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Crown Suppliers

Volume 126: debated on Monday 1 February 1988

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4.26 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the future of the Crown Suppliers."
My interest in this matter did not begin this afternoon; it is of long standing. On 9 December 1987, I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he had to privatise the Crown Suppliers; and if he would make a statement.

The Minister replied:
"I am considering various possibilities for the future of the Crown Suppliers, following two reports by consultants, one of which concerned the feasibility of privatisation."
It was within your hearing, Mr. Speaker, this afternoon that the Minister was asked questions upon the Coopers and Lybrand report. Those questions were not answered. He was then asked questions about the Dewi Jones report, which were not answered. I do not know whether those reports are in the Library, but I asked for all information and I received a precis saying that Dewi Jones' general conclusion was
"that parts of TCS could be privatised, but that priority should be given to the introduction of a number of improved working practices."
Parliament needs to know a great deal more about that.

The Minister's answer continued:
"I have recently received detailed and comprehensive comments from representatives of the staff of the Crown Suppliers, and I do not propose to announce a decision until these have been fully considered." —[Official Report, 9 December 1987; Vol. 124, c. 176.]
This afternoon we heard nothing about the full consideration of the views of the staff. I understand that 1,900 jobs will disappear and that there will be a loss of expert advice; 500 new jobs may be created, but that is far from clear.

Part of the trouble is that the Crown Suppliers dared to criticise the DTI and angered the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. They have also said that small businesses may be harmed. The press reports may not be far wrong about the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. However, the Minister must explain why that privatisation is to go ahead on a falling stock market and the consequences to the taxpayer.

There are urgent questions that are local to the House about the future expertise in the House of Commons. We are all concerned about matters that affect us, but there is an even greater problem in regard to the reconstruction of furniture in Hampton Court. It is an absolute traduction of the House of Commons for the Minister to make such a statement and hope to get away with it. The sooner that we have a debate on the issue the better.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the future of the Crown Suppliers."
I have listened with care to what the hon. Member has said. I was in the Chair when the Minister made his statement. I regret that I cannot rule that this matter is appropriate to be discussed under Standing Order No. 20. I therefore cannot submit his application to the House. I am sure that the hon. Member will have opportunities, and certainly when the Bill is debated, to bring his points to the Floor of the House.