§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
I beg to move, in page 13, line 13, after "Treasury," to insert "and Board."
There are several Amendments on the Order Paper in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself on this subject. At the outset, I wish to ask the Minister's pardon in warning him that the barometer, having been set fair this afternoon, may change slightly. Perhaps it would meet the convenience of the Committee if we also discussed the Amendments, in page 13, line 16, at the end, to insert:and—Provided also that no sale or other disposal of any securities or other assets by the Agency the total consideration for which exceeds one hundred thousand pounds shall be valid unless the Minister shall have previously signified his approval thereof; and his approval shall not be effective, until he shall have so signified 1329 it by a direction in that behalf to be given by a statutory instrument which shall be laid before the Commons House of Parliament and shall not come into operation unless and until affirmed by a resolution of that House,and in Clause 17, page 14, line 34, to leave out "consult with," and insert "obtain the approval of." I hope the Committee are satisfied that these Amendments can be taken together as seeking the same objective.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
On a point of order. May we have your Ruling, Sir Gordon, on whether we may discuss these Amendments together? I think it would be highly convenient to do so.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
It is a matter for the Committee, but I think it would be convenient.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
I understood that this arrangement had been approved by what are known as the usual channels. No doubt, because of the other work which he has to do, the Financial Secretary was not aware of it.
This afternoon the Committee have reminded me of a reasonably contented and happy family—the sort of large family which everyone can imagine and which discusses things quite happily during life but in which there is quite a different atmosphere on the day when the will is read. I suggest that we have now reached that part of the Bill where the will is about to be read—who is to have what and how much and when and where; and that, of course, raises some very important issues.
As has been said so often, we desire to make the Bill work and, as far as possible, to remove all unnecessary work from the Board as they go along. In arranging for the disposal of Britain's finest assets, John Bull's Steel Company, Limited, which has been doing a grand job, and in the allocation of these assets, we want to see that the best possible job is done.
This Clause deals with what is known as the duties and set up of the Realisation Agency. We would give it a different name, but I am assured that if I were to use some of the names which we have 1330 suggested, I should be both un-Parliamentary and out of order. We look upon the Realisation Agency as the body which will be called upon to dissipate those assets to the best possible immediate advantage, if finance and finance alone is allowed to decide. I shall come to that in a moment. In other words, the Realisation Agency are to be given the sole power to determine. We want the words to be "Agency and Board"; we want the Agency and the Board to determine and not the Agency alone. But the Bill lays down that the Agency shall determine what shall be done with the steel industry.
We are very gravely concerned about this. Already, as we know, interested parties are looking at the potential financial gain which might accrue. There are two aspects to which very serious consideration should be given. First, there is the short-term, financial grab aspect—get what you want as quickly as you can and as much as you can without paying too much regard to the ultimate potential. Secondly, there is the wiser precaution of seeing that, before the smash and grab begins to operate, every possible avenue is explored so that, as a result of the sale of these great assets, which the country now owns, the units at the disposal of the national need will be viable units of the best possible size and technical efficiency. In other words, we want the public interest to be safeguarded.
We seek, in the first instance, to insert the words "and Board." We have been told repeatedly by the Minister—and I give him credit for believing that what he promises will in fact happen—that the best brains which the country can find will be brought in for this work—people who are qualified to talk about scientific research, technical people, financial people, those who have had to deal with trade unions, and, in short, a company of people who know all there is to know about the existing situation and all there is to know about the future potential of this great industry. But we are told by the Bill that an agency set up by the Treasury, consisting entirely of financiers, are to deal with the disposal of these assets and we are told that they alone shall determine what is to be done.
We think that is completely wrong. We think that the Agency should be, if not subservient to, certainly under some form 1331 of direction from, and working in close connection with the Board. We believe that to give financiers the power to sell these assets, without the regard which we claim should be paid to the future of the industry, is wrong, and we therefore seek to insert the words, "and Board." I know that the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us later that the Bill provides that there shall be consultation with the Board, but we are tired of hearing this phrase "shall consult with." We want the Board to have some real say and we want to ensure that attention is paid to their views and that their advice is followed.
The Agency will set about the job of selling the assets. We believe that it would be in the best interests of the industry and the country and, indeed, of the speculators who are prepared to put money into the privately-owned sector, if, before the assets are sold, the Board expressed its views to the Agency, bearing in mind all the knowledge they will have at their disposal. There are all sorts of considerations. I can visualise a situation in which the financiers, with no real knowledge of this great industry but with a deep knowledge of the difference between 3½ per cent. and 3¾ per cent., will make bids for some sections of the industry.
The Bill provides that the Agency may sell any company or part of a company and may integrate companies, bring together groups of companies, may hire or lease or otherwise dispose of companies. We have yet to discover what this term "otherwise dispose of" means. Does it mean that some part of the industry will be part of a national lottery or will be given away? We shall try to find out later in the Bill. We suggest in the first instance that the Board shall act in conjunction with the Agency and determine the issue. We do not suggest "consulted." I have been in the steel industry and I have consulted with a great many people in it. We never were able to come to a determination, so that consultation was frittered away. We say that should be avoided by making the word "determined." We want to see the Board brought into close contact with the work of the Agency to determine what is going to happen.
1332 Lots of things are being said about the possibilities through the selling out of these great assets. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may think that what I am saying is farcical, but I always like to put into their minds the general position in the industry, particularly those who are remote from it. We know that there are those who will be in a position to make the highest bids and that the Treasury will be listening avidly to the higher rather than the lower bidder. We are concerned with the type of person or type of financial organisation that will make offers for any part of our great industry. Reference has already been made to the fact that some very intelligent, well-read steel workers of this country have been inquiring about the possibility of some of the money at present accruing to Herr Krupp finding its way into the British steel industry.
We want to know something about this. I personally cannot say anything. Everyone knows I am not a financier. I am more at home with a No. 14 shovel than a financier's pen. I do not intend to go into high finance, but these are questions that are being asked. Others want to know to what extent American dollars will come into the industry. In other words, to what extent can outside money, other than British money, be brought into this industry. The Agency has been told to get rid of Britain's steel assets, and I am hoping that we shall get some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman at the end of the debate on this series of Amendments.
There is the question of viability of the units to be sold. There has been a considerable integration of a technical character in this industry. There has not been so much geographical integration, but there is still room in my opinion for it, and the Board could advise prior to sale what are the best types of viable units to be floated on the market. That is the sort of thing we believe they ought to be called upon to do, not when this thing has taken place but before the sales are undertaken. I could go into great detail on this matter, but I will refrain from doing so. If I were a person in a position to bid for some parts of the iron and steel industry as I know it, there are some healthy looking parts I would be prepared to bid for, but there are other 1333 parts I would not. I know sections of the industry which through integration would be a very fine asset.
We on this side of the Committee make no excuse for telling the Government that we want to see the best possible form of units sold with the highest peak of efficiency under the conditions obtaining. We suggest to Her Majesty's Government that it is of vital importance that instead of the Treasury being the determining factor in this case, the Board should be brought into the scheme to operate and supervise the units, and that they should be brought in earlier than is proposed. We suggest that they would do a much better job if they were brought in first rather than last, and that they would prevent an enormous amount of mischief afterwards.
We must remember that the workers' interests are concerned here. The Minister in his last statement to the Committee used the phrase "whole or part of it." It has become accepted by the Government that part of this industry cannot be sold, and it will be that part that will require the greatest and most serious attention. It will be the inefficient part, and it requires to be assured of the best type and quality of raw materials and technical resources.
§ Mr. Sandys
I was talking about the accounts. What I was referring to was that the accounts will have to be presented in this coming year, for example, and no one is going to suggest—we did not suggest it in the White Paper—that the whole industry would be sold off in the first accounting period. But I never said anything to suggest that we did not believe that all the companies would not be sold. I said nothing of the sort.
§ Mr. Jones
The right hon. Gentleman agreed that a ready sale of the whole of the firms is not immediately feasible. Indeed, it lays it down in the White Paper—the Government's own declaration—that it will be some considerable time before certain units of the industry are sold. We believe that as the privately owned sector is improved upon and furnished with raw materials and looked after, the position of that part left in public ownership will be worsened and not bettered. It will become more diffi- 1334 cult to sell as the years go on. It is logical to make that assertion in this Committee, because we think that events will prove that to be the case.
I want to go back to the question of grouping. We believe that it would be right and proper for the Board to make suggestions that after the day's shooting the pheasants should be mixed a little with the crows. Those who come along and want the fat pheasants should take one of the crows along with them. That is one way of putting it, and probably hon. Members will remember the story of the man dividing the shoot at the end of the day. One of the men kept saying "A crow for you, a pheasant for me." When the birds had been distributed, it was found that one man had all the pheasants and the other had all the crows. But we will not dwell on that.
We sincerely suggest that the Board should be brought into the picture along with the Agency and act in conjunction with it. We are opposed to them being brought in and consulted at the end of the day. As laid down in the Bill, the Agency is to determine what is to happen, but if our suggestion is adopted then a lot of mischief can be prevented.
We come to the second part of the Amendments before the Committee. These lay down that the Agency shall act under the supervision of the Board, and will comply with such directions as will be given from time to time by the Board to the Agency. The right hon. Gentleman might take a serious exception to that. We are not submitting this Amendment in the sense that the Board should dictate to the Agency. We do not suggest in any shape or form that the Board should have anything at all to do with the actual holding of the finances or the allocation of the price and the money, and so on. We think, however, that they should have everything to do with the bringing about of the best possible type of viable units to be sold. We suggest that these directions might be allowed to guide the Agency in doing what they and the Board in its wisdom—and it will have great wisdom—believe to be in the best interests of the over-all situation and of the country.
