HC Deb 19 December 1995 vol 268 c1347 3.30 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. During last night's debate on the preposterous proposal to privatise the Stationery Office, the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service, the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), was a little naughty—I put it charitably—in his statements about the Clerks Department, as can be seen in column 1317 of Hansard. Was that brought to your attention, Madam Speaker, and can you clarify the position of the Clerks Department, which by tradition is neutral and does not become involved in matters of political controversy?

Madam Speaker

There may still be misunderstanding in some quarters about the position of Officers of the House in the process leading to privatisation of Her Majesty's Stationery Office. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) made clear yesterday, the House of Commons Commission has authorised Officers of the House to participate in the process of preparing the contract that would be necessary to protect the interests of the House after privatisation, and in that context to attend meetings of the privatisation steering group in an observer capacity.

The choice of the firm whose bid will be accepted is purely one for the Government. That said, Officers of the House will be available to give information to representatives of the Government about the special nature and the special implications of the work that the House requires, and will continue to require to be done by whoever is responsible for its printing services. That information may help the Government to make their choice, but neither the House nor any organ of it will make that choice.

As soon as any name of a firm that is to take over the functions of HMSO is announced, it will be for Officers of the House—acting on behalf of the House of Commons Commission—to negotiate the terms of an appropriate contract. Preparatory work for that eventuality is already under way. It will be for the Commission itself, at the end of the process, to approve the terms of any contract that is drawn up. I hope that I have made that abundantly clear.