Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Dalyell : Will the Minister allow me to intervene?

Mr. Luce : Certainly I shall.

Mr. Dalyell : Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the Prime Minister, does he--or the Prime Minister--have any comment on the protest by the Civil Service First Division Association? One of the Government's tasks surely is to satisfy the Civil Service, but in relation to the guidelines, judging by the association's protest, the Government have failed to do so.

Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman, with whom I have frequently jousted in this House, which I have enjoyed very much, goes wide of the Bill. However, no doubt he will seek other opportunities to probe that matter. I hope

Column 774

that the hon. Gentleman will welcome my right hon. Friend's new year message and her emphasis on seeking to improve further the quality of Government services.

The purpose of the Next Steps initiative is to play a key role in improving the way in which we deliver Government services. I am glad that objective is widely shared both within this House and beyond. Both the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee and the Public Accounts Committee have shown a keen interest in our progress, and I am grateful for the support that both Committees have given and for their constructive criticism.

As we stated in the White Paper "The Financing and Management of Next Steps Agencies" which was published with the Bill :

"The main aim of the Next Steps initiative is to deliver services more efficiently and effectively, within available resources, for the benefit of taxpayers, customers and staff. Agencies thus represent a new and distinctive development in the Governent's policies for improving all aspects of Civil Service management."

The Next Steps initiative, as its name suggests, builds on previous measures that have brought about significant benefits for management in Government. However, it is much more than a consolidation exercise. The Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee's first report on Next Steps in July 1988 noted that "this change could be the most far-reaching since the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms in the nineteenth century."

I am convinced that we are putting into effect a gradual revolution in the way that the Government go about their business.

It is nearly two years since my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched the initiative, and progress since then has been good. I have tried in the various parliamentary replies that I have given to keep the House informed. So far, 10 agencies have been established and we expect 20 agencies to be up and running by the summer. In addition to the 10 already established, a further 40 activities in the home Civil Service and three in the Northern Ireland Civil Service have been announced as candidates for agency status. Together, they account for nearly 200,000 staff or about one third of the Civil Service.

Next Steps is not just about numbers, although the involvement, even at this early stage, of one civil servant in three is a pretty good indicator that we mean business. Our goal is to enable civil servants to use available resources in the most effective way to provide a high-quality service to the public.

The Bill will help the Civil Service to become more responsive to the needs of customers. The 10 agencies that have been launched so far have demanding performance indicators to do with quality of service, both for the public and for internal customers, and these targets are being achieved. For example--and this may go some way towards answering the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)--the customers of Companies House will say that turn-round time for document searches has improved considerably, as has the lead time for orders placed with Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

The service has not just improved in terms of performance indicators. Next Steps has ensured that agency chief executives are keen to consult customers about what they want, and to meet those needs as far as possible. Agencies have been able to offer extended opening hours, premium services, and to provide offices in new locations.

Column 775

The Bill will allow revenue-generating agencies in particular even more scope to respond to customer demand. It is worth stressing that point, because many right hon. and hon. Members were concerned about the quality of service to the public, and that is a major priority for the Government.

Next Steps agencies are also ensuring that they keep their customers in touch with what they are doing. They are training their staff better to meet customer needs. I attach much importance to that.

There has been a lot of stress on the issue of accountability, in my view quite rightly. My hon. Friends the Members for Cambridgeshire, South-East and for Gainsborough and Horncastle and the hon. Members for Wrexham, for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), among others, focused on accountability. It is of such importance that I hope the House will allow me to spend a moment or two to reiterate some of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

I stress the importance of the greater openness that will come from the Bill and the procedures that we are adopting under the Next Steps policy. There will be much more scope for Parliament to scrutinise the activities of the agencies than there has been hitherto, and that has been recognised by some of my hon. Friends if not by Opposition Members. Agencies' objectives and performance will be more open to scrutiny than ever before, by Parliament and by others with an interest, including their customers.

