|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 748environment, they should be trained by people who already work in such an environment, rather than by people trained under the system that we are trying to change.
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : Is not investment in the training of British managers in the private sector very low compared with our European competitors? The private sector's record of investing in the training of British managers is very poor.
Mr. Paice : As one would expect, the hon. Gentleman's comments are some years out of date. Management training in the United Kingdom has gone forward by leaps and bounds during the past few years. Private sector investment in training has increased by at least 50 per cent. in the last three or four years. That fact cannot be disputed. The hon. Gentleman needs only to check with the Confederation of British Industry, if he doubts it.
I do not suggest that British industrial management training right across the board is adequate. However, the ability of commercial training firms to train to the highest level has been proved throughout the United Kingdom. The companies that provide private sector management training could also provide it for civil servants. The Queen Elizabeth II conference centre is a building of renown, especially to those of us whose offices are in Dean's yard or elsewhere in the conference centre's vicinity. I was surprised to find that it is listed. I wonder why the public sector is running the conference centre. I hope that in the near future it will be funded by a trading fund, to be followed shortly afterwards by privatisation.
I have already referred to the employment service as being one of the most important potential candidates for financing through a trading fund. It employs 34,000 civil servants and it is involved with the public. Members of Parliament receive many letters of complaint from constituents. They complain about how they have been dealt with by employment service employees. It is an essential part of the public sector, but it must remember that it is there to serve the public.
The fuel suppliers branch may employ fewer than 50 people, but one has to ask why there should be a fuel suppliers branch to provide a bulk fuel purchasing service to Government Departments. Surely a trading fund ought to be established so that the fuel suppliers branch can be got rid of altogether. A multitude of private sector companies could do that job.
Much has been said about passport office delays, but nothing has been said about Land Registry delays. During the last few years I have received many letters from people who have complained bitterly about Land Registry delays. When people want to move from one part of the country to another-- usually to my constituency because of the thriving economy and low levels of unemployment--they find that it is difficult to do so. Delays are due to lack of accountability. Improvements must be made.
Property Holdings, which is responsible for the management of the Government's property portfolio, ought to be run in the same way as the private sector runs such a business. If it is cost effective for the Government to have their own property holdings, that is fine ; I have no fundamental objection to that. However, if it is to be cost effective, Property Holdings must be staffed and run in
Column 749such a way as to make it competitive with the private sector. A trading fund would ensure that it could be compared favourably with the private sector.
As for the Training Agency--formerly the Manpower Services Commission--I had a great deal to do with that organisation before I became a Member of Parliament. The Training Agency is venturing into an area that, so far as I know, is unknown to the rest of the Civil Service. There has been the introduction of private management, through the development of training and enterprise councils. Private industry will set up its own councils. Some members of the Training Agency's staff will be seconded to the training and enterprise councils to carry out administrative, operational and executive functions. Civil servants will be responsible to the private sector management. It will be interesting to watch the experiment over the next few years. It will provide civil servants with the opportunity to demonstrate all those characteristics that I described earlier as being essential if the operation is to be commercial and serve the public.
Despite the implications of some of my remarks, I believe that the majority of civil servants are competent. They have the ability to compete in a much more commercial operation. Ultimately, however, their job is to provide a service to the public, whether it be across the counter at a Department of Social Security office or behind the scenes in a research laboratory. This enabling Bill will allow most of the agencies to operate in a way that will demonstrate clearly how effective and efficient they are. I hope that in a few years time we shall be able to introduce a tranche of Bills to privatise some of the agencies. As a first step towards privatisation, I welcome the Bill.
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West) : This enabling Bill will provide the Government with enormous powers. Therefore, we are entitled to probe the Government's intentions. I should like to follow what was said by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) by asking a few detailed questions about some of the entries in the annex to the White Paper.
According to annex A, the Resettlement Agency
"Provides resettlement units for people without settled way of life."
The social security IT services directorate
"Provides computer and communication technology services for the DSS."
The social security benefits administration
"Assesses, issues and administers social security benefits." According to the Chief Secretary's speech, some of those services could be brought within the ambit of the Bill.
