactory efficiency. The provision of papers and other documents which they make available to hon. Members certainly puts them very high in our estimation.

The second matter we wished to raise in the amendments relates to the financing of the services and the possibilities of regulation. The most important question dealt with in the amendments concerns the Ordnance Survey, and the representations which have been made to the Opposition were the prime motive in getting these discussions under way.

I understand that the Ordnance Survey has a staff of just over 4,000 non-industrial and just over 400 industrial staff, together with a small sprinkling of military officers. My first question to the Minister concerns the future of the staff and his estimate of their future deployment.

If we look at the financing of the Ordnance Survey, we note that in the year 1969–70 expenditure was £7,811,000 and receipts were just over £2 million, with net expenditure by the Government of £5,438,000. This had grown by 1971–72 to net expenditure of £6,283,000. The questions which have been put to me from a number of different sources relate to the level of future expenditure expected by the Government and how far they will try to reduce some of these services in an attempt to reduce this net expenditure system.

I understand that a management accounting system has been introduced. Clearly, it is expected that this will help more accurately to cost the various elements of the publications of the Ordnance Survey. What is disturbing a number of people is how far, as a result of this more accurate costing, there will be an attempt to prune these services which may be costing rather more than the Government are prepared to pay. The argument concentrates rather finely on the publication of the 1: 25,000 map series. There are fears that the series, which is of very great value to certain geographers and others, may be limited to a few parts of the country or possibly even discontinued.

The management accounting system which has been introduced may assess costs in a more precise way, which may result in certain costs being loaded against this series. What assurance is the hon. Gentleman able to give that after the operation of the Bill we shall not see a limitation of this map series, let alone its discontinuation? Furthermore, I hope he can assure us that there will be public discussion before any decision is reached. I am led to believe that an internal committee is looking at this point, which makes the necessity for public discussion even more relevant. Will the report of the committee be published? It is inherent in the Bill that there is to be provision for extra funds. Will they be available on a pattern not dissimilar from that provided hitherto?

I have a number of questions about the setting up of the trading fund in the Ordnance Survey. What sort of sum do the Government have in mind as the fund for the survey? How do they see the fund growing? How will the fund be determined? How are the assets of the survey to be valued? How are the principles of putting money into the fund to be determined?

I want to revert for a moment to the importance of the role of the Ordnance Survey as the provider of scientific information for which the Government have hitherto always felt it necessary to make some considerable payment. How far is this role to be continued into the future when it is set up as a Government trading fund?

I turn now to the question of the Royal Mint. How do the Government intend to handle its financing? According to the various documents made available, there was an expenditure in 1971–72 of £47,673,000 and the appropriation was £16,586,000. Now that we are to have a Government trading fund, how much will that fund be? What other financial details is the hon. Gentleman able to give us concerning the net total of £31,087,775—that is, the net total after allowing for the expenditure and the appropriation?

A minor matter which intrigues me is that the Trial of Pyx (Amendment) Order 1971—a medieval title—dealt with a not unimportant matter. As I understand it, one cupro-nickel coin in every 10,000 was examined for quality, but this order reduced the number to one in every 3,000. It looks as though there has been a decline in our standards of quality.

The accounts for the Stationery Office show that the expenditure in 1971–72 was just over £88 million and the appropriation in aid just over £30 million, leaving a net total of just over £57 million. What size fund is expected, and what are the annual payments into the fund likely to be?

Those detailed points enshrine certain aspects of the more general points. What will the resultant changes be in the management of the funds? If this is a device to ensure that these are units of accountable management left on their own with a greater independence, everybody will agree that this is a useful and worthwhile development. We need to convince ourselves that as a result of this change certain changes detrimental to the valuble work of these bodies will not be introduced without full scrutiny.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)

The Bill has by good fortune come to the notice of a number of hon. Gentlemen who might otherwise have taken notice of it much earlier and possibly volunteered for consideration of the Bill in its earlier stages. I understand that those who examined the Bill earlier did not have much notice of it. The House will understand from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) that it is far more controversial than at first appears.

It seems that all the services that my hon. Friend mentioned will be converted from public services into neither more nor less than public businesses. That will have effects on the way in which they serve the public, particularly in terms of prices and the quality of service they can provide for the ordinary citizen. In that respect the Stationery Office and the Ordnance Survey do a great deal of business with private citizens who regard these organs of the State as one of their safeguards, because information which is public is easily available, whether it be in cartographic form or in the form of written manuals and documents which issue from Her Majesty's Stationery Office about official business.