Parliament will know what the Minister has asked the agency to achieve, the resources the Minister has allocated, through Parliament, for the tasks, and the targets by which performance is measured, and through the agencies' annual report, the way in which the chief executive goes about the task and the extent to which the agency has been successful. That will be expanded on in the Bill, and I have no doubt that it will be debated in more detail in Committee. A central feature of Next Steps arrangements is the position of agency chief executives. Each has managerial authority delegated to him or her by the responsible Minister.

The Minister is and remains accountable to Parliament as a whole and its Select Committees. When a Committee's interest is focused on the day-to-day operations of the agency, the Minister will normally regard the chief executive as being the person best placed to answer the Committee--on his or her behalf--on the performance of the agency. Ministers remain fully accountable for Government policies. Alongside these more formal arrangements, right hon. and hon. Members need to know that the day-to-day operations of agencies are still open to their scrutiny on a day-to-day basis. There will always be queries and matters to be raised on behalf of individual constituents, besides the more general need of Members to inform themselves about the way in which Government policies are being executed in practice.

We believe that it will make sense to right hon. and hon. Members to deal in the first instance directly with the chief executive of an agency or his or her staff on matters for which he or she has delegated authority. Because Next

Column 776

Steps agencies are by their nature particularly likely to be delivering services to the public, I would expect that a good proportion of matters raised by right hon. and hon. Members on behalf of their constituents or in connection with an inquiry made of them, are likely to be such operational matters. They will get a quicker response and be likely to resolve any follow-up points more quickly and to their satisfaction by going direct to the agency, rather than routing their inquiry through the Minister--who would almost certainly want to seek advice from the chief executive. That is, therefore, the course I encourage hon. Members to take, bearing in mind that it is the Minister who sets the policy, the resources and the targets for the agency and the chief executive who is responsible to him or her for the way in which the agency uses those resources and sets about achieving its targets.

Many right hon. and hon. Members will recognise this as confirming existing practice, since we already have good contacts with the appropriate Civil Service managers in our constituencies. Certainly, the experience of the existing agency chief executives is that hon. Members find it helpful to contact the agency direct and I know that many Civil Service managers welcome the additional feedback about what their customers really think and the opportunity to rectify errors and omissions when something goes wrong, which a businesslike relationship with local parliamentary representatives can bring.

Mr. Hind : My right hon. Friend has told the House that there will be strong accountability. Will he confirm that every Next Steps agency will have to come to the House and be considered for the inclusion of a trading fund within its operations by positive resolution of the House, and therefore that that additional safety net will be built into the system that he is putting forward?

Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said, and what is clearly established in the White Paper. Any organisation that is considered as a candidate for trading fund status under the Bill will be subject to the affirmative resolution of the House before it is established.

Mr. Cryer : Before the Minister leaves the general point, will he say whether the chief executives will have powers to send a minute to the Comptroller and Auditor General if they disagree with any policy laid down by the Government regarding the agency under the relevant audit and exchange control Act, for example, as a permanent secretary has the right to do as auditing and accounting officer in a Government Department?

Mr. Luce : Of course, in most cases the chief executive is established as the accounting officer for his operation. The same relationship would exist as with a permanent secretary, who is the accounting officer for overall policy. I confirm that that would be the general position.

To complete my remarks on accountability, I emphasise that it will be an addition to the existing practice by which hon. Members can raise any matter that falls directly within a Minister's responsibility with him in the House.

In short, as we said in Command Paper 524 :

"Establishing Executive Agencies within departments will involve some developments in the way in which external accountability is discharged. These include the publication of framework documents and the expectation that Members of

Column 777

Parliament may often wish in the first instance to deal directly with Chief Executives on operational matters for which they have delegated authority. Ministers will continue to deal directly with inquiries about matters of policy or levels of resources, and with any cases where a Member of Parliament specifically seeks a reply from a Minister."

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, Next Steps involves no diminution in ministerial accountability to Parliament. On the contrary, agencies and their workings will be more open to inspection and more responsive, both to their customers and to examination by right hon. and hon. Members. The establishment of Next Steps agencies offers the potential for significant enhancement of the openness and quality of public services and of direct access to the people who manage them. Next Steps will in this way nourish and sustain the already firmly rooted concept of ministerial accountability.