We submit the Amendment to leave out the words "consult with" and to insert "obtain the approval of" in the spirit of trying to improve the Bill and 1335 to prevent unnecessary trouble in the future. This great industry is one unit now, owned and controlled by the State, but it is to be dismembered, hacked about, torn limb from limb. We want to see that in this hacking and tearing, this dissipation or selling out of the assets—this is not so serious a term as "dissipation"—the best possible job will be done, having regard to the future potential production of the industry rather than to the immediate, short-term consideration of getting hold of the money. It is one thing to sell quickly and then wish we had not done so, but it is far wiser to take time over it.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have the numerical majority, and we accept democracy as it stands. The Bill will go on to the Statute Book, but we want to see the best possible job made of it. The Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary in replying will probably use legal phrases which are easily understood by the lawyers, but we want to be very sure that the intentions of the Bill are laid down in words that we understand, in simple language. It is in that spirit that we move the Amendment.
We could go on and talk about the effect of wrong grouping, and the effect of the Bill on the women and children dependent upon the companies who will be left outside the privately owned sector. It is said that the Board will look after their interests, but we know that tremendous pressure has been put upon the Board to look after the interests of those who will make tenders for purchase. No one will purchase the parts of this industry without getting assurances about raw materials, labour, housing, new types of steel, the trend in world markets, and so on. We are gravely concerned about this Clause. We are trying to ensure that, instead of wishing after the mischief has taken place that we had taken a little more time, we shall not let ourselves get into that position. We are hopeful that the Amendments will be accepted in the spirit in which they are moved.
§ Mr. Summers
The subject matter of this group of Amendments has been described by the sponsors as "smash and grab," "pheasant shooting" and "tearing limb from limb." I was beginning to wonder whether the subject matter of 1336 the Amendments was hunting, shooting or fishing.
The idea put forward by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) was at variance with the fundamental structure of the Bill, and the Amendment ought to be rejected by the Minister. In considering what type of asset shall be sold at any one moment, the question of the grouping within the industry is irrelevant. The Treasury, as trustee for the taxpayers' money, will have an interest in getting as reasonable a price as it can. There are technical considerations and financial considerations. It seems a very logical set-up, in the light of these possibly divergent considerations, to have on the one hand an Agency concerned primarily with finance and a Board concerned primarily with the efficient conduct of the industry. and, where there is a conflict between those two considerations, for the Government, through the Treasury, to arbitrate to decide which of the two considerations should have the greater weight.
If the Amendments were accepted, the Board would be pulled out of their proper sphere of responsibility, namely the efficient running of the industry. It is already provided that the Agency shall consult the Board to make sure that technical considerations are taken into account. The suggestion is made that the Board should be paramount in such matters and be able to override the Agency in the case of financial matters which the Agency may put forward. That is an undesirable position in which to put the Board. The Treasury ought to consider, in the name of the Government, which of the two considerations should be paramount, and should vary or approve the recommendations which may come to them from those two bodies.
I hope, therefore, that the functions of the Board will be kept to the technical responsibilities which are already provided for under other Clauses, that those of the Agency will be kept to financial considerations, and that the Treasury will be the paramount agency through which the views of the Government of the day are brought to bear on cases of this kind.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones (Birmingham, Hall Green)
I do not find myself going quite so far in my opposition to these Amendments as my hon. Friend the Member for 1337 Aylesbury (Mr. Summers). I find myself in some sympathy with the thought behind them, although wholly out of sympathy with the form in which they are cast—a dilemma in which I often find myself in regard to Opposition Amendments. It seems to me that the Amendments make for confused responsibility. The first one, on behalf of which the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) spoke, lays it down that the Agency shall act with the approval of the Treasury and the Board. But suppose they gave contradictory advice? Which is to prevail? The Amendment does not tell us and, if we adopted it, we should be prescribing for a stalemate.
I do not think hon. Members have that kind of confusion in mind, but in so far as they want to move away from that confusion the whole bias of the speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham lay towards giving entire responsibility to the Board. That, of course, would mean transferring the question of sale from the Treasury to the Ministry of Supply, and that would seem to me to be a very questionable constitutional procedure.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing a false point and I want to hear his argument on the true point. His argument is that if the words we suggest are here inserted, namely, that the Board also should give their consent before the sale, there might be conflict between the Board and the Treasury which would lead to constitutional difficulties. The trouble is that at the moment the Board are not to be consulted at all, only the Treasury has to decide on the question of sale. We say that the Board have as great an interest in the question of sale as the Treasury and we want the Board to come into the picture.
§ Mr. Jones
I am aware of the difficulty which the right hon. Gentleman has described and I was about to suggest a way out of it. I do not think he is quite right in saying that the Board are not to be consulted at all because Clause 17 lays it down that the Board are to be consulted on regrouping. I sympathise with the fundamental thought of the hon. Member for Rotherham, which I take to be that industrial considerations may be in conflict with the financial considerations.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones
I think the hon. Member is exaggerating the possibility of conflict but I can see that it might exist. We are all agreed that no regrouping shall be undertaken in a manner likely to be prejudicial to the economic well-being of the industry. I should have thought we could have found a form of words which would provide that if the Board were to raise objections that a certain plan was not conducive to the economic welfare of the industry the Agency would not proceed with it; we could impose a limitation or restraint of that kind on the operations of the Agency.
At the same time it seems to me that the responsibility must be absolutely clear. The responsibility must be that of the Agency and of the Treasury working within that limitation. I should be prepared to go that far to meet the hon. Gentleman, but not to the extent that these Amendments ask.
§ Mr. Robson Brown
This issue is an important one and it is well that we should debate it on the Floor of the Committee and have our minds quite clear about it. One thing that must be made evident to the country is that any financial transactions, regrouping, realignment and re-arrangements within the industry are in the general interests and betterment of the industry as such and are seen to be so.
Two bodies are being set up under the Bill. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) described the Board fairly accurately when he said they will be an extraordinarily competent, well-informed, technically efficient group of people with a certain measure of financial experience and judgment. The Agency will of necessity consist largely of financial minds. I feel that when technical issues are being decided, particularly re-grouping or re-alignment, the weight should be on the side of the Board. I do not know what form of words can be devised, but I appeal most sincerely to the Minister and to the Treasury to see whether some form can be found which will ensure that.
Here is a distinct and positive opportunity, that may not occur again, for making within the industry some efficient re-adjustments and regrouping that perhaps would otherwise be delayed for 1339 many years. Here is a chance where, for greater efficiency and for the greater benefit of the industry, certain re-arrangements might be made.
There is also another angle. There are within the industry many extremely efficient firms doing a first-class job of work, under personal leadership. We on this side have emphasised that again and again in our beliefs with regard to the way that the industry should be handled and the quality of the men in it. It would be a sad thing, and not a good thing, if sometimes one of those companies, because it had been extremely efficient, should be arbitrarily lumped in with another group.
§ Mr. Robson Brown
I think that that will be taken care of.
The hon. Gentleman introduced an extreme point when he said that foreign finance may come into the industry. I think that the Treasury are well seasoned in the way that that would be dealt with. I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) that the main thing is to find some form of words which would make it quite clear that on technical matters the last word regarding technical decisions should rest with the Board.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
It has been of great interest to us on this side to hear the views expressed by the hon. Members for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) and Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones). I sincerely hope that the occupants of the Government Front Bench will pay very great heed to what they have said. I turn briefly to a point which was raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers). The hon. Member seemed very anxious to separate the financial functions of the Agency from any other functions to do with the steel industry. I am in entire agreement with that, but can we have the hon. Member's opinion as to what is to happen with regard to those sections of the industry which are still held by the Agency because, for one reason or another, they have not been sold—and the period during which they hold those sections may go on for some quite considerable time?
1340 It is the duty of the Agency to promote the efficient direction of their subsidiaries. In other words, there will be this Treasury body, in effect, running the steel industry. If that is not bureaucracy gone mad, I should like to know what it is. We have heard a good deal about farming from Whitehall in one connection or another. Now, not only is the steel industry to be run from Whitehall, but it is to be done from the holy of holies—the Treasury.
§ Mr. Summers
My view of the role which the Agency will play towards those companies whose assets are not sold is that they will represent the Treasury as shareholders of those companies, but not as managers of them.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
It may be that they will not represent them as managers, but at the same time they have to promote the efficient direction of that part of the industry. That is in the very Clause which we are dealing with. If the Treasury is to promote the efficient direction of those companies, ultimately it will be responsible for management. It will have the shareholders' control and can turn out the management, and it will, therefore, be ultimately responsible for those, perhaps, very large sections of the industry.
I feel that that is a catastrophe and that we should not allow that sort of thing to happen. I hope that I am under a misapprehension. If I am, no doubt the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will enlighten me, but I sincerely hope that we are not to have the steel industry run from the Treasury of all places.
§ Mr. Robson Brown
I notice that the second Amendment in page 13, line 16, is being discussed with the other Amendments. So that there may be no misunderstanding, my personal view is that this would be a wholly undesirable Amendment from every point of view. It would virtually mean that the Board would be managing the industry, which I think should not be the case.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
I do not think there is very much between the two sides of the Committee on the objectives we are seeking on this point. Granted the decision to de-nationalise the industry, I imagine that hon. Members on 1341 both sides want two things. They want first, as the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) so well put it, that the industry shall be in decent shape. They equally want to be sure that this valuable piece of public property is sold at a fair and proper price. Those are the two objectives.
The discussion which arose on this series of Amendments is how best to secure these two objectives. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) said, the relationship between the Agency and the Board is a very important part of the whole proposals of this Bill. The scheme, which my hon. Friend described very vividly in a couple of phrases, does provide for the Board to supervise the industry as a whole and the Agency to undertake the work of disposal. In considerable degree those are distinct and separate functions which are perhaps best kept distinct.