The explanatory and financial memorandum contains some double talk. On page ii it says: The introduction of a trading fund for a service will change the method of financing the service, but it will not, of itself, lead to any change in the scale of operation of that service or in the resources devoted to it. Those are nice, soothing words. The commercial results of a trading fund, once operating, may however lead to such changes. If that is not double talk I do not know what is. It is clear that there will have to be changes in some of these operations, and it will not necessarily mean just greater accountability, which is what the Bill says is one of the objects.

11.45 p.m.

I wish to follow particularly what my hon. Friend said about the Ordnance Survey. I understand that the Government are not yet committed to turning the Ordnance Survey first into a commercially feasible proposition and then, if they can, into a profit-making service. If they have spent so long and are still not sure whether or not they want to do this, should it be in the Bill at all? If the Government cannot make up their minds on this and cannot defend the powers in the Bill, they should not be there.

Since many of the Ordnance Survey publications to the public are sold alongside books and periodicals, those in charge of this service would be encouraged to make a profit and would be told that they are good and faithful servants and might enter into the fortunes of their reward. I understand that that is the intention of the Bill. If that is not so, I hope that the Minister will tell us. If that is the case, however, there will be considerable changes in this ancient and honourable service.

My hon. Friend said that the rate of return was only a small percentage of the outgoings. In the 1972 report, on the establishment and finance page, we see that the ratio of receipts to expenditure was about 34½ per cent., as compared with 31½ per cent. the previous year. If the Government decide to operate the Ordnance Survey as a trading service—if the Bill goes through, they will have every right—there will be the most colossal shake-up ever in the products of the Ordnance Survey or in the range of products it makes available to the public.

It may not be known that almost every secondary school child in the land at some stage comes across the Ordnance Survey maps and is prepared for reading them by what I hope are efficient staff in schools. The Ordnance Survey in its present form is the envy of the world. It was started as a public service to prevent the incursions of the Scots and to ensure the laying of the Highland clans. Unfortunately, the army of the day did not know its way round Scotland and needed maps. It was started as a purely public service in defence of the realm and has spread since then.

Not only is the Ordnance Survey used in schools—I must declare an interest as a professional teacher of map reading, in so far as geographers in schools have that interest—but there is also considerable use commercially in town planning, by estate agents and by the public who wish to have cadastral information which they can plot and which they can get at reasonably short notice from Ordnance Survey agents. There is one not far from the House, in the St. James's Park area, which I use frequently.

This costs money. One of the map series which is in particular jeopardy was mentioned by my hon. Friend—the 2½ inch series or the 1:25,000. It is a particularly useful map, because it has a great deal of detail and covers a large area, and at the same time is handy and easy to read, particularly for walkers and professional users of maps of every soil. It was first produced after the war, and there are in the first series no fewer than 113 sheets. I take that from the first appendix to the last annual report.

It was originally intended that that provisional edition should be produced later in more colours as a second series. It has been started. There are no fewer than 113 sheets—not very many—of the series already produced, and the publication started in 1965. There have been worries for some time that this publication of the second series of 21 inch will not go forward. I hope that the Minister will tell us that that is not so. If it is not, I hope he will say by how much the price will rise if the Government use the powers they have sought in the Bill.

The other important thing about the series is that it can be used in outline form. One can buy maps without colours and use them for a particular purpose, particularly as every field boundary and every boundary of property is shown. The new techniques of town and regional planning require acreages to be measured very accurately and for maps to show every parcel of land over a very wide area.

Some time ago, in the perhaps better days of the Ordnance Survey, before the new method was introduced, it produced an administrative areas edition in which the whole country was covered by the series with an overprint of many colours showing every administrative boundary in the greatest detail down to the nearest field boundary. It was used for police, waiter authority, local government, parliamentary constituency, and all sorts of statutory boundaries. Anyone who obtained the sheet for his own area could see exactly what was in that area and where the boundaries were.

I do not think that that edition is available any more. It is one example of the sort of service the Ordnance Survey could provide. I believe that it no longer does, but it will not be able to provide it again if the provision in the Bill is used.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

Does my hon. Friend, as a former geography teacher, agree that that edition of the Ordnance Survey is of most use in schools, not merely for geography but for many other educational activities, and that if education is to be properly equipped it is vital that that series of maps should be produced again, with the detail brought completely up to date?