I think that it is right to set out the position on accountability as clearly as I can, in view of the importance that the House attaches to it.

I shall briefly mention one or two other matters raised by right hon. and hon. Members. I reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said about privatisation, as that subject featured considerably in the debate. The hon. Member for Wrexham, my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle, for Cambridgeshire, South-East and for Lancashire, West all mentioned privatisation. Before an agency is established, alternative options, including contracting out and privatisation, are examined. Next Steps is primarily for those operations that are to remain in the Government. However, after some years it may not be ruled out that agencies, like other Government activities, may be suitable for privatisation. When an agency is being set up and there is a firm intention of privatising it, that should be made clear. Our policy on the establishment of agencies, and on privatisation in general, remains the same.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle asked whether there were any candidates for either trading fund or straightforward agency status for which the Ministry of Defence was responsible. No fewer than seven, including those concerned with defence support, are included in the list. I hope that that will encourage my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), who raised the same point.

Although he demanded answers to a number of questions in his long speech, I think that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) would almost fall out of his seat if I responded to all of them. Although most were not related to the Bill, I think it only right to deal with a point on which he challenged my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, and which he raised again in his speech--the position of the Property Service Agency in the context of agency status. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary rightly made it plain that it is planned to privatise the vast bulk of the PSA-- some 20,000 staff--and measures to do so are before the House. I should add, however, that a small part of the agency will remain in Government service and could therefore be a candidate for agency status, although whether it could be a candidate for trading fund status is a matter for further consideration.

Mr. Dalyell : May I make the reasonable request that some of my other questions be answered in writing,

Column 778

preferably before the Bill has made much progress in Committee? I believe that they are relevant to the Civil Service and other Departments. I was hoping particularly--because they were rather ad hominem--that the Minister would comment on my questions about the position of Mr. Patrick Brown and Mr. Bob Etherington. I think that they raise important questions of principle, to which some Minister may have an answer.

Mr. Luce : Such is the compelling interest aroused whenever the hon. Gentleman speaks that--as he will have noticed--my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment came into the Chamber this evening and heard much of his speech. I am sure that my right hon. Friend noted what he said, and I shall ensure that he is shown the full text of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about matters that are principally his responsibility.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) asked about the provision of social security benefits. As he said, the White Paper makes a clear reference to the matter in paragraph 4.14--which makes it plain that the delivery of such benefits would not satisfy the criteria for trading fund status--and I confirm that the service could not possibly become a trading fund agency.

My hon. Friends the Members for Gedling and for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) asked about the relocation of agencies. That is principally the responsibility of my right hon. and noble Friend the Paymaster General, but it would be the duty of any agency to consider whether relocation might bring about more efficiency and a better use of its resources. If it were already located in the south-east, for example, it might wish to move elsewhere. It will be the task of the Civil Service as a whole to look sharply at the benefits of relocation, and I have no doubt that every agency will undertake that task as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle also asked about experience in the Civil Service--in business, for example. I attach considerable importance to that, which is why the Government have increased the number of secondments and exchanges between the private sector and the home Civil Service ; indeed, I should like to see a further increase. The Next Steps team is ably managed by Mr. Kemp, who gained accountancy experience before entering the Civil Service, and a member of Price Waterhouse is on loan to the team. I value such experience.

It is important that the right people, with the right experience, are appointed as chief executives. The Government are also anxious that the general principle of open competition should be maintained as far as possible, and that is increasingly happening. We must ensure that we obtain the best people for the job, and that as much authority as possible is delegated to them : I agree with my hon. Friend about that. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) about the importance of delegating responsibility and accountability, and that is at the heart of the Bill and of the Next Steps policy. My hon. Friend also asked about training. Let me say again how important we consider that, and remind my hon. Friend that my office has introduced challenge funding for other Departments so that the level of Civil Service training is raised to an even higher standard.

I shall try to reply by letter to any questions that I have not answered specifically. Let me end, however, with a general issue raised by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr.

