HC Deb 11 December 1995 vol 268 cc683-4
4. Mr. Miller

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the future of Her Majesty's Stationery Office. [3282]

Mr. Freeman

I announced in October that the Government were commissioning advice on the possible options for HMSO with a view to privatisation. I also said that I would be consulting Parliament about securing the provision of services which HMSO currently provides. I am now considering these issues and hope to make an oral statement shortly.

Mr. Miller

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the proposed privatisation of HMSO could have profound and detrimental effects on services to right hon. and hon. Members? Does he also agree that major issues surrounding intellectual property rights need to be discussed when considering the matter? Finally, if the Government are determined, as they say they are, to develop open government, does the right hon. Gentleman believe that a matter of this importance should be the subject of detailed debate on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Freeman

On the hon. Gentleman's question about the service to hon. Members, I appreciate that the services provided to Parliament, let alone to the Crown, by Her Majesty's Stationery Office are extremely important both to Parliament and to HMSO. When the matter is more fully discussed in the House at the appropriate time, I shall argue that the House's best interests will be protected through a contract. I understand that such a contract already exists in outline and I believe that the best interests of the House in terms of confidentiality, timeliness and reducing costs can be properly protected.

The hon. Gentleman is right about intellectual property rights. I am not responsible for the copyright of documents belonging to the Houses of Parliament; I am responsible for Crown copyright. I am determined to ensure that control of the Crown copyright is retained by Ministers and I shall continue to be accountable to the House for such copyright. As a process of open government, I should like more immediate access by members of the public to Crown documents, but it is for Parliament to make a decision about its own copyright.

Finally, as regards a debate on the Floor of the House, I shall draw that to the attention of the business managers.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Bearing in mind the fact that many of my constituents work at Her Majesty's Stationery Office in Norwich, will hon. Friend assure me that he is consulting as far as possible everyone who represents the staff and management at HMSO to make sure that the final solution is as acceptable as possible? Will he also hear my welcome and that of my constituents and people nationally for the reduction in the price of Hansard? That is good news.

Mr. Freeman

I share my hon. Friend's view about the recent reductions in the price of Hansard. [Interruption.] This is a serious subject.

Mr. MacShane

Then the Minister should give us an answer.

Mr. Freeman

I am seeking to give an answer.

Mr. MacShane

That will make a change.

Mr. Freeman

It will not make a change. I am consistently giving the House the correct answer.

I am pleased about the recent reduction in the price of Hansard. I assure my hon. Friend that the privatisation of the stationery office, by allowing it to compete with business in the private sector, will secure more jobs than would otherwise have been the case. I give the House an assurance that the unions and the House will be consulted properly.

Mr. Garrett

What guarantees can the Minister give the 900 employees of HMSO in my constituency? Will the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 apply to those workers, as they operate in a sector of rapid technological change?

Mr. Freeman

Yes, Madam Speaker.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that whenever industries have been privatised, there has been a massive increase in development and productivity? In respect of quality of service, will he re-read the debates on the privatisation of British Telecom when the Opposition said that there would be a deterioration in quality of service? In fact, there has been a massive improvement.

Mr. Freeman

Privatisation of the stationery office will create more jobs. If we do nothing, jobs will be lost, not only in the constituency of the hon. Gentleman but elsewhere.

Mr. Derek Foster

Does not last Saturday's Financial Times expose a furious row between the House authorities and the Government over the Minister's dogma-driven plan to sell off HMSO? Will the Minister for open government let us all join in that row by publishing his evidence to the Finance and Services Select Committee and the Committee's reservations? Will he now delay the sale to meet the requirements of the House?

Mr. Freeman

I have said that Parliament must not only be consulted but be satisfied with the proposed arrangements and I look forward to debating them in detail. As regards the evidence to the Finance and Services Select Committee, release of the transcript is a matter not for me but for the Select Committee. However, I have absolutely no objection to it being made public.