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Lord Ampthill: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down will he help us by explaining why he believes that the control of our affairs has passed from the Clerk of the Parliaments into the hands of, he says, "the lawyers", purely because the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has chosen to accept advice from the counsel to the Chairman of Committees, who happens to have been a servant of this House for 20 years or more and is one of the most brilliant lawyers whom we are extremely fortunate to have at our disposal? Why should that mean that we are presenting all our affairs into the hands of, he says, "the lawyers"? Can he answer that?

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, yes, I think I can. Before I do so, I preface my remarks by saying that

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I have the utmost regard for the counsel to the Chairman of Committees and his integrity not only as a lawyer but as a servant of this House. I hope that any of my remarks which may have given a different impression will be struck out.

I suggest that the control of the printing and publishing of our proceedings will be surrendered from the Clerk of the Parliaments to the lawyers and the Law Courts because of the paragraph in the contract that I read out. On page 28 of the report, Clause 28.8 headed "Governing Law and Jurisdiction" states:

    "This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and the parties hereby submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts".

We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, that there are large question marks about how the electronic contract will be interpreted. I suspect that at the end of the day it will have to be interpreted by the courts. That is why I suggested that we are surrendering control of the publication and printing of our proceedings from ourselves and our servants to the jurisdiction of the courts. That is my interpretation of the draft contract. If the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal has a different interpretation and can argue that the contract cannot be tested in an English court but will be subject to variation and determination by the Clerk of the Parliaments at will, that is a rather curious situation.

I hope that I have not detained the House too long.

3.52 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I did not put my name down to speak in this debate because, owing to my attendance at a meeting upstairs, I did not think I should be able to do so. I find I am free to speak and I have listened to the whole of this debate except for the first few minutes of the speech of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal.

I am broadly in favour of what the Government propose but I should be glad of an assurance with regard to reports for which there is still a demand but which are no longer in print. I mention the report of the Committee on the Preparation of Legislation, which will be familiar to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, because he was a member of the committee. The report has twice been reprinted. My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham described it when he was Lord Chancellor as a best seller. It has been a best seller almost continuously and is still in demand, not only in this country but in the Commonwealth, and indeed in the European Community where it is sometimes used.

We were told last year that such reports, of which there is no longer a supply available, could be provided by photocopying and charged for at a flat rate which was then--and I hope still is--£5 per copy, whatever the original or current price of the report may be. That is a service of great value provided by Her Majesty's Stationery Office. One wonders whether that arrangement will continue when the service is run on a commercial basis. There are many other reports like the one I mentioned which were published a good many years ago to which we need to have access in order to perform our parliamentary duties. It would be a great

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pity if those reports were either made prohibitive in price in order to make them commercially viable or not produced at all.

I am afraid I have not given notice of this matter to my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal. If he were able to give some indication of what is likely to happen, that would be a great help. If he cannot answer my question now, I should be grateful if the matter could be put on record, perhaps by a Question for Written Answer when we reassemble in October.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I rise with the indulgence of the House following the indication by the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal that he would give an answer to the question I asked during the earlier proceedings on the Offices Committee report relating to the role of the EC in this matter. Can he say whether, if the question of privatisation had not arisen at all and the arrangement had been left exactly as it is now, the European Community would have any right to insist on its rules being enforced in regard to competition. Is it only because of the privatisation that the Commission now has a right under the competition laws to insist that the next contract be put out to open tender?

I apologise to the House for rising in the interval.

3.57 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am tempted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, in suggesting what one might do in selling off part of the services of this House to various private enterprises. I was thinking, as he spoke, of the contract we might let out for the Line of Route and whether Centerparcs would counter-bid against Walt Disney for it, but that is perhaps delving into the future of the role of privatisation.

Given the position we have reached, it seems to me that this is in many ways a very satisfactory contract. I congratulate those concerned on the fact that they have negotiated a lowering of prices. We all share the strongest interest in the widest possible public dissemination of Parliament in debate and report to British citizens at the lowest possible cost. If we achieve that, it will be a major step forward.

I support my noble friend Lord Lester in underlining that the speed at which the nature of publishing is changing suggests that in future the electronic dimension will become increasingly important. That is something which will clearly need to be looked at further as more and more of the younger generation automatically turn to the Internet to receive information. They will want access to parliamentary reports and parliamentary business.