Column 779

Marek), who asked about the number of candidates for trading fund status. As my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary made clear in his speech, among the existing agencies potentially suitable for trading fund status are the vehicle inspectorate, Companies house, the Historic Royal Palaces Agency and Warren Springs laboratory. There is, however, a long list of candidates--about 43--of which about 30 are possibilities. They represent about 50,000 of the 200,000 staff covered by the list. Although they may not all be given trading fund status, they can be taken as a guideline. The Bill will go a long way to strengthen the accountability of the agencies, particularly those suited for trading fund status.

As a result of the procedures introduced by the Bill, suitable Civil Service functions will be put on a more commercial and businesslike footing. The measures for holding agency chief executives fully accountable form a durable basis for giving agency management the tools to do the job and to provide the more efficient and effective and better-quality services which Next Steps is about. A trading fund represents a financing framework offering both independence of detailed control and clear accountability for results and value for money. That seems to me to be a most appropriate basis on which to move into the next decade.

Our Civil Service aims to achieve the highest standards of excellence. It has a high sense of duty. We have one of the finest Civil Services in the world. I believe that it will fulfil its tasks with great competence. The Bill will add to the range of tools that is available for the further improvement of Civil Service management and enhance the Government's drive towards improved financial management throughout the public services. I warmly commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Column 780

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).

Mr. McCartney : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for raising this matter on a point of order, but the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) to whom I wanted to put this question earlier on a point of order had left the Chamber and has only recently returned. The hon. Gentleman referred in his speech to the Government's trading fund agencies and to the services that the Civil Service college provides in terms of management skills and techniques. He spoke at great length about the need to privatise these services.

I notice that in the Register of Members' Interests the hon. Gentleman is a director of Framlingham Management and Training Services Ltd. Would it be in order at this stage for the hon. Gentleman to declare that interest, given that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and others have made it clear that it is vital that direct or indirect pecuniary interests should be made known to the House? It is interesting that the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East made such a vehement speech in support of the privatisation of trading fund agencies when the Register of Members' Interests shows that he is the director of a company that is directly involved in providing training services.

Mr. Paice : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The information to which the hon. Gentleman refers is out of date. I ceased to be a director of that company in May 1989.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) has put his point of order on record. All that I need say from the Chair is that, as the House well knows, there is a Register of Members' Interests and that it is customary for any hon. Member who has an interest to declare it during a debate.

Column 781

Government Trading Bill [Money]

Queen's Recommendation having been signified--

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Government Trading Bill, it is expedient to authorise--

(a) the payment out of the National Loans Fund or money provided by Parliament of sums required for the purpose of issues by way of loan to trading funds, subject to a limit of £2,000 million or such greater sum not exceeding £4,000 million as the Treasury may specify by order, and

(b) payments into the National Loans Fund or Consolidated Fund-- [Mr. Nicholas Baker.]

9.1 pm

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : The Minister was unable in the time allocated to him to cover a point that I raised in my speech. Therefore, I have decided to use the opportunity provided by the money resolution to give him another opportunity to reply to it. The money will be subject to a limit of £2 billion, or such greater sum not exceeding £4 billion, which is certainly a lot of money swilling around. The explanatory and financial memorandum states : "The Bill provides that the aggregate of all such limits must not exceed £2,000 million, which may be increased to £4,000 million by affirmative resolution order."

I should be grateful if the Minister could say what the effect of the amendments contained in the Bill will be on section 6 of the Goverment Trading Funds Act 1973. Subsection (3) would be amended to read :

"A statutory instrument containing an order under section 1 of this Act if made without a draft having been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of that House."

The affirmative procedure is thereby removed. The negative procedure takes its place.

The Government Trading Funds Act 1973 refers in section 6(3) to an order made under section 2(4). The passage that I read out is the amended version of section 6(3). The Minister will no doubt be acutely aware that section 2(4) is removed. Its substitute is a clause of the Bill with which we are now dealing. New section 2B(7) says :

"The sum of the maxima in force in respect of all trading funds at any time shall not exceed £2,000 million."

Subsection (8) of new section 2B states :

"The Treasury may by order made by statutory instrument increase or further increase the limit in subsection (7) above by any amount, not exceeding £1,000 million, specified in the order but not so as to make the limit exceed £4,000 million."