Mr. Spearing

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. If the Government continue to put up the price—possibly to meet the costs, though I question whether that would be the right thing for a public service to do—the cost would be borne by education authorities and would be met by the public purse in another way. The Minister may say that that is proper, but I do not know whether the Secretary of State for Education or the Minister for Local Government and Development, who is sitting beside him and has something to do with the rate support grant, would necessarily agree.

After all, the net cost of the Ordnance Survey is about £6 million. It is very good value for money. I do not pretend that there may not be some waste and extravagance, and that there could not be better accountability in some respects, but I very much doubt whether the sort of accountability the public and the House would like to see would come about just by saying "We will set this up as a commercial undertaking operating on commercial lines." The public would not wish that to happen.

I shall not go on to the other services, because other hon. Members want to take part in the debate.

This is rather a nasty little Bill in the respect of which I have been speaking, and in the others, as I understand them. It is a piece of commercial ideology by the Conservative Party, neither practical nor opportune, certainly with respect to the Ordnance Survey.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I want to add to the pleas already made about the possible implications of the Bill for the Ordnance Survey work.

I declare an interest as an ex-President of the Ramblers Association and having been concerned with the establishment of the Youth Hostels Association. These two bodies could hardly function without the support of the Ordnance Survey, and they have been extremely vocal in expressing anxiety about the possible danger to the 2½-in. map and other services if the Bill goes through without a clear assurance from the Government of their intention to preserve, retain and develop some of the services that have been so valuable in the past and are still needed as much as ever.

Mr. Sheldon

My hon. Friend may not be unaware that the Ordnance Survey annual report, 1971–72, mentions that for such leisure activities as climbing, hill walking and similar pursuits which require more detailed topographical information a map of the scale of one in 25,000 is particularly suitable.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Yes, I have on many occasions used maps of that scale, and still do. Young people who are being encouraged to get out into the countryside and embark upon modest adventures need the relative security of knowing how to read maps properly. The 24-in. map is particularly valuable for this kind of expedition. It is of the right size and compactness. It gives additional information about rock formation and so on which is important to the leader of a party of young people, and to a person on his own, as I know well.

It is right that the Ramblers Association, which is a responsible body, should express strongly its view that this service should be retained and its deep anxiety lest on grounds of expense of production it should be discontinued. I hope the Minister will make clear that our fears are groundless and that, in spite of the changeover to a more commercial system, this service will be retained.

My hon. Friends have mentioned the range of work done by the Ordnance Survey. We are becoming more and more conscious of the inadequacy of our information about land use. A recent report suggests that the Ordnance Survey might accept responsibility for undertaking regular land surveys. The Ordnance Survey is a most suitable body for undertaking this work, but if narrow commercial values prevail there might be no hope of the Ordnance Survey being able to do it.

Mr. Spearing

Does my hon. Friend know that the land utilisation survey initiated before the war by Professor Dudley Stamp using 6-in. maps was reactivated after the war by the London School of Economics using 2½-in. maps and volunteer labour?

12 midnight.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Yes. I am also well aware that, alas, it has not been possible to complete, or anything like complete, the work, and that, unfortunately, some of it may not be as valuable as one would like. We need to have a much more efficient and effective record of land use —a continuing record and not a once for-all record. Why should we go to great trouble to establish our regular census information about population while not accepting the need for some comparable information about land use? The two should in a sense go together. This sort of work could be undertaken by the Ordnance Survey, but there are extreme anxieties that the new set-up will ruin the chance of that being done.

While there may be features of the Bill that we welcome—for example, the carry-over of funds from one year to another and the greater flexibility which may be available under the new system—we must record that there is great concern about the danger to the existing services and to their possible future which seems to many of us to be involved in these proposals.

Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)

After the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) and Acton (Mr. Spearing), it may seem superfluous for me to speak because we have heard a level of expertise almost unrivalled about the relevance of the Ordnance Survey and its contribution to our national life. But I must intervene briefly simply to take up specifically something said by the Minister of State in the Second Reading Committee.

The hon. Gentleman said that, like the Labour Government, the present Government considered that the development of accountable units of management performing executive tasks of government would be both conducive to more efficient government and more satisfying for the public servants operating them. But the relevance of that remark is hardly borne out by the volume of correspondence passed to me by people involved in the Ordnance Survey. Many people are deeply concerned about the allocation of the services under the Bill.