The proposals in this series of Amendments provide in rather varying degrees for subordinating the Agency to the Board. The second Amendment, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) referred a moment ago, appears to go very far indeed. It provides, subject to such limitations as there might be in the Bill, for the Board to give directions to the Agency over the whole sphere. That seems to me to go very far. It also poses this difficulty which I ask hon. Members to consider—the difficulty of establishing responsibility.
Under the Bill as it stands the Treasury, which is responsible for the Agency, has to approve of all the disposals. As a consequence, of course, Treasury Ministers are responsible to this House. The ordinary methods of Parliamentary procedure can be used to bring home that responsibility. If in this matter the Board were given mandatory powers, interfering with and over-riding that responsibility, we would hopelessly blur the whole chain of responsibility and neither my right hon. Friend nor I could justify decisions to dispose of property if, in point of fact, we had not ultimately the authority to regulate disposals.
Most hon. Members will agree that when we are disposing of public property of great value in the narrow financial sense, and equally of enormous value in the broad economic sense to the well- 1342 being of this country, it is very proper that there should be a strict chain of Parliamentary accountability. That inevitably would be blurred if the Board were given this over-riding power, particularly as hon. Members will recall that the Minister of Supply does not have general overriding powers over the Board. We might be put in the position that among those responsible for this very important handling of public property of considerable value there was no one accountable to the House. That would be a result which all hon. Members would profoundly regret.
I would be prepared to concede this to the hon. Member for Rotherham. I agree that when we come to the subject matter of regrouping for the purpose of sale we are touching something which bears very directly upon the efficiency of the industry and upon the sphere, therefore, which is properly within the concern of the Board. The difficulty, as I understand it, is to reconcile those two somewhat conflicting considerations which I have tried to put before the Committee. I have been impressed by what has been said, particularly on this regrouping angle. That is the point, I think most hon. Members will agree, where the responsibilities and concerns of the Board and the Agency most obviously intersect and where it is perhaps a trifle unrealistic to pretend that their concerns cannot legitimately overlap. I cannot agree, for the reasons I have given, to provide as is suggested—which is indeed the main tenor of these Amendments—to make the Agency the subsidiary of the Board. That would go against the main structure of the Bill and the proposals which, for better or worse, we are putting forward as a solution of this far from easy problem. Equally, it would blur responsibility where, in my view, responsibility ought not to be blurred.
But if the Committee wish, it might be possible on the next stage of the Bill to provide a solution along these lines. If, in the case of a re-grouping, the Board were so seriously concerned that they would certify that the proposals would prejudice efficiency and the economic and adequate supply of iron and steel, then the Agency should not, by itself, have the power to over-rule them, but that responsibility should be placed directly on my right hon. Friend 1343 the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend would lay a Treasury Minute and no action would be taken for some period—shall we say 14 days—after that Minute had been laid before this House.
I am not in a position tonight, even were I allowed to do so, to tender a manuscript Amendment embodying that proposal. But if the Committee felt that would be a satisfactory way of meeting the genuine apprehensions which have been expressed, without prejudicing other considerations to which we attach considerable importance, my right hon. Friend and I would be prepared on Report stage to embody such proposals in an Amendment and to submit it to the judgment of the House.
So far as I can—and without sacrificing considerations which seem to me at least as important as do the others to him—I have tried to meet the point expressed by the hon. Member for Rotherham with his habitual sincerity and force. I appreciate that these somewhat complicated proposals are difficult to comprehend as they are spoken, and are perhaps more easily understood when read in the OFFICIAL REPORT. But a solution along those lines may appeal to the Committee as a sensible way of reconciling conflicting considerations of importance.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
Would the hon. Gentleman say something about the fears of those in the industry about the possibility of foreign money being brought into this question?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I will not say anything now, because that issue is directly raised in an Amendment to Clause 17. If the Committee desire I shall have something to say when we reach that Amendment. I should not like to inflict the same arguments upon hon. Members twice.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Would the hon. Gentleman be prepared to consult with the Minister about the possibility of submitting a manuscript Amendment before the end of the Committee stage? If this matter is deferred until Report stage the discussion will not be so satisfactory as it would be on Committee stage.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I appreciate that point and would meet the hon. Member if I could. But he will understand that the drafting of such proposals is not a matter which any sensible person would undertake off the cuff. It would be more convenient if this came in at Report stage, but I will see that it is tabled as early as possible so that hon. Members may have time to study it properly.
§ Mr. Summers
Am I right in assuming that the intention of the Minister to bring forward a solution to this problem will have the effect, in those circumstances where there is a conflict of interest between the financial and the technical considerations involved, of placing upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer the ultimate responsibility for the solution of that inter-play of forces?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That would be so, subject to the overriding authority of the House of Commons and to the fact that the steps I have outlined would be designed to ensure that Parliament was fully aware of the issue and could make up its mind on it.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
We appreciate what the Financial Secretary has said. He need have no fear about the clarity of his statement. We understood it fully. We realise that he has gone some way to meet us on one Amendment, but we are not satisfied on another. The Financial Secretary told us that our Amendment in page 13, line 16, where we seek to put the Agency under the general direction of the Board, is unacceptable. Bearing in mind the previous Amendments which have been rejected, his case was logical.
We sought to make the Board responsible to the Minister of Supply so that we could always tackle him about any matter affecting the efficiency of the industry. There would have been a Minister constitutionally responsible to Parliament for the actions of the Board; but now that the Board is not to be responsible in any way to the Minister, and the Minister cannot give directions, our case for putting the Agency under the Board is much weakened. Although we still think that the Agency should follow the general orders and directions of the Board, we agree that our case is much weakened.
I admit that the Financial Secretary has gone some way towards meeting our 1345 Amendment to Clause 17, page 14, line 34, where we seek to ensure that, in regrouping, the approval of the Board should be obtained. We want to be sure that technical points affecting the efficiency of the industry should be considered as more important than the financial aspect, and that the Treasury in its desire to carry out its duty to sell units should not sacrifice the efficiency or the prosperity of the industry by some regrouping which the Board thought was undesirable on technical grounds.
We will consider carefully the extent to which the proposals which the Government have made to amend the Bill meet our point of view. If it is possible to put down the Amendments before we conclude the Committee stage, so much the better; but we will look forward to seeing the proposals at any rate on Report stage. I can go no further now than to accept the statement and to thank the Government for going some way to meeting our point of view.
But on the Amendment now before us we have not been met at all. This Amendment concerns the duty of the Agency to sell the assets of the industry now held by the Corporation. That is to be the sole responsibility of the Treasury. It is for the Treasury to say which units are to be sold. We hold the view, which I think would be accepted by some hon. Gentlemen opposite, that here again the efficiency of the industry is at stake.
There are two conflicting forces. There is the Treasury which is given the job of selling the assets of the industry and there is the Board whose job it is to look after the efficiency of the industry and to ensure its future prosperity. Those two bodies may well be in conflict. The Treasury may say, "We have got a reasonable offer to sell a certain unit," but it may be that to sell that certain unit would upset the plans which had been made for re-organisation, for co-operation or future regrouping and that sort of thing. As the Bill stands, the Board do not come into the picture at all. It is the Treasury which will determine which units are to be sold, as well as the terms on which they are to be sold.
We propose that the consent of the Treasury and the consent of the Board should be obtained before any unit is sold, but we have not been met in that 1346 argument in the slightest degree. We think that it is essential that the Board's point of view should be put forward and that the Board's consent should be obtained, and, further, that if there is any conflict in the matter, it can come before the House, the Minister of Supply can step in and the matter be determined in some way. At the moment, it is solely the Treasury whose decision has to be obtained.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones
Surely, there are two distinct considerations here? The first is the one of regrouping, where there may be a conflict between the financial and the industrial considerations, and that I understand my right hon. Friend is prepared to meet. On Clause 16 (1), we are dealing with a different topic concerning the various stages of disposal, and I cannot see myself in what way a conflict can arise on that particular topic between the financial and industrial considerations. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give some instances of such conflict. The right hon. Gentleman started to do so, but went on to talk about re-grouping.
§ Mr. Strauss
No doubt, the hon. Gentleman can envisage a case whereby, by the sale of a certain unit, the prospect of re-grouping that unit or amalgamating it with one which the Agency may already control or own would be rendered impossible. The Agency will control and own certain units, and it may be the view of the Board that it would be desirable that certain production changes should take place—amalgamations, co-operation in operation and so on—and that prospect may be vitiated by the sale of a particular unit which the Agency sells to private interests, which may have entirely different objects in mind, so that the proposals which the Board have in mind would therefore be rendered nugatory.