The Government announced in November the relocation of Social Security and Health Service departments to Leeds, involving 2,000 members of staff, from the chief executive down. That move has been welcomed in Leeds, and I hope that it is a sign of the Government's commitment to a regional policy. It is a key regional centre and the staff will get a warm Yorkshire welcome when they arrive in Leeds. The Chief Secretary said that Government Departments are complex. Will the Resettlement Agency and the social security IT services directorate and the social security benefits administration, which are candidates for agencies in under Next Steps, be funded as trading agencies? Is it intended that commercial-style accountancy should be introduced in those departments?
Column 750The Resettlement Agency provides homes for people with no fixed abode. They will pay rent, for which they will get a receipt. Paragraph 4.14 of the White Paper says :
"The powers extend only to bodies which generate receipts in respect of goods or services provided. Where there are no such receipts the powers could not be used. The effect is to exclude areas of Government where the payment is not directly related to the provision of the goods or services, or where such payments constitute less than half of the body's revenue Thus for example the delivery of social security benefits, and tax assessment and collections are outside the powers."
I wonder whether the reference to collection only involves tax and whether all social security benefits are clearly outside the remit. The social fund was a shift of policy from benefit as grant to benefit as loan--a loan which has to be repaid from benefit. I hope that there will not be a shift to commercial-style accounting in that area. Social security offices should offer a fair, efficient and just service to claimants who, through no fault of their own, need to make a claim. They have often been made to feel that they are victims or that they have committed an offence.
In a leader last January, The Times said :
"Last year one of the brighter sparks in the Social Security Department introduced an impressive prospectus for change. It proposed to remove from London the processing and basic clerical tasks occasioned by claims for income support It also urged the treatment of claimants not as enemies of the system but as citizens deserving efficient administration."
I hope that that will indeed be the case. The Department of Social Security recently introduced a new logo for its leaflets. It appeared as a smile. Some might argue in other debates that that smile is somewhat ironic in the light of benefit reductions. But as the Department is to move to the friendlier location of Leeds, let us hope that the service will be much more efficient and friendly rather than shift towards a business intent on shaming those who claim benefits. That is the type of improved management and efficiency that we would like.
I should be most grateful if the Chief Secretary would assure me that the Government have absolutely no intention, now or in the future, that any part of social security provision should be covered by this Bill.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : This is an excellent Bill. It takes forward much of what the Government have already done to reorganise the Civil Service. I fully support it and urge the House to vote for its Second Reading.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) was at pains to tell us that the Bill is worrying. More than anything else, the Bill shows up the differences of attitude between the two sides of the House. We look for efficiency and better cost management and see a role for the private sector. The Opposition want central control and maintain that the civil servant is always right and, as a result, must be left alone. If the hon. Gentleman plans to be a Minister, I urge him to be subjected to a compulsory session of "Yes Minister". Sir Humphrey Appleby could teach him quite a bit. Civil Servants can look after themselves extremely well.
When we consider the delivery of necessary services by the Government, the need for improvement is hammered home to us. I am a lawyer and must say that the Land Registry is a complete shambles. Solicitors carrying out
Column 751conveyancing experience great difficulty getting the proper documents, and getting certificates for leases takes far too long. House transfers are delayed most unnecessarily.
The same can be said for the driver and vehicle licensing centre at Swansea. Any solicitor or barrister who has applied on behalf of his client for a copy of a driver's licence for the magistrates' benefit and anybody who has applied for a new copy of his licence will know of the terrible problems there. The Liverpool passport office is on my constituency's doorstep. Many of my constituents who wanted to go abroad on holiday were caused great anxiety last year by the dispute there. That office has a history of inefficiency. Such difficulties must be tackled. The White Paper is an excellent document, and the Bill based on it is the way forward.
Mr. McCartney : The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Land Registry. Does he agree that one of the difficulties, to say nothing of the lack of resources for additional staff, is that people who try to sell homes to other people may find that they are involved in litigation about who pays the ground rent? Every day of the week, thousands of transactions involving the sale of ground rents are made in London. That causes huge delays in the Land Registry. The Government have failed to prevent such speculation, which creates difficulties for the Land Registry and the hon. Gentleman's clients.
Mr. Hind : The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the transfer of freeholds, when the occupier is a leaseholder, is a big problem. I am sure that he is aware of the Lord Chancellor's proposals, based on the Australian and New Zealand model, to introduce a new style of ownership for flats in London. That will eventually do away with the problem he mentioned. The hon. Gentleman and I experience the same difficulties in our constituencies. The same is true for much of the north of England. I accept the need for reform, as does the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. McCartney : The Lord Chancellor's proposals relate exclusively to transactions in London. They do not affect transactions in the rest of the United Kingdom. This is not a party political issue. The House should find time to resolve this difficulty, which affects millions of potential purchasers each year.