My wider concerns are partly the question of conflicts of interest and partly the whole question of a private monopoly. The noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal underlined the point made in the report of the Offices Committee that the two Houses themselves are the Stationery Office's most important customers. We are moving from a public service to a licensed private monopoly, back to the world of the 18th century when a sovereign Parliament dealt with contractors of one sort or

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another, contracting to provide regiments in some cases, printing services in others. It seems sadly poetic that it was Edmund Burke who was responsible for the Act that set up Her Majesty's Stationery Office and that a party which has lost touch with the traditions of Edmund Burke should now be the one proposing to privatise it. As I listened to the noble Viscount I wondered what the great Lord Salisbury would have said about a proposal to privatise the Queen's printer or what Disraeli or indeed Churchill would have said. I have little doubt that they would have called it ludicrous.

There are questions about commercial enterprise and public interest which go further than my noble friend Lord Lester suggested. Ought we to have written into the contract that the commercial enterprise which operates this private monopoly should, as a condition of acceptance, not be allowed to contribute from its funds to any particular political party? There is a real conflict of interest. Given the current state of British law on publication of party accounts, it seems to me that we should consider strengthening controls. It is part of the morass one gets into when one loses sight of the difference between public enterprise, public service and private monopoly.

Having spoken those cautionary words, I believe that the contract as negotiated within those terms is a good one. It is also highly desirable--and here I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Bruce--that it is a short-term contract. We will therefore have the opportunity to find out within a limited time whether it has lived up to our expectations.

4 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, given how controversial the matter is, I am extremely grateful to noble Lords who have spoken for their moderate and constructive attitude. That is a heartfelt expression of my feelings. I shall try to answer questions as briefly as I can.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that I shall return to what my great-great-grandfather might have said in a moment. The proposal to privatise the Queen's printer is not what is at stake here. As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, the Queen's printer will be retained in the public sector in the so-called residual HMSO. So technically that is not what we are doing and it is important that there should be a place for the copyright still to reside, and for there to be, in the jargon, an intelligent customer for it.

The whole House is well aware of the service which my noble friend Lord Renton and his colleagues provided not only to this House but to Parliament as a whole by the publication of his report. I believe that the report is under Crown copyright, but he will correct me if I am wrong. The privatised Stationery Office, like HMSO at present, will reprint documents when there is a continuing demand for them. Thereafter, I am advised that the photocopying service from the British Library will continue to be offered. If my noble friend Lord Renton has difficulty with the effectiveness of the service--and from the tone of his remarks I detect that he may--it might be worth considering the developing electronic services.

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The noble Lord, Lord Lester, drew our attention to those services, despite their being technically outside the scope of the debate. We can ascertain, as they develop, whether the benefits of the new technology can help us make more readily available not only future reports, existing reports and papers but also reports like that of my noble friend which are of continuing interest to your Lordships' House.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made it clear that he was sympathetic to the ideas expressed from all sides of your Lordships' House, particularly over the past two years, that we should try to improve the preparation and control of legislation. I hope that my noble friend Lord Renton will continue to keep a watching brief on this important question. Perhaps the Offices Committee, in its monitoring of the implementation of the electronic aspect of the subject that we are debating, might wish to return to find out whether we could build on our initial foray onto the Internet. We could try to ensure that the services we offer are not only as good as they are at the moment but are radically improved.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, asked a question and I should have been greatly disappointed if he had not managed to bring the European Union into our debate. Needless to say, I should not have worried. European Union law would apply, as it does in all cases in this country, to the extent that powers have been delegated by this sovereign Parliament to the European Union. But where services are provided within the same legal entity, I am advised that they would not have applied if we had not privatised HMSO. I am also advised that this House and HMSO, while it is in the public sector, would be considered to be one legal entity. That explains why the answer to the noble Lord's question is the one that I have just given.

The extent of EC procurement jurisdiction was the subsidiary point that the noble Lord made in an earlier intervention to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. I am also advised that directives under the EC treaties set out a legal framework to which public authorities and utilities must adapt their contract award procedures. The directives have been implemented in the United Kingdom by four sets of regulations covering supplies, works, services and utilities. The contracts which are covered must be the subject of a call for competition in the official journal of the European Union. The directives do not apply to the award of service concession contracts. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, was also concerned--

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