It seems to us that, in selling the units, quite apart from any re-grouping activities of the Agency, which we shall be talking about on Clause 17, the Board should consider the matter on functional grounds, as well as the Treasury on financial grounds. We have not been met in that matter in the slightest degree by the reply of the Financial Secretary, who has met us on one of the other Amendments. and I agree that on the second Amendment our case was not very 1347 strong, but as he has not met us on the first Amendment, we feel that we must press the matter to a division.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 227; Noes, 250.1349
|Division No. 98.]||AYES||[9.0 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Hardy, E. A.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Adams, Richard||Hargreaves, A.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Albu, A. H.||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Pryde, D J.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hastings, S.||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell)||Hayman, F. H.||Rankin, John|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.)||Reeves, J.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hobson, C. R.||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Holman, P.||Reid, William (Camlachie)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Bartley, P||Houghton, Douglas||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Bence, C. R.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Benn, Hon. Wedgwood||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Ross, William|
|Benson, G.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Beswick, F.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley|
|Blackburn, F.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Blyton, W. R||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Short, E. W.|
|Boardman, H.||Janner, B.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Bowden, H. W.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Slater, J.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Snow, J. W.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Beloer)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Keenan, W.||Steele, T.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Kenyon, C||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Carmichael, J.||King, Dr. H. M.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. (Vauxhall)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Kinley, J.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Champion, A. J.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Swingler, S. T.|
|Chapman, W. D.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Coldrick, W.||Lewis, Arthur||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Collick, P. H.||Lindgren, G. S.||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)|
|Corbet, Mrs Freda||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Cove, W. G.||MacColl, J. E.||Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S)||McGhee, H. G.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||McGovern, J.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||McInnes, J.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||McLeavy, F.||Thornton, E.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Tomney, F.|
|Deer, G.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Dodds, N. N.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Viant, S. P.|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Manuel, A. C.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)||Mikardo, lan||Weitzman, D.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mitchison, G. R.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Edelman, M.||Monslow, W.||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Edwards, John (Brighouse)||Moody, A. S.||West, D. G.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Morley, R.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Mort, D. L.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Fernyhough, E||Moyle, A.||Wigg, George|
|Fienburgh, W.||Mulley, F. W.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Finch, H. J.||Murray, J. D.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Willey, F. T.|
|Follick, M.||O'Brien, T.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Foot, M. M.||Oliver, G. H.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Orbach, M.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Freeman, John (Watford)||Oswald, T.||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Padley, W. E.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Gooch, E. G.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Pannell, Charles||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Paton, J.||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Peart, T. F.||Yates, V. F|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Popplewell, E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Porter, G.||Mr. Pearson and|
|Hannan, W.||Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)||Mr. Arthur Allen.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Gower, H. R.||O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Graham, Sir Fergus||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Orr-Ewing, Sir lan (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Ashton, H (Chelmsford)||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Osborne, C.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Harden, J. R. E.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Peyton, J. W. W|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Banks, Col. C.||Harvey, lan (Harrow, E.)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Barber, Anthony||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Barlow, Sit John||Hay, John||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Heald, Sir Lionel||Profumo, J. D.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton. E.)||Heath, Edward||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbaston)||Higgs, J. M. C.||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Remnant, Hon. P|
|Bevins, J. R. (Texteth)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Renton, D. L M.|
|Birch, Nigel||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Robertson, Sir David|
|Bossom, A. C.||Holland-Martin, C. J||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Bowen, E. R.||Hope, Lord John||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Braine, B. R.||Horobin, I. M.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W.)||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Russell, R. S.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt -Col. W. H.||Hurd, A. R.||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Jennings, R.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. (Rochdale)|
|Bullard, D. G.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Scott, R. Donald|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Shepherd, William|
|Campbell, Sir David||Kerr, H. W.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Carr, Robert||Lambert, Hon. G.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Lambton, Viscount||Smyth, Brig, J. G. (Norwood)|
|Channon, H.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W)||Leather, E. H. C.||Speir, R. M.|
|Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Spans, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)|
|Colegate, W. A.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Linstead, H. N.||Stevens, G. P.|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Llewellyn, D. T.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Storey, S.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Longden, Gilbert||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Low, A. R. W.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Summers, G. S.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Teeling, W.|
|Deedes, W. F.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||McKibbin, A. J.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Donaldson, Cn.dr. C. E. McA.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Donner, P. W||Macleod, Rt. Hon. lain (Enfield, W.)||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Tilney, John|
|Drayson, G. B||Maitland, Comdr.J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Drewe, C.||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)||Turton, R. H.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Duthie, W. S.||Markham, Major S. F.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. D. M||Marples, A. E.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Erroll, F. J.||Maude, Angus||Wade, D. W.|
|Fell, A.||Maudling, R.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S L. C||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Fisher, Nigel||Medlicott, Brig. F.||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Fort, R.||Mellor, Sir John||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Foster, John||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Wellwood, W.|
|Galbraith. Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Nicholls, Harmar||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Gammons, L. D.||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Glyn, Sir Ralph||Nugent, G. R. H.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Godber, J. B.||Nutting, Anthony||York, C.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||Oakshott, H. D.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gough, C. F. H.||Odey, G. W.||Sir H. Butcher and Mr. Kaberry.|
§ Mr. J. Freeman
I beg to move, in page 13, line 16, at the end, to insert:and—Provided also that no sale or other disposal of any securities or other assets by the Agency the total consideration for which exceeds one hundred thousand pounds shall be valid unless the Minister shall have previously signified his approval thereof; and his approval shall not be effective, until he shall have so signified it by a direction in that behalf to be given by a statutory instrument which shall be laid before the Commons House of Parliament and shall not come into operation unless and until affirmed by a resolution of that House.This Amendment necessarily comes very close in argument to some of the points which we have been discussing on the last Amendment and I do not think that it is possible to make anything like a connected case without going a little repititiously over the remarks which have been made earlier. The object is to provide some measure of Parliamentary control in the case of major sales and disposals by the Agency.
I ask the Committee to consider the case for it in these terms. We are now entering upon the second half of this Bill, as it were. Up to now, all our discussions have been concerned with the Board, their functions and activities. I think that most of us will agree that the conception of the Board which appears in the Bill, whether we like it or dislike it, is at any rate an intelligible conception. It means that we are handing this industry over substantially to the control of Steel House, but I dare say that the pressure of public opinion and the fear of renationalisation may prevent the most disastrous consequences of that.
Now we come to the Agency and their functions. I personally feel that the Agency are the wrecking part of this Bill, because whatever public opinion has to say about it, the Agency is the body which, as soon as this Bill becomes law, can get to work and create great changes in this industry whether or not they are in the public interest. The Agency are, in fact, in practical terms and certainly in the early stages when this Measure may be operative, a far more powerful and important body than the Board.
Their primary task is to sell the nation's assets back to private ownership. It follows from that that their task is also to leave the taxpayer with the job lots and to hold them on behalf of the taxpayer. Therefore, the way in which they 1352 accomplish their sales will have a considerable effect on the assets which the nation holds in the steel industry after the first few months following denationalisation.
It is further the duty of the Agency to determine fair prices for those sales, and I believe that the Minister, when he referred to this at an earlier stage, was genuinely anxious to see, so far as was in his power, that fair prices were obtained—fair prices, he said, not only to the purchaser but also to the seller. The Agency, in fact, can and will decide how much of the industry remains in public ownership in the near future and how much of it passes into private ownership. In other words, they are to decide how much of the industry is to be controlled ultimately by the Treasury.
They are to have the responsibility, in the terms of the subsection which we have just discussed, for the efficient direction of the industry and for deciding how much is to be controlled by Steel House. As to that part of the industry which remains in public ownership, the Agency can regroup it, and we have been discussing on a previous Amendment some of the circumstances in which they might do that and some of the terms on which they may do so.
There is altogether another kind of regrouping, however, and I was not certain until towards the end of our previous discussion whether the Financial Secretary, who met us most reasonably on one of the points which we put, had in mind the sort of regrouping to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) and I were referring. If we take that part of the industry which remains in public ownership we may decide to regroup it simply as an act of technical efficiency, and if we do that, the safeguard which is already in the Bill, namely, that the Agency have to consult with the Board, and the concession which the hon. Gentleman made to us at the end of our last discussion, go some way towards providing that that will be done responsibility and competently.
But suppose that we have the problem, which may well arise, of what might be called the conditional sale. The steel industry would be prepared to buy some part of the assets on condition that it did not have to buy all of them, or that it could buy a piece of something else. I do 1353 not pretend to be a lawyer but, reading the Bill to the best of my ability as a layman, it appears to me that an operation of that kind is not covered by the use of the term "regrouping" as we have been discussing it.
I want to draw the attention of the Committee to some words which my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham used in his Second Reading speech. After all, no one in this Committee speaks with greater authority and greater knowledge about the practical problems which are likely to arise in this field than does my hon. Friend. He dealt with the matter fully, and, as far as I know, no one has answered the warning that he gave. I am sure my hon. Friend will forgive me if I leave out one or two autobiographical references which appear in his speech. Otherwise I will quote it verbatim.
He said:Let me tell the House the sort of thing which I am afraid will happen. I have no need to go any further than my own constituency of Rotherham, where we have two very fine steel works … one … the Parkgate Iron and Steel Company—an old-established and worthy concern. That is Plant A. Then we have Plant B—a part of that great steel organisation, United Steels. They are both in the market to be sold.I want the Minister to take great care about this … I do not say that this will happen, but it might. Prospective buyers may come along and they may look at United Steels, part of a great, lucrative money-making concern. The Agency are anxious to sell. They want to get rid of it, and, because of their anxiety, they can be taken advantage of, and they would be. The buyers might say: 'We will think seriously about United Steels, but only on one condition, that we have the blast furnaces which the Parkgate Company have and which United Steels have not. At the moment pig iron is being brought 40, 50, 60 and 70 miles into the United Steels works.'That sort of thing could happen and that old-established firm could find itself being dismembered.My hon. Friend then referred to the Manchester Steel Corporation. He said:This firm has docking facilities, unloading facilities. blast furnaces, coke ovens, a byproduct plant, a very fine wire mill, a rod mill and a department making road materials.There is nothing to prevent those who would wish to do so from making big bids for the whole or part of that organisation. Within two miles of the Manchester Steel Corporation at the moment "—
§ Mr. Freeman
I should have said "Lancashire Steel Corporation" but I stated that I would quote verbatim.Within two miles of the"—Lancashire—Steel Corporation at the moment are Petrochemicals and a great concern making gas for the Manchester Corporation. How easy it would be under this Bill for such people to satisfy the desires of the Agency to realise the greatest amount of money by inducing them to sell off that great concern piecemeal. There is nothing in this Bill to prevent that. If that happened we should find a great organisation cut about—its arms and legs cut off, and its heart taken out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 737–8.]I have taken the time of the Committee in reading that quotation because, quite rightly, we have been asked by hon. Members opposite to give concrete examples of the sort of fears that we have. There is an example which my hon. Friend feels to be a real one, and I am certainly prepared to accept his judgment about it.