The examples I have mentioned demonstrate the need for Next Steps agencies. A trading fund is the logical step for many of them--they provide services directly to the public.
The White Paper draws attention to the problems of monopolies. We should consider that problem carefully. I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) said about the list
Column 752of Next Steps agencies in the back of the White Paper. Do the Government need to be involved in many of the functions listed there? Could they not be done equally well by the private sector? I welcome the fact that the Government are considering privatising those functions in future. Many of them could be carried out just as well in the private sector.
The trading funds that will be set up for the Next Steps agencies will not in any way reduce accountability to Parliament. Paragraph 5(1) of the White Paper states :
"Next Steps will involve no diminution in Ministerial accountability to Parliament. Indeed, the creation of Agencies will clarify managerial responsibilities and reinforce accountability to Ministers and to Parliament."
The majority of chief executives will be former civil servants. The hon. Member for Wrexham says that chief executives will feel under pressure to produce results and will not feel able to satisfy the public's need for service. But civil servants feel the same pressure and the same need to satisfy the public's requirements at the moment. That will not change except that the agencies will be treated individually. The Comptroller and Auditor General will publish a report which, along with the accounts, will be brought before the House of Commons so that we can scrutinise the operation of that part of the Civil Service. Today, much of it is subsumed into the whole and we never know how efficient individual parts of the Civil Service are. The report will provide us with a good opportunity to look at it. The funds will be created by affirmative order of the House of Commons and the chief executives will be subject to examination by the Comptroller and Auditor General and no doubt will be called before Select Committees when it is considered that matters need to be investigated by the House. In future these matters will be safe in the hands of the House and Ministers.
I now turn to more parochial considerations. Next Steps agencies will be important for the provinces of England, Wales and Scotland because they will be self-contained units with chief executives responsible directly to Ministers, so there is absolutely no reason why they need to operate in the south-east. Hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent northern constituencies will agree that we have a classic opportunity to move those agencies into the provinces to create jobs in areas of high unemployment.
Mr. Hind : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. There is no reason why many of the agencies should not move north. A number of Department of Social Security offices are located in Blackpool and before it was privatised the new headquarters of Girobank was set up in the constituency of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) close to the constituency of the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney). The Government have successfully transferred Civil Service jobs from the south-east to the north. That must continue. Given the technology and the communications that exist today, there is no reason why all the major offices of state should be located in the south-east of England. Next Steps agencies will be the beginning.
Mr. McCartney rose
Column 753In the past six months I have had the privilege to serve in the Northern Ireland Office as a parliamentary private secretary. A similar situation exists in the Welsh Office where Ministers are based in London but can communicate with civil servants by video and by television link so that they can have meetings with civil servants who are 100 or 200 miles away. Those jobs will provide much-needed prosperity in the regions and should move out of the overcrowded south-east where Conservative Members are desperate to protect the green belt. Up north we have the infrastructure, the housing and the quality of life to absorb those jobs.
I note that the Minister for the Civil Service is in his place. I hope that he will take on board my comments. Part of St. Joseph's college, the seminary at Upholland, is in my constituency. It is available for such an organisation as a Next Steps agency and is close to the M6 and the M58. A Next Steps agency could be set up in a class II listed building, a magnificent Victorian building in 180 acres of parkland providing a superb standard of life, as anyone living in my constituency or in that of the hon. Member for Makerfield would agree.
Mr. McCartney : I agree that hon. Members on both sides of the House should continue their efforts to achieve the transfer of jobs northwards and to create initiatives to provide new jobs in the north. The hon. Gentleman and I have recently been involved in the privatisation of Girobank. He supported the privatisation process which nearly lost us jobs in the north-west from Britoil in Wigan. The battle was not only about privatisation but about retaining the jobs in the north-west after privatisation. The hon. Gentleman was silent in the argument about privatisation and the possibility of jobs being transferred. I shall not go into his difficulties at Upholland and the fact that his constituents are up in arms about the possibility of development, commercial or otherwise, at the seminary. It may be difficult for the hon. Gentleman in view of his small majority which will not be helped by his speech today as most of his majority is probably made up of civil servants in the passport office in Liverpool.