There is little doubt that, as a service, the Ordnance Survey has achieved the highest standard in the world. There is no similar service anywhere else which can beat the level of performance provided by our Ordnance Survey. The people involved are convinced that they are essentially a service to industry, to the military, to civilian interests, to social and youth organisations and to many individuals, and not a trading operation.

I, too, have a personal interest because I know that invaluable function which the Ordnance Survey maps can provide for those of us who like to take our relaxation in the country, particularly in the more remote areas. The Minister of State must be able to reassure the professional staff who have provided this indispensable service that the Government recognise what they have been doing for what it is and are committed to seeing that this record shall in no way be undermined as a result of any doctrinaire commitment to Conservative economic policies.

The Minister of State, Treasury (Mr. John Nott)

It will be generally agreed that this further debate is welcome to the House. It is clear that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) has read the proceedings in the Second Reading Committee. I am not so sure that other hon. Members have done so, as many of the matters which have been raised in this debate were covered fully in the course of the Second Reading Committee's proceedings.

Tonight's debate has ranged a little wide. For that reason perhaps I ought to repeat what I said in the Second Reading Committee, namely, that the proposals for trading fund finance stem from the recommendations of the Fulton Committee, on which the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) served. In its report, the Fulton Committee said: To function efficiently large organisations including Government Departments need a structure in which units and individual members have authority that is clearly defined and responsibilities for which they can be held accountable. There should be a recognised machine for assessing their success in achieving specified objectives. Consideration of the Fulton Committee's proposals was started under the Labour Government and was carried forward by the present administration. The White Paper entitled "The Reorganisation of Central Government", which was our publication, developed amongst others the theme of large functional departments containing within them accountable units of management. It set as one of the aims: … to ensure that the Government machine retains and adapts itself to new policies and programmes as these emerge within the broad framework of the main departmental fields of responsibility. In every case the adoption of trading fund finance is part of a wider series of management changes in the organisation concerned. These changes are designed to give the management of the organisations more clearly defined tasks and greater freedom as to how they perform them. But among the purposes of this Bill is to hold management more accountable for the freedom which we believe this new organisation would give them.

I do not wish to go into a Second Reading debate upon the purpose underlying the Bill, but some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) and others would not have been made if hon. Members had read fully the report of the debate in the Second Reading Committee. The fact that the Bill was taken in the Second Reading Committee is some evidence that the Opposition felt that it was not as controversial as the hon. Member for Acton suggested.

Perhaps I might refer to the specific matters which arose. In doing so, I may well be able to allay many of the fears which have been expressed.

The Bill is an enabling measure. It provides that orders may be made introducing trading funds for each of the six any other trading services within the Government. The order introducing a trading fund for a given service would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. That means that before there could be a trading fund for the Ordnance Survey, the Royal Mint or any of the other organisations mentioned in the Bill there would be a full debate in this House on the basis of an affirmative resolution. It would have been possible to name in the Bill only those services such as the Royal Ordnance factories and the Royal Mint, for which the Government are committed, leaving other services such as the Ordnance Survey to be dealt with under Clause 1(3)(g) if and when a decision were taken in favour of a trading fund.

No decision has yet been taken that the Ordnance Survey should become a trading fund. If it were to be taken, I doubt that, with the present programme, it would be likely to come before the House in the form of a motion for affirmative resolution, on which the House could vote if it wished, before 1976 or 1977. Therefore, although I am happy that we are having this debate tonight, there will be the fullest opportunity in, say, 1976 to debate and to vote on the proposal if it should be decided that the Ordnance Survey should have trading fund status. The Bill is an enabling Bill and no more.

The inclusion of the Ordnance Survey in Clause 1(3)(e) does not imply any decision about turning it into a trading fund. I remind hon. Members that on 19th February my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, in a Written Answer, set out the position of the Ordnance Survey. It is in no way affected by what we are considering here tonight. My right hon. and learned Friend announced that the Government had recently completed a review of the operations of the Ordnance Survey, as a result of which it had been decided that the Ordnance Survey would continue to function as the central survey and mapping organisation in the public sector, with the following aims"— and he indicated that further inquiries would be made regarding the future scale of provision of some maps and services and that further work had to be done on the development of accounting systems. He added that A final decision on the appropriate form of financing for the Ordnance Survey will not be taken until further progress has been made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February 1973; Vol. 851, c. 32–3.] with that work.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will wish me to go into much greater detail on the Ordnance Survey, except to comment on the question of the 21-in. maps. I take this as an example to show how matters might be dealt with, assuming that it were decided in 1976 or 1977 to turn the Ordnance Survey into a trading fund and the affirmative resolution went through the House.