At the moment we do not even know how the Agency are to be composed. We have asked all manner of questions about them but we have never had any very clear answers. Are they to be an Agency of Treasury receivers? Is the Minister of Materials to preside over them? There are all sorts of interesting possibilities about which one can speculate. We simply do not know. However the body is eventually to be composed, we have not the slightest guarantee that it will be a body competent both to do its job of supervising the industry and to satisfy the Treasury that it is doing what the Treasury will want it to do, which will be to sell off the assets as quickly as possible at the greatest possible book profit.
Apart from the composition of the Agency, who is to control them? Obviously, the central point of control of the Agency is the Treasury. There is no doubt about that. But if hon. Members will look at the provisions of Clause 17 they will see that there is no doubt that Treasury control is considerably modified in a good many respects. Subsection (5) says,The appropriate department "—that is subsequently defined as the Treasury—may give directions to the Agency as to the exercise of their powers under this section, and the Agency shall comply with any such directions, and the Agency shall not exercise "—1355 certain of the powers—except in pursuance of directions of, or with the consent of, or in accordance with the terms of a general authority given by, the appropriate department.There we have it established that the Treasury is the competent authority, that it may give specific directions to the Agency on specific projects or it may give a general authority to the Agency which will presumably give the Agency power to pursue a certain policy, but that the Treasury will not keep any very firm control over how they do it. In the following subsection we have the point which we were discussing earlier, that in the case of regrouping the Agency are to consult with the Board.
Finally, subsection (7) merits being read to the House:In this section the expression 'the appropriate department' means the Treasury, except that, in relation to such matters as may from time to time be determined by the Treasury. it means the Minister; and the Treasury shall give notice to the Agency of any determination made by them under this section.It is true to say that the control which is to be exercised over the Agency is, to put it mildly, divided and rather uncertain.
In certain cases it may be nobody at ail, if the project with which the Agency are dealing is a matter already covered by a general authority which has been given by the Treasury. It may be the Minister of Supply, if the Treasury so determine in accordance with Clause 17 (7). It could be the Agency, after consultation with the Board, and after all the possible paraphernalia with the Treasury which was described to us a few moments ago, if it were a case of a formal regrouping.
In the sort of possibility to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham referred on Second Reading, and from which I quoted extensively, I am unable to determine that there is any really effective control which would give this Committee confidence that that sort of problem will be approached not only with a desire to serve the narrow interests of the Treasury but also with a desire to look widely over the problems of the steel industry and over the responsibility which the Agency have no less than the responsibility of selling the assets—that of running the publicly-owned sector of the industry, which for a long time will remain quite a substantial one.
1356 I believe there are few hon. Members present who will not agree with this proposition at least—that, however the facts turn out in the end, there is scope here for a great deal of muddle, evasion, concealment, dispute between Departments or between organisations, or even plain misjudgment by the Treasury. I hope that will not happen. Indeed, we all hope so. We are not now discussing the objectionable principle which lies behind the Bill but the practical problems of how to make it work with as little harm as possible, and obviously we all hope that the worst case will not happen.
Nevertheless, this is not a very tidy arrangement. We have a situation in which we are disposing of some of the nation's most valuable assets; we have a situation in which we cannot feel confidence that this disposal of the assets will be effected with due regard to all the relevant circumstances; and we have a situation in which we cannot feel confident that the disposal will be in financial terms and circumstances which Parliament would necessarily judge to be the most satisfactory.
I do not want to give the impression of seeking to score cheap debating points against either the Financial Secretary to the Treasury or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, for both of whom I have respect, when I say that it does not always follow that even the Treasury and the Ministry of Supply will see eye to eye on problems of this kind. I have served in these Departments, and one knows the sort of thing that can happen. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a different Government."] If both those Departments are doing their job as they should be, their interests are not identical, and it follows from time to time they will disagree. I believe that the Financial Secretary is far too astute not to understand that these things are really so.
One of the things that have bothered me since I first looked at the Bill and spoke on the Second Reading is that there may be circumstances in which there is a perfectly legitimate Departmental disagreement about what is the best interest of the nation, or of the industry, in any particular case. I cannot see why it should be necessary to have divided control, even when the basic principle of the Bill is accepted. The 1357 Minister of Supply in a different Government was quite capable of disposing pretty efficiently of a very large number of assets belonging to the nation at the end of the war, so I do not see why this Minister of Supply should not be entrusted with this job, even if the Government thought it was the right thing to do. We have a degree of divided control which can lead to inter-Departmental disputes.
Parliament is entitled to know when these big decisions are taken, and the circumstances under which all the considerations really have been taken into account. I repeat that this is not a matter of trying to make stupid party points about personalities, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not only in the Cabinet but is one of the big men in the Cabinet. The Minister of Supply is not in the Cabinet or in the hierarchy. He is a much smaller man. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that when legitimate Departmental disputes arise between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Supply that the Minister has to be a great deal more eloquent than usual if he is to carry the day when he appears as a visitor at the Cabinet table.
This is a lengthy, but I hope comprehensible preamble. We believe that the solution of this problem lies in Parliamentary control. There are two problems. One, we debated on the previous Amendment. I say no more about it, because the Financial Secretary dealt with it, and we have divided on it. We are left with the problem of the sale of assets, in which we believe that Parliamentary control is the best answer. We think the less cumbersome and objectionable way is to put some sort of money figure for the assets of the transaction, which would be subject to Parliamentary control.
So we come to the terms of our Amendment, which says that the Agency shall not be put in the position to sell off an asset where the selling price is more than £100,000, unless the Minister of Supply has signified his consent. That surely is not unreasonable. I cannot conceive of a single occasion where the Treasury would seriously advocate that an asset of that kind should be disposed of in the face of serious opposition from the Minister of Supply. It says that the Minister shall not only give his approval 1358 but shall signify it by a direction to be by a Statutory Instrument, which shall be laid before the Commons. The object of that is to centralise control of this matter in Parliament.
Thirdly, we come to the method of Parliamentary control. I am fortunate this evening in that I am addressing my arguments to one who is necessarily sympathetic to that proposition, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I am glad the Leader of the House was here. I remember the weary nights in the previous Parliament when we sat while the present Leader of the House and the present Financial Secretary urged on us the importance of Parliamentary control and of the affirmative resolution procedure as a means of Parliamentary control.
The Financial Secretary is no less agreeable, but a good deal more sober in these days than he used to be in those. I put in all seriousness the argument which he used to put forward for the technique of the affirmative resolution. They were always very good arguments, but Parliament in its wisdom sometimes voted them down. I now propose to put to him an argument which is rather a better one, if we are to have any Parliamentary control in this situation, which must be by means of the affirmative resolution.
Where there is a Departmental policy which has to be varied by statutory rule and order, it is possible to use the technique of an order being brought in and prayed against within a certain number of days, and in the event of the Prayer being successful the order can be rescinded. But in the matter of the sale of a steel works or some such big assets it is not conceivable to use the negative resolution system. The sale would take place and the property change hands, but then there would have to be a period of 42 Parliamentary days while waiting to see whether the Opposition would pray against the order.
If the Financial Secretary accepts at all that there is any case for Parliamentary control, he will agree that the affirmative resolution is absolutely essential both because the negative resolution in fact makes nonsense of the facts, and because the affirmative resolution procedure has at least the advantage of allowing the 1359 Government to control the time-table. One of the arguments which could legitimately be made against the sort of proposition that I am suggesting is that the Government could not tolerate long periods when they do not know whether Parliament is going to affirm a proposal or not. It would not add greatly to the burdens of Parliament. Labour and Tory Governments alike hate affirmative resolutions, and of Ministers Chief Whips hate them most. But, in fact, there are very large numbers of affirmative resolutions which come before this House month after month which go through on the nod.
It is not a reasonable argument to reject the technique of the affirmative resolution on the grounds that it would congest the Parliamentary time-table. If the Leader of the House were present I would put it to him quite fairly that a Government which can afford the time to take the Committee stage of a Bill like this on the Floor of the House instead of upstairs where it ought to be is not very pressed for Parliamentary time. If one looks at the sort of legislative programme that the Government have in front of them, it may well be that they will find it a little difficult to fill in the period after the Third Reading of this Bill until a decent interval has elapsed after the Coronation to go once again to the country.
Those are the considerations which I want to put to the Financial Secretary, and I hope he will accept them from me. If in the course of my speech there has been some light-hearted banter, let me stress that the essential point is one about which we feel strongly. There is an element of divided control which could lead to disaster and cannot lead to a general feeling of satisfaction on the part of Parliament that the matter is properly tied up. We believe that the proper way to deal with it is by Parliamentary control, partly because it is not possible always to be questioning Ministers and partly because if the technique of the affirmative resolution is adopted, then at least the Government will have to make their case for many of these major sales, provided that the Opposition want to debate the matter.
All we ask is that somebody shall have to come to this House when there is a big sale of a major national asset which 1360 might have a serious effect on the industry of this country and be prepared to tell Parliament what is happening. why it is happening and to give us an assurance that all the relevant considerations have been taken into account.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. J. Freeman), and I feel certain that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will not fall for the bait that there is a prospect of any order which might be brought forward if this Amendment were accepted going through on the nod. I can well imagine what chance there would be of that with hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite. I cannot understand how the hon. Gentleman reconciles the speech he has just made with what was said on the previous Amendment to line 13, after "Treasury," to insert "and Board." It does precisely what he objects to, namely, it divides the authority on what is to be done with the assets of a company.