Mr. Hind : The hon. Gentleman referred to the problems at Upholland. Perhaps he will appreciate that it is an ideal centre for a Next Steps agency. West Lancashire district council, which is Conservative controlled, has rejected the proposals by the church to develop in green belt and recognises as I do that that college could be more sensibly used for such a development.
The trading fund which underpins the Bill will provide a financial framework which will cover the operating costs, receipts, capital expenditure, borrowing and net cash flow of the Next Steps agencies. Those that are suitable will find that it will provide a more commercial and disciplined approach to the delivery of Government services coupled with a greater accountability to Parliament for the results achieved. Where it is appropriate for such trading funds to be attached to Next Steps agencies-- and that will not always be the case--it will result in improved performance and improved provision for the public which they will welcome and which I am sure will be welcomed by all Members of Parliament.
Several Hon. Members rose--
May I make an extremely careful and hesitant comment on one of the matters raised by the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind)? He referred to civil servants and jobs in the new agencies. I do not know all the facts, but I should like to ask one question : are we sure that it is ethical these days for Mr. Patrick Brown of the Department of the Environment to go out of the Civil Service to the National Freight Corporation, back into the Civil Service, and now out again to the Property Services Agency? I stress that this is not a personal attack. I do not know all the facts, but it is high time that a Minister made a statement on the new ethics of the Civil Service.
I remember an enormous row when Sir Clifford Jarrett, who was permanent secretary at the Ministry of Pensions, got a job with a pension fund company. The then Cabinet Secretary had to decide whether his appointment was proper. Sir Clifford Jarrett had left the Civil Service, but it now appears possible for people to join, leave and rejoin the Civil Service.
This afternoon I asked the Attorney-General whether he would discuss with the director of the serious fraud office the propriety or otherwise of Coopers and Lybrand being commissioned by the Government to do a report on extremely important institutions--the Property Services Agency and the Crown Suppliers--when certain key people who are former employees of Coopers and Lybrand are the leaders in the management buy-out. That raises some pretty serious questions about governmental ethics. I see the Chief Secretary to the Treasury knitting his brow, but these are extremely delicate matters. A statement should be made on exactly what has changed in Civil Service ethics.
It is not every Saturday evening that I ring No. 10 Downing street, but I did so last Saturday to leave a message with one of the Prime Minister's secretaries. I said that in my opinion she should have made a statement to the House--the Minister of State, Privy Council Office has guessed on what subject--on a matter of enormous sensitivity, the protest by the First Division Association on guidelines. The First Division Association does not lightly protest, so when it does--I am not disparaging the Minister of State or being personally rude to him--the head of the Civil Service should at least make some comment.
In my speech I may ask some naive questions that may appear rather simple, but the Labour party has been in opposition for a long time. There was a time when many Members of the Opposition had recent ministerial experience, but since 1979, for reasons of which we are all aware, there has been a great change. I am not making a party point, but I think that, with the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), I am the only Opposition Member present who has any experience of government. That lack of experience makes it much harder for Opposition Members to understand the pros and cons of what a Government are doing. Having
Column 755been exiled between 1974 and 1979 over devolution, it is more than 20 years since, as a parliamentary private secretary, I saw the inside of a Ministry.
I hope that hon. Members will forgive a little history, but I am interested in not only the Property Services Agency but the general subject. I recollect clearly--in another context I have had to work on the papers relatively recently--that the late Sir Otto Clark and the late Sir Leo Pliatzky, who were formidable civil servants, thought that they had persuaded a number of members of the Labour Government to set up something equivalent to the Property Services Agency. They certainly succeeded in persuading Lord Armstrong of the Midland bank, not Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. When those people said that the Government had to be themselves involved to make good decisions, they were not making simply a party political point.
There is a further general point to which I hope that the Chief Secretary will respond--I know that he is deeply interested in such matters. I shall leave out the privatisation of businesses because I understand that there is a party political difference over the privatisation of electricity and water, but in the case of the Crown Suppliers and the Property Services Agency, is the Chief Secretary absolutely persuaded that he is not trying to privatise, not a business, but a governmental function? Who will make the judgments that the Government must make?
I refer to a question that the Chief Secretary answered today. It says :
"To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what architectural and architectural-related staff he has in the Treasury to make technical assessments of decisions by other Departments to use agents other than the Property Services Agency."