That lines up more or less with the money resolution that we are happily discussing.

Do the amendments to section 6, and of new section 2B, mean that the Minister can use a negative procedure instrument to raise the maximum of the trading funds, or is it just confused wording which provides the Minister with a residual power so that he does not have to use the affirmative resolution procedure? Is the Minister being given the power to decide whether he should use the affirmative or negative resolution procedure? On most occasions, Ministers, by some happy chance, seem to prefer the negative resolution procedure. I would be assured if the Minister would say that, in Committee--just so that it can be clear to the ordinary citizen--we can insert an amendment to new section 2B(8), which states :

"The Treasury may by order made by affirmative statutory instrument".

The provision would then line up with what appears to be one interpretation of the present legislation. I know that

Column 782

the Minister likes to be positive and constructive whenever the opportunity presents itself, and I would be happy if he could give such an assurance.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Richard Luce) rose--

Mr. Cryer : I have another question. I know that the Minister is keen to give me an assurance. Perhaps I should not stretch his patience, but I shall give it a try.

A lot of money--up to £4 billion--is floating around, and I am a little worried about what the Minister said about there being a lot of interchange between the private sector and the Civil Service. The trading funds are based on the idea of some form of competition developing. Perhaps the Government had something like Barlow Clowes in mind when they drew up this method of trading. The Minister said that there is a lot of interchange between the Government and the private sector through civil servants. It occurs to me that the Government must maintain a system in which civil servants are kept at arm's length from the private sector and in which there are clear rules. I am not making any accusations, but the public must be satisfied that, when civil servants advise on setting up trading funds, which the Minister argues will offer a better and more efficient service--I do not agree--they will not get so close to the private sector that they become involved and finish up as directors on boards.

The Minister knows that this issue has been raised before in various contexts. I shall give an example of what I have in mind. I remember the General Electric Company getting hot under the collar with the then Department of Industry and making representations about its desire to take over Northern Engineering Industries. Inquiries about whether GEC was influencing civil servants to make such a decision were made. It was discovered that a civil servant became a non-executive director of GEC. I asked in the House whether the civil servant, who had been in the Department of Industry, had been involved in discussions with GEC. The answer was no, but it subsequently appeared that there had been a series of secret meetings between several civil servants, including the permanent secretary at the Department of Industry, and GEC. There was contact. We asked whether secret meetings were held to be good and whether the civil servant established contacts which enabled him to assume an important position in GEC.

I recognise that I am not posing an easy question, but the Minister will have to be satisfied, and it must be clear, that civil servants will remain completely aloof from any inducements or lures to move to the private sector for their own benefit. I am quite sure that that principle guides the Civil Service, Ministers and the House. Under the money resolution which allows increases up to £2 billion and £4 billion and in which a great deal of money is involved, I should like to know how that principle will be maintained.

9.14 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Under the money resolution I wish to return to the issue of valuation in relation to the Property Services Agency which, as the Minister said in a previous speech, might be very small but nonetheless would remain.

I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when a proper valuation of the Property Services Agency

Column 783

would be carried out and at what cost. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), replied : "It is too early to say."

It seems pretty extraordinary that we are making great changes in the Property Services Agency, which according to the National Audit Office report was valued at £3 billion in 1982 and is now valued at £10 billion--the Minister may challenge those figures if he disagrees with them --yet apparently no proper valuation has been undertaken. Secondly, it is within the terms of the money resolution to ask the Minister to explain what physical assets in the Property Services Agency will be assigned to a privatised body and on what basis. Will such property and equipment remain in public ownership? Will it be leased to a privatised body or will it be given to such a body as a sweetener? In other words, is flotation envisaged?

It is rather unsatisfactory when a Member of Parliament raises a bit ad hominem the position of two key individuals--in this case Mr. Bob Etherington and Mr. Patrick Brown--and the Minister replies, "If you want answers to those questions perhaps you will get them from the Secretary of State for the Environment." He was courteous enough to say that the Secretary of State for the Environment had come in to hear my speech. I thank him for his courtesy, but the purpose of the House of Commons is not to be courteous but to give answers. Precisely because Ministers have had time

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is right that the purpose of the House is to give answers, provided that it is to the right motion. I am having some difficulty in understanding what relevance this has to the Bill.