I hope my hon. Friend will not accept this Amendment because it will not achieve even what the hon. Gentleman wants. The House would be in no position, on an isolated case of selling one works worth, say, £150,000, to judge whether that was in conformity with the general interests of the industry. No isolated sale could be judged in this House in its proper perspective because the House would have not the knowledge necessary to decide whether it was or was not in the public interest and would have no realisation of the broader picture.
I realise the difficulty in the mind of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. It is in all our minds. When this change is brought about we want to see whether we can increase the efficiency of the industry by any measure of regrouping. It ought not to be left merely to chance, and there ought to be some general obligation for the Agency and the Board to consult at the outset and to decide broadly what sort of regrouping they think would be desirable. It might well be that through certain vicissitudes one could not achieve an over-all pattern.
There will always be differences of opinion as to what pattern should be achieved, but I would like to have written into the Bill, or by way of a statement 1361 from the Minister, an obligation that before any of the assets are sold the Agency shall consult with the Board to determine the broad over-all pattern. That is a much better way of dealing with this situation than by any attempt to try to define it as precisely as this Amendment attempts.
§ Mr. Simon
I find myself in agreement with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) has said, but with much of what the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. J. Freeman) put forward I am in fundamental disagreement. It seems to me that the whole of his argument left entirely out of account the concession which the Financial Secretary announced.
We all recognise that there might be a conflict between the technical and the financial interests. It might be that a particular regrouping or amalgamation was technically in the interests of the nation and for the technical efficiency of the industry, but it might automatically involve a decrease in the price obtained for the assets. As I understood the Financial Secretary, he said that if the Board, who are the body best able to envisage the technical considerations, felt that those technical considerations were being impaired by financial considerations, the Board could make representations which would result finally in the matter coming before the House. If that is understood, it seems to me that the conflict of interest is automatically resolved. That seems to me to be a sensible way to deal with it. There has got to be some body, on the other hand, which is charged with selling the industry.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), with his usual robust and democratic good sense, recognised that on this matter the electorate had pronounced its decision and that according to the mandate, the industry should be returned to private enterprise. [HON. MEMBERS: "When did he say that?"] All I can say is that that was the point of view of the hon. Member for Rotherham—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and I agree with him.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
What I said, if my memory serves me aright, was that as good democrats we accepted the decision of the House and expected that the Bill would go through, and that it was our 1362 task to see that we made the best possible job of it.
§ Mr. Simon
That seems to me to be putting merely in other words just what I said. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] At any rate, there it is. The country has spoken—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no."]—the House has adopted the principle on Second Reading, and we are now seeking to implement that decision that the industry shall be sold back to the hands of private enterprise and competitive endeavour. That being so, the only question is, Which is the means best suited to ensure that that should come about?
Is it really conceived that the best way to bring that about is that every contract of sale of any major asset should come before the House and, if necessary, be debated? It is not merely that one debates the price; but even if it were the price, how can we in the House possibly judge whether the price is a right one?
Many considerations enter into it. Are the other bids that have been made to be disclosed to the House? Is the physical valuation which has been made by valuers. to be disclosed to the House? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Suppose we turn it down, the Board's buyer has all the information which he desires in order to fix his price. It will mean that the Agency would then be selling with their hands tied behind their backs, with the purchaser in a favourable position.
How can we possibly say what is the right price to be paid for assets of this sort? It is much more than a matter merely of price. A contract of sale has countless conditions. Are we to debate those conditions and say whether they are suitable? There may be various terms as to payment. Are all these matters to be considered? How can the House, with the best will in the world go into session and decide whether a complicated bargain of one asset out of the whole of the national assets in the industry is valued properly and whether the sale is a proper one?
Surely, the only sensible way is that which the Government have adopted, which is to charge a body of persons, who will be picked for the purpose, with the duty of selling the industry back into private hands and to put on top of that the safeguard, which my hon. Friend 1363 announced, that the Board shall be able to bring before the House ultimately any technical considerations which should be considered over and against the financial considerations. If that is done, the sale of the industry back to private hands will be adequately safeguarded and supervised.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
The hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) tried to meet some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. J. Freeman) by saying that if there was a conflict between re-grouping which might be financially desirable but which at the same time might be very undesirable from the point of view of the technical efficiency of the industry, that would be dealt with under the concession the Financial Secretary has just made.
The hon. and learned Member completely ignored the fact that there may be another conflict, a very real conflict, which will arise in selling off these assets. The people who will be responsible for the Agency, Treasury Ministers and, to some extent, any Minister responsible for the Agency, are members of the Government. To that extent they are responsible for the policy of the Government and, having brought this Bill before the House, presumably they want to sell a very large part of the steel industry to private owners.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Most of us on this side of the Committee have very grave doubts whether they will manage to sell the less profitable parts, but we agree that right hon. and hon. Members opposite will look very silly if a number of years go by and very little is sold into private hands.
The conflict arises because they also have a certain responsibility, which the Financial Secretary mentioned, to see that the taxpayer is treated in a reasonable way. I have no doubt that the Financial Secretary and his colleagues will, to some extent, bear that responsibility in mind. There may be a conflict between their desire to get rid of large parts of the industry so that they can say that the Bill was not nonsense and their desire to some extent to look after the interests of the taxpayer. It may be very difficult 1364 to sell large parts of this industry on terms which will not be extremely unfavourable, despite the fact that when the industry was taken over in 1949 very strong language was used on the Conservative benches about the amount of compensation we were paying. We shall come to that question on subsequent Amendments. Some of those arguments look extremely silly today.
This conflict may be a real conflict and may arise and face any Minister responsible for the Agency. I am sure that the Financial Secretary and most other Ministers dealing with this matter would wish, on a long-term view, to settle this conflict in accordance with the interests of the taxpayer rather than in accordance with their political beliefs. I think it would help them if they could bring a particular scheme before the House for the House to make judgment upon it.
I cannot accept the view of the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West that it is quite impossible for the House to judge whether or not an important part of the industry should be sold or not. When the 1949 Act was going through the House hon. Members of his party discussed in great detail the position of the particular companies in the industry because they thought they were being unfairly treated. There was a great deal of, perhaps not prejudiced, but to a certain extent informed discussion about the right price. I should certainly say that in the case of substantial deals by the Agency this House could pronounce judgment which might even help the Financial Secretary and other Ministers in a difficult position.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
As the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. J. Freeman) said in the beginning of what I hope he will allow me to describe as a very agreeable speech, he and others to whom it fell to discuss the Amendment perforce had to cover ground which had already been covered on the previous batch of Amendments which the Committee have just disposed of. This Amendment, as I understand it, is designed to do two things, to bring the Minister into the disposal side of the work and to bring in the affirmative resolution procedure in the case of transactions involving sales above a certain amount. I will address myself to those two points.
1365 Hon. Members will appreciate that bringing my right hon. Friend into this part of the Bill alters the whole scheme so far presented to this Committee regarding responsibility. The general effect has been that my right hon. Friend is concerned with the Board and the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the Agency. This proposal cuts right across the main scheme of the Bill. I do not wish to labour that unduly, because in practice, however the form of words may stand in the Bill, there would be the closest consultation between the Minister and the Chancellor. Indeed, the hon. Member for Watford, from his own experience of Governments, will confirm that that is the common practice in these matters.
But it is a different thing to go further, and to put formal and statutory responsibility upon the Minister of Supply in a matter where under the present scheme the responsibility of approving disposals rests on the Chancellor. It is bad in principle to do that and, if I may use a phrase I used when we discussed the previous Amendments, it blurs responsibility. Nor from the practical point of view is there any difficulty because the closest consultation, involving, should the Minister require it, the views of the Board, will take place in any event. I am not certain whether the Member wished to put the Minister of Supply in as solely concerned or to put my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor in the same position. In either event it is more satisfactory to have the responsibility plainly on the Chancellor.
The Treasury is generally concerned with the economy of the nation and can take into account not merely the narrow view of the exact price to be obtained, but the general functioning of the economy. I think the Treasury is, in the very appropriate words of the Clause, the appropriate Department for dealing with the disposal side; leaving the operation of the Board and the technical matters in the hands of the Minister of Supply, who has a wealth of technical advice to assist him.
On the point the hon. Member made about the affirmative resolution procedure, as he said, I start with no dogmatic antipathy to it. I hope he will appreciate, therefore, that what I say comes with all the more force from a 1366 mind biased in the direction which he would like us to go. But when we consider what this would do, I am certain that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) was right when he said it would be far from helpful to our procedure.
On the earlier Amendment I commended two propositions which received general assent. One was that we should be able to get for the taxpayer a fair price for his property, and judged by that test this proposal breaks down. Hon. Members will appreciate that when dealing with proposed commercial transactions the need to go through the whole affirmative resolution procedure—with the difficulty to which the hon. Member did not refer of prolonged delay if the House happened to be in Recess—would not help the taxpayer, or my right hon. Friend representing him, to get as good a bargain for his property as he is entitled to expect.
I doubt whether this House would be in a very good position to form a view about any particular transaction. Could other offers be disclosed? Could weaknesses in the bargaining position of the vendor be disclosed? What happens if during this procedure the buyer originally expected goes off, with all the publicity involved in withdrawing the affirmative resolution and announcing to the world that a buyer has gone off and perhaps another buyer may have the chance to obtain the property at a lower price? Those are practical commercial considerations which tend against the view that we shall serve any useful purpose by making the transactions subject to this procedure.
In many cases the affirmative resolution procedure is a most valuable method to enable Parliament to exercise control. I take back nothing I have said on that subject. But I doubt very much whether it is an appropriate method for dealing with commercial negotiations of this sort. I suggest that it would not help but would manifestly hinder the aim that we all have in this context, which is that the taxpayer should get a fair return for his property.