The first answer was a holding reply on 21 December. I make no complaint about that other than to say that if those proposals, which will begin to be considered upstairs tomorrow, had been properly thought out the question could easily have been answered. I have received a succession of replies from Ministers at the Department of the Environment saying "I shall answer as soon as possible", but if any thought had been given to the question an easy answer could have been written on the back of a postcard and answers to fairly obvious questions from me would have been unnecessary. The Chief Secretary replied to the question :
"No staff in such specialisms are currently employed in the Treasury. Where Departments are free to use agents other than PSA for building and maintenance work, it is for them to decide on value for money grounds, and after the usual tendering and contract procedures have been observed, whether such agents, or PSA, should be employed."
Who makes those decisions? The PSA is a function of Government. Leo Pliatzky and many others regarded that as a great problem in the 1960s, and it has not gone away. In order to make sensible decisions there must be some proper expertise.
What are the plans for full commercial accounts for the PSA or its successors from 1991 onwards?
Who will supervise and check work in the private sector? How will an objective assessment be made? If a Department does not have the necessary expertise, I do not see how an objective assessment can be made. The
Column 756Government's line is that the new agency's main aim is to maximise profits for the owners, but where is the independent source of advice?
The construction industry is not exactly famous for its honesty and integrity. Someone must make judgments about substandard work, shoddy materials and unreliable surveys. I may be referring to ancient history when I say this, but I remember when I was a lowly person in a Department that was run by a formidable lady, Dame Evelyn Sharp. She cried out for expertise which even the Ministry of Housing and Local Government did not have at that time. We seem to be going back to that experience.
I do not claim that the PSA is a perfect organisation. It has done many good things, certainly outside the city of London, and my constituents and many others who work for it are proud of much of what they have done, but because of the nature of their work they are likely to make mistakes. I am asking the Treasury whether, from now on, each Department is to have a commissioning and supervisory section.
Are there to be mini-PSAs in each Department? If the answer is no, how are we to avoid increased costs, undetected corruption and a dramatic lowering of standards? There must be someone who is competent to make judgments. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), who has experience of local government, knows what I am talking about. The same thing applies in the running of a great city as in the running of national Government. There is a big question mark over whether any private agency can do that, let alone over the question of accountability to Parliament.
Let us take a specific example--valuation. We are told by the National Audit Office, and there is no reason to doubt it, that the value of PSA properties in 1982 was £3 billion. I can understand that, given the value of the Whitgift centre in Croydon, St. Christopher's house and Argyll house in Edinburgh and some 8,000 properties, although admittedly some are small. I am told--the Minister may say that I am wrong--that the Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Bill, which is about to be considered in Committee, deals with more than £10 billion. Incidentally, when I have asked questions I have found that many people will talk--but only because post-Ponting they trust me not to reveal sources. I gather that there has been an edict--I do not know whether Ministers are responsible-- to the effect that people should not talk about their work in the PSA and issues that relate to current events. That is all very well, but may I just say that we have had certain things to say about eastern Europe and leave it at that. It is unsatisfactory to put a gag on a legitimate subject of debate.
If the PSA is to be abolished, who in government is to decide what additional property is needed by any arm of the Civil Service? Is it to be the Civil Service Department? Surely someone centrally has to decide whether other departmental property may be useful. With privatisation of the PSA come 1992, or whenever it can be sold off--the Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Bill deals with that privatisation--who will make a decision quickly and effectively on the disposal of surplus accommodation? The Treasury may be thought to have had some interest in this aspect.
Who is responsible for the strategy of reducing the amount of vacant space to the minimum possible? Who is to judge the operational fitness of the value of the estate by adequate maintenance?
Column 757I shall not go on endlessly but, for reference, will mention "Property Services Agency : Management of the Civil Estate," the summary and conclusions of the National Audit Office report. My impression since 1987 has been that the PSA regional organisations have improved greatly. For all I care, Ministers can take credit for that. But why upset the apple cart and create a situation where no one will do this vital job?
What has happened to the trading fund to give information to clients and Parliament? As for the PRS scheme in 1983 to make Departments aware of the accommodation costs and administration of their policies and programmes, how is it to be achieved, and does the interdepartmental committee remain in operation?
Paragraph 9(c) of the National Audit Office report states : "as old long- term leases fall to be renewed, the PSA has been faced with greatly increased rents and liabilities to regular five-yearly reviews".
