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Written Answers to Questions

Tuesday 19 March 1996

DUCHY OF LANCASTER

Access to Government Information

Mr. Pawsey: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the operation of the code of practice on access to Government information during 1995. [22057]

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Mr. Freeman: I have today announced the publication of the Government's report on the operation of the code of practice during 1995, copies of which have been placed in the Library of the House.

Executive Agencies

Mr. Cummings: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister on how many occasions in each of the past five years Ministers in his Department have passed (a) hon. Members' letters and (b) hon. Members' questions to agencies for response; and what this figure is as a percentage of the total number of letters and questions received. [19420]

Mr. Willetts: Records are not held centrally for letters received before July 1993, when computer records began. The table covers the number of hon. Members' letters passed to agencies for response and this figure as a percentage of the total number of letters from July 1993:

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1993 (from 1 July 1993) 1994 1995 1996 (up to 14 March 1996
NumberPercentageNumberPercentageNumberPercentageNumberPercentage
CCC--------10.07----
COI(1)10.310.1580.510.2
CSC10.320.340.25----
HMSO(1)20.6101.6130.981.6
OHSA10.3----50.310.2
RAS51.6101.6100.640.8
SAFE(1)------------20.4
TBA(2)----------------

(1)Agencies which are Government Departments in their own right, reporting to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

(2)Agencies which transferred to the Office of Public Service on 1 January 1996.


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Secondly, since this Department was formed in May 1992 the number of hon. Members' questions passed to agencies for response and this figure as a percentage of the total number of letters received is shown in the table:

Parliamentary years

1992-931993-941994-951995 (up to 14 March 1996)
Total PQs778768791477
Agency answers2nil86
Percentage of total0.25nil1.011.25

Recruitment and Assessment Services

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what steps he has taken to protect the pension entitlement of staff of Recruitment and Assessment Services; what assessment he has made of efficiency gains from privatisation; and if he will make a statement.[20663]

Mr. Willetts: All those bidding to acquire Recruitment and Assessment Services will have to offer its staff a pension scheme certified by the Government Actuary as offering broadly comparable benefits to those available in the principal civil service pension scheme, or to offer sufficient compensation--such as a higher rate of pay--where benefits are not comparable. Bidders not fulfilling this requirement will be disqualified.

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Further efficiency gains can be expected after privatisation. RAS will be free to pursue new business in the private and public sectors and so will be able to spread its overheads over a wider customer base.

HMSO (Privatisation)

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what length of notice customer organisations of the HMSO agency were given regarding its proposed privatisation; and if he will make a statement. [20605]

Mr. Freeman: I announced a review of options for the future of HMSO, with a view to privatisation, on 27 September 1995 and confirmed the Government's intention to sell the business on 13 December. Customers have been aware of our proposals since then.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster which functions of HMSO are to be sold in the course of its privatisation; and if he will make a statement. [20667]

Mr. Freeman: HMSO's business includes print, publishing and distribution, office supplies, business systems, office furniture and copiers. It has facilities across the UK to serve its almost exclusively public sector customers.

As I said in the House on 13 December last year, at column 989, the Government intend to privatise the whole of HMSO, apart from a small residual body carrying out statutory and quasi-statutory functions.

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Mr. Redmond: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what factors underlay his decision on the time scale for privatising HMSO; and if he will make a statement. [20622]

Mr. Freeman: My aim is to complete the privatisation as soon as possible, subject to the need to ensure that the process is fully controlled and that all relevant concerns have been addressed.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what consultations he held with staff of HMSO prior to the announcement of its privatisation; and if he will make a statement. [20662]

Mr. Freeman: I gave details of my contacts with HMSO staff and unions in my answer of 4 December 1995 to the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East, column 33. Since then, I have had a further meeting with national and local trade union representatives.

The Government are committed to ensuring that staff are treated fairly during the privatisation, and to ensuring that their legal rights are fully respected. I and my colleagues and officials will continue to keep HMSO staff informed, and are willing to hold further meetings as necessary.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has for a public consultation in respect of the privatisation of HMSO; and if he will make a statement. [20668]

Mr. Freeman: I and my officials are naturally willing to discuss matters with those with an interest in HMSO. In particular, we have already been in contact with customers and suppliers of HMSO, trade associations, unions and others with a direct interest in HMSO's privatisation.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what steps he is taking to protect the pension entitlement of staff of HMSO after privatisation; what assessments he has made of efficiency gains from the privatisation; and if he will make a statement. [20666]

Mr. Freeman: All those bidding to acquire HMSO will have to offer its staff a pension scheme certified by the Government Actuary as offering broadly comparable benefits to those available in the principal civil service pension scheme. Bidders not fulfilling this requirement will be disqualified.

Privatisation should result in efficiency gains in several areas. Trading in wider markets will enable the privatised business to spread its overheads over a wider customer base, the stationery office will become free to borrow and invest without seeking prior Treasury approval, and it will be freely able to diversify as business opportunities become available. This is consistent with the experience of previous privatisations.

By contrast, if HMSO were to remain in the public sector, it would continue to be constrained by its shrinking market and the rigours of public expenditure controls. In these circumstances, further widespread job losses would be inevitable, resulting in an added burden to the taxpayer.

Mr. Redmond: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what assessment he has made of the market value of the skills of HMSO staff for the purposes of privatisation; and if he will make a statement. [20725]

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Mr. Freeman: The skills of HMSO's staff contribute to its performance. HMSO's trading record, together with its prospects and the value of its physical assets, provide the basis for the benchmark valuation which will be constructed by my advisors. It is not possible to separate out a value for staff skills, nor is it desirable to make public the overall valuation, since that would damage the Government's negotiating position and their ability to secure the best deal.

Parliamentary Questions

Mr. Donohoe: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) what has been the total cost of answering questions to the Deputy Prime Minister; [21176]

The Deputy Prime Minister: The information as requested is not available.


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