Mr. Dalyell : You are at some disadvantage, Mr. Speaker, because when you were out of the Chamber, the occupant of the Chair listened rather carefully to what I was saying and made no attempt to rule me out of order although I spoke at some length. I believe that I am in order under the terms of paragraph 8 of the National Audit Office report and under the terms of the Bill.

If particular cases are raised, they should, not least for the sake of the individuals concerned, be answered in the reply to the debate. Therefore, I was disappointed simply to hear that the Secretary of State for the Environment was courteous enough to come and hear me. Some answer should have been forthcoming on a rather major issue of principle.

In relation to property and equipment, will the Minister explain in terms of the money resolution how such valuable public resources are to be valued, who will be given the task and how soon such a portfolio would be completed? What assurance can the Minister give the House that such a valuation would be able to withstand public scrutiny so ensuring that the public was not ripped off in the privatisation of the PSA and Crown Suppliers?

I am entitled to ask the Chief Secretary again whether it is true that Miss Jeannie Turton chaired a committee on behalf of the Treasury that opposed privatisation. One of the central units in the Treasury made a similar report, and we know that Dewi Jones also did so. Was my description of the circumstances of the report by Coopers and

Column 784

Lybrand correct? Was Mr. Etherington's organisation correct in its valuation? Was what I said about it factually true?

While the Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Bill refers to the transfer of undertakings under Protection of Employment Regulations 1981, what undertakings is the Minister prepared to give in regard to any person or persons subsequently made redundant under the new private body--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, who rightly said that I was not present during his previous speech. However, it seems to me that these matters are concerned with the Second Reading debate rather than with the money resolution.

Mr. Dalyell : I think, with respect, Mr. Speaker, that we are in some difficulty. The Minister quite properly conceded that there was to be a fag end of the Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Bill-- honourably, he nods in assent--among the bodies that we are discussing. Surely, therefore, I am entitled to ask general questions--

Mr. Speaker : Order. No. The money resolution covers the payment of loans to Government trading funds under new section 1(5) and new section 2B(2), (7) and (8) of the Government Trading Funds Act 1973 relating to payments into the national loans fund or the consolidated fund ; under new section 2A(5) relating to public dividend capital ; new section 4A(6) relating to operations ceasing to be funded ; and clause 2(1)(b) relating to increases of pensions.

Mr. Dalyell : Under new section 2A may I raise a question that has concerned the trade unions about protection from asset stripping? Given the nature of the construction industry, is it not necessary that bidders for the Property Services Agency and the Crown Suppliers do not seek to asset- strip those organisations? The trade unions do not want a repeat of the royal ordnance factory fiasco. They therefore ask that amendments to the Bill

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Peter Lilley) : Which Bill?

Mr. Dalyell : --are supported to ensure that windfall profits from the sale do not accrue to the Treasury. I say to the Financial Secretary that of course I am referring to the Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Bill. It is easy to assert that that Bill is not relevant to the money resolution of today's discussion. If that is so, why on earth mention the Crown Suppliers in the Bill that we are discussing? Ministers cannot have it both ways. I believe that these are legitimate questions and that they deserve some answer here and now.

9.18 pm

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Richard Luce) : In a moment, I shall try to help the hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr. Cryer), but first I should like to respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I thought that I had made it plain in my reply to the Second Reading debate that many of the points that he raised about the Property Services Agency were related to the provisions that we are debating on the privatisation of the bulk of the PSA and that I would draw his worries to the attention of my right hon. Friend the

Column 785

Secretary of State for the Environment, who will no doubt wish to comment on them. Of course I will do that, and I will do the same on the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised under the money resolution. I shall draw those matters to the attention of my right hon. Friend. I am concerned that the hon. Gentleman should get a proper answer. Most of those issues, including the references to Mr. Etherington and Mr. Brown, do not relate to the Government Trading Bill. It would not be right or proper for me to answer those points specifically.

Next Section

  Home Page