Does that continue? This was a problem for the PSA's investment appraisal unit. Paragraph 9(f) of the National Audit Office report says :
"the PSA's investment appraisal unit reported that in 1986-87 appraisals had been wrongly omitted in 16 out of a test of 35 defence and civil cases."
[Interruption.] Ministers may be becoming impatient, because all this is a bit uncomfortable. The system has been ill-thought-out, and these points are relevant to Ministers and to the legislation. The NAO report says :
"the PSA is considering the introduction of commercial accounts and a trading fund to give clearer information to clients and Parliament."
That brings my point completely into order. The report says : "the saving on the PRS scheme accommodation charge is intended to provide occupying departments with sufficient incentive to surrender to the agency surplus land and buildings."
The Chief Secretary is wise not to intervene at this stage because this is an extremely difficult question for the Treasury. I am not persuaded that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment--the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope)--is more clever or more able than Treasury Ministers. [Interruption.] Treasury Ministers are probably thankful that they will not take the Bill through Committee, because it is a can of worms. Paragraph 12 of the NAO report asks whether the Departments
"have sufficient incentive to identify surplus accommodation?" The answer is no.
The defence estate was managed by the PSA. Who is to manage it now? There was a considerable row in the 1970s, and again in the 1980s, when, apparently, the Prime Minister actually came down on the side of the PSA against the Ministry of Defence managing its own estate. Ah, we are greatly fortunate to have the Secretary of State for the Environment present, because the Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Bill is his Bill. As the Secretary of State has entered the Chamber, this would be the ideal opportunity to go through with him the Coopers and Lybrand report on what happened in relation to the PSA ; I should like to check with him the history of all this. Is it not true that the first report on the privatisation of the PSA and the Crown Suppliers, undertaken by a
Column 758Treasury official called Jeannie Turton and her colleagues--I think that those in the Box know something about this-- came down against privatisation?
Is it not also true that a second report--which the Government refused to publish--from the central unit in the Treasury also came down against privatisation? And is it not true that Dewi Jones also came down against privatisation, with certain qualifications? I know that I shall be corrected if my history is wrong.
Then the Government strongly told Coopers and Lybrand that the question was not whether the Crown Suppliers--which is a function, not a business--and the PSA should be privatised but how. Those were the terms of the question, on the Government's instructions.
Is it not also true--I am careful about privilege, and I say this, under privilege, in the form of a question--that the person who had most to do with the Coopers and Lybrand report on the TCS was Mr. Bob Etherington? Is it not also true that Mr. Bob Etherington has become the mainspring--the driving force--in the management takeover of the Crown Suppliers? I stand open to correction, and if I am wrong I shall give way to any of the four relevant Ministers who are doing me the courtesy of listening--the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Minister of State, Privy Council Office, who is responsible for the Civil Service, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. I ask any one of them to tell me whether I am right or wrong about Mr. Bob Etherington's position. I think that I am properly informed, although I see that a note is coming from the Box.
Let me explain the history of the Coopers and Lybrand report. In March 1987, two reports on the Crown Suppliers were submitted to the Under- Secretary of State for the Environment. The first, by Coopers and Lybrand in association with Samuel Montagu, discussed the feasibility of the privatisation of the Crown Suppliers and the second, by Dewi Jones, a consultant, looked into options other than privatisation.
Coopers and Lybrand was asked to determine the prospects for the successful privatisation of all or part of the Crown Suppliers, including the best means and forms of achieving that objective. Coopers and Lybrand took the view that, for the privatisation of the Crown Suppliers to be feasible, its lines of business would have to be capable, first, of commercial viability- -sustaining adequate levels of profitability in free competition--and, secondly, of being successfully transferred from the public to the private sector. Do the Government think that those conditions, imposed by Coopers and Lybrand--itself asked to do a job by the Government for reasons, some of us might think, of political dogma--have been met?
In the meantime, Ministers have information, and I should certainly be interested to hear what they have to say about Mr. Bob Etherington's position. I can only assume that silence indicates that I am broadly correct, and so I give notice that I hope that the Secretary of State for the Environment will instruct the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment to attend the Committee tomorrow morning and say exactly what the position is. Some of us think delicate questions of Civil Service ethics are involved. I ought to tell the Secretary of State for the Environment that at Question Time I asked the Attorney-General whether he is prepared to examine the role of Coopers and Lybrand in the privatisation of the