§ Mr. Simon Coombs
To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he has made a decision on the sale of custody services. 
§ Mr. Freeman
I announced on 16 January 1997,Official Report, column 310, that I had granted Apax Partners and Co., the proposed acquiror of the support services division of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency—DSSD, exclusive access to further information about custody services, with a view to their supporting a final bid for the business. I also announced that their final bid would be compared with the option of retaining the business in the public sector. The offer for custody services from DSSD/Apax did not represent better value for money than retention in the public sector.
The custody services will, alongside the special services group, remain part of the Security Facilities Executive, the future of which I announced on 3 December 1996, Official Report,column 602 A competition will be held in due course for a new chief executive, whose remit will include the development of a robust commercial strategy for improving the competitiveness of the business.