I stressed earlier the need for Ministerial responsibility to be properly established. That remains whether the amount of the transaction be in excess of or below £100,000, as the approval of the Treasury is specifically provided 1367 for in the Bill as being a necessary condition. That means that there is a fair and square responsibility which may be imposed in the ordinary Parliamentary way. That is a much more satisfactory method than that of subjecting every possible bargain to a prolonged and perhaps precarious procedure.
Though I appreciate the concern of the hon. Member for Watford and other hon. Gentlemen about these two issues—the correct person to handle a transaction and the correct method of imposing Parliamentary responsibility—it seems to me that, despite the persuasive way in which the hon. Gentleman put his argument, all the facts and all the evidence are against him and that we should be doing what neither he nor anybody else wants to do if we were to put this proposal into the Bill. We should be making this disposal less efficient, less clearly subject to Parliamentary responsibility and, I have no doubt, less advantageous to the taxpayer.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
The hon. Gentleman is right when he says that we are seeking to achieve two objectives by this Amendment, first to bring the Minister in and, secondly, to ensure that none of these public assets pass into private hands when such a transaction is proposed on a large scale without some Parliamentary supervision. We still maintain that it is wrong that important assets should be disposed of by the Agency and that the sole authority which the Agency has to consult should be the Treasury.
We are not talking about regrouping now. That is another issue. It may well be that the Agency finds that it can dispose of certain assets at a very good price. It has behind it a Chancellor and a Government telling it that it must get on and sell the industry back to private ownership as quickly as possible. A good price is offered for certain assets and the question arises whether the Treasury alone, or the Chancellor, should have any influence with the Agency in deciding whether the assets should be sold or whether the views of anybody else interested in the technical or functional side of the industry should be considered.
In an earlier Amendment we suggested that the consent of the Board should be obtained. That suggestion was not 1368 accepted by the Committee, and we must accept the decision. We now suggest that the Minister of Supply should be brought in. That is probably better because we might be able to question him in the House of Commons. We say that the technical and functional side of any sale of assets when they are over a value of £100,000 should be taken into consideration. The consent of somebody who has that interest in mind should be obtained. It is not necessary to obtain that consent at the moment, according to the Bill, and it is not even necessary to consult anybody interested in the technical or functional side of the industry. We say that that is wholly wrong, and we have moved an Amendment in order to get over that difficulty and put the matter right.
Another point is that the House should review any big sale of public assets to private interests before that sale takes place. The argument has been put forward on the basis of how ridiculous it will be for an affirmative Resolution to be put before the House in respect of one of these sales over £100,000. How can the House have any knowledge whether any such sale could be a good one or a bad one? That applies to almost every order that is put before the House, whether by the negative or the affirmative procedure.
Most orders go through automatically, but, sometimes, there is an hon. Member or a group of hon. Members who, on information supplied from outside, feel that there is a strong case which should be put before Parliament for rejecting the proposals of the Government or moving a Prayer against them, and who may have gathered the facts on his own responsibility or with his colleagues in order to put the matter before the House. Indeed, he may not have had any previous knowledge of the matter at all.
To say that we really should not consider this procedure, because of the question whether any hon. Member could have any idea whether these assets should be sold at certain prices, or whether, perhaps, the prices are not sufficient, or where there are no technical or functional facts to be taken into account, is quite ridiculous. There are any number of hon. Members who have considerable knowledge about these matters, or who 1369 could gain that knowledge from outside, and I therefore suggest that that argument does not hold good.
We seek to prevent the possibility that, without any public knowledge whatever, a major steel mills, maybe worth tens of millions of pounds, or maybe with assets of smaller value, shall pass to private interests at prices or on conditions which may appear to the House to be wrong, wholly contrary to the best interests of the steel industry from the functional point of view, and at a stage when it is too late to do anything about it at all. We therefore say, that, before any sale takes place of assets of any substantial value, the matter should be reported to the House, when hon. Members can raise questions about it if they want to.
There may be a very strong case for urging that the sale of certain assets should be postponed, and the Agency has quite definite powers and can be told that they should postpone the sale of certain securities which they hold if that is considered right. There may be a very strong case for postponing the sale of certain securities. Is it only to be the Treasury who shall say whether such sales should be postponed? According to the Bill, it is the Treasury alone that decides the matter.
We say that is wrong, that it should be the Minister who is particularly interested in the efficiency and prosperity of the industry, and that the matter should be reported to the House before the sale takes place. In view of the strong feelings which we have on this matter, and because we believe that Parliament should protect public property before it passes to private interest and ensure that it is only done on satisfactory conditions, we propose to divide the Committee on this Amendment.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
I wish to raise a point which may have escaped the notice of the Committee. This is, I believe, almost the first time when it is being advocated that disposals made by the Agency should be subject to
§ I feel sure that most of us on both sides of the Committee would agree that when we are disposing of Government assets, whether it be a battleship or whatever it may be, the main thing that we want is a firm Chancellor at the Treasury who is himself responsible to the House and who can always be called upon to account to the House. I hope the Committee will not allow itself to be frightened by the eagerly-used bogy of saying that the matter must come before Parliament in the form of an affirmative Resolution.
§ Mr. Summers
In pointing out the precedent which has been suggested for the disposal of State assets—which my hon. Friend very properly says is an undesirable precedent—does not that equally apply, not merely to the disposal of Government property, but also to the purchase of assets by the Government?
§ Mr. Williams
I agree with that, but I am not at all sure that I should be in order if I pursued the matter at this point. The Financial Secretary was perfectly right in resisting this Amendment, and I am only surprised that he did not deal with the point I have made.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 225; Noes, 247.1373
|Division No. 99.]||AYES||[10.10 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell)||Bartley, P.|
|Adams, Richard||Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Ballenger, Rt. Hon. F. J|
|Albu, A. H.||Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Bence, C. R.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Awbery, S. S.||Benn, Hon. Wedgwood|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Bacon, Miss Alice||Benson, G.|
|Beswick, F.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Reid, William (Camlachie)|
|Blackburn, F||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Boardman, H.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Bowden, H. W.||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Ross, William|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Janner, B.||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Jeger, George (Goole)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Short, E. W.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Simmons, C J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Slater, J.|
|Carmiohael, J.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A||Keenan, W.||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Champion, A. J.||Kenyon, C.||Snow, J. W.|
|Chapman, W. D||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||King, Dr. H. M.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Coldrick, W.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Collick, P. H.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Canno[...]k)||Steele, T.|
|Corbet, Mrs Freda||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Cove, W. G.||Lewis, Arthur||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Lindgren, G. S.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Grossman, R. H. S.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||MacColl, J. E.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||McGhee, H. G||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||McGovern, J||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||McInnes, J||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Deer, G.||McLeavy, F||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)|
|Delargy, H. J.||McNeill, Rt. Hon. H.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Dodds, N. N.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brlgg)||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Mallalieu, J P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Manuel, A. C.||Thornton, E.|
|Edelman, M||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Edwards, John (Brighouse)||Mikardo, Ian||Tomney, F.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Mitchison, G. R.||Turner-Samuels, M|
|Edwards, W J. (Stepney)||Monslow, W.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Moody, A S||Viant, S. P.|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Morgan, Dr H. B. W.||Wallace, H. W|
|Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Morley, R.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Fienburgh, W.||Mort, D. L.||Weitzman, D.|
|Finch, H. J||Moyle, A.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Follick, M||Mulley, F. W.||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Foot, M. M.||Murray, J. D.||West, D. G.|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Nally, W.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John|
|Freeman, John (Watford)||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||O'Brien, T.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Oliver, G. H.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E)|
|Gooch, E. G.||Orbach, M||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Oswald, T.||Wigg, George|
|Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Padley, W. E||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Wilkins, W. A|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Willey, F. T.|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Palmer, A. M. F.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Pannell, Charles||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Paton, J.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Hannan, W.||Peart, T. F.||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Hardy, E. A.||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Hargreaves, A.||Porter, G.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Hastings, S.||Price, Philps (Gloucestershre, W.)||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Proctor, W. T.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.)||Pryde, D J.||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Hobson, C. R.||Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Yates, V. F.|
|Holman, P.||Rankin, John|
|Houghton, Douglas||Reeves, J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)||Mr. Pearson and Mr. Holmes.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Banks, Col. C.||Braine, B. R.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Barber, Anthony||Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Barlow, Sir John||Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N.W.)|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Beach, Maj. Hicks||Bromley-Devenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbaston)||Brooman-White, R. C.|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Browne, Jack (Govan)|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Bevins, J. R. (T[...]xteth)||Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. [...]|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Bishop, F. P.||Bullard, D. G|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Bossom, A. C.||Bullock, Capt. M.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Bullus, Wing Commander E. E|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Hope, Lord John||Peyton, J. W. W|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry||Pitman, I. J.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Horobin, I. M.||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Carr, Robert||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Channon, H.||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Profumo, J. D.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.||Hurd, A. R.||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Renton, D. L. M|
|Colegate, W. A.||Jennings, R.||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Robertson, Sir David|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Craddock, Berestord (Spelthorne)||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Kaberry, D.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Kerr, H. W.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Crouch, R. F.||Lambton, Viscount||Russell, R. S.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Leather, E. H. C.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Deedes, W. F.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Schofield, Lt.-Cot. W. (Rochdale)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Linstead, H. N.||Scott, R. Donald|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Llewellyn, D. T.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Donner, P. W.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Shepherd, William|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Longden, Gilbert||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Low, A. R. W.||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. D. M.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Erroll, F. J.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Speir, R. M.|
|Fell, A.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Fisher, Nigel||McKibbin, A. J.||Stevens, G. P.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Fort, R.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Storey, S.|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Macleod, Rt. Hon. lain (Enfield, W.)||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Fraser, Sir lan (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)||Summers, G. S.|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Gammans, L. D.||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.||Teeling, W.|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Markham, Major S. F.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Marples, A. E.||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Glyn, Sir Ralph||Maude, Angus||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Godber, J. B.||Maudling, R.||Thompson, Lt- Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.|
|Gough, C. F. H.||Medlicott, Brig. F.||Tilney, John|
|Gower, H. R.||Mellor, Sir John||Turner, H. F. L|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas||Turton, R. H.|
|Gridley, Sir Arnold||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Grimond, J.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Vane, W. M. F|
|Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Nabarro, C. D. N.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Nicholls, Harmar||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Harden, J. R. E.||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Harrison, Cot J. H. (Eye)||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Nugent, G. R. H.||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Nutting, Anthony||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)|
|Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Oakshott, H. D.||Wellwood, W.|
|Hay, John||Odey, G. W.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Heald, Sir Lionel||O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Heath, Edward||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Higgs, J. M. C.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Orr-Ewing, Sir lan (Weston-super-Mare)||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Osborne, C.||York, C.|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Perkins, W. R. D.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M||Mr. Drewe and Mr. Studholme.|
a Resolution of this House. Is that to be applied and carried out in regard to other Government Departments? Let us take the figure of £100,000. If there is the case of the disposal, let us say, of a battleship by the Admiralty, amounting to over £100,000, would that matter be subject to an affirmative Resolution of the House? When we are disposing in a new and different way of an industry which has been acquired by the State, and if that principle is to be applied to every Government Department, we shall block up the House with affirmative Resolutions. That will make the whole position of affirmative Resolutions even less valuable than it is today, and for that reason I hope that this Amendment will not be agreed to.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I beg to move, in page 13, line 27, at the end, to insert:or if he on the twenty-fourth day of November, nineteen hundred and forty-nine, owned directly or indirectly any securities in any company, the securities in which vested in the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great 1374 Britain under the provisions of Part II of the Iron and Steel Act, 1949.This Amendment, unlike other Amendments, means what it appears to mean. In short, it seeks to prevent the Agency membership from being composed of people who find it difficult to distinguish between personal industrial interest and 1375 the national interest. This is not a new point. Precisely the same point arose on that misbegotten piece of legislation, the Transport Bill, that had its Third Reading two nights ago, with this difference, that under the Transport Bill there was the elementary sanction of the levy. The steel industry, however, is a much more tightly and personally controlled industry, and it is towards controlling that personal interest that this Amendment is directed.
