HC Deb 08 May 1989 vol 152 c552
30. Mr. Barry Field

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he now expects the Crown Agents to be privatised.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Chris Patten)

As I informed the House on 14 December 1988, Her Majesty's Government have no immediate plans to privatise the Crown Agents.

Mr. Field

Given the great success that the Crown Agents have in arranging training for overseas personnel in various skills such as public administration and legal work, and the fact that the Government have returned an enormous number of training functions to the private sector, is it not time that the Crown Agents were privatised so that the training of overseas students can be performed by the private sector and the functions even expanded?

Mr. Patten

As I made clear last December, our legislative ambitions have to be reconciled with pressures on the legislative timetable. We have now completed the restructuring of the Crown Agents, to which I referred last December, and I have every confidence in their ability to discharge their functions effectively. I am delighted that they have won an extremely important contract from the Japanese aid programme to help with the procurement of Japanese aid in Africa.

Mr. Gow

Knowing my hon. Friend's zeal for the privatisation programme, what injury would be done to those who are now receiving service from the Crown Agents if the Crown Agents were to be privatised?

Mr. Patten

I am ready to concede straight away that my hon. Friend is an expert on my zeal. He is right to refer to my zeal in relation to the Government's privatisation programme. I can assure him that no damage would be done to the excellent work that is done by the Crown Agents were they to be privatised. However, privatisation needs legislation and legislation needs time.