Mr. Spearing

Will not the hon. Gentleman agree that, from what he has said already about the Government's approaches to accounting systems and so on, and with the rumours concerning the future of the 2½ map, in effect the Government's attitude has begun to change already? Second, will the hon. Gentleman say what outside consumer interests he has consulted and will consult in this matter?

Mr. Nott

The Government's attitude has not changed. As I say, we are here considering an enabling Bill to change over a period of time the way in which certain organisations within the Government are financed. It is far less controversial than the hon. Gentleman suggests.

I hope that this debate—it is one purpose of it—will allay the fears of any members of the staff of the Ordnance Survey who may think that there is likely to be some dramatic change if that should come about.

I now go on to demonstrate what might happen in the event of a shift from Vote finance to trading fund finance. Should that happen—I emphasise again that it would be many years off anyhow—it would not mean that the Ordnance Survey would become an exclusively commercial undertaking which would produce only maps which paid their way and would cease many of its present activities. If it were the Government's intention to make it fully commercial, that could be better achieved by hiving off the Ordnance Survey, making it into a commercial company, rather than by retaining it as a Government department with a trading fund. We could hive it off altogether if we wanted to make it into the kind of commercial organisation that the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) fears.

12.15 a.m.

For example, the switch from Vote financing to trading fund financing would not of itself affect the decision whether the 21-in. map should continue as a national subsidised series. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and his Department would take the policy decision in the light of the benefits and the costs involved. If they decided that it should be continued they would account to Parliament for the policy decision and the consequent payment. In other words, the work done in the national interest would be specifically identified, costed and funded as such instead of, as at present, being concealed in the overall losses of the Ordnance Survey. If it were decided by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that it was desirable to carry a loss-making map—let us take this as an example—that could be done on the Vote of the Department of the Environment. I do not think that the fears expressed about the Bill are valid.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister said that there is no real problem about this. The explanatory and financial memorandum says that it will be a direct responsibility of a Minister who will have the duty of managing the service in such a way that it breaks even and meets any further financial targets laid down for it. How can the hon. Gentleman reconcile that with what he has just said?

Mr. Nott

I shall come to the financial targets of the trading fund in a moment and I shall answer that question then.

I first deal with the question of staff which was raised by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). The staff of trading fund bodies will remain civil servants and will continue to be employed under Civil Service conditions, including participation in the Civil Service superannuation scheme. They will be eligible for transfer between trading fund bodies and Government Departments as at present. The introduction of a trading fund will not of itself have a significant effect on the number of staff employed. Improvements in commercial operations and increased efficiency may, however, lead to changes in the work that is placed with the organisation or in the demands for its products, and so in the numbers employed, but there is no inherent reason why there should be any change in the number of staff employed as a result of a move from Vote finance to trading fund finance for Ordnance Survey, Royal Mint or any of the other organisations named in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne asked a number of questions about what the future level of expenditure would be for the Royal Mint and the Ordnance Survey. As I have explained, this can be debated at great length on the affirmative resolution that establishes the particular fund. This is a complicated question to which I must give a reasonably full reply.

In the Second Reading Committee on 19th June 1973 I dealt at some length with how the financial targets of the trading funds would be fixed. I said: The process of fixing a financial target will naturally involve making assumptions about the level of prices or charges by the trading fund organisation. In a case where the organisation is a sole supplier to the Government—and most of the organisations are primarily concerned with providing services and goods to the public sector—there will be a direct relationship between the trading fund and Government Departments. In this case, where we are talking about the fixing of financial targets and prices within the public sector, the principle to be observed will be that the price charged to other Government Departments should reflect the opportunity cost of using the capital. Currently that would mean that the goods sold would be priced in such a way that the organisation would obtain a return of 10 per cent. on the current value of the assets employed. Where purchases and sales are going on within the Government, Government Departments would pay a commercial price for the goods that they were buying from the particular trading fund, and that would find its way on to the Vote of the Government Department concerned.