I imagine that the Financial Secretary may say that this point is adequately covered by paragraph 5 of the Second Schedule to this Bill, but I suggest to him that we have to be careful here not so much of individual interest as the collective interest which appears to us to be one likely to arise in the case of this industry. We say that this Amendment will prevent the idea getting around that the Agency are looking after the interests of a few industrialists to the detriment of the national interest.
I think it was wrong to assume, as I think the Government must have assumed in framing this Clause, that there are no people whose interests were not taken over by the Corporation under the 1949 Act available to fill these seats on the Agency. There are, of course, many such people, and though political prejudice may prevent some of them from being considered, nevertheless there are people who might well take up such membership.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I think that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee appreciate that in connection with appointments of this sort the issue which has been raised by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) is a very real one. It is not only important that persons in these positions should be wholly free from personal bias but—if one may adopt the phraseology of the late Lord Chief Justice—that they should be manifestly seen to be free from bias. Against that one has to be careful not to draft the restrictions so tightly as to deprive oneself of the chance of being able to get the services of the most appropriate men. There is a balance of considerations here, as I think the hon. Member appreciates.
We are concerned that these appointments should be made in a way which 1376 does show that they are clear from personal bias or any undue personal interest. I would not seek solely to rely on the paragraph in the Second Schedule to which the hon. Member has referred. That is, however, a powerful safeguard. The Agency will be mainly concerned in making contracts of sale and the limitation to which the hon. Member very properly drew the attention of the Committee expressly relates to contracts. But I do not think his proposal is very apt for achieving what he wants.
In a way it is curiously limited. According to the Amendment the bar to appointment on the Agency is the possession of securities in any company which vested in the Iron and Steel Corporation on 24th November, 1949. It relates to a past date. It imposes no disqualification on someone who may have large interests, recently acquired, in a company that may be concerned in one way or another in these transactions. At the same time, it bars someone who, though he held interests of this sort on 24th November, 1949, has since divested himself of them.
The hon. Member will therefore appreciate that, quite apart from the general considerations which I have mentioned, this proposal is not at all apt for doing what he wants to do. But it is not a matter on which, in general, our minds are closed. For the reasons I have given I cannot advise my hon. Friends to accept this proposal, but it may be that in the course of the later stages of the Bill some other proposal may arise which has this object in mind. If it does I can assure the Committee that we shall consider it very carefully to see whether it can be included in the Bill without involving us either in injustice to individuals or in too much restriction in our field of choice.
I hope the hon. Member will appreciate that we have very much in mind what he requires. Although we cannot accept this provision our minds are not closed to subsequent proposals of a different character which might help not, I will say, to prevent bias from arising in these appointments—because I do not think it will arise—but, what is almost equally important, to prevent the appearance of bias from arising.
§ Mr. Snow
I fully appreciate what the Financial Secretary has been saying and 1377 I hope that at a later stage he will consider sonic Amendment which he thinks will cover the point he mentioned. He will understand that the main point of the argument is that we want to avoid collective "old soldiering" in the industry.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I hope that the hon. Member will appreciate that I have not undertaken to bring forward any proposal on behalf of the Government. I do not want to mislead the Committee. I have undertaken to give sympathetic and careful consideration to any proposal on the general lines I have indicated which, at a later stage, comes from either side of the Committee.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
The Financial Secretary has made an offer in which he has tried to meet us; but it is exceedingly vague at the moment. Apparently he is not going to try to think about this problem at all; but if anybody on either side of the Committee comes forward with a proposal which will meet the objective which I think we have all in common, he may adopt it. I do not see why he, with his advisers, who are best qualified to find a solution to this problem, should not do a bit of thinking themselves.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Perhaps I can make the position clear. I do not like committing myself to bringing forward a proposal unless I am convinced here and now that it is a practical one which can be properly drafted. That would be unfair to the Committee and would mislead them. That is why I took the line I did. In view of what I have said we shall naturally consider the matter; but I do not want to give any undertaking which it might be impossible to carry out.
§ Mr. Strauss
The hon. Gentleman is not prepared to bring forward any Amendment now, but at a later stage we can bring up the matter again? Meanwhile, he will consider the matter and see whether the point raised by my hon. Friend can be met?
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1378
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I beg to move, in page 13, line 30, at the end, to insert:and(b) in such cases and to such extent as the Treasury may determine, shall make provision for securing that persons who immediately before their appointment as members of the Agency had pension rights by virtue of a pension scheme applicable to their office or employment, continue to enjoy pension rights not exceeding in value those which they would have enjoyed if they had remained in the said office or employment during the period of their service as members of the Agency.This is a small Amendment to deal with the possibility of there being appointed to the Agency an individual who has pension rights in his existing employment. As the Committee will appreciate, for obvious reasons there is no provision in the Bill for a general pension scheme for Agency members. It is not considered that such a scheme would be necessary because the Agency is not expected to last long enough to justify it.
It was drawn to our attention, however, that some of the people appointed might have existing pension rights. We thought it proper to enable us, in appropriate cases, to make arrangements for those rights to be safeguarded.
§ Mr. Mitchison
What interests me in this proposal is that it appears to give some sort of indication of the kind of person who will be appointed by the Treasury to the Agency. I should like the Financial Secretary to let us know a little more about this. I gather that what they have in mind is that civil servants from the Treasury, for whom at the moment there is perhaps no urgent Departmental need, might be transferred to the Agency for the time being, and it is important that their pension rights as civil servants should be safeguarded.
I see that sort of possibility in the constitution of the Agency, but I should also like to know what other types of people the Financial Secretary has in mind under the Clause. I quite appreciate the particular case, but I find it difficult to understand what others are likely to be appointed or what kind of people are contemplated. I will gladly give way to the Financial Secretary if he will give some indication of what he has in mind.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. and learned Gentleman was good enough to invite me to intervene, so may I say, 1379 on the first point about the intention to appoint Treasury officials, that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply said on Second Reading that that was not the intention. The only purpose of this Amendment is to ensure that when the right man is found some such difficulty as that which I indicated will not arise.
Hon. Members are aware that a good many of what one might call executives nowadays are participants in pension schemes, and it is a very serious thing for such men to relinquish the benefit of their pension schemes. I am afraid I cannot assist the hon. and learned Member further. The matter is still at a very early stage and, as has been said again and again, the idea is to appoint people appropriate for these functions which we have been discussing.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am very glad to hear that. I am still slightly puzzled, because in Clause 16 (5) the Agency has powerto pay to their members such remuneration (whether by way of salary or fees) and such allowances as the Treasury may determine.If that does not cover pensions, then I should have thought that the simpler way of providing for pensions—because we may get very complicated cases as a result of the Amendment—would have been to give the Treasury a discretionary power to deal with pension rights in the same way as it is proposed to deal with remuneration and allowances. Although we may have people who have pension rights, there seems no particular likelihood that we shall, and I feel that the Amendment provides rather clumsy machinery, although I am sure we all agree with the intention which the Financial Secretary has in mind, which is a thoroughly laudable one.
Another consideration is that pension rights differ, one case from another. This Amendment ties the Treasury to their continuation. I should have thought that was a rather wide—
§ It being Half-past Ten o'Clock, The CHAIRMAN, pursuant to Order, left the Chair to report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.