HC Deb 19 December 1995 vol 268 cc1091-3W
Mr. Beith

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he has yet had the opportunity to respond to the Speaker's letter of 28 November to the Lord President about HMSO. [7062]

Mr. Freeman

I wrote to the Speaker on 12 December 1995 and placed a copy of my response in the House Libraries on 14 December 1995. My reply reads as follows:

Dear Madam Speaker,Thank you for the copy of your letter of 28 November to the Lord President about our plans to privatise HMSO.I recognise, and am sympathetic to, the concerns which you raise about the service which HMSO provides to the House and how to safeguard it for the future. There are two strands to the protection which I believe can be made strong enough to satisfy the House. At present, the quality of the service is dictated both by the requirement, which is set down in writing, and by long history and tradition creating a culture within HMSO which ensures that Parliament is seen and treated as the key customer. I believe these can be carried forward into the relationship with a private sector Stationery Office and can be even stronger than they are now.Under the type of sale which we have proposed, HMSO staff, and with them tradition, knowledge and experience, would transfer to the new employer, who would have every interest in maintaining the best possible relationship with the House. House business would be financially important and would also carry significant prestige. No supplier would want to be associated with a failure to deliver the services required by such a noteworthy customer. Done well, the Parliamentary business would be the best possible advertisement for the company. Done badly, other potential customers would take flight.The agreement between the House and the privatised Stationery Office would be an enforceable, legally binding contract. Ultimately, the content of that contract is for the House to decide, although the Government would be happy to offer advice.The contract terms could make it clear that local overnight production facilities together with space and facilities for the staff of the House are required. The transfer would be subject to TUPE and therefore staff and management of the existing HMSO would transfer to the new employer. In addition, the contract could specify that it is dependent on the provision of properly trained staff. It would be quite normal to include a requirement for prior consultation in the event that significant changes to management or organisation are planned. It would also be quite usual, I think, for there to be a named senior individual responsible for the contract and for the relationship with the House. The Supply and Service Agreement would be the foundation of the contract, with the advantage that the minimum standards it establishes would be enforceable at law.I would expect the examination of prospective purchasers to include an evaluation of their intentions and understanding with regard to the services which they will be supplying to the House. The rights of the House in respect of the production and reproduction of its documents will be made explicit in the contract. I see no difficultly whatsoever in building on the financial arrangements of the new Supply and Service Agreement in order to ensure that the House continues to benefit from the negotiations which have been so recently completed.You raised the question of the possible future fragmentation of the organisation or sale to an unacceptable buyer. The Government intends to seek a buyer for the whole business and that buyer will have to be acceptable to key customers and in particular to the House. If, after the sale, the buyer sought to sell on to another party or sought to break-up the business the House could be protected both commercially and contractually. The contract could include the right to terminate on a change of supplier status; and commercially, of course, a considerable part of the value of the business would lie in the contract with the House. An owner who put this at risk would soon find that he had devalued what he wished to sell.I hope that this outline of responses to the views of the Commission indicates the seriousness I attach to these issues but also perhaps the degree to which I have already begun to address them. I have invited House officials to join mine in carrying forward the privatisation process including advising me on the selection of a buyer.I did, as you know undertake to make an oral statement to the House at the earliest opportunity and I hope to make this on Wednesday 14 December. I should also be pleased to seek an opportunity for the House to discuss its interest in the matter, in a debate as soon as possible after my statement.I should like to thank you for your helpful and constructive approach to these issues and for the considerable amount of work which has been undertaken by the House of Commons Commission and the Finance and Services Committee and by the House officials concerned. I am confident that from this excellent starting point we shall be able to take this work forward together to achieve the sale, and end the uncertainty, by summer next year.I understand that the House of Lords has similar concerns to yours though some details may be different, reflecting present business arrangements. But whatever the concerns, I am clear that they must be satisfied as a pre-requisite to the sale of HMSO.I am copying this letter to the Lord President, the Lord Privy Seal and the Lord Chairman of Committees.Please he assured of my close attention to this matter.
Mr. Hanson

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will list the office locations which will form part of the proposed sale of HMSO, indicating the number of staff employed in each. [6731]

Mr. Willetts

HMSO employs 2,898 staff in various locations around the United Kingdom. The geographical breakdown of those employees is as follows:

1,105 in Norwich: 399 in Chadderton, Manchester; 210 in Edinburgh and South Gyle; 198 in Bristol, 67 in Belfast and Newtonards; 49 in Cardiff; 17 in Birmingham; 10 in Leeds; in London there are 220 in Elephant and Castle, 253 in Southwark, 303 in Vauxhall, 18 in Whitehall, 28 in Holborn, 16 in Docklands; and five in Monchengladbach serving the MOD in Germany.Under the proposed sale, all the staff assigned to the undertaking would transfer to the new employer. The number of staff involved in the residual body and who therefore would not transfer is not expected to amount to more than about 30.