HC Deb 16 February 1977 vol 926 cc489-90
13. Mr. Cope

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will now publish an annual report and accounts for the Property Services Agency.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)

I do not consider that the preparation of an annual report for the Property Services Agency would be justified. Each year the accounts of the Agency are laid before this House and published, together with the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. The Agency is subject to all the normal methods of parliamentary control.

Mr. Cope

Why should this Agency, which does essentially a commercial management job for the Government, publish less information than a private sector property company, because it uses taxpayers' money?

Mr. Marks

It has a wider scope and is involved with defence and many other matters as an agency for other Government Departments. Unlike nationalised industries, the Agency has to reply to questions in this House through a Minister. Next week, the chief executive will appear before the Public Accounts Committee, and the Public Expenditure Committee is also involved with it.

Mr. Madden

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is an enormous property empire? Certain of its overseas activities have been the subject of criticism by a Select Committee. Will my hon. Friend reconsider the way in which this body is accountable, because many of us believe that it is not adequately accountable and that this House is not enabled to look publicly in sufficient detail and depth at its activities in the way that we think suitable?

Mr. Marks

As I have said, it is open to hon. Members to question this body and, as my hon. Friend said, members of the Select Committee have examined—which, I admit, is more than I have done—the overseas activities of the Agency. There is ample opportunity for the House to register an opinion and to question what happens in the Agency.

Mr. Heseltine

What proportion of the PSA's activities and assets are involved in defence work?

Mr. Marks

That is not a question that I can answer off the cuff, but if the hon. Member puts down a Question I shall answer it.

Mr. Corbett

Will my hon. Friend take a particular look at the situation where the PSA buys up houses in the expectation of roads being built, and then vandalises them? Will he stop that from happening? Will he make it clear to the PSA that it should not vandalise houses, so that when decisions are taken which mean that the roads are not to be built the houses can quickly be made available for the homeless?

Mr. Marks

We are acting as the agency for other Departments and must take advice when houses are needed. Frequently, when there is a possibility of roads being built, to assist those whose houses may be blighted there is purchase in advance. Wherever possible the Department concerned or the PSA lets the houses prior to the need for them to be demolished.

Mr. Sainsbury

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that in a Written Answer in reply to my Question he said that the cost of preparing a report would be £25,000? In view of the wide interest, both in the House and outside, in the activities of the PSA, and as its net expenditure is £776 million, does he agree that £25,000 would be money well spent?

Mr. Marks

Perhaps the best reply is that the former Ministry of Works, which preceded the PSA before it was created by a Conservative Government, produced an annual report but stopped doing so on the grounds of economy.