We have an amendment on the capital side—

Mr. Sheldon

I read the typescript, which made pretty tedious reading in that form, and I got that point. My concern was sales to the public which might also be affected by decision of the Government.

Mr. Nott

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like me to remind him of what I said, because I spoke at some length on how items might be priced where some goods of a particular trading fund were being sold in the private sector. In the following paragraph I said: In the case of those organisations which are in a market situation—the Royal Ordnance Factories, for example, are competing with outside suppliers—the determination of the financial target will plainly be more complex. In a sense it will be related to a pricing and marketing strategy. Clearly the pricing policy of the competitor will be relevant in that particular case. But in general it will have to be consistent with the proposition that the Government will not invest further capital in a trading fund, as in the public sector generally, unless they can obtain at least a 10 per cent. discounted cash flow rate of return in real terms on that investment. That will he the manner in which the pricing of those trading funds which are in competition with outside organisations will be handled, although the discounted cash flow rate of return varies depending on economic circumstances. As I have said. in the case of, say, a particular series of maps which the Government may decide it is in the national interest to continue to be printed, that cost will be met from the trading fund organisation but will have to be financed from the Vote of the Department. In the case of the Ordnance Survey, if it was decided that a particular map should continue, the money to be found if the Secretary of State in 1976–77 decided that that was desirable, would be on the Vote of the Department of the Environment.

Mr. Sheldon

I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding the House of what was said. The point that many of us had in mind was that, whereas the expenditure of the Ordnance Survey is met on the Vote, in this case there would be a requirement to meet this financial target, and if it were to be subsidised on the sale of maps, for instance, there would have to be a greater return on these other sales unless the Minister himself was to intervene. This presupposes a greater activity on the part of the Minister in such circumstances than exists now.

Mr. Nott

What it means is that that particular trading fund must be paid, but it can either be paid by the public—. for instance the Ordnance Survey selling maps outside the public sector—or paid on the Vote. Loss making activities, therefore, will require subsidy explicitly rather than implicitly. With the present organisation there can be cross-subsidisation between the public and the private sectors. But here there will be an explicit subsidy rather than the kind of implicit subsidy which is now possible under the present system of Vote finance.

The next point is the size of the originating debt. What will happen is that when the affirmative resolution is brought forward for a particular fund it will contain details of the originating debt under which that particular fund is established and that, broadly speaking, will be the valuation of the fixed and current assets on a realistic, up-to-date valuation. The originating debt will be the valuation of the assets. In addition, there will be certain borrowing powers which will enable the trading fund to finance its immediate requirements over the forthcoming period and so enable it to trade in the way we should wish. But that affirmative resolution will contain the details of what the likely future borrowing powers of that particular fund will be, and in that way the House will have an opportunity of voting upon it.

I hope that I have covered most of the detailed points raised by hon. Members opposite. If I have failed to do so, with the permission of the House 1 shall be happy to try to answer further points.

I do not think this enabling Bill is as controversial as some hon. Members have suggested. A full opportunity will be given of debating the establishment of a trading fund for each and every organisation when an affirmative resolution comes before the House, and at that time if hon. Members feel deeply about the issue they will have an opportunity of registering their points of view.

Mr. Judd

Does the hon. Gentleman not appreciate that there is grave anxiety amongst the professional staff at the moment, and that it is they who need to be reassured immediately about the future?

Mr. Nott

It is possible to reassure the staff of the Ordnance Survey because, as I said, there is no likelihood of any decision being taken that this should become a trading fund for a considerable number of years. I have said that so far as we have a target for the Ordnance Survey, it is 1976 or 1977. A whole host of various matters need to be decided and investigated before that Government decision can be taken. I hope that will allay the fears of the staff.

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me about this, I will gladly answer any further questions which he may wish to put.

Mr. Sheldon

We agree that this is an enabling Bill and that the orders will be coming before the House for further consideration. This is very clear from a most cursory reading of the Bill. What a number of us are concerned about is that when any Government change the way in which these bodies are managed, it usually presupposes a fresh look at the work of these bodies, and it is this which gives rise to a certain amount of disquiet. As a result of this, we took the opportunity to put a number of questions about Government intentions. It is obvious that they were under scrutiny and under review. On the assumption that there is at the present time no change in the intentions of the Government, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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