HC Deb 22 July 1996 vol 282 cc3-4
2. Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what revenue he expects to be raised from the privatisation of HMSO. [36747]

Mr. Freeman

I am confident that the sale will represent good value for money to taxpayers. However, the hon. Member will appreciate that I cannot jeopardise those benefits by releasing details of bids or estimated proceeds at this stage.

Mr. Cunningham

How can the Minister say that the sale will benefit taxpayers when his Department has estimated that it should be sold for £100 million and that it will get less than £50 million if it tries to sell it now? Should not the sale be put on freeze?

Mr. Freeman

Ministers have made no such estimate. The whole purpose of a competition for organisations or agencies that are being privatised is to determine best value for money. HMSO in the private sector can compete with the private sector for private sector business, and can expand without the constraints of operating in the public sector.

Mr. Fabricant

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the likely side effects of the privatisation of HMSO is that Hansard will be available on the Internet? Does this not demonstrate the Government's commitment to open government?

Mr. Freeman

With respect, I think that my hon. Friend is a little too enthusiastic about the Internet. I hope that public and private sector agencies—including the House, in due course—will consider the wider use of the Internet.

Mr. Garrett

Is the Minister aware that the three bidders for HMSO have shown precious little interest in expanding its sales in the private sector? Further, is he aware that it looks as though HMSO will be sold for half what was expected and that there are rumours that there will be 600 redundancies, mostly in the headquarters city of Norwich?

Mr. Freeman

The Government have consistently made clear that HMSO would have a further programme of redundancies in the public sector. From the responses of the short-listed bidders, I am not aware that they see matters any differently from the forecast by internal management. I have had meetings with the trade unions and I am well aware that the short-listed bidders are proposing more rapid attention to the financial problems of HMSO. The preferred bidder will be announced in the next few weeks and I hope that it will sketch out its aspirations and plans for HMSO in some detail. I hope that that will result in an expansion of work in the private sector, and therefore in employment prospects throughout the country.

Mr. Derek Foster

Is it not clear that the Chancellor is going to get only half the proceeds that he expected for HMSO and that 600 jobs will be lost, mostly in Norwich? Contrary to his stated reasons for privatising HMSO, is it not clear that all his preferred bidders are far more concerned to boost HMSO's puny 8 per cent. share of the £3 billion public sector market than to expand sales in the private sector? Has not the Government's stampede to privatise become a car boot sale of civil service jobs and a hand-out of public sector assets and contracts—including some to his fat cat friends who are payrolling the Tory party through the Premier Club?

Mr. Freeman

On employment prospects, the 600 jobs that the right hon. Gentleman referred to are, broadly speaking, within the forecast job redundancies in the public sector. As I understand it, there is no great difference between the forecast made by HMSO management and that made by those interested in acquiring the business.

On the question of business expansion, only in the private sector would a company have the ability to borrow and to invest without the constraints of the public sector and, therefore, to